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Updated: 8 hours 41 min ago

Buy Low, Sell High: How Big Coal And The BLM Treat Taxpayers Like Chumps

9 hours 48 min ago

CREDIT: Shutterstock

An Interior Department agency that oversees sales of coal owned by all Americans is allowing big coal companies to purchase the fuel for just pennies on the dollar and then sell it abroad at a huge markup, a new report on the troubled federal coal program concludes.

“Private coal companies are buying federal coal on the cheap -– and when market conditions are favorable they can make a killing selling that coal to Asia,” said Clark Williams-Derry, the author of a report issued by the Sightline Institute.

The report, “Unfair Market Value: By Ignoring Exports, BLM Underprices Federal Coal,” examines how the market in western coal functions under the control of the federal Bureau of Land Management which oversees nearly a quarter billion acres of public land, most of it in the West. The report adds fresh details to a key finding of a 2013 report by the Interior Department’s inspector general which concluded that the BLM does not take into account the value of coal exported overseas when it determines the fair market value of the coal it sells to industry. Under longstanding federal law, the BLM must charge coal companies fair market value for federal coal.

The Sightline Institute study looked at seven western mines in Montana, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming and their operations in recent years as exports of western coal have soared, from less than 7.6 million tons per year in 2006-2009 to nearly 19 million tons per year in 2010-2012.

Since 1990, the BLM has sold 8.5 billion tons of public coal in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Colorado. The bulk of that coal, 7 billion tons, was sold to big coal companies for less than $1 a ton, and more than a quarter of it for 25 cents a ton or less.

On the vast majority of sales in the past 20 years –- 18 of 21 -– in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana attracted only a single bidder. The Powder River Basin is the source of most federal coal.

Coal companies that buy federal coal at very low prices can turn around and sell on the export market for a great deal more if conditions are right. The study found, for example, that Cloud Peak Energy was able to pay just 18 cents a ton for federal coal at its Spring Creek Mine in Montana and sell it in Asia for $60 per ton.

The Sightline Institute study was done in collaboration with four landowner and conservation groups, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, the Northern Plains Resource Council, the Powder River Basin Resource Council and WildEarth Guardians.

The post Buy Low, Sell High: How Big Coal And The BLM Treat Taxpayers Like Chumps appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Video Shows Cop Ticketing Homeless Veteran For Sleeping In His Vehicle

9 hours 53 min ago

Aaron Colyer, a homeless veteran currently living in California, with his dog Captain

CREDIT: Aaron Colyer’s Facebook page

“I can serve my country, but I can’t even sleep in a van?” Aaron Colyer, a 34-year-old veteran who is currently homeless, asked a police officer as he wrote the former marine a citation for habitating in his vehicle Thursday night.

“I pulled over here to sleep because I don’t have anywhere else to sleep,” Colyer tried explaining to the officer, to no avail. He and his dog, Captain, were lying down to rest for the evening while parked at the ferry terminal in Alameda.

Like many veterans, Colyer has post-traumatic stress disorder. His only source of income at the moment is $849 per month in Social Security Disability Insurance. With the tech boom contributing to skyrocketing housing prices in the Bay Area, Colyer doesn’t have much chance of affording somewhere to live. So he and Captain live in his vehicle.

Colyer recorded the encounter Thursday evening as two Alameda squad cars showed up to tell the former marine to move along. “If I can’t sleep in my vehicle, where am I supposed to sleep?” Colyer asked the officer. “You can get a hotel room,” he replied. “From 10pm until 6am, you cannot habitate in your vehicle.” The officer then handed Colyer a citation.

Indeed, the city of Alameda enacted an ordinance, 23-7.2 Unlawful Camping, making it illegal to camp in any park, parking lot, street, or public area, unless expressly permitted otherwise. The statute does not specifically mention sleeping in vehicles.

Alameda is far from the only city to enact laws that are frequently used to criminalize homelessness. A report this month from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found that 43 percent of cities they surveyed prohibit people from sleeping in vehicles, a more than two-fold increase since 2011. These include some of the wealthiest areas of the country, like nearby Palo Alto, which passed such an ordinance last year. Cities are also enacting a host of other measures intended to criminalize homelessness, such as prohibitions on handing out food in public, sleeping in public, and begging.

Homelessness is not just a massive crisis for the nation as a whole, with over 600,000 people homeless on any given night; it’s a particularly acute emergency for our nation’s veterans. Nearly one in ten homeless individuals in the United States — over 57,000 people — are veterans. And with the war in Afghanistan and recent war in Iraq, the problem could grow much worse for veterans before it gets better.

Colyer, who started a GoFundMe campaign after the incident, updated his Facebook status the following night. “I’m kinda scared to try and sleep…” Forty minutes later, he added another update: “if anyone could help me find a safe place to park until Wednesday I should he moving into a place, I just don’t want to end up dead for sleeping in my van.”

The post Video Shows Cop Ticketing Homeless Veteran For Sleeping In His Vehicle appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Satanists Demand Religious Exemption From Abortion Restrictions, Cite Hobby Lobby Ruling

10 hours 18 min ago

CREDIT: The Satanic Temple

The Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed some for-profit companies to claim a religious exemption to Obamacare’s contraception mandate, has sparked a heated debate over the definition of religious liberty and its role in modern society. At this point, even a Satantic cult has decided to weigh in.

The Satanic Temple — a faith community that describes itself as facilitating “the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty” — has launched a new campaign seeking a religious exemption to certain anti-abortion laws that attempt to dissuade women from ending a pregnancy. The group says they have deeply held beliefs about bodily autonomy and scientific accuracy, and those beliefs are violated by state-level “informed consent” laws that rely on misleading information about abortion risks.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Satanists point out, it strengthens their own quest to opt out of laws related to women’s health care that go against their religious liberty. “Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state­ mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement.

The Satanic Temple, sometimes referred to as “the nicest Satanic cult in the world,” falls somewhere between satire, performance art, and activism. The group says its central mission is to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.” It has a set of seven tenets that closely track with humanism. Typically, wherever issues of church and state are overlapping, the Satanic Temple isn’t far behind.

Members of the Satanic Temple first made national headlines when they rallied in support of Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) for approving a bill that allows prayer in public schools, saying they’re glad the new policy will allow children to pray to Satan. Since then, they’ve also held “a formal ceremony celebrating same-sex unions” on the grave of the mother of the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, declaring that she has posthumously become a lesbian, and commissioned a seven-foot-tall Satanic statue near a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

And now, the Satanic Temple is turning its attention to “campaigns to assert our religious protection for women with health needs that are being complicated by unreasonable laws,” focusing on the abortion-related legislation that goes against science.

State-level abortion restrictions that aren’t actually based in medicine have swept the nation. “Informed consent” laws, which typically require women to receive biased counseling before being allowed to proceed with an abortion procedure, are now in place in 35 states. Many of those laws require doctors to tell their patients misleading information about abortion’s potential link to mental health issues and breast cancer. Some of them put words directly in doctors’ mouths, forcing them to refer to the fetus as an “whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

Members of the Temple of Satan are encouraging all women who share their belief in medical accuracy to seek their own exemption from these laws, even if they don’t personally identify as Satanists. They’ve drawn up a sample letter to help women talk to their doctors about the issue, as well as created “Right to Accurate Medical Information” t-shirts for purchase.

Satanists aren’t the only activists fighting back against the junk science used to justify anti-abortion laws. The secular humanist group Center for Inquiry recently launched a “Keep Health Care Safe and Secular” campaign to encourage more Americans to fight back against laws limiting women’s access to health services. Similarly, NARAL Pro-Choice America sometimes uses the slogan “Politicians Make Crappy Doctors.”

The post Satanists Demand Religious Exemption From Abortion Restrictions, Cite Hobby Lobby Ruling appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

As The Planet Warms, Scientists Say More People Will Go Without Food And Water

10 hours 18 min ago

A farmer walks past his dried-up wheat cropland at Liuhe village in Tongzhou district in Beijing, China on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Color China Photo

Right now, in China’s Henan and Inner Mongolia regions, more than 300,000 people are without drinking water. Approximately 1 million hectares of farmland are too dry to work with, and more than 900,000 hectares of crops are unusable.

