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A Man For All Seasons: Remembering Rick Piltz, Climate Science Whistleblower

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 2:20pm

Rick Piltz, Founder and Director of Climate Science Watch (via CSW)

If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that abhorrence, anger, pride, and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice, and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at the risk of being heroes.” — Sir Thomas More, “A Man For All Seasons”

Rich Piltz, a true climate hero, passed away Saturday. Readers knew him best as the founder and Director of the website Climate Science Watch, which we regularly cited and reposted.

But Rick was sui generis, a man of principle, a genuine whistle blower. After a decade working with the U.S. Global Change Research Program, he resigned in 2005 to protest political interference with climate change communication by the Bush-Cheney Administration. As he explained in his resignation letter, “I believe the overarching problem is that the Administration … does not want and has acted to impede forthright communication of the state of climate science and its implication for society.”

What happened next? Shortly afterward, the New York Times revealed that White House official Philip Cooney “removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved.”

Cooney resigned, and the former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist landed a plum job with Exxon Mobil after resigning from the Administration — just as Thomas More would have expected. We detailed Piltz’s story back in 2009:

Rick spent the next nine months without income or benefits. He cashed in his retirement money and took out an equity loan on his home to start Climate Science Watch…. His salary today is one-third less than he earned in government.

Rick was a colleague and a friend — and an inspiration as a blogger and man of conscience. I talked to him last at the Ridenhour Prize ceremony earlier this year, and as always he was passionately spreading the truth about climate science to everyone at the table. Rick was a regular attendee of the ceremony since winning the 2006 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling.

As Nick Sundt writes, “I can think of no greater tribute to Rick than to commit ourselves to ‘speak truth to power,’ as Rick used to say.”

In temperament and character and action, Rick always reminded me most of Thomas More in the classic movie (and play), “A Man For All Seasons” — the “ultimate man of conscience” who remained true to his principles “under all circumstances and at all times.”

But Piltz was not just figuratively a man for all seasons. He was a true champion of keeping our livable climate livable and stable — with a winter, spring, summer and fall as close as possible to the ones that for the past 11,000 years made modern civilization possible. Rick Piltz was literally a man for all seasons.

The post A Man For All Seasons: Remembering Rick Piltz, Climate Science Whistleblower appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Beijing Marathoners Need Facemasks And Sponges Because Of The Air Pollution

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 2:13pm

In this Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014 photo, a runner, wearing a mask to protect herself from pollutants, looks at her smartphone as she and others jog past Chang’an Avenue near Tiananmen Square shrouded in haze at the start of 2014 Beijing International Marathon in Beijing, China Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Andy Wong

It’s hard to breathe when trying to complete a marathon on a clear day, but runners in Beijing on Sunday were confronted by a new obstacle: twelve times the recommended daily allotment of smog.

Around 30,000 people gathered to run the Beijing marathon, and many turned to wearing face masks due to the high levels of air pollution. Many gave up rather than run in such difficult condition.

“When I looked at the state of the mask after 10 kilometers, I decided enough was enough,” Chas Pope told Deutsche Welle. “It felt pretty ridiculous, given we’re meant to be running for health and fitness.”

The U.S. Embassy measures PM2.5 air quality levels, and on Sunday at 10 a.m. the levels hit 310 parts per million (ppm), before topping 400 ppm later in the day. The World Health Organization recommends daily levels not reach 25 ppm.

A Chinese air quality monitoring station near the starting line that measures particulate matter, ozone, sulphur, and nitrogen dioxide levels all together read out a “severely polluted” score of 444. In Chinese, “four” sounds like “death,” according to the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog.


'Pollution is not suitable for running'. Still, organizers go ahead with the #BeijingMarathon. I just don't get it. pic.twitter.com/Kcm1ap2uoJ

— Sergi Vicente (@sergivicente) October 19, 2014

“I was basically a vacuum cleaner,” William Liu, a 30-year-old banker, told Bloomberg News.

Local health officials recommended that everyone limit outdoor activity that day, and warned the elderly, the sick, and the young to avoid going outside at all. Organizers said the air pollution levels rose with inadequate warning to be able to cancel a race of this size, where almost half of the runners traveled from other countries to run it. The night before, they warned of “slight or moderate smog” on race day.

China admitted earlier this year that its cities were failing pollution standards, and announced various plans to clean up the air. Its own version of “cash for clunkers” was announced in May with the goal of taking 6 million of the dirties cars off the road, and also updated an old pollution law to crack down on the worst polluters. To cut down on air pollution, and tackle climate change, however, China will have to quit coal, according to a study led by the U.K.’s Center for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The race rules state that there would be medical aid posts ever 5 kilometers, while ambulances would follow runners along the route. This is normal for most marathons, but the organizers also provided 140,000 sponges that runners could use to “clean their skin that is exposed to the air,” according to the Beijing News.

Scientists from the University of Melbourne looked at what happens to your lungs when air pollution levels spike. As you breathe in ozone and nitrogen dioxide, they interact on the lining of the respiratory tract and begin to cause oxidization damage — much more than either pollutant could alone.


Some of the runners have given up in the 2014 Beijing Marathon due to the serious air pollution in Beijing. pic.twitter.com/GoVpxcPcKH

— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) October 19, 2014

Zhang Zhenpeng, general manager of Beijing-based Inter Sports, told Beijing News that he hoped that, in order to protect public health, Beijing’s government would use a warning system for bad weather.

A cold front was expected to clear the smog on Monday.


"Like Running on Mars"-Runners share their Beijing Marathon stories—via @ThatsOnlinehttp://t.co/uLxbp3ZvB0 HT @niubi pic.twitter.com/9QkpAKM7BN

— ChinaFile (@ChinaFile) October 20, 2014

The post Beijing Marathoners Need Facemasks And Sponges Because Of The Air Pollution appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Liberia’s ‘Brain Drain’ Is Thwarting Its Efforts To Stop Ebola

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 2:10pm

Health workers carry the body of a woman that they suspect died from the Ebola virus, as children, right rear, watch in a area known as Clara Town in Monrovia, Liberia, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh

The Ebola outbreak has shed light on a dearth of medical professionals in West Africa, especially in Liberia, a nation still reeling from a 14-year civil war. Fewer than 170 qualified doctors live there and qualified Liberian doctors and nurses around the world aren’t eager to return to their home country right now.

Since Liberian health officials reported the first case of Ebola in March, nearly 100 doctors have succumbed to the disease, scaring many of those on the front lines. In recent weeks, reports have surfaced of medical personnel deserting the Ebola-stricken at treatment units in Liberia.

Last week, doctors and nurses went on strike in demand of an adequate wage and a “risk bonus” for caring for patients. Reports stated that although government and global health organization officials promised up toward $750 in monthly wages for medical personnel, many said they received less than a third of that amount. That conflict shows promise of coming to an end; the chairman of Liberia’s national health workers’ union has expressed a willingness to negotiate with President Sirleaf.

But it will take more than a few dozen medical personnel to tackle a disease that has ravaged much of the region. Earlier this week, Sirleaf called for all hands on deck in an “open letter to the world” that BBC producers read on air. She said the current outbreak “requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help — whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise.”

While the United States, some European countries, Cuba, and some global health organizations have sent help to the region, many Liberian doctors living around the world — including Dr. James Adama Sirleaf, the president’s son, who lives in Georgia — remain wary to return to their native land.

This reluctance among the most qualified Liberians to live and work in their country of birth, however, goes beyond the Ebola outbreak, or even West Africa for that matter. A 2013 report by the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs showed that one out of nine Africans with a university degree migrate to one of 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states — including the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Russia, and Spain.

The trend has created what some experts call a “brain drain,” defined as a gap in expertise caused by the emigration of talented, educated Africans to more developed nations. The brain drain has played a role in the devastation of health care infrastructures around the continent. According to data from online health workplace policy journal Human Resources for Health, one out of five African-born physicians and one-tenth of African-born nurses work overseas. Their reasons for relocating include better pay and the desire to raise families in more stable environments.

While African doctors make advancements in medical research elsewhere, their countries’ health care systems suffer. Liberia is no exception. Before the Ebola outbreak, there was just one doctor for nearly 90,000 people in the country. Many of those doctors take assignments in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, ultimately leaving the rural areas uncovered. The medical personnel shortage has forced senior government officials — including former Health Minister Dr. Peter Coleman and current Health Minister Walter Gwenigale — to moonlight as medical personnel.

Before the Ebola outbreak, experts said that post-war Liberia needed to increase its number of qualified medical personnel tenfold to provide adequate health care services to people living in the country. Gwenigale also suggested that doctors be paid $1,000, five times the average salary. That’s very unlikely, however, due to a host of factors including inadequate educational facilities that fail to attract the top professionals.

While Liberia has provided medical education in the post-civil war era, it hasn’t proven sufficient in convincing recent medical school graduates to pursue a career in the West African country. A 2011 survey of medical students and a physicians found that barriers to medical training included a “lack of clinical and basic science faculty.” Students at A.M. Deligotti College of Medicine, the country’s only medical school, recounted studying by candlelight in dormitories with no running water or electricity.

Those negative experiences most likely have taken a toll on many who graduate from that institution. Nearly all of the fewer than a dozen people who complete their studies at the medical school annually take their talents elsewhere.

“Most of Liberia’s best minds are in the Diaspora,” Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor, the vice president of the Liberian Community Association of Rhode Island, argued in a piece on TLC Africa.com. “Present conditions in Liberia demand that Liberians with the requisite skills and talents need to be identified and encouraged to return home, to help with the economic recovery process.”

