Americans living in urban areas are driving less than they were ten years ago, according to a new report by U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). At the same time, public transit and bicycle use is becoming more common.
American city populations grew by 14 percent between 2000 and 2010, much faster than the general population. This urban population boom is saddled with risks to the climate — already, urban areas consume more than 66 percent of the world’s energy and generate 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The world’s largest cities are expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions by ten percent as the urban population continues to swell.
However, the PIRG report suggests that energy inefficient habits are declining, at least in American cities. The percentage of workers commuting by car dropped in 99 out of 100 of the largest urban areas in the U.S. from 2000 to 2011, while the proportion of households without cars rose in 84 of these areas. Over the same period, the number of miles traveled on public transit jumped 20 percent, even as cash-strapped transit agencies cut service and hiked fares. Bike commuting has also become more popular in 91 of the nation’s largest urban areas.
All over the country, public transit use is rising steadily while miles spent in a car are dropping. City dwellers may be driving this trend, as urban areas are more likely to offer energy efficient alternatives to cars. People in cities can more easily walk, bike, or take public transit to work or for daily errands.
Research shows taking public transportation is one of the most effective ways an individual can reduce their carbon footprint. According to the American Public Transportation Association, just one driver who switches to public transit can reduce their household’s carbon emissions by 10 percent, while a second commuter who starts taking public transit can bump that reduction up to 30 percent.
Still, Congress is attempting to starve already overburdened public transit budgets, rather than update and expand these more sustainable systems. Tea Party lawmakers Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) recently introduced a bill to eliminate all federal funding for transportation projects, leaving local and state authorities to their own devices to figure out if and how transit systems should get funded. Republican lawmakers have also pushed to get rid of funding for mass transit systems and passenger rail even as ridership grows.
As the PIRG report notes, the funding squeeze is the biggest factor keeping more commuters from getting on board with public transit. “In many places, the biggest barrier to non-driving transportation options is a lack of funding,” the report states. “Many cities that were forced to cut back on transit service during the recession experienced discouraging declines in ridership — even as transit ridership boomed nationwide.”
The post City Dwellers Are Giving Up Cars In Favor Of Subways And Bikes appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will step down next month. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio (D) is an outspoken critic of the “stop-and-frisk” tactics utilized by Kelly, and he’s said that he does not plan to keep Kelly on the job when he succeeds Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) in January. Yet, when Kelly leaves office, he will depart with a very expensive perk. Ten officers, including a lieutenant, three sergeants and six detectives, will provide security to the soon-to-be ex-Commissioner.
According to reporter Murray Weiss, these ten officers earn an average salary of $140,000 a year. Once overtime is added in, Weiss’ sources tell him that “the total cost to provide around-the-clock coverage for the spry 74-year-old commissioner could top $1.5 million.” The detail will “chauffeur and protect Kelly and his family around-the-clock in the Big Apple and even out of town.”
The post Departing NYPD Commissioner Will Get 10 Officer Security Detail — Costing $1.5 Million A Year appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The bridge is yours.
-Louis C.K. is going to make more television for FX.
-NPR is going on a lists detox for the end of the year.
-Apparently Eli Roth is going to make a show about Jesus for the History Channel, because this is the world we live in now.
-It is very good news that Annaleigh Ashford is going to be a regular on Masters of Sex.
-I saw Her last night it was very good and you should get excited about it:
CREDIT: Associated Press
Worker Center Watch, an organization that advocates on behalf of Walmart and other large corporations against unionization efforts, launched a campaign in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving attacking pro-labor groups for ruining Thanksgiving by protesting retailers on Black Friday.
In a series of videos and press releases, the campaign — called “Black Lieday” — accuses unions of working hand-in-hand with organizations like OUR Walmart to “harass” customers and “conduct mob-style shakedowns of non-union employers” in pursuit of such frivolous concessions as a livable wage and safer working conditions.
Most egregiously, Worker Center Watch criticized these same organizations for “ruining” Thanksgiving by protesting during stores’ Black Friday shopping frenzies. Nowhere to be found was criticism of these same retail stores for making millions of employees to forego holiday dinners with family and friends to instead work on Thanksgiving.
Watch the ad:
While Worker Center Watch does not disclose where it gets its funding, The Nation’s Lee Fang revealed that a firm headed by Walmart’s former president of public affairs was responsible for registering the organization’s website.
WCW has also attempted to downplay the growing number of protests against companies like Walmart, arguing that groups like OUR Walmart inflate the number of protests and participants and that hardly any protesters are actual Walmart employees. But on Black Friday, an estimated 1,500 protests took place at stores across the country, and attendance was being measured in the tens of thousands. These minimum wage protests aren’t limited to Black Friday, either. Pro-worker groups organized nine protests at different Walmart stores in November.
The post Pro-Walmart Group Blames Unions For Ruining Thanksgiving As Companies Made Millions Work appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Eight students at Princeton University and four at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) have been infected with confirmed cases of bacterial meningitis. Officials at both schools, in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control, have taken extraordinary measures to prevent the nascent outbreaks from spreading. For instance, UCSB has suspended social events throughout campus and federal officials have taken the unusual step of allowing Princeton to vaccinate thousands of students using an imported meningitis vaccine that protects against the specific strain making its way through campus, even though the shot has yet to receive U.S. approval.
