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Fewer Americans Support U.S. Military Intervention Abroad, Poll Shows

July 21, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

In a poll released today, a majority of American voters are opposed to U.S. military intervention abroad that is not related to direct threats to national security. The poll, conducted by Politico, shows a decline in support for intervention after over a decade of U.S.-led conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. As Business Insider reports:

“Only 22 percent [of those polled] agreed with the statement that the United States, ‘as a moral leader,’ has a ‘a responsibility to use its military to protect democracy around the globe.’ Around 66 percent of respondents said the U.S. military should be ‘limited to direct threats to our national security.’”

In addition, around 75 percent of survey participants supported a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, while in a separate poll, only 17 percent support further U.S. action against Russia. The poll numbers were not divided by partisan affiliation and thus show a growing consensus of U.S. voters on both the left and the right against military incursions. 

Business Insider →

How Standardized Tests Are Rigged Against Poor Schools

July 16, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Critics of high-stakes testing often argue that it leads to a single-minded focus on “teaching to the test,” emphasizing not general knowledge or understanding of a subject, but mastery of the very specific set of skills and knowledge that will show up on the exam.

But as Meredith Broussard writes in The Atlantic, for many schools, teaching to the test isn't even possible. That's because that specific set of skills and knowledge measured by standardized exams happens to only be available in textbooks written by the same companies who make the tests. If your school can't afford those textbooks? Well, you're out of luck.

As Broussard reports, the tests that states use to measure students’ progress (and often to set teachers’ pay) all come from one of three companies: McGraw-Hill, Pearson or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Not-so-coincidentally, these three companies are also the three largest manufacturers of textbooks, a fact which is reflected in the content of their tests:

If you look at a textbook from one of these companies and look at the standardized tests written by the same company, even a third grader can see that many of the questions on the test are similar to the questions in the book. In fact, Pearson came under fire last year for using a passage on a standardized test that was taken verbatim from a Pearson textbook.

The result is that schools that can’t afford to buy the right textbooks are bound to see their test scores suffer. And according to Broussard’s research, this is an all-too-common problem in America’s chronically underfunded public school districts.

Focusing on Philadelphia Public Schools—the eighth-largest district in the country—Broussard found that the average school had only 27 percent of the books recommended by the district’s curriculum, and as many as 10 schools had none of the recommended books at all. Making matters worse, many of the schools that did have books didn’t use them, due to mismanaged inventory systems and inaccurate records.

As Broussard notes, this is largely a money problem. During the 2012-2013 school year, the district allocated $30.30 per student for middle-schools to buy new textbooks—a mere quarter of the price of just a single textbook. And in 2013, the district eliminated funding for textbooks completely after a $300 million budget shortfall.

If that’s not depressing enough, consider this: Even when schools have the money to buy new textbooks, they become obsolete fast. According to Broussard, state testing standards change nearly every year, requiring schools to buy new textbooks to meet the new standards. In other words, textbook companies profit while underfunded schools suffer.

The Atlantic →

Oops! Top 1% Even Richer Than We Thought

July 15, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

By now, everyone knows the wealthiest 1% of Americans have a lot of money. From the Occupy protests to presidential speeches on economic inequality, many Americans recognize inequality as "a fundamental threat to the American Dream," to quote President Obama.

A new report from the European Central Bank (ECB) suggests, however, that wealth inequality might be even worse than previously thought. While prior estimates had pegged the top 1%'s share between 30 percent and 34 percent of all wealth in the United States, the actual figure might be closer to 37 percent, writes Philip Vermeulen, a senior economist at the ECB

That might not sound like a huge difference, but even this revised estimate still might understate the severity of wealth inequality in the United States, Bloomberg reports:

“Our knowledge of the wealth distribution is less than perfect,” Vermeulen wrote. “The results clearly indicate that survey wealth estimates are very likely to underestimate wealth at the top.”