The reason for this increased lack of food and water is extreme heat and drought — the worst drought in 40 years, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua. Mainstay crops such as soybeans, barley, and rice have been impacted. And it’s not just in China, either.

According to two new studies published in the journals Nature Climate Change and Global Change Biology, rising global temperatures are increasingly harming crop yields in certain areas of the world — a phenomenon that could eventually lead to more famine. Warming combined with worsening air quality from ground level ozone pollution could exacerbate the problem even further, the study in Nature showed.

“Future food production is highly vulnerable to both climate change and air pollution with implications for global food security,” the Nature study, published Sunday by researchers at MIT, reads. “Little is known about how climate and ozone pollution interact to affect agriculture, nor the relative effectiveness of these two strategies for different crops and regions.”

Ground level ozone pollution is the main component of smog, primarily formed by burning fossil fuels. It’s long been known that both higher temperatures and ozone pollution can, on their own, impact food production by damaging crop yields. But until the MIT study, how they work together had not been determined.

One way they work together, as noted by MIT News writer David Chandler, is that warmer temperatures actually cause more ozone pollution to be produced. This is because of the chemical interaction that forms ozone — the combination of volatile organic compounds plus nitrogen oxide under sunlight. That interaction yields more ozone pollution when temperatures are higher, the study showed.

Because of that interaction, the study found that 46 percent of soybean crop damage — such as the type happening in China — was actually caused by increased pollution, and not by heat as had been previously believed. But that pollution causing damage to the crops can also be exacerbated by heat.

Scientists have found excessively high levels of air pollution in many Chinese cities,which has caused myriad health problems, marred cityscapes, and even gave an 8-year-old girl lung cancer. Much of the pollution has been linked to fossil fuel production, most notably burning coal.

“An important finding … is that controls on air-pollution levels can improve agricultural yields and partially offset adverse impacts of climate change on yields,” Princeton University professor Denise L. Mauzerall told Chandler. “Thus, the increased use of clean energy sources that do not emit either greenhouse gases or conventional air pollutants, such as wind and solar energy, would be doubly beneficial to global food security, as they do not contribute to either climate change or increased surface-ozone concentrations.”

The MIT study also predicted that, even without ozone pollution, climate change is likely to reduce crop yields at least 10 percent by 2050 from 2000 levels. The authors noted this is especially problematic because food demand is expected to increase substantially by 2050 as the world population increases.

And not all foods will be impacted equally by heat or pollution, the study noted. Effects will vary considerably, as Chandler said — wheat is more sensitive to ozone exposure, while corn is more sensitive to heat.

However, another study published this month in Global Change Biology found that wheat crops, especially in India, are more sensitive to rising temperatures than previously believed. That’s largely because of increased heat at night, the study showed, and warmth during the plant’s reproductive and ripening periods.

“Our findings highlight the vulnerability of India’s wheat production system to temperature rise,” Dr. Jadu Dash at the University of Southampton told Climate News Network. “We are sounding an early warning to the problem, which could have serious implications in the future and so needs further investigation.”

The researchers recommended Indian farmers consider switching to more heat-tolerant wheat varieties — especially because of the hunger problem already impacting the country. Wheat is India’s main crop, but already 60 million children in India are underweight, with 21 percent of the general population malnourished, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

The post As The Planet Warms, Scientists Say More People Will Go Without Food And Water appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

How The Alaska Supreme Court Is Circumventing The State’s Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

10 hours 27 min ago

CREDIT: Shutterstock/spirit of america

On Friday, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled unanimously that same-sex couples are eligible for survivor benefits — specifically workers’ compensation. Deborah Harris had filed suit after her partner had been killed while working at the Millennium Hotel by a disgruntled former employee, but the hotel refused to provide Harris with any insurance benefits for her partner’s death. The Court concluded that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage did not justify this denial of benefits, and ordered the lower court to reconsider on behalf of Harris. This was the Court’s second such ruling in favor of same-sex benefits this year, and the third overall.

Back in April, the Court similarly ruled that same-sex couples should have equal access to a state property tax exemption already enjoyed by different-sex couples. In that case (Schmidt and Schuh v. Alaska), the Court explained that whether the couples were actually married or recognized as such was irrelevant. “The correct classes for comparison,” they wrote, “are same-sex couples who wish to marry and opposite-sex couples who wish to marry, not married couples and unmarried couples.”

But this approach is not new for the Court; it actually reflects another ruling from back in 2005 (Alaska Civil Liberties Union v. Alaska), in which the Court ruled unanimously that it’s unconstitutional to deny equal benefits to state employees with same-sex partners. They reasoned that though the state’s ban precludes same-sex couples from marrying, “it does not explicitly or implicitly prohibit public employers from offering to their employees’ same-sex domestic partners all benefits that they offer to their employees’ spouses.”

Alaska was one of the first states to approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage back in 1998. It simply stated, “To be valid or recognized in this State, a marriage may exist only between one man and one woman.” Unlike amendments that came later — particularly after the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in 2003 — the amendment did not contain any language barring the recognition of “identical or substantially similar” relationships or “domestic unions” that same-sex couples might enter into.

As a result, the Alaska Supreme Court has been free to interpret the amendment as simply dictating the use of a single word, “marriage,” without considering all of the benefits and responsibilities typically tied to that word. In last week’s Harris v. Millennium Hotel decision, they specifically noted that if the amendment were to be interpreted to prohibit such benefits, it would likely violate the federal equal protection clause. So far, they have not yet been asked to consider whether it actually does.

The post How The Alaska Supreme Court Is Circumventing The State’s Ban On Same-Sex Marriage appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Thousands Sign Petition Calling On NFL To Implement Harsher Punishments For Violence Against Women

10 hours 27 min ago

CREDIT: AP

Tens of thousands of people have signed onto a petition drive that calls on the NFL to implement specific guidance and harsher punishments for players involved in incidents of violence against women after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a miniscule suspension to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice last week.

The league suspended Rice for two games, costing the running back $58,000 in game pay, after he was charged with aggravated assault stemming from an incident at an Atlantic City hotel in February. Rice was caught on security cameras dragging his unconscious fiancee out of a hotel elevator; police reportedly have video of Rice punching his then-fiancee (and current wife) earlier in the evening.

The two-game suspension is shorter than many marijuana and performance-enhancing drug-related suspensions the league has handed down — notably, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon could face a year-long suspension for failing a marijuana test — and CREDO Action took notice, launching a petition drive that calls on the league to better standardize its punishments for involvement in sexual assaults and domestic violence.

The league, the petition notes, has standard punishments for drug and steroid use, but issues like sexual assault and domestic violence are handled under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Goodell decided any punishment subject to that policy, but the petition wants that to change.

“The shamefully insufficient two-game suspension of Ray Rice for his documented assault of Janay Palmer sends a terrible message about how the NFL views violence against women,” the petition’s message to Goodell states. “You need to take a strong stand and implement guidance — including appropriate discipline — for how the league will handle domestic violence, sexual assault, and any other violence against women in the future.”

As of Monday morning, the petition had garnered more than 48,000 signatures on its way to a goal of 75,000.

“We believe the discipline we issued is appropriate,” NFL vice president Adolpho Birch said on ESPN’s Mike and Mike radio show Monday morning. “It is multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think it’s fair to say that doesn’t reflect that you condone the behavior.”

The NFL obviously does not condone domestic violence. But the Rice suspension, as ESPN’s Chris McKendry said on SportsCenter Monday morning, “does not send the message of zero-tolerance,” especially on an issue that the league needs to address. Along with Rice, Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Greg Hardy is currently appealing his conviction on domestic violence charges, and former Washington tight end Fred Davis is facing potential domestic assault charges. High-profile domestic violence and sexual assault cases involving NFL players are nothing new: there was Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide in 2012, Darren Sharper’s long list of date-rape and sexual assault charges this year, and plenty of other similar cases to point to. According to Slate, 21 of 32 NFL rosters in 2012 included at least one player who had faced criminal investigations over sexual assault or domestic violence.

