On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow hosted “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy,” perhaps the most famous episode of his CBS show, See It Now. In this time of climate crisis and climate silence — Murrow is a reminder that at one time journalists spoke out on the greatest issues of the day:
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent…. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities.
The New York Times has called Edward R. Murrow, “Perhaps the most esteemed American journalist since Ben Franklin.” But now his courage and moral outrage in the face of injustice and intimidation seem to be of a lost era.
Even back in 1990, the Times could write, ” Since his day, commercial television has shown little enthusiasm for controversy of the sort that he courted; all the news divisions take chances from time to time, but the intervals seem long, and none of his successors conveys the passionate conviction that came so naturally to him.”
How far journalism has further descended since then can be seen daily on Fox News and the cable news scream-fests. But the real plague infecting the media was perhaps best exposed in a 2009 cover story on Paul Krugman by Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas. Assuming we don’t devote the mere 0.11% of GDP per year needed to avert climate catastrophe, future generations who are puzzled about our fatal myopia need look no further for explanation than Thomas’s remarks.
Thomas begins with the amazing admission, “If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am),” and continues with words that should be emblazoned across journalism schools around the country:
By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. The in crowd of any age can be deceived by self-confidence….
Thomas was writing about the economic crisis, but his words apply far better to the global Ponzi scheme. Indeed, his words could not more ironically apply to the catastrophic global warming that he and his establishment buddies are all but blind to — the sound of ice cracking in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica.
We’re fast approaching climatic tipping points — the loss of Arctic sea ice, the disintegration of the great ice sheets, the release of vast amounts of carbon from the permafrost, Dust-Bowlification of much of the world’s arable land — that are catastrophic and irreversible on a time frame of centuries.
Even once-reticent climatologists are speaking out because, as Dr. Lonnie Thompson has written, “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.” Some climatologists, like James Hansen and Jason Box, have joined direct action and been arrested for it.
How can any of us do less? Frederick Douglass said in 1857:
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
I don’t know if the climate crisis can be prevented in an era where much of the media is effectively an agent of the status quo rather than of the public interest. But I do know that Murrow’s words are as true today as they were 60 years ago: Those who keep silent on the great moral crisis of our time cannot escape responsibility for the grim result.
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On Tuesday, the Idaho house gave its approval to a bill that had already cleared the state senate permitting people with an “enhanced concealed-carry permit” to carry firearms on college campuses. Gov. Butch Otter (R-ID) is expected to sign it.
Although the bill was strongly opposed by university presidents and faculty, as well as the police chief in Boise, Idaho whose jurisdiction includes Boise State University, the bill was supported by the Idaho Sheriffs Association. Indeed, one sheriff defended the bill on the grounds that “I oftentimes fear that if you start restricting one thing at a time, like where you can carry guns, there will be a next step and a next step to the point where you’re not allowed to pack guns anywhere at any time.”
Which, of course, is a perfectly sensible argument. Since the fact that guns are banned in airport terminals has already led to a total, nationwide gun ban.
Although gun rights advocates typically defend permissive concealed carry laws on the theory that a person with a hidden firearm may be able to use it to defend against a killer — “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” in National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s words — the reality is that defensive use of guns is rare. In 2010, according to the Violence Policy Center, there were 230 justifiable homicides involving firearms. That compares to 8,275 criminal gun homicides (a number that does not include suicides or accidental deaths) in the same year.
A likely explanation for this disparity is that most gun murders do not occur during mass shootings, break-ins or other circumstances where it is easy to imagine how a concealed firearm could be useful. Rather, as Washington State Sociology Professor Jennifer Schwartz explains, “[n]early half of all homicides, committed by men or women, were preceded by some sort of argument or fight, such as a conflict over money or property, anger over one partner cheating on another, severe punishment of a child or abuse of a partner, retaliation for an earlier dispute, or a drunken fight over an insult or other affront.” In many of these cases, if no one had ready access to a firearm at the time of the argument, no one would have died.
Indeed, guns on university grounds is a particularly dangerous idea because heavy drinking is common on college campuses, and alcohol is a major contributor to gun homicides. According to Schwartz, “40% of male offenders were drinking alcohol at the time” that they committed a homicide crime, and about one third of female offenders were also drinking at the time of their crime.
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CREDIT: AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
This week a California state legislator proposed legislation that would ban killer whale shows at SeaWorld in San Diego. The bill would outlaw orca performances, ban captive breeding programs, and prohibit the export of whales out of the state. Existing whales would be retired to sea pens or permitted to be displayed but not performed. SeaWorld argues the law would likely be invalid under the state and federal constitutions. But prominent animal law experts contacted by ThinkProgress strongly disagree.
The legislation is a response, in part, to the controversial documentary Blackfish which alleged that SeaWorld subjected killer whales to mistreatment and exposed trainers to extreme danger. In 2010, a orca named Tilikum killed trainer Dawn Brancheau. It was the third death linked to Tilikum, who still performs at Sea World in Florida.
In response to the new legislation, SeaWorld suggested the bill, even if enacted would be struck down. “The premise behind this proposed legislation is severely flawed on multiple levels, and its validity is highly questionable under the United States and California Constitutions,” Seaworld spokeswoman Becca Bides said in a statement. Bides dismissed that bill as the work of “extreme animal rights activists, many of whom regularly campaign against SeaWorld and other accredited marine mammal parks and institutions.”
But four leading animal law experts contacted by ThinkProgress believe that, if SeaWorld challenged the law, they would not be successful.
Any constitutional challenge would likely fall under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits “takings” of private property “without due process of law” or “just compensation.” (Article I, Section 19 of the California constitution contains similar language.) SeaWorld could argue that prohibiting killer whale performances and other restrictions in the bill constitutes a taking of their property.
Kathy Hessler, a law professor and the Director of the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School, noted that the “right to own wild animals has always been highly qualified and has been largely regulated.” Hessler cited existing regulations on “the transportation, breeding and exhibition of certain animals,” as well as OSHA regulations limiting human interaction with different species. Therefore, it is not at all clear that additional restrictions on the ownership of orcas would constitute a taking under state or federal law. Even if the new law was ruled a taking by a court, SeaWorld “would be entitled to due process and to compensation.” But it would not invalidate the law.
Hessler’s analysis was echoed by other top animal law scholars. Gary L. Francione, law professor at Rutgers and author of numerous books on animal law, told ThinkProgress: “I am not sure on what basis anyone claims that this violates the federal Constitution. I suppose that they might argue that it is a taking of property that requires compensation but I think that is weak.”
David Farve, Professor of Property and Animal Law at the Michigan State College of Law said that he was “not aware of anything on the federal level that would trigger a constitutional violation” and that the proposed legislation “appears to me to be a lawful exercise of state police power to deal with animal related issues.”