Richer households have a lower response rate to surveys measuring their assets, so holdings are undervalued, Vermeulen wrote. He uses data from Forbes billionaires lists in his analysis to provide new wealth distribution estimates for the U.S. and nine European nations.

The ECB also measured other countries' wealth gaps, and some, such as that of the Netherlands, rose even more significantly. Accounting for billionaires there boosts the estimate to somewhere between 12 and 17 percent, far more than the previous estimate of just 9 percent found by earlier surveys—though still far lower than the United States.

Bloomberg →

Poll: Chicagoans Say They Want Rahm Emanuel Out, Karen Lewis In

July 14, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

For the past three years, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis  has been a constant source of headaches for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, even (allegedly) causing the mayor to drop the f-bomb during one of their first meetings.

Polling data released by the Chicago Sun-Times will likely have Mayor Emanuel again reaching for Excedrin Extra Strength (and calling up his wealthy donors). In a hypothetical head-to-head match-up for the next mayoral race, Lewis beat Emanuel by a 9 percent margin. According to the Sun-Times, 45 percent of the roughly 1,037 Chicagoans surveyed say they would vote for Lewis, while only 36 percent expressed support for Mayor Emanuel; 18 percent of voters remain undecided.

Although Lewis has not declared her candidacy, she has told several media outlets that she is "seriously considering" a mayoral run, and this new data will likely bolster confidence among Lewis' supporters.

However, the Sun-Times cautions that the results only offer a "snapshot" of voters' opinions:

Lewis admitted she was surprised by the findings. And the pollster cautioned that the results are a snapshot in time — arguably taken at a time when Emanuel has been taking a beating in local and national media coverage.

But the poll underscores two political realities: Emanuel is vulnerable as he gears up for re-election next year, and voters are assessing the strength of various potential rivals.

For his part, Mayor Emanuel claims to be unconcerned, calling the poll results "laughable" in response to a request for comment from the Sun-Times, but one can only guess what words (possibly beginning with "f") he may be using behind closed doors.

Chicago Sun-Times →

Abortion Rights Take Another Hit in Mississippi and Florida

July 14, 2014  ·  Posted by Elias Kuhn von Burgsdorff

Last week, Mississippi and Florida became the latest states making it harder for women to access safe abortions.

The new law in Mississippi, frequently called the "20-week ban," forbids abortion 20 weeks after a woman's last period. Twenty-one other states in the country have enacted similar legislation; however, as RH Reality Check reports

Mississippi’s version of the legislation contains no exceptions for rape or incest, and only a limited exception for the health of the pregnant person or for fatal abnormalities in the fetus. ...  Like in Missouri,  Mississippi’s governor and state lawmakers have been targeting the state’s lone abortion clinic with restrictions and regulations. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said that it is his goal to “end abortion in Mississippi."

In Florida, the new law imposes additional restrictions on third-trimester abortions, banning them outright once a fetus is deemed viable.

RH Reality Check →

‘Princeton Mom’ Tells Fox Viewers To Forget Feminism and Satisfy Their Husbands

July 11, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

Susan Patton, who earned the nickname “Princeton Mom” last year when she wrote a letter to her alma mater advising young university women to “find a husband on campus before [they] graduate,” has wrestled herself back into the spotlight. Patton was the focus of a Fox & Friends segment on Monday morning dubbed “The Good Wife: How to Keep Your Husband Happy.”

Patton, who also wrote a book earlier this year called Marry Smart, says American society has become too focused on women, and it's up to wives to make men feel important again. On the segment, Patton preached “respect” as her key to a healthy marriage, but her definition of the term seems to reflect a patriarchal 1950-style approach to heterosexual marriages. (To be clear, there was no mention on Monday’s show of how husbands can keep their husbands happy.)

According to Patton, a woman who is fortunate enough to marry and have kids should count herself lucky and “stop acting like such an entitled princess.” She claimed many married women aren’t nice enough to their husbands—that they are “dismissive” and disrespectful—and that there’s no way they will ever find another man should such behavior render them single.