The deadly disease kills 14 percent of the people it infects and leaves one in five survivors with lasting physical and mental damage. And preventing it from breaking out on crowded college campuses in the first place may require more robust vaccination requirements for college attendees.
College students are particularly susceptible to bacterial meningitis. According to the National Meningitis Association (NMA), “[c]rowded living conditions (such as dormitories, boarding schools and sleep-away camps), moving to a new residence, attendance at a new school with students from geographically diverse areas, going to bars, active or passive smoking, and irregular sleeping patterns” are all common college lifestyle factors that also expose students to contagions like the meningitis bacterium and compromise the immune system. It follows that young people aged 16 through 21 have the highest rates of meningitis infection in the nation.
Medical professionals say vaccinations as the number one way to prevent meningococcal bacteria from spreading. The CDC recommends all children aged 11 to 12 should get the MCV4 conjugate meningitis vaccine, as well as a booster shot between the ages of 16 and 18. The agency also advises colleges and universities to require incoming students to have been inoculated within the past five years.
But state laws haven’t kept up with the CDC’s recommendations. According to the Immunization Action Coalition, only 15 states and the District of Columbia require proof of meningitis vaccination outright. Oregon, New Mexico, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah, and eight other states don’t require colleges and universities to force incoming students to provide proof that they’ve been vaccinated or provide them with any educational materials about the meningitis vaccine.
State lawmakers may be hesitant to adopt stricter standards on vaccines, but studies suggest that’s the prudent thing to do. The shot is about 85 percent effective against four out of the five most common strains of meningitis. A vaccination against the fifth strain — the one that infected students at Princeton — is expected to receive U.S. approval in the near future.
Simply providing educational materials to students can go a long way, too. A study published in the Journal of American College Health compared immunization rates among first-year Brown University students from the classes of 2003 and 2004. The class of 2004 was given vaccine educational materials before they arrived on campus, while the class of 2003 was not. The result? Immunization rates on campus spiked from a meager 13 percent among the class of 2003 to 46 percent among the class of 2004 and 60 percent for the class of 2005.
“Education about the benefits of meningococcal vaccine before students’ arrival on campus increased both the number of immunized students and the overall immunization rate among students,” concluded the study authors.
The post How Can We Stop Meningitis Outbreaks On Cramped College Campuses? appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The U.S. Supreme Court has gone to great lengths under Chief Justice John G. Roberts to erode the rights of individuals to band together and challenge corporations through lawsuits and arbitration.
But until Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board had managed to preserve some of those rights for workers challenging their wages, hours, or working conditions through arbitration, a private forum for resolving disputes. A 2012 National Labor Relations Board decision had invalidated construction firm D.R. Horton’s employment contract clause that required workers to sign away their right to arbitrate claims as a class, and held that workers have a right to arbitrate their claims together under federal labor law.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned that ruling this week, holding that individuals workers have no right to arbitrate collectively, even when individual proceedings would be so costly that it is not economical for any one person to pursue arbitration alone. In its ruling, the 2-1 majority cited one of the most incendiary in the string of anti-class Supreme Court rulings, AT&T v. Concepcion.
In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a move by AT&T consumers to collectively challenge a $30 charge that, in the aggregate, yielded a whole lot of extra profit to AT&T. Instead, the court held, consumers had to abide by a provision in their boilerplate cell phone contracts that required each consumer to arbitrate their case individually, even though few individuals would bear the time and expense of an individual challenge to save $30. Another case last term hammered home the court’s commitment to anti-consumer, anti-worker provisions. This time, the plaintiffs introduced into evidence affidavits by economists attesting that the cost of arbitrating claims individually against American Express far exceeded their potential monetary recovery, meaning the challenges were prohibitively expensive. No matter, the five-justice majority held. Corporations have broad discretion under the Federal Arbitration Act to include any terms they want in a contract.
In a scathing dissent to last term’s ruling in American Express v. Italian Colors, Justice Elena Kagan lamented that the ruling effectively “depriv[es] its victims of all legal recourse.” But this is not even the only reason why contracts barring class mechanisms are so noxious. They also mean that corporations and other large institutions are not held accountable for their malfeasance.
With today’s ruling, the Fifth Circuit eliminated one prominent carve-out to the Supreme Court’s string of rulings that have already ravaged access to justice for workers in many other ways. And no one’s holding out hope that it will be overturned on appeal to the high court justices.
The post How An Obscure Federal Court Decision Just Gave The Shaft To American Workers appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/ Maxim Marmur
Attempts to put pollution and other regulations on hydraulic fracturing are “undermining freedom” and hurting the economy, according to the president of America’s largest business lobbying group.
Thomas Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told a meeting of business executives Tuesday that an anticipated study set to be released by the Environmental Protection Agency next year could give grounds for tight federal regulations on fracking, Reuters reported. If that were to occur, Donohue reportedly said, it would “short-circuit America’s absolute explosion in energy opportunity that is creating millions of jobs.”
Fracking is a controversial method of extracting oil and gas by using a high pressure stream of water, sand, and potentially hazardous chemicals to blast through shale rock and ‘stimulate’ the flow of fuel from the ground. While many communities are increasingly concerned about the strain fracking places on local water supplies and the threat it poses to their health and safety, others — like Donohue — want to cash in on the boom.