The harshest dismissal of SeaWorld’s claims came from professor Taimie Bryant, who has been studying animal law at UCLA since 1995. Bryant said that SeaWorld had no real legal argument at all and their actual strategy was to trigger “unjustified bias against those who brought forward or support the proposal.” She called the proposed legislation “long overdue.”
Indeed, Hessler explained that “some cities and states tightly restrict private ownership of wild animals given the inherent dangers to citizens and because of the increasing awareness of the cruelty involved for the animals.” This is in response to “new scientific evidence regarding the suffering of animals, and to an evolving societal consensus that certain types of harm are unnecessary.”
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Rand Paul Says He Would Respond To Ukrainian Crisis By ‘Drilling In Every Possible Conceivable Place’
CREDIT: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said Sunday that he thinks the best way to respond to the crisis in Ukraine would be drilling for oil and natural gas “in every possible conceivable place” in the U.S.
Paul, who won the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend, told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that if he were president, expanding drilling would be a key part of his response to Russia invading Ukraine.
“I would do something differently from the president,” Paul said. “I would immediately get every obstacle out of the way for our export of oil and gas, and I would begin drilling in every possible conceivable place within our territories in order to have production we can supply Europe with if it’s interrupted from Ukraine.”
Paul isn’t the first American lawmaker to call for exporting gas to Europe in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine. Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the U.S. “should be upping our exports of natural gas to this region and showing there will be real consequences to these kind of actions.” A day later, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced a bill in the House that would force the Department of Energy to fast-track the approval of permits to export natural gas to Ukraine and other European Union and former Soviet countries. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced legislation in the Senate which would also expedite natural gas export permits, saying that the Ukranian crisis “shows why we need to responsibly develop our natural gas reserves and expand our ability to export this resource abroad.”
But some say exporting natural gas to Europe and Ukraine is a more complicated solution than these lawmakers let on. As Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, decisions on where to ship gas are made primarily by the market, not by governments, and it’s much more profitable for the U.S. to ship gas to Asia. The New York Times Editorial Board added Friday that Putin “would not stand idly by” if the U.S. exported gas to Europe, and could lower the price of Russia’s gas to keep customers from switching to American gas. The Times also noted that even if bills expediting permits were approved, “setting up more facilities to liquefy and ship gas would take years and cost billions of dollars.”
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CREDIT: A.P. Images
Speaking ahead of next month’s IPCC publication on the effects of climate change on the world’s food supplies, human health, cities and rural areas, Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the UN’s climate science panel told the Guardian that the extreme weather seen around the globe this winter is only going to get worse.
“Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the last. Extreme events are on the increase. Even if what we have just had [this winter] was not caused by anthropogenic climate change, events of this nature are increasing both in intensity and frequency,” said Rajendra Pachauri,”Two types of extreme events are going to occur more frequently – extreme precipitation and heatwaves. It is important for societies to deal with climate change if we want to avoid the impacts.”
On Friday, the punishing drought in Queensland Australia was officially declared the state’s most widespread drought on record. With 15 new shires included in the drought, almost 80 percent of the state is now affected. There are now 38 drought-declared shires and for the first time, large parts of the Queensland coast have been included.
“The wet season in these newly declared shires has been very poor with many areas missing out altogether,” said state agriculture minister John McVeigh on Friday. “February, normally one of the wettest times of the year, has been particularly dry.”
About half of the newly declared shires are in the Wide Bay Burnett region, which was devastated by floods, just 14 months ago.
Canegrowers CEO Brendan Stewart told the ABC that the floods followed so quickly by record-breaking drought was “unchartered territory.”
Stewart said production could be down by 30 to 40 per cent in the drought-affected areas in the Wide Bay Burnett area.
Last week, UN Climate chief Christiana Figueres told the Guardian that while it was important to remember that no one extreme weather event can be attributed to climate change, the recent wild weather should be considered together.
“If you take them individually you can say maybe it’s a fluke. The problem is it’s not a fluke and you can’t take them individually,” she said. “What it’s doing is giving us a pattern of abnormality that’s becoming the norm. These very strange extreme weather events are going to continue in their frequency and their severity … It’s not that climate change is going to be here in the future, we are experiencing climate change.”
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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back on Sunday against conservatives who’ve blamed President Obama’s “weak” foreign policy for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Crimea.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gates dismissed arguments that Obama’s handling of the conflict in Syria or his efforts to trim the defense budget emboldened Putin, arguing that the Russian president also invaded Georgia during the George W. Bush administration.
“My own view is, after all, Putin invaded Georgia when George W. Bush was president. Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of being weak or unwilling to use military force,” Gates, who served as Defense Secretary for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama said. “So I think Putin is very opportunistic in these arenas. I think that even if — even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren’t cutting our defense budget — I think Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea, and he has seized it.” Earlier this week, Gates told the Washington Post that the GOP lawmakers should “tone down” their criticism and “try to be supportive of the president rather than natter at the president.”
Though most Republicans agree with Obama’s policy for handling the Crimean crisis, some conservatives have argued that Obama’s perceived “weakness” on the global stage has given Putin the space to move Russian troops into Crimea. “We have a weak and indecisive president” and that “invites aggression,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said last week. “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee claimed, adding that Russia is “running circles around us.”
During his appearance, Gates also dismissed criticism of Obama’s weekend vacation. “I’ve seen this happen year after year, president after president. President takes a day or two off and plays golf. Doesn’t matter whether it’s President Obama or the first President Bush going fishing. I think you’ve got to give these guys a little time off, you know, mostly they are working 20 hours a day.”
Gates said he does not believe that “Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hand.” “I think it’s part of a long-term strategy on Putin’s part to create a Russian sphere of influence, a Russian bloc,” he explained. “I don’t think he will stop in Ukraine until there is essentially a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, in Kiev.”Update
On ABC’s This Week, Ted Cruz (R-TX) reiterated the claim that Obama’s foreign policy gave Putin the green light to invade Crimea:
A critical reason for Putin’s aggression has been President Obama’s weakness. That Putin fears no retribution. Their policy has been to alienate and abandon our friends and coddle and appease our enemies. You better believe that Putin sees in Benghazi, four Americans are murdered and nothing happens, no retribution. You better believe that Putin sees that in Syria, Obama draws a red line and ignores it.
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CREDIT: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
With 31 percent of the vote, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) won the closely watched Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll this weekend, dwarfing second place finisher Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) 11 percent of the vote.
