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Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Bizarre Scheme To Stop His Own Education Plan By Suing The Obama Administration

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:33pm

Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, who is not Barack Obama.

CREDIT: AP

Louisiana’s state school superintendent John White supports Common Core, an effort to foster interstate consistency in education standards. So does the state board of education. So does the state legislature, for that matter, which passed a law in 2012 enabling the state to opt in to Common Core standards. Indeed, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) actively pushed for this 2012 law, which he signed. Recently, however, Jindal decided that he actually opposes Common Core, although he’s not been successful in convincing White, the state education board or the state legislature to join him in opposition.

So Jindal has turned to what has become the last refuge for conservative officials and activists who can’t get what they want through a legitimate lawmaking process. He’s suing the Obama Administration in federal court.

If you are confused, you should be. Louisiana’s decision to embrace Common Core standards was not made by President Obama or any member of his administration. It was made by Louisiana state officials and Louisiana state lawmakers. One of them was Bobby Jindal. As a general rule, federal courts do not exist to resolve purely internal disputes among state-level political figures.

What the Obama Administration has done, however, is administer various federal grant programs, some of which offer money to states that join together under Common Core standards. Some of these grants are conditional, meaning that any state can receive them so long as they comply with certain conditions. Others are competitive, meaning that they are awarded to the states that perform best in a nationwide competition. In either case, however, participating in these grant programs is entirely optional. Each state, including Louisiana, is free to opt out of these programs and not take the federal money.

The crux of Jindal’s lawsuit, however, is that the grant programs that reward participation in Common Core somehow violate the Constitution and federal law because they force Louisiana to enter into an entirely voluntary program that it did, in fact, enter into voluntarily. At one point, for example, Jindal quotes a federal law providing that certain federal education programs shall not be understood “to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.” At another point, he claims that the federal grant programs “force the States to implement a federal program.”

This claim, however, is false. The federal grant programs do not “direct” or “force” Louisiana to do anything. They gave Louisiana a choice and the state made the entirely voluntary decision to embrace Common Core and accept the benefits that come with it. If Jindal now regrets this choice, which he enthusiastically supported at the time, then he should convince the state legislature to rethink the legislation he signed.

The problem for Jindal, of course, is that he has tried and failed to bring the rest of the state government around to his latest view. It is not the job of the federal court system to bail Jindal out from his own failure to persuade.

The post Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Bizarre Scheme To Stop His Own Education Plan By Suing The Obama Administration appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Climate Scientists Spell Out Stark Danger And Immorality Of Inaction In New Leaked Report

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:24pm

Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming and costs a mere 0.06% of annual growth. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic and irreversible levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S.

One word in the latest draft report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sums up why climate inaction is so uniquely immoral: “Irreversible.”

The message from climate scientists about our ongoing failure to cut carbon pollution: The catastrophic changes in climate that we are voluntarily choosing to impose on our children and grandchildren — and countless generations after them — cannot plausibly be undone for hundreds of years or more.

Yes, we can still stop the worst — with virtually no impact on growth, as an earlier IPCC report from April made clear — but future generations will not be able reverse whatever we are too greedy and shortsighted to prevent through immediate action.

The world’s top scientists have finalized their “synthesis” report (of their fifth full scientific Assessment since 1990). It integrates the analysis from their three previous Fifth Assessment reports — ones on climate science, climate impacts, and climate solutions. They have sent a draft of this report to the world’s leading governments, who must sign off on it line by line and will no doubt water it down.

This report was leaked to the AP and others. That means we can see the unvarnished language.

The scientists want to know that “currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous” — at least if you think more extreme heat waves and more extreme droughts and more extreme deluges and more extreme storm surges are dangerous.

But it’s the future we should be worrying about the most:

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

Translation: Continued inaction would be catastrophic and immoral.

The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.

Translation: The more we delay, the worse it can get.

Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally.

Translation: Future generations can’t simply adapt to the ruined climate we are in the process of handing over to them. Either we start cutting carbon pollution ASAP or we should just stop pretending we are a rational, moral species.

How bad can it get? The IPCC already explained that in the science report (see “Alarming IPCC Prognosis: 9°F Warming For U.S., Faster Sea Rise, More Extreme Weather, Permafrost Collapse”). And they expanded on that in the impacts report (see “Conservative Climate Panel Warns World Faces ‘Breakdown Of Food Systems’ And More Violent Conflict”).

As an aside, while the AP has done a great job summarizing this draft, there really is no excuse for quoting climate confusionist John Christy that we will be okay: “Humans are clever. We shall adapt to whatever happens.” The point is the IPCC has explained that conclusion is just B.S. by any useful definition of the phrase “adapt to” — unless you think it means “suffer through.”

As I’ve explained recently, quoting John Christy on climate change is like quoting Dick Cheney on Iraq. Even the AP acknowledges that Christy “is in the tiny minority of scientists who are skeptical of mainstream science’s claim that global warming is a major problem.” Since when does the media have to give any space to a tiny minority?

The IPCC reports are just reviews of the scientific literature, so the focus on the irreversible nature of climate change is no surprise. Indeed, as far back as January 2009 we reported on research led by NOAA scientists titled “Irreversible climate change because of carbon dioxide emissions.” That study had some alarming conclusions.

…the climate change that is taking place because of increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop … Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450-600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the ”dust bowl” era and inexorable sea level rise.

Recent studies strongly support that finding.

It is always important to remember — as RealClimate wrote of the 2009 study — “Irreversible Does Not Mean Unstoppable.” This latest draft synthesis report makes clear we can still stop the worst from happening, at a very low cost, but we have to start slashing emissions ASAP.

The post Climate Scientists Spell Out Stark Danger And Immorality Of Inaction In New Leaked Report appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Senator Says Her Male Colleagues Called Her ‘Porky’ And ‘Chubby’

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:22pm

CREDIT: AP Images

Decades after Anita Hill proved Congress doesn’t understand sexual harassment…Congress may not understand sexual harassment.

New York’s junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) reports in her upcoming memoir that her male colleagues have made comments about her body and weight in the Capitol gym, on the campaign trail, and even on the House floor.

The choice remarks included:

“Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!”

“Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.”

And the delightful backhanded compliment: “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.”

Gillibrand, a rumored future candidate for President, is speaking out as Congress takes some small steps to combat the sexism and inappropriate behavior long reported in its marble halls. This spring, the House unanimously approved a measure to fund better sexual harassment training for lawmakers and their staffers. But unless the Senate amends the language of the measure, it won’t be mandatory.

“This is the House of Representatives, not a frat house,” said bill author and California Democrat Jackie Speier. “It is time for all of us to recognize what sexual harassment is, and how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens.”

Sexist comments and body policing has long been cited as one reason women are deterred from running for office—and it comes from the media as well as politicians. The Women’s Media Center notes that certain demeaning words tend to be exclusively reserved to describe female candidates for office, such as “sassy,” “emotional” and “perky.” Gillibrand is all too familiar with such theoretically gender-neutral terms.

Studies have found that any discussion of the physical appearance of women running for office—whether it’s positive or negative—hurts their chances of winning the election.

The post Senator Says Her Male Colleagues Called Her ‘Porky’ And ‘Chubby’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Iowa Senate Nominee Says The Koch Network ‘Started My Trajectory’

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:21pm

Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst (R).

CREDIT: AP Photo / Charlie Neibergall

The vast and well-funded political network maintained by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch “started my trajectory,” according to Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

Ernst was one of several rising GOP politicians who attended a June 16 gathering in Dana Point, California, along with a collection of wealthy donors that the Kochs have helped organize. Ernst joined the other Republicans on a panel held at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort. Audio of the panel was obtained by The Undercurrent and the shared exclusively with the Huffington Post. According to the report, each of the panel speakers took some time out to discuss the state of play in their respective races.