Bargblor’s words haven’t fallen on deaf ears. Liberian officials too have long recognized the brain drain as a problem that could threaten its future development. Shortly after she entered office, Sirleaf promised that the government would assist Deligotti in improving its facilities. In recent years, some people have also petitioned Liberian officials to follow the lead of other nations in awarding dual citizenship to the best and brightest Liberians who decide to travel while maintaining ties to their home country.

The post Liberia’s ‘Brain Drain’ Is Thwarting Its Efforts To Stop Ebola appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Russian Tennis Official Suspended For Calling Venus And Serena ‘Williams Brothers’

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:48pm

CREDIT: AP

The Women’s Tennis Association over the weekend fined and suspended the president of the Russian Tennis Federation after he referred to Venus and Serena Williams as “the Williams brothers” during an appearance on a Russian comedy program last week. The WTA suspended Shamil Tarpischev, who also said the sisters are “scary” to look at, for one year and fined him $25,000, the maximum allowed under its rules. The WTA is also examining his role in the Kremlin Cup, a top Russian tournament as well.

Tarpischev also holds a position with the International Olympic Committee, which said Monday that it has asked Tarpischev for an explanation and could take further action.

While preparing for the WTA Finals in Singapore, Serena Williams praised the WTA’s action and blasted Tarpischev for the “sexist and racist” remarks.

“I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time,” Williams said, according to the New York Times. “I thought they were in a way bullying. I’ve done the best that I can do, and that’s all I can say. So I just wasn’t very happy with his comments. I think a lot of people weren’t happy as well.”

“I think the WTA did a great job of taking (the) initiative and taking immediate action to his comments,” Williams added, according to the Associated Press.

Other players, including Russia’s Maria Sharapova, have come to the Williams sisters’ defense, blasting the comments. While Tarpischev has said he regrets making them, he has not fully apologized, saying that the comedic nature of the comments was lost in translation and that he does “not think that this story deserves such hype.”

Joking or not, though, the comments are rooted in long-standing and pernicious stereotype of women athletes and their bodies. Women like the Williams sisters who excel at sports often aren’t seen as exceptional women athletes, but as women who are much more, and often outright, comparable to men. And that’s the case even more when their bodies don’t conform to typical standards of beauty and femininity, at which point women athletes end up on the wrong end of deliberate shaming and “jokes” like Tarpischev’s. The Williams sisters, and Serena in particular, are not strangers to this. Their bodies have been critiqued and criticized for years. And these criticisms, whether they are about players who “look like men” or just about the general wrongness of certain bodies, happen throughout women’s sports, to athletes like Brittney Griner and Sarah Robles and plenty of others who don’t fit into the “standard” women’s body type.

That leads to questions, or in some cases demands, about their fitness that players change the way they look. It creates body image issues (which Serena has talked openly about on multiple occasions). It can leave athletes in certain sports underfunded, as they are less desirable for marketing and endorsement purposes. And it acts as a major barrier to all sorts of women, from young women who don’t want to enter sports because they don’t want to be perceived as “manly” or “butch” to lesbian women who feel (and often are) pressured to stay in the closet so they don’t reaffirm existing stereotypes about women’s sports as, to borrow soccer star Abby Wambach’s words, “a lesbian world” (there’s a double-edged sword here too, as women athletes who do fit into traditional beauty standards are often hyper-sexualized and appreciated for their looks more than their athletic achievements).

This happens to men too, but there’s less appreciation or even acceptance of different body types when it comes to women athletes. There are some signs that the perceptions and criticisms are getting better — like both Nike and the WNBA’s decision to put Griner front-and-center in marketing campaigns, or the greater appreciation of Serena and Venus, or celebrations of different body types like ESPN The Magazine‘s always-improving Body Issue. But these problems are still common, and that’s why the WTA’s move to protect its biggest players and take action against these comments is such a welcome step in the right direction.

The post Russian Tennis Official Suspended For Calling Venus And Serena ‘Williams Brothers’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Renewables And Efficiency Made Up 70 Percent Of The Drop In U.S. Emissions Since 2007

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:21pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Other than a slight uptick from 2012 to 2013, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have been on a slow decline since 2007. And according to a new report by Greenpeace, 70 percent of that drop was thanks to renewables and energy efficiency.

The data crunching, carried out by Greenpeace energy analyst Lauri Myllyvirta and published by the group’s Energydesk site, dug into the dramatic 21 percent drop that U.S. coal consumption saw from 2007 to 2013. That was accompanied by a 16 percent fall in the country’s carbon emissions over that same six-year period. Natural gas generation also spiked over 23 percent in that time span, which has led many observers to credit the North American shale fracking boom with the drop in the emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

But burning natural gas also releases carbon dioxide, just in smaller amounts. So while it made up 44 percent of the hole in energy consumption coal left behind, it only accounted for 30 percent of the drop in carbon emissions. According to Myllyvirta’s analysis, growth in renewable generation — and wind in particular — contributed to 40 percent of the fall in emissions, and rising use of energy efficiency covered the other 30 percent.

CREDIT: Greenpeace Energydesk

“The supposed climate benefits of fracking have been a big selling point for the shale lobby, but this myth has now been cut down to size by compelling new evidence,” said Myllyvirta. “Our analysis shows that it was the clean tech boom, not the fracking rush, that slashed the bulk of carbon emissions from the US power sector.”

Renewable energy consumption grew just over 48 percent from 2007 to 2008, making up 35 percent of the energy consumption coal left behind. Rising energy efficiency measures made up the remaining 21 percent in energy consumption.

The Energydesk study also did not account for any leakage that may occur from the natural gas industry’s infrastructure. That means natural gas is almost certainly doing considerably less good on the global warming front than even Greenpeace’s numbers suggest, as the methane that makes up natural gas is, pound-for-pound, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Multiple studies suggest the leakage is so bad it completely undoes any climate advantage to burring natural gas. And a new study published by Nature last Wednesday concluded that, absent a big regulatory crackdown on those leaks, burning more natural gas won’t work as a method to curb global warming.

Greenpeace also pointed to a recent report by Alliance Bernstein that anticipates coal use in the U.S. will rise by another 7 to 25 percent by 2020, thanks to both new federal regulations and state-level renewable energy policies. The bulk of coal plant retirements is expected in 2015 as federal rules to cut mercury and other air toxins kick in, and coal generation has been dropping for years as natural gas has cut into the power market and the raw physical limits of mining harder-to-reach deposits have begun to assert themselves.

The Bernstein analysis suggests renewables could account for 10 percent of U.S. power by the end of this decade, though Greenpeace noted that if renewables stick to their current pace of growth they could make up 20 percent of the mix by that time. Whether they’ll hit that mark is currently uncertain, however. Investment in renewables grew at its fastest pace in 2013, but it’s expected to plateau after that due to the failure of governments around the world — and especially in the United States — to build in a reliable pricing mechanism for carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists recently concluded that the new federal cuts to power plant emissions were not as ambitious as they could be. Instead of aiming for a 30 percent cut from the industry by 2030, emissions could be cut 40 percent with little to no economic drag. The International Energy Agency also anticipates that energy efficiency alone could get the world 40 percent of the emission reductions it needs to stay under 2°C of global warming.

“Ahead of a crunch year for global negotiations on a new climate deal, all the evidence points to clean technologies and smarter energy use as the most effective solutions to tackle climate change,” Myllyvirta continued. “Our political leaders will do well to remember this.”

The post Renewables And Efficiency Made Up 70 Percent Of The Drop In U.S. Emissions Since 2007 appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

New York Mayor Campaigned Against Pot Crackdowns, But Possession Arrests Are Still Soaring

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:21pm

CREDIT: AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

New York City is implementing a court order to scale back rampant police stops, and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) lamented during his campaign that marijuana possession arrests have “disastrous consequences for individuals and their families.” But in 2014, monthly pot possession arrests have gone up, and 86 percent of those arrests were of African Americans or Latinos, according to data compiled by Queens College professor Harry Levine.

“President Obama, Governor Cuomo, former Mayor Ed Koch and candidate Bill de Blasio all strongly criticized the NYPD’s racist marijuana possession arrests,” Levine said in a statement issued by Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Arrest Research Project. “Yet the most progressive mayor in the modern history of New York is unable to stop them? Really?”

Apparently not. The vast majority of those arrests in 2014, 75 percent, were first-time offenders with nary a misdemeanor on their record.

Levine points out that the arrests don’t just break down by socioeconomic status. He compares three Queens neighborhoods with “very similar media incomes” of $58,000 or 59,000: “Flushing, with only 19% black and Latino residents, has a marijuana arrest rate of 89 per hundred thousand residents. Fresh Meadows is 32% blacks and Latinos and has a rate of 96 marijuana arrests. But the St. Albans neighborhood is 93% black and Latino residents and has a marijuana arrest rate of 396 – four times that of Flushing and over three times that of Fresh Meadows.” In other counties, similar examples show that “race trumps class,” although both are factors.

Levine isn’t attributing the arrests to overt racism by cops, but instead to institutionalized racism that has yielded incomes just as disparate as in the Jim Crow era. “The absence of hostile intent doesn’t absolve policy-makers and law enforcement officers from responsibility or blame,” he said.

There are many potential reasons why marijuana arrests haven’t changed. For one thing, the law remains the same. Marijuana has been decriminalized in New York State since 1977 for possession of up to 25 grams of pot. But not for certain types of people in certain types of neighborhoods, because of a loophole in the law that still criminalizes marijuana in public view. Sometimes, arrests for “marijuana in public view” means an individual is smoking pot in public. A lot of other times, though, it means an officer stops an individual, orders them to empty their pockets, or frisks them and empties their pockets, and then considers the marijuana that has now come into view as violating the law.

Last year, New York State considered a fix in the budget process that would have closed this loophole for “marijuana in public view.” The change had the public support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But when the budget was finalized, the provision wasn’t in there.