The son of libertarian icon and former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), Rand Paul has emerged as the nation’s leading spokesperson for an anti-government philosophy that would undo nearly all the accomplishments of the New Deal and the Civil Rights Era. As a Senate candidate in 2010, Paul came out against the Civil Rights Act of 1964′s bans on private discrimination — including the bans on employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters — claiming that the right of “private ownership” should trump African Americans’ and other minorities’ right to be free from invidious discrimination. Permitting private discrimination, according to Paul, is “the hard part about believing in freedom.”
Nor are Paul’s libertarian views limited to his skepticism towards civil rights protections. In 2013, Paul endorsed a long-ago overruled Supreme Court decision called Lochner v. New York. The Court’s Lochner opinion relied on a fabricated “right to contract” that it and subsequent cases used to strike down various laws protecting workers from exploitative employers — on the idea that if a worker signs a contract that forces them to work 16 hours a day for barely subsistence wages then it would somehow violate the worker’s rights to pay them more money for fewer hours work.
Lochner was overruled in 1937, after the Great Depression discredited the largely libertarian economic policy that had been imposed upon the country by the Supreme Court. And it was, until very recently, viewed as a disastrous opinion even among leading conservatives. Robert Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected by a Senate that deemed him too conservative, labeled Lochner as “the quintessence of judicial usurpation of power.”
Yet, if Rand Paul were elected president, he would have the power to nominate potential Supreme Court justices who would restore Lochner and who would potentially strike down the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters to boot. And this is the man that one of the nation’s top conservative gatherings selected as their first choice to be the next President of the United States.
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Multiple reporters have been harassed and beaten while trying to cover efforts by pro-Russian militants to seize areas of Crimea, raising serious concerns about the safety of journalists and their ability to report accurate information just days before Crimeans vote on their political future.
Ukraine’s Channel 5 television journalists and journalists from the Inter and STB channels were allegedly assaulted and had their equipment seized, AFP reports. According to accounts from the Associated Press, a group of reporters were setting up their cameras when “they were approached by unarmed men who took photos of their equipment and ‘accused the crew of being spies.’” An AFP corespondent “later saw five male journalists in hospital who had been severely beaten, their faces covered with blood, and who were being treated for head wounds.”
Security video footage from Crimea’s main port also shows a photographer being robbed of his camera at gunpoint for taking photographs of other journalists facing intimidation and harassment. On Thursday, freelance journalist Dimiter Kenarov, who’s reporting in Crimea, “tweeted that he’d had a gun pointed to his head outside a TV studio on Thursday” and had his phone stolen. Journalists from prominent international outlets faced similar harassment. Russian soldiers instructed reporters from the BBC Russian Services, “Don’t move or we’ll shoot,” while a team of CNN corespondents “was told to stop broadcasting or they would be told to leave their hotel in Crimea.”
International monitors describer the crackdown as an “information crisis,” one that could significantly undermine the dissemination of information ahead of the March 16th referendum to decide if Crimea will receive autonomy from Ukraine or join Russia.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) media freedom representative warned that “extreme censorship, shutting down media outlets and press hubs and attacks and intimidation of journalists must stop immediately.” However, the team says it has been barred from entering Ukraine by pro-Russian forces.
The allegations come after six Ukrainian channels were shutdown in Crimea and replaced with Russian broadcasts and a group of 30 masked gunmen broke into the Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism last weekend. On Thursday, a Russian lawmaker introduced legislation making media executives criminally liable for “the publication of false, anti-Russian information that provides information in support of extremist and separatist, anti-Russian forces, including portrayals of events beyond Russian borders.”
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry claims that Russian reporters and producers have also been banned from entering Ukraine to cover the conflict.
In 2013, Freedom House reported that freedom of the press deteriorated after Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency. “The government maintained its grip on key television outlets and tightened controls over the internet during the year, and most state and privately owned mass media engaged in blatant propaganda that glorified the country’s national leaders and fostered an image of political pluralism,” the organization found.
The post With Journalists Under Attack, Crimea Faces ‘Information Crisis’ Ahead Of National Referendum appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The True Detective finale on Sunday, arguably the obsessed-over closing episode since Lost’s curtain call almost four years ago, will decide whether the show lives up to its grandest ambitions. At its best, True Detective displays dread play on cop show cliches; at its worst, it falls into them.
Given that all of the best evidence suggests one of crime fiction’s most banal bugaboos — Evil Powerful Southern Men Cult — is responsible for the serial murders, there’s a very real risk True Detective collapses into the worst version of itself. Indeed, Nick Pizzolatto, the show’s creator, has been warning viewers not to expect any kind of twist or surprise ending, particularly a horrific or supernatural one. “All I can offer,” he said on Thursday, “is that to date there hasn’t been a single thing in our show that’s supernatural, so why would that suddenly manifest in the last episode?”
If he’s not being coy, that’s a shame. Embracing the supernatural would be the best way for True Detective to follow through on its awesome intellectual ambition.
“This isn’t Law & Order: McConaughey and Harrelson,” Pizzolatto says; that’s “not something I will allow my name to be on.” True Detective aims to tell a detective yarn while simultaneously “poking certain holes in it.”
The most ambitious hole to take a stab at is the crime drama’s fundamental premise: that closing an investigation actually provides closure. As True Detective has progressed, Rust Cohle and Marty Hart have increasingly resembled the archetypal lone wolf detectives, “working outside the system” to expose its fundamental rottenness. They’re onto a truth too big for normal detectives (like their interrogators, Papania and Gilbough) to grasp, and they need to expose it. Both for the world and the audience’s sake.
This kind of story is frustrating, and not only because it’s been told a thousand time. In the real world, the criminal justice system is definitely flawed, but detectives working outside of it tend to be much worse. Positioning lawbreaking male cops — ones who repeatedly torture suspects and witnesses on screen — as fully justified heroes suggests violent masculinity as a viable alternative to a broken system. “The ends justify the means” isn’t a lesson we need to learn again.
If Hart and Cohle catch their human killers, only to be frustrated by the monstrous force the villains serve, the story becomes much more interesting. Hart and Cohle’s tough guy shtick become pathetically inadequate; evil of that magnitude demands a systematic response, something well beyond the ken of two rogue detectives. It’s a point a show that claims to be taking on deeply rooted structural evils like sexism would do well to make.
Moreover, it’d be a more satisfying delivery on True Detective‘s foreboding atmosphere. The dread that suffuses each episode has been as important to the show’s success as McConaughey and Harrelson’s stellar performances, creating an electric viewing atmosphere where demons could be anywhere, and probably are. Something so familiar as a rich men’s murder cult, telegraphed since episode 1, to be the sole villain would be a weak payoff for all that fearful anticipation.
Meeting a monster would also make sense for Hart and Cohle as characters. Hart has long felt like an ordinary, flawed person struggling to stay above water given the horrific events surrounding him. Being finally submerged by an evil beyond his comprehension would be a fitting end, given his downward psychological spiral since catching the Dora Lange case. Cohle’s existential musings and avowed death wish, of course, feel destined for some dark revelation.
