News

Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014 • 3:48 pm

New Senate Legislation Creates ‘Enforceable Bill of Rights’ for Campus Assault Survivors

By Ethan Corey

Joined by a bipartisan group of senators and activists, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced legislation Wednesday morning with the potential to transform how colleges and universities respond to sexual violence on campus.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which comes in the wake of a report released in April by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, includes a number of key provisions, such as new resources and support services for survivors of sexual violence, minimum training standards for campus personnel, an annual comprehensive campus climate survey and, most significantly, new enforceable penalties for violations of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education and legally requires colleges and universities to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct on campus.

Previously, the Department of Education could only penalize schools for failing to fix Title IX violations by completely cutting federal funding—including funding for financial aid programs like Pell Grants and Stafford Loans—which would harm students more than the schools themselves. As a result, the Department of Education has not invoked such a punishment in the 42-year history of the law, opting instead to negotiate with schools to bring them in compliance with the law. Critics have argued that this allows institutions to violate Title IX with relative impunity. The new penalties will allow the Department of Education to fine colleges up to 1 percent of their operating budget if they are found responsible for violations of the law.

Unsurprisingly, higher education lobbying groups are already pushing back against the legislation. Of particular concern to school officials is the campus climate survey. Under the new legislation, schools would have to survey students (anonymously) each year about their experiences with sexual assault and post the results online for the public to see. Proponents of the measure say that it will allow parents and high school students to make informed decisions when comparing schools. Additionally, Dr. David Lisak, a well-known sexual violence researcher, told the Huffington Post that climate surveys would provide valuable data to further improve how schools confront sexual violence. School officials, however, claim that the requirement would put an undue burden on colleges and universities and require them to create new administrative positions to conduct the surveys.

Sen. McCaskill told reporters at the press conference that she and other sponsors are “optimistic” for a September vote on the bill. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) plans to introduce an identical bill in the House of Representatives later today. However, the bill has not yet made it on the agenda for the September session, which typically lasts less than four weeks, complicating hopes of passing it before the inauguration of the new Congress in January.

Meanwhile, Politico higher education reporter Allie Grasgreen reports that the Department of Education has placed Pace University under investigation for alleged violations of Title IX and the Jeanne Clery Act, increasing the list of colleges and universities under federal investigation to 72.

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Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014 • 5:30 pm

Undocumented Immigrants Demand ‘No More Meetings About Us, Without Us’

By Elias Kuhn von Burgsdorff

Immigrant activists, many of whom are undocumented, picketed the White House on Monday, publicly calling for advocates to stop meeting with President Obama about his immigration policies until undocumented people are given a voice in the discussions.

"We are among the millions of people who will either benefit or be harmed by the decisions the president makes, and we are here to represent ourselves in any future negotiations," said Rosi Carrasco, an undocumented leader from Illinois, in a press release provided to In These Times. She continued, "It simply makes no sense to for the president to convene meetings about us without us. If the president is committed to advancing a path to citizenship and political equality for immigrants, he must start by involving undocumented immigrants' participation in policy decisions affecting our lives."

According to Politico, though other groups were sensitive to the cause, they hesitated to sign on to the protesters' proposed boycott:

The campaign, organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, underscores a split in the advocacy community on its dealings with the White House. There are concerns that Obama wants to lower expectations for what he can do with his executive authority, and that the advocacy groups will fall in line.

... 

The immigrants then moved on to the Center for American Progress, where they asked to see to Marshall Fitz, the director of immigration policy. An employee said Fitz was not in the office.

“I can actually see him through the window,” one immigrant said.

“Oh, I thought he was out,” the employee responded as Fitz came out of his office.

Fitz spoke with the immigrants for about 10 minutes, saying he would advocate for them but couldn’t commit as an institution to refusing meetings with Obama.

“You are the big guys in the city,” an immigrant said.

“I don’t feel like the big guy in the city,” Fitz responded.

Fitz met last week with White House counsel Neil Eggleston and chief domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz as part of a series of listening sessions organized by the White House.

The White House has not yet responded to the group's requests, though the president has met with family members of undocumented immigrants in the past.

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Monday, Jul 28, 2014 • 11:51 am

Fast-Food Workers Vow To Stage Civil Disobedience for Rights

By Stephen Quillen

More than 1,000 fast-food workers from around the country traveled to Chicago last weekend to attend one of the largest labor conventions in the country. Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the event underscored a renewed campaign to secure lasting rights for low-wage service workers.