For another, while police stops started going down even before Bloomberg left office and have continued in that direction, a philosophy known as broken windows policing is reportedly up. That philosophy of policing relies on flooding police into high-crime neighborhoods and targeting low-level violations as a way of thwarting more serious crime. In March, the New York Times reported a spike in arrests for low-level offenses, which, in addition to pot possession include drinking beer in public, riding a bike on the sidewalk, and illegal peddling — the brand of offense that Eric Garner was alleged to have committed when he was placed in a chokehold by police and died.

What’s more, police Commissioner Bill Bratton has signaled that he is not necessarily amenable to scaling back marijuana prosecutions. When Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced over the summer that his office would stop prosecuting most low-level marijuana cases, Bratton signaled he wouldn’t change his arrest policy, saying, “the Kings County policy change will not result in any changes in the policies and procedures of the N.Y.P.D.” And even those in Brooklyn who won’t later be prosecuted could still face significant consequences, including a tarnished arrest record, and, until recently, several days in jail.

De Blasio explained several of these consequences when campaigning against marijuana possession crackdowns: “These arrests limit one’s ability to qualify for student financial aid and undermine one’s ability to find stable housing and good jobs. What’s more, recent studies demonstrate clear racial bias in arrests for low‐level possession…. This policy is unjust and wrong.”

A Drug Policy Alliance study last year found that NYPD had spent more than 1 million hours on pot arrests between 2002 and 2012.

The post New York Mayor Campaigned Against Pot Crackdowns, But Possession Arrests Are Still Soaring appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Politicians Who Say ‘I’m Not A Scientist’ On Climate Offer Their Advice On Ebola

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:21pm

From left to right: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Governor Rick Scott, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Candidate Joni Ernst, and House Speaker John Boehner.

CREDIT: AP Photos

On Saturday, political blogger Lee Papa made an interesting observation about Republicans who widely recommend panicking about Ebola. “Does any Republican talking about Ebola say, “I’m not a scientist” like they do with climate change?” he tweeted, referencing the long list of political figures who claim to not know the science behind climate change, even though they actively oppose any policy to fight it.

On Monday, Papa answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” As might be expected, most prominent Republican politicians who are not willing to talk about climate change because they lack qualifications are willing to talk about Ebola, despite the fact that they lack qualifications. As might also be expected, all those politicians favor strict policy measures to deal with the disease, even though most scientists say Ebola is not easily transmittable and does not pose a widespread threat to Americans.

“Republicans are glad to tell you that either the evidence is inconclusive or that they are too dumb to understand the science when it comes to climate change, so they think it’s wrong to act like it’s a crisis and refuse to do anything to slow or halt it,” Papa writes at his blog Rude Pundit. “However, they will go bugnuts crazy and try to cause panic when it comes to the science around the spread of Ebola, even when they have it wrong.”

The list of perpetrators is long. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says he’s “not qualified” to debate the science of climate change, but insists that President Obama should “absolutely consider” a ban on U.S. travel to West African countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he’s “not a scientist” when it comes to climate change, but also says it would be “a good idea to discontinue flights” from Ebola-affected countries. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal — who studied science in college — says he’ll “leave it to the scientists” to talk about climate change, but says it’s “common sense” to institute a flight ban.

The list goes on and on. Iowa U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst says she doesn’t “know the science” of climate change, and also says Ebola should be an Obama Administration “priority” and that a temporary travel ban is “common sense.” Florida Governor Rick Scott is “not a scientist” when it comes to climate change, but does want Ebola screenings at Florida airports. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said “I don’t know” whether humans cause climate change, but he does know that it’s a good idea to quarantine airline passengers in Ebola-affected African countries before they can fly out.

Taking it even further, at least one conservative pundit is perpetrating the conspiracy theory that scientists are actually lying about how difficult it is to transmit Ebola, and that it’s much easier to get than is widely believed. If that sounds familiar, it’s because of how often conservative pundits and politicians say that scientists are also lying about human-caused climate change, calling it a conspiracy to justify higher taxes, a fabricated theory to advance progressive political agendas.

Why is this comparison so troubling? For one, it highlights the immense disrespect that many modern conservatives have not only for climate science, but for mainstream science in general. Scientists know an incredible amount about climate change — countless peer-reviewed articles over the past three decades, in-depth content analyses of those peer-reviewed studies, and five mammoth efforts to achieve consensus among hundreds of experts across the world — all of which say the planet is warming, humans are causing it, and we need to stop it. Yet, Republicans who fundamentally disagree with the type of policies needed to stop it pretend not to be aware of that entire body of work, solely because it doesn’t suit their political purposes.

Now, that same attitude of ignoring science when it doesn’t support personal politics is spreading to Ebola. And as Papa notes, the other reason that is troubling is because it’s working: Americans are seemingly more scared about Ebola than they are about climate change. And that runs contrary to the facts as they are understood by the majority of the scientists who study both issues.

So here are the facts. Scientists overwhelmingly observe and agree that the planet is warming because of human-caused carbon emissions, and that warming will cause sea level rise, drought, and other extreme weather events. Warming will also make it easier to spread infectious diseases that are much more prolific than Ebola, including malaria and dengue fever. The risk of these things happening are greater if worldwide carbon emissions are not capped and reduced.

Scientists also overwhelmingly observe that the Ebola virus is not easily spread. It is not airborne — it spreads “through close and direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids,” primarily blood, feces, and vomit, according to the World Health Organization. The risks of a large Ebola outbreak in the United States are, to this day, incredibly low.

Politicians can pretend not to know all these things, but it’s worthwhile to remember: most of them are not scientists. So maybe we should listen to some.

The post Politicians Who Say ‘I’m Not A Scientist’ On Climate Offer Their Advice On Ebola appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

How San Francisco Is Forcing Its Gay Population Onto The Streets

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:11pm

Even before the sexual abuse, Olivia’s life was characterized by tremendous struggle. Growing up in Amman, Jordan as a member of a tight knit family, her difficulties long preceded any awareness that the male gender she was assigned at birth didn’t quite fit.

Severe dyslexia made her different from other children, and her constant struggle to answer the teacher’s questions resulted in generous amounts of bullying. Her feeling of remove from society only worsened after a family vacation when she was in the fourth grade

“We were staying at a hotel,” she recounts while tucking her hair behind her ear. It dangles just above her shoulder, looking unkempt as though somewhere she’d seen a picture of Kurt Cobain and decided to model herself accordingly. “We all went to dinner and I left early to go to the pool and this man wanted to play games and I didn’t know what was going on, I was thinking that he was just a guy, and he ended up getting me up to his place and he sexually abused me. My parents found out right away. And my father, he had never been homophobic to me because he didn’t know then that I was gay or transgender, but, over time, I realized these things. And, over time, he associated homosexuality and transgender with pedophiles. And I felt that.”

Over time, he associated homosexuality and transgender with pedophiles. And I felt that.

As Olivia continued to age, the stew of traumatic experiences along with the onset of adolescence and a burgeoning sexuality combined to create an untenable situation. She had to leave Jordan. And so she did, choosing to enroll in a post-graduate program in Utah meant to better prepare her for a university education. In quick succession, Olivia dropped out of school, came out as both queer and transgender to her parents (who retaliated by cutting her off financially), moved to Wisconsin for a boyfriend she’d met online (he turned out to be abusive as well), and hopped a bus to San Francisco. She arrived here last May with no plan or money. At 20 years old, she was homeless.

San Francisco occupies a sacrosanct place in the LGBTQ community the world over. Long before its current association as the global capital of tech and startups, this was a place where the LGBTQ community could gather and live an open and accepted life. For many people like Olivia, this promise is allure enough to justify living on the streets, which is borne out by the ugly statistics. Every two years, the San Francisco Human Services Agency releases a biennial homeless count. In 2013, the agency solicited information on sexual orientation for the first time, discovering in the process that 29 percent of the city’s roughly 6,436 homeless residents identify as LGBTQ. The number is nearly twice the national average, and its publication set off a predictable round of hand wringing and head scratching. How is it that the city of Harvey Milk could fail an already at-risk population?

On the face of it, the high number of homeless LGBTQ makes a sort of intuitive sense. As a shining light of sensitivity and acceptance, the city is bound to attract those escaping prejudice in their places of origin. This was certainly the case with Olivia, whom I met at Larkin Street Youth Services, a local non-profit that offers housing, counseling and job training for homeless youth under the age of 25. Stories like hers are sadly commonplace, characterized by young people travelling to this city as strangers devoid of safety nets or social networks, stepping off the bus only to find themselves in the U.S. city with the highest median rent. Fueled by a remarkable tech boom characterized by multi-billion dollar valuations and average salaries in the six figures, even the cheapest parts of San Francisco are very expensive.

Though it’s an often repeated narrative, this story does not fully explain the 29 percent rate. “LGBTQ homelessness actually has as much to do with evictions as it does people arriving with no plan,” offers Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “You really aren’t going to see elderly members of the LGBTQ community that are asset broke suddenly coming to San Francisco. The problem, in terms of the differential [with the national average], has much more to do with displacement.” Unlike Olivia, who arrived in this city homeless, many of the LGBTQ people living on the streets were forced to leave their homes, and for one reason or another chose to live on the streets rather than seek shelter in a more affordable community.

Bevan Dufty, a former city supervisor and Mayor Ed Lee’s current appointment as the Director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement (HOPE) has identified displacement in the data he’s seen. “When you look at the numbers from the homeless count and the 29 percent, it’s steady and represented by young people 18 – 24, by adults, and by seniors. In many cities, you do see numbers this high for the youth population, but you don’t really see it for adults and seniors. That’s what makes this unique.”