A supernatural end wouldn’t, as Pizzolatto suggests, mark a jarring break with the plot. For all we’ve learned about the murder cult’s use of the Carcosa-Yellow King mythology, we know precious little about what, exactly, they’re worshipping. Given that the Carcosa mythos is intertwined with H.P. Lovecraft’s horror world, it could be Lovecraft’s Cthulhu or Old Ones. But that’s hardly the only the possibility; the murders could be honoring almost any monstrous power Pizzolatto chooses. Whatever the horror is, it could easily make an appearance without feeling out of step with anything that came before.
The Lovecraftian influence has made True Detective feel a lot like stepping into a brilliant fever dream. In keeping with Cohle’s adage about dreaming, there ought to be a monster at the end of it.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills
After border agents were accused of using various tactics to justify killing border crossers, the government issued new guidelines on Friday clarifying its use-of-force policy.
The U.S. Border Patrol agency announced that it will begin adhering to standards that limit when border agents can use deadly force on border crossers. At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made public its deadly force policy for the first time.
The U.S. Border Patrol released a directive — effective immediately — stating that agents “shall not discharge their firearms at a moving vehicle unless the agent has a reasonable belief, based on the totality of the circumstances that deadly force is being used against an agent or another person present.” Agents can only use deadly force when a moving vehicle is driving at them, but the use of deadly force does not extend to “moving vehicles merely fleeing from agents.” The directive also prohibits agents from placing themselves “in the path of a moving vehicle or [using] their body to block a vehicle’s path” — significant given that the leaked review found that agents deliberately blocked vehicles in order to justify shooting the driver.
The DHS use of deadly force policy from 2004 also allows agents to use warning shots and to engage in alternative tactics when the use of deadly force is not authorized. In his statement released Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said, “transparency is essential to the credibility of a law enforcement agency within the communities it operates.”
Both agencies have been under intense scrutiny after last week’s leaked Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) independent review. According to the Los Angeles Times, CBP rejected two recommendations to bar its agents from shooting at vehicles unless the car occupants were trying to kill them and to bar agents from shooting at people who throw things that can’t cause serious harm.
Since 2005, border agents have killed at least 42 people, including 13 Americans, according to the Arizona Republic. And since 2010, border agents have been assaulted with rocks 1,713 times “and responded with deadly force 43 times, resulting in 10 deaths,” according to the New York Times.
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The two-time Olympic champion goaltender for the Canadian women’s hockey team earned some practice time with the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers Wednesday, briefly becoming the exceedingly rare woman to play or practice alongside a men’s professional sports team.
The Oilers brought in goalie Shannon Szabados as a stopgap for new backup goaltender Viktor Fasth, who had not yet arrived after the team acquired him in a trade. Edmonton fans had launched a Twitter campaign calling on the team to invite Szabados, who posted a .954 save percentage in the Sochi Olympics, to practice with the team.
Less than a week after practicing with the Oilers, Szabados earned a professional contract from a men’s team. She announced on Twitter Friday that she had signed with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Szabados is accustomed to playing with men’s teams. She played college hockey on a men’s squad, and she has only trained exclusively with women’s teams in preparation for the past two Olympics, according to a CBC News profile.
Szabados has expressed a desire to play professional men’s hockey, following in the footsteps of Manon Rheaume, another former Canadian Olympic goaltender. Rheaume played in 1992 and 1993 NHL exhibition contests.
Many women have played with men’s teams in high school and collegiate sports, but seldom has a woman been offered an opportunity at the professional level. Ann Meyers Drysdale famously earned a tryout with the National Basketball Association’s Indiana Pacers in 1979, and the rumor mill briefly swirled that the Dallas Mavericks could draft Baylor University superstar Brittney Griner. Recently, Jennifer Welter played running back in an Indoor Football League, making her the first woman to play a position other than kicker or holder in a men’s pro football league.
Women have gained the most notoriety in men’s leagues in individual sports like NASCAR — where Danica Patrick races with the men — and golf, where women like Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie have played in men’s tournaments.
Still, women lack many of the opportunities men have in sports. The biggest women’s hockey league in North America — the Canadian Women’s Hockey League — has just five teams. The Sochi Olympics, meanwhile, were dominated by talk that women’s hockey could soon be eliminated from the Games, though international officials now say that won’t happen. Despite the success the U.S. women’s soccer team has earned on the world stage, women are fighting for the third time to create a lasting pro soccer league here. And even in established women’s sports, athletes have had to fight for equal pay and equality in other ways.
At the youth level, it can be even worse. Though there are 1,500 girls playing high school football across the country, several youth football leagues have tried to ban girls from playing with boys in recent years. While Title IX has improved opportunities for women and girls in the 40 years since it became law, there remain significant gaps for women in sports, whether it’s in coaching, executive opportunities, journalism, or the chance to play professionally. Now that Szabados has a professional deal, she’ll get the chance to both highlight those disparities and prove that she’s good enough to play with the men. And maybe her next trip to Edmonton won’t just be for practice.
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CREDIT: AP Photo/Eryk Puchala
This weekend, Vessel, a film about a doctor who tried to prevent women from dying from botched abortions by sailing around the world to pass out abortion-inducing drugs, will premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. The film’s director, Diana Whitten, spent seven years following Dr. Rebecca Gomperts on her journeys through international waters to bring abortion medication to women in Ireland, Poland, Portugal, and Morocco.
Whitten told ABC News that she was inspired to tell Gomperts’ story in film because of her commitment to social justice, as well as the “metaphor of women leaving sovereignty to reclaim her own.” Gomperts traveled to countries where abortion is illegal to provide women with several doses of misoprostol, which can end an early pregnancy by inducing miscarriage, all by technically staying within the bounds of the law because her ship is under Dutch jurisdiction. Gomperts argues that making this World Health Organization-approved drug available to women, even through her unconventional means, can prevent them from attempting more dangerous methods of pregnancy termination. After all, tens of thousands of women around the world are still dying from botched abortions every year.
Since SXSW takes place in Austin, this particular documentary is taking on additional significance at home.
Thanks to a new law in Texas that’s been forcing dozens of clinics out of business, the last clinics located in the state’s impoverished Rio Grande Valley just closed their doors. The low-income women who live along the Mexico border aren’t exactly oceans away from legal abortion care, but they’re getting there. The nation’s second-largest state now has a 400-mile stretch without any abortion clinics. And it will only get worse. Another provision of the law hasn’t yet taken effect, and when it goes into place in the fall, the activists on the ground expect the number of reproductive health facilities to shrink to six, down from 44 clinics just three years ago.
