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Must-reads of the week

Columbia Journalism Review - August 22, 2014 - 2:50pm
Culled from CJR's own stories, plus the frequently updated "Must-reads from around the Web," our staff recommendations for the best pieces of journalism (and other miscellany) on the internet, here are your can't-miss must-reads of the past week: Journalists can get PTSD right at their desks (PSmag) - A new study correlates exposure to violent images with mental health symptoms....

To publish or not: James Foley video spotlights media's tough call

Columbia Journalism Review - August 22, 2014 - 2:39pm
The obvious implication of The New York Times' famous motto that its pages contain "All the News That's Fit to Print" is that not all news is fit to print. Of course, a lot has changed since that slogan debuted in 1896. For one thing, the internet has replaced print as the news' primary platform. Even so, the basic responsibility...

Rand Paul Endorses Deporting DREAMers And Other Immigrant Children

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 2:37pm

CREDIT: AP

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) endorsed a pair of measures that move backwards on immigrant rights in an interview with the conservative outlet Breitbart News Thursday. During a medical mission in Guatemala, Paul stated his support for a bill that would expedite the deportation process of child arrivals at the southern border and another measure to cut funding to President Obama’s program that grants temporary legal presence to some undocumented immigrants.

Paul said, “I’m supportive of the House bill and I think it will go a long way to fixing the problem. But like everything else, nothing good has happened because Sen. Reid has decided that he’s not going to allow any votes on any bills this year because he’s protecting his members who are vulnerable in the election — he’s protecting them from any kind of votes. So I think there’s a very good chance the House bill could pass in the Senate, but it won’t ever pass if it doesn’t ever see the light of day.”

Before it broke for August recess, the House passed two bills that would fast-track the deportation process of mostly Central American children arrivals, who have been apprehended at the southern U.S. border and another one to cease expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. That program has granted work authorization and temporary deportation reprieve to some undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers.

Earlier this month, Paul awkwardly avoided two undocumented immigrants and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), stating that he was “not interested in being filmed and berated by people who broke the law and are here illegally to try and convince me about policy.” His comment sparked outrage from immigration advocates who called him out for being “no different than far-right Republicans like Steve King.”

Erika Andiola — one of the two immigrants that Paul avoided — told ThinkProgress on Friday that she had hoped that Paul would learn from Mitt Romney’s loss, “but come 2016, he will realize that the Latino and immigrant electorate doesn’t forget.”

Yet at the same time that Paul is urging Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring the pair of House bills to a vote in the Senate, Democrats have been trying since last year to get House Republicans to bring an immigration reform bill that could fix the broken immigration system.

Paul, who has touted himself as an outspoken champion for GOP minority outreach, once stated that legalization should “start with DREAM Act kids,” alluding to a federal immigration bill that would have granted an earned pathway to citizenship for some qualified undocumented immigrants. He also empathized with undocumented immigrants in the past, but he has since gradually moved faster and further away from that position. Paul has stated that he would not support the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill and accusing the President Obama of “poisoning the well” by using an executive order to create the DACA program.

The post Rand Paul Endorses Deporting DREAMers And Other Immigrant Children appeared first on ThinkProgress.

‘Dating Naked’ Reality Show ‘Accidentally’ Broadcasts Vagina On National TV

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 2:12pm

Jessie Nizewitz, left, on “Dating Naked.”

CREDIT: VH1

Jessie Nizewitz knew she was going to be naked on the VH1 dating reality show Dating Naked. But she didn’t think she’d be, you know, naked. She anticipated, and was allegedly promised multiple times, kosher-for-cable nudity, with anything a bikini would block blurred for air.

In an episode that aired July 31, Nizewitz play-wrestled on the beach with her date. And everything below Nizewitz’s waist was on-screen, unblurred. The episode is no longer available on VH1.com.

Nizewitz is suing Viacom for ten million dollars. The full complaint is available online, and it is quite distressing:

Her complaint alleges she was “continually promised” that “all frontal and genital nudity would be blurred out,” and that she was also “strongly encouraged” to engage in the wrestling session. In perhaps the most cringe-inducing line, the lawsuit goes on to say that “Defendants knew or reasonable should have known that they did not have consent from Plantiff to broadcast her vagina and anus on national cable television.” The saddest part is that Nizewitz requests, in addition to the money, that “all images of Plantiff’s vagina and anus” be removed “from the Internet, including but not limited to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.” Would that it were so simple to scrub an image from the internet; brave be the soul who tries to succeed where even Beyonce has failed.

