CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File
Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood took nearly two hours to die. Even as botched executions are becoming more common as states are scrambling to get the lethal drugs they need to execute inmates, Wood’s execution stretched on for much longer than usual. Although state officials maintain he did not suffer, the incident has put the spotlight back on one controversial drug that may not effectively numb death row inmates.
The Arizona corrections department has been reassuring the public that Wood’s execution was humane, saying he was in “deep sedation” throughout. “There was no gasping or snorting. Nothing. He looked like he was asleep,” Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general’s office, told the Washington Post.
Although it’s too early to tell exactly what happened — there will be a full investigation to glean more information about how exactly the drugs operated in Wood’s body — there is one common thread running through several recent examples of botched executions. In Ohio, Oklahoma, and now Arizona, state officials have been using a short-acting sedative named midazolam to numb inmates while the other drugs intended to shut down their systems flow through their veins.
Midazolam is typically used before a surgery to make patients feel sleepy and relaxed, but, according to The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, it’s not technically a “true general anesthesia” because it allows awareness to persist. That means it’s possible it won’t effectively anesthetize the effects of the other lethal drugs given to inmates. On top of that, since midazolam is usually administered in smaller doses for short time periods, doctors aren’t exactly sure what dosage to use for executions, or what a significantly higher dosage will do to the human body.
“It’s uncharted territory,” David Waisel, an anesthesiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital who has testified against untested lethal injection cocktails, told the Wall Street Journal after issues with Oklahoma’s latest execution made national headlines. “States literally have no idea what they’re doing to these people.”
Plus, since midazolam typically isn’t used in situations where the subject won’t wake up, states haven’t agreed on a standard dosage for executions. Arizona’s rules call for 50 milligrams of midazolam, followed by an injection of a second drug to stop the respiratory system and the heart. Meanwhile, Oklahoma used 100 milligrams for a botched execution that lasted 45 minutes, and Ohio used just 10 milligrams for one that took 25 minutes.
In all three instances, witnesses say the inmates appeared to be gasping for breath. According to the lawyers for Dennis McGuire, the Ohio inmate who received 10 milligrams of midazolam, the experimental combination of the sedative and the second heart-stopping drug could have subjected him to “air hunger,” the feeling of suffocation due to the insufficient flow of air into his lungs. Nonetheless, Arizona used the same exact two drugs to execute Joseph Rudolph Wood.
At least some legal experts say that the states using midazolam may be violating the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. But that hasn’t stopped them from seeking it out. While just four states — Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona — have used midazolam for this purpose so far, additional states are interested in following suit as they’re struggling to get their hands on thiopental and pentobarbital, the more powerful barbiturates typically used to anesthetize condemned individuals.
The issue is complicated by the fact that qualified medical professionals aren’t always involved in administering lethal drugs, or willing to assist states with coming up with effective cocktails. The American Society of Anesthesiologists discourages their members from participating in executions; the organization’s official policy on the subject states that “execution by lethal injection has resulted in the incorrect association of capital punishment with the practice of medicine, particularly anesthesiology.”
When ThinkProgress reached out to several professional anesthesiologists to clarify whether Wood received an effective combination of drugs to prevent him from experiencing pain, they declined to comment. “We have no experts in lethal injection. Many physicians in the field of anesthesiology find ethical objections to even the idea of becoming an expert in this area of the criminal justice system,” one doctor replied via email. “Yes, they are using ‘our drugs’, but with a different purpose and intent.”
Because of the issues swirling around lethal injections, and the difficulty that states have encountered in their attempts to administer the drugs in a completely painless way, some doctors advocate resorting to alternate methods of execution — like firing squads, hanging, and even the guillotine. Although those methods may appear to be more gruesome, medical professionals point out they may actually be harder to mess up.
The post The Death Penalty Drug That May Be Causing Cruel And Unusual Executions appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) offered several new initiatives to combat poverty in the United States during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute Thursday morning, following months of Congressional hearings and personal visits to low income communities.
Some of the proposals — expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and reforming mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines — could well find bipartisan support in Congress, while others resemble the more conservative aspects of Ryan’s controversial budgets. Under one such measure, the government would establish a pilot “Opportunity Grant” that would consolidate what Ryan sees as duplicative or overlapping federal programs — from food stamps to housing vouchers — into a single grant offered to the states. States would then administer services in partnership with community organizations. Medicaid, the health program for the poor that Ryan had proposed to block grant in previous proposals, would not be included in the initiative.
“It would consolidate up to 11 federal programs into one stream of funding to participating states,” Ryan explained during his remarks. “Each state that wanted to participate would submit a plan to the federal government” and if approved, could then experiment with how best to deliver benefits to its residents.
The Opportunity Grant would maintain safety-net spending at the same level as current law without contributing to the deficit, Ryan promised, adding that the consolidation “does not make judgments about the optimal levels of spending” and is not a budget cutting exercise. But Democrats remained skeptical, pointing out that Ryan’s previous proposals would dramatically slash the government safety net programs he is now bundling.
“It will be interesting to see how Congressman Ryan will propose a deficit neutral anti-poverty plan when his Republican passed budget gets roughly two-thirds of its $5 trillion in cuts from lower and middle income families while reducing tax rates for millionaires by a third. Is he walking away from his own budget plan?” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that nearly two-thirds of the cuts in Ryan’s budgets come from programs that help low- and moderate-income families.
Some experts who spoke to ThinkProgress also raised concerns that the universal credit would offer beneficiaries a fixed amount of money that would not be responsive to economic conditions. In his report, Ryan points to the nation’s experience with the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) program — a Clinton-era reform of welfare — as a model of success, though advocates argue that it has failed to meet the needs of low income families during recessions.
In 1996, Congress transformed the cash assistance program from cost-sharing model, where the federal government’s contribution to state welfare programs increased as need increased, to a block grant, in which the government provides states a fixed amount of money. States also received wider discretion over how to design their programs.
Though the number of poor families initially declined as the economy boomed, once it soured, poverty rates skyrocketed. But because the program’s block grant has remained unchained since its inception — at $16.6 billion per year — TANF has had very limited reach. While the initiative helped more than 80 percent of poor families with children in 1996, just about one-third receive assistance today. “All of a sudden, conservatives stop talking about TANF after 2001, when a recession hit and the story ends,” Melissa Boteach, Vice President of Half in Ten and the Poverty and Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, pointed out. “If we did that with other programs, I don’t think we’d find that to be completely intellectually honest.”
Ryan’s opportunity grant “would benefit from increasing assistance during recessions,” though it was not immediately clear that it would match economic need or perform much better than TANF.
“If you combine [various programs] and then housing goes up, the amount [towards housing] doesn’t necessarily go up,” Elizabeth Lower-Basch of the Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP) said. “The amount is no longer linked to what things cost.”
Other experts contacted by ThinkProgress wondered how different state entities would be held accountable to ensure that people receive adequate services in a timely manner and questioned the wisdom of bundling very different benefits — with very different funding structures — into a single credit.
“What does it mean to consolidate food benefits with housing benefits if you don’t have enough housing benefits to go around?” LaDonna Pavetti, the Vice President for Family Income Support Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities asked, pointing out that while the food benefit responds automatically to changing economic conditions, the housing benefit is a capped appropriation. “Do you give everybody a little bit of housing? The issues of when it’s not an entitlement system are really, really hard issues.”
In 2011, SNAP, the food benefit program, served 44.7 million people, while housing assistance reached just 4.8 million households.
The Opportunity Grant would allow counselors to provide families with greater amounts of certain types of aid, depending on their need and have them form close relationships with their clients. In one hypothetical example, Ryan explained that Andrea a 24-year-old single mother with two kids who is living with her parents, would develop an “opportunity plan” with her case manager, sign a contract requiring her to meet “specific benchmarks for success…consequences for missing them and rewards for exceeding them.” The counselor could encourage Andrea to take a temporary low-wage job to help pay the bills and provide her with greater transportation aid to help her take classes at night to become a teacher.
“The point is, with someone involved to help coordinate her aid, Andrea would not just find a job,” Ryan concluded.
But poverty experts remained skeptical, noting that since many families who need help are already working — in 2013, close to three quarters of single mothers were in the labor force — “the core challenge is not motivating them to work – rather helping them to stabilize their lives, raise their children, and move up while they are working often long hours for low wages.” Under Ryan’s scenario, should the program be poorly implemented, families would have to miss work in order to stand in line for hours waiting for a caseworker.
In many respects though, Ryan’s approach “may be a solution in search of a problem,” Boteach argued. Across the country, six states are already experimenting with streamlining existing programs within the context of federal law as part of an existing pilot project. Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Carolina are taking the lead in integrating social benefit programs like state Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), SNAP, and child care subsidies with the goal of ensuring that families receive their full package of work support benefits, while states simplify and reduce their administrative burdens.