“We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election,” Ernst said in her talk. “And this is the thing that we are going to take back — that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network.”

The Kochs and their network have poured millions into an array of organizations — including Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Heritage Foundation — which deny science behind climate change, while fighting to roll back federal cuts to carbon emissions from power plants, to undo state-level renewable energy requirements, to stop environmental regulations, and to take down various other efforts like Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Ernst has promised “to abolish” the Environmental Protection Agency, she opposes the Clean Water Act, and in May she stated that “I have not seen proven proof that [climate change] is entirely man-made.”

Back in June, according to The Hill, Charles Koch, his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law all personally maxed out the legal limit of $2,600 they can make to Ernst’s war chest. Koch Industries also made its own $5,000 contribution to her campaign. On top of that, Ernst’s campaign took to its Facebook page in January to specifically thank the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity for running ads against her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA).

Ernst has also gone on record that she “philosophically” opposes subsidies like the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) — a federal requirement that a certain amount of biofuel be mixed into the country’s fuel supply, and which thus threatens the market share of traditional fossil fuels in the transportation sector. But given the way the RFS has benefited Iowa’s agricultural industry, and the way other subsidies like the wind production tax credit have helped solidify the wind energy industry in the state, Ernst has had to walk a fine line, declaring she’ll “stand behind” the RFS until the government eliminates subsidies “across the board.”

Those stances have earned Ernst the ire of several environmental and climate groups, which are bringing their ad campaigns to bear on Iowa’s Senate race.

Nonetheless, Ernst was able to beat out Mark Jacobs, the putative front-runner for the GOP Iowa Senate nomination, in the state’s primary earlier this year. In terms of polling, she remains in a dead heat with Braley, the Democratic nominee.

“I was not known at that time,” Ernst continued later on the panel. “A little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”

Ernst and Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), another panelist, also both pointed out this was the second Koch Brothers’ retreat they had attended — the first was a New Mexico event in 2013. And Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), another one of the panelists and current Colorado Senate candidate, told the attendees — in what Huffington Post characterized as an “obvious pitch” for more donations — that the supply of “third party” money is what would likely decide his race.

The Nation reported at the time of this year’s retreat that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) were also in attendance. A source told the magazine that the explicit goal of the event was to raise $500 million to take back the Senate in 2014, and another $500 million to pour into the next presidential election in 2016.

An analysis by the Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the Koch network raised $407 million for the 2012 presidential election.

The post Iowa Senate Nominee Says The Koch Network ‘Started My Trajectory’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

‘No Angel’: Miley Cyrus And The Reality Of Homeless Youth

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:20pm

CREDIT: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Miley Cyrus is mad at the media. And Miley Cyrus is right.

Cyrus brought Jesse Helt, a homeless 22-year-old, as her date to the MTV Video Music Awards. She’d met Helt at My Friend’s Place, an L.A. center that aids homeless youth in the city. When Cyrus won Video of the Year, she sent Helt up in her stead. He gave a speech about the plight of homeless youth and directed viewers to Cyrus’s Facebook page, where they could learn more about how to help those in need.

Helt had moved to L.A. from Oregon and was trying to pursue a modeling career without a place to live.

Last night, the Associated Press reported that there’s a warrant out for Helt’s arrest in Oregon: he’d been arrested on charges of criminal mischief, criminal trespass and burglary when he was 18 years old. From the AP story, which ran under the headline “Miley Cyrus’ Date Wanted By Oregon Police“:

“According to court records, he broke into the apartment of a man who had been selling what Helt believed to be bad marijuana.

Helt, who was 18 at the time, pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and criminal trespass, both misdemeanors, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and probation. The arrest warrant was issued in November 2011 after he violated probation…

Polk County Director of Community Corrections Martin Silbernagel said Tuesday officials are trying to locate Helt and arrest him. He said Helt repeatedly failed to meet with his probation officer.”

Since the story broke, media attention on Helt and his VMA appearance has focused almost entirely on his criminal record. His mugshots have been making the rounds, and the always-tasteful Daily Mirror accused him of looking “very different” in his mugshots “to his suited and booted appearance at the VMAs and it seems he didn’t tell the full story of his background.” Crushable’s headline dismissed Helt as “Fake Homeless” and put quotation marks around the word homeless whenever using it to refer to Helt throughout the story. Reading these stories, one gets the sense that Cyrus failed to properly vet her date, that she should have found a “better” homeless guy to make the speech.

Of course it’s fair for news organizations to report on the fact that there’s a warrant out for Helt’s arrest. But the idea that it is somehow a surprise that a homeless young person has a criminal record just doesn’t make any sense. As the National Health Care for the Council reported in a 2012 policy brief, “Homelessness contributes to the risk for incarceration, and incarceration contributes to higher risks of homelessness. Approximately 15-percent of jail inmates had been homeless in the year prior to their incarceration and 54-percent of homeless individuals report spending time in a correctional facility at some point in their lives.” That he has a criminal past, or even a criminal present, hardly makes Helt an exceptional case study of a homeless individual. The surprising story would be if Helt had somehow wound up homeless after spending the first two decades of his life having no problems or hardships whatsoever.

James Beck is the development director at Sasha Bruce Youthwork, which operates the only youth-specific shelter in Washington D.C. He provided some context for Helt’s criminal history via email. “Homelessness leaves unaccompanied youth in a desperate situation, leading some to become involved in criminal activity,” he wrote. “Many unaccompanied youth resort to illegal activity as part of their strategy for survival. For example, unaccompanied youth seeking shelter might break into an abandoned building, while youth seeking income to meet basic needs might sell drugs. However, while homeless youth often engage in criminal activity, research shows they are more likely to be the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators.”

Yesterday, Cyrus sent out a series of tweets about Helt:


People who are homeless have lived very hard lives. Jesse included.

— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) August 26, 2014



I hope that this can be the start of a national conversation about youth homelessness and how to end it.

— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) August 26, 2014



Does looking down upon the homeless help people excuse their inaction?

— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) August 26, 2014



The media never fails to disappoint. You've chosen to go after Jesse instead of covering the issue of youth homelessness :(

— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) August 26, 2014



While they obsesses over one homeless mans legal issue lets help the other 1.6 million homeless youth http://t.co/VE6P9yfAVX

— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) August 26, 2014

The coverage of Helt is, in a way, an echo of stories on Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager who was shot multiple times and killed in Ferguson. I’m particularly reminded of the release of security footage of Brown stealing a box of cigars moments before his murder and the now-notorious New York Times story that referred to Brown as “no angel” who “dabbled in drugs and alcohol,” “had taken to rapping in recent months,” and “got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.” As if he somehow deserved what he got because of these minor, even laughable (“taken to rapping”) infractions.

The most cynical take on Cyrus and Helt could turn out to be true — that Helt is just launching a modeling career, that Cyrus just wants to look like a good person and get positive press — and it wouldn’t actually change the most important part of the story. There are still more than one-and-a-half million homeless youth in the U.S.

The post ‘No Angel’: Miley Cyrus And The Reality Of Homeless Youth appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Women Get Much More Negative Feedback In Their Reviews

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 12:58pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Women get more critical and negative feedback in their reviews, particularly focusing on their personalities, as compared to men, according to an analysis by Kieran Snyder in Fortune Magazine.

Snyder asked men and women working in technology to share their reviews with her, assuming that those with strongly positive ones would be most likely to submit. She looked at 248 reviews from 105 men and 75 women spread across 28 different tech companies from startups, mid-sized companies, and large corporations.

