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.
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.
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.
June 20, 2014 · Posted by Ethan Corey
American Apparel founder Dov Charney, known for his controversial ad campaigns and several sexual harassment lawsuits, has been removed from his position as CEO and chairman of the company, according to a Wednesday press release from the corporation's board of directors.
Allan Mayer, the newly elected co-chairman of the board, said in the release that Charney’s termination is the result of “an ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct.”
Although the release did not specify what alleged misconduct led to Charney’s ouster, there’s no shortage of fodder for speculation: In 2011, four women sued Charney for sexual harassment, alleging that Charney had coerced them into sexual relationships. Charney handled the case in a less than graceful fashion, posting nude pictures of the women on fictitious personal blogs and leaking private texts and photos to the media, which led to a second lawsuit for defamation, impersonation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress by the same women.
Additionally, one year later Charney was sued for wrongful termination by a store manager who claimed that Charney had physically assaulted him and called him racist and homophobic slurs.
More mundane possibilities for Charney's dismissal include the company’s net loss of $106.3 million in 2013 and its recent troubles with the New York Stock Exchange that could lead to its removal from the Exchange’s stock listings, according to the Los Angeles Times.
June 20, 2014 · Posted by Dan Staggs
Jessie Lee Herald, 27, of Edinburg, Virginia was offered a plea deal by assistant commonwealth's attorney Ilona L. White on June 4 that encompassed undergoing a vasectomy, 20 months in jail and five years' probation. Herald accepted the plea to avoid a trial for charges of child endangerment, hit-and-run driving and driving on a suspended license. Herald had multiple previous convictions for charges that included possession of illegal substances and other instances of hitt-and-run driving, but prosecutor White explained that his previous convictions were not the only factors in the construction of the state's deal. As Northern Virginia Daily reports:
White said her motivation in offering the vasectomy option to Herald stemmed from concerns raised at sentencing hearings in earlier cases about how many children have been traced to him from different women.
"It was primarily due to the fact he had seven or eight children, all by different women, and we felt it might be in the commonwealth's interest for that to be part of the plea agreement," White said of the vasectomy provision.
Critics have been quick to point out that this is a form of state-sanctioned eugenics, which has a long history at the margins of United States law. State sterilization was infamously upheld by the Supreme Court in 1927's Buck v. Bell, a case that originated in Virginia and paved the way for systemic sterilizations in poor and minority communities, prisons, and U.S. territories. Most recently, outlets such as The Guardian reported forced sterilization of women in California prisons up until 2010.
June 19, 2014 · Posted by Joshua Rosenblat
President Barack Obama revealed plans Thursday to send “up to 300” American military personnel to Iraq in an effort to defuse militants threatening the country’s government.
In his address to the nation, Obama was adamant that these military personnel would not be engaged in combat, but would “train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward.”
Along with the mobilization of military advisers to Baghdad, the president said that he has “significantly increased our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets so that we’ve got a better picture of what’s taking place inside of Iraq.”
These intelligence forces, according to Obama’s statement, will work cooperatively with Iraqi forces to combat ISIL, the terrorist group sometimes referred to as "ISIS" making hostile advances in Iraq.
The president also said that he had shifted some U.S. military forces in the Middle East and that the country "will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it."
The recent events in Iraq have sparked debate over U.S. involvement in the country, prompting many members of Congress to threaten to fight any proposed military involvement there.
To address those concerns, Obama finished his statement with a reflection on the country’s recent role in overseas conflicts, declaring that American safety will take precedence over any other factors:
But what’s clear from the last decade is the need for the United States to ask hard questions before we take action abroad, particularly military action. The most important question we should all be asking, the issue that we have to keep front and center, the issue that I keep front and center, is, what is in the national security interest of the United States of America? As commander in chief, that’s what I stay focused on. As Americans, that’s what all of us should be focused on.
And going forward, we will continue to consult closely with Congress, we will keep the American people informed, we will remain vigilant, and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect the security of the United States and the safety of the American people.