Currently, fracking is largely regulated by states, but the EPA has been attempting to take the reins. In 2012, the Obama administration set the first-ever national standards to control air pollution from fracking wells, which were finalized in 2013. The Bureau of Land Management is also working on regulations for drill operators with leases on federal lands, which the Chamber of Commerce has also attacked for coming at a time “when America should be taking greater advantage of our natural resources to create jobs and improve our economy.”
The Chamber’s stance is at odds with many in the scientific community who warn of an increased human health risk, and increased methane and CO2 emissions from fracking. In mid-November, a group of twenty scientists — including James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University — wrote a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown on the dangers of fracking. Approximately 25 percent of chemicals used in both the drilling and well stimulation processes are “known carcinogens,” the letter said, “and evidence indicates that these chemicals are making their way into aquifers and drinking water.”
Studies also suggest that fracking can increase levels of ground level ozone emissions and air pollution, including an increase in diesel particulate matter, benzene, and aliphatic hydrocarbons which may contribute to health problems among those living near oil and gas development sites.
“If what we’re trying to do is stop using the sky as a waste dump for our carbon pollution, and if we’re trying to transform our energy system, the way to do that is not by expanding our fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University who signed the letter.
The post Chamber Of Commerce Leader Says Fracking Regulations ‘Undermine Freedom’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, Pool
California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar owns between $100,000 and $1 million worth of Wells Fargo stock. But despite the clear conflict of interest, she did not recuse herself from a petition asking her court to hear an appeal of a case in which the bank was accused of predatory lending, according to a new report by the Center for Public Integrity. The court ultimately decided not to hear the case.
Werdegar was appointed to the state’s high court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson (R) in 1994. Last December, she and five colleagues voted to deny a petition for review in the Krasch v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. case. Plaintiffs Steven and Lori Krasch had asked the high court to consider their case against the bank for alleged violation of the state’s Unfair Competition Act, wrongful foreclosure, and predatory lending.
Justice Marvin R. Baxter, who also owned Wells Fargo stock, recused himself; Werdegar did not. A court spokesman told the Center for Public Integrity that Werdegar “regrets the error” and the court has pledged to review its internal conflicts-of-interest procedures.
The report notes 14 recent instances of state justices participated in cases in which they or their spouses owned stock in companies involved in the litigation. But, it points out, the conflict of interest was only detectable because California is one of a very small number of states with robust financial disclosure for their state judiciaries.
The post California Justice Participated In Wells Fargo Case Despite Owning Company Stock appeared first on ThinkProgress.
A Republican congressman said on Wednesday that if the United States ends up using military force against Iran’s nuclear program, it should do so with nuclear weapons.
GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson made headlines back in October when he said that the U.S. should detonate a nuclear weapon in the Iranian desert to send Tehran a message. But Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) took this line of thinking a step further on C-Span’s Washington Journal Wednesday morning when he suggested that Iran’s nuclear facilities should be the target.
When asked if he thinks war is inevitable with Iran, Hunter said, “I sure hope not,” but said if it happens, the U.S. better go big:
HUNTER: I think a ground war in Iran with American boots on the ground would be a horrible thing and I think people like to toss around the fact that we have to stop them in some way from gaining this nuclear capability. I don’t think it’s inevitable but I think if you have to hit Iran, you don’t put boots on the ground, you do it with tactical nuclear devices and you set them back a decade or two or three. I think that’s the way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.
Hunter — a veteran of the wars in Iran and Afghanistan — explained that the U.S. experience in those countries have shaped his view. “I think America now knows its limitations in that area and what we can do and do we want to spend 20 years there after we tear it down to build it back up again so that it isn’t run by a crazy tyrannical leader like has happened in, let’s say Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. Watch the clip:
“To be frank, with Iran’s government, the way that it is driven by radical extremist Muslims, that’s different from self preservation mindset that North Korea has in kind of the old Soviet model, that’s different from Iran’s government,” Hunter said earlier in the segment, espousing the so-callled “martyr state myth.” He added: “When you’ll blow yourself up for your God that makes you more dangerous than the sense of self preservation that most people and most countries have.”
Hunter also supports increasing sanctions on Iran now, despite concerns that doing so would violate the terms of the agreement the P5+1 reached with the Islamic Republic last month over its nuclear program. “I think that we should proceed with sanctions so that the Iranians know that this is not an American deal with them,” he said, “this is a Kerry/Obama deal them and that the rest of Congress is not behind them.” (HT: John T. Bennett)Update
Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation tells Defense News that, if carried out, Hunter’s plan “would have a devastating impact on US national security and dismember US power and standing in the world.”
“That a senior Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee is even suggesting such a possible course of action is the height of reckless irresponsibility and so far out of bounds it is astonishing,” Reif said. “The first use of nuclear weapons against Iran would guarantee a mad Iranian dash to acquire nuclear weapons to deter future such US attacks, likely convince other potential US adversaries in the region and around the world to acquire their own nuclear weapons to ward off a potential future US attack.”