Among Patton’s other suggestions: Make your husband a drink when he returns home from work, offer to cook him dinner, and ask, “What can I do that would make your evening more enjoyable right now?”

In Patton’s view, the women of today have been “emboldened by … antagonistic feminists” and have “overcorrected” American culture to concentrate only on women’s needs, desires and priorities.   

The hosts steered clear of asking Patton about her other well-known contentious opinions, such as her suggestion to rename date rape. “Rape is rape,” she told Maureen O’Connor for New York Magazine in March, but sex with someone too drunk to consent is “mistake sex.” 
Fox News →

Uber Driver Kidnaps Passengers in Attempt To Avoid $2,000 Fine

July 10, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Some trepidation is natural when getting into a car driven by a stranger. But few people expect to be kidnapped and embroiled in a high-speed pursuit across state lines by an improperly licensed driver.

Unfortunately, that’s just what happened to New York businessman Ryan Simonetti and two co-workers on a recent trip to Washington, D.C. when they attempted to catch a ride from Uber, a controversial and largely unregulated ridesharing service competing with established taxi companies nationwide.

As Simonetti tells it, he and his coworkers called Uber for a ride to their new office after a long day of meetings. As they approached the car, they saw the driver talking to a D.C. taxi inspector, who walked away after the driver handed over his license and registration.

As soon as they got in the car, however, the driver began to speed away, with the taxi inspector in hot pursuit.

From the Washington Post:

“That cop’s following you. What’s going on?” Simonetti said he asked the driver. He said the driver told him not to worry. “Oh no, he’s not a real cop,” the Uber driver replied. Simonetti said the driver then told them: “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to run this red light.”

The driver didn’t have the proper license required to pick up passengers in the District of Columbia, reports the Post; he was fleeing the inspector in a mad attempt to avoid the $2,000 fine. Simonetti and his companions begged the driver to slow down so they could jump out of the vehicle, but the driver refused. The chase continued onto the highway, crossing state lines into Virginia.

After Simonetti resorted to threats of violence to escape the situation, the driver eventually stopped and allowed his captive passengers to exit the vehicle before speeding off in the opposite direction.

A spokesperson for Uber told the Post the driver is no longer with the company. So far, no criminal charges have been filed. This isn't the first time, however, that the safety of the Uber system has been called into question. In a much more tragic incident last year, an UberX driver with a reckless driving record hit and killed a 6-year-old in San Francisco, leading the corporation to announce an expansion in their background-check process.

The Washington Post →

Walmart and Amazon Sorry for Stocking Concentration Camp Poster

July 10, 2014  ·  Posted by Dan Staggs

Walmart has publicly apologized for including a poster in its online inventory depicting the gates of the Dachau concentration camp and its infamous slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei," translated as "Work Makes You Free." The Nazi prison camp was the site of ghoulish conditions and thousands of executions before Allied liberation in 1945, and the grim implications of the phrase still resonate for many. The company was quick to explain that a third-party retailer had been selling the poster and that the product will no longer be listed. ABC reports the Walmart statement:

"We have shared our disappointment with them and have learned they are removing the publisher of this item entirely from inventory," Walmart said, though the name of the seller was not disclosed.

Sears and Amazon also pulled the product from their digital stores.

ABC News →

Federal Workers Lose Their Desks in ‘Cost-Saving’ Measure

July 8, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Having a desk of one’s own was once a staple of American office culture, an opportunity to indulge in a modicum of decorative self-expression in the otherwise monotonous workplace setting. But for the 3,300 employees of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), personal workspaces have become a relic of the past after an “innovative” cost-cutting measure replaced them with an office-wide desk-sharing program known as “hoteling.”

Employees now must reserve a workspace on a weekly or daily basis in advance through an online booking system. Employees can also book shared spaces for meetings and group projects, and a new instant-messaging system helps displaced workers stay in touch with former cubicle-mates.

Proponents say that the change could save the federal government millions in real estate costs and boost productivity by encouraging more employees to work from home.