June 18, 2014 · Posted by Ethan Corey
Uber, the fast-growing ride-sharing service based in San Francisco, has a reputation for not caring much about its reputation, glibly dismissing protests by cab drivers, scrutiny from regulators and complaints from customers as its annual revenues have soared to over $200 million.
But Uber’s cavalier attitude towards critics may now be getting the company in trouble with its own drivers, dozens of whom protested outside Uber’s corporate headquarters this week after CEO Travis Kalanick made public comments in which he mused about replacing human drivers with robots:
The reason Uber could be expensive is because you're not just paying for the car—you're paying for the other dude in the car. When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.
This isn’t the first time Uber has had trouble with “the other dude in the car.” In May, nearly 100 drivers protested the high commission rates Uber collects, claiming that Uber’s pursuit of higher profit margins leaves many drivers working for less than minimum wage. And in April, nearly 250 drivers in Seattle signed “Show of Interest” cards distributed by Teamsters Local 117, announcing their intention to form a union or join the Teamsters-affiliated taxi drivers’ union.
These organizing efforts pose a serious threat to Uber’s bottom line: Critics argue that the company has based much of its success on undercutting unionized and regulated taxi services in major American cities. If its drivers demand higher wages, that model could be put in jeopardy.
June 18, 2014 · Posted by Stephen Quillen
As controversy mounts regarding the Washington football team’s use of the term “redskin,” the United States Patent and Trademark Office ruled on Wednesday to cancel the franchise’s trademark registration. While the decision does not force the team to abandon its title, it does place restrictions on how the franchise may profit from the name and logo, given that others can now use them on unofficial merchandise.
According to the Washington Post:
Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that "may disparage" individuals or groups or "bring them into contempt or disrepute." The ruling pertains to six different trademarks associated with the team, each containing the word "redskin."
Despite increasing pressure from politicians, Native American advocacy groups and NFL players, team owner Dan Snyder has continually refused to change the name. Still, the court’s decision marks considerable progress in pushing for a name change—as Neil Irwin notes at the New York Times, "It's hard to view the new ruling as anything other than the beginning of the end of the name."
June 18, 2014 · Posted by Joshua Rosenblat
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) published its yearly review of the U.S. economy on Monday. Among its findings, the organization openly supported raising the minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour—marking the first time the IMF has ever done so.
Though it praised the expansion of American healthcare, the report noted that raising the wage would go towards narrowing the United States' vast income gap. The report stated:
Given its current low level (compared both to U.S. history and international standards), the minimum wage should be increased. This would help raise incomes for millions of working poor and would have strong complementarities with the suggested improvements in the [Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)], working in tandem to ensure a meaningful increase in after-tax earnings for the nation’s poorest households.
To complement the increase in minimum wage, the IMF suggested that an expansion of the EITC "to apply to households without children, to older workers, and to low income youth" could also help some of the 50 million Americans living in poverty better their situation.
Though President Obama has urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $9, his efforts have thus far been thwarted by opposition in both chambers.
June 16, 2014 · Posted by Ethan Corey
In a historic step for LGBT rights in the workplace, President Obama plans to issue an executive order banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals working for federal contractors, a White House official informed the Associated Press on Monday.
Although the official would not comment on when Obama would sign the order, the announcement comes as Congress waffles on the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual identity for all American workers. As of now, employees can legally be denied a promotion or fired outright because of their sexual orientation in 29 states; in 32, they have no workplace protection from prejudice against their gender identity.
As the Associated Press points out, though Obama himself cannot mandate change for the entire country, "the order being drafted by the White House would impact about 14 million workers." In the past, Obama has also used such executive orders to pressure Congress to take action on issues ranging from climate change to the minimum wage.
American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero released a statement recognizing the power of this pressure, which said in part:
This is a historic announcement. President Obama’s commitment to LGBT equality will be one of his lasting legacies. This President has done more for the struggle for LGBT equality than all previous presidents combined. For more than 70 years, presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have used executive orders to eradicate taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace.