The post Congressman Says U.S. Should Use Nuclear Weapons If It Attacks Iran appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), House Chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has no tolerance for climate change science but he is willing to talk about aliens. With just seven days left on the congressional calendar, Smith’s committee discussed the possibility of life outside the solar system in a hearing called, “Astrobiology: Search for Biosignatures in our Solar System and Beyond.”
One day before discussing extraterrestrials, Smith blasted the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules for carbon pollution from new power plants for lacking scientific grounds. In a letter to the EPA, Smith wrote that the proposed standards are “based more on partisan politics than sound science.” “This principle cannot be compromised,” he said. “The agency should not act to unilaterally impose regulations on the American people, particularly when its own advisors have expressed reservations regarding the science on which those regulations are based.”
The EPA’s upcoming limit for how much carbon pollution can be emitted by new power plants is based on extensive review that’s still ongoing in public listening sessions. Far from coming out of nowhere, EPA rules are grounded in the 1973 Clean Air Act, which requires EPA action on pollution that endangers “public health and welfare.”
Smith has relentlessly called into question the integrity of scientific experts when it comes to issues that might hurt the fossil fuel industry. He’s in good company on the House committee, where creationist and anti-environment congressman often question basic science. At one recent House Science committee on climate change policy, 77 percent of the GOP members there refused to accept human-caused warming is even a problem. For his part, Smith has criticized “the idea of human-made global warming.” The longtime climate change denier has cleared $10,000 in Koch Industry donations and over $550,000 in career dollars from the oil and gas industry, which is often his biggest industry donor.
Soon after becoming chair of the Science Committee in January, the so-called champion of science scheduled a hearing that called into question manmade climate change. 97 percent of scientists would disagree with Smith.
The post House Science Chair Holds Hearing About Aliens One Day After Dismissing Actual EPA Science appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: Associated Press
The Green Climate Fund (GCF), the United Nations’ key funding body for confronting climate change in developing countries, opened its headquarters on Wednesday in South Korea. As an indicator of the significance of the event, World Bank President Jim Kim, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde were in attendance.
Last year Korea beat out five rivals — Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Mexico, and Namibia — in its bid to be home to the GCF. Referred to as the environmental sector’s World Bank, the nearly 200-member Green Climate Fund team will work to funnel money from richer nations to those most in need in the battle against climate change. In 2009, developed countries committed to annually mobilize $100 billion from public and private sources for climate mitigation and adaptation by 2020. The GCF was created to provide a significant portion of this commitment.
At the opening ceremony, Ms. Héla Cheikhrouhou, Executive Director of the GCF, said, “the office opening is both a symbolic and practical demonstration that the Fund is ready for business. The fund will be a dynamic and innovative driver to combat climate change, so it is highly appropriate that our headquarters will be in a new green building, located in the heart of technology innovative Songdo.”
After Korea won the bid to be home to the GCF, Song Young-gil, mayor of Incheon, said that he expected the GCF to trigger a ripple effect in the local economy, pointing to a report estimating the economic effect of being home to the GFC headquarters will be roughly $344 million annually to the country.
The Fund itself will not be fully operational for about a year, and for now South Korea is not reaping any economic benefits, but is rather the sole financier of the Fund, providing $40 million for administrative expenses.
With GCF funding levels currently hovering around $10 billion a year — an amount promised in 2010 — there were serious concerns of a finance drought coming out of November’s major UNFCCC climate meeting in Warsaw.
According to Britain’s Overseas Development Institute, cash inflows have fallen far short of expected levels, with new finance dropping by more than two-thirds in 2013 from 2012. A BODI report found that, “funding in response to German flood damage in 2013 was four times higher than funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change since 2003.”
As of October 2013, the U.S. had pledged $356 million to the fund this year, 71 percent lower than the $1.21 billion pledged in 2012, according to the independent website Climate Funds Update.
According to the Center for American Progress, finance negotiations for the CGF went through the night several times during last month’s climate meeting in Warsaw. Eventually a compromise was reached, “calling on developed countries to submit strategies for scaling up climate finance through 2020, including information on pathways for mobilizing funds.”
No concrete interim targets were included in the final decision, however, only a call on developed countries to provide “ambitious and timely contributions” to the GCF before the next round of high-level climate talks in Lima, Peru next December.
Rebecca Lefton, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress, points out the significance of the GFC’s mechanism for private finance, co-authoring a recent article that states, “the United States and other donor countries will continue to focus on using public resources to leverage larger private flows:”
“New initiatives on mobilizing finance are underway that work through development finance institutions, export credit agencies, and multilateral development banks to generate private investment and scale up climate finance. Private sources and public-private partnerships will play a significant role in the future mobilization of finance commitments as governments face budget shortfalls, and they could provide a significant portion of climate finance in a ramp-up period to 2020.”
According to Climate Funds Update, public funding has not yet attracted as much private investment as expected: for every $1 spent between 2010 and 2012, only $0.25 of private finance had been drawn in as of the beginning of 2012. Many of these programs are still in the early stages, making it hard to tell how effective the efforts have been, as well as what the best ways to leverage public financing to attract private investment are. Slow global economic growth has also contributed to the lack of public and private investment.
One way to encourage private investment might be for governments to commit to climate-friendly growth strategies, and stop “vacillating” according to Nicholas Stern, a leading climate change economist.