At 60 years old, Garland Kyle is an unfortunate example of this trend. He moved to San Francisco in 1978, attracted by the radical sexual politics of the city. Though he would eventually earn a Masters degree in Public Health and publish in high-minded publications like the Journal of Sex Research, he made his living over the years as a landscape architect. In 1992, he and his partner, an ESL instructor, moved into a two bed, two bath apartment on Russian Hill.

The landlord wanted me out… we’d been in a rent control unit for over 25 years

As members of the city’s gay middle class, Garland and his partner were both veterans of the gay rights movement, and beneficiaries of its early successes. “It was easy to negotiate rents in the early 90’s,” he says, “Even in a nice neighborhood like that, there wasn’t the same housing pressures. The city wasn’t expensive like it is now.”

In 2009, Garland’s partner died from a simultaneous combination of lung, gallbladder and brain lesion cancers. The loss of income, combined with the country’s recession and San Francisco’s fast rising cost of living, created a perfect life storm. “He passed in June and I managed to hang on, paying the rent until December by selling my possessions and borrowing money. The landlord wanted me out, though; we’d been in a rent control unit for over 25 years. As soon as I was late with the rent, a three day notice followed by a court summons appeared in the mail.”

Garland agreed not fight his eviction in exchange for a $10,000 settlement, all of which was quickly spent on moving costs and repaying debts. He left the city for a while, living with friends in Berkeley and Salinas, eventually returning to San Francisco a year ago because it was home and he’d always managed to get by here. For roughly the first two weeks of each month, his social security check covers the cost of living in an SRO, or single room occupancy; these low-income motels, which rent rooms by the week, are common in many cities. The rest of the month is spent getting by in public spaces. “Sometimes I stay up all night, or maybe I’ll just ride the bus,” he explains. “The pews at St. Boniface church are actually a great, safe place to nap, which is surprising. Homophobia is everywhere on the streets, and I’ve had knives pulled on me at shelters.

For a wide range of housing activists and service providers Garland’s story is an emblematic one. They see older LGBTQ displacement in San Francisco as a direct result of a recent surge in evictions that have stoked fears of mounting inequality and gentrification. The city’s Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration board reports that total evictions increased by 13 percent from March 2013 – February 2014, while Ellis Act evictions, a particularly controversial form of removal, rose 86 percent over that same period.

Passed in 1985 by the California State Legislature, the Ellis Act’s proponents claim that it provides crucial protection for property owners, especially homeowners, to insure their right to occupy their property and to protect against potentially ruinous financial harm caused by overly restrictive local government regulations on housing providers. The measure allows owners to evict all of their tenants at once (in fact, individual in-building evictions are prohibited), thus negating leases that are often protected via rent control.

Quantity of evictions, however, offers an incomplete picture of displacement. When faced with Ellis notices, most residents opt for buyouts, much as Garland Kyle did. These private cash settlements allow the renter to walk away with something in his or her pocket, while the landlord is saved time, paperwork, and, most importantly, avoids the five-year waiting period that the Ellis Act mandates before the property can be brought to market again.

Brian Basinger is the co-founder and Director of the Aids Housing Alliance. As as an HIV+ gay man who lived through eviction and homelessness, he is intimately aware of the unique challenges that surface when veteran members of the community lose their housing. “When LGBTQ people get displaced from San Francisco, we lose access to welcoming neighborhoods where we are safe to be ourselves,” he explains. “We lose our social networks, culturally competent medical providers, and our chosen family. We also lose access to a broad array of civil rights protections that we have invested decades of our lives in securing.” The results can be tragic, as was the case with Jonathan Klein, a 61-year-old HIV+ gay man.

In 1984, Klein and his business partner Peter Greene co-founded Now, Voyager, a gay and lesbian travel agency in the Castro, San Francisco’s most emblematically queer neighborhood. In the pre-internet days, gay travel agencies offered a very specific benefit.

“It was a different world then,” remembers Peter Greene. Over coffee two blocks from city hall, he celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the business. “At the time, there were few groups like ours around the country, so we were known here, early on, as one of the first for all gay travel. We had an 800 number and we’d advertise in the Advocate and people would call us from little towns all over, from Tennessee or Alabama, desperate to have someone to talk to about that sort of thing. It was an emotional experience, in the sense that they wouldn’t even reference their own sexuality. They’d use codewords and say, ‘I’d like to travel with people like you.’”

I went down there at 11:00, and on the computer I see in an email, ‘I’m sorry that I have to do this; I know it’s going to bring a lot of pain to a lot of people’

Now, Voyager initially flourished, though Greene would eventually sell his share to Klein around 1998. “AIDS had decimated the community and I was ill myself and, frankly, I didn’t think I had long to go. All of my friends had fallen off, and that incentivized me to sell the business, thinking about what I wanted to do with the time I had left.” The parting was amicable and, since Greene, unlike Klein, lived above the office, he still helped run the business whenever a body was needed.

In July of 2012, Klein’s apartment was served with an Ellis eviction notice. He struggled with what to do next while sleeping on Greene’s couch. While he wasn’t broke, his business was hurting, and the loss of his rent-controlled unit made it impossible for him to stay in San Francisco. He simply couldn’t afford the city. A down payment was placed on a spot in Palm Springs, but depression over the impending loss of his social and medical network, of the city he’d lived in and loved since the 60’s, was considerable.

In November of that same year, Greene was himself hit with an eviction notice. “They come with their expensive lawyers; they’ve got all the money… And it doesn’t matter that I was an upstanding member of this community. I got AIDS in 1985 and it doesn’t matter that I went through clinical trials to help save myself and everyone else.” His eyebrows, like his beard, are the color of salt and pepper and he tears up at regular intervals, as rage and sadness trade control of his voice. Although it’s peak lunch hour and the doors and windows are closed, the long and steady horns of the cab drivers protesting Uber headquarters across the street threaten to drown out all conversation.

On April 8, 2013, Jonathan Klein committed suicide via the Golden Gate Bridge. “The night before, he’d asked me if I would open the place for him in the morning. I went down there at 11:00, and on the computer I see in an email, ‘I’m sorry that I have to do this; I know it’s going to bring a lot of pain to a lot of people.’”

In fact, the Castro, has been the hardest hit by the Ellis Act in recent years. According to the Anti-Eviction mapping project, 294 buildings in the Castro consisting of 837 units were evicted via Ellis from 1997 – 2013. The Mission, a neighborhood that contains a large transgender population, was the second most impacted, with 158 buildings and 455 units cleared.

Few explanations exist as to why these specific neighborhoods have been so targeted, though one compelling theory is offered up by John Ellis (of no relation to the State Senator for whom the Ellis Act is named), a local architect who focuses on sustainable urbanism and is a veteran of public housing design. “The Castro is one of the oldest parts of the city,” he says. “It survived the earthquake and fire, and a lot of the buildings are 19th-century buildings of great character and appropriate size. The Castro and the Mission offer building types that are much more interesting and flexible.”

We treat housing as a commodity, point blank, rather than treating it as something that is a social good with social value

Outrage over this trend is a reason for one of the most controversial and aggressive measures on the local ballot this cycle. If passed, Proposition G would impose a sales tax on all multi-unit properties flipped in a 5 year window. Proponents of the bill which was first drafted by Harvey Milk in the late 70’s, see this step as a means to slow the astronomical cost of real estate in the city. By taxing the process, activists hope to cool the market for residential property, which they see as inexorably linked to tenant eviction and, ultimately, gentrification.

“We treat housing as a commodity, point blank, rather than treating it as something that is a social good with social value, something that can keep a diversity of people inside city limits,” explains Quintin Mecke, the proposition’s campaign manager. “We have to stem this idea that people’s housing is a vehicle for profit.”

On the first Monday in October, about the time San Francisco’s unofficial and brief “summer” begins, many of the city’s most visible grassroots activists and community leaders stage a rally in support of G on the steps of City Hall. State Senators, city supervisors and community activists all take turns addressing the small crowd via a portable PA system. A group of counter-protesters quickly assembles as well, chanting “NO ON G!” loud enough that they temporarily drown everything else out. A middle-aged Chinese woman walks around, passing out flyers which outline how the proposition will have a detrimental impact on the middle class by driving housing prices up even further.

Reacting in kind, G’s supporters re-direct the sound system so that it points directly in the faces of their opponents. One elected official grabs the microphone and shouts, “We are at war right now! Halloween has come early! Don’t let these goddamn monsters around us beat us!”

A particularly riled up counter-protester breaks ranks with her side, running at the speaker and thrusting her “No!” sign close to his face. For a moment, everything is an amorphous cacophony of accusations, and neither side will step down.

The post How San Francisco Is Forcing Its Gay Population Onto The Streets appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Venture Capitalist Says Tech Companies Are Diverse Because White People Have Different European Backgrounds

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:01pm

Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen

CREDIT: AP/Paul Sakuma

Marc Andreessen, who invented one of the first internet browsers and co-founded Netscape, said in a long interview with Kevin Roose of New York Magazine on Monday that while he think the discussion of diversity in technology is valid, the companies being called out for homogeneity aren’t “deliberately, systematically discriminatory.”

As proof, he pointed out that they hire a large percentage of Asians and that the white people come from different European backgrounds:

No. 1, these companies are like the United Nations internally. All the diversity studies say that the engineering population is like 70 percent white and Asian. Let’s dig into that for a second. First, apparently Asian doesn’t count as diverse. And then “white”: When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese. All these different countries, all these different cultures.

He went on to say that companies are “desperate for talent,” so the reason that people of color make up such a small share of technology company employees is because of a lack of educational opportunities — in other words, not enough skilled people of color in the pipeline — and because some people are excluded from the networks that would help them get hired.