Seventy-one percent of the reviews had critical feedback, but women got more of it: about 88 percent of women’s reviews had criticism, versus about 60 percent of men’s. On top of this, critical feedback given to men was “heavily geared towards suggestions for additional skills to develop,” she writes. For women, on the other hand, much of it focused on their personalities. Seventy-one of the 94 critical reviews had such personality-based feedback, compared to just two of the 83 critical reviews for men.

CREDIT: Fortune Magazine

Snyder shares some examples of what women face: “You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don’t mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone.” Another included, “You would have had an easier time if you had been less judgmental about R—‘s contributions from the beginning.” Men, on the other hand, got feedback such as “Hone your strategies for guiding your team and developing their skills” or “Take time to slow down and listen. You would achieve even more.”

And there was a big difference in the words used for both genders. “Abrasive” showed up 17 times in reviews for 13 different women. “Bossy,” “strident,” and “aggressive” also made at least two appearances in women’s reviews. The only word out of all four to show up in men’s reviews was aggressive, which came up three times, but two of those were “an exhortation to be more of it,” she writes.

Synder’s not the first to find that these words tend to be employed to describe women far more often than men. In an examination of publications from television, newspapers, academic writing, fiction, and magazines between 1990 and 2012, linguist Nic Subtirelu found women are called “pushy” twice as frequently as men and “bossy” nearly three times as frequently.

Snyder also found that the gender of the manager doing a review didn’t change the nature of the feedback for male and female employees. Female managers conducted 25 percent of the reviews and accounted for just over 23 percent of the negative ones.

Her analysis may not be entirely scientific. “I don’t know whether women were simply more willing to submit reviews that include critical language, or whether men removed language from their review documents before submitting,” she cautions.

But it could shed light on another barrier holding women back from reaching top positions. Women get judged more harshly in the workplace. Both genders are less likely to hire or want to work with women who ask for a raise, while men don’t face any repercussions. Women face social and financial backlash for acting assertively at work. Mothers are also generally seen as less competent and committed and suffer a wage gap compared to childless workers, but fathers actually benefit.

And those women who do make it up the ladder are also judged harshly. A ranking of CEOs by employee feedback had no women in the top 30; just two appeared on the list of 51. Both men and women say they’d rather work for a man.

The post Women Get Much More Negative Feedback In Their Reviews appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The Economy Gets A Downgrade While Corporate Profits Get An Upgrade

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 12:52pm

Harry Stein is Associate Director of Fiscal Policy at the Center for American Progress.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The updated budget and economic outlook released on Wednesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) contained good news for corporations, but bad news for the rest of the economy.

The CBO now estimates that the economy will grow even slower than it expected in its previous economic outlook. Not only that, it now expects that wages and salaries will comprise a smaller portion of that reduced economic pie. The report suggests that troubling long-term trends in our economy are getting worse. Middle-class wages have been stagnant for over a decade. Steven Greenhouse notes in the New York Times that “overall employee compensation — including health and retirement benefits — has also slipped badly, falling to its lowest share of national income in more than 50 years while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share over that time.”

At the same time, the CBO increased its estimate for corporate profits. Workers’ low wages are good news for corporations: the CBO explains that “lower labor costs are expected to reduce businesses’ expenses,” which means higher profits.

Yet while corporate profits are higher than ever, corporations are paying a much smaller portion of the total federal tax burden than they did in the past. Corporations paid slightly more than 30 percent of total federal taxes in 1953 but only around 10 percent of the total tax burden in 2013.

But this is not an immediate emergency, since the annual budget deficit is very low right now. In fact, short-term federal deficits are so low that the CBO projects that the total federal debt will actually fall in each of the next four years as a share of the total economy. It still projects that federal debt will grow to unsustainable levels in the long-term, however, due to an aging population, growing health care costs, and an inadequate tax system. With corporate profits higher than ever, it is only reasonable to expect corporations to contribute their fair share to help solve our long-term budget challenges.

And while there is no immediate deficit crisis, there is an ongoing economic crisis for middle-class and low-income families. Stagnant wages are not keeping up with rising expenses. American productivity has increased, but those gains are not making it to low-wage workers, or even those making wages in the middle. The CBO report suggests that this problem is only getting worse. To solve this crisis, politicians will need to enact new policies that grow the economy so that everyone benefits from increased prosperity, not just the wealthy and big corporations.

The post The Economy Gets A Downgrade While Corporate Profits Get An Upgrade appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Transgender Pride Flag Designer Applauds Smithsonian LGBT Artifacts Collection

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 12:22pm

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, poses with Monica Helms in front of the transgender pride flag she designed.

CREDIT: NCTE

Earlier this month, the Smithsonian Institute announced it had introduced a number of LGBT artifacts into its collection, including scripts and props from Will & Grace, a tennis racket owned by Renée Richards, and the original transgender pride flag. Monica Helms, who designed the flag, told ThinkProgress that the Smithsonian’s acceptance of the flag is a “huge step” for transgender people.

“It tells the world that trans people are part of this country,” she explained. “We deserve to be recognized and our history needs to be displayed like everyone else’s.” Helms likewise hopes that the Smithsonian continues to collect more trans historical items.

Helms devised the transgender flag in 1999, 20 years after the introduction of the rainbow flag for the LGBT community. Just like the American flag represents the whole country but each state has its own flag as well, Helms feels like “the rainbow flag is the LGBTQ flag for everybody, and each individual group can have their own flag for their own individuality.”

In fact, she was inspired to create a flag for the trans community by Michael Page, who had designed a flag for the bisexual community the year before. Following his example, Helms says that “it was almost like waking up from a dream and seeing it.” She drew it out, contacted the same company who had created Page’s bi pride flag, picked out some swatches, and about a week later she had the first flag. It was that very first flag that she donated this month.

The trans flag has five stripes. The outer two are light blue and the inner two are light pink, representing the traditional colors for baby boys and baby girls, while the middle stripe is white to represent “those who are intersex, transitioning, or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.” Helms designed it to be horizontally symmetrical so that “no matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives.” Helms’ design was further adapted in a flag designed in 2010 by Marilyn Roxie for the genderqueer and non-binary communities.

In regards to how the trans pride flag caught on with the community, Helms explains, “I just used it everywhere and anywhere,” beginning with the 2000 Phoenix Pride parade and then at marches, conferences, Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremonies, and other events since then. “People caught on and decided that they wanted one.” She has since seen it displayed in various countries across the world, noting that she recently saw a picture of it displayed in Peru.

Helms is amazed by the progress that transgender equality has made in the 15 years since she first designed the flag. “We have definitely come of age, as it were,” she observed, noting the advance of local nondiscrimination protections and changes to veterans’ benefits, passports, and Social Security. But, she believes that “there’s still a ways to go.”

Two of the biggest issues she still believes face transgender Americans are federal nondiscrimination protections — without any religious exemptions — and transgender military service. Helms is herself a veteran of the Navy and helped found the Transgender American Veteran’s Association.

She hopes the flag’s presence in the Smithsonian continues to inspire young transgender people. “Be who you are, regardless of what other people may tell you,” she urges them. “Continue to be who you are and the rest of us will accept it.”

The post Transgender Pride Flag Designer Applauds Smithsonian LGBT Artifacts Collection appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Why This Woman Is Facing Decades In Prison For Going To The Hospital

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 12:00pm

CREDIT: WNDU News Screenshot

A 33-year-old woman from Indiana faces decades in prison after she sought medical attention at a hospital as she was bleeding from a premature delivery. The case is just the latest example illustrating the real-world consequences of the harsh state laws that essentially criminalize pregnancy.

According to the charges being filed against her, Purvi Patel attempted to end her pregnancy last year by taking pills that she bought online from Hong Kong. The pills didn’t work, and Patel eventually delivered a premature baby at home. When she went to an emergency room to seek treatment after giving birth, the staff asked why she didn’t have an infant with her. She said her baby appeared to be dead, and she had wrapped it in a bag and placed it in a dumpster.