But not everyone is thrilled with the change. The New York Times reports:

Some employees—none of whom wanted to be identified complaining about the changes imposed by their superiors—said they found the new system inconvenient, cumbersome or bad for morale. Without a permanent desk, they said, they feel less connected to the agency and their co-workers.

For the moment the jury is still out on the program’s success, but other federal agencies are watching closely, according to the Times. The Department of Homeland Security, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have similar pilot programs or are considering implementing desk-sharing themselves.

The New York Times →

Appeals Court Rejects Arizona’s Attempt To Deny Immigrants Rights

July 8, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked an Arizona state policy prohibiting certain immigrants with work permits from obtaining state driver's licenses. In 2012, President Obama issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action, which allows young immigrants to live and work in the United States if they meet certain qualifications, such as attending high school or serving in the Armed Forces. Governor Jan Brewer countered with an order two months later requiring Arizona agencies to deny licenses to those immigrants. 

In its Monday decision, the court argued that Arizona’s policy violated equal treatment of certain residents. As Al Jazeera reports

The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit said in its ruling that "it could identify no legitimate state interest that was rationally related to defendants' decision to treat DACA recipients disparately from other noncitizens."

This isn't the first time Gov. Brewer and her team have enacted immigration policies that have conflicted with the Obama administration. SF Gate notes that "federal courts have also struck down Arizona laws establishing criminal penalties for illegal presence in the state, and banning the harboring or transporting of undocumented immigrants."

Al Jazeera →

Ras Baraka, Radical Poet’s Son, Sworn In As Newark Mayor

July 7, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

On July 1, Ras Baraka, a former high-school principal and the son of the late radical poet Amiri Baraka, was sworn in as the 40th mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Elected on May 13, Ras Baraka ran on a progressive platform of finding work for the chronically unemployed, promoting research institutions in the city and supporting micro-loans for small business. He also opposes privatization of public schools.

Baraka will take the helm of a rapidly gentrifying city that has seen downtown renewal while outlying neighborhoods and infrastructure continue to be neglected. He plans to tackle such unbalanced economic development by seeking city authority for a local sales tax that would target goods and services used primarily by commuters who live outside the city. He is also considering regional job programs by partnering with small towns around Newark such as Irvington and Paterson.

Baraka can count on the backing of the Newark City Council, thanks to the victories of five supporters in June runoff elections. His support among labor, youth and the poor in Newark has also given him the markings of a rising progressive star in New Jersey politics. 

The Nation →

Canadian Court Calls Foul On Walmart Closing

July 1, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

Canada’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that Walmart violated Quebec labor law when it closed a Jonquière, Saguenay store in April 2005. The company is now facing fines as a result of the controversial closure, which came just six months after that location’s employees voted in favor of joining the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. 

Walmart announced the closure in February 2005, claiming financial concerns the company says would have arisen from the unionization were behind the closure. Walmart said it could not reach an agreement with the union that would “permit it to operate the store in an efficient and profitable matter."

Though the court has already sent an arbitrator to determine the compensation Walmart will be required to award its former employees, the ruling’s impact on unionization efforts in Canada may be limited. 

The New York Times reports:

“[The ruling] took issue with the timing of the closing, in 2005, not the company’s right to shut operations. …Friday’s ruling found that Walmart had erred in closing the store during a freeze period, which starts when workers file to unionize and ends when they get a contract, go on strike or are locked out. Quebec law limits employers’ ability to change working conditions during the freeze.” 

More than 20 groups of Walmart employees in Canada have applied to join UFCW, and some have been successful, but unionization remains a contentious issue among Walmart employees across North America. In the U.S., workers have yet to successfully unionize a single Walmart store, despite protests and strikes.

Last November, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board investigated Walmart in response to the flurry of allegations regarding labor rights violations. The NLRB Off found that Walmart stores in 13 states—including Illinois—had “unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.”

Think Progress →

Anti-Fracking Activists Celebrate Victory in New York State

June 30, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

New York State’s Court of Appeals upheld a ruling Monday that allows municipalities to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at a local level. 