When asked if the same things apply to gender diversity, he responded, “Yeah, same thing.” Speaking of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, he said, “I think the big message of the book is people can take control of their own destiny to a greater extent than they believe.” And he again pointed to education as the reason that companies that are supposedly desperate to hire can’t find more women. “There aren’t enough Stanford graduates to go around. How many science undergrads does Stanford produce a year? Five hundred? Six hundred? And then we go up to Berkeley and it’s like another 2,000. It’s not enough.”

On people of color, Andreessen’s numbers don’t appear to be right. According to a USA Today analysis, “Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them.” Black people make up 2 percent of tech employees at the companies that recently released their diversity numbers and Hispanic people account for 3 percent. Yet they received 4.5 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively, of new bachelor’s degrees in computer science or engineering from prestigious universities and 9 percent of computer science degrees from all universities.

Women are less likely to graduate with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) than from college in general, but still make up 41 percent of those graduates. Yet they make up less than a quarter of technical employees at the eight firms that have released diversity data.

Tech companies may feel desperate for talent, but they are ignoring lots of educated people. Women and black people with advanced STEM degrees are more likely to end up with jobs outside the field than men and people of other races. Just 16 percent of white men end up outside the field.

And while Andreessen may think there isn’t any systematic discrimination going on, some tech executives have recently made comments that hint otherwise. IBM executives were overheard saying they don’t hire young women “because they just get pregnant again and again.” Evan Thornley, an Australian tech executive, bragged to a conference that he hired talented women “relatively cheap” because of the gender wage gap. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella indicated that he prefers to work with women who don’t ask for raises, although he has since apologized. Women have also come forward about having to put up with sexual harassment. Bias creeps up in a research setting as well, as people are twice as likely to hire a man for a math job as a woman.

The post Venture Capitalist Says Tech Companies Are Diverse Because White People Have Different European Backgrounds appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Amazon Deforestation Spikes 190 Percent After Long Reported Decline

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:13am

Joaquim is an intern at ThinkProgress.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Andre Penner

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is up 190 percent for the months of August and September compared to the same period last year according to the non-profit Imazon, which monitors deforestation via satellite imagery. This marks a steep reversal in what was an otherwise declining trend in deforestation rates observed over the past decade. Official land clearance figures for the past two months, otherwise released on a monthly basis by the Brazilian federal government, will only come out after the decisive round of Brazil’s heated presidential elections take place next Sunday.

The reason for the delay was made clear over the weekend, when Imazon released a report showing an alarming growth in the deforestation rate. The figures dispute the incumbent Dilma Roussef’s claim that conservation is a priority of her government. In total, 838 square kilometers of rainforest were cleared over the past two months, an area almost ten times the size of Manhattan. Much of the timber obtained from illegal land-clearance is disguised as legal and sold in the U.S., Europe, China, and Russia.

Roussef’s party, the PT (Workers Party), has been in power for 12 years, and was credited for an unprecedented decline in Amazon deforestation — a decrease of 80 percent between 2004 and 2013. More importantly the government was able to curb deforestation while observing very high economic growth. Now the situation has reversed, with the Brazilian economy lagging and deforestation rates back up.

More effective monitoring by the government and a stricter crackdown on illegal logging and farming were the main reasons for the progress of the past decade. Now it appears farmers and loggers have found ways to subvert monitoring by clearing smaller sections of forest below the range of 25 hectares that government satellites can detect. A new more precise monitoring system will be put in place by the end of the year, and is expected to show even greater rates of land clearance.

Roussef has done much to anger environmentalists, who accuse her of adopting a development at all costs approach to the Brazilian economy. She was widely criticized for signing into law a new forestry code that is friendly to agribusiness and weakens many forest protection measures. Ten former environment ministers came together at the time to voice their concerns in a letter to the President that called the revision of the code a blow to “the single most relevant institutional basis for the protection afforded to forests and all the other forms of natural vegetation in Brazil.” Roussef has also been criticized by some environmentalists and human rights groups for adopting an aggressive policy toward hydropower expansion in the Amazon, the centerpiece of which is the infamous Belo Monte dam, which will flood 1,500 square kilometers of rainforest and displace 40,000 indigenous people.

The environment has not played a key role in Brazil’s disputed Presidential elections, despite the fact that arguably Brazil’s most prominent environmental figure, Marina Silva, was in contention. Silva, who got her political stripes as an environmental activist in her native Amazon, was minister for the environmental under the previous administration, but resigned in disagreement with the government’s environmental policies. At one point projected to win it all, Silva placed third in Brazil’s presidential elections and has endorsed center-right candidate Aecio Neves in the run-off. Neves has promised to make conservation a priority in return for Silva’s potentially pivotal support.

The post Amazon Deforestation Spikes 190 Percent After Long Reported Decline appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Floridians Deliver 92,000-Signature Petition Urging Gov. Rick Scott To Cut State Emissions

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 10:47am

CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Cannon

Floridians travelled to the state capitol Monday to call on Gov. Rick Scott to make a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Florida.

State residents delivered a petition with 92,000 signatures to the governor’s office Monday morning in an attempt to urge Scott to take action on carbon reductions proposed by the EPA’s recent rule on power plant emissions. The petition, which was organized by state environmental group Florida’s Clean Future, calls on the governor to invest in a plan for emissions reductions from power plants.

“It’s time we put a clean power plan in place for Florida that cleans up dirty coal fired power plants, saves our homes and businesses money through energy efficiency, and invests in clean solar power to create more jobs right here in Florida,” the petition reads. “We need protection from pollution. We need you to support strong limits on industrial carbon pollution from dirty power plants, promote investment in energy efficiency, and lead the Sunshine State to a bright solar future. We need a strong plan.”


RIGHT NOW: Preparing to deliver thousands of petitions to @FLGovScott re need to #ActOnClimate. #pfla #flgov pic.twitter.com/VGBo1r7bEH

— Progress Florida (@ProgressFlorida) October 20, 2014


ICYMI: Dropped of over 92k petitons to @FLGovScott asking to protect Floridians from #carbon pollution #ActOnClimate pic.twitter.com/miSJXO9ZWY

— FL's Clean Future (@FLCleanFuture) October 20, 2014

Protesters at FL Capitol for today's petition delivery event. #pfla #ActOnClimate pic.twitter.com/PTXeq4SVx5

— Progress Florida (@ProgressFlorida) October 20, 2014

Complying with the EPA’s proposed regulation would mean Florida would have to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 38 percent by 2030, reductions that are part of the EPA’s overall goal of reducing emissions from power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. So far, however, Scott hasn’t taken steps to prepare Florida for the reductions, and his administration hasn’t said much about what it thinks about the rule. The issue has also barely surfaced in the state’s governor’s race — Democratic candidate Charlie Crist has only said that Florida will “have to see exactly how [the rules] turn out.”

But as the Orlando Sentinel pointed out last week, the issue can’t be ignored — or kicked down the curb — forever.

“Whoever gets to be Florida’s next governor will have a very large say in how the EPA rule is carried out and how much of the cost is absorbed by consumers,” the Sentinel wrote.

The Floridians who travelled to the state’s capitol are hoping their efforts will put the issue back in the spotlight. Florida’s Clean Future cites polling data that finds that 77 percent of Floridians support the EPA’s proposed rule on carbon emissions from power plants, and that 71 percent of Floridians believe carbon emissions contribute to climate change. That’s something that Scott has been hesitant to admit during the campaign, saying only that he’s “not a scientist” and often pivoting to talking points on his administration’s environmental efforts.

Florida’s Clean Future isn’t the first to petition Scott to act on climate change. In August, Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, delivered a petition with 60,000 signatures of “pro-life Christians” to the governor’s office, urging him to take the threat of climate change seriously. Florida — especially South Florida — is one of the most vulnerable states in the U.S. when it comes to sea level rise.

The post Floridians Deliver 92,000-Signature Petition Urging Gov. Rick Scott To Cut State Emissions appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Italian Prime Minister Proposes ‘Baby Bonus’ for New Mothers

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 9:48am

Amelia Rosch is an intern for ThinkProgress.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

On Sunday, Italian prime Minister Matteo Renzi proposed a new policy that would give new mothers 80 euros a month.

Under the plan, all women, regardless of income, can take advantage of the bonus until their child is three years old. Low-income families who make less than 1,500 euros a month would also qualify for the bonus. The policy will begin on January 1, 2015 and is expected to cost Italy around half a billion euros.

Renzi, who has three children, said that he knows what it is like to have to “buy diapers, baby bottles and spend for kindergarten” and described the policy as “a measure that does not solve a problem but is a signal.” The proposal, which is part of a larger budget plan that will create tax breaks for low-income families, is expected to be submitted to Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano on Monday.

Giving bonuses to families with babies is not new in Italy. In 2003, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi created a policy that gave families that had a second child by 2004 1,000 euros. While the plan was criticized by demographic experts for not solving the roots of Italy’s low birth rate problem, such as the lack of affordable child care, local politicians followed suit; in Laviano, a town in Southern Italy, the mayor offered to pay families who had children 10,000 euros. In the lead-up to the 2006 general elections, Berlusconi promised families with children born in 2005 a bonus of 650 euros. However, over 3,000 families who were not Italian or European Union citizens were forced to pay the bonus back.

In Italy, women get five months of paid maternity leave and receive 80 percent of their paycheck during their leave. In fact, a 1971 law mandates that women take the leave, beginning two months before they give birth. After three months, women can choose to continue leave for another six months and receive 30 percent of their salary. However, despite the government maternity leave policies and the constitution banning discrimination against women in the workplace, companies punish women who plan on having children; many companies force women employees to sign resignation letters when they start work which are then used to fire them if they get pregnant. Around 40 percent of women who leave the workplace say they left to take care of their children. Only 48 percent of Italian women work outside of the home.