The parallels aren’t lost on abortion rights activists, who are planning to rally at this weekend’s premiere. Whitten told ABC News that she doesn’t exactly know what to expect, but she does hope Vessel could perhaps help “change the landscape” in Texas.
It might not reverse the law, but thoughtful documentaries about the barriers that women face as they’re trying to exercise their reproductive rights can help nudge the country forward in other ways. After Tiller, an investigation of the difficult work of providing later abortion care in the aftermath of Dr. George Tiller’s murder at the hands of an anti-choice activist, effectively put a human face on an issue that’s typically represented by political buzzwords and 20-week bans. Considering the fact that the media hasn’t typically been good at providing realistic depictions of abortion, elevating more real women’s stories can bring some much-needed nuance to a medical procedure that’s often distorted into something much more dramatic and gruesome than it actually is.
And if nothing else, the clear connections between the subject of Whitten’s film and the city where she’s screening it remind us that the United States isn’t necessarily above larger discussions about global health disparities. When women in Ireland die because they don’t have access to safe abortion, we may think of that as an international issue that doesn’t have relevance to the women we know. But the reception to Vessel, and the women in the Rio Grande who are crossing the border to seek out their own Dr. Rebecca Gomperts who can provide them with off-label misoprostol, proves that’s not exactly the case.
The post Could A New Film Premiering At SXSW Really Change The Abortion Landscape In Texas? appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo / Michael Dwyer
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative had its first auction this week since lowering its cap — and the results suggest the system is once again effectively reducing carbon emissions.
Encompassing nine states in the northeast, RGGI is a cap-and-trade system that started operating in 1998. It sets an overall cap on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted by the participating states. Then it breaks that amount into permits — each allowing for one ton of emissions in a given year — and auctions them off to the firms subject to the system.
The idea is that emitters will have an economic incentive to cut emissions, because then they’ll have to buy fewer permits — or they can sell permits they don’t need to other emitters. How emissions are cut is left up to the market and the individual firms to decide. They just have to adhere to the amount of permits they have.
So RGGI is just a market in carbon emissions. And the higher the price of the permits, the bigger the incentive to cut emissions.
That’s where the problem lay: starting in 2010, the cost of the permits in RGGI’s auctions flatlined at just under $2 per ton. At such a low price, the incentive to cut was low-to-non-existent — a sign that RGGI’s cap was so high it wasn’t reducing carbon emissions beyond what business-as-usual would’ve done.
So the states under RGGI got together and decided to lower the cap. They dropped it from 165 million tons in 2013 to 91 million tons in 2014. And it will drop 2.5 percent every following year until 2020.
This past Wednesday was the first permit auction since the cap was lowered. The clearing price for the permits jumped to $4, the highest it’s ever been at since the auctions and trading started in 2008. Furthermore, the auction not only sold out all the permits allocated this time around, it sold out all of its backup permits as well. So demand for the permits is high, indicating the new cap is ramping the incentive to cut emissions back up.
“These early results demonstrate RGGI is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 80-90 million tons through 2020 while helping states fund clean energy investments,” said Kenneth Kimmell, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the chair of RGGI’s board of directors.
Right now RGGI only covers power plants. But a recent analysis by ENE EnergyVision suggested the system should expand to cover other economic sectors like transportation. According to the study, combining that expansion with an extension of the cap’s downward slope past 2020 could serve as one part of an overall push to cut the Northeast’s greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050.
The post The Northeast’s Cap-And-Trade System Is Back On Track To Cut Carbon Emissions appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: Scott Keyes
BELLEAIR, Florida — Republican women don’t like earning less than their male counterparts any more than Democratic women do, and this puts GOP congressional nominee David Jolly in a bind.
Before seeking political office, Jolly, who is running in next Tuesday’s special election to fill the late-Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young’s seat in Florida’s 13th congressional district, was employed for years as a lobbyist in Washington D.C. Though he worked on a number of controversial issues, one of them that has caused his campaign the most consternation was his lobbying against the Paycheck Fairness Act, federal legislation designed to help close the pay gap between male and female workers.
ThinkProgress spoke with a number of attendees at the Belleair Women’s Republican Club meeting on Friday. With near unanimity, the women were bothered by the fact that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and they wanted Congress to do something about it.
“If you and I were doing the exact same job, we should both get the same salary,” Bobbie Bernstein, who has lived in Pinellas County since 1961, said. Sue Salmeri, a lifelong Republican, agreed: “I think that women have come a long way, but they’ve got work to do. And they should certainly demand equal pay for equal work.”
Ann Castro, an asthana yoga instructor who had worked at the Republican National Committee when she was younger, said equal pay hadn’t been an issue for her personally, “but I know for my girlfriends it has been a problem.” She said it bothered her that women make less than men for the same jobs. “I think there should be equal pay for equal work. I mean, obviously.”
Another woman, Marilyn DiGirol, worried that Obama was dragging the country towards “socialism,” but did take a more liberal tack on the gender wage gap. “It’s an issue,” she said. “Women deserve to be compensated as much as men.”
ThinkProgress asked these women, all of whom supported Jolly, whether they would like to see him support legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act if he’s elected next week. “Oh definitely,” Salmeri said, arguing that the legislation was “a long time coming.” DiGirol agreed: “I would like him to vote for it,” she said. When I asked DiGirol if she was aware of his previous work opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act, she gave him a pass. “He was a lobbyist,” she remarked.
Bernstein and Castro also said they would like for Jolly to come out in favor of federal legislation to rectify the wage gap. “Gotta start someplace,” Bernstein said.
Only one woman ThinkProgress spoke with opposed congressional action on the matter. Susan Wolf, a retired business owner, argued that “women actually do make equal to men” if you compare within professions, citing maternity leave as the cause of a wage gap. However, as Bryce Covert pointed out, this explanation falls short. Factors such as race, occupation, longevity at a job, and marital status cannot explain the wage gap. Regardless of their job or background, rank or position, women continue to make less than men.
The post Republican Women Urge GOP Congressional Nominee To Support Equal Pay appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Jared Leto’s Unfortunate Keystone Comparison, And What Successful Celebrity Environmentalism Looks Like
CREDIT: AP/ Chris Pizzello/Invision
Jared Leto made clear when he won his award for best supporting actor at the Oscars last week that he’s comfortable being an overtly political actor — his speech mentioned Ukraine, AIDS, and single motherhood, and Leto comfortably (though not without criticism) spoke progressively about those topics.
Now, he’s wading further into political debates by speaking out publicly against the Keystone XL pipeline. He and several other celebrities penned a letter this week to Sec. of State John Kerry telling him to oppose the pipeline’s construction. But the letter went a little far.