The league’s drug policy is collectively bargained with the NFL Players Association. Issues like domestic violence and assault are handled by Goodell under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

While the NFL’s punishment drew its share of criticism, it also sparked some ugly responses. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, for instance, warned women not to “provoke” men into violence during a TV appearance last week, then went on Twitter to defend himself before issuing an apology this morning. ESPN reporter Michelle Beadle, meanwhile, was blasted by many social media users for calling Smith out, and other women have faced a similar response for pointing to issues of sexism around Rice’s suspension. The petition, though, gives the NFL and its players a chance to take a stand and use Rice’s saga as a chance to improve the league’s policies. And given the league’s prominence, taking a strong stance to address issues like this could set a standard that lower levels of sports and other parts of society learn from too.

The post Thousands Sign Petition Calling On NFL To Implement Harsher Punishments For Violence Against Women appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Famous Calendar Recognizes This Model Is Sexy, Is Now Only About 15 Years Behind Popular Taste

10 hours 28 min ago

CREDIT: Screenshot from Pirellical.com

The Pirelli Calendar, which is to fashion types what the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is to normal dudes, is bravely going where the Pirelli Calendar has never gone before: it will include a plus-size model.

This year’s calendar is shot by Steven Meisel (readers of a certain age, or readers who are nostalgic for the ’90s, likely know him as the photographer of Madonna’s Sex book from 1992) and styled by Carine Roitfeld, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. The theme of the calendar: fetishism. Leather, latex, bustiers, the whole dominatrix thing. It’s all very 50 Shades.

Candice Huffine is making her Pirelli debut, and much ado is made of her inclusion because of Huffine’s size. For the first time in its 50-year history, the Pirelli calendar will include one “curvy” woman. (Other models in this year’s lineup include: Joan Smalls, Sasha Luss, Karen Elson, Adriana Lima, Natalia Vodianova and Raquel Zimmermann.)

In an interview with British Vogue, Huffine said “‘My presence on this set – the most glamorous in the world – is a sign that things are really changing.” The 29-year-old has been modeling for 15 years.

The Pirelli Calendar occupies a strange space in fashionland. From outside the industry, it is easy to see the enterprise as totally dated in every way. It makes a big deal out of naked (or nearly-naked) photos of very famous women who are photographed in the nude or thereabouts all the time. The whole notion of a print calendar, the big poster-style kind a person used to hang up in a dorm or at a desk, is also oh so retro. And there’s the fact that no mere mortal can even buy a copy of the calendar, as it is a corporate gift that only a select number of secret VIPs get to receive. This is theoretically a big part of the calendar’s allure, even though revealing photos of all of these models are readily available to anyone with internet access or a shopping mall nearby

And yet, perhaps because of its age, the talent it attracts, or the Emperor’s New Clothes-y laws that, to some extent, govern all artistic industries, the Pirelli Calendar is essentially beyond reproach. The style-centric media is supposed to get excited about it every year, even though the buzzed-about calendar is something most readers will never see. The photos are described in that breathless tone usually reserved for bold and edgy artistic endeavors, even though the portrayal of the naked female form as art is the opposite of a new and daring practice. The Pirelli Calendar is almost like the highbrow version of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, a kind of intermission from usual social mores because the rules are different for fashion. It’s no surprise, then, that The Cal has displayed many an Angel in its pages.

But fashion, as far as things like beauty standards and body types and ethnic diversity and so on go, has always been behind the curve of what actual humans find attractive. That’s okay; you do you, fashion industry. But I don’t really think we need to sit around congratulating this team behind The Cal (their nickname, not mine) for coming to the realization, just in time for the 2015 edition, that women who are professionally gorgeous are, in fact, gorgeous. I find it especially hilarious that the Pirelli people are hyping the inclusion of a model with curves at this particular moment in time, when many of our most popular celebrities claim their hotness crowns because, not in spite of, their curvaceous figures.

For instance.

CREDIT: Jeff Daly/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images

So if we were to arbitrarily date modern widespread worship of famously curvy bodies to, say, the release of “Bootylicious,” that would put the Pirelli Calendar about 13 years behind popular tastes. (And that’s just this latest wave of appreciation; obviously, hourglass figures have been celebrated as sexy for a long, long time.) Then again, we are talking about a business that is still struggling with the very basic concept of child labor law. I don’t really know that anyone is looking to these folks to be bastions of morality and good judgment. Personally I do not use Pirelli calendar for guidance re: who is and is not desirable. But I’m just your friendly neighborhood Culture Editor.

In other important calendar news, the FDNY charity calendar will include a female firefighter for the first time this year. Danae Mines is one of only about 40 female firefighters in the entire New York Fire Department (total number of firefighters: over 10,000). She is a badass. And hers is a calendar you can actually buy; proceeds go to the FDNY Foundation.

The post Famous Calendar Recognizes This Model Is Sexy, Is Now Only About 15 Years Behind Popular Taste appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The One Area Where Silicon Valley Lags Behind The Rest Of The World

11 hours 3 min ago

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

CREDIT: AP

The United States may think it’s a leader in technology innovation, but it’s getting left behind in at least one category: women in leadership positions at technology companies.

When Silicon Valley Bank polled 1,200 technology executives across the globe, it found that less than half of the companies, or 46 percent, have at least one woman on their boards or in their C-suites. That breaks down to women holding just 26 percent of board of director positions at tech companies globally and 37 percent of executive roles.

The United States lags even further behind, however. Just 45 percent of U.S.-based technology companies have at least one woman in leadership. By contrast, Europe at 50 percent, Asia at 56 percent, and all other regions at 58 percent easily beat us.

Some large, high-profile tech companies in the U.S. have recently released diversity statistics on their workforces and help show why the country may be behind. Google’s leadership team is 21 percent female; Twitter’s is 21 percent; Facebook’s is 23 percent; Yahoo’s is 23 percent; and Pinterest’s, whose users are nearly 70 percent female, is the lowest, at 19 percent.

In general, half of American tech companies don’t have any women on their boards. At the top ten Silicon Valley firms, executives and top managers are 17 percent female.

Part of the problem is how few women get into the field in school, getting steered away from science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) studies. Women earn 41 percent of STEM college degrees, yet male graduates end up actually working in these fields at twice the rate of female grads. Men outnumber women in tech jobs seven to three. Even when women make it into these jobs, they are far more likely to leave after their first year and to end up with jobs outside the field.

The attrition may be in part due to the challenges women may face in balancing STEM careers with family needs. They also often have to confront entrenched sexism. Examples abound, from IBM executives overheard saying they won’t hire women because they get “pregnant again and again,” to a former Github employee who alleges rampant harassment and misogyny, to a female startup CEO who was told by a male prospective employee he’d take the job if she slept with him. Studies bear out the fact that women are at a disadvantage for STEM jobs just because of their gender.

Tech, of course, isn’t unique in a lack of diversity at the top. Women hold less than 15 percent of executive positions at the country’s largest companies and less than 17 percent of board seats. But these companies may be missing out on talent and ideas that could boost their performance if they don’t add more women.

The post The One Area Where Silicon Valley Lags Behind The Rest Of The World appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Nearly Half Of U.K. Opens To Fracking Exploration, Including Protected Areas

11 hours 29 min ago

CREDIT: shutterstock

On Monday, the United Kingdom’s government opened its 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round, the first in six years, giving fossil fuel companies the chance to bid for licenses across nearly half the region. It is also the first round of licensing since the initial exploratory shale gas wells were drilled in the U.K. around four years ago. This latest round was delayed three years after seismic tremors caused by prior exploration pushed back the process.

The announcement doesn’t actually grant permission for companies to start fracking, but paves the way for exploratory licenses to move forward. The government published a roadmap of other permissions that are required before actual drilling can take place.

For the next two months until October 28th, the firms will be bidding for exclusive rights to search for oil and gas beneath 6.2 by 6.2 square mile blocks. The total available land for bidding is about 37,000 square miles. The total area of Great Britain — England, Scotland, and Wales — is 88,745 square miles, meaning the bidding area covers just over two-fifths of the country. The licenses will cover exploration for shale gas as well as conventional gas and oil.

This includes parts of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and World Heritage Sites. However, applications will only be accepted for these areas in “exceptional circumstances and in the public interest”, according to the government. Firms that want to frack in or near European projected areas will also have to pass through additional requirements. The outcome of this decision is not yet known, with the U.K.-based Carbon Brief reporting that “the precise impact of this wording will remain unclear until tested during the planning process and ultimately in the courts.”