Italy’s birthrate remains low; in 2013, there were only 515,000 babies born, a rate of about 8.84 births per 1,000 people. The overall fertility rate is about 1.4 children per woman, which is one of the lowest in the world, and the average maternal age at first birth is 30. As a result, its population is growing at only 0.3 percent a year, making it 171st for population growth. Italy has the second oldest population in Europe, with 151 people over 65 for every 100 people under 15.

But its expectations that women will stay home to care for children and not work may be depressing birth rates. A study found that there is a link between lower birth rates and an emphasis on traditional gender roles. Paying Italian women a bonus when they have children may not reverse the trend on its own.

The post Italian Prime Minister Proposes ‘Baby Bonus’ for New Mothers appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Attorney General Candidate Says Fast Food Workers Should Get ‘A Real Job’

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 9:40am

Striking workers outside a Chicago Burger King hold signs saying “We are worth more” in Spanish

CREDIT: AP/M. Spencer Green

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—Brad Schimel, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, told supporters at a Milwaukee County Republicans party that he’s tired of the contentious statewide debate over the minimum wage.

“I want every one of our neighbors to have a job again, a well-paid job, so we don’t have to argue about minimum wage for someone working at Burger King,” he said. “Let’s get them a real job.”

This November, residents of 13 different Wisconsin counties will also vote on whether to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. The votes will take place both in big urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison, and smaller and more rural areas like Eau Claire. These “advisory referenda” are not binding, but they could put political pressure on local city councils or the next governor to raise the wage.

“We expect that no matter who is elected on November 4th, they’re going to do something about the poverty wage crisis in our communities,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison with Wisconsin Jobs Now. “Nobody is trying to get rich here, but you want to make enough that you’re not on public assistance.”

Epps-Addison spoke to ThinkProgress as dozens of low-wage workers and local activists gathered at her office on the north side of town before setting out in the rain to knock on doors and canvass for the Democratic candidate for governor, Mary Burke. One of them was McDonalds worker Marielle Crowley, a leader in Milwaukee’s Fight for 15 movement. He makes $8.75 an hour, with few raises over the nearly six years he has worked there. “10 cents here, 5 cents there,” he told ThinkProgress. “It’s pretty hard to survive.”

Crowley dreams of opening his own car repair garage. He studied auto mechanics for one year but had to drop out before completing the course because he couldn’t afford the tuition. He said studying while working to support himself and his mother was like having two full-time jobs, and something “had to give.”

“You want to have a better life, but you’re stuck in this life. How can you get ahead?” he said, exhaling roughly. “I don’t want to be at McDonalds the rest of my life.”

The state currently has a lower wage than most of its midwest neighbors, even those with Republican governors.

Under Wisconsin law, all workers must be paid a living wage. The statute mandates that the wage must “permit an employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being,” and allows workers to bring complaints to the Governor’s office if they feel their pay is insufficient. In response to the complaints, the governor can unilaterally raise the minimum wage or appoint a “wage council” to study whether the current minimum is enough. Or he or she can do what Walker did: throw out the worker petitions and declare $7.25 an hour is a living wage.

Crowley told ThinkProgress he’s been throwing all his spare time and energy into electing a governor “who can be held accountable” to workers, because under the Walker Administration everyone in his community “is poor, and they’re getting poorer.”

Other workers and organizers, including Milwaukee Area Labor Council vice president Annie Wacker, shared similar impressions of the impact of Walker’s policies. “People are losing their homes, losing their cars. With people making minimum wage, there’s a lot less tax money going into the local economy, to feed it,” she said. “It’s had a really awful impact, and not just monetarily. It’s been sad.”

Since denying complaints earlier this month, Walker has received dozens more. One, from Milwaukee line food server Denise Merchant, says she can’t afford her diabetes tests on a minimum wage salary.

“My doctor told me that I am to check my blood twice a day. It’s been a month since I last tested my blood,” she wrote. “That is putting my life at risk.”

Another complaint filed by Milwaukee grocery store clerk Marvin Mayes reads: “Sometimes I feel like I am a slave to my low wages. The cost of everything, food, clothes, medical and rent go up, but my wages remain the same.” Others filed by full-time minimum wage employees detailed regular reliance on food pantries, pawning personal possessions, and struggling to afford bus fare to get to and from work.

With Governor Walker rejecting a raise and questioning the “purpose” of having a minimum wage at all, workers like Crowley and Wacker have thrown their support behind Burke—who has declared her support for raising the wage to $10.10 an hour over two years. The race is currently tied.

“I’m excited and optimistic in ways I never thought I’d be a few years ago,” Wacker told ThinkProgress. “I have hope and confidence that we can do this, and that’s not something I’ve felt for a long time.”

The post Attorney General Candidate Says Fast Food Workers Should Get ‘A Real Job’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

For-Profit Wedding Chapel Sues After Idaho Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 9:40am

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, owners of the Hitching Post Chapel.

CREDIT: Alliance Defending Freedom

Back in May, when a federal judge first overturned Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, the Hitching Post Chapel in Coeur d’Alene expressed concern about the possibility of having to marry same-sex couples. The wedding chapel located just across the street from the Kootenai County Courthouse recognized that it would be subject to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which requires that public accommodations (like businesses) offer service equally regardless of sexual orientation. Now that marriage equality is the law in Idaho, the Hitching Post owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp have filed a federal lawsuit for the right to discriminate.

At the time, Coeur d’Alene City Attorney Warren Wilson explained, “If you turn away a gay couple, refuse to provide services for them, then in theory you violated our code and you’re looking at a potential misdemeanor citation.” Wilson clarified that religious entities are exempt under the city ordinance, but apparently told Mr. Knapp at the time that the Hitching Post was not exempt because it is a business, not a religious corporation like a church. As same-sex couples began marrying last week, the Hitching Post did apparently turn away a same-sex couple.

Though they have not yet been found in violation of the ordinance, the Knapps have filed a complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order against the policy. They are represented by the anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and allege that they are now under “a constant, coercive, and substantial threat to violate their religious beliefs due to the risk that they will incur the penalties of jail time and criminal fines” for refusing to offer wedding services to same-sex couples.

The complaint suggests that because the city will only prosecute businesses who oppose same-sex marriages, it constitutes “rank viewpoint discrimination.” They seek to have the law declared unconstitutional, at least as applied to them, for violating their rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal protection under the law, and due process of law. As ordained ministers with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, they worry that they risk discipline from the Church if they perform a wedding not sanctioned by their beliefs. The Knapps also ask for “nominal and compensatory damages” for the violation of their constitutional rights and for lost income.

Indeed, the Hitching Post is a for-profit business, but with help from ADF, the Knapps have been gearing up for this challenge for some time by redefining their business in more religious terms. In fact, Hitching Post completely reincorporated with an entirely new business certificate just last month, which was authorized by Michael S. Oswald, an ADF attorney. Along with the new business was a new Operating Agreement, dated October 6, 2014, which enshrines all of the religious values offered in the complaint as part of the business. They similarly added a new Employee Policy and Customer Agreement stipulating that the Hitching Post will only perform unions “between one biological male and one biological female.”

Jeremy Hooper notes that back in May when it was first in the news, the Hitching Post Chapel’s website said that the Knapps offered a “traditional or civil ceremony” for weddings and that they also would “perform wedding ceremonies of other faiths.” Though the website still said as much as recently as October 9, 2014, the old language has been scrubbed and the Hitching Post now only offers “a traditional Christian wedding ceremony.”

As for different-sex couples of other faiths, the new Employee Policy vaguely explains that “Hitching Post owners and employees will perform ceremonies for those of different faiths and religious beliefs (so long as those marriage ceremonies are consistent with the beliefs set forth herein) because marriage is a common grace and creational gift bestowed by God upon all humans for the benefit of human society.” This seems to suggest that it would not be a violation of their religious beliefs to perform non-Christian marriages so long as they don’t perform same-sex marriages — even Christian ones.

The city’s ordinance does provide an exemption for “religious corporations,” but the Hitching Post is not run by a church. ADF’s complaint does not claim that it is such a corporation, but argues that because the exemption is “broad” and exists for churches and church-run corporations, “the City has no legitimate basis for refusing to extend a religious exemption to the Knapps who are Christian ministers engaged in a religious function.” Nevertheless, the Knapps are still running a for-profit business that is providing a service (weddings) to one group of people and not to others that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation in conflict with the ordinance. Conservatives are already conflating the two in this case to suggest that LGBT rights are forcing ministers to compromise their beliefs.

The Knapps’ case is ADF’s second volley in the “religious freedom” vs. LGBT equality fight in as many weeks. The suit filed by the Houston, Texas pastors challenging subpoenas about their role in the petition effort to overturn a nondiscrimination ordinance there is also an ADF case. Given the numerous cases of bakers, florists, and photographers refusing services for same-sex couples’ weddings that have already been playing out and the new surge of legal marriage equality across the country, more of these conflicts are likely to arise. Several of Las Vegas’ elope emporiums, including The Elvis Wedding Chapel, are also refusing to marry same-sex couples.

The post For-Profit Wedding Chapel Sues After Idaho Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Earth Just Had Its Hottest September On Record

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 9:24am

Two paddle boarders cool off in the water during the ongoing Southern California heat wave, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014, in Huntington Beach, Calif.

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ CHRIS CARLSON

Last month was the warmest September the globe has experienced since record-keeping began in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Researchers from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center found that the Earth’s average global land and ocean surface temperature temperature in September was 60.30°F, which is 1.30°F warmer than the 20th century average.