Some civil activists, such as Rev. William Barber from North Carolina, have framed the movement, particularly the push for a $15 minimum wage and collective bargaining, in the larger context of social justice. “You have to stay in the $15 fight until it is a reality," Barber said in a speech to convention attendees. "When you raise people’s wages and it raises the standard of living and you increase purchasing power, you actually not only do the right thing morally, but you do the right thing economically, and the whole country is blessed.”

The New York Times reports: 

Throughout the convention, one overarching strategy was to say the fast-food movement was an economic justice movement comparable to the civil rights movement—a strategy the service employees used to unionize tens of thousands of cleaning workers in its "Justice for Janitors" campaign. Inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the fast-food workers debated and discussed using nonviolent civil disobedience to step up pressure on the fast-food companies.

"They’re already slowly killing us with the way they’ve got us living,” said Terrence Wise, a Burger King worker in Kansas City, Mo., who served as M.C. for much of the convention. "Are we going to stand up?" he asked. "I want to see who is willing to do whatever it takes, who is willing to get arrested."

After his pleas, the workers voted unanimously to conduct a wave of civil disobedience actions.

Whether the campaign will succeed in its ultimate goal of "$15 and a union" is yet to be seen. But the movement is gaining momentum—and if civil disobedience is the next step, more widespread attention is sure to follow.

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Friday, Jul 25, 2014 • 1:10 pm

Judge Suspended After Effectively Sentencing Rapist to Month in Jail

By Jessica Corbett

In August 2013, Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh effectively sentenced a man who raped a 14-year-old girl to a single month in prison. Now, the state Supreme Court has censured Baugh and suspended him from the bench for 31 days. 

Although Baugh technically sentenced perpetrator Stacey Rambold—the girl’s former teacher, who was in his late 40s at the time of the rape—to 15 years in prison, he suspended all but 31 days. The judge also said the victim was “as much in control of the situation” as the convicted rapist. Shortly after the ruling, Baugh publicly apologized for comments made about the victim.

The judge’s decision was more than just controversial; it was also illegal. Montana requires a minimum of four-year sentences for rape cases in which the victim is younger than 16. The victim, Cherice Moralez, committed suicide before her teacher was sentenced.

The Supreme Court also overturned Rambold’s sentence in April of this year. The resentencing by a new judge is scheduled for September.

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Friday, Jul 25, 2014 • 12:56 pm

Walmart CEO Jumps Ship

By Carlos Ballesteros

After a four-year stint as CEO, Walmart’s chief U.S. executive Bill Simon will be stepping down. According to the Huffington Post, Simon will be replaced by Walmart’s president and Asia CEO Greg Foran.

While there is no official statement regarding Simon’s departure at this time, many analysts have speculated that Walmart’s spiraling U.S. sales may be a primary factor in the decision.

Walmart’s image has also taken a major hit in the last decade, particularly since Simon took over as CEO in 2010. The company has seen a rise in worker protests in many of its stores across the country, with labor organizing groups such as Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) organizing in-store protests and wildcat strikes over the company’s low wages, short hours and poor working conditions. Such claims were emboldened by an April 2014 report from American for Tax Fairness, which found that Walmart’s low wages force its employees to go on food stamps and other social services, costing U.S. taxpayers $6.2 billion a year.

In an effort to mitigate the negative sentiment towards the company, Walmart has pushed for more of an online presence (a fight it has been losing against Amazon); it also plans on opening smaller stores this year.

Simon, who’s worked with Walmart since 2006, will remain on as a consultant for six months before leaving the company.

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Friday, Jul 25, 2014 • 11:39 am

Congress Slapped With 10-Day Ban on Editing Wikipedia Entries

By Stephen Quillen

With approval ratings at staggering lows, Congress has even managed to aggravate Wikipedia. For 10 days, edits will no longer be permitted from a particular IP address from within the U.S. Congress building. The ban comes amid a flurry of edits from that source, including ones that dubbed the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld an "alien wizard" and attributing wild conspiracies to the Cuban government.

However, the United States government is not alone in its tampering. The Guardian reports:

In early July, [journalist Tim] Scott created Parliament Edits, a Twitter account tracking anyone making edits to Wikipedia from a parliamentary computer.

Scott's creation followed in the footsteps of numerous news stories of embarrassing edits to Wikipedia coming from within the House of Commons.

Someone added information about MP Mark Pritchard's divorce; someone excised a "controversy" section from Andy Burnham's page entirely; and someone cleared references to Lord Razzil's shareholdings in an African mining company.