Though the final evaluation will not be complete until 2016, states have already found that decisions by state agencies — rather than the federal government — are often the biggest obstacles to reform. Several states in the initiative have simplified their verification processes by eliminating unnecessary verifications not required by federal law. South Carolina implemented an “express lane” for services to more easily provide children with Medicaid coverage if it they were already eligible for SNAP, or the food stamp program. Other reforms allow families to give their paystubs “to just one worker to process, and the information on file can support eligibility determination for several key programs, there is less burden on families and on workers and less chance of errors.”
“If someone was designing a system for scratch it’s hard to imagine someone would come up with our current very complicated system,” Lower-Basch said. “But in order to simplify you either need a whole lot more money or there will be people losing benefits. In theory things that can be done more logically, but a lot of times people use simplification to actually try to cut benefits.”
The post Poverty Experts Skeptical That Paul Ryan’s Plan Can Actually Reduce Poverty appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Pinnacles National Monument
A California judge has struck down plans for oil drilling near Pinnacles National Park, saying county officials failed to account for the numerous environmental risks of the drilling project when they approved it.
Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled Monday that San Benito County did not adequately consider the risk of spills, water, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions that would have resulted from the project, which planned on drilling 15 pilot wells near the national park but could have ended up drilling many more after the pilot project was complete. The ruling was for a case put forth by the Center for Biological Diversity in July 2013, after the San Benito County Board of Supervisors approved the 15-well drilling project planned for a site about nine miles from Pinnacles National Park.
“This project could turn this beautiful area into a massive new oil field,” Deborah Sivas, who represented the Center for Biological Diversity in the lawsuit, said in a statement.
The county also did not consider the risks the drilling project posed to the critically endangered California condor, a species that became extinct in the wild in 1987 but, with the work of conservationists, is slowly being brought back. Pinnacles National Park is home to about 24 of the roughly 160 California condors living in the wild today. According to the ruling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had recorded California condors drinking at a water trough within three miles of the proposed drilling site in 2012. And in 2010, a California condor laid an egg inside the Pinnacle National Park boundaries for the first time in more than a century.
The project would have used cyclic steam stimulation, a process also known as “huff and puff,” in order to extract oil. The process injects high-pressure steam underground, creating cracks in the earth from which oil can escape. It’s the process used at an Alberta tar sands site that’s been leaking oil since last year. It’s also a highly water-intensive method: the proposed project, according to the judge’s ruling, would have required more than 17.5 million gallons of fresh water. In an already drought-ridden state, this heavy demand for fresh water caused several residents near the proposed drilling site to worry about how the project would affect their freshwater supplies.
“I have a water shortage to begin with, and my concern is the water, what’s going to happen to our ground levels when they start taking 17 million gallons of water,” one said, according to the judge’s ruling.
“Now, if they’re going to get water out of the ground there that could very well drain our water. We run two thousand head of stockyard cattle. What do we have left?” said another.
If the company in charge of the proposed drilling, Citadel Exploration Inc., wants to apply for a new permit for the project, a full Environmental Impact Report will first have to be completed.
The post Judge Halts Plans To Drill Near California National Park appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The National Football League has decided to suspend Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for the first two games of the 2014 season, according to multiple reports, a paltry punishment that results from Rice’s arrest on aggravated assault charges against his then-fiancée in February.
Rice was arrested after surveillance video showed him dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel. Police allegedly have video of Rice punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, before they entered the elevator. Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges but, as a first time offender, was allowed to enter a diversionary community service program that will allow him to avoid jail time.
The suspension, first reported by Yahoo’s Rand Getlin and later confirmed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and others, is expected to be announced officially later today. It means Rice will miss games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Baltimore’s biggest division rivals. Rice will also face a $58,000 fine on top of lost game salaries, according to Schefter.
Much more significantly, if these reports are true, a two-game suspension sends a terrible message about how the NFL views incidents of domestic violence. The Rice saga was already evidence of that when Palmer apologized for her role in the incident at a Ravens-hosted press conference in May. And the NFL has done little to address the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault charges that are facing or have faced its current and former players. But this makes it even worse, considering that the suspension pales in comparison to drug-related suspensions other players have received. Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon, for instance, is currently facing a 16-game suspension for testing positive for marijuana. Gordon has violated the drug policy multiple times, but even first-time offenders (for both performance enhancing or recreational drugs) can face longer suspensions than Rice received.
The NFL has set suspensions for both marijuana and steroid use, while incidents like Rice’s are handled under the league’s personal conduct policy and handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell has faced rightful criticism for the harshness of some of those punishments in the past, especially amid concerns that penalties aren’t necessarily equal for players and executives. But even without a set suspension criteria, the message here seems clear. This is an issue that, along with sexual assault, is an obvious problem in need of addressing throughout the league. Instead, it appears the NFL believes that Gordon’s decision to repeatedly smoke weed is eight times more serious than Rice deciding to put an uppercut to the face of his future wife.
The post Report: NFL Suspends Ray Rice Just Two Games For Knocking Fiancée Unconscious appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo via Militant Website, File
Given the brutality seen so far from the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), it’s easy to believe any act attributed to them must be true. But a United Nations officials’ statement on the group ordering female genital mutilation in one Iraqi city under their control seems to be less than accurate.
The story began on Thursday when the U.N.’s second senior most official, Jacqueline Badcock, told reporters of a new religious edict issued in ISIS’ name. The edict — or fatwa — ordered all girls and women in the city of Mosul between the ages of 11 and 46 to undergo female genital mutilation, Badcock told reporters in a teleconference from Iraq. “This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” Badcock, who serves as the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator in Iraq, said.
“This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists,” she added. The result of such an order, she said, could be up to four million Iraqi girls and women in and around Iraq’s second largest city being forced to undergo the painful procedure. Aside from the initial suffering, the process often leads to a multitude of health problems “including severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, infertility and increased risk of newborn deaths in childbirth.”
The story quickly began to go viral, racking up hundreds of shares on social media. Soon thereafter, however, journalists with contacts in Iraq began reporting that the story didn’t hold up. “My contacts in #Mosul have NOT heard that ‘Islamic State’ ordered FGM for all females in their city,” Jenan Moussa, a reporter with Al Anan TV tweet out. “Iraqi contacts say #Mosul story is fake,” echoed freelance writer Shaista Aziz, adding: “Iraqi contact on #FGM story: “ISIS are responsible for many horrors, this story is fake and plays to western audience emotions.’”
NPR’s Cairo bureau chief also claimed that the story was false, tweeting “#UN statement that #ISIS issued fatwa calling 4 FGM 4 girls is false residents of Mosul say including a doctor, journalist and tribal leader.” Not long after a version of a document in Arabic, bearing the black logo that ISIS has adopted, began circulating on Twitter. The document, those who shared it said, is a hoax and the basis for the United Nations’ claim.
As one analyst who looked at the document told the Independent, the issuing of such an edict would be a huge shift for ISIS, which has held territory in Syria for months without demanding that FGM take place. The practice tends to be based more on culture, Shiraz Maher, a Senior Fellow at King’s College London, said and “not something jihadists have ever really taken up” or “spoken about.” ThinkProgress reached out to the United Nations for comment on the discrepancy, but did not receive a response as of press time.
The traction that this story seemed to quickly gain is easy to understand given ISIS’ previous actions in the territory it controls. Along with reports of civilian executions, massacring Shiites, and enforcing a strict adherence to their interpretation of Islamic law, ISIS has even resurrected the practice of crucifixion in Syria. But for now it appears that female cutting is one atrocity that ISIS has yet to order.
The post No, ISIS Isn’t Ordering Female Genital Mutilation In Iraq appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Woman Says She Overheard IBM Execs Say They Won’t Hire Women Because They Get ‘Pregnant Again And Again’
Lyndsay Kirkham was just trying to have lunch with her son and his father on Monday when she overheard a group of IBM executives at the next table say, “We’re not hiring any young women because they just get pregnant again and again.” Shocked and appalled, she started live-tweeting the encounter. First picked up by The Daily Dot, Kirkham’s story has since ballooned into a bigger conversation about the tech world’s gender and racial inclusion problem.
Kirkham told ThinkProgress that, based on the conversation, she believed the executives had the assumption that men aren’t good parents or that men don’t or can’t parent children as well as women. “They were looking for ‘mature’ women who, in their opinion, were less likely to have any more children,” said Kirkham, who checked for alcohol on the table because she couldn’t believe the executives’ candor.
She said she didn’t get the executives’ names or titles, but that they were likely from human resources, or at least familiar with the jargon, based on repeated talk of pensions, holidays, time off and job benefits. IBM hasn’t returned ThinkProgress’ repeated requests for comment. Kirkham also said she hadn’t been contacted by IBM, which has a large corporate office in Toronto.