At the heart of the debate, two central New York towns—Dryden and Middlefield—banned the practice within town borders in 2011, using local zoning laws. The tricky policy change triggered lawsuits from the gas and oil industry.

Following Monday’s ruling, the Dryden Town Supervisor office released a statement:

Dryden’s story began in 2009, after residents pressured by oil and gas company representatives to lease their land for gas development learned more about fracking, the technique companies planned to use to extract the gas. Residents organized and educated their fellow citizens for more than two years under the banner of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC), ultimately convincing the town board to amend its zoning ordinance in August 2011 to clarify that oil and gas development activities, including fracking, were prohibited.

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Legal experts say the decision made by the state of New York Court of Appeals will have ramifications for more than 170 towns and cities in the state that have banned or enacted moratoria on fracking, according to FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that monitors gas drilling.”

By contrast, the AP reports that 40 New York towns have passed resolutions in favor of fracking.

A statewide moratorium on fracking has been in effect since July 2008. The state Assembly voted to extend the measure by three years, but the bill did not pass the state Senate before the legislative session adjourned in mid-June. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will not issue a decision about the lifting the state’s moratorium until the health impact review—launched in 2012—is complete.

But even if the state ban is lifted, local governments can now ban fracking within town or city limits, thanks to Monday’s ruling.

In the Court’s majority opinion, Associate Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote,

These appeals are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of New York, and we pass no judgment on its merits. … These are major policy questions for the coordinate branches of government to resolve. The discrete issue before us, and the only one we resolve today, whether the State Legislature eliminated the home rule capacity of municipalities to pass zoning laws that exclude oil, gas and hydrofracking activities in order to preserve the existing character of their communities.

AP →

CTU President ‘Seriously Considering’ Bid for Mayor

June 27, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

As unrest simmers in Chicago over the gradual privatization of city services, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis stated on Thursday evening that she is “seriously considering” a run for the mayor’s office in 2015. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, this wouldn't be Lewis' first time facing Emanuel head-on:

Lewis has been Emanuel’s chief adversary throughout his administration. And she has not only stared him down, she has defeated him. He raised the strike threshold, and she and her members blew past it. She took her members out on strike for first time in 25 years—and got the better of the deal that ended the walkout.

Lewis had previously stated that she would support Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for mayor, but Preckwinkle reportedly intends to run for re-election to her current position. Meanwhile, the mass public cutbacks becoming typical of Emanuel's leadership have continued: Earlier on Thursday, Chicago Public Schools announced layoffs of more than 1,000 teachers and staff. 

Chicago Sun-Times →

New Super PAC Has Ties to Koch Brothers

June 24, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

Charles and David Koch, leaders of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the country, are financing the creation of a new super PAC in preparation for the midterm elections.

The Freedom Partners Action Fund, launched by the Koch-backed Freedom Partners, plans to spend more than $15 million in campaign financing leading up to the November 2014 election, part of a greater spending goal of $290 million, Politico and The Daily Beast have reported. The super PAC hasn’t yet announced its support for specific candidates.

The brothers are infamous for pouring millions into a network of political nonprofits such as Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Generation Opportunity, Concerned Veterans for America and The LIBRE Initiative to further issue-based campaigns that promote free market policies. Federal laws prohibit these tax-exempt nonprofits from campaigning for or against specific candidates, which didn't stop the network from raising $407 million during the 2012 campaign cycle. But this new venture will be a departure from past tactics in that it will be more transparent (donors’ names will be reported to the Federal Election Commission), as well as more candidate-focused. 

Previously, these groups’ classifications as nonprofits and trade associations have allowed them to keep their donors’ identities secret, though that status also kept them from using more than half of their funds for political activities, thereby curtailing the impact the network could make politically.