In 1971, when you were roughly our age, you asked “How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” The penetrating moral clarity of the question made it a turning point in the nation’s debate over the Vietnam War.[...]
We stand at such a point today, with respect to an even greater challenge, an even bigger mistake — the imminent threat of catastrophic climate disruption. Your recommendation on the Keystone XL pipeline permit can help correct the course for our future, and all humanity’s.
It’s understandable what Leto is going for here. The threat of climate change is truly catastrophic and the global consequences aren’t something to laugh at. But the comparison — between a pipeline carrying oil and a war that dragged on for years and claimed millions of American and Vietnamese lives — is unfortunate, not least because it’s not really accurate. The decision to go to war is a very active one, while the decision to continue emitting greenhouse gases that screw with the long term health of our planet is probably the most passive choice one can make.
But on a broader level, Leto penning a letter that opposes the pipeline is just not a very constructive form of solidarity with the movement. Where has he been for the hundreds of protests against the pipeline that actually draw visibility to the fight? A letter might draw some attention to the issue, sure, but being the celebrity face of the movement is almost certainly more valuable.
Leto should take some clues from another celebrity with an environmental message. Mark Ruffalo is famously involved in the fight against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at the Marcellus shale in upstate New York. His reasoning is definitely self serving — Ruffalo and his family live on the shale — but it’s also sincere.
Not only did he launch his own non-profit, Water Defense, that vocally condemns the fossil fuel industry as the source of contamination of American drinking supplies, he also has done perhaps the most valuable thing a celebrity can do: He consistently leverages the amazing access that he gets as an actor to fight for the cause. Ruffalo has gone on the Colbert Report to talk about fracking, and has narrated a documentary film on the topic. He’s allowed the New York Times access to follow him around, not while he premiers a new movie but while he sits in his hometown of Callicoon, NY and talks about his fears for his children if fracking continues.
Ultimately, celebrities are not just like us, and that’s what can make them effective advocates in ways we can’t be. The question is figuring out the effective ways to do that.
The post Jared Leto’s Unfortunate Keystone Comparison, And What Successful Celebrity Environmentalism Looks Like appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: Flickr/Matt Gordon
Welcome to TP Ideas‘ fourth installment of our roundup of the week’s best conservative writing! Every Friday, I look at three pieces by right-of-center writers intelligently articulating core elements of the conservative worldview. The goal isn’t to find conservatives telling progressives how right they are, but rather to pick out writing that helps liberals understand where their ideological foes are coming from.
So let’s get started.1. “Pity the Vassals of Moscow” — Michael Totten, World Affairs Journal
Michael Totten has been around since the old-school blogging days of the mid-2000s. Funded by donations from appreciate readers, Totten has traveled around the Middle East, Balkans, and Caucasus, doing smart reporting and analysis from a neoconservative-inflected.
It didn’t surprise me, then, that Totten had the best piece in the conservative press on the Ukraine crisis this week. Equal parts fatalistic and outraged, Totten’s basic argument is that Crimea is almost certainly lost to Russia — Putin cares more about holding it than Western countries do about pushing him out, and he’s got enough military power to make it stick. This isn’t unique, but what’s particularly smart is his analysis of the foundations of Western-Russian relations:
Kiev is almost certainly on Putin’s side of the red line, but no one has actually said that, so it’s ambiguous, as it should be. Ambiguity lends itself to restraint. Russian leaders tend more toward paranoia than American leaders at the best of times. And the expansion of NATO frightened the Russians as much as the expansion of the Warsaw Pact would have alarmed Americans had the Soviets won the Cold War…
There are various ways to signal a yellow if not a red. Retired Admiral James Stavridis shared a few ideas in Foreign Policy magazine. Michael Barone has more. Parking destroyers in the Black Sea off Yalta might be a good place to start. The US sent ships to that region when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. The Russians didn’t withdraw from occupied Abkhazia or South Ossetia, but at least they stopped where they were, withdrew from Gori, and left the capital Tbilisi alone.
Totten is, quite subtly, reminding us that the entire Western relationship with Russia is structured around NATO: that is, an anti-Russian alliance that forcibly deters Russian expansionism in the future. Absent that security architecture, who knows whether Putin’s Russia would be more aggressive than it already is?
This incisive analysis, together with specific policy proposals for deterring Russia, shows that much-mocked neoconservative bromides about “strength” and “resolve” aren’t always easily dismissable. The American-led military alliance systems structures our world in profound ways, ones that are often easily taken for granted.2. “Free-Market Bashers Aren’t Helping the Poor” – Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg View
If you’re a progressive who hasn’t been regularly been reading Ponnuru’s work, then shame on you. A senior editor at National Review, he’s one of the sharpest conservative writers on economic and social policy out there, a rare thinker who combines a willingness to criticize the Republican Party’s basic platform with serious influence inside the GOP.
That influence, of course, stems from his demonstrated ability to intelligently defend core conservative principles — the purpose of his Bloomberg piece this week. Ponnuru’s stated goal is debunking an argument by Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels that the free market “has done nothing at all” to improve the lives of America’s poorest. Ponnuru makes a reasonably convincing case, particularly on this critically important point:
A bigger flaw with the argument comes with Bartels’s second piece of evidence. He cites scholars at Columbia University who have concluded that Social Security, the earned income tax credit and other programs are responsible for the entirety of the decline in one measure of poverty over that period. The measure those scholars used, however, changes over time as the economy does.
It counts you as poor if you make less than a household at the 33rd percentile of household expenditures spends. The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers said in a recent report that to the extent poverty is measured in relative terms like this, ending it “may be nearly impossible.”
This measure also stacks the deck in favor of government and against markets as an anti-poverty tool — or, more precisely, in favor of redistribution rather than economic growth. If economic growth doubled the income of the poorest households but also increased that 33rd-percentile baseline for spending by a comparable amount, the poverty rate would remain unchanged.
If, on the other hand, you took money from households that made more than this relative poverty line and gave it to households that made less, you’d reduce the poverty rate. The measure of poverty the scholars used is a reasonable one for some purposes, but it’s inappropriate for the purpose Bartels is using it for.
Basically, Ponnuru is saying that markets, by virtue of how they work, have the power to make everyone’s lives better by making everyone wealthier and giving them access to better stuff. Economic growth produces real gains for the poor (particularly around the world), meaning that markets have made huge contributions to the massive improvements in human welfare we’ve seen in the past century. Progressives can acknowledge this point without denying the pressing need to address poverty and inequality — a tightrope walk Ponnuru’s column manages well.3. “Religious Liberty Should Be A Liberal Value, Too” — Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week
I’ll confess to some bias here. Dougherty is a friend and sparring partner; I also occasionally contribute to The Week. But his characteristically insightful Friday column is very much worth your time.