Kirkham, a Toronto-based copyeditor for Demeter Press and freelance writer and developer, believes that her experience has highlight a systemic problem. “It’s rampant,” she said. “Workplace issues around equality [in technology companies such as the] gaming industry are everywhere.”
Since tweeting the incident, and pointing out that everyone at the table was a white male (a woman joined later), Kirkham has gotten some backlash from the public with people calling her racist. But her response is that “It doesn’t get more privileged than a bunch of white dudes talking about women. Race is also very much so a part of this.”
The tech industry has struggled with its white male-dominated, “brogrammer” culture that tends to exclude women and people of color. Recent diversity reports from tech giants such as Twitter and Google have affirmed the industry’s stereotypes, highlighting that the vast majority of employees are white men — even in non-tech jobs. Twitter’s diversity report, which was released Wednesday, revealed that 70 percent of it’s employees overall were men but only 10 percent of women were on the tech side.
Female applicants are often discouraged or simply turned away by tech companies because it’s assumed they aren’t qualified or don’t “fit” the culture. Once hired, women often face gender harassment, discrimination in the tech workplace, and significantly lower pay. Moreover, women and African-Americans are also most likely to leave tech and science jobs.
The homogeneous culture has also kept women from leadership or executive positions, despite more women entering science and technology jobs. Very few tech companies, including IBM, have women in top leadership positions. Twitter only added its first female board member in 2013. According to Google’s diversity report, 21 percent of leadership roles are held by women which is only slightly better than the 17 who are board members at Fortune 500 companies.
Tech companies, however, are working to improve their diversity with efforts to recruit more women and people of color. For example, Google recently announced an initiative “Made With Code” to get young girls interested in coding.
Despite being disgusted by what she heard, Kirkham believes sharing her experience has been good for opening up a conversation about sexism in tech at the lower levels rather than from the top down.
“I know of IBM’s diversity policy,” said Kirkham, who doesn’t believe the executives she overheard represent the company as a whole. “They are dedicated on paper to advancing women in technology. [But] on the ground level, there are at least two people who aren’t dedicated to making that happen, the company’s ethos.” she said. But “it’s a systemic problem. It [starts] at the job interview,” where a young woman gets passed over “because one day you might pop out a kid.”
CREDIT: AP Photo / Mark Humphrey
Iowa recently missed out on a $1 million federal grant to beef up its use of solar power — and State Sen. Jack Hatch, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate for governor, took Gov. Terry Branstad (R) to task over the loss on Monday.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) announced back in November that its energy office had acquired the three-year grant, which was designed and provided by the U.S. Department of Energy. The purpose was to speed up solar installations across the state by updating the rules regarding permitting, inspections, and connections to the grid. A press release at the time quoted Branstad as saying that “Iowa should be at the front of the pack” in solar energy. But after months of wrangling over the terms of the project between the two offices, negotiations fell apart in April and both sides agreed to terminate the grant.
On Monday, Hatch held up the grant as evidence that “the current governor is giving in to special interests in the utility industry,” the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.
“That’s the only reason Iowa is giving up the federal solar energy grant, and I believe we can do better.”
According to a story by the Associated Press, the failure of the grant was due at least in part to a successful lobbying campaign the Iowa Utility Association brought to bear on officials in Branstad’s administration. After the initial grant announcement, the Association’s president, Mark Douglas, described himself as caught off guard, and added that it was inappropriate for the IEDA to study unsettled issues around solar policy and financing.
At the time, the Iowa Supreme Court was considering a case brought by some Iowa utilities, arguing that it was illegal for smaller solar companies to sell power directly to consumers through power purchase agreements, and that under state law only the larger utilities could sell electricity in defined territories.
In December, one month after the grant announcement, the IEDA’s director wrote a letter to the Department of Energy, which was obtained by the Associated Press under a public records law. The letter echoed Douglas’ concerns, saying it would be inappropriate to make policy recommendations that could be impacted by the pending case. The letter said there should be “greater participation by Iowa’s investor-owned utilities,” and noted that both the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities — which were subcontractors for the grant — had intervened in the case to support the utilities.
One month later, in January, the IEDA’s general counsel inserted language into the grant concerning the “limitations” of solar, along with other changes sought by Douglas. Those changes were opposed by a Department of Energy analyst, who said they “seem to suggest a significant scaling back of the ambition of the award and a generally adverse/suspicious viewpoint towards solar, which is not acceptable.” The analyst added it was essential to study policy, which every other grant team was doing.
Once the differences between the IEDA and the Energy Department couldn’t be hashed out, the grant was terminated in April. The decision was not announced.
Earlier this month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against the utilities, saying the power purchase agreements were legal. The result will most likely be more affordable solar power for schools, government agencies, nonprofits, and cities throughout the state.
According to the Des Moines Register, Hatch also called on Branstad to embrace the Court’s ruling, adding that he would not have given back the $1 million grant.
“The governor needs to rethink his authority,” Hatch continued. “To be controlled by special interests of the utility companies that pressured his department to return a million-dollar grant; that in itself shows the interests of this governor; not so much in renewable energy, but in protecting the larger corporations and the larger interests of this state at the expense of the smaller producers and the individual homeowners who could benefit dramatically from this.”
“Gov. Branstad has been a champion for renewable energy in Iowa and has the results to prove it,” shot back Tommy Schultz, Branstad’s campaign spokesman. “Jack Hatch can continue to bloviate from the sidelines, but all Iowans know that the Branstad-Reynolds administration has fought to expand and protect American energy resources so that Iowans have cheaper costs at the pump, their homes and their businesses.”
Hatch has $183,000 in his war chest for the gubernatorial campaign, way behind Branstad’s $4 million.
Branstad has been pressed on climate change before, and acknowledges it’s occurring — though his administration has also expressed concern that the Environmental Protection Agency’s “latest unilateral, ideological action” to cut carbon emissions from power plants will hurt Iowa consumers and cost jobs. Branstad is also a keen supporter of wind energy, which is becoming a major economic force in the state.
Solar power, however, remains an up-and-comer in Iowa. And the recent Iowa Supreme Court case is just the latest example of how solar’s distributed nature is igniting something of a policy panic among major utilities across the country.
The post Iowa Governor Accused Of Passing Up $1 Million For New Solar appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice has retired from the NFL after seven seasons, reportedly because of concerns about concussions and the long-term effects they could have.
Rice missed half of the 2013 season, when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, due to a knee injury, and he has suffered other injuries throughout his career. Sources told both USA Today and Fox Sports that concussions drove Rice’s decision to retire. Rice missed a large part of the 2011 season after suffering multiple concussions, and he reportedly suffered a concussion in the game where he injured his knee in 2013. Though he did not mention concussions, Rice did say that he wants “to be able to function and do things later down the road.”
“I was just thinking about things I’ve been through in the last few years,” Rice told Seahawks.com. “I’ve hit the ground a number of times. I have quite a few injuries. It’s something I’ve always battled through and came back from.
“But I just figure at this point I have the rest of my life ahead of me and I want to be able to function and do things later down the road.”
Though Rice’s own injuries — both concussions and not — were mounting, he isn’t the first to leave the game amid concussion concerns in recent years. Wide receiver Brandon Stokely decided to retire after his latest concussion last year, while Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Russell Allen was forced into retirement by a concussion and mild stroke suffered during a game last season. Defensive back Randall Gay retired in 2011 after suffering a concussion.
Injuries have always forced retirements, of course, but perhaps Rice is another suggestion that players are becoming increasingly aware of the long-term effects concussions can have. High-profile suicides linked to brain trauma and the major lawsuits against the NFL that have further exposed the dangers the injuries can cause, and hopefully those are making players more aware both of when they need to hang it up and the dangers they all face when the injuries aren’t treated properly at the time.
The post Seahawks Receiver Sidney Rice Retires Over Concussion Concerns appeared first on ThinkProgress.
McALLEN, TX — It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, but they were already running low on children’s shoes. “We’re out of certain kid’s sizes,” a worried-looking volunteer said as she pointed toward the back of the large, merchandise-filled room. Between her finger and the shoe rack stood several colorful mountains of neatly-arranged t-shirts, pants, and shorts, each marked with helpful signs that read “Boys 8-9” or “Girls 10-14.”
This humid warehouse in the border town of McAllen, Texas isn’t an off-brand children’s clothing outlet or a trendy thrift store. It’s a church, specifically a parish hall usually reserved for small congregational events. And the shoes weren’t meant for frugal shoppers, but for the scarred, aching feet of the exhausted immigrant parents and children sitting quietly near the back door. Many of their own shoes had been worn through by the grueling journey to the U.S.-Mexico border, and while the parents had done their best to carry their children for as long as they could, the trip had still taken its toll on a number of tiny sneakers.