“That is a killer … governments have to recognize that the only serious long-term or short-term future lies in the transition to the low carbon economy,” Stern told RTCC. “That is the growth story of the future: if they set clear policies in place … that’s where the finance will flow.”
With this in mind, a new initiative called the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate recently launched a year-long study to analyze the economic costs and benefits of action against climate change with hopes of presenting a more persuasive argument for action. The report will be released in September 2014.
“All this time, we have talked about emissions,” the commission’s chair, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, said at the project’s launch. ”But this time, we will try to talk about profits. That could change the equation.”
Recently New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson helped launch a similar project with a domestic focus. Called the Risky Business initiative, the coalition seeks to illustrate the impact of climate change on the US economy.
According to Bloomberg News, the initiative will attempt to persuade investors and legislators that the consequences of uninhibited greenhouse gas emissions far outweigh the short-term costs of mitigating pollution.
The post UN’s New Climate Fund Opens, But Without Enough Cash appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Al Goldis
Michigan lawmakers are currently deciding whether to advance a bill that would require women in the state to purchase a separate insurance policy for abortion coverage, even in cases of rape or incest. If it’s approved, Michigan would join a long list of other states that have attacked abortion access by preventing women from using their own insurance to pay for it.
The debate over the legislation has heated up this week, particularly since the measure would deny abortion coverage even to women who have become pregnant as a result of rape. Although the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that rape victims should have access to legal abortion services, lawmakers continue to propose policies that would have callous implications for individuals who have been sexually assaulted.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) vetoed the proposed insurance ban last year for exactly this reason — pointing out that it would require rape victims to pay for the total cost of their abortion procedure out-of-pocket, unless they had thought ahead and purchased a separate insurance rider for abortion services. “I don’t believe it is appropriate to tell a woman who becomes pregnant due to a rape that she needed to select elective insurance coverage,” Snyder noted when he rejected the bill last December.
But Michigan’s anti-choice community disagrees. Earlier this year, when advocating for the proposed legislation, a prominent anti-choice leader in Michigan suggested that rape is like a car accident and it’s appropriate to require women to buy “extra insurance” to prepare for it. After Snyder’s veto, abortion opponents decided to simply circumvent the governor and collect enough signatures to provoke a “citizen-initiated” vote on the measure. That petition was successful, and the measure headed to the legislature on Tuesday.
Lawmakers now have 40 days — not including the upcoming holiday break — to act on the measure. If they don’t take any action, the issue will be placed on the 2014 ballot for a statewide vote. If the legislature approves it, on the other hand, the bill will immediately become law — even without Snyder’s signature.
Leading Democrats in the legislature are blasting the proposed measure. “Forcing women to decide whether they want to buy ‘rape insurance’ and even compelling parents to make the unfathomable decision about whether to buy it for their daughters is truly despicable,” State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) said in a press release on Monday. “Requiring Michigan women to plan ahead for an unplanned pregnancy is not only illogical, it’s one of the most misogynistic proposals I have ever seen in the Michigan Legislature.”
But abortion opponents aren’t giving up. Save the 1, a national anti-choice group that advocates for abortion restrictions without exceptions, organized a press conference at the Michigan Capitol on Tuesday to make the point that rape victims shouldn’t ever have the option of choosing abortion. A group of adults who were conceived as a result of rape argued that “no child deserves to be punished for the crimes of their father.”
The issue of rape and abortion access has become particularly contentious over the past year, after several Republican lawmakers have made controversial comments on the subject. Last August, former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) asserted that pregnancies resulting from rape are very rare because the female body “has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” And since then, other GOP politicians have suggested that pregnancies from rape are a “gift from God,” mocked rape exceptions as “little gotcha amendments,” and suggested abortion access for rape victims is unnecessary because ending a pregnancy will “put more violence on a woman’s body.”
The post Michigan Lawmakers Considering Abortion Bill That Would Force Women To Buy ‘Rape Insurance’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.
One million Americans visited HealthCare.gov one day after the administration announced that the website was working for the vast majority of users. Approximately 29,000 enrolled in coverage in the first two days of December, joining the hundreds of thousands who are signing up through the federal and state marketplaces ahead of the Dec. 23 deadline. On Tuesday, the administration announced that over 1.46 million people have been approved for Medicaid coverage.
All the positive health care news has left Republicans in search of a new way to attack the law and led at least one national group to look in the rearview mirror.
On Wednesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee will target 12 Democrats running for re-election for supporting the health care law’s changes to the Medicare program. Republicans deployed the strategy during the legislative battle over the law, throughout the 2010 midterm elections and most recently in the 2012 presidential contest. Their argument goes like this: Democrats want to cut Medicare by more than $700 billion to pay for a new entitlement, undermining a health care program seniors rely on.
But in reality, both parties are hoping to squeeze Medicare for savings.
Republicans repeatedly voted to preserve these very reductions in the context of a House budget that also trims the program by asking future Medicare beneficiaries to purchase insurance from private companies offering Medicare benefits — and then reducing the value of that credit year after year. The Democrat-backed cuts, in turn, would slow the growth of Medicare over the next decade by targeting over-spending from insurers and providers: eliminating overpayments to private insurers in Medicare Advantage, reforming provider payments to encourage greater efficiency, tying reimbursements to improvements in economic productivity, and reducing fraud and abuse.