The announcement also comes just one day before the Democratic National Committee’s annual gay and lesbian fundraiser, which Obama reportedly plans to attend.
June 13, 2014 · Posted by Jessica Corbett
Last week, Republican North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed an industry-friendly fracking bill that lifts the state’s 2012 ban on hydraulic fracturing, prohibits local governments from banning the practice, and allows energy companies to force emergency responders to sign confidentiality agreements barring disclosures of the chemicals used. The measure has environmentalists up in arms, particularly because it demonstrates energy companies’ influence over legislation and makes it illegal to disclose potentially hazardous chemicals used in fracking.
In 20 other states, including Wyoming and Pennsylvania, health and environmental concerns have caused state governments to require some disclosure of fracking chemicals. But under North Carolina’s new law, while doctors and fire chiefs would have access to information about the chemicals for health and safety purposes, disclosing the chemicals will have serious consequences.
The “Energy Modernization Act,” which lawmakers passed at the end of May and sent to the governor’s desk, allows oil and gas companies to press charges against anyone who violates the agreements. Those who speak out about the chemicals could be charged with a misdemeanor. An earlier version of the bill would have allowed for felony charges, but following public objection, the offense was lessened.
Fracking opponents have already condemned the law. State Representative Pricey Harrison, a Democrat who voted against the bill, told Reuters:
"We promised the people of North Carolina we were not going to move forward with fracking until we have rules in place to protect the public health and the environment," said Harrison. "This bill violates that promise."
How much the public is entitled to know about these chemicals has been fiercely debated by policymakers, oil and gas companies, healthcare providers and the public in states like North Carolina and Florida. But most states have gone the opposite way and required some form of chemical disclosure, over protests from the gas and oil industry. As Mother Jones reported earlier this week, the energy industry may have influenced the terms of the new law:
Many North Carolina officials have come down hard on the side of industry … The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission, which is writing fracking regulations to complement the Energy Modernization Act, put off approving a near-final chemical disclosure rule because Haliburton—a major player in the fracking industry—complained that the proposal was too strict.
June 13, 2014 · Posted by Hannah Gelbort
A political scandal has erupted in Virginia over the state-level implementation of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On Monday, State Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) resigned his seat, reducing the number of Democrats in the Virginia Senate to 19. Republicans continue to hold 20 seats, tipping the balance of power in their favor. Given that he Virginia Senate is also dominated by the GOP, the shift could spell the end for Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s push to expand Medicaid benefits under the ACA to cover an additional 400,000 Virginians.
Critics allege Puckett was convinced to abandon his seat by Republicans’ offers of an appointed position for him at the state tobacco commission and for his daughter, a judge, on the bench.
The Washington Post reports:
After Democrats accused Puckett of selling out, and potentially dooming Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's efforts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, he decided to remain with his job in banking, according to two people who were familiar with his decision. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his decision.
It’s not clear whether the criticism fueled his decision, and Puckett did not confirm it in a statement he released to the public late Monday afternoon. In the statement, Puckett said that reports that he had resigned his seat to accept a paid job with the commission were “untrue.” He confirmed that one factor was helping his daughter secure a state judgeship, but without offering details, he said that additional, personal factors were at work.
It remains to be seen how Puckett’s resignation will affect the fight over Medicaid and ACA in the Virginia legislature, and the 400,000 Virginians who stand to benefit if coverage were expanded.
June 11, 2014 · Posted by Carlos Ballesteros
After four years of protests, personnel contracted to clean Target stores across Minnesota will now be able to organize and bargain collectively with their employers.
Target has agreed to add clauses to its vendor contracts requiring higher labor standards. According to a draft of the agreement shared with the Huffington Post, these include situpulations that subcontractors "cannot inerfere with workers' organizing rights, must follow wage-and-hour laws and must establish worker safety committees."