That day, it seemed, there were simply too many kids, and not enough shoes.Inside the relief effort
A dedicated coalition of volunteers and faith groups have banded together at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown McAllen to create an oasis of relief for the ever-increasing number of immigrant families crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Lawmakers spar daily over how — or even if — to bolster programs to address the recent surge of immigrants, in the tens of thousands, coming across the border. But for Americans in towns like McAllen, which sits about five miles from the border, the immigration crisis is already a part of daily life — and so are efforts to care for immigrants.
The program at Sacred Heart started when people noticed a growing number of bewildered-looking men, women, and children being dropped off by U.S. Border Patrol at the downtown McAllen bus station. These were not the much-discussed unaccompanied minors — they are processed and housed separately by the federal government. Instead, these were undocumented immigrants who had been apprehended by authorities, processed, and then given a bus ticket to reunite with a family member before returning for a court hearing to determine their status. They were part of an explosion of small family groups attempting to enter the U.S. — mostly mothers traveling with young children. According to the Women’s Refugee Commission, the number of families crossing the border has increased at a similar rate to the number of unaccompanied children, with 55,000 adults with children apprehended just this year. They, like the unaccompanied children, are primarily fleeing horrific violence and crushing poverty in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and both influxes of immigrants have been concentrated in the Rio Grande Valley, a region that includes McAllen.
CREDIT: Jack Jenkins
Locals in McAllen started offering food and water to immigrants at the bus station, as the grueling stay at the notoriously overcrowded Border Patrol facilities left many dehydrated, dirty, and with few possessions other than the clothes on their back. But when the bus station staff complained that they couldn’t accommodate a rapidly expanding relief operation on their grounds, Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Rio Grand Valley, stepped in to help. She asked the priest of Sacred Heart Church, just down the street from the bus station, if she could use his facilities as a base of operations to help the immigrants. He agreed, and on June 10th Pimentel and her staff erected a makeshift relief center within the church’s parish hall, pooling Catholic Charities equipment and resources normally reserved for assisting with natural disasters.
“We helped 200 people that first night,” Pimentel said. “They are our brothers and sisters that are in need. They come into our country, and they find themselves in a terrible state. They need to take a shower and they need time to eat. The children are very dehydrated. You cannot help but help them. They need care, and they need love.”You cannot help but help them. They need care, and they need love.
The operation has grown significantly over the past month, due in part to increased media coverage of the crisis. The county pitched in and provided mobile tents to the church, so they can offer temporary shelter for immigrants who want to sleep. Massive donations of supplies from outside groups have started pouring in. Other worshipping communities from a variety of religious traditions are also sending workers to help, and now dozens of volunteers scuttle back and forth across the busy space at any given time, each sporting sea-green vests with “Catholic Charities” scrawled across the back.
Their work is ultimately about providing simple hospitality. Families arrive at Sacred Heart in waves — two groups in the morning, two or three more in the afternoon. Each family is assigned a sponsor who accompanies them throughout their stay. They are given a hot meal — usually soup, water, and Pedialyte for nutrients — while their sponsor searches through the piles of clothes and shoes to find things that fit them. The raw number of immigrants varies per day, reaching as high as 277 on “big days” and bottoming out just below 100 on “little days.” More than 3,500 people have been helped since the station was erected last month, 1,000 more were assisted by a sister operation set up in nearby Brownsville, Texas. Depending on when their bus leaves, families stay at the center for anywhere between half an hour and half a day, just long enough to shower, rest, and process what they’ve been through.
“You can see the fatigue on their faces,” a volunteer working the front desk said. “But they also just seem grateful that someone is actually welcoming them. Sometimes they break down in tears because no one has welcomed them like that before.”A harrowing journey
CREDIT: Jack Jenkins
One volunteer, Hermi, has repeatedly taken on one the most heart-wrenching tasks of the whole process: listening.
Many immigrants are minimally communicative when they show up, often fatigued and shell-shocked by the trials of their journey. Still, some tell Hermi and others chilling details of their harrowing experiences: The fear of ruthless gangs who kill boys who refuse to join their ranks, sexually abuse young girls, and use rape as a weapon. The terror of crossing various other borders, where food is scarce and shots are fired over their heads as they run through unsafe lands. The haunting guilt of leaving family members behind.
Such extreme physical and emotional stress can have severe long-term negative impacts on the mental health immigrants who risk the venture north. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the trauma of forced migration leaves immigrants and refugees disproportionately prone to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, somatization, and traumatic brain injuries.
Hermi listens patiently as traumatized children and parents recount the stomach-turning perils of their journey, tales she said often reduce her to tears. But Hermi endures each shocking detail with a quiet strength — a real-world application of Jesus’ call to “love thy neighbor.”These people are our neighbors. They just live a little further away.
“The families bring me back every day,” she said, her tone surprisingly upbeat for someone who is regularly bombarded with tales of humanity at its worst. “I sit there and I cry with them. Someone needs to console them and cry with them. No one is allowed to cry alone — is that not true?
“There are some tough days. But if my neighbor next door to me is in trouble, then I go help my neighbor. These people are our neighbors. They just live a little further away.”Local churches pitch in
McAllen’s faith-based effort for immigrants is just over a month and a half old, but it has already morphed into a well-oiled relief machine, with several groups working in tandem to offer immigrants comfort. Sacred Heart Church supplies the space and volunteers that provide clothing, shoes, and temporary shelter for families; the local Salvation Army cooks and delivers meals to the church daily; a local food bank houses donations such as clothes, hygiene products, and shoes, which it delivers to Sacred Heart as-needed; and many of the donations are packaged and delivered by a diverse web of nearby churches and worship communities.
One of these communities is St. John’s Episcopal Church, a medium-sized congregation about 10 minutes up the road from Sacred Heart. Sitting in the back pew during one of a Sunday morning service in July, the assembled worshipers roughly resembled the makeup of most mainline Protestant congregations; the prayers and readings were projected on the wall in both English and Spanish, but the liturgy and music were almost entirely in English, and the faces in the pews skewed older and Anglo — a rare find in Hidalgo county, where over 90 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
CREDIT: Jack Jenkins
The church’s head priest, Rev. Jim Nelson, directly addressed the immigration crisis in his sermon. The lectionary called for him to preach on a difficult scripture passage: Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13, which describes how God and the angels will separate the saved from the condemned, or the “wheat from the chaff,” on judgment day. But Nelson, who grew up on a wheat farm, saw the scripture as a reminder that ultimate judgement lies with God alone, not human beings. And while he repeatedly insisted that his congregation was apolitical and made up of “conservatives and liberals,” he hinted that attempts by others to disparage or defame the recent flood of immigrants sidesteps Christ’s charge to care for fellow human beings — no matter what.
“It is not our job to decide who is good and who is bad — that’s God’s job,” he said. “But we are God’s servants. We are called to take care of his children, plain and simple.”
Nelson’s emphasis on simple compassion echoes the broader call of many in the faith community — including evangelical Christians and other conservative religious groups that long opposed immigration reform — to draw attention to the struggles of those caught up in this new immigration crisis. More openly progressive faith groups such as the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and others have taken firm stances on the issue, holding rallies, staging protests, and sending letters to President Obama insisting the government take action to provide care for immigrant families and unaccompanied children. Conservative religious groups have been less demanding, but still outspoken: In a letter sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson in late June, the heads of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, World Vision, and World Relief pleaded for the administration to find a way to protect immigrant children above all else.
Even Glenn Beck, a conservative talk show host and vehement opponent of immigration reform, surprised many of his fans by venturing to McAllen in July to visit the border with several Republican lawmakers. There, Beck — who cited faith as his motivation — met with immigrant families and unaccompanied children, and delivered millions of dollars worth of supplies to Sacred Heart. Beck, of course, continues to vocally resist attempts by President Obama to obtain additional funding from Congress for relief efforts, but his trip still hints that support for addressing the immigration crisis is rapidly becoming a rare point of agreement between America’s religious groups.
As the service at St. John’s drew to a close, the congregation was invited to follow the priests across an open courtyard to the church’s family life center for a “packing party.” There, assistant rector Rev. Nancy Springer led a group of mostly older worshippers in a brief prayer before lining everyone up alongside several long white tables. Plastic bags and basic household essentials were stacked in neat lines: chips, animal crackers, and granola bars, as well as various hygiene products such as soap, band-aids, disinfectant wipes, toothpaste, and shampoo. The offerings appeared meager, but for immigrant families who have endured a lengthy journey from Central America and grueling stays in facilities run by the U.S. Border Patrol — where food is scarce and showers are scarcer — a little shampoo can go a long way.