Reality shows like this one are, naturally, competing in an ever-more-crowded marketplace, where one year’s “most scandalous show” is next year’s “wait, what’s the name of that again?” Already on the docket for 2015: Sex Box, a show in which people have sex in a box. Then they emerge from the box and discuss sex — and, presumably, intimacy, relationship stuff, and so on — with a panel of experts. Basically, it is “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” but for grown-ups, and televised. Just when you think we’ve reached the bottom, there’s another bottom beneath it; there is not now, nor has there ever been, a maximum amount of grotesque that some portion of the population will want to see. There has always been, and will continue to be, plenty of entrepreneurial types who will exploit our basest hungers for profit.

Which leads us to: was the accident really an accident? Seems like one of your top priorities in post-production on a television show on which literally every contestant is nude would be to blur out all the things you’re supposed to be blurring. Whether or not the reveal was intentional, it did manage to generate more buzz than the show had experienced since its premiere: Twitter mentions of the show spiked on July 31, the night the unblurred episode aired, and another (although smaller) spike yesterday, when Nizewitz filed her lawsuit.

Though much of the coverage around the lawsuit refers to Nizewitz as a model, it looks like the most news she made through modeling was documented in this Dallas Observer story about a serial rapist who preyed on young female models. Her lawsuit alleges she had to be cajoled into the TV wrestling match; in a strange coincidence, the Observer piece describes Nizewitz as “a model who wrestled in high school.” Judging from her search results, it does appear that she has garnered significantly more attention for her appearance on Dating Naked than she ever did from modeling.

Nizewitz was likely the victim of extreme carelessness or worse. I guess the small possibility exists that this whole thing was a publicity stunt and both parties were in on it? Even if that were true, it would still be gross to think about. In conclusion, everything is horrible, people are terrible, and The Onion is reality:

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Obama Administration Calls The Supreme Court’s Bluff In Hobby Lobby

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 2:00pm

Protesters hold signs in support of Obamacare’s birth control mandate

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Sy Mukherjee

For most of the last year, the Supreme Court has forced the Obama Administration into an elaborate dance, where the Court hands down orders casting doubt upon the administration’s efforts to ensure that all women have access to affordable birth control — while simultaneously implying that everything would be fine if the administration just designed their birth control policy a different way. Friday, the administration is expected to announce a new policy that appears designed to end this dance and force the justices to rule definitively on whether employers with religious objections to birth control effectively have the power to restrict their employees’ access to birth control coverage, no matter how the government structures its regulations.

Up until now, the administration’s rules treated non-profit and for-profit employers as separate entities. Religious non-profits who object to birth control could exempt themselves from the requirement to offer contraceptive care to their employees by filling out a specific form that informs the government of their objection, and sending a copy of the form to their insurance provider or administrator. In most cases, once the non-profit employer submitted this form, their insurer would then contract separately with their workers to ensure that those workers had contraceptive coverage. These non-profit rules spawned one round of litigation brought by religious non-profit organizations which claim that even being required to fill out a short form violates their religious liberty.

Meanwhile, for-profit employees were required to comply with their legal obligations to their employees. Prior to the Supreme Court’s June decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which significantly reworked the balance of power between employers and employees, the law was clear that for-profit businesses could not invoke their owners’ religious beliefs to exempt themselves from their legal obligations to their workers. “When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice,” the Court held in its 1982 decision in United States v. Lee, “the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” Hobby Lobby, of course, was the culmination of a second round of litigation brought by for-profit employers whose owners have religious objections to birth control. And it effectively eliminated the protections Lee extended to workers, at least with respect to federal law.

In both the non-profit cases and the for-profit cases, the Supreme Court has issued decisions suggesting that it would totally be fine for the Obama Administration to guarantee that most women in the workplace have contraceptive health coverage, if only they would do a better job of designing their regulations. Last January, for example, the Court temporarily exempted an order of nuns from the requirement that they fill out the form they are required to fill out in order to obtain an exemption from the birth control rules. Yet the Court’s order in that case also required the nuns to “inform the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing” of their intention to seek the exemption if they wanted to invoke it. The implication was the the form itself was somehow problematic, and everything would be fine if the Obama Administration had just required non-profit employers to use a different method to inform the government that they are invoking the exemption.