Marc Short, the president of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which will work in association with the Freedom Partners Action Fund, spoke with Politico about the intentions of the new super PAC:

“The Freedom Partners Action Fund will support candidates who share our vision of free markets and a free society and oppose candidates who support intrusive government policies that push the American Dream out of reach for the American people,” Short told Politico after a presentation to donors at the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort in Dana Point, California.

Twice each year, the brothers host donor conferences for members of the trade association, primarily business executives. As Politico described the event:

“The gathering is the latest in a series of twice-annual so-called seminars that the Kochs started holding in 2003 to raise cash from wealthy donors after treating them to a series of slickly produced presentations from handpicked politicians, conservative media stars and operatives from Koch-backed groups.”

Politico →

New Report Factors Humidity Into Climate Change Equation

June 24, 2014  ·  Posted by Hannah Gelbort

“Risky Business,” a cleverly titled report on climate change released Tuesday by Risky Business Project co-chairs former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and billionaire philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer, has gone one step further than most other climate change analyses by taking humidity into account.  The study, conducted by Rhodium Group and Risk Management Solutions with the support of a bipartisan group of politicians, scientists and business executives, predicts that the worst heat and humidity combinations in this century in the U.S. will center in an unexpected region: the Upper Midwest.

Reuters reports:

The highest heat-plus-humidity reading in the United States was in 1995 in Appleton, Wisconsin, when the outside temperature was 101F. While the Upper Midwest is not known for tropical conditions, climate research shows that it will experience more warming than lower latitudes as well as more humidity.

As a result, the deadliest heat-and-humidity combinations are expected to center around that region, with threads reaching to the Eastern Seaboard and islands of dangerous conditions along the northwest Pacific coast.

The report predicts that rising heat and humidity will cause an additional 11,000 to 36,000 deaths per year in the coming century. 

The negative impact of humidity reported in “Risky Business” is just the tip of the iceberg.  The report seeks to skirt the partisan divides usually associated with global warming debates by emphasizing the massive economic threat that climate change poses. Some readers may be frightened into action by the reports’ promises of 10 percent declines in crop yields and billions of dollars worth of severe weather damage along America’s coastlines. For others, the mere thought of frequent 101-degree days with soaring humidity may do the trick.  

Reuters →

Supreme Court Decisions A Mixed Bag for Climate Change Regulations

June 23, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Efforts to regulate businesses that produce large quantities of carbon dioxide emissions suffered a minor setback Monday after the Supreme Court struck down a key regulatory exemption in a 5-4 decision split down ideological lines.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced regulations requiring new facilities that emit more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually to apply for special permits under the authority of the Clean Air Act, which empowers the agency to regulate sources of harmful pollutants.

The New York Times reports:

The Clean Air Act says those programs cover all sources that can annually emit 100 or 250 tons of the relevant pollutant, a threshold that works tolerably well for conventional air pollutants like lead and carbon monoxide. But that threshold, applied to greenhouse gases, which are emitted in far greater amounts, would require the regulation of millions of sources of pollution.

Applying the law as written would increase the number of covered sources under one program to more than 80,000, from fewer than 280, reaching commercial and residential sources and subjecting them to expenses averaging almost $60,000, according to a decision under review, from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

A second program would reach six million sources, subjecting them to expenses of more than $20,000 each. The cost of the programs would rise to $21 billion from $62 million.The EPA argued that these considerations justified the exemptions, since Congress could not have foreseen such an “absurd result.”

The Supreme Court rejected the EPA’s reasoning and ruled that the agency does not have the authority to unilaterally create exemptions to the Clean Air Act without congressional approval.

“An agency has no power to ‘tailor’ legislation to bureaucratic policy goals by rewriting unambiguous statutory terms,” Justice Scalia wrote in the majority decision.

Monday’s ruling was not a complete loss for the EPA; in a separate 7-2 decision, the justices upheld the agency’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions for facilities that need permits based on their emissions of more conventional pollutants, such as dioxin or mercury.