Now, Patel is being charged with both neglect and feticide, allegations that actually conflict with each other. She was initially charged with “neglect of a dependent” after prosecutors learned she left her baby in in a dumpster, a charge that won’t apply if the baby was already dead. But she’s now also being charged with “fetal murder of an unborn child” — a charge that an Indiana judge allowed to stand this week — for taking drugs that could have illegally ended her pregnancy.

As the Daily Beast’s Sally Kohn points out, the logic doesn’t exactly hold up. “The State of Indiana intends to convict and incarcerate Purvi Patel one way or another, whether the fetus she delivered was alive or not — never mind the fact that the facts necessary for filing the one charge (that the fetus have been alive) entirely contradict the facts necessary for filing the other (that the fetus have been dead) and vice versa,” Kohn writes.

On top of that, reproductive rights advocates and legal experts point out that Indiana’s “feticide” law was never intended to be applied to pregnant women themselves. It was originally written as a way to crack down on illegal abortion providers. Critics say Patel fits into a disturbing trend; similar “fetal homicide” laws are in place in at least 38 states, and they’re increasingly used to punish women who end up having miscarriages or stillbirths.

“Once again targeting a woman of color, prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes,” Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which tracks these cases closely, said in a recent statement about Patel’s case. “In the U.S., as a matter of constitutional law and human decency, no woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy.”

Patel is the second woman to be prosecuted under Indiana’s feticide law. The state also pressed charges against Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant who attempted suicide while pregnant and ended up delivering a baby that didn’t survive. Shaui was imprisoned for more than a year before a plea deal was reached in April, and her case sparked international outrage. More than 100,000 people signed onto a petition demanding Shuai’s release and pointing out that “it is wrong to have a set of separate and unequal laws for pregnant women.”

The laws that allow states to arrest pregnant women for allegedly harming their fetuses actually end up undermining public health. Major medical groups like the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose “feticide” laws because they ultimately deter women from seeking the medical attention they need.

Harsh restrictions on abortion, as well as unreasonably broad definitions of “fetal homicide,” have created a society in which all pregnant women are transformed into potential suspects in the eyes of the law. And since miscarriage and abortion are relatively common pregnancy experiences — and research has proven that women are going to end their pregnancies whether or not it’s legal — that means we’re also approaching a society in which desperate women may be too terrified to ask for health treatment. For instance, if Patel had known that she was at risk for being charged with fetal homicide, would she have thought twice about going to the emergency room? Would she have joined the millions of women around the world who die from botched abortions and risky childbirth?

“We cannot afford to deter a woman from seeking reproductive health care,” the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice pointed out in a statement released this week. “Those of us who are Christian know that when Jesus responded to the hemorrhaging woman there was no place for aggressive interrogation and punishment. It was all for healing.”

The post Why This Woman Is Facing Decades In Prison For Going To The Hospital appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Republicans Threaten To Shut Down The Government If Obama Extends Relief To Immigrants

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 11:53am

CREDIT: AP/Alex Brandon

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) floated the possibility of shutting down the government on Wednesday if President Obama issues an executive action granting deportation relief to more undocumented immigrants. King’s comments come just one day after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggested that Republicans in the Senate use “funding mechanisms to address this issue.”

“If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear,” King said in remarks before the Westside Conservative Breakfast Club in Urbandale, Iowa, adding that “all bets are off” on passing a measure to keep the government running past October.

“I think the public would be mobilized and galvanized and that changes the dynamic of any continuing resolution and how we might deal with that,” he added.

Congress will have just 10 working days to pass a continuing resolution after it returns from summer vacation on September 8. Several Republicans have already threatened to hold up the measure over renewal of the Export-Import Bank and the administration’s proposed environmental regulations, though no party leaders have yet endorsed using must-pass legislation to prevent the administration’s forthcoming immigration action.

Speaking to Breitbart, Rubio said he would be “interested to see what kinds of ideas my colleagues have about using funding mechanisms to address this issue.”

Earlier this month, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told a Politico reporter that Republicans would strong arm President Obama into adopting a host of Republican policy priorities, from repealing the Affordable Care Act to undoing environmental regulations, but did not specifically mention immigration.

In the House, Republicans approved a bill that would end the Obama administration’s Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which has allowed young immigrants to obtain work permits and remain in the country. The measure would also prohibit the president from extending the program to other undocumented people. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) did not say if he plans to attach the measure to the continuing resolution.

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called King’s latest threat, “a real shame.” The government shutdown that ended last October took $24 billion out of the U.S. economy, according to a Standard & Poor’s estimate, and a loss of 120,000 new jobs by the White House’s estimate.

The post Republicans Threaten To Shut Down The Government If Obama Extends Relief To Immigrants appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Hawaii’s Largest Utility Announces Plan To Triple Rooftop Solar By 2030

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 11:19am

Aiea High is part of a growing number of Hawaii schools harnessing solar energy through photovoltaic systems.

CREDIT: Hawaii State Department of Education

Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) on Tuesday announced their intention to triple the amount of rooftop solar in the state, just one part of a plan that the companies say will make Hawaii the highest renewable energy-using state in the country.

Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light — known together as HECO — proposed a package of initiatives that they said would help Hawaii generate 65 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and slash electric bills by 20 percent, all within the next 16 years. While admittedly vague on how the initiatives will be implemented and how they will impact prices, the package includes efforts to increase energy storage, develop smart grids, and support community solar projects.

“Our energy environment is changing rapidly and we must change with it to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” Shelee Kimura, HECO’s vice president of corporate planning and business development said in a statement. “These plans are about delivering services that our customers value. That means lower costs, better protection of our environment, and more options to lower their energy costs, including rooftop solar.”

While the plan’s intentions may seem noble on their face, the package was actually released in response to an order from Hawaii’s energy regulator in April. That order required HECO to devise a plan for accommodating more renewables, including rooftop solar power, while reducing electricity costs. Those orders stemmed from Hawaiians’ growing frustrations with HECO, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, which had allegedly been making it very difficult for citizens to install their own solar panels.

Those frustrations are even more pronounced because Hawaii’s electricity bills have been historically been the highest in the nation, and many residents have turned to solar to mitigate some of the costs. At the same time, as more people installed solar panels in Hawaii and bought less electricity from the utilities, HECO began passing off its increased costs to solar power users, according to a PV Magazine report.

A poll on the issue found that while 94 percent of Hawaii residents support more rooftop solar, 90 percent believe that HECO was slowing rooftop solar to protect its profits.

In response to those frustrations, Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission issued an order giving HECO 120 days to design plans to serve the public interest better. The deadline was yesterday, the same day HECO’s plans were announced.

Much of HECO’s plans include efforts to ensure the electric grid is stable in the face of more solar being installed. The utility said it would work closely with the solar industry to figure out just how much solar can be built and added to the grid every year without destabilizing it. It also said it would plan technological enhancements to the grid, as well.

If Hawaii can indeed begin getting more of its electricity from sources generated in-state, it is likely the state’s electricity costs will decrease. Part of the reason electricity costs are currently so high there is because it is dependent on imported petroleum for 70 percent of its electricity generation. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Hawaii altogether imported 93 percent of its energy in 2012. At the same time, utility-scale solar generation in 2013 increased nearly six-fold.

The post Hawaii’s Largest Utility Announces Plan To Triple Rooftop Solar By 2030 appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Judges Call for Complete Overhaul of ‘Looking Glass World’ of Immigration Court

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:53am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Take everything you think you know about how courts work, throw it out the window, and you’ll get an approximation of the nation’s immigration courts. Those who can’t afford a lawyer have to represent themselves—even if they can’t speak English, have no formal education, or are a child. The burden of proof is on the accused, making them guilty of illegally entering the country until proven innocent. Hearsay is sometimes admitted as solid evidence against someone, and individuals from certain countries can be deported without ever seeing a courtroom.

Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club in DC, immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks called the courts “an alternate legal universe” and “a Through the Looking Glass world where the normal laws don’t seem to seem to function.”

“Most members of the public don’t have a clue about the realities of our world,” said Marks, who has presided for more than 25 years in a San Francisco immigration court. “When they come face to face with it, they are often dismayed.”

Immigration judges are usually banned from speaking out publicly about what happens in their courtrooms. But Marks and her fellow judge Denise Noonan Slavin took the podium Thursday on behalf of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) to demand a complete overhaul of the current system.

Their first complaint is that the court system is underfunded and under-staffed, an old problem recently exacerbated by the influx of hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America. By the NAIJ’s count, there are currently only 227 field judges across the country taking on a docket of more than 375 thousand pending cases. In some areas, like Judge Slavin’s jurisdiction in Miami, Florida, judges are trying to hear at least 50 cases a day—raising serious concerns about due process.

“We feel the pressure to move things through quickly,” Slavin told ThinkProgress. “But I know that rushing things through will only result in more appeals. The less due process we have at the lower levels, the more we’ll see a crisis in the federal courts.”

And despite calls from members of Congress to the contrary, the judges said these are cases that should not be fast-tracked.

“We deal with cases that are, in effect, death penalty cases,” Marks added. “Some of the defendants may be killed if they’re returned to their home countries.”

They said they’re asking Congress to at least double the number of immigration judges, something the comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate last year would have mandated. But that alone won’t fix them feeling like “an afterthought at best,” and the “forgotten stepchild of the Justice Department.”

In fact, they argue that they shouldn’t be a child of the Executive Branch at all, representing one agency (DOJ) that works with a fellow agency (the Department of Homeland Security) to prosecute and deport undocumented immigrants. The NAIJ is calling for immigration courts to be made independent like other civil and criminal courts, arguing that the current situation presents a serious conflict of interest.

“We are being asked to serve two masters at one time, and the masters have different priorities,” explained Slavin. “A judge is supposed to be an independent and fair arbitrator. How can we expected to do that if we’re also considered an attorney representing the same government as one of the parties that appears before us?”

The current executive control over the judges has other repercussions as well. Recently, facing a wave of political pressure, the Obama Administration ordered the courts to move the cases of the newly arrived Central American children to the front of the docket—bypassing hundreds of thousands of people who have waited years for a hearing.

“This should not be an amusement park where you can ‘fast pass’ proceedings,” said Slavin, adding that US and international law recognizes that “children are different,” and should thus be given more time to find lawyers and prepare their cases.

She cited other conflicts of interest, including rules that bar her from holding government attorneys in contempt, though she and other judges are free to declare private attorneys representing migrants in contempt.

Because these changes would require an act of Congress and a lot of money, the judges conceded that chances are slim in the current political environment. They’re currently talking to lawmakers and their staff, and are hoping someone will step forward soon to champion these reforms.

The post Judges Call for Complete Overhaul of ‘Looking Glass World’ of Immigration Court appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

How A New Group Is Helping Nonprofits In West Virginia Get Solar Panels For Just $1

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:36am

Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

CREDIT: Solar Holler

A church in West Virginia just got 60 panels installed on its roof for $1, thanks to a local group that’s making it easier and cheaper for nonprofits in the state to go solar.

At a ribbon-cutting event on Tuesday, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church became the site of the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia, at the same time kicking off a model to bring solar energy to West Virginia nonprofits that’s being pioneered by local group Solar Holler.

To fund the church’s solar panels, almost 100 Shepherdstown families agreed to install demand response controllers from Maryland-based Mosaic Power on their water heaters. Mosaic Power’s business model involves installing the controllers for free, and the network of water heaters becomes a sort of “virtual power plant.” Mosaic sells the electricity service created by the water heaters network to the grid, and pays the people who installed the controllers $100 out of the money it makes through selling the service. Instead of keeping the $100, all the people who installed the controllers in Shepherdstown agreed to put it towards the church’s solar panels, which will provide about half the energy the church needs each year.

Dan Conant, who founded Solar Holler, told ThinkProgress that it wasn’t hard to convince members of the community to install the controllers, or to have them donate the money they earned from it. Most of the people who installed the controllers were church members, he said, and they wanted to see their church get its solar system.

There’s a whole lot of folks who really care and want to help transition the state not just environmentally, but also economically.

“This is a really really cool community, and this actually wasn’t a hard sell at all,” he said. “From their perspective, they’re helping make this really cool, cutting edge project happen, and they didn’t have to write a check. We actually didn’t take any donations at all, for the entire system — it was just through Mosaic controllers that we raised all the funding we needed.”

Than Hitt, a member of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church who worked with Solar Holler to help get the project started, said the idea to put solar panels on the church started with a brainstorming session among church members a few years ago. He said members of the church have long wanted to install solar panels on the church, but didn’t know how they would be able to manage it until they found out about Solar Holler. The church members were interested in solar’s economic benefits, but they also wanted to reap the environmental benefits the panels would bring.

“There’s certainly a common understanding that we’ve got to be good stewards of the environment — it’s a Christian value, but it’s really a human value,” Hitt said. “It’s something that resonates with people, and it’s something that we know we need to do, especially in West Virginia.”

The church project is the first of what Conant hopes will be many crowd-funded solar installations at nonprofits in West Virginia. The next installation will be at the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Library in Harpers Ferry, W.V., about 12 miles southeast of Shepherdstown. Conant said the group has about six more projects lined up for after the library is completed, and ultimately he wants to have a community-supported solar project at a nonprofit in all 55 counties in West Virginia within the next five years.

“We wanted to pave the way and create a model and scale this up all around West Virginia, because we really need it in our state,” he said. “It’s been really cool to see how much interest and excitement there is in West Virginia — I’m sure outside the state you wouldn’t expect that, but there’s a whole lot of folks who really care and want to help transition the state not just environmentally, but also economically.”

Before he started Solar Holler last summer, Conant said most nonprofit solar projects in the state were paid for by grants. Churches and other nonprofits in West Virginia — and anyone else who’s on a commercial electricity rate — are paid less for their solar on average than homeowners are, a policy that discourages nonprofits from installing solar and something Conant said he wishes utilities would remedy.

“It’s a little crazy to me that we have four or five families in town that have installed solar on their homes and they’re getting paid more than a nonprofit or business would,” he said.

Students celebrate at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church’s solar ribbon-cutting Tuesday

CREDIT: Solar Holler

Outdated state policies have also held West Virginia as a whole — not just nonprofits — back from taking full advantage of its renewable energy resources. The state used to have a $2,000 tax credit for new solar projects, but the legislature recently got rid of it.

In addition, West Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) — regulation that in many other states sets standards for the portion of the state’s energy that must come from renewables — doesn’t include requirements for renewable energy, and classifies coal, natural gas and tire-derived fuels as alternative energy sources.

But until state legislature and utilities change their policies, Conant said his group will continue to help nonprofits install solar, using a model that can work independently of these policies. He’s excited for what the Shepherdstown solar project will bring to the community, and happy to see that the community shares his excitement. More than 100 people came to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, he said, including the fourth and fifth grade classes from Shepherdstown Elementary School. The principle of the school announced during the ceremony that solar energy would start building in renewable energy to their science classes this year.

“I’m really excited about the model, and I’m really excited about the fact that we’re blazing a trail around the state, but it was also really cool from a community building experience,” he said. “It was really exciting to just see all the excitement — the town was alive and just buzzing yesterday.”