Those are two different approaches to getting at the same problem — and most Republicans tacitly backed the latter. But now, the loudest critics of government spending are back to complaining (and disingenuously misrepresenting) efforts to achieve the very policy goal they claim to support.Update
This post was updated to reflect the latest enrollment numbers.
The post HealthCare.Gov Improvements Have Republicans Scrambling For New Obamacare Attacks appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The You Can Play Project, the advocacy organization that promotes equality in sports for LGBT athletes, Tuesday launched an initiative with the National Football League that will take professional athletes to LGBT youth organizations in an effort to improve prospects for LGBT causes both among youths and the league’s players. The “High Five Initiative,” as it is known, is the first major You Can Play effort under new executive director Wade Davis, a former NFL player who came out as gay after his career was over.
The initiative launched Tuesday when former NFL players Troy Vincent and Dwight Hollinger visited the Hetrick Martin Institute, one of the nation’s oldest LGBT youth organizations, in New York City. Many of the kids at Hetrick Martin are there because they’ve been kicked out of their homes for being LGBT.
Outsports’ Cyd Ziegler has a good run down of why this is so important, even compared to You Can Play’s past efforts. It will give NFL players a chance to learn about the experiences LGBT youth face in their every day lives, from discrimination at home to bullying at school and especially in sports. Vincent leads the NFL’s diversity outreach, and his involvement will allow him to take those experiences back to a league that is trying to become a more open place for gay players, fans, and employees alike. Hearing the stories of the harassment and bullying these youth face could also lead to introspection in the NFL and other leagues around bullying, hazing, and their general locker room cultures that, while not specifically tied to gay athletes, could make gay players more reticent to come out.
At the same time, it will give the LGBT youth who face those problems a chance to meet professional athletes who are serious about helping their causes, and the impact of hearing from prominent members of society can’t be overstated.
Still, it seems like part of the message of the High Five initiative rings a bit hollow given that there are still no out active NFL players. It certainly isn’t You Can Play’s fault that there aren’t any openly gay athletes for them to work with in the four major sports leagues, and it shouldn’t wait on them to come out to help LGBT youth in sports or anywhere else. But while there are plenty of allies in the major leagues, how can they tell LGBT kids that they can play when they haven’t yet proven that themselves?
The leagues are getting closer to that point. Former NBA player Jason Collins came out last year and is still looking for a team, and reports have indicated that the NFL has gotten close to welcoming its first openly gay player. The NFL — and the other leagues too — should be commended for the steps they have taken to become more open and tolerant places for their players, fans, and employees alike, as well as for the efforts they are making (and will hopefully make through the High Five initiative) to reach out to LGBT youth in their communities too. But until these leagues prove and their own gay players (which we know exist) believe that they are ready to live up to the mantra that you can play no matter your sexuality, theimpact of these projects is going to be limited by the fact that LGBT youth can’t look to these leagues and see people like them playing.
The High Five initiative is an excellent endeavor for an organization like You Can Play, and I hope it will be able to partner with athletes in all of the major sports who can help these LGBT youth. The initiative’s biggest impact, though, may be in helping to convince the leagues that they need to be ready for openly gay athletes and that their own LGBT equality efforts would be even more effective if they had gay players to help the cause.
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More than half of American families make $60,000 a year or less, according to a report from The Hamilton Project.
The report breaks it down even further, noting that 40 percent of families earn $40,000 or less a year and a remarkable 15 percent earn somewhere between $1 and $20,000 a year. On the other hand, very few earn above $100,000. “For working-age families with children, earning over $100,000 is the exception, not the rule,” it notes. Less than 3 percent earn more than $260,000.
CREDIT: The Hamilton Project
The report also notes that nearly half of today’s families live at 250 percent of the federal poverty line ($58,208 for a two-parent family with two kids), and it calls those who live between that threshold and the poverty line itself the “struggling lower-middle class” given that “any unanticipated downturns in income could push them into poverty.” It finds that these struggling families are equally headed by single parents and married parents alike and that about half of the parents have attended some college.
About a third of these families have to rely on public programs to get by, including 21 percent who rely on food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A quarter of the children in these struggling families face food insecurity, compared to just 15 percent of those who live above 250 percent of the poverty line.
The report’s findings that many families who aren’t technically below the poverty line struggle to get by isn’t surprising. Making $60,000 a year won’t bring a family economic security, according the Basic Economy Security Tables Index developed by WOW and Washington University. Their calculations find that a two-income, two-child family needs nearly $72,000 a year to feel economically secure without even taking into account such things as saving for college or buying a home.
The concentration of American families at the bottom of the income scale, where they struggle to get by, highlights growing income inequality and stagnating wages over recent decades. Over the last three years, the wealthiest saw incomes grow by 5 percent, but everyone else’s actually dropped. More workers find themselves scraping by as low-wage jobs replace middle class work in the recovery period. And those wages haven’t grown even as workers produce more, as the bottom 60 percent of earners have experienced a “lost decade” of wage growth where it either fell or stayed flat. At the same time, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans are taking home a record share of income.