Yellow areas are already licensed for oil and gas activities. Blue areas are under consideration for new licenses as part of the new round of bidding.

CREDIT: Dept of Energy And Climate Change

While the restrictions stop short of a total ban, they represent a concession from those in the government keen on increasing natural gas production. Matthew Hancock, the business and energy minister, said that the new measures “will protect Britain’s great national parks and outstanding landscapes”.

Hancock went on to say that “unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth,” but was unable to name a single community that supports the changes. Widespread protests from communities in the U.K. opposed to fracking have helped elevate the conversation at the national level and bring attention to local environmental concerns.

There are around 130 opposition groups to fracking across the country, and the government found that there was “strong support for the exclusion from licensing of environmentally sensitive sites,” as part of an assessment published this week.

The benefits of increasing natural gas production in terms of climate change are also hotly contested. While natural gas releases fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal, this is dependent on minimizing methane leaks. Ramping up natural gas production could also delay the transition to renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, wave, tidal, and geothermal.

The U.K.’s former chief climate diplomat, John Ashton, is very skeptical of any of natural gas’s benefits in mitigating climate change. “You can be in favor of fixing the climate,” he previously said. “Or you can be in favor of exploiting shale gas. But you can’t be in favor of both at the same time.”

The U.K. is a highly populated region with a wealth of treasured environmental areas. Robert Gatliff, director of energy and marine geoscience at the British Geological Survey, said that this is a factor in how successful fracking for natural gas will be. He also warned that Britain will need a thousand of successful shale wells a year to meet demand, saying “I think that’s years away and will probably never happen, that’s a big target.”

The post Nearly Half Of U.K. Opens To Fracking Exploration, Including Protected Areas appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

How Missing American Guns Might Be Fueling Terrorists In Afghanistan

11 hours 33 min ago

Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.

An Afghan Army soldier picks up his weapon at a training facility in the outskirts of Kabul.

CREDIT: AP Images

Over the past decade, the U.S. has poured unimaginable amounts of money into training and equipping Afghanistan’s army. Now, the Department of Defense office in charge of auditing the process is saying many of the 747,000 weapons given to the ANSF have gone missing and could end up fueling escalating attacks by Taliban insurgents if they fall into the wrong hands.

On Monday, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), charged with ensuring efficiency and preventing fraud, reported that it discovered a significant lack of accountability on both the part of the U.S. and Afghanistan’s military, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), in tracking the hundreds of thousands of weapons the U.S has sold to Afghanistan since 2004. According to the report, the Pentagon set up two inventory systems to track the weapons in 2010, but incompatibilities between the programs led to “missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records,” that produced a logistical nightmare and caused some weapons to go missing even before they were shipped abroad.

The situation only gets worse inside Afghanistan. The report states that ANSF officials rarely take inventory of all the weapons they receive, and often by the time they do, many have already gone missing. As if poor record-keeping wasn’t enough, the real danger comes from the army’s inability to properly dispose of weapons, thousands of which have been piling up in excess as the ANSF attempts to scale down its huge supplies. Afghanistan’s military received 83,000 more AK-47s than needed in 2013 alone. Overwhelming numbers of extra weapons aren’t just a waste of money; they also threaten to trade hands and bolster the anti-government insurgents the U.S. and ANSF have been battling for years.

“U.S. and Coalition–provided weapons are at risk of theft, loss, or misuse,” the report said. “We’re very concerned,” John Sopko, the Inspector General, said in the report. “Weapons paid for by U.S. taxpayers could wind up in the hands of insurgents and be used to kill Americans and Afghan troops and civilians.” 465,000 of the weapons sold to the ANSF are small arms such as rifles, grenade launchers, and machine guns. These are the weapons of choice for terrorists because they are highly portable and can be used in guerrilla combat.

Although Afghanistan is nowhere near returning to the state collapse of the 1990s that gave rise to the Taliban regime, which the U.S. overthrew in 2001, Kabul’s control over outlying districts has definitely started to fray over the past year. While insurgents haven’t been able to capture any major towns or cities yet, they have mounted increasingly large attacks and cost the ANSF a record number of casualties in 2013. Still, President Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would permit a limited number of international and U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after December 2014. Though both men vying to replace Karzai have pledged to sign the BSA, in the event that the current political turmoil in Afghanistan prevents that, it will leave the international community with little choice but to let Afghanistan fend for itself.

While the U.S. supplies huge amounts of military aid across the globe, it has been less keen on developing nonproliferation programs with other U.N. member states to stop the illicit trade in small arms. In 2001, the U.S. and a small group of states including China, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Russia voted to block the creation of a more comprehensive system for monitoring weapons proliferation. They argued that existing standards set up under international law were doing enough to check the illegal flow of weapons. But a look at the growing power of insurgencies over the past several years suggests otherwise. Infamous terrorist groups like ISIS have stunned the world by overpowering well equipped armies, often using illegally smuggled or captured weapons.

Ultimately, ensuring accountability over future arms sales may do more to counter terrorism around the globe than dumping huge shipments of weapons on foreign armies incapable of tracking them.

The post How Missing American Guns Might Be Fueling Terrorists In Afghanistan appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The Inside Story Of How Italy Saved A Sudanese Woman Sentenced To Die For Converting To Christianity

12 hours 11 min ago

Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, disembarks with her children Maya, in her arms, and Martin, accompanied by Italian deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli

CREDIT: AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca

In May, Meriam Ibrahim Ishaq was told that she would die for her beliefs. Last Thursday, Ibrahim met with Pope Francis in the Vatican, a free woman with a newborn baby in her arms. In between, Ibrahim — a Sudanese woman convicted of apopasty after converting from Islam to Christianity — and her plight captured the world’s attention, with international outcry against her pending execution. After giving birth while in chains, it appeared that Ibrahim would be allowed to leave for the United States, where her husband is a naturalized citizen. But when she attempted to do, she was re-arrested and the Sudanese government claimed she possessed forged documents.

Diplomacy is required in difficult circumstances. When and where everything is quiet and smooth, you don’t need diplomacy.

Until last week, Ibrahim was housed in the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, unsure of when she’d be able to escape. That all changed on Thursday when she appeared suddenly disembarking from an Italian government airplane in Rome. “Today, we breathe a collective sigh of relief at the news that Ms. Ishag has been finally allowed to leave Sudan,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said in a statement released that day. “She has gone from facing execution to meeting with the Pope, and she has become a symbol for all who suffer for their faith around the world. We look forward to welcoming Ms. Ishag to the United States.”

ThinkProgress was able to get in touch with one of the primary architects of Ibrahim’s flight, Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli. In an email exchange, Pistelli provided some of the backstory to Ibrahim’s escape and how she and her family are doing now. [Ed. note: Some of Pistelli's answers have been edited slightly for clarity in English.]

In the case of Meriam Ibrahim, we have a woman married to an American citizen in Sudan, who managed to fly out on an Italian plane. What made the Italian government choose to get involved in this case?

Italy is traditionally a Catholic country and the media system had been following the whole story from the very beginning. More than that, Italy has fair and good relations with Sudan. We are very active in terms of foreign aid and development, and it is a relationship where we are closely following the issues of Darfur, Blue Nile and Kordofan and the dialogue for national reconciliation. In other words, we talk to them in a world where nobody — or only a few — is talking to them. Diplomacy is required in difficult circumstances. When and where everything is quiet and smooth, you don’t need diplomacy.

Reports from after Ibrahim left Sudan indicate that Rome had been in constant dialogue with Khartoum, starting about two weeks out from her leaving. Can you give any details on what that dialogue entailed and what, if anything, Sudan wanted in return for her leaving?

I visited the country at the beginning of July and I understood that this story had become a big headache for everybody, after the failed attempt of Meriam to leave the country. We discreetly offered our mediation and that was appreciated both by the U.S. and by the Government of Sudan. If you are able to build up a win-win strategy, you don’t need to add a supplementary “benefit.”

This case of apostasy was the only one brought to a Court in the last 25 years in Sudan. That damaged a lot the image of the country, which is far from being brilliant. Let me just tell you that there was some resistance in some parts of the elite, but those who wanted to solve the case in the end prevailed.