CREDIT: Jack Jenkins
A signal was given, and the packing began. The process itself was a bit of blur, and the output was impressive: earlier that week, congregants packed 1700 bags of food and hygiene products in “about 35 minutes,” according to one of the volunteers. Each bag was sealed, placed in a box, and shipped to the food bank where it would be delivered to families at Sacred Heart. As an added touch, most bags were also given a sticker emblazoned with a Spanish translation of the “prayer for travelers” from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which implores God to “protege a los que viajan,” or “Protect those who travel.”
“There are people who are hungry, and who need clothes,” Springer said, gazing out at her congregants. “So we’re giving it to them. Because Jesus said that’s what we’re supposed to do — reveal God’s love to the world around us. It’s about taking care of the refugees.”Unexpected allies
Among the buzzing hive of packers at St. John’s was Johnny Cozad, a soft-spoken rancher adorned in a classic western-style pocketed shirt and a shiny belt buckle. Pausing from his work to pour himself a cup of coffee, he told of his personal encounters with border crossings, saying that “thousands” of immigrants had passed through ranches like his on their journey northward. Ranchers often discover the bodies of dead and dying immigrants on their property, and some have teamed up in recent months to patrol their own borders in hopes of finding people before they are swallowed up by the Texas tall grass. He expressed general ambivalence about immigration issues, explaining that while many ranchers used to hire foreigners who wandered onto their fields, rumors of crossings by smugglers and drug runners have made them wary of approaching new travelers. And whereas previous waves of immigrants used to slip through without a trace, many ranchers now report broken fences and disturbed water sources, damage presumably inflicted by desperate migrants.
“For many of us, these immigrants can be destructive,” he said. Some ranchers have been known to forcibly resist immigrants, holding them at gunpoint or even shooting at trespassers when they find them on their land.If someone comes through my ranch and needs water or food, I’m gonna give it to them. No question.
But when asked if he thought it unusual that a Texas rancher, the veritable poster-child for American conservatism, would so eagerly participate in relief efforts to help undocumented immigrants, Cozad looked shocked. It angered him that anyone would question the need to provide direct assistance to travel-weary migrants, and made mention of other ranchers who leave out water for travelers before invoking the biblical charge to care for those in need.
“This is separate,” he said, nodding to his priest and waving his hand at his fellow church members. “If someone comes through my ranch and needs water or food, I’m gonna give it to them. No question.”Keeping the faith
Relief operations like those in McAllen are a blessing to those they serve, but they are also immensely difficult to sustain. Americans are notorious for short memories and fickle news cycles, and humanitarian causes that are overwhelmed by donations one month can easily find themselves barely scraping by the next. And while the work of McAllen residents is powerful, it is by no means enough to adequately handle the surge, and it is still an open question as to whether Congress will secure more funds to help with the crisis.
Even Sister Pimentel, an otherwise a boundless source of optimism, isn’t sure how long she can expect to sustain relief efforts in the face of ever-increasing waves of immigrants.
“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head and glancing over at an immigrant child in the corner, waddling about in what looked a brand new pair of bright pink shoes. “I have no clue. Every day it’s changing. But we’ll sustain this as best as we can for as long as we can.”
But while Sacred Heart and their faith-based allies have their work cut out for them, few who visit their welcome center could question the importance of their efforts to those they serve. Turning to leave Sacred Heart last Friday, the front door opened to reveal the arrival of a new crop of immigrant families. A line of mostly women and young girls filed in slowly, daughters in crumpled shirts clutching the hands of mothers and blinking tiredly as they walked out of the Texas sun. The room fell silent for an instant, then suddenly burst into raucous applause. Every volunteer turned from their work to greet the newcomers with smiles and shouts of “Bienvenidos!” and “Welcome!” It was a joyful moment, but the weary eyes of the immigrant mothers, already welling up with tears, betrayed another emotion: relief.
Soon, of course, the sobs would come. But here, sheltered under the care of Sacred Heart, these immigrant families finally felt welcome and safe — if only for a time.
The post The Inspiring Work Being Done To Show What Jesus Would Do At The Border appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: A.P. Images
The largest wildfire in Washington state’s history is now 52 percent contained after powerful storms swept through the area on Wednesday, bringing heavy rain and even hail.
But now, a new threat has emerged, even as the massive fire begins to come under control — floods and landslides. On Wednesday firefighters battling the Carlton Complex blaze had to be pulled out of the area after the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch.
According to the warning, “It takes as little as 10 minutes of heavy rain to cause flash flooding and debris flows in and below areas affected by wildfires. Rain runs off almost instantly from burned soils, causing creeks and drainages to flood at a much faster rate than normal.”
The Carlton Complex fire, which grew from four separate lightning strikes on July 14, has scorched over 400 square miles of forest in the state, leaving vast areas denuded of the vital vegetation and tree roots that hold soil in place and help absorb water.
“The cooler temperatures and the higher relative humidities will allow the firefighters to get in and get a better handle on the fire,” Katie Santini, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, told the LA Times. “But it brings in the possibility of flash floods and makes travel around the fire more difficult.”
Tens of thousands of people lost power during the storm , which saw winds from 50 to 70 mph. The weather service reported more than 5,500 lightning strikes in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
“I thought we were in a tornado,” Krystle Schneider, who lives in Northwest Spokane, told the Spokesman-Review.
In central Washington, flash floods were reported along the Entiat River in a burned out area. The Spokesman-Review reported that the flood waters brought down debris at mile 11 at the Entiat River and boulders were dislodged during a storm near Tommy Creek
President Obama has asked Congress for $615 million in emergency spending to fight Western wildfires. Speaking at a fundraiser earlier this week in Seattle, he noted that spending on fires has been steadily increasing and made the link between the increased fire activity and climate change. The cost of fighting U.S. wildfires has exceeded $1 billion every year since 2000. Last year, the price tag was $1.7 billion. Twenty-five California Democrats recently signed a letter urging House and Senate members to take action on addressing firefighting funding shortfalls.
“A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns and a lot of that has to do with climate change,” Obama said.
Late Tuesday, Obama signed an emergency declaration that authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief for Washington state.
The post Danger Of Flash Floods And Landslides Grow As Washington Wildfire Slows appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: DEERNS International
DUINDORP, THE NETHERLANDS — When most people think of harnessing renewable energy from the ocean, the gigantic spinning blades of offshore wind farms are probably the first thing that come to mind. Or maybe it’s gracefully bobbing buoys capturing wave energy or dams that skim power off rushing tides. Very few people, however, think of the oceans as a vast source of renewable heat that can be used to keep homes warm and showers steaming. But that’s exactly what a growing number of seaside towns in northern Europe are doing, despite having some particularly chilly ocean water.Technologies like solar panels were just too expensive and wouldn’t produce enough energy in this region.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that the ocean can be used to climate control our homes. After all, the Earth’s oceans essentially climate control the entire planet. The more than 70 percent of the Earth that is covered by water serves as a kind of global thermostat. Oceans take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps to moderate temperatures, and they also emit heat from the sunlight they absorb. Clouds, too, which perform a variety of cooling and insulating functions to help regulate temperature on Earth, form from water evaporating off the ocean.
Harnessing just a tiny fraction of the heat stored in the world’s oceans has theoretically been possible for many years, but has only recently been put into practice. One of the first places in the world to draw on the ocean for residents’ heating needs is Duindorp, a small harbor town near the Hague in the Netherlands.
Being dependent on the ocean is nothing new for Duindorp — for decades, the small fishing village relied almost entirely on the water for its economic lifeblood. Fishing in the harbor has since declined, but now a new era of reliance on the ocean for energy has begun.
CREDIT: DEERNS International
The project began nearly a decade ago, as 1,200 cramped fishermen houses dating back to 1915 were taken down in town to make room for 800 new homes that met modern standards for affordable housing in the Netherlands.
“Residents wanted their homes to be heated using renewable energy,” said Paul Stoelinga, senior consultant at Dutch environmental engineering firm Deerns International, which designed Duindorp’s current heating system. “But how to offer that for low-income residents was a problem. Technologies like solar panels were just too expensive and wouldn’t produce enough energy in this region.”
District heating using seawater turned out to be the most affordable solution, insuring no resident would have to pay more than the national average of €70 (about $94) a month for heat and hot water.
While deeply connected to the sea, Duindorp seems like an unlikely place to take advantage of heat in the oceans. The birds skimming over the choppy harbor are mostly cormorants, familiar cold-weather birds that proclaim the fact that the water here is hardly warm. For most of the winter, the temperature in the harbor is right around 35 to 40° Fahrenheit, although in summer it can climb to near 70° Fahrenheit.
CREDIT: Joanna M. Foster
The system is based on a district heating plan, which is quite common in Europe, but only recently starting to catch on in the U.S. District heating systems warm water at a central location and then distribute it through a system of underground pipes. None of the water in the pipes is used directly in homes, but the heat from the water is skimmed off and used to warm showers and floors.