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At a summit on women in politics Wednesday, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) argued that comprehensive immigration reform should be looked upon as a women’s issue and a family issue.
Politico hosted four members of Congress on the panel as part of its Women Rule Summit. Asked by about the number one issue the women hear about from constituents, Ros-Lehtinen noted that immigration reform is the top priority in her majority-Hispanic district. “For them, even if they have their immigration status approved and they don’t have to worry about it, in my district immigration reform remains a priority. There’s a great sense of frustration that the Senate has already acted, the House has yet to act.”
Noting that immigration and jobs are very much tied together in her South Florida district, she expounded on how much the issue impacts women.
ROS-LEHTINEN: Immigration is really a woman issue. It’s a family-centered issue and I think we need to focus it more that way and look at how it impacts domestic violence also — if you’re an immigrant who does not have papers, you’re less likely to the police or any law enforcement official that you’re being abused, or that your employer is not paying you correctly. So domestic violence, human trafficking, all of these issues are tied to immigration and definitely women are gravely impacted by the lack of immigration reform. … This issue of immigration directly impacts women — and it’s usually the mom and the kids.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), also on the panel, praised Ros-Lehtinen’s work on the issue. “We are really proud of that Senate immigration bill and want to get it done,” she noted.
But Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has refused to allow a vote in the House on the Senate bill. While some of his colleagues have offered excuses for House inaction, ranging from the early technical problems with the Healthcare.gov website to the civil war in Syria, Ros-Lehtinen and other House Republicans from districts with significant immigrant populations have been pushing for action.
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For years, a small restaurant in western Indiana served a free meal to customers every Thursday. Unsurprisingly, it was a big hit, especially among those who struggle to regularly afford a hot meal. And the number of people needing assistance has “exploded” recently; the number of people served at soup kitchens has nearly doubled in the past year, as the Lafayette Journal and Courier noted in its investigation.
But Buttery Shelf Eatery served, instead of serves, free meals because of persistent complaints from some nearby businesses who did not appreciate the presence of poor people in the area and forced the restaurant to end its free lunches.
Despite the large crowd that showed up to Buttery Shelf Eatery — up to 70 people at a time — there have been relatively few incidents between patrons and no one has been arrested or even had to file a police report.
Ravallette, a volunteer who used to receive free lunches and now helps hand them out, liked the sense of community at the gatherings. “What I liked most about it is that a lot of times, when you go into a public place, you don’t see a representative segment of the community.”
Leading the charge against Buttery Shelf Eatery is Jerry Kalal, a former marine who opened K. Dee’s Coffee and Roasting Co. in 2007 and felt that the free lunches were scaring away customers. He estimated he lost between $500-$800 in weekly sales as a result.
Kalal complained to Buttery Shelf owner Cherrie Buckley, telling her, “You do this little soup kitchen, but you’re closing down all the other businesses.”
Buckley refused as long as she could. Serving the needy and homeless has been an important value in her life for decades, opening a food and clothes pantry for the needy back in 1995.
But Kilal was persistent. He regularly contacted the police to complain about Buttery Shelf patrons, but his claims were deemed specious. Others in the area filed complaints as well. In one instance, someone told police that a couple dozen people were doing drugs behind Buttery Shelf. Unknown to the caller, however, was that police already had an officer watching on the scene who noted that the people “were just standing there waiting for the place to open.”
The most serious violation police ever encountered was patrons blocking traffic, due to the long line to receive a meal.
Finally, after enduring what one supporter described as “bullying” for many months, Buckley decided she had to end the free lunch program.
This story — a mensch (or group of mensches) serves the needy, only to be shut down by the local government or nearby businesses that didn’t want the presence of homeless people — has played out in countless communities. In Los Angeles, the city council is considering a proposal to ban distributing food to homeless people in public because of complaints from neighbors. In Raleigh, a charity that for years had served meals to the needy was threatened with arrest if they continued. In Orlando, police arrested people who violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless in public.
The problem boils down to the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome. Nobody wants homeless people to starve, but many segments of society want them to be taken care of elsewhere. Instead of considering poor people a valued part of the community, they’re a “problem” that should be dealt with somewhere out of sight. Of course, everywhere is somebody’s backyard, and so local governments like Columbia end up passing proposals to exile its homeless population as far away from downtown as possible.
For her part, Buckley is distraught over having to cease her bakery’s outreach to the poor. She recently posted on its Facebook page: “We appreciate your support. But it is what it is and most people will not change how they feel. We too hope that one day we will be able to feed the community again.”
(HT: Former ThinkProgress intern Kirsten Gibson.)
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CREDIT: Scott Bauer/ AP
A second campaign aide to Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) was fired for making expletive-laden comments about the Latino population, according to tweets found by the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Walker removed Taylor Palmisano, his campaign deputy finance director, after the Journal Sentinel’s blog, No Quarter, inquired about the disparaging tweets made before Palmisano joined the Walker campaign.
In at least two instances, Palmisano made racially-insensitive remarks against undocumented immigrants in a now-deleted Twitter account. She wrote in one tweet dated January 2011, “This bus is my worst (expletive) nightmare[.] Nobody speaks English & these ppl don[']t know how 2 control their kids #only3morehours #illegalaliens.”