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), the labor group that helped organize the protests, told NBC that the new policy will also help ensures that workers "have the right to form safety committees in the workplace," as well as that they "are not forced to work seven days a week."
Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, told HuffPost that the company "has always held [itself], and [its] vendors, to high ethical standards [...] we agreed that it was important to reiterate our strong commitment to maintaining high standards and complying with employment laws to our vendors."
HuffPost reports that the victory came after a series of escalating actions over poor conditions:
CTUL carried out a series of three strikes ... last year, bringing attention to what the group described as poor working conditions for subcontracted janitors in Target stores. As HuffPost reported a year ago, a unionized janitor cleaning Target headquarters made more than $5 more per hour than a counterpart cleaning a Target store nearby, while also enjoying the health coverage and sick leave that the counterpart did not.
June 6, 2014 · Posted by Alex Wolff
The Harrisbug area Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced it will investigate the death of Jody Rhoads, an employee at Amazon’s Fulfillment Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Rhoads died last week from multiple traumatic injuries sustained when machinery she was operating crashed into shelving at the Amazon facility. She was 52.
Amazon has indicated they will collaborate with OSHA in its investigation, which began earlier this week.
Kevin Kilp, the director of OSHA’s regional office, explained the investigation’s process and potential ramifications to We Party Patriots:
“We respond to a report anytime there is a workplace fatality,” Kilp said.
During an investigation, OSHA officials determine whether the employer violated any OSHA safety standards, resulting in the death. If they did, that may lead to the issuance of citations, Kilp said.
“We take pictures, video, interview employees and management, and generally collect information pertinent to the investigation,” Kilp said.
The investigation, which could last up to six months, has contributed to a growing conversation about the safety of Amazon's warehouses and fulfillment centers for workers.
June 5, 2014 · Posted by Ethan Corey
While most Americans struggle to afford housing, some of the world's richest billionaires have enough money to buy whole cities, according to online real estate broker Redfin. In a special report released Thursday, the firm paired various billionaires with cities that each billionaire could hypothetically buy.
From the report:
Just how rich is Bill Gates? According to Forbes, he’s the world’s richest person and is worth $77.5 billion. But that kind of wealth is hard to wrap your head around, so let’s put it another way: Gates could buy every single home in the entire city of Boston. That’s 114,212 single-family homes, condos and townhouses, at a total purchase price of $76.6 billion.
For instance, the Walton family, of Walmart fame, could theoretically buy all of the 241,450 homes in Seattle, for a total price tag of $111.5 billion, while the Koch brothers could buy Atlanta's 286,629 homes at the bargain price of $78.1 billion. To put that in perspective, the median household net worth in the United States is at a 43-year low of $68,828 (including home equity), according to the U.S. Census Bureau—barely enough to buy just one home (with a mortgage) in any of these cities.
June 4, 2014 · Posted by Mary Lorenzo
At long last, President Obama is making good on the promise he made during his first presidential campaign almost six years ago: to slow the effects of climate change on the planet. His proposed plan, which was announced on Monday, would nationally reduce carbon pollution from power plants about 30 perent from 2005 levels by 2030.
The means for accomplishing this goal, however, are much less straightforward.
The New York Times reports:
Rather than imposing a uniform standard for reducing power plant carbon emissions, the regulation unveiled on Monday offers the states flexibility to pick from a menu of policy options. But as with health care, the policy could lead to a patchwork of rules that frustrate businesses and invite resistance from states that oppose the policy.
Each state will be given a different pollution reduction target, which will be determined by their local economies and their current emission levels. But the states can decide by which means to achieve that target. Some of the options include shutting down coal plants, installing clean energy technology and joining cap-and-trade programs. Though Obama's policy has been met with some criticism, the Times points out that the president has the support on Capitol Hill to veto any opposing legislation.