Meanwhile, the Hobby Lobby opinion granted many for-profit employers a religious exemption from the birth control rules, but it also strongly implied that everything would be fine if the Obama Administration had only applied the same regime it applies to non-profit employers to for-profit employers as well. That is, all would be good if, instead of requiring Hobby Lobby to offer birth control coverage directly, Hobby Lobby should instead fill out a form and send a copy of it to their insurer, and then that insurer would provide coverage to Hobby Lobby’s workers. The implication this time around was that the administration’s fill-out-the-form solution struck an appropriate balance between protecting women in the workplace and also shielding religious liberty, and that it would be upheld by the Court.

Only a few days later, however, the Court handed down another order suggesting that the fill-out-a-form solution wasn’t actually a solution at all. In Wheaton College v. Burwell, the justices granted a Christian college a temporary exemption from the requirement than they fill out the form — once again holding that the college could simply “inform[] the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing” that they wish to invoke the exemption. In dissent, Justice Sotomayor accused the Court of shifting the goal posts just days after Hobby Lobby. “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” Sotomayor wrote. “Not so today.”

So the Obama Administration could be forgiven if it believes that it has been cast in the role of Charlie Brown, and that the Supreme Court has assigned itself the role of Lucy while she is holding a football. Nevertheless, the new regulations the administration is expected to announce Friday appear to rest on the assumption that the Court can be taken at its word, and that if the administration provides virtually every accommodation to religious objectors that the justices have thus-far demanded, then its newest round of regulations will be upheld.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the new regulations provide that “institutions would have to tell the federal government which company administers their health-insurance plan, and the government would then contact that administrator to ask it to arrange contraception coverage for the institution’s employees. The administrator would likely turn to a traditional insurance company to fund the benefits, and the insurance company would later be reimbursed by the federal government.”

In other words, the new regulations honor Hobby Lobby‘s suggestion that the justices will tolerate a program that places the obligation to cover contraception in the hands of the insurer, not the employer. And they honor Wheaton College‘s suggestion that, even if a particular form is objectionable, employers can still be required to inform the government that they are seeking an exemption from the law using some other method.

The one remaining question is whether the Court will tolerate the new rules’ requirement that religious employers “tell the federal government which company administers their health-insurance plan,” a requirement that goes beyond the obligations the Court imposed in its Wheaton College order. The employers who have raised the staunchest objections to birth control have often claimed that they cannot take any action that will set in motion a chain of events that leads to someone receiving contraception, as doing so would make them “complicit” in the act of providing birth control. If the justices are determined honor even this idiosyncratic objection, then it is unclear that the administration could provide any accommodation that would survive Supreme Court review.

Such a holding, it should be noted, would gut a key limit on federal religious liberty law. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was the statute the Court relied upon in Hobby Lobby, the federal government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except in certain circumstances. But if requiring someone to write a two sentence letter naming an insurance company can be a “substantial burden,” then anything can be a substantial burden. It’s difficult to imagine a less burdensome act that could be imposed upon someone then requiring them to toss off a letter they could probably draft in 30 seconds.

In any event, however, the Obama Administration’s new rules will likely put an end to the Supreme Court’s ability to move the goalposts every time someone raises a new objection to the administration’s policy. The administration has now crafted its rules to comply almost to the letter with the requirements suggested by previous Supreme Court opinions. Now, the rest of the country will have to wait to find out whether Hobby Lobby actually permits this latest set of rules — or whether the language in that decision leading the Obama Administration in this direction will simply end with Lucy pulling away the football one more time.

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RNC Official Claims Child Migrants Are Trained ‘Warriors’ And Will ‘Rise Up Against’ Americans

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 1:34pm

Tamara Scott

CREDIT: Screengrab

A Republican National Committeewoman claimed on her radio show Thursday that kids who are arriving in waves unaccompanied at the U.S. southern border could be “warriors” and would likely “rise up against” Americans. In an interview with a Tea Party leader, RNC committeewoman Tamara Scott said that children could be coming from countries where they are highly trained as soldiers and may harm Americans, according to Right Wing Watch.