In September, NOAA states, “warmer-than-average temperatures were evident over most of the global land surface, except for central Russia, some areas in eastern and northern Canada, and a small region in Namibia. Record warmth was notable in much of northwestern Africa, coastal regions of southeastern South America, southwestern Australia, parts of the Middle East, and regions of southeastern Asia.” Southern California experienced a heat wave in September that forced schools to shorten the school day and saw temperatures that about 15 degrees higher than average for the region.

CREDIT: NOAA

NOAA also found that September’s record-breaking average temperature continues a trend set this year: average temperatures for the January through September 2014 period tied with 1998 and 2010 as the warmest January-September on record. In addition, NOAA states, almost every month in 2014 has been among its respective four warmest on record — May and June were also the warmest on record, as well as February, and this September follows a record-breaking August. It also continues a trend for warm Septembers: the last below-average September, NOAA notes, was in 1976.

According to NOAA, this year’s record-breaking warming trend could continue, making 2014 the warmest year since record keeping began.

“If 2014 maintains this temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year, it will be the warmest calendar year on record,” NOAA states. Already, the last 12-month period (October 2013 – September 2014) was the warmest on record, according to the agency, averaging in at 1.24°F warmer than the 20th century average.

Arctic sea ice also hit its annual minimum in September, falling to the sixth-lowest extent recorded since 1978, according to NASA. NOAA notes that the minimum extent, which hit 1.94 million square miles on September 17, was
463,000 square miles smaller than the 1981-2010 average.

The post Earth Just Had Its Hottest September On Record appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

College Students Fight Catholic School’s ‘Unfair And Unjust’ Ban On Birth Control

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 9:18am

Fordham University

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Student activists at Fordham University, a Catholic school in New York City, are fighting back against what they say is an “unfair and unjust” campus policy that denies them essential reproductive health services. A coalition calling itself SAGES — which stands for “Students for Sex and Gender Equity and Safety” — is circulating a petition demanding access to contraception.

“We demand that the Fordham administration and Board of Trustees take action. Fordham’s outdated policies facilitate a sex-negative campus culture,” the petition, which has garnered about 200 signatures so far, reads. Students are asking the administration to provide free condoms in community spaces, free birth control and STD consultations in the health center, more resources for pregnant students, and more housing options for students who identify as transgender.

The SAGES coalition has been actively challenging Fordham’s birth control policy for the past several weeks, posting flyers around campus and handing out condoms at school events. At football games and homecoming activities this fall, they passed out condoms attached to a message reading, “Students deserve safety.” The student activists with SAGES have also partnered with the “Condom Fairy,” an anonymous sexual health proponent who distributes condoms around Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.

“Student health and safety is non-negotiable,” one of the organizers with SAGES, senior Rachel Field, told USA Today earlier this month. “The desire to go to an institution of learning should not mean that you have to sacrifice your health to do so. The UN has stated that birth control is a human right… why are we being denied human rights at Fordham?”

Like many Catholic schools, Fordham technically has a policy that states students may obtain birth control pills on campus “for the treatment of an existing medical condition accompanied by supporting documentation.” But Field and her fellow organizers say that medical exemption doesn’t actually work in practice.

In an interview with the Village Voice, Field explained that she used the Depo-Provera birth control shot to prevent ovarian cysts for several years before she started college. But a nurse at Fordham’s health center refused to administer those injections, and it took Field some time to find another doctor in New York. Using the hormonal method inconsistently gave her negative side effects, and she eventually went off the medication — and ended up in the hospital with a ruptured cyst. Even with paperwork documenting her hospital stay, the employees at Fordham’s student health center still refused to give Depo-Provera to Field.

Field’s story isn’t unusual. An estimated 1.5 million women use birth control for medical reasons, like regulating painful periods, addressing acne, or preventing ovarian cysts. And teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 — the people who are heading to college for the first time — are the demographic group that’s most likely to rely on contraception for those health issues.

In Sandra Fluke’s infamous testimony in favor of Obamacare’s birth control coverage policy — which has since launched her into a political career — she pointed out that students at Catholic colleges are particularly vulnerable when their student health plans won’t cover birth control, since the loopholes for medical conditions don’t usually work in practice. Fluke told a story about a friend who, like Field, suffered from ovarian cysts yet couldn’t get a birth control prescription from Georgetown University.

The religiously-fueled controversy over sexual health services has inspired similar pushback at other Catholic schools. Last year, activists at Boston College, which is a Jesuit institution, faced potential disciplinary action for passing out condoms on campus. Georgetown students recently launched a condom delivery service on their campus. The ACLU has warned Catholic administrations that they don’t necessarily have a right to crack down on students for that activity.

Catholic colleges weren’t always opposed to birth control; in fact, in the 1960s, faculty at these institutions often pushed for better access to family planning resources. Fordham University was one of those schools. In 1967, after Fordham students petitioned for a class on birth control, the dean of students agreed to implement a sexual education seminar including “frank discussions of methods of conception and contraception.” That activism challenged what exactly it means to be a Catholic institution, particularly as Catholic individuals’ support for birth control continues to rise.

Today’s Fordham students want to continue that work. “Please support our struggle for a safer and healthier Fordham University. We believe that this struggle not only has implications for thousands of Fordham Students across New York, but also for millions of students and communities across the nation,” the SAGES petition concludes.

The post College Students Fight Catholic School’s ‘Unfair And Unjust’ Ban On Birth Control appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Keystone XL Owner TransCanada Receives Top Climate Ranking In Sparse Energy Field

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 8:59am

CREDIT: shutterstock

Piping tar sands oil hundreds of miles, and leading the corporate energy world in climate change mitigation, can apparently go hand-in-hand according to a new report. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a U.K.-based nonprofit working with companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions, has included Alberta, Canada-based TransCanada as a corporate climate leader in its first-ever Climate Performance Leadership Index. One of five energy sector companies included on the “A List,” the report states that the sector has “very few companies that are able to meet the leadership criteria,” and that TransCanada is one of only three of these leaders to have set absolute targets for emission reductions.

“The bottom line is at risk from the climate crisis,” said Paul Simpson, CEO of CDP, in a statement. “The businesses that have made it onto our first ever global list of climate performance leaders are to be congratulated for their progress; they debunk economic arguments against reducing emissions. However, global emissions continue to rise at an alarming rate. Businesses and governments must raise their climate ambition. The data shows that there is neither an excuse nor the time for lethargy.”

TransCanada has set two GHG reduction targets, one for 2018 as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first market-based carbon regulatory program in the U.S., and another in 2020 as part of Quebec’s cap and trade scheme. The report states that the five “A List” companies — Essar Oil, S-Oil Corporation, Spectra Energy Corp, Solstad Offshore, and TransCanada — considered the biggest business risk to be regulation. These include cap and trade schemes, air pollution limits, and carbon taxes — all of which are expected to impact business within three years.

“Our business strategy is informed by the risks and opportunities from climate change regulations, physical climate parameters and other climate-related developments such as uncertainty in social drivers,” states TransCanada in the report. “TransCanada is building a competitive advantage over competitors by focusing on investing in low-carbon infrastructure that has and may continue to be a core element of our continued capital program.”

The bottom line is at risk from the climate crisis.

The CDP report selected 187 companies out of nearly 2,000 that “illustrate that a low carbon future does not mean low profit.” Collectively these companies have reduced their total GHGs by 33 million metric tons in the past year — the equivalent to turning all of London’s car owners into cyclists for two and a half years according to the report. Categories include health care, financial, information technology, utilities, and several others.

The report states that solar and wind farms now offer viable alternatives to coal-powered plants as energy sources and that there have been significant developments in a global divestment movement to reduce dependency on non-renewable energy. For instance, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, alongside other influential investors, has announced the intention to sell $50 billion of fossil fuel investments and re-invest the proceeds in clean energy systems.

TransCanada has investments in natural gas, nuclear, wind, hydro power, and solar, however the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would transport dirty tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico has become the company’s Achilles heel. Having first been proposed just over six years ago, the pipeline has met with opposition up and down its route through the center of North America and the total cost of pipeline is likely to nearly double to $10 billion if it ever gets built. A TransCanada spokesperson attributed the cost increases to a protracted regulatory process, inflation, fluctuating currency rates, labor contracts, materials storage, and additional conditions put into place for the pipeline.

The pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels per day of Canadian crude and estimates vary on how much it would contribute to Canada’s total GHG emissions. The State Department released an environmental analysis earlier this year that found that the GHG emissions directly tied to the pipeline would be negligible and that if it isn’t built the oil will be transported by other pipelines. However many environmental groups decry this logic.

Tar sands are the dirtiest, most carbon intensive oil on earth.

“Tar sands are the dirtiest, most carbon intensive oil on earth, releasing up to 22 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil,” Kate Colarulli of Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign said in statement upon the announcement of TransCanada’s A-listing. “TransCanada, as a company that seeks to expand market access for this climate-polluting fuel, is a climate laggard. The State Department, the U.S. EPA, climate scientists, and even Wall Street and industry analysts agree that TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will create massive amounts of carbon pollution and TransCanada’s new proposed pipeline, Energy East, is a climate disaster.”

Keystone XL requires approval by the U.S. State Department because it crosses an international border. The decision is currently on hold as Nebraska tries to resolve a legal dispute surrounding the pipeline’s route.

Jane Kleeb, a leader of Nebraskans fighting against the pipeline, said in a statement about the award that TransCanada has relentlessly pushed to foul the state’s land, water, and climate, and has threatened landowners with seizure of their land through eminent domain.

In September, TransCanada’s CEO Russ Girling said he is frustrated by critics of the pipeline who have cast the project as a symbol of increased GHGs and that “the actual people that are impacted by this project are supportive and willing to move forward with it.”