You were on-board the flight with Ibrahim to Rome. Can you describe what the feeling on the plane was like? Were all members of the family in good health?

They were at the same time very tired and very thrilled. We didn’t tell them anything until the very last moment, as so not to repeat the previous attempt. They understood that they were leaving the country when they realized being at the airport and they saw the State plane with the sign “Repubblica Italiana.”

We took good care of them, the parents and the kids, during the flight. Martin, the 18 months old boy, was so excited. They are in good health.

Have you been in touch with Ibrahim and her family much since their visit to the Vatican? If so, can you describe how they’re doing in Italy?

The private visit to the Holy Father was the perfect culmination of that big day. Pope Francis was very kind and so sympathetic. He underlined the bravery of Meriam as a symbol for standing up for religious freedom.

And is there a firm date yet when they’ll emigrate to the US?

The family is on the way to leave, now. It’s a question of hours. [She and her family will be traveling to New Hampshire to live after visiting Washington, DC to thank some of her supporters.]

This is clearly a high profile example, but apostasy remains a crime in Sudan. Do you see this as a one-time situation, or will Italy continue to act as an intermediary to get those convicted out of the country?

The Sudanese Government is truly thinking about rewriting Constitution and Penal Code where those instruments make reference to apostasy. Sudan is a complex country, but many high authorities fully understand that they’re paying a price which is much higher than needed. In some neighbouring countries, in the Middle East, in the Gulf, religious freedom suffers a much worse situation. Therefore, we will work hard to let the “second miracle” happen, to let Christians be free to believe.

The post The Inside Story Of How Italy Saved A Sudanese Woman Sentenced To Die For Converting To Christianity appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

5 Myths The Koch Brothers Want Millennials To Believe About Obamacare

12 hours 17 min ago

Nick Ahamed, Christa Chiao, Will Freeman and Leah Hughes are interns at Center for American Progress.

Creepy Care-nival promotional materials

CREDIT: Generation Opportunity

There was something unusual on the National Mall last week: a creepy carnival hoping to scare Millennials away from Obamacare. Sponsored by Generation Opportunity, the libertarian-oriented youth organization backed by billionaire GOP donors David and Charles Koch, the event featured more than a dozen stations to educate young people about health reform.

The so-called “Creepy Care-nival” is the latest installment of Generation Opportunity’s “Opt Out” campaign, which has also featured similarly themed video ads and anti-Obamacare keggers on college campuses. Each aspect of the campaign aims to deter Millennials, who help balance the risk pools in the new insurance marketplaces, from signing up for new health plans. As Generation Opportunity President Evan Feinberg told Yahoo News in September, “If young people do opt out en mass, it will put the law in a bind, for sure.”

In order to dissuade young people from participating in Obamacare, the Care-nival was riddled with misleading facts that often cited Freedom Works, another Koch-funded group. Here are five ways that the carnival, and the Koch Brothers, are wrong about the health law:

1. “Death Panels” will decide when Americans get care.

The centerpiece of the event, a sinister hospital flooded with blacklights, presented a three person “death panel,” joined by Creepy Uncle Sam. The judges, surrounded by piles of faux money, denied a college athlete health care and advised him to deal with the pain of two broken ankles by “walking it off.” Although right wing media recently used the VA health scandal to revive fears over potential death panels, that myth about the health law has been thoroughly debunked over the past several years, And in reality, the Affordable Care Act includes provisions to ensure that insurance companies cannot cancel coverage just because you get sick or sustain an injury, according to healthcare.gov.

2. The government will run the health care system.

The insistence that Obamacare creates a government-run health care system is a tired refrain on behalf of opponents of the Affordable Care Act and was once deemed the “lie of the year” by a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking site. Nevertheless, Generation Opportunity marched forward with the assertion and attendees at the Creepy Care-nival encountered signs prominently displaying this message throughout the event. One sign was stationed in a hospital ward filled with fake corpses who allegedly expired at the hands of a rambling actor dressed as Dr. Grim (Reaper).

3. Obamacare will bankrupt average Americans.

Generation Opportunity’s warning that Obamacare would total the economy with millions in new taxes was deceptively ambiguous. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the suggestion that the Affordable Care Act will add $1 trillion in new taxes is not entirely false. Nonetheless, the CBO also projects that Obamacare will save middle class Americans at least $1 trillion in tax credits within ten years of implementation, while the tax burden will fall predominantly on the highest-cost health plans and on the employer mandate. Though it is unclear what the long-term consequences of the Affordable Care Act will be, it’s inaccurate to unequivocally suggest that it will cause the national deficit to balloon.

4. Young people won’t be able to afford a doctor.

Two popular activities at the Care-nival included the Strength Test and the Wonky Mirror, which illustrated Generation Opportunity’s belief that Obamacare will cause the cost of health care for young adults to skyrocket. However, many low-to-moderate income earners will qualify for both federal and state subsidies, depending on their location, which will make plans more affordable for young people in those income brackets. The Affordable Care Act will not only allow for more young adults to qualify for health insurance, but will also increase the quality of coverage offered in the exchanges. Plus, according to a report from the Center for American Progress, only three percent of young adults will actually see premium increases.

5. Young people don’t like Obamacare.

At the Care-nival, booths distributed fortune cookies claiming a brighter future was possible without Obamacare, and a magician played tricks on unsuspecting audience members. These features rested upon the assumption that young adults, the group’s target audience, are opposed to Obamacare. But millions of young adults are already benefiting from the health reform law. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, young adults made up 28 percent of the over eight million people who enrolled in marketplace plans during Obamacare’s first enrollment period. Plus, an estimated three million young adults have gained coverage by remaining on their parents’ insurance policies. As long as young adults remain happy with their health care, the upward trend doesn’t look likely to stop.

The post 5 Myths The Koch Brothers Want Millennials To Believe About Obamacare appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Eleven Die As Temperatures Reach 101 Degrees In Parts Of Japan

13 hours 1 min ago

CREDIT: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

Eleven people have died and more than a thousand taken by ambulance to hospitals during a major heatwave in Japan this weekend.

Almost 1,900 people were hospitalized in Japan on Saturday, the county’s hottest day so far this year. Fifteen of those people remained seriously ill on Sunday.

Fourteen cities broke heat records in Japan, with the city of Higashiomi reaching a record-breaking 38.8° C (101.8° F) and more than a quarter of observation points across the nation recorded temperatures of 95° or higher. The high temperatures prompted Japan’s weather service to issue heatwave advisories for 41 of the country’s 47 prefectures, or government districts.

Japan’s current heatwave comes almost a year after another historic heatwave killed 17 and sent more than 9,800 people to the hospital. During the week of August 5-11, 2013, record-breaking heat engulfed Japan, with one weather station reaching a national high of 105.8ºF.

And Japan isn’t the only region to experience record-breaking heat last week. On Thursday, Phoenix, Arizona set a record of 116°F. In other parts of the state, temperatures were even higher — Yuma reached 117 °F, tying a record high for the date, and Tacna reached 120°.

“We have not dropped below the 90 degree mark since Tuesday morning, if you can believe that,” Matt Pace of Phoenix’s NBC 12 News said Thursday.

Heat like that can be deadly, especially for the young and elderly and those without air conditioning, as the deaths in Japan show. In Arizona, the extreme heat prompted warnings that even healthy people were at risk of heat stroke, with the Phoenix Fire Department asking residents to stay inside during daytime hours during the heatwave.

Scientists have long warned that climate change will likely bring more frequent and more intense heat waves to parts of the world.

“Global warming is bringing more frequent and severe heat waves, and the result will be serious for vulnerable populations,” Amanda Staudt, National Wildlife Federation climate scientist said. “That means air pollution in urban areas could get worse, bringing increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks.

The post Eleven Die As Temperatures Reach 101 Degrees In Parts Of Japan appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Texas Children’s Home Fires Employee Just For Being Gay

13 hours 5 min ago

Casey Stegall was fired from his childcare job for having a same-sex partner.

CREDIT: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Casey Stegall had worked for a full year at the Children’s Home of Lubbock, Texas and received only positive feedback for his work with the kids who were staying there. His supervisors at the Christian-run organization knew he was gay, but after he introduced his fiancé to some of the teenagers during a Fourth of July trip to a water park, he was promptly fired. The termination was perfectly legal.