May 30, 2014 · Posted by Carlos Ballesteros
A group of aldermen has introduced a proposal to raise Chicago's minimum wage to $15. Led by Aldermen Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st), Roderick Sawyer (6th) and John Arena (45th), the elected officials seek to realign the miminum wage—currently $8.25 in the state of Illinois—with the rising costs of living in the city. The Chicago Tribune reports:
"We should've been here years ago talking about this," said Ald. Sawyer at a press conference before a city council meeting. "During the time in which the miminum wage was instituted in Illinois, gas prices haved increased, food prices have increased, utilities have increased—everything has increased but the state's minimum wage. Had we done this sensibly years ago, we wouldn't be here."
The proposal states that companies with an annual revenue of $50 million or more would be required to pay $12.50 an hour within 90 days of passage, and $15 an hour within a year. By contrast, small and medium-sized companies would have 15 months to begin to pay $12 an hour, with an annual increase of $1 per hour up until it reaches $15 an hour. After that, the mimium wage would rise in accordance with inflation.
According to Ald. Ricardo Munoz, at least 12 of the 50 council members support the proposal. He expects more to join in the coming future.
May 23, 2014 · Posted by Carlos Ballesteros
Lawyers that represented Occupy Wall Street defendants have obtained thousands of pages of unclassified emails and reports that reveal how heavily law enforcement officials monitored Occupy protestors, starting in 2011. The files—which contain warnings about possible Occupy actions, from protestors occupying congressional offices in Kansas to Milwaukeeans holiday caroling at “an undisclosed location of ‘high visibility’”—were mostly composed of information stemming from public venues, such as social media, and on-the-ground reports from police themselves.
Advocates for civil liberties have expressed concern over the sheer volume of the documents, especially since most of the activity present in the reports can be described as lawful.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund was responsible for obtaining the documents. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, of the Fund, was quoted in the New York Times as being concerned over the documents, which to her signal a stifling of political dissent in the United States. "People must have the ability to speak out freely to express a dissenting view without the fear that the government will treat them as enemies of the state,” she said.
The New York Times goes on to report:
The communications, distributed by people working with counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing offices known as fusion centers, were among about 4,000 pages of unclassified emails and reports obtained through freedom of information requests ... They offer details of the scrutiny in 2011 and 2012 by law enforcement officers, federal officials, security contractors, military employees and even people at a retail trade association. The monitoring appears similar to that conducted by the FBI counterterrorism officials ...
According to a Senate subcommittee report, fusion centers have not been very useful in their stated goal of informing counterterrorism operations. Currently, there are 78 such locally-run centers operating across the country, many of which are now monitoring ordinary criminal activity.
May 21, 2014 · Posted by Dan Staggs
A Chilean student activist named Francisco Tapia has released a video online explaining that he has burned student debt records worth approximately $500 million. The paperwork was seized during a student occupation at Universidad del Mar earlier this month, making the action the most recent example of the wave of student protests sweeping Chile since calls for reform heated up in 2011. There was a brief calm following the election of President Michelle Bachelet on a platform of education reform, but youth are again in the streets after months without change.
The Independent reports:
In the five-minute video the artist and activist, translated by the Chilean news site Santiago Times, he passionately says: “You don’t have to pay another peso [of your student loan debt]. We have to lose our fear, our fear of being thought of as criminals because we’re poor. I am just like you, living a s**tty life, and I live it day by day—this is my act of love for you.”
He confessed he destroyed the papers without the knowledge of the students during a takeover at the university demanding free higher education.
One possible outcome is that the university will sue individual students in an attempt to extract payments related to the destroyed records.
May 20, 2014 · Posted by Sarah Berlin
More Stories“From what I can tell, no other U.S. city has looked at socially responsible investing in quite the same way as Portland,” said Commissioner Novick.He added, “I’m hopeful other cities and states take note and adopt similar investment principles to hold companies accountable and align our investment policies with our values.”...“A company’s policies and practices have a direct impact on families and individuals living and working in Portland,” said UFCW representative Bob Marshall. “A city’s investments should reflect the values of its taxpayers, and Walmart is consistently out of step [with] Portland values.”