Another tweet from March 2011 stated, “I will choke that illegal mex cleaning in the library. Stop banging (expletive) chairs around and turn off your Walkman.”
Earlier in the week, Palmisano was responsible for sending out a widely-panned campaign fundraising email asking potential donors to give to the Walker campaign instead of buying Christmas presents for their children.
This is the second time in four months that Walker fired personnel for making disparaging remarks about the Latino community. In August, Walker fired Steven Krieser, the third-highest ranking member in the state’s Department of Transportation, for likening undocumented immigrants to Satan in a Facebook rant.
The revelation comes at a time when Walker emphasized greater minority outreach within the Republican party, all the while backing away from supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
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Denver Inmates Repeatedly Complained Of Being Choked, Tasered, And Sexually Harassed By Deputies, Were Ignored
A new independent report reveals that the Denver Sheriff’s Department repeatedly ignored dozens of serious complaints by inmates against deputies — including numerous allegations of choking, racial epithets, and sexual harassment. The report, produced by the Denver Office Of The Independent Monitor concludes that the Denver Sheriff’s Department violated both internal policy “and national standards on law enforcement accountability.”
Over the course of three and a half years (January 2011 to June 2013) inmates filed 5,979 complaints, of which 54 were determined to involve serious misconduct. Of these complaints only three — just 6 percent of the most serious complaints — were investigated by the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Bureau. (Six other allegations were investigated after the inmates filed separate complaints through different channels.)
The Independent Monitor report was prompted by a former inmate, Jamal Hunter, who alleges deputies refused to protect him from a group of other inmates who “assaulted him and burned his genitals with scalding water.” After Hunter complained about a lack of medical attention to Deputy Edward Keller, Hunter alleges that Keller attacked him, “choking, punching and body slamming me without cause.” He was also tasered twice. When Hunter then filed a grievance about the incident, it was ignored. Now Hunter has filed a federal lawsuit against members of the Sheriff’s department.
Members of the Denver Sheriff’s Department were told not to report allegations of serious misconduct directly to the Internal Affairs Bureau, but rather alert the “command staff” who would then decide whether or not to report the allegation.
Other serious allegations included inappropriate touching of a sexual nature, throwing objects at an inmate, slurs based on sexual orientation, use of tasters, and refusal to accommodate disabilities. Following the publication of the report this week, the Sheriff’s Department said they would investigate the other 45 complaints. Because there was no investigation, it is unclear how many of the allegations will be proven true.
About 16 percent of all grievances were filed against just four deputies, out of a force of 700. According to the Denver Post, the Denver Sheriff refused to say if any personnel would be disciplined for ignoring allegations of serious misconduct.
Onyango Obama, President Obama’s undocumented uncle, ducked deportation Tuesday, when a federal immigration judge allowed him to remain in the U.S. legally. Obama, 68, has been living in the U.S. for fifty years, but a 2011 drunk driving charge attracted the attention of immigration officials, who have been instructed by President Obama to prioritize criminal deportations. The president’s uncle is a stark example of the low-level, nonviolent offenders who have become the most common victims of the Obama administration’s deportation policies.
Like millions of undocumented immigrants who have spent most of their lives in the U.S., Obama has flown below the radar since his student visa expired in 1970, and most recently was working as a liquor store manager in Framingham, MA. Immigration Judge Leonard I. Shapiro ruled Obama could stay because he was “a gentleman, a good neighbor, paid his taxes, and met the criteria for legal permanent residency,” according to the Boston Globe.
However, countless others with similar upstanding histories have not been as lucky as Obama. Though immigration officials are supposed to focus resources on deporting violent criminals who pose a threat to public safety, 85 percent of deportees as of July 2013 had nothing to do with criminal activity. Of the criminal deportees, many were convicted of non-violent, low-level crimes like drunk driving, minor marijuana possession, or traffic violations. In fact, drunk driving is more likely to land an undocumented immigrant in deportation proceedings than homicide, rape, or aggravated assault, according to a recent study.
So why was Obama spared? Complaints of special treatment because of his famous surname have already cropped up, but another big factor may be his judge. Shapiro, a veteran immigration judge, has a record of forgiving rulings, including one that granted President Obama’s undocumented aunt, Zeituni Onyango, asylum in 2008. Under another judge, Obama may not have been so lucky. A report by the legal advocacy group Appleseed Network found that the single best predictor of an immigrant’s success or failure in immigration court was the identity of the judge who hears the case. Most immigration judges have no judicial experience at all, but come from long careers prosecuting immigrants for the Justice Department or for Homeland Security. This limited selection pool can have dire consequences for immigrants; one analysis found that a judge who used to work as an enforcer of immigration law is 24 percent less likely to rule in an immigrant’s favor.
House Republicans would eliminate even this game of chance by expanding the kinds of crimes that mandate deportation to include low-level offenses like using a fake ID or shoplifting. One drunk driving charge like Obama’s would result in mandatory detention, while a second DUI conviction, no matter how long ago it was, would also automatically boot the offender out of the country. If the House’s SAFE Act becomes law, judges will no longer be able to consider an immigrant’s family ties or community contributions. Even someone like Obama would never get the chance to make his case, no matter how famous his nephew is.
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