Los Angeles Times →

Israeli Petition Denounces Bill to Allow Force-Feeding of Palestinian Prisoners

June 23, 2014  ·  Posted by Stephen Quillen

Over 1,000 Israeli healthcare workers have signed a petition against a bill that would allow the force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners on hungerstrike. 

The Israeli legislature's bill would allow prisoners to be force-fed, "if it is clear that without treatment the prisoner would be at medical risk," the Times of Israel reports. The measure has also prompted sharp criticism from medical groups, including the World Medical Association, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Israel Medical Association, along with various human rights groups, such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. 

According to Haaretz:

The petition charged that the bill would severely violate human rights, medical ethics, the Patients’ Rights Law and various international conventions. It also claimed that involving doctors in force-feeding prisoners would be tantamount to letting medical personnel be used '“as a political tool by the security services.”'

The bill was prompted by a wave of strikes over the last two months, which saw hundreds of Palestinian prisoners participate in what is now being called the "longest mass hunger strike in Palestinian history" to protest Israel's controversial practice of administrative detention. The practice allows for the arrest and detention of suspected criminals without due process of law. Over 80 prisoners have now been hospitalized as a result of the strike.

As of last month, The Guardian reported, there were over 300 Palestinian prisoners held in administrative detention. Many have been imprisoned for over a year, often unaware of the charges brought before them. 

Haaretz →

Activists Call on U.N. to Intervene in Detroit Water Shutoffs

June 23, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

With the city of Detroit facing the loss of tax payers and mounting debt, a March decision to shut off the water supply to 3,000 of the city's homes and businesses has sparked outrage from community leaders and activists who are now appealing to the United Nations to intervene. A letter sent to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation last week by the nonprofits Detroit People’s Water Board, Food and Water Watch and the Canada-based Blue Planet Project requests the international body intercede on behalf of the city’s poorest inhabitants who are at high risk of losing their needed water supply.

Al Jazeera reports:

"What we see is a violation of the human right to water," said Meera Karunananthan, an international campaigner with the Blue Planet Project. "The U.S. has international obligations in terms of people’s right to water, and this is a blatant violation of that right. We’re hoping the U.N. will put pressure on the federal government and the state of Michigan to do something about it."

The activists claim that the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) is putting an unnecessary burden on at-risk citizens by raising water rates to get rid of those customers while prepping the utility for privatization. All of this comes as the DWSD has accumulated $175 million in debt. 

Al Jazeera →

Republicans Elect Kevin McCarthy as New Majority Leader

June 20, 2014  ·  Posted by Joshua Rosenblat

Republican members of the House of Representatives named Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as the new majority leader Thursday. McCarthy replaces Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who resigned from the position in early June after he lost in his district’s primary to Tea Party candidate David Brat.

While Cantor's loss to Brat led many to assume that Republicans would be pushed farther to the right, McCarthy’s victory proves that the Tea Party has “been largely unable to crack the inner circle of the House Republicans,” according to the New York Times. The more moderate Californian defeated Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), another Tea Party candidate.

The Times labeled McCarthy as “politically obsessed,” “manically social” and known evem amongst Democrats for his “affability.” Those qualities—in conjunction with his experience working in the minority in California’s state legislature—give reason to believe that McCarthy’s win is a step toward the center for Republicans:

In Mr. McCarthy … lawmakers are likely to see a more pragmatic and inclusive leadership than Mr. Cantor preferred. A major reason is that Mr. McCarthy’s sensibilities and survival skills were honed during his time in Sacramento, where Democrats held a powerful legislative majority, and parochial interests among Republican lawmakers were almost as numerous as those now in the House.

According to Susan Kennedy, the chief of staff for former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, McCarthy’s skill as a compromiser makes him stand out as a lawmaker:

"Somehow the magic of what Kevin does is identify and hold on to the core principles, so when you have to compromise, he does not make you feel like you lost your integrity," Ms. Kennedy said. "That is what is missing in the debate today."

Previously, McCarthy, 49, had been the House whip, often referred to as the third highest-ranking position in the House majority. There, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) will be taking his place.

The New York Times →
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