Scott said, “When we see these kids, you and I think young kids, we think maybe 12-year-olds …middle-schoolers, But we know back in our revolution, we had 12-year olds fighting in our revolution. And for many of these kids, depending on where they’re coming from, they could be coming from other countries and be highly trained as warriors who will meet up with their group here and actually rise up against us as Americans.”

Her guest, Mary Huls, president of the Texas-based Clear Lake Tea Party, stated that it’s especially worrisome that the children don’t come with documentation since the terrorist group Hezbollah “funds several training groups in Venezuela and other South American countries, they are training these youths beginning as early as eight or nine years old through the MS-13 gangs and they’re being trained as warriors. You’re absolutely right.”

As much of the research has shown, the vast majority of children are fleeing violence in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. And a recent poll found that seven in ten Americans believe those children deemed to be fleeing violence should be allowed to stay in the United States.

Still, Scott has been an ardent opponent of immigration reform calling it “scamnesty” in 2007. And she blasted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) earlier this year for saying that undocumented immigrants are coming into the country out of an “act of love.” Scott is also known for her other radical positions like claiming that gay marriage could lead to women marrying the Eiffel Tower. What’s more, ties between Hezbollah and Venezuela are tenuous at best, according to the GlobalPost. Interviews with security experts in Israel and South America found that the ties are exaggerated and that “this kind of activity [terrorism] is conducted by small units. It is political rhetoric.”

Scott is just one of many politicians to claim that migrant children have a nefarious agenda for coming into the United States. This week, Speaker of the Arizona House of Representative State Rep. Andy Tobin said that people should be not only be concerned that migrants are bringing in the Ebola virus, but also concerned that those individuals could be from the Middle East. And although he has no evidence to back up his claim, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) warned Thursday that “individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be” coming across the southern U.S. border. But of course, other prominent lawmakers have made similar outlandish claims.

The post RNC Official Claims Child Migrants Are Trained ‘Warriors’ And Will ‘Rise Up Against’ Americans appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Media Jumps To Conclusions On Ebola And Climate Change

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 1:25pm

A Nigerian health official wearing a protective mask waits to screen passengers at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

If you read Newsweek or CNBC this week, you may be under the impression that one of the primary drivers of the Ebola outbreak in Africa is climate change. It is not.

According to three veteran epidemiologists who study how climate impacts disease spread, there is currently no scientific evidence that suggests a climate link to the current Ebola outbreak, which has so far claimed the lives of at least 1,200 people. Prematurely reporting on this link is harmful, they say, because it undermines good research that is being done on the growing link between global warming and other types of infectious diseases, such as malaria and cholera.

“Because the whole climate change debate has been so controversial, we’ve got to be doing solid science in that area,” said Andrew P. Dobson, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at Princeton University who has been researching infectious disease spread and its relation to climate change since 1988. “If people start saying inflammatory things, it just messes up the whole funding arena for everybody else.”

Both Newsweek’s story, titled “Ebola and Climate Change: Are Humans Responsible for the Severity of the Current Outbreak?“, and CNBC’s story, titled “Is climate change key to the spread of Ebola?”, quote scientists from the non-profit EcoHealth Alliance to suggest that the virus could be worsened by a gradually warming earth. CNBC’s story in particular notes the theory that the Ebola virus is spread to humans via infected fruit bats. Climate change could cause those bats to have more babies, the story said, or could cause humans to come in contact with bats more frequently as drought dries out agricultural land, sending people into the forest for food.

But Jason Rohr, who studies disease ecology at the University of South Florida, said those claims are “irresponsible” to make because they’re not yet backed up by peer-reviewed research.

“The evidence is incredibly weak,” he said. “There’s a difference between weather patterns affecting an infectious disease and actual climate change impacting a disease. Weather patterns are going to occur on a much smaller time scale, whereas climate change, you need to link it to a long-term pattern. We’ve had so few [Ebola] outbreaks that we can’t yet make those claims.”

A. Marm Kilpatrick, who studies the ecology of infectious diseases at the University of California Santa Cruz and used to work for EcoHealth, also said scientists lack the long-term data to make those claims with confidence. While EcoHealth did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment, Kilpatrick said he spoke with EcoHealth president Peter Daszak about the quotes given to CNBC.