The process is similar to the circulatory system in a person’s body. Blood gets oxygen from the heart and then delivers it through the body, returning de-oxygenated blood to the heart to start the process all over again. Likewise, the water in the pipes that services the neighborhood is heated at the central facility and then runs through town distributing heat and eventually loops back to the power plant to be heated up once again.
In the summer, creating warm water to flow through the district heating network of pipes is relatively straightforward. Intake pipes at the harbor draw in about 25,000 to 50,000 gallons of warm seawater every hour. An extensive series of filters throughout the intake system ensures that no sea life is sucked into the plant. That seawater is then used in a heat exchanger to heat freshwater for the pipes to around 54° Fahrenheit. The warmed freshwater is then sent out along a five mile network of insulated pipes that services the 800 homes in the new affordable housing neighborhood. At every house connected to the system, a 5 kWh-capacity heat pump raises the temperature of the water to between 110-150° Fahrenheit, to then be used for heating and warm water.
In the winter, the system is more complex.
“Just at the moment when you really want a hot shower and need heating in your home, that’s when the ocean is at its coldest,” said Stoelinga. “Sometimes just 2° Celsius. It’s a tricky contradiction, when you need the heat, its not there.”
During these chilly months, a heat pump is used to transfer heat from the seawater to the district heating system. Every home in the U.S. uses similar technology in refrigerators and air conditioners. Heat pumps don’t create heat, they merely transfer it from one medium to another. Heat pumps require a source of energy as they push heat against its natural gradient — heat naturally wants to flow from hot to cold until an equilibrium is reached. In a refrigerator, they push heat from a cold area, the inside of the fridge, to a warmer area, the kitchen. Unlike a typical fridge, the heat pump in Duindorp uses ammonia as the refrigerant. It’s extremely efficient, but also quite toxic, and not something any homeowner would want in their kitchen.
CREDIT: DEERNS International
Much more water is needed in the winter, compared to the summer, to keep the system running. About 190,000 gallons of water is taken in every hour when the ocean is at its coldest and only a few degrees of heat can be transferred.
“You can’t get much heat out of water which is just a few degrees above freezing” explained Stoelinga, “so you need much more flow.”
Originally, Deerns planned to make the system 100 percent renewable by building two 1.5 MW wind turbines in the harbor to supply all of the energy needed to run the heat pump during the winter. Unfortunately, local zoning codes didn’t allow wind turbines to be built in the area, so the electricity needed to run the heat pumps, about 3 MW, is taken off the grid. The system is still extremely efficient, however, generating 15 kilowatt-hours of heat for every 1 kWh of electricity pumped into the system. This reduces carbon emissions by 50 percent when compared to conventional heating using natural gas.
Stoelinga explained that while district heating systems and heat pumps certainly aren’t new ideas, making the system run smoothly with an affordable price tag was a massive undertaking.This design would work especially well and cost even less if the community was near a large body of freshwater.
“I would say that about 80 percent of the engineering work we did at this site was dedicated entirely to battling the problem of corrosive seawater,” said Stoelinga. “We are dealing with huge volumes of very salty water in our mechanical systems every day and finding ways to cut down on how often we had to replace corroded components was by far the biggest challenge. ”
Now that solutions to that problem have been designed, Stoelinga says that seawater district heating is a promising alternative for any community near the shore. The system will be most cost effective in areas where new development is taking place. Since district heating depends on an underground network of pipes, retrofitting a community to run on a district heating system would add considerably to the price tag.
“This design would work especially well and cost even less if the community was near a large body of freshwater,” said Stoelinga. “If you don’t have to worry about saltwater ruining equipment, it’s much simpler.”
In the U.S., any town or city on the coasts, along the Great Lakes, or even near large rivers like the Mississippi could benefit from a similar system.
For Stoelinga, the next project is a seawater cooling system based on the similar principles for resorts in Aruba. In order to cool the resort, intake pipes will be built to collect the cold water deep in the ocean. That cold water can then be used in a heat exchanger to provide cold water in taps and air conditioning throughout the hotel.
The post This Town Is Using The Ocean To Provide Heat To Low-Income Residents appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The intention was good: find a sustainable crop to help raise nutrition rates in Afghanistan and provide Afghan farmers with a new cash crop. But as with so many rebuilding projects in Afghanistan — in this case on trying to convince Afghanistan to love soybeans — the result was one where the goals achieved didn’t come close to matching the money spent.
As the United States begins to transition out of Afghanistan, the country it has been attempting to rebuild for more than a decade, the government official in charge of documenting waste and abuse in the many American programs operating there has had his work cut out for him. The Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko on Thursday released a review of his office’s inquiry into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $34.4 million investment into soybeans in Afghanistan.
The Soybeans for Agricultural Renewal in Afghanistan Initiative (SARAI) was a project pitched and run by the the American Soybean Association with USDA funding. What Sopko found during a March visit to Afghanistan was enough to give him serious pause. “I understand that Afghanistan’s operating environment poses daunting challenges for reconstruction and development programs, and that any project in the country is bound to meet its fair share of difficulties,” Sopko wrote in a June letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “However, what is troubling about this particular project is that it appears that many of these problems could reasonably have been foreseen and, therefore, possibly avoided.”
Those problems appear to be legion, according to the letter to Vilsack. Among the most troubling is the fact that long before the SARAI project began in 2010, evidence existed that the crop would fail in the area where planting was set occur. “Scientific research conducted for the UK Department for International Development between 2005 and 2008 concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented,” Sopko wrote.
Those studies quickly proved true, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation into the project also published on Wednesday. “The first crop failed, and subsequent harvests didn’t produce enough soybeans to operate a special factory in Mazar-e-Sharif that was constructed and managed at a cost of at least $1.5 million to create a local soybean economy,” it found. “Afghan farmers participating in the project, discouraged by crop failures, largely abandoned their growing efforts.”
The lack of soybeans for the factory meant that instead the U.S. had to fly 4,000 metric tons of American soy into Afghanistan for it to be processed, at a cost of $2 million. But due to lagging output from the Afghan farmers, once the final ten percent of the USDA stockpile is processed, there will only be enough soy from the entire crop this year to run the factory for one month.
Making matters worse the factory established was able to process soybeans into several final products — including animal feed, oil, and soy flour — but needed to produce mostly the more profitable soy flour to remain solvent. But program managers told SIGAR that “Afghans don’t like the taste of bread made with soybean flour,” leading the factory to have to sell a product that is 95 percent wheat flour and 5 percent soybean flour. That wheat, though, doesn’t even come from Afghanistan: it’s actually imported from Kazakhstan. As Sopko wrote in his initial letter to Vilsack in March raising concerns about the program, there is not “any significant demand for soybean products in Afghanistan.”
In his June letter, Sopko recommends that USDA take a long look at the Food for Progress program that SARAI was established under. The SIGAR also advised Vilsack to launch a “thorough and comprehensive evaluation of the project’s future sustainability, including a review of existing research on the economic viability of growing soybeans in Afghanistan. If a viable business case cannot be supported, withhold further investment.”
This vignette can easily serve as a parable for the entirety of the Afghan reconstruction process, which has since 2001 cost an estimated $120 billion. As NBC pointed out in its version of the CPI investigation: “No one has calculated precisely how much the United States wasted or misspent in Afghanistan, but a congressionally-chartered group estimated in 2011 that it could be nearly a third of the total. A special auditor appointed by President Obama the following year said he discovered nearly $7 billion worth of Afghanistan-related waste in just his first year on the job.”
The post The U.S. Wasted $34 Million TryingTo Make Soybeans Happen In Afghanistan appeared first on ThinkProgress.
From April to June, which turned out to be the last three months of its corporate lifespan, for-profit education chain Corinthian Colleges spent $320,000 lobbying Congress, according to Bloomberg.
Late last year, Corinthian was accused of falsifying statistics on how its graduates fared in the job market and of bribing local companies to aid in the deception. Investigations were launched in various states and by multiple government agencies, and the college chain failed to comply with records requests relating to its students’ performance. The Department of Education responded by restricting the company’s access to federal funds — it had been receiving over a billion dollars in taxpayer money per year up until this spring — and Corinthian decided to close or sell off all 107 of its campuses around the country.
But the company didn’t go quietly, lobbying disclosure records for the second quarter of the year show. Corinthian spent $320,000 dollars — about double what Harvard spent on lobbying in the same time window — influencing lawmakers and government officials in the three months prior to its demise. Much of that money went to a specific effort to tamper with government oversight of the for-profit college industry.
“It’s a classic case of a company that is not winning and perhaps cannot win its argument on the merits,” Center for Responsive Politics head Sheila Krumholz told Bloomberg. The argument, in this case, was that the for-profit college’s 72,000 student customers were receiving accurate information from Corinthians marketing materials.