According to Lynn Harms, president of the organization, “There is a set of biblical values that we adhere to live by. When you are implementing life training and so forth — particularly with children — to put a confused message out there is counterproductive.”

Harms believes that because some of the children who end up at the shelter have experienced sexual abuse, having a gay employee can be problematic because “it gets garbled in terms of sexual identity, sexual preferences, fears, concerns [and] retraumatization.” This assumption reflects the myth advanced by advocates of harmful ex-gay therapy that homosexuality is somehow caused by sexual abuse, though no research has ever backed up that claim.

Watch Stegall explain what he experienced:

In Lubbock, Texas, there is no local, state, or federal law that protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Stegall has been struggling to find a lawyer to even represent his case, even though he knows it might lose in court. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would create LGBT workplace protections at the federal level but is currently stalled in Congress, has an exemption for religious organizations that would still have allowed Children’s Home to fire Stegall just for having a family — a provision for which many LGBT groups have abandoned their support.

The Children’s Home notes on its website that it is “licensed and reimbursed for services rendered by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and meets or exceeds all standards established for out-of-home care of children.”

(HT: Lone Star Q.)

The post Texas Children’s Home Fires Employee Just For Being Gay appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Congress Has Finally Reached A Deal To Improve Veterans’ Health Care

13 hours 24 min ago

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Just a few days before Congress breaks for a five week recess, lawmakers have finally reached a deal on a legislative package intended to reform a veterans health program that has been plagued with controversy for months. House and Senate negotiators say that the proposed reforms will help eliminate the backlog of veterans who have been forced to wait too long to receive medical care.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) will unveil the legislation at a news conference on Monday afternoon. The Associated Press reports that their plan is expected to “authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care.” The new legislation will also prohibit metrics related to scheduling and wait times to be used as factors in rating VA employees’ performance. Those policies are in line with several of the recommendations that veterans advocates have been calling for since the scandal first broke this past spring.

The Veterans Health Administration made national headlines in May after reports revealed widespread mismanagement and excessive delays in treatment. At least 40 veterans died as a result of being forced to wait too long for medical services, and evidence emerged that VA officials were deliberately attempting to cover up the ongoing issues. Although veterans have historically enjoyed the care they receive through the VA, the serious issues with access led to calls for reform from both sides of the aisle.

Nonetheless, the negotiations dragged on for months, and appeared to be stalled over disputes over how much funding the VA overhaul would require. Lawmakers were under pressure to get something done before the impending August recess, but as recently as last week, they didn’t appear to be getting anywhere fast. However, Sanders and Miller said in a joint statement that they made “made significant progress” over the weekend.

Veterans groups are celebrating the news of a tentative deal, but not everyone is impressed by how long it took to pull something together. “It’s about time they’re doing their jobs. You don’t get a medal for doing your job,” Tom Tarantino, the chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in reference to the lawmakers working on this issue. Similarly, a recent survey of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans found that nearly 70 percent of them don’t think Congress has done a good job of working to improve vets’ lives.

The legislation will need to be approved by the full House and Senate this week before heading to President Obama’s desk. But depending how much it costs, it might be difficult for the bill to win over the support of House Republicans, who have expressed concerns about increasing costs for a government-run program. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the cost of one policy intended to address long wait times — allowing veterans to seek care from private health care providers if they’re facing an unreasonable wait time or live more than 40 miles away from a VA provider — could reach $50 billion per year.

The post Congress Has Finally Reached A Deal To Improve Veterans’ Health Care appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

At The Border, Migrant Crisis Tests Whether Politicians Can Translate Compassion Into Action

13 hours 32 min ago

MCALLEN, TEXAS — Outside a sterile City Hall fringed by the town’s historical artifacts, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling walks at a brisk pace with his communications director leading five paces ahead of him. His face is marked with worry as it had been for just about every day for the past two months, if not longer. Darling had just come out from a roundtable discussion with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), and border town mayors, and he looked concerned. Darling’s city, less than ten miles from the Mexican border, had become ground zero for the unaccompanied child migrant crisis and he had become the public face for a nation sharply divided not just on the semantics of calling these children “refugees” or “alien minors,” but also the best way to deal with these children. A lot like salesmen, Cornyn and Cuellar were at the roundtable with posters propped on easels and a Powerpoint presentation to pitch their latest proposal to send these children back to their countries as quickly as possible.

“No,” Darling told ThinkProgress as he stood exasperated outside City Hall, no, he didn’t believe that a 2012 presidential initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was responsible for the current crisis. Other politicians, including prominent Texas lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), blamed the program for directly causing children to come to the United States on the false promise of some form of “amnesty.” The DACA program grants temporary legal presence — the ability to live and work without perpetual fear of deportation — to some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

“I tell a lot of youth groups, and I just say it’s kind of like the Golden Rule,” Darling said. “We treat people like we want to be treated. We have tens of thousands of people coming across the river every day. Many of our families are first, second, and third generation Hispanics and so it’s extraordinary effort for people who are doing it.”

This year alone, Border Patrol agents are expecting to apprehend about 90,000 unaccompanied child migrants crossing the southern U.S. border. More than 57,000 have already been apprehended. The Rio Grande Valley, where Darling’s town is located, is at the center of this influx. At least 42,164 migrants have already been apprehended through the Rio Grande Valley border patrol stations.

Darling is something of a unicorn among border town mayors in the Valley– he wants children to have the ability to stay after receiving a fair judicial process. Other local and congressional lawmakers from the region are less flexible about allowing children to stay in the country. In the media and to their constituents, these lawmakers representing the border are purporting to be as concerned for the well-being of these new migrants. But the policies they support would send the migrants back to their countries of origin, in many cases with little opportunity for their claims to asylum to be heard.

Response Without Repair

Less than 30 feet from two longhouse-style emergency tents staked into the parking lot of a church-turned-emergency shelter in McAllen, Texas, three lawmakers insisted that migrant families should be deported as quickly as possible. On this particular day, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Reps. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), and Randy Weber (R-TX) had just finished up a morning tour of the church facility with television and radio personality Glenn Beck. He had earlier brought in teddy bears and hot meals to hungry migrant families who made the trek into the United States. Under the sweltering sun, Beck and Cruz had a chat away from media with Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, who helped set up operations on church grounds. They were there to help with relief efforts, but at the same time, to pressure the Obama administration to fix the issue.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

CREDIT: Jack Jenkins

Just the week before, Cruz refused to support the President’s emergency funding request unless the Obama administration halted expanding DACA, the program that has given some undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children the chance to live and work here.

He told ThinkProgress that DACA was responsible for the sharp uptick of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. “I agree with the President that this is a humanitarian crisis and it’s a humanitarian crisis of his making,” Cruz said. “The only way to solve this problem is to remove the promise of amnesty. … What is humane is to have a compassionate, but expedited process for returning these children back home. That is what we do with Mexico and Canada. And we should do the same with these children so that we fix this problem.”

What Cruz means is deporting kids without going through the judicial process to assess their asylum claims. One proposed bill to do this — disingenuously dubbed the HUMANE Act — would have border agents decide which kids have claims of credible fear. This is currently how the U.S. treats migrants from Mexico under an agreement between the two countries, but the system is already failing Mexican kids, who may not understand the adjudication process and are frequently unable to articulate their fear. A United Nations Human Rights Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) memo obtained by ThinkProgress found that border patrol agents operated on a “widespread bias” that Mexican children don’t really need protection; that they are not trained to interview children; that children are asked to sign a form waiving the right to appear before an immigration judge in advance of their interviews; and that they aren’t given meaningful due process.

Weber and Gohmert agreed with Cruz on policy, citing the Bible in their arguments that while individuals should help the migrants, the government should not.

They are backing proposals to tweak a 2008 trafficking law that would likely give children who are fleeing violence even less opportunity to have their cases heard. In fact, they are joining other Republican members of Congress in refusing to grant President Obama’s emergency funding request to handle the migrant influx unless the 2008 trafficking law is amended.