There have been at least 5,900 edits from parliamentary IPs in the past decade.

Scott also released the code to the Parliament Edits bot, allowing similar accounts to be set up for other nation's legislatures.

Those led to their own stories: In mid-July, the Russian clone, RuGovEdits, discovered that someone inside the Russian government was editing the Wikipedia pages referring to the attack on MH17, changing the text to accuse Ukrainian soldiers of downing the Malaysian Airlines plane.

In the U.S., recent edits appear less nefarious, and users can traverse the block by creating an account. Still, Congress is not pleased with Wikipedia's censure. In fact, one defector, writing from a Congressional IP address, denounced the decision on Wikipedia: Out of over 9000 staffers in the House," the user wrote, "should we really be banning this whole IP range based on the actions of two or three?"

Perhaps not, but then again, Congress should be well acquainted with unjust rulings.

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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 • 4:25 pm

Alleged Labor Violations Lead to Class-Action Suit Against Apple

By Carlos Ballesteros

On Tuesday, the California Superior Court certified a case filled by four Apple employees in 2011 as a class action, potentially affecting 20,000 current and former Apple employees in the state.

The plaintiffs, represented by the firm Hogue & Belong in San Diego, claim that the tech giant did not provide its employees in California “timely meal breaks, timely rest breaks, and timely final paychecks according to California’s Labor Code and Wage Orders.”

As reported by TechCrunch, the accusations made against Apple vary in degree and magnitude:

One person cites a five-hour working stint without a break, for example, while another refers to a 72-hour notice period and getting a final paycheck two days after that ended (two days late).

This is not the first time Apple has been hit with a class action lawsuit. In April, the company, along with Silicon Valley brethren Google, Intel, and Adobe, settled a case for $324 million in response to accusations from high-tech workers that the companies conspired to hold down salaries by agreeing not to poach each other’s employees. Meanwhile, the company continues to prosper: It reported $7.7 billion in net profits during the third quarter of FY 2014 alone.

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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 • 3:34 pm

Florida Town Threatens Jail Time for Sagging Pants

By Stephen Quillen

The city of Ocala, Florida recently voted to criminalize "sagging pants," officially defined as wearing trousers "two inches below [the] natural waist," local ABC-affiliate WFTV reports. While police must give warnings first, two-time "offenders" could face a hefty $500 penalty or even six months in prison. City Council member Mary Rich, who championed the new restriction, claims the measure will help improve the city's image. However, critics fear the law is simply the latest attempt to profile and harass young adults, particularly black youth. Several residents voiced their concerns with WFTV on Thursday: 

"I think this is a form of harassment," said resident Curt Brown. "[It] gets you pulled to the side, [so they can] harass you, search you and have a right to do whatever they want to."

"It just makes no sense whatsoever," said resident Adia Crumley. "It's another way to lock people up and put them in jail so the city can make money off of that."

Various cities throughout the country have passed similar ordinances in the past, such as Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish, which ruled in April to issue fines or community service to people wearing sagging pants. That law also prompted public opposition, especially from civil-liberties advocates who pointed out that law enforcement have "bigger concerns."

Indeed, they do, especially in Ocala, Florida, which faces disproportionate levels of violent crime. But the latest measure deals solely with legislating apparel, making it hard for many activists to see it as anything but a pretext for increased profiling.

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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 • 3:10 pm

NHL Releases Sustainability Report

By Jessica Corbett

On Monday, the National Hockey League released a report addressing growing concerns regarding the NHL's environmental changes, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity.

“Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity,” the NHL report reads. “The purpose of the 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is to address our recent efforts and the challenges we face from an environmental perspective.”

In addition to identifying the league’s concerns for sustaining both the NHL and the environment, the report reveals the league’s current operational carbon footprint, shares updates about the NHL Green Initiative, establishes resource management goals for the future and briefly lays out the game plans to reach those goals. The report also details the league’s partnerships with environmental organizations, as well as the environmental programs of the NHL’s corporate partners.

The report also found that there are an average of 408 metric tons of CO2 emissions released per game, and powering the arenas and league offices make up 80 percent of the league’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

To counteract its own contribution to climate change, the league is working to grow its own initiatives, but clubs within the league are also getting involved. The Chicago Blackhawks host annual Go Green Games, “during which all electricity used is matched with an equivalent investment in renewable-energy credits, enough to avoid approximately 63 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions (or roughly the equivalent of burning 146 barrels of oil).” 

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Monday, Jul 21, 2014 • 12:00 pm

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

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. 

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