“They asked him, ‘Could climate have influenced transmission of that disease,’ and the answer is sure,” he said. “We could all come up with stories about how that could have happened, but is there any actual evidence for that at all? The answer is no, and if you said, what do you think are the most important things leading to additional spill-over of Ebola from bats to people, none of us would mention climate change.”

“Climate change still influences Ebola, it influences everything,” he added. “It’s just that if you had to spend money on research efforts, it’d be more valuable to investigate other factors first.”

What scientists do have the data to claim confidently is that the spread of Ebola in humans may begin when people eat or otherwise come into contact with bats, apes, and other wild animals. This generally happens in undeveloped countries where health care is poor — another reason why the disease spreads so easily from human to human.

To fight Ebola, Dobson said, scientists must find out more about the basic biology of Ebola itself, and the immunology of bats, which he said seem to be reservoirs for a lot of infectious diseases. In addition, bringing better health care education and infrastructure to the places infected would do a world of good, he said.

Though Ebola in its current state is not cause for climate-related concern now, there are other, more prolific infectious diseases that stand to worsen in a warming world and are far more deserving of our attention in that context, Dobson said.

“We should be worried about climate change for other diseases,” he said. “Malaria, dengue fever — where the development time of the pathogen is very dependent on temperature, and the abundance of the mosquitoes is dependent on rainfall.”

Both vector-borne diseases — like those transmitted by mosquitoes — and water-borne diseases have a more solid scientific link to climate change and need to be researched more because of it, Dobson said. Because mosquitoes’ presence and lives are predominantly dependent on temperature, research funding needs to be dedicated to both the developmental time of diseases in the mosquitoes and the length of time the mosquitoes live for in hotter temperatures, he said. For waterborne diseases like cholera, Dobson said more research needs to be done about how rainfall patterns are going to be impacted by climate, and that needs to be paired with long-term hospital records to analyze how the two are dependent.

Diseases that look as though they have stronger connections to climate change are showing their faces throughout the United States. A mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya that’s been spreading throughout the Caribbean islands over the past year has made its way to U.S. soil, causing fevers, headaches, and joint swelling. The rise of that disease could be driven in part by climate change, which is increasing temperatures and moisture levels in the U.S. and ultimately facilitating a better environment for the type of mosquitoes that carry the virus.

In addition, the warm-water-dwelling, flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio vulnificus has infected more than a dozen people in the U.S. this year, some of whom have died. Even barring any studies connecting Vibrio and climate change specifically, a 2011 report from Climate Change and European Marine Ecosystem Research, a group of 17 European marine institutes, drew connections between climate change, the increasingly warm ocean waters, and the spread of water-dwelling bacteria like Vibrio.

Update

This story has been updated to correct the person Mark Kilpatrick spoke with at the EcoHealth Alliance. He spoke with EcoHealth president Peter Daszak, not executive vice president William Karesh.

The post Media Jumps To Conclusions On Ebola And Climate Change appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Washington Post Editorial Board Will Stop Using ‘Redskins’

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 1:14pm

CREDIT: AP

The Washington Post’s editorial board will quit using the name of Washington’s professional football team, it announced in an editorial Friday afternoon.

The editorial board has called for a name change since as far back as 1992, a fact it notes in the editorial explaining its decision today:

“THIS PAGE has for many years urged the local football team to change its name. The term ‘Redskins,’ we wrote in 1992, ‘is really pretty offensive.’ The team owner then, Jack Kent Cooke, disagreed, and the owner now, Daniel M. Snyder, disagrees, too. But the matter seems clearer to us now than ever, and while we wait for the National Football League to catch up with thoughtful opinion and common decency, we have decided that, except when it is essential for clarity or effect, we will no longer use the slur ourselves. That’s the standard we apply to all offensive vocabulary, and the team name unquestionably offends not only many Native Americans but many other Americans, too,” the editorial board wrote, adding that “we’ll do our best not to contribute to the disrespect.”

The editorial board’s decision will not affect the paper’s news or sports reporters and readers can still use the name in letters to the editor, the editorial said.

Still, the editorial board is adding itself to a growing list of outlets and journalists choosing to avoid the name. Other publications, like the San Francisco Chronicle, Kansas City Star, The Oregonian, Slate, and the Washington City Paper, avoid the name in both news and opinion writing. Columnists at outlets like USA Today and the Buffalo News, meanwhile, have made individual decisions to avoid it. CBS Sports’ Sean McManus said last month that he would give his broadcasters the option to avoid the name during NFL games this season, and CBS analyst Phil Simms and NBC’s Tony Dungy have both said they plan to quit using the name on air.