The post How A New Group Is Helping Nonprofits In West Virginia Get Solar Panels For Just $1 appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Federal Appeals Court: Officers Can’t Anally Probe Inmate Without Medical Assistance Or Warrant

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:31am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Corrections officers violated the Constitution when they probed an inmate’s anal cavity to search and remove suspected drugs without any medical assistance, a federal appeals court ruled this week. The ruling limits what corrections officers can do to newly admitted inmates, after a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld the use of strip searches for anyone arrested and taken to jail.

In an opinion that depicts the invasive search in graphic detail, the two-judge majority on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concludes that pulling things out of an individual’s body cavity without medical assistance poses particular danger to the inmate — and violates the jail’s policy to “summon medical personnel.” Mark Tyrell Fowlkes was arrested and taken to jail after he was pulled over for expired registration and officers reported spotting drugs in his car. As jail staff performed the typical strip search, they said he made a motion as if pushing something into his rectum, and saw part of a plastic bag protruding. Officers stunned him with a Taser, handcuffed and restrained him, and forcibly removed the bag, which contained cocaine.

“A warrantless search of the human body implicates an individual’s ‘most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy’,” the court wrote, quoting a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“There is no evidence that any of the officers had medical or any other relevant training on how to safely remove suspicious objects from an arrestee’s rectum or how to evaluate whether such removal could cause serious physical harm or death,” the court wrote, noting that even if officers feared that defendant Mark Tyrell Fowlkes would destroy evidence, he was sufficiently restrained by five officers such that he could have been monitored while they awaited medical assistance. The court also found that the search was “patently unreasonable” — particularly given that the scope of the search interfered with his “bodily integrity” — and that officers at the Long Beach, California, jail should have first obtained a warrant.

Fowlkes’ lawyer told the National Law Journal the ruling should have a “sobering effect on the techniques and protocols the jails use.”

Jail is one of several places in which law enforcement officers aggressively probe anal cavities for drugs. In another ruling last August, a different federal appeals court held that police violated the Constitution when they transported a drug suspect to the hospital and had doctors paralyze, intubate, and anally probe him. Months after that decision, several men in New Mexico reported that police had ordered forced anal probes of individuals seized at traffic stops.

And in a Texas traffic stop last August, video depicts police probing the genitals and anal regions of three women for marijuana on the side of the road.

Strip searches performed when individuals are arrested and taken to jail are also invasive in their own right. They typically involve requiring suspects to stand naked, squat, spread their buttocks, and lift their genitals as officers perform close visual inspections. The 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision held that jails are permitted to perform these searches on anyone arrested — even if they are not suspected of carrying any sort of contraband. The defendant in that case, Albert Florence, was arrested and held in jail for six days after he was improperly arrested for outstanding speeding tickets. In his dissent from that holding, Justice Stephen Breyer noted, “the searches here involve close observation of the private areas of a person’s body and for that reason constitute a far more serious invasion of that person’s privacy.”

The post Federal Appeals Court: Officers Can’t Anally Probe Inmate Without Medical Assistance Or Warrant appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

It Takes A Village To Help Teens Battle Depression

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:30am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The key to battling depression in teens may lie in the concerted efforts of parents, specialized mental health care providers, and primary care physicians, a recent study suggests. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine this week, found that young people who received “collaborative care” experienced better outcomes than those whose doctors left them to their own devices.

The collaborative care model integrates specialized mental health services with primary care and tailors treatment so that it benefits not only the individual, but the entire family. The practice expands across the entire health care process — including diagnosis, treatment, surveillance, health communications, management, and support services — in a manner that allows families to make their own healthcare decisions.

During the three-year randomized clinical trial, researchers followed 101 depressed teenagers at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle after sorting them into groups: those who had traditional treatment and those who received collaborative care. Test subjects in the collaborative care group were assigned depression care managers who maintained contact with them via phone for a year. Teens in that group also attended education sessions with their parents, during which they discussed a host of treatment options and their side effects with a physician.

“Intervention youth compared with those who received usual care had greater decreases in depressive symptoms by 12 months,” a JAMA press release said. “Sixty-eight percent of intervention youth had a 50 percent or greater reduction in depressive symptoms compared to 39 percent among control youth. The overall rate of depression remission at 12 months was 50.4 percent for intervention youth and 20.7 percent for control youth. These findings suggest that mental health services for adolescents with depression can be effectively integrated into primary care.”

Dr. Mark Riddle, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, put it a different way. “This, to me, is what I call the ‘slam dunk,’” Riddle said in an interview with Live Science. “This is very convincing in terms of how it works.”

In spite of its benefits, health care networks have been slow to take on the collaborative care model, posing a tremendous health risk for people in need of mental health care services. Data collected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services shows that only one out of five adults with mental health disorders see mental health care specialists. Additionally, primary care providers that screened for mental health problems didn’t have the resources to follow up with patients who positively tested for these conditions.

Experts give a host of reasons as to why the barriers to collaborative care exist. A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Integrated Care, for example, found that the burden to partner with specialized health care providers, social service organizations, and schools often falls on physicians. Researchers concluded that when managers of the various organizations committed to reaching out across disciplines, support for medical professionals increased, and once-convoluted mental health care processes improved over time.

In its 2007 discussion paper, the Canadian Medical Association also found that when communication between patients and physicians increased, access to specialized care and enhancement of said care improved. The collaborative care model also clarified the role of healthcare providers, according to the discussion paper.

The collaborative model could do wonders for the mental health care system during a time when more than 10 percent of adolescents develop a depressive disorder before the age of 18. Today, common mental ailments among that population include depression, anxiety, and conduct disorder. Traumatic life events and the stress of adolescent change can distort one’s feelings, actions, and perceptions, ultimately triggering a mental disorder. When left untreated, teen depression counts among the leading causes of disability among people between the ages of 14 and 55.

The post It Takes A Village To Help Teens Battle Depression appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

China Hopes This Cartoon Concubine Can Calm Its Muslim Region

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:17am

A Han Chinese man, right, sits behind an ethnic Uighur woman inside a public transport bus in Urumqi, Xinjiang

CREDIT: AP Photo/Andy Wong

Her name is Princess Fragrant. And she’s here to unite a country. At least, that’s what the producers of a new cartoon airing in China hopes, drawing on the story of a murky historical figure to help calm tensions between Beijing and the residents of the Xinjiang province in the country’s west.

The new cartoon tells the story of Ipal Khan, also known as ‘the Fragrant Concubine,’ a young woman from the Uighur ethnic group who in the 18th century became a royal consort in the Qing dynasty. “It shows that ethnic unity is the most powerful weapon in the face of adversity,” Deng Jiangwei, director of the series, told the New York Times about the cartoon’s development and purpose. “The princess and her friends also encounter other ethnicities and cultures along the Silk Road, and they learn that only by helping each other can you go far in life.”

CREDIT: Shenzhen Qianheng Cultural Communication Company

Having a cartoon featuring a Uighur lead is a big deal in China, where more than ninety percent of the population are of the Han ethnicity. Xinjiang, which in Mandarin literally means ‘new land,’ is as its name would dictate a relatively new addition to China’s territory and efforts to force it to assimilate with the rest of China have been shaky at best. The Uighur population is mostly Muslim and has long accused China of violating human rights in its crackdowns on their freedom express their culture, which they say is also under encrochment from Han Chinese migrating into the area.

The Global Times, one of China’s state-run media outlets, framed its story on the Princess Fragrant series as Xinjiang fighting an ideology with cartoons. “The production of the cartoon series is part of the Xinjiang authorities’ endeavor to develop the animation industry with the aim of maintaining social stability by boosting cultural exchanges and understanding between Han and Uyghur people, especially at a time of rising tension following terrorist attacks in and outside of Xinjiang,” the article reads.