“If you know the story of the Good Samaritan, if you should know Jesus’ teaching at all, whoever shall give a cup of cold water in my name and all these little ones shall not lose their reward,” Weber told ThinkProgress. “That is the Christian faith. For a government to do it and have programs to do it, I don’t think is our calling.”

Weber added, “I think if the churches will get involved, if the neighbors and communities get involved, that’s the answer. They can help the children while they’re here, but we still need to framework — we treat them kindly and justly and promptly. And we kindly and promptly reunite them with their countries and with their families that they left behind.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX)

CREDIT: Jack Jenkins

Gohmert agreed with Weber, saying, “individuals, and especially Christians, are supposed to reach out and turn the other cheek, but the government’s role is to treat people fairly and impartially. And to say that we’re going to give blanket amnesty to one group when there’s others that’s been trying five years, seven years, ten years, I’m helping many trying to get in legally. That’s grossly unfair.”

He added that protesters who shout at children in buses are “a shame,” but that he “understood their frustration. If we had a government that would enforce the law, then it would promote more peace and law-abiding here in the country. But when the government itself encourages law-breaking, then you’re going to encourage law-breaking from all kinds of factions. And I think that’s what we’re seeing. You’re seeing American people that are very, very frustrated with the lawlessness of this administration.”

Ambivalence At The Border

In Harlingen, Texas, about 35 miles away from McAllen, the Baptist Child & Family Services currently runs a facility to house migrant children and their families. That facility was set to be relocated, but now its future remains uncertain ever since reactive conservatives panned a proposal to renovate an unused, old hotel to house about 600 migrant children and their families in a nearby town.

The town’s mayor, Chris Boswell, told ThinkProgress it is the obligation of Americans to take care of these kids once they’re here. But not for very long. Unlike Mayor Darling, Boswell wants to see reforms similar to those supported by Cruz, Weber, and Gohmert that would send kids back in a hurry even if it means they never get a hearing before a judge.

“There is some evidence that the timing of the executive order on the prosecutorial discretion seems to fit with the increase in unaccompanied minors,” Boswell said, suggesting that the kids came here from Central America because of the DACA program, rather than because they were fleeing violence. “But also, the action that is meant to protect children from sex trafficking and that kind of abuse, the unintended consequence also allows them to stay here longer.”

Boswell’s political hostility toward potential refugees crossing the southern border is shared by many mayors in the deep red border towns of the Rio Grande Valley. But many Texans are not convinced that these lawmakers’ positions are humane at all, so long as they are advocating to send migrants back without fully assessing their refugee status.

Rosalie Weisfeld, a Corpus Christi resident and member of the Texas Democrat party, compared the experience of migrant children fleeing Central America to her Jewish grandfather fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Standing at an immigration rally across the street from the McAllen Border Patrol Station, she implored politicians from both parties to think about themselves and children in the same situation. She told ThinkProgress, “What mother would want to send their child away? What father would want to send their child away? They’re doing it because of a crisis in their countries. We need to help them.”

McAllen resident Eli Olivarez agreed with Weisfeld, adding that politicians were trying to “find the easy way out” of the situation by fast-tracking the deportation of the kids. “I am surprised by Mr. Cuellar’s stance because he is a border citizen,” Olivarez said. “But I also find that there’s a hidden agenda here for him and so I take no credence to what he’s doing and I hope that he changes. … Jesus did say love thy neighbor as you would yourself and that’s what I’m doing. I’m loving my neighbor.”

One House Democrat, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) likewise slammed the HUMANE Act, telling the Texas Observer, “I find nothing redeeming in it. It will rush these kids back to the communities from which they fled, which in many case will almost certainly mean death.”

The arrival of so many migrant children has struck a nerve with anti-immigrant protesters across the nation, many of whom view the crisis as an Obama administration-made crisis. Their frustration culminated in hundreds of sparsely attended protests in mid-July. The pattern of those protests was that for every crowd against the children, there was typically a larger one in support of the children fleeing violence, sometimes held only yards away. Even the ones held at the Mexican consulate (a popular, but odd destination, given that most children are fleeing Central America) saw few anti-immigrant protesters. That was no less the case in McAllen, ground zero, where more than 60 people turned out with signs of compassion and love for the kids, while only three anti-immigrant protesters showed up, unsure if they were even at the right place.

A Microcosm In McAllen

One of three anti-immigrant protesters — who showed up 40 minutes late for the planned protest against the McAllen rally — launched into an impassioned argument about sending migrant children back to their countries and securing the border from disease carriers. Sporting an undeniably patriotic outfit that would make even the Statue of Liberty feel insecure, the woman, who would only say that she’s an “unusual pro-choice Christian” with the Tea Party-backed Overpasses for America, told ThinkProgress that the children “should be turned away and we need to beef up our borders.” She also suggested that the migrant children could potentially be sick and that they could not only tax the health care system, but infect Americans.

“Glenn Beck, now that he’s become a Bible-thumper, I think he’s missing the big picture,” she added. “I think that the media has portrayed all these children, ohh, it’s the children, oh the poor children, well, have you seen some of the pictures that Border Patrol people have been sneaking out of the facilities? Have you seen the one with a whole room full of – they look like thugs? They all have mustaches and beards. I’m sorry, they’re not little children.”

She then admitted, “I don’t really have anything to back this up, but it’s my impression.”

Penning a Texas Tribune opinion piece in early July, Darling refuted claims that there has been an uptick in criminal activity in McAllen and that migrant children and their families spread diseases — statements that Congressional members have, ironically like a virus, spread in press releases.

He wants to ensure that these children are given a fair court hearing after they have been processed at the Border Patrol station. “It’s an easy decision,” Darling explained. “There really should be a process — you’re talking about a 12-year-old kid making legal decisions, in a legal environment, that’s very intimidating. I think that they need help to be able to make their claims in a legal fashion and then have the judges rule on it. If it means sending them back to the country, that’s fine. If it means staying here, that’s fine. But as long as they have due process in an appropriate fashion, then I think that’s all we’re asking.”

Additional reporting by Jack Jenkins, ThinkProgress Senior Religion Reporter.

The post At The Border, Migrant Crisis Tests Whether Politicians Can Translate Compassion Into Action appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Fast Food Workers Will Now Use Civil Disobedience In Their Fight For Higher Wages

13 hours 34 min ago

Workers and supporters protest low fast food wages in December in Chicago.

CREDIT: AP

At a convention of more than 1,300 fast food workers in Illinois this weekend, attendees voted to start including acts of civil disobedience, such as sit-down strikes and restaurant occupations, in their campaign for higher wages and the ability to form a union.

Workers have gone on one-day strikes multiple times since late 2012 in hundreds of cities across the country, demanding at least $15 an hour and the ability to organize. The largest and most recent hit 150 cities in May. Workers have also taken protests to companies themselves, staging a protest outside McDonald’s corporate headquarters in May where more than 100 were arrested.

One of the organizers of the convention told the Associated Press that workers will be asked to do “whatever it takes.” One worker, Cherri Delisline, a single mother who has worked at McDonald’s for 10 years and makes $7.35 an hour, also told the AP that “we need to get more workers involved and shut these businesses down until they listen to us,” including occupying the restaurants.

The actions come at a time when job growth has been stronger in low-wage jobs like fast food but the pay is barely enough to live on. The average fast food employee who works full time, year round makes less than $19,000 before taxes. While executives in the industry claim that these jobs serve as entryways for teenagers to get into the job market, the largest share are held by people between the ages of 25 and 54, and more than a quarter have a child to support. The chances of moving up the ladder and making a career in fast food are much slimmer than in other industries.

Executives, on the other hand, are doing well. Fast food CEOs earn about 1,200 times what they pay their workers. The ratio wasn’t always so high, but the industry’s executive pay increased by more than 300 percent since 2000 while pay for workers has only gone up by 0.3 percent.

Beyond staging protests and strikes, fast food workers have taken legal action. Nine out of ten fast food workers report experiencing wage theft, being made to work off the clock or purchase uniforms with their wages, and workers filed seven class-action lawsuits against McDonalds in March alleging these kinds of actions.