The post Washington Post Editorial Board Will Stop Using ‘Redskins’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Wear FAIR Everywhere You Go

FAIR - August 22, 2014 - 12:51pm
If you're like us, you don't trust the corporate media to tell it straight--or report the stories that matter. So why not spread the word? Send a bold message--and support FAIR--with our latest Don't Trust Corporate Media shirt. The shirts are union-made in the United States--just check the label--and are available in Small, Medium, Large and XL. Limited quantities available, so order yours today--these won't last long!

Heritage Foundation Urges GOP To Fund Vigilante Border Groups If Obama Enacts Immigration Changes

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 12:38pm

CREDIT: AP Images

Two papers recently published by the influential Heritage Foundation lay out a series of recommendations for lawmakers to take in response to a widely expected executive order from President Obama shielding potentially millions of undocumented people from deportation.

The organization is still recovering from a fiasco last year in which one of its senior policy analysts was found to have previously written a paper claiming Latinos in the US are and will likely remain less intelligent than “native whites.”

Now, they’re releasing what they call “practical, effective, fair and compassionate” solutions to the current immigration crisis—a plan that includes stepped up border enforcement by vigilante organizations and an explicit threat to deport anyone covered by a future executive order.

So what are some of the steps on their self-described “positive path”?

Give “accreditation” and state government funding to private citizens to “police border communities”

These private citizen groups, many of which have been designated hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have stepped up their activity in recent weeks.

Armed with semi-automatic weapons and wearing camouflage—according to their recruitment photos—they have vowed to “fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution.”

In response to this escalation, the US Border Patrol said in a statement that it “does not endorse or support any private group or organization taking matters into their own hands, as it could have potentially disastrous personal public safety consequences.”

The problem isn’t new. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “vigilante militias have been capturing, pistol-whipping and very possibly shooting Latin American immigrants” along the border since the 1990s.

In 2012, the leader of the “US Border Guard” militia in Arizona killed five people including a toddler.

“This information can be used against you”

Heritage’s August paper on immigration says Congress should answer any executive order on immigration with a resolution explicitly warning that not only can such an order be reversed at any time, but “any information gleaned from participants could be used in future deportation proceedings.”

This essentially puts undocumented people in a dangerous Catch 22—they can come out of the shadows and apply for relief from deportation, but it could make them more easily targeted by the government down the road.

But Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney based in Buffalo, New York, told ThinkProgress that such a resolution would be “completely superfluous” because that possibility already exists.

Under the rumored executive order, he said, “people would be voluntarily coming forward and admitting they are in the US without authorization, and giving all their information to the Department [of Homeland Security]. If at any point deferred action is discontinued, a future Administration or event the current Administration can use it at any time,” to put those people in removal proceedings.

Kolken emphasized that the same is true of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted work permits and protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.

“When the program was first announced, I had a number of clients with extreme reservations, and I didn’t want to be putting young people in the position of making themselves vulnerable to deportation proceedings,” he said.

Once Kolken and other attorneys saw that most DACA applicants were approved and were able to lead “more normal lives, he was able to help more clients participate in the program.

But he cautioned: “This is something the Obama Admin has extended and they can take it away at any time. And we have no idea who the next president is going to be. The presumed front-runner is Hillary Clinton, and she’s a deportation hawk.”

The post Heritage Foundation Urges GOP To Fund Vigilante Border Groups If Obama Enacts Immigration Changes appeared first on ThinkProgress.

California’s Drought Is Making Life Harder For Honeybees

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 12:30pm

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach

California’s extreme drought is taking its toll on honeybees and honey producers in the state.

Lack of rainfall has made the state’s native flowering plants less abundant, and it’s also taken its toll on the state’s farmers, forcing some of them to decrease the amount of land they keep productive as water prices soar. That means that honeybees in California — a state that’s one of the largest in terms of honey production — don’t have as much to forage on as they usually do.

That’s made it harder than usual for California’s honey producers to keep up with production. Since the drought began three years ago, California’s honey crop has fallen from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to 10.9 million pounds in 2013, the AP reports. The drought is also contributing to rising honey prices — a pound of honey has increased from $3.83 to $6.32 over the last eight years.