Finding ways to have the cartoon appeal to the broader Chinese market while still maintaining Uighur culture was a struggle, according to the Global Times. From finding the right theme music to debates about whether the lead character will have an animated animal companion, the choices made take on a weight of seriousness given the purpose of the 104-episode show. “It is similar to fighting a war in the realm of ideology. If we don’t pass on positive energy, the opposite side would occupy the battlefield,” Sheng Jun, an official at the Xinjiang Bureau of Culture, told the Times.

But there are already concerns that in adapting the story of Ipal Khan, China is co-opting Uighur culture for its own political ends. Part of the issue is that the Han and Uighur tellings of her story are vastly different. To hear the Han tell it, the Emperor “was so enraptured by Xiangfei’s [their name for Ipalkhan] fragrant scent that she was brought before him, wooed with lavish gifts, and lived in harmony with the emperor.” From the Uighur perspective, the girl was captured during the Han invasion onto their lands and taken to the palace to live out her life as a concubine.

“How could the Chinese government think that propaganda cartoons of unity can win the hearts and minds of the Uighurs while the killing and repression of our people is not being stopped?” Alim Seytoff, a spokesman for the World Uighur Congress — a separatist group that refers to itself as the Uighur people’s government in exile — told Al-Jazeera America. “This is an extremely offensive way of convincing the Uighur people that East Turkestan was part of China,” he continued, using the name that Uighur separatists call the region.

That the lead character in Princess Fragrant resembles a Disney-fied version of a Uighur isn’t exactly helping matters. “From a westerner’s point of view, trying to patch over extreme ethnic tensions with a cutesy cartoon portrayal of a minority woman might seem problematic—like screening Disney’s Pocahontas after Wounded Knee,” James Millward, professor of Chinese and Central Asian History at Georgetown University told Quartz. Millward also argued, though, that the producers should get “credit for making an effort at this time to be culturally sensitive and to present a positive image of Uyghurs to the majority Han Chinese audience.”

Attempts to find a non-violent way to bring together the Han and Uighur populations couldn’t have come sooner. China is currently in the midst of a widening crackdown in the region, having arrested more than 800 people so far in their attempt to clamp down on extremism and Uighur separatism. Earlier this year, a terrorist attack in Urumqui, Xinjiang’s capital, killed 31 people and wounded at least 90 more. Just weeks earlier, a knife attack at a Xinjiang train station, which immediately followed a bomb blast at the same location, left three dead and nearly eighty wounded.

But while there have been attacks in the region, and Xinjiang separatists took credit for a car explosion in Tiananmen Square last year, the response from Beijing has been criticized as overly harsh. Since 2001, Beijing has increasingly linked its operations in Xinjiang with the wider “war on terror,” using familiar rhetoric to back their operations. Following massive protests that turned violent in 2009, Human Rights Watch accused China of “disappearing” some of the detainees arrested during the ensuing crackdown. Amnesty International likewise said that Beijing inflated the number of Han Chinese killed during the protests, adding that the police “used unnecessary force against Uighurs, followed by mass arrests and torture.”

The post China Hopes This Cartoon Concubine Can Calm Its Muslim Region appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Why The FDA Needs To Work Harder To Get More Women And Minorities Into Clinical Trials

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 9:33am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Company board rooms, college campuses, and Hollywood sets are all striving for increased racial and gender diversity among their ranks. Most Americans are well aware that those efforts continue to come up short. But there’s one particularly critical area in need of a wider range of diverse participants that may not immediately come to mind: the Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report that you probably didn’t hear about, but that was highly-anticipated among groups advocating for eliminating health care disparities along racial and gender lines. The “Action Plan to Enhance the Collection and Availability of Demographic Subgroup Data” is essentially the FDA’s way of acknowledging that the agency needs to do a better job recruiting different people — particularly women and racial minorities — to participate in the research process for developing new health treatments.

Why does that matter? Because clinical trials are currently dominated by white people, even as non-white Americans have the highest rates of diseases like cancer. In fact, according to one study, non-white people represent fewer than five percent of overall participants in clinical trials, and fewer than two percent of research studies working on cancer treatments focus specifically on minority groups.

This lack of diversity ultimately ends up impacting non-white people’s access to health resources. Since certain drugs and therapies may not work as well for different populations, researchers aren’t necessarily developing the best treatments for the racial groups that need them most. That isn’t purely hypothetical — there’s evidence that the HPV vaccine isn’t as effective for black women because the trials to develop it consisted of mostly white people.

Two years ago, the FDA was tasked with investigating this issue to identify a new way forward. Now, in its new action plan, the agency promises to conduct more research specifically into health issues that impact minorities and work harder to recruit a diverse pool of participants for future studies. “I hope you’ll find that the action plan is responsive and pragmatic and, most importantly, when fully implemented, it will improve medical care and public health,” Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner, wrote in a blog post to announce the new report.

But advocacy groups don’t think the new guidelines go far enough, pointing out that the pharmaceutical industry won’t voluntarily move toward conducting more trials with non-white participants unless the government gets stricter. Without clear consequences — like refusing to approve a new drug unless its clinical trials meet some kind of diversity benchmark — big drug companies will likely have no incentive to actually improve.

“While the FDA Action Plan is a step in the right direction, the agency must do more than remind and encourage industry to include women and minorities in trials and analyze the data,” Cynthia Pearson, the executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, said in a statement. “The FDA must require that companies do this to ensure that that the products women use are safe and effective for them.”

“Gender, race and age play a decisive role in how heart disease, stroke and other forms of cardiovascular disease affect us,” Nancy Brown, the CEO of the American Heart Association, added. “That’s why the FDA must not allow this new plan to just gather dust on a shelf.”

The lack of diversity in research trials has also attracted the attention of Congress. At the beginning of the summer, a group of lawmakers called on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to make their demographic data on research trials more accessible to the public. They argued that greater transparency in this area would “advance the health of all citizens and address continuing issues with the participation of women and minorities in clinical trials.”

The post Why The FDA Needs To Work Harder To Get More Women And Minorities Into Clinical Trials appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Georgia Governor ‘Presumes’ Immigration Activists Are Undocumented

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 8:34am

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R)

CREDIT: Jason Getz/ AP Photo

When four immigration activists asked Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) to address a Board of Regents policy barring undocumented immigrants from enrollment to some Georgia colleges Tuesday night, they probably didn’t expect the governor to “presume” that they were undocumented.

“It can only really effectively be dealt with by the federal government at the congressional level in dealing with the DREAM Act children, which I presume maybe you are,” Deal said at a University of Georgia College Republicans meeting, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. The activist reportedly retorted, “Because I look Hispanic?” The crowd jeered while Deal apologized. He added that he would the policy would continue because it would be a huge concern for Georgia residents.

Deal had been responding to a question posed by Carver Goodhue, an advocate with the Undocumented Student Alliance who challenged the governor for being a supporter of education, but also simultaneously prohibiting undocumented immigrants “who’ve lived here their entire lives from the right to come here and attend school with all of us?” Goodhue stood with fellow activists Kevin Ruiz, Preethi Raja and Lizbeth Miranda, who stated that they were UGA students and that they were not undocumented.

Ruiz spoke to add his own points, but the governor asked, “Let me ask you this, can you give a Social Security Number?” The Athens Banner-Herald reported that Ruiz indicated, “maybe not… but he and other detractors of the Board of Regents policy argue academically qualified students who have been lifelong Georgia residents should have the same rights to an education as their United States-born counterparts.”