The post Fast Food Workers Will Now Use Civil Disobedience In Their Fight For Higher Wages appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Libya Is Literally On Fire

13 hours 34 min ago

An airplane on the tarmac of the airport belching black smoke into the air during fighting between the Islamist Misarata brigade and a powerful rival militia, in Tripoli, Libya

CREDIT: AP Photo/AP video

A massive oil complex in Libya was set ablaze this weekend due to a stray missile, with the resulting fire quickly raging out of control. The inferno serves as a perfect metaphor for a country in which militants and militias vie with the government for dominance in a system that hasn’t managed to rebuild after years of a dictator’s rule.

For more than two weeks now, rival militias have struggled for control of Tripoli International Airport in Libya’s capital. It was in the midst of that fighting that a tanker containing more than six million liters of petroleum caught fire when a missile one of the groups launched hit it directly, according to Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC). Making matters all the worse, the tanker is located near an area that “contains 90 million liters of fuel and cooking gas, hence there is a risk of a huge explosion should the fire spread,” the Wall Street Journal reports an oil official as saying.


Tripoli #Libya: Fire burning at Brega Oil tanks on airport road. Photo by my friend @MohamedBosifi a Tripoli resident pic.twitter.com/8zVgboZ3f1

— James Wheeler (@wheelertweets) July 28, 2014

“Firefighters have been trying for hours to put out the blaze but to no avail,” said NOC spokesman Mohamed al-Hrari. Those firefighters were only able to reach the blaze after government officials pleaded with the clashing militias to allow the emergency responders through to attempt to combat the fire. “Their water reserves finally ran out and they’ve had to leave,” he continued.

Residents within three miles of the airport and oil depot have been advised to evacuate the area in case the fire can’t be contained. Firefighters from around Tripoli and its neighboring cities and towns have been deployed to combat the fire, but so far to no avail. Should the fire not be stopped and the resulting explosion occur, the NOC warned, the result would be a “potential environmental and humanitarian disaster.”


Firefighting team fighting petrol silo fire N #Tripoli, have pulled out, needed reinforcements didn't arrive..#Libya pic.twitter.com/iOluXr9BJM

— Ahmed Sanalla (@ASanalla) July 28, 2014

Al-Hrari added that the only option left was “intervention by air,” leading to the Libyan government reaching out to neighboring countries for support. “The government has requested international assistance and contacted several [foreign] states asking if they were willing to send planes and teams specializing in fire extinguishing,” the NOC said on its Facebook page. One anonymous security official has claimed that the fire is now under control, but still remains burning.

This is the third request for international help from Libya in as many weeks as fighting between militias has intensified. Following the fall of longtime dictator Moammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, the Libyan government’s security forces have been practically non-existent in the turmoil-ridden country, leaving the country to rely on the former rebel groups that banded together to oust Qaddafi for protection. In practice, this has lead to continuing factionalism between the brigades that make up the militias and frequent quarreling with the government. As ThinkProgress previously wrote of the situation in Libya just earlier this month, “political gridlock has paralyzed the interim government, even as warring militias kidnapped the Prime Minister, abducted foreign diplomats, and cut off the oil ports that keep the country’s economy afloat.”

It’s this atmosphere of intensified fighting that lead the United States to quietly evacuate its embassy in Tripoli over the weekend, joining the United Nations, the Red Cross, and several other countries in fleeing the fighting. Due to the fact that the evacuation was occurring overland, with staff crossing over into Tunisia before continuing on, the evacuation was kept mostly under wraps until it was complete. “We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time, and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement released on Saturday. “In the interim, staff will operate from Washington and other posts in the region.”

Update

Libyan government officials on Monday said that rather than containing the blaze, a second depot in Tripoli had caught fire. “The situation is very dangerous after a second fire broke out at another petroleum depot,” it said in a statement, warning of a “disaster with unforeseeable consequences.” Adding to the problem, firefighters have been forced to flee the area several times as rockets continue to be launched in the vicinity of the airport.

The post Libya Is Literally On Fire appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Congresswoman Says Migrant Children Should Be Placed In ‘Americanization Facilities’

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 9:49am

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Susan Walsh

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has an unusual solution to the crisis of unaccompanied migrant children coming across America’s southern border: put them in camps and put them to work.

KCTV7 News in Kansas City reported last week that Bachmann proposed the idea of “Americanization Facilities” where the children would be put to work to pay off the costs of their past, present and futures care. In exchange, the children would also be fast-tracked on a path to citizenship. “I’m calling on all of us, Obama and Congress and everyone, to chip in and build special new facilities… ‘Americanization facilities,’ if you will,” Bachmann told Minnesota’s Twin Cities News Talk. “And we’d send these kids to these facilities, in Arizona and Texas and wherever else. And we’d get private sector business leaders to locate to those facilities and give these children low-risk jobs to do. And they’d learn about the American way of life, earn their keep, and everyone wins in the end.”

When pressed by conservative radio host Jason Lewis about what life would be like in the camps, Bachmann elaborated that the purpose would also be to inculcate the children into English-speaking American culture. “Well, we’d of course want these facilities to be ideal, you know, for the children to work and learn,” Bachmann continued. “They’d spend half of their day working, and the other half learning what every child should learn, and that’s English, you know, English and American history. And as soon as they learn English with some degree of fluency, they can attend local schools, maybe with a voucher program, or something like that. And then they could work when they aren’t in school.”

The flow of migrant children across the southern border has almost doubled since last year, and an estimated 60,000 will cross by the end of fiscal year 2014 — without any accompanying parents, guardians, or papers. Most are fleeing violence from drug cartel conflicts in their home countries — such as Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — where they face “severe intrafamilial abuse, abandonment, exploitation, deep deprivation, forced marriage, or female genital cutting. Others are trafficked to the United States for sexual or labor exploitation.” Others are trafficked across the border to be exploited as labor or in the sex trades.

Most of the children turn themselves over to the border guards, at which point they’re usually either in migrant detention centers — sometimes for as long as a year — or often reunited with family members in the United States. Meanwhile, they are placed in immigration proceedings where they must defend themselves just as any adult would have to.

President Obama has proposed a $3.7 billion package to deal with the border crisis, though lawmakers in Congress have offered competing aid packages.

Despite the hardships they already face, Bachmann argued her plan would rebound to the benefit of the children by allowing them to take advantage of job opportunities in the states. “I think this is a great way to bring businesses into the Texas and Arizona areas, and maybe other states struggling with low employment opportunities, thanks mostly to Obama’s policies,” Bachmann said. “It’s about opportunity, not just for these kids but for the American people.”

“It helps the businesses, and if we can raise fifty-thousand God-fearing, English-speaking Americans, who understand real American values, then I’d say it’s a job well done.”

According to a recent report in the New York Times, 60,000 immigrants in detention facilities across the country are already used as low cost labor — often making only a dollar a day, or being paid in credits to detention facility stores. Officials insist the programs are voluntary, but immigrant advocates point to cases in which detainees were threatened with solitary confinement and other punishments if they refused to work.

The post Congresswoman Says Migrant Children Should Be Placed In ‘Americanization Facilities’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Fox News Contributor Calls On U.S. To Welcome Immigrant Children

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 9:04am

Conservative columnist and pundit George Will

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Conservative columnist and Fox News contributor George Will has long been an advocate for immigration reform, including a conservative version of a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, for some time, but he took his position a bit further Sunday morning on Fox News Sunday. Referring to the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border from Mexico and other Central American countries — over 52,000 since last October — Will told host Chris Wallace that the United States should welcome these children with open arms.

“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans,’” Will implored. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these eight-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.”

Wallace warned that detractors will accuse Will of not understanding the issue, but he was undeterred. “We can handle this problem, is what I’m saying,” he reassured. “We’ve handled what Emma Lazarus famously called ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’ a long time ago and a lot more people than this.”

Watch it (via The Huffington Post):

On Friday, President Obama told Central American leaders that “children who do not have proper claims and families with children who do not have proper claims at some point will be subject to repatriation to their home countries.” The administration is considering, however, extending refugee status to young people coming from Honduras.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to address the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. The House and Senate have proposed competing bills, neither of which is expected to pass before the August recess.

Will made his comments in response to USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers, who similarly called out congressional Republicans for only being willing to discuss immigration reform when “it comes to deporting children.”

The post Fox News Contributor Calls On U.S. To Welcome Immigrant Children appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

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