The lack of foraging plants in California has prompted some beekeepers to take their bees to other states to forage. Others are feeding their bees more sugar syrup than they typically would in order to keep them fed — but that practice is expensive, as one beekeeper told the AP.

“Not only are you feeding as an expense, but you aren’t gaining any income.” beekeeper Mike Brandi said. “If this would persist, you’d see higher food costs, higher pollination fees and unfortunately higher prices for the commodity of honey.”

The drought is just the latest thing to pose a threat to managed honeybee populations. Across the globe, commercial honeybee populations have been declining for more than a decade. The decline is largely attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon in which adult bees in a colony simply disappear from their hives. A federal report this year found that losses last winter in the U.S. were less steep than the winter before, but bee populations are still struggling — as one entomologist told the New York Times, the new report shows that bee losses have gone “from horrible to bad.”

But honeybees and honey producers aren’t the only ones suffering in the midst of California’s extreme drought. The dry weather has been hard on wild salmon: as NPR reports, thousands of Chinook salmon in northern California’s Klamath River are struggling to survive in shallow, warm waters. The river’s flows have been diverted so that it can better serve California’s agriculture-heavy Central Valley, but that means the water left for the salmon has grown dangerously warm. Gill rot, a fatal disease in salmon, thrives in warm waters, so people in California — especially the local tribes who depend heavily on the salmon — are worried that if cool water isn’t let into the river soon, many of the salmon could die.

Salmon and steelhead are already dying in California’s Salmon River, due to warm water and low water flows. In July, a population assessment found 300 to 600 juvenile fish — mainly Chinook — died before they got a chance to spawn. As of July, the Salmon River is running at 181 cubic feet per second — far below the average flow of 438 cubic feet per second, a low flow that’s been fueled by the drought and decreased snowpack. The drought also forced California to ship about 50 percent more young Chinook salmon by truck to the Pacific Ocean than it usually does, due to worries that the young fish wouldn’t make it to the ocean if they swam through warm, depleted rivers.

The post California’s Drought Is Making Life Harder For Honeybees appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Videotaped Police Shooting Shocked The Nation, But These Experts Say It Was Justified

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 12:24pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Just days after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown that rocked the nation, another young black man was shot dead by police in broad daylight — miles away from Michael Brown’s home of Ferguson, Missouri. This man had a weapon of sorts. Kajieme Powell was reportedly carrying a knife — seemingly no larger than a steak knife — when police shot him down.

We learned later that a bystander had videotaped the entire incident on his cell phone — from before the cop car pulled up to the scene, until Powell lay motionless on the ground as officers cuffed him. The video has put on full, unadulterated display what it looks like for cops to shoot a man down just seconds after arriving on the scene, without trying any other mitigating measures first. And many have expressed the sentiment that it just doesn’t look right.

But from a legal and officer training perspective, the shooting was likely in line with U.S. police practice.

On the legal question, Cornell law professor Jens David Ohlin noted that whether or not the shooting was justified is for a jury to decide. But, “If indeed he was holding a knife in his hands, a jury might very well conclude that the officer believed that he faced an imminent threat of grave bodily injury” — the standard for deadly force. “Moreover,” he added, “the jury might conclude that this believe was objectively reasonable given the facts of the situation.”

What about from a policy perspective? David Long is a former Department of Labor special agent who conducted firearms trainings for other agents, and now a criminal justice professor at Brandman University. He has been critical of many instances in which police have fired deadly shots when they would have used nonlethal force. As he put it, “I don’t find myself siding with the police very often” in deadly force situations. He has also been an outspoken critic of militarized police tactics that coincided with the War on Drugs. But in this instance, he said, even he likely might have done the same if he had been in the officers’ shoes.

I watched the video about ten times and I have to say I hate the idea of another young black man being shot down by police in the street but that actually looked like a good shooting to me. The young man had a knife. The thing about knives is that somebody with a knife is potentially more dangerous to you than somebody with a gun because somebody with a knife can be on you so fast so I was trained to be especially more vigilant with somebody with a knife.