The post Keystone XL Owner TransCanada Receives Top Climate Ranking In Sparse Energy Field appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Influential Megachurch Pastor Hints At Softer Position On Homosexuality

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 7:12am

CREDIT: AP

The leader of an influential global network of evangelical churches is sparking controversy for sending mixed messages on the subject of homosexuality, initially taking a hands-off approach to the matter before quickly backtracking and voicing support for “traditionally held Christian views” on same-sex marriage.

At a press conference last Thursday, Brian Houston, head of the evangelical megachurch Hillsong, was asked by the New York Times about his position on same-sex marriage. Houston, whose congregation is based in Australia but boasts around 100,000 weekly worshipers at campuses in a dozen cities around he world (including New York City and Los Angeles), responded to the question by saying that while he wouldn’t offer a firm position on the matter, he also wouldn’t rule out further conversation, and lamented the negative impact that anti-gay theology has had on LGBT youth.

“The world we live in, whether we like it or not, is changing around and about us,” Houston said, according to the New York Times. “The world’s changing, and we want to stay relevant as a church, so that’s a vexing thing … It’s very easy to reduce what you think about homosexuality to just a public statement, and that would keep a lot of people happy. But we feel at this point, that it is an ongoing conversation, that real issues in people’s lives are too important for us to just reduce it down to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in a media outlet. So we’re on the journey with it.”

However, Houston quickly changed his tune when several news outlets wrote stories detailing his seemingly ambivalent response. In an interview with the Christian Post on Saturday, he insisted that had not shifted his position on LGBT issues.

“Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage,” he said. “My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

Houston’s back-and-forth on homosexuality comes in the midst of a round of victories for marriage equality activists in the United States, and is part of heated debate among many conservative Christians over a possible a “third way” approach to LGBT issues, where opposition to homosexuality isn’t treated as a make-or-break requirement for membership in a church. Last week, for example, the Catholic Church made waves for unveiling a report that appeared to offer more welcoming language toward LGBT people, only to quickly redact the English version of the document and eventually remove the affirming phrases from the final report.

Similarly, some evangelicals are also trying to strike a more open tone on LGBT issues, also with limited success. In fact, Houston’s initial refusal to either condemn or endorse homosexual behavior matches similar statements made earlier this year by Carl Lentz, the “celebrity pastor” of Hillsong’s New York City-based church who is known for offering spiritual guidance to people such as Justin Beiber and Kevin Durant. When CNN asked about his stance on homosexuality in June, Lentz also declined to give a firm answer, saying that since Jesus didn’t directly address homosexuality in the Bible, neither should he.

“Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent,” Lentz said. “And I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won’t find it because he never did.”

In addition, Southern Baptist leaders have called for their denomination to adopt a more conciliatory position on homosexuality, and earlier this year New Heart Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation near Los Angeles, California, voted to take a live-and-let-live approach to the issue. In a lengthy sermon explaining why he shifted to a pro-LGBT stance, the church’s pastor noted that while he no longer believes being gay is a sin, he still welcomes people who disagree with him to stay in his congregation.

But many conservative evangelicals took issue with the church’s embrace of a “third way.” Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, penning a lengthy blog post declaring “there is not ‘third way’” on homosexuality and saying, “A congregation will teach a biblical position on the sinfulness of same-sex acts, or it will affirm same-sex behaviors as morally acceptable.” As pressure mounted, the Southern Baptist Convention ultimately voted to disfellowship New Heart Community Church, effectively kicking the congregation out of the denomination because it did not “presently meet the definition of a cooperating church” under the SBC’s constitution, which bans churches that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”

The post Influential Megachurch Pastor Hints At Softer Position On Homosexuality appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Indiana Plans To Cut Tens Of Thousands Off Food Stamps

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 6:35am

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R)

CREDIT: AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Indiana will cut tens of thousands of its poorest people off of the food stamps roles beginning next spring, the state announced. Gov. Mike Pence (R) has decided to join seven other states in reinstating work requirements for food stamps despite being eligible for a federal waiver from those rules for the coming fiscal year.

Federal rules require able-bodied, childless people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for more than three months a year to demonstrate that they are working or attending a job training program for at least 20 hours a week. But those rules can be waived during times of high economic strain when the work requirements cannot reasonably be fulfilled. Nearly every state requested and received such a waiver during the Great Recession. But a growing number of states have begun reinstating the work rules even though the Department of Agriculture has said their unemployment rates are still high enough to justify waiving the rules.

The state estimates that 65,000 people will be affected by Pence’s change, according to the Indianapolis Star. Previous similar moves in Kansas, New Mexico, Maine, and other states have left tens of thousands of people without access to food stamps. The network of food charities that picks up the slack when hungry people are underserved by government programs is already overstretched around the country, according to the people who run those charities.

There is ample evidence that tying anti-poverty aid to work requirements renders the programs ineffective exactly when they are most needed. When the economy tightens and work becomes scarce, more people find themselves in need of safety net programs. Work requirements deprive those programs of the flexibility they need to function, and in recessions they fail to keep up with spikes in demand, leaving needy families in the lurch. The welfare reforms of the 1990s were praised by both political parties for years, but they have eroded the country’s system for helping impoverished families to the point where a record 74 percent of poor families with children did not receive federal aid from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in 2010.

Most of the states that have retreated prematurely from food stamps waivers — Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, and Maine — have Republican governors. (Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) have also declined statewide waivers despite being eligible.)

Pence’s rationale for the move is that it will help push people who would otherwise collect benefits without trying to work. The administration official in charge of the relevant state agency explained Indiana’s decision in a letter to the Department of Agriculture as “an opportunity to help improve the skills of our fellow Hoosiers and advance their prospects for meaningful employment, while at the same time establishing a pool of better-prepared candidates for the Indiana workforce.” Gov. Sam Brownback (R) used a similar argument to justify ending waivers in Kansas last year when the state was still eligible.

But making it harder to fill the fridge doesn’t make it easier to find a job. There are currently two job-seekers for every job opening nationwide. Those are steep odds for people making good-faith efforts to find work, but the two-to-one ratio is also a dramatic improvement from recent years when the ratio was up around five-to-one.

The same conservative mentality toward the unemployed recently lead North Carolina to slash its unemployment insurance system so deeply that it now no longer qualifies as a valid jobless aid system under federal rules. Gov. Pat McRory (R) has claimed that the move helped the state’s economy. But the reality is that the state’s unemployment statistics improved because tens of thousands of people who had been looking for work prior to the cuts simply gave up and stopped being counted. Before the cuts, the employment rate for people between 25 and 54 years old had been rising steadily in North Carolina. It has begun a “pronounced” decline since, analysts at the Economic Policy Institute have found. (In addition to liberal think tanks, conservative economic pundit Jim Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute has criticized McRory’s move and the Republican rhetoric about it.)

Indiana’s similar maneuver with food assistance funds is likely to produce a similar failure to achieve the Pence administration’s stated goals. The most recent statistics on the job market in the midwest shows that there are nearly two million unemployed people hunting for just over a million jobs across the region, to say nothing of the tens of thousands who have given up their formal job searching and are no longer counted as unemployed.

Still, Pence’s policy compares favorably with what his neighbor Gov. John Kasich (R) is doing in Ohio. Kasich retained the SNAP work waivers for 16 of the state’s 88 counties but reinstated work rules in the counties that house the majority of the state’s minority population. Food stamps recipients in the counties that continue to enjoy waivers are 94 percent white, according to a coalition of groups that filed a civil rights complaint against Kasich in August.

In one Ohio county that lost its waiver, the Star reports, more than 2,500 people lost food stamp benefits. A third of them had physical or mental health issues that make it hard for them to work, an Ohio food charity official told the newspaper.

The post Indiana Plans To Cut Tens Of Thousands Off Food Stamps appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Ray Rice Could Be Reinstated To The NFL In The Next Month

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 6:16am

CREDIT: AP

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s appeal of his indefinite suspension over his arrest on domestic violence charges could be resolved in the next month, which means Rice could in theory be reinstated to the NFL and eligible to sign with a new team by mid-November, CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora reported Sunday.

After originally suspending Rice for just two games, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him indefinitely in September when TMZ published security footage from an Atlantic City casino that showed Rice punching his wife, Janay Rice. Rice appealed the suspension.

According to La Canfora’s report, the appeal hearing is set to take place in early November and U.S. District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones, who is serving as an independent arbitrator in the case, could rule soon afterward.

La Canfora also reported that legal experts told him that Rice has “an exceedingly strong case” for overturning the appeal. Others have said that the longer suspension, in concert with Rice’s release, may have violated certain sections of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players, and that Goodell may not have the authority to punish Rice twice for the same incident. Under the league’s domestic violence policy, which it issued after Rice’s original suspension, a first-time offender is subject to a six-game suspension, though the policy gives the league room to consider “mitigating factors.”

Despite reports that it had access to the video (and the fact that league officials shouldn’t have needed to see it to understand what happened), Goodell argued that the video of Rice punching his wife constituted new evidence that gave the league a reason to revisit and increase Rice’s punishment.

The NFL and NFLPA are currently disputing over whether Goodell should have to testify as part of the Rice appeal, with the NFL trying to keep the commissioner from having to do so. Jones will rule this week on whether Goodell must testify, according to the Associated Press.

Even if he is reinstated, it seems unlikely that any team would sign Rice this season, given the increased focus on domestic violence around the league and how the NFL has handled players accused or convicted of it. The NFL is conducting an investigation into how it handled the Rice case, including whether it had access to the TMZ video. It has also instituted a “new” domestic violence policy and is working with the union, former players, and others to reshape its personal conduct policy in the wake of the Rice case and others involving players. Early in October, former Chicago Bears executive Jerry Angelo told USA Today that the league failed to discipline “hundreds and hundreds” of players accused of domestic violence during his three decades working in the NFL.

The post Ray Rice Could Be Reinstated To The NFL In The Next Month appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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