Those materials included information about the job placement rate of graduates from the subsidiary Everest College brand of schools. Multiple Everest campuses in various states were reportedly paying local companies to hire graduates into make-work jobs for 30 days so that the company could inflate the statistics it used to lure more paying customers. After the nominal period of employment associated with the bribe was up, the companies fired the Everest graduates they didn’t have any actual use for, according to in-depth reports by the Huffington Post that cited interviews with multiple Everest employees and graduates.
At least a quarter of what Corinthians spent lobbying in its last three months as a fully-operational company was meant to make it harder to hold companies accountable for exactly the sort of performance metrics that Corinthians companies allegedly falsified. At least $90,0000 went to supporting a bill by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) that would gut the Department of Education’s ability to police for-profits’ performance. Foxx’s bill would block three proposed rules for these education corporations whose revenue streams come primarily from taxpayer-funded programs accountable, including one that would restrict funding access for a school if fewer than 35 percent of its graduates is able to actively pay down their loans. Many for-profit schools would likely struggle to meet such a threshold, and Foxx — who receives substantial campaign cash from the industry — has fought to spare the companies from such rules.
The post In Its Death Throes, For-Profit College Chain Spent Over $100,000 A Month On Lobbying appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world, but those few states that managed to significantly reduce their prison population over the last decade saw benefits other than reduced lock-up costs. They also saw their crime rate go down at a higher rate than the national average, according to a new report from the Sentencing Project.
The report bolsters the notion that locking up the wrong people doesn’t improve public safety. In fact, “smart on crime” policies not only minimize punishment toward non-violent offenders; they can also re-allocate resources toward violent crime.
“The experiences of New York, New Jersey, and California demonstrate that it is possible to achieve substantial reductions in mass incarceration without compromising public safety,” wrote Marc Mauer and Nazgol Ghandnoosh of the Sentencing Project.
Between 1999 and 2012, state prison populations in all 50 states increased 10 percent, as states continued their over-reliance on drug war policies and harsh sentencing. But New York and New Jersey simultaneously bucked that trend, each decreasing their prison populations by 26 percent during that same period. Nationwide, crime rates declined over this decade. But in those two states, the crime rates dropped even more, despite their reverse pattern of locking fewer and fewer people up. California, which saw a significant decrease of 23 percent, also saw its violent crime drop even more than national levels.
Each of these states started out with tough-on-crime-era criminal policies that were reformed at a time when incarceration rates were at their height. New York reformed its Rockefeller drug law arrest policies and saw an immediate sharp decline in felony drug arrests. At the same time, New York City ratcheted up arrests for misdemeanor drug offenses, a trend that remains today. But these offenses nonetheless carry shorter prison terms on average, and during the same period many individuals were diverted out of prison and into rehabilitation programs.
California was facing court orders in long-running prison litigation over the state’s overcrowded prisons. Because the state’s prisons were so severely overcrowded at the start, they remain at more than 137 percent of capacity even several years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered population reductions. But the state nonetheless made significant strides while under regular court monitoring without adverse consequences for safety. New Jersey reformed flawed parole processing procedures, and reformed its sentencing laws for low-level drug crimes.
The analysis of these three states follows an exhaustive April report from the National Academy of Sciences concluding that the United States should reduce its prison population because the negative consequences of U.S. mass incarceration outweigh any benefits.
Even with their reduced incarceration rate, all three of these states still have incarceration rates three to six times that of most industrialized nations. Future reforms may focus not just on low-level offenders, but also on the dramatically long sentences doled out even for non-violent felonies.
But more sustained reductions in over-incarceration may also rely on external reforms, particularly to the mental health system. A number of studies are showing that, as treatments and facilities for mentally ill individuals disappear, prisons and jails become the new de facto asylums.
The post States That Slashed Their Prison Populations Have Seen Disproportionate Drops In Crime, Too appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Millions of Americans can expect to get a refund from their insurance companies this year, at an average of about $80 dollars per family, thanks to a little-known Obamacare provision that’s helping people save money on their premiums. According to a new report released by the Health and Human Services Department on Thursday, Americans across the country have received a total of $1.9 billion dollars in rebates since this provision first took effect in 2011.
Obamacare’s medical loss ratio provision — which is also frequently referred to as the “80/20 rule” — requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of every American’s premium costs on their medical care, rather than on the company’s own profits or administrative overhead. If insurance companies don’t hit the right balance, they have to issue a refund check to their customers to make up for it.
According to HHS’s calculations, 6.8 million Americans will save $330 million in refunds this year because of the 80/20 rule. Insurance companies are required to provide those reimbursements by no later than the beginning of August. Not everyone will actually receive a physical check in the mail; insurers are allowed to apply the reimbursements to future premiums, so the savings could show up that way.
In a press release announcing the new data, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said that the health reform law is giving Americans a “better value for their premium dollars.” The whole point of the 80/20 rule is to encourage insurance companies to operate more efficiently and cut down on their overhead — and it’s slowly working. The portion of premium dollars allocated to insurers’ profits and administrative costs dropped from 15.3 percent in 2011 to 11.7 percent in 2013.
HHS estimates that if insurers weren’t making those type of changes, Americans would have likely paid about $3.8 billion in additional premiums in 2013. Altogether, since the medical loss ratio took effect three years ago, the administration calculates that it’s averted $9 billion dollars worth of unnecessarily high insurance premiums.
The 80/20 rule isn’t the only Obamacare provision that seeks to keep premium costs affordable. The health law also extends federal subsidies to help Americans purchase plans on the individual market in the new state-level insurance exchanges, something that allows millions of people to buy health care for less than $100 each month. However, under a lawsuit against the health law that could make its way up to the Supreme Court, those subsidies could be put into jeopardy in the majority of states in the country. If that happens, insurance premiums could increase by about 75 percent.
The post Obamacare Has Helped Americans Save Nearly $2 Billion On Their Insurance Premiums appeared first on ThinkProgress.
See that picture, above, is from Calvin Klein’s new ad campaign, which looks almost exactly like Calvin Klein’s old ad campaign, because our great nation is incapable of leaving the nineties behind us. Fun fact: this is actually what Faulkner meant when he said that the past “isn’t even past.” He was talking about what Marky Mark would let get between him and his Calvins:
Calvin Klein is firing on all the nostalgia cylinders. The original ads starred Kate Moss; this reboot Kate’s kid half-sister Lottie Moss as the model. The photographer, Michael Avedon, is the grandson of Richard Avedon, who shot those classic Brooke Shields images. The clothes are part of a Calvin Klein/My Theresa collaboration called the Re-Issue Project, nine pieces of nineties normcore. Many of the celebrities shilling the rebooted goods—Harry Styles, Kendall Jenner, Iggy Azaela—were barely out of diapers when that CK-banded underwear-above-your-jeans look was first fashionable. The younger Moss, a 16 year old, wasn’t even alive when the iconic 1992 ads were released.
CREDIT: Calvin Klein
At the risk of sounding redundant, nostalgia in advertising is nothing new, though some techniques are more obvious than others:
Pepsi, by the way, is a repeat offender. Last year they hoped we’d get excited over a nostalgia-for-old-school-Beyonce ad, which I guess assumes we already miss the Bey from less than a decade ago. They’ve made two ads that are built entirely on the premise that audiences will be nostalgic… for old Pepsi commercials. There’s the Cindy Crawford one above and this through-the-years themed Britney Spears spot.
But how effective are these ploys, really? Does nostalgia really get people to buy products? Washington State University marketing professors David Sprott and Darrel Muehling conducted a study to examine three things: if advertisements can prompt nostalgic feelings in consumers, if that nostalgia resulted in a positive feeling, and if consumers translated that positive feeling into a favorable opinion of the brand. Even though research demonstrated subjects who had nostalgic thoughts “tended to exhibit more favorable attitudes toward the advertised brand than those who did not,” the study also “found the use of nostalgic cues to generate significantly more personal thoughts—both positive and negative in nature—than did the non-nostalgic ad,” Sprott told the Washington State University Research News.
Sprott went on to say that “consumers may strongly desire to return to their pasts, but be confronted with the realization that they can’t.” Nostalgia is bittersweet by definition: a longing for a pleasurable point in the time-space continuum to which you can never return. Of course, if you watch Mad Men, you already knew that.
So if nostalgia inspires these conflicting feelings, what place does it have in advertising, the sunny, happy alternate universe where no problem can’t be cleaned up with the right brand of paper towel?
In 2006, Jason Leboe-McGowan, a professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba, conducted a study: “On misattributing good remembering to a happy past: An investigation into the cognitive roots of nostalgia.” Remembering, he found, causes humans to feel pleasure—whether or not the thing they’re remembering is good.
“People get a charge out of the transportive experience of remembering,” he explained to me by phone. “I think that nostalgia is just one aspect of that enjoyment that people get from playing with what their minds can do… It’s kind of like when you’re watching a trivia show, like Jeopardy. Being able to come up with the answer feels good. When you’re trying to remember something, and you remember a detail, that feels good too, for the same reason. Your mind solves the puzzle, and that feels great.”