Dougherty, a traditional Catholic with a unique approach to political conservatism, does a great service by moving the “religious liberty” debate beyond Arizona’s S.B. 1062, focusing instead on the principled question of how and why we value religious liberty. The freedom of believers of all stripes to participate in public life was one of America’s original purposes — its protection should be paramount:
Partisans of the egalitarian project define pluralism down. The free exercise of religion is reduced to “freedom of worship.” You’re allowed to believe whatever you want, but when you act in any way that touches public life, you must act according to the ideology of the state. This is a convenient way of defining freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion down to the very last things the liberal state would care to interfere in: what happens once a week at churches and what thoughts you may be thinking. In other words, diversity is okay so long as it remains behind closed doors and in your head. Why even bother with a First Amendment if religion is such a trivial phenomenon?…
Real pluralism preserves the possibility of critique emerging within a liberal state. The interplay of individuals and diverse institutions encourages liberality and understanding at the ground level of citizenship — the gratitude for people very different from you who are still very solicitous of your needs. Whereas the strict ideological hen-pecking of the state creates a kind of existential dread, and intensifies the panic of the culture war — the fear that a loss on principle in one case is the loss of all power and recourse in the future. Legislators and jurists would do best to retain these two essential liberal values, by finding solutions that deftly avoid setting them against each other.
Dougherty’s argument presses progressives to define when, and it what ways, our campaign to expand the state’s role comes at the expense of the liberal commitment to tolerance of diverse ways of life. By abstracting away from charged contexts like birth control and discrimination, Dougherty’s piece should serve to prompt real reflection about the appropriate boundaries of the progressive project.
The post Three Things Conservatives Wrote This Week That Are Really Good appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Misha Japaridze
The former United States ambassador to the Russian Federation — only eight days out of office — told reporters on Friday that the White House is taking the right steps in responding to the crisis in Ukraine, saying the threats to impose sanctions on Moscow are working to change the situation in the immediate term.
In a press call from Palo Alto, Ambassador Michael McFaul told reporters that the Obama administration’s threat of economic punishment for Russia’s incursion into the Crimea peninsula were having a result in the minds of ordinary Russians and the highly influential Russian business community. “The threat of medium and long term action that are designed to create pressure for a negotiated solutions — and I think that’s working by the way,” McFaul said. “I can tell you that the specter of particularly banking sanctions, just in my interaction with Russians — and I’m interacting with Russians everyday, both government officials and people in the business community, and just friends of mine — there’s not a lot of enthusiasm for not being able to have bank accounts, not being able to trade in dollars, having the worry your assets might be frozen.”
“That’s causing a lot of anxiety in the business community in Russia, there’s no doubt in my mind about this,” he continued. “And if you’re a multibillion Russian corporation this has got to look like a total distraction and just not in your interests. I’m thinking of Severstal, for instance, a very well-respected steel company, has lots of investments in the United States and all over the world. This can’t be great news for you.” McFaul made clear he didn’t know where the sanctions were going specifically, which haven’t been imposed against individuals yet despite the White House announcing the legal framework on Thursday.
McFaul also raised the possible economic disaster that the United States could wreak upon Russia if Washington chose to take the same route it did in sanctioning Iran. Since blocking Iran from the world’s financial markets, the international community has persuaded Tehran to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. If similar sanctions were ever be applied to Russia, he said, that would have devastating consequences on the Russian economy. “In the immediate run, just having people think about that is important,” he said. At the end of the day, McFaul said, it is quite possible that Russian president Vladimir Putin “will be ready to make those economic sacrifices if he feels he wants to go forward with this annexation strategy.”
From his own standpoint, he said, the State Department’s efforts to put together a compromise package is the correct path to take. “There’s no way that as a result of statements from Western leaders Putin will have his soldiers go back to the barracks,” he said. “There has to be something that shows he has a better outcome from Russia’s national interest point of view as the result of his actions.” He suggested the now lapsed Feb. 21 deal in Ukraine could provide a framework for such a package, including guarantees of protections for ethnic Russians and amending the Ukrainian constitution to have a more federal system. He did worry, though, that chances are slim that will work, particularly after next Sunday’s vote in Crimea on potentially joining the Russian Federation — which he believes will not be free and fair. “Once that’s done will create some very sticky facts on the ground,” McFaul said, adding that he fears it will create an “ambiguous sovereignty of Crimea that could last for a long time.”
McFaul also vigorously defended the “reset” policy with Russia that he helped put together and conservatives have panned in recent weeks. The policy at its core, he said, was never about perfect relations with Russians but instead about engaging with Russia to seek agreement on common interests without compromising our allies in the region and without compromising our values. That strategy has paid off, McFaul argued, running down a laundry list of successes including the New START treaty, keeping open supply lines into Afghanistan, and U.N. Security Council resolution 1929 imposing multilateral sanctions on Iran. “Over time, obviously, it became more difficult to find common interest with Kremlin,” he said, something that he said had almost everything to do with internal changes in Russia and little to do with the Obama administration’s policy.
The narrative that Putin invaded Ukraine because he believes President Barack Obama is weak is completely wrong, McFaul said. Instead, Putin believes that the United States is far stronger than it actually is, to the point of paranoia, he insisted. “Putin still assigns more power to our administration and our government that I think we actually have,” McFaul said. The former diplomat also noted that historically speaking, American presidents have not had a great track record in repelling Russian incursions into their neighbors’ territory. “Now is the right time for diplomacy,” he said, pointing out that there is much greater unity on the Ukraine issue that existed in 2008 during the Russian invasion of Georgia.
Putin’s dream of a Eurasian Economic Union as a counter to the European Union counted on Ukraine for its success, McFaul said, and at the outset now former president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject strengthening European Union ties was seen a victory for that dream initially. His removal after months of protests was a major blow to Moscow and so “the move into Crimea was a tactical counterpunch by Putin to slow down what in his view was a victory of anti-Russian forces,” McFaul argued, calling it “impulsive.” The result thus far has been scaring Russia’s neighbors, assuring NATO members in the region that they made the right choice to join the defense organization, and a Ukrainian interim government that has accelerated their push to have greater ties to the West.
No matter what the outcome is in Ukraine, McFaul said, the cooperation between the U.S. and Russia on their shared interests will likely continue. Both are highly involved in the process of removing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile from the country and are members of the P5+1 negotiating group discussing Iran’s nuclear program. But on whether he can foresee a possible expansion of Russia’s aims beyond Crimea and into eastern Ukraine, he hedged. “Is Putin planning an invasion of eastern Ukraine? I don’t know. I would be surprised,” he said. “But could I put together a scenario where it happens? Of course. To say that it’s not possible — that would be irresponsible, so yeah, I’m deeply worried about it frankly.”