Under a University System Board of Regents’ policy, students are required to have a Social Security number and undocumented students are explicitly barred from enrolling in UGA, Georgia Tech, Georgia State in Atlanta, Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, and Georgia Regents University in Augusta. They can attend other public schools, but they must pay the higher out-of-state tuition rate even if they graduated from a Georgia high school.

A Deal supporter later told a reporter on social media that the governor was addressing a Caucasian male supporter. The reporter flatly denied that allegation, saying that the video of the incident showed otherwise. Even so, some lawmakers and other officials have made similar cringe-inducing mistakes in the past. During a town hall meeting last year, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) asked a legal resident whether he was undocumented. And racial profiling resonates with the Latino community, especially since in Arizona’s Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was found to have engaged in unlawful racial profiling of Hispanics.

This is not an isolated instance for Gov. Deal who has spoke out against immigrants on education, health care, and citizenship issues. During a June 2010 Cobb County GOP Women Debate, Deal accused undocumented students in Georgia colleges for “denying a seat” to Georgia residents and other American citizens. In 2009, he also supported revoking birthright citizenship provision from the 14th Amendment, saying that it encourages undocumented immigration. And in 2011, Deal appointed to the Immigration Enforcement Review Board, an anti-immigrant extremist who advocates preserving the “whiteness” of America, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At least 18 other states have measures allowing in-state tution rates for undocumented students. And two states, Oklahoma and Rhode Island, allow in-state tuition rates to undocumented students through Board of Regents decisions.

The post Georgia Governor ‘Presumes’ Immigration Activists Are Undocumented appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Income Inequality Costs The Middle Class $18,000 A Year

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 8:08am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The growth of income inequality between 1979 and 2007 has reduced middle-class incomes by $17,890 a year, or about 23 percent, according to a new paper from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). “In other words, if inequality had not risen between 1979 and 2007, middle-class incomes would have been nearly $18,000 higher in 2007,” author Elise Gould writes.

The paper notes that during that time period, income for more than 90 percent of American households grew more slowly than average income growth. That’s because the average was skewed by fast growth at the top: Income growth for households between the top 96th and 99th percentiles grew by more than 78 percent, and the top 1 percent’s income growth was a whopping 245 percent. That last figure is nearly five times as fast as overall average income growth during that time period.

“[T]he rise of inequality explains the vast majority of the deceleration in middle-class income growth relative to earlier periods, particularly the first three-plus decades following World War II, when prosperity was broadly shared,” Gould writes. “[T]his rise in inequality is by far the most important determinant of the slowdown in living standards growth over the past generation, and it has been enormously costly for the broad middle class.”

Part of the story is that wage growth has been disconnected from workers’ growing productivity. “If wages of the bottom 99 percent had kept pace with productivity growth for the past generation, as was the case in the preceding generation, then most of the increase in income inequality would not have been possible,” Gould notes. Productivity grew by about 65 percent between 1979 and 2013, but hourly compensation for workers, not including supervisors and managers, grew by just 8 percent. That means productivity grew eight times faster than workers’ compensation.

The top 1 percent, on the other hand, got a 154 percent raise in wages over the same time period, far more than the growth in productivity and more than four times more than average wage growth.

These trends continue today. For the bottom 70 percent of earners, wages are lower than when the recession began in 2007, and everyone’s wages are lower than at the end of the recession in 2009. Meanwhile, between the first half of 2013 and the first half of this year, all groups except the bottom 10 percent saw real hourly wages fall.

The two-cent increase for the lowest income workers is likely due to state-level minimum wage increases, the paper notes. Their wages grew by 0.9 percent in states that raised their minimum wages, while they fell 0.1 percent in those without a wage hike. Ten states have increased their wages since the beginning of this year.

It’s worth noting that even though EPI’s report uses a comprehensive measure of income — including wages and salaries, capital gains and business income, non-cash income like employer coverage of health insurance premiums, and government programs like Social Security and food stamps — accurate measurements of the wealthiest are hard to make. That’s because the 1 percent hides wealth in tax shelters, foundations, and holding companies and often don’t respond to questionnaires. Even so, it’s clear that income inequality has risen alongside wealth inequality — the latter is as bad as it was in the 1920s.

Income inequality is not just hurting low-income and middle-class people, either. Many have warned that it’s undermining economic growth, from the International Monetary Fund to academics to people on Wall Street. It’s also hurting our health, safety, and political system.

The post Income Inequality Costs The Middle Class $18,000 A Year appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Texas Proposes Tougher Rules On Fracking Wastewater After Earthquakes Surge

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 7:37am

A sign placed along the sidewalk reads ‘Common Sense Against Earthquakes’ as a small group with Frack Free Denton protest outside city hall, Tuesday, July 15, 2014, in Denton, Texas.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The agency that regulates oil and gas activity in Texas is considering new, tougher regulations governing the practice of injecting leftover water used to frack natural gas wells deep into the ground — a process which is believed to be responsible for an increase in human-caused earthquakes across the state.

The Texas Railroad Commission’s new proposed regulations on wastewater injection wells were heard by members of the Texas House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Seismic Activity on Monday, following complaints that earthquakes have become more frequent over the last several years. Dr. Craig Pearson, the Railroad Commission’s new seismologist, told the subcommittee that the regulations would help make sure injected wastewater doesn’t migrate onto inactive fault lines and cause man-made quakes.

“Because we’re now dealing with induced seismicity, the worry is not only about water moving up [to our groundwater] but out to dormant faults,” Pearson said, noting that current regulations are only designed to protect from groundwater contamination.

The controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking,” uses a great deal more water than conventional drilling. To stimulate natural gas wells, companies inject high-pressure water and chemicals miles-deep into subsurface rock which effectively cracks or “fractures” it, making the gas easier to extract.

The leftover wastewater used to frack the well is disposed of by injecting it deep underground, and scientists increasingly believe that this is causing man-made earthquakes — not only in Texas, but across the country. The large amount of water injected into the ground can change the state of stress on existing fault lines to the point of failure, scientists believe, causing earthquakes.

As it is now, Pearson said most of the earthquakes occurring in Texas are too small to be felt. But some scientists have warned that seismic activity stands to get stronger and more dangerous as fracking increases, and more wastewater propagates along fault lines underground.

If Texas’proposed rules on wastewater disposal wells are approved, companies seeking to operate them would have to include United States Geological Survey records of seismic events that have occurred around proposed well sites in their permit applications. The commission estimated that this would cost companies an additional $300, which the rules describe as “negligible.”

Additionally, the commission would be allowed to suspend or terminate any wastewater disposal operator’s permit if it finds that fluids have been leeching past where they’re supposed to be. It would also be allowed to terminate an operator’s permit if the operator is found to be responsible for earthquakes. The rules would not require that permits be suspended for fluid-leeching violations or earthquakes; instead, they would just give the commission the authority to do so if it wanted to.

The commission would also be allowed to require more frequent monitoring of fluids and pressure from certain companies, and to request additional information from the application to prove that fluids won’t spread across fault lines.

So far, environmentalists have applauded the rules as a good start, but have expressed concerns that they don’t go far enough.

“It’s kinda like when you’re in a 12-step program,” Cyrus Reed with the Sierra Club told Terrence Henry at StateImpact NPR. “You know, the first thing you need to do admit that you have a problem. And I think the Railroad Commission has done that by proposing these rules.”

Indeed, the Railroad Commission has come a long way from January, when commission Chairman Barry Smitherman refused to acknowledge that the quakes were linked to any part of the fracking process. “It’s not linked to fracking,” he told local reporters after a meeting of concerned citizens. “If we find a link then we need to take a hard look at all these injection wells in this area. Reexamine them … Perhaps there something that we’re not aware of underground.”

The Texas commission is taking public comment on the proposed rules until next month.

The post Texas Proposes Tougher Rules On Fracking Wastewater After Earthquakes Surge appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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