Because it’s that clicking feeling of putting pieces together that incites the joy—not necessarily the joyful nature of the memory itself—even a negative or neutral memory can spark a warm feeling.
“Anything that stimulates detail coming to mind about something that has to do with the past should give a positive emotional reaction to people,” said Leboe-McGowan. “That doesn’t mean it has to come from reality or their own life. Like with this ad campaign, anything that captures a person’s imagination about the past is going to deliver that same kind of positive response.”
Makes sense, given that the nostalgia these Calvin Klein ads inspire requires a kind of willful misremembering. Kate Moss, for her part, has since gone on the record to say that she regretted taking part in the photo shoot. Being made to pose topless when she was still underage—on her own and atop Mark Wahlberg, then of Marky Mark fame—caused her to have a nervous breakdown:
“I had a nervous breakdown when I was 17 or 18, when I had to go and work with Marky Mark and Herb Ritts. It didn’t feel like me at all. I felt really bad straddling this buff guy. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. I thought I was going to die.”
But for consumers, even those who are aware of Moss’s remorse, it’s still possible to associate something good with these throwback images. “Objectively, for example, the Middle Ages were horrifying in terms of violence, life expectancy, infant mortality,” said Leboe-McGowan. “But you can show somebody a sword or a costume from the Middle Ages, and it captures their imagination and all the romantic things they know will come to mind. Even people who are aware of the violence and the crushing poverty people lived in—that would come to mind as well, but it’s the transportive nature of that…that gives you a positive jolt.”
“If Calvin Klein’s goal is to convince people that it’s timeless, culturally iconic through time, this is not a bad idea,” he said. Not so much “if they want to present themselves as ‘this is new and nothing like what your parents had anything to do with.’”
This ad might be most appealing to the very people who are too young to remember the nineties at all. “There’s almost more freedom if the person didn’t actually live through it,” said Leboe-McGowan. “Because there’s no reality to taint everything.”
The post There Is Almost Nothing Nineties Nostalgia Can’t Sell, Because Of Science appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File
Using an unusual concoction of drugs this afternoon, Arizona attempted to execute a man on death row. One hour after he was supposed to have been lethally injected, however, Joseph Rudolph Wood was still alive, “gasping and snoring.” Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency request to stay the execution and give the man life-saving help, but it was too late: After two hours, he died.
Wood’s execution almost didn’t occur today. Just three days ago, a federal appeals court put the lethal injection plans on pause, requiring the state to disclose “the name and provenance of the drugs to be used in the execution” and “the qualifications of the medical personnel” performing the execution. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme court reversed that lower court’s ruling, and, after another brief stay by Arizona’s Supreme Court, the execution continued as planned
All this conflict has arisen because overseas drug-makers have raised moral objections to their products being used in executions, and refused to sell the medications for that purpose. As the usual drugs used to lethally inject inmates have been pulled from the shelves by their makers, the American justice system has turned to untested, often undisclosed, drugs to kill its inmates. Those drugs are usually made not in pharmacies but in drug compounding facilities not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
What’s more, administering lethal injection violates the Hippocratic oath, to which doctors must adhere. That means that the people performing the injections are often less qualified to do so.
Wood’s extended survival through execution is only one of several horrible results from this conflict. Just last month, Oklahoma botched an execution, leaving inmate Clayton Lockett writhing in pain for 43 minutes before he suffered the massive heart attack that ultimately killed him. And before him, there were more: Eric Robert, for example, turned purple and gasped for 20 minutes before he died back in 2012. Michael Lee Wilson was said to have screamed, “I feel my whole body burning” before he eventually died during his execution.
The underlying legal question behind all of these incidents is whether or not execution by lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment — and many say that the evidence is mounting that, with these untried cocktails slowing down executions, it is. Some advocates for the death penalty have even said it’s time to turn toward other methods of execution, including the electric chair, firing squads, and even the guillotine.Update
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) told reporters following the botched execution that witness accounts indicated Wood did not suffer, but she has asked for a review of the execution process. A spokesperson for the state’s Attorney General, who witnessed the execution, told National Journal, “I was surprised by how peaceful it was.”
The post Arizona’s Execution Attempt Goes Horribly Wrong As Man Remains Alive Nearly 2 Hours After Injection appeared first on ThinkProgress.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore, an Obama appointee, issued a ruling declaring that Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Moore stayed the decision, but only temporarily until August 25.
State Attorney General John Suthers (R), who has been defending Colorado’s ban, made a strange tactical decision in this particular case. Though he argued that he believes the ban is constitutional, he still asked Moore to overturn it and then stay that decision. This, Suthers seemed to hope, would force Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall to stop issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
Since last month, when the 10th Circuit agreed with a lower court that Utah’s same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, Hall has been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She has argued that the 10th Circuit’s stay in the Utah case only applies to Utah, but its ruling against marriage bans applies to the whole Circuit, which includes Colorado. Suthers has asked state courts to force Hall to stop, but his requests have been denied, including again Wednesday morning. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Boulder County Clerk’s office reports that it has issued a total of 181 marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Moore’s decision follows a ruling by a Colorado state judge earlier this month similarly overturning the state’s law. The two cases will proceed in their separate jurisdictions.
The post Federal Judge Overturns Colorado’s Ban On Same-Sex Marriage appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) accused advocates of same-sex marriage of intolerance during a speech at Catholic University on Wednesday afternoon and reiterated his support for marriage between one man and one woman.
While recognizing that “our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians,” Rubio argued that “traditional marriage has such an extraordinary record of success at raising children” and must be perpetuated to the exclusion of same-sex unions.
“[T]oday, there is a growing intolerance on this issue, intolerance towards those who continue to support traditional marriage,” Rubio observed, citing the firing of the CEO of Mozilla, following revelations that he supported California’s campaign to ban same-sex marriage, and other instances where opponents of marriage equality suffered economic consequences. “And I promise you that even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as a hater, a bigot or someone who is anti-gay,” he added. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.”
Rubio then sought to shield himself from accusations of homophobia, by linking his position on the issue to President Obama’s.” “Supporting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage,” the junior senator claimed. “And if support for traditional marriage is bigotry, then Barack Obama was a bigot until just before the 2012 election.”
Rubio — who has recorded robocalls for anti-gay groups and boasted of their endorsements — has came out against a Federal Marriage Amendment, claiming that the regulation of marriage should be left to the states. In 2013, he voted against legislation that would prohibit employers from firing employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identify.
The post Marco Rubio Accuses Gay Marriage Advocates Of ‘Intolerance’ And ‘Hypocrisy’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Kjell Gunnar Beraas, MSF
The world is in the midst of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, as the deadly virus has claimed more than 600 lives in three African countries and continues to overwhelm the medical staff tasked with containing its spread. This week, there’s yet another concerning update to the unfolding public health crisis: the top doctor fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone has himself been infected with the disease.
Sheik Umar Khan, a virologist who has treated more than 100 Ebola victims, has been on the front lines of the outbreak for the past several months. The Health Ministry in his home country of Sierra Leone hailed him as a national hero for helping prevent the spread of the virus, which kills up to 90 percent of people who become infected. Now, it’s his turn to receive treatment.
This week, Khan was transferred to a hospital run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders because he contracted Ebola. Reuters reports that his condition is unknown, but he is currently alive and receiving medical attention.
It’s unclear how Khan contracted the virus since, according to his colleagues, he was always careful about wearing protective clothing while he worked with Ebola patients. But in previous interviews, the doctor appeared to be acutely aware of his potential risk. “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life,” he told Reuters back in June, when he was healthy. “Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk.”
There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, considered to be one of the most dangerous viruses on the planet. The current outbreak is straining international health workers, who say they don’t have adequate resources to effectively combat the crisis in an impoverished area of the world that lacks an adequate health care infrastructure. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns the epidemic is out of control. But that group, which relies on donations from governments, may also be ill equipped to respond to it — WHO has been forced to cut its outbreak and emergency response budget in half because of dwindling contributions.
“To me, the situation in West Africa should be a wake-up call. This weakening of an institution on which we all depend on is in no one’s interest,” Dr. Scott Dowell, the head of global health security at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told NBC News. “In my view, there is no way the WHO can respond the way it needs to.”
Khan isn’t the only health care professional who’s recently contracted the dangerous disease. Some health providers have died after catching Ebola from their patients, including three nurses working alongside Khan at the same clinic. Sierra Leone’s Health Minister says she’ll do “anything and everything” in her power to ensure that Khan remains alive.
The post Top Doctor Working To Contain Current Ebola Outbreak Is Now Infected With Ebola appeared first on ThinkProgress.