For more context on police officer training for those wielding a knife, this video highlighted by Conor Friedersdorf is instructive. “At first glance this officer’s distance from the suspect looks safe enough. But a suspect can easily cover this distance faster than most officers can draw their guns,” the video begins. The video suggests that when a suspect with a knife is five feet or less from an officer, the officer may no longer even have time to draw a gun, and that at 15 feet the officer may have a shot at shooting a suspect before they reach an officer with a knife. “Tests with hundreds of officers reveal that in most cases, a minimum reactionary gap of 21 feet is required to react and deliver at least two rounds and to have enough time to move out of the attacker’s path.”

Long continues:

It looked like the officers did almost everything right. They gave him commands. He was not complying. He got up on the little step and then started toward one of the officers and that’s when they shot. And if it was in fact a knife .. then all of my training and all of my background tells me that is a justifiable police shooting against it looks like a mentally ill young man.

What of the mental illness component? Should cops react differently? A study by the Portland Press Herald in Maine found that nearly half of people shot by police since 2000 were mentally ill, and that police lack proper training on defusing deadly conflicts. In fact, the typical commands Long refers to can actually have an adverse impact on those with mental illness. Some federal appeals court cases have even suggested that mental illness should be among the factors cops consider when deciding how and when to employ force.

Among the recommendations of a 2012 report to police chiefs on the use of force against those with mental illness or addiction problems are “slowing down the situation” by getting a supervisor to the scene, and identifying “chronic consumers” of police services. These tactics are under-employed in many police interventions, including several other fatal shootings in which family members called the police for help.

But even when mental illness comes into play, officers retain the same discretion to protect the safety of themselves and others with lethal force. So it may be that assessments of mental illness would have to come into play even earlier in police interventions, or even dictate against police intervention to begin with.

“In general it would be wonderful if police training included some type of mental health component,” Long said. “So many people out there that police deal with are in fact mentally ill. But unless somebody is in immediate danger of being lethally assaulted by a mentally ill person I’m sorry to say I would not call the police. Because the police generally aren’t sensitive to that.”

Particularly when an individual described as a suspect is “coming at you with a knife and not being compliant” the last thing officers are thinking about is “whether the person’s mentally ill or not,” he said.

Long conceded that there might have been things the officers could have done to alter their contact from the get-go had they been warned that the suspect exhibited signs of a possible mental illness or emotional disturbance. Had they been able to arrive in a police cruiser, they could have positioned themselves behind the police cruiser so that they could have talked to him while maintaining better protection from Powell and his knife.

What of less-lethal tools like tasers, pepper spray, or bean bag rounds? In many instances, those are important alternatives for subduing a suspect that Long believes are under-used. But when a suspect is close enough to lunge at you, Long said even Tasers are not surefire enough, nor quick enough, to ensure that the suspect won’t impose damage first.

“If this poor young man, if he had been 30 feet or 20 feet, 20 feet from the officers and they shot him 20 feet away, I’m gonna say bad shoot,” he said. But once a suspect gets 10 feet or closer and is running toward you, officers start to run out of options in his estimation.

Of course, Long has been trained in American police tactics. And it may be that some larger policy shift could overhaul whether police get out of a car to begin with when the reported crime is stealing a few sodas from a store, or that better treatment options for the mentally ill would decrease the likelihood of police confrontations like this one.

Even Long, who said he might have resorted to a similar tactic if he had been in these officers’ shoes, described having similar reaction to much of America when he watched the video.

“It did unfold extremely quickly as those situations often do,” he said. “And watching it just broke my heart.”

The post Videotaped Police Shooting Shocked The Nation, But These Experts Say It Was Justified appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Poor Americans Are More Likely To Use Bogus Diet Supplements

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 12:24pm

For nearly a century, scientists have struggled to come up with a diet pill that helps people lose weight without causing side effects that range from embarrassing digestive issues to dangerous heart problems.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Toby Talbot

Poor people in the United States — a group that experiences significantly higher levels of obesity — are more likely to take on ineffective, unconventional weight-loss methods, including the use of over-the-counter diet pills that have been proven not to work, a recent study suggests.

Researchers from Concordia University in Montreal examined the incomes and habits of more than 3,000 children and teenagers between the ages of eight and 19 and more than 5,000 adults over the age of 20. Their findings, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, showed that participants making between $20,000 and $75,000 annually were more likely to experiment with diet pills. Additionally, participants making less than