The post Former U.S. Ambassador To Russia Praises Threat Of U.S. Sanctions In Ukraine Crisis appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Backed by a coalition of advocates for the elderly and the poor, a pair of Louisiana lawmakers are proposing to cap payday lending interest rates at 36 percent. That limit would threaten to put the industry, which typically charges annual rates 10 times that high for its short-term high-risk cash advances, out of business in the state.
“The goal is to get Louisianians out of a debt trap,” said Andrew Muhl of the American Association for Retired Persons’ (AARP) Louisiana branch in an interview with the Associated Press. “We see payday lending as a real drain on Louisiana’s economy.” The industry pulls about $3.4 billion per year out of poor communities nationwide through fees and interest charges so high that the typical borrower will end up paying $520 to borrow $375.
Several states are trying to put constraints on payday lenders this year, with mixed results. While reforms are floundering in Idaho and Alabama and Missouri’s are being described as weak and industry friendly, a modest package of reforms in Utah is headed to the governor’s desk.
Most of those bills do not feature an outright interest rate cap like the proposed legislation on the bayou, although 15 states already cap interest rates. A public affairs spokesman for one of Louisiana’s payday lending chains decried the interest rate cap as “a backdoor prohibition” on his business and argued that his customers know what they’re getting into when they take out new loans or roll over old ones in order to have enough cash to keep their phones active and their electricity running.
The argument that payday loans are prevalent because poor folks genuinely need them is not new. Pennsylvania Republicans make the same sort of claims to justify their proposal to invite payday lenders into their state, which is currently one that caps interest rates to effectively ban the industry. Their point about consumer demand is not entirely wrong — low wages, high unemployment, and the spiraling costs of living combine to push desperate people into the arms of companies that promise to solve immediate cash flow problems, and reports indicate that in many cases customers do understand what they’re getting into.
Still, as recent federal enforcement efforts indicate, the industry is unscrupulous about how it does business and adept at undermining and evading regulatory efforts in states that allow them to operate but attempt to protect their customers from manipulation.
But none of that requires lawmakers to allow for-profit businesses to prey upon that very real demand for cash advances. The U.S. Postal Service could provide the same sorts of services at a tenth of the cost, solving poor folks’ cash problems without pushing them into debt spirals or charging them usury rates. That idea has caught on with progressives in Congress, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and enjoys substantial public support in limited polling. The post office has physical locations all around the country, including in poor communities that have been abandoned by major banks. It has the authority to provide basic financial services to Americans. And it has a manufactured budget crisis in its own accounts that would be resolved by the income generated from replacing predatory private lenders.
The post Louisiana Lawmakers Want To Bring Astronomical Payday Loan Interest Rates Back To Earth appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP/Kiichiro Sato
A Florida bill advanced in the Senate this week to make bullying a crime, including cyber-bullying online. The new offenses criminalize a range of “harassing” behavior, both in-person and on the Internet. And a second conviction would send perpetrators to jail for a year, criminalizing what is primarily a problem among youths.
The bill comes in response to concerns of escalating bullying, especially cyberbulling, and is named for 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide in September 2013, after two teen peers allegedly harassed her over her dating of a particular boy. While Rebecca’s case did not involve LGBT harassment, bullying has been a particular concern among LGBT youth.
The bill establishes that someone who “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another person commits the offense of bullying” — a misdemeanor — and that those who engage in such harassment accompanied by a threat are guilty of a third-degree felony.
The proposal moves to criminalize more youth behavior, even as Florida has made efforts to move away from a trend of criminalizing school misbehavior and giving kids an early introduction to the criminal system in what is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Saddling kids with arrests, suspensions, and particularly juvenile detention for misbehavior has found to only exacerbate later behavior, and increase the likelihood that they will later commit other crimes.
These “zero tolerance” school policies that impose harsh punishment for misbehavior mete out punishment disproportionately not just on racial minorities, but also on lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, who are over-represented in the juvenile justice system. A recent Center for American Progress report finds that these overly punitive disciplinary policies are as detrimental if not moreso to LGBT youth as the bullying itself.
But Florida would not be the first to respond to escalated attention to bullying with criminalization and other punitive sanctions. The vast majority of states — 42 — have passed some sort of bullying law, and 24 of them rely solely on punitive measures, rather than training, counseling and other rehabilitative approaches. Fifteen state laws include procedures for imposing criminal sanctions, and eight have “created new crimes or modified existing ones, to include bullying behavior,” according to the Advancement Project. As the organization explains in a report on why this trend is counter-productive:
So-called “bullies” are, of course, youth themselves, and are thus struggling with their own insecurities – about their intelligence, social skills, physical attractiveness, attraction to others, gender expression, etc. – and are often just learning to understand themselves and the world around them. They are themselves frequently victims of messages of intolerance, hostility, and hate at home, at school, and from the media. [...]
Indeed, zero-tolerance responses can actually have the unintended effects of strengthening a bully’s resolve and further victimizing the recipient of his or her aggression.
Among the laws passed in the last few years are a Maryland law that made cyberbullying a misdemeanor in May 2013, also punishable by a year in jail. The year before that, North Carolina made it a crime for students to harass their teachers online.
Florida, where the bill passed a Senate committee this week, has been known over the past few years for arresting more students than any other state, for violations that include trespassing at their own school.
The post Florida Bill Would Put ‘Bullies’ In Jail For A Year appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Friday lamented the lack of a military option for the United States in Ukraine against Russia and criticized President Obama for thinking the Cold War is over.
During a segment on MSNBC, McCain said that the Obama administration does’t understand Russian President Vladimir Putin. “They have been near delusional in thinking that the Cold War was over,” McCain said referring to Obama officials. “Maybe the president thinks the Cold War is over but Vladimir Putin doesn’t and that’s what this is all about.”
Later in the interview, when host Andrea Mitchell asked if there is a military option for the U.S. in Ukraine, the Arizona Republican sounded despondent. “I’d love to tell you that there is Andrea, but frankly I do not see it,” he said, adding, “I wish that there were. … I do not see a military option and it’s tragic.” Watch the clip:
McCain has been leading the partisan attack on Obama in recent days, claiming that the Russian incursion into Ukraine is the result of Obama’s supposed “feckless” foreign policy. Yet back in 2008, when Russia invaded neighboring Georgia, McCain criticized any “partisan sniping” on the issue. “There’s no time for that,” he said at the time. “The time now is for America to — the United States of America to act united on behalf of the people of the country of Georgia, and not do a lot of partisan sniping.”
The post McCain: ‘It’s Tragic’ There’s No U.S. Military Option In Ukraine appeared first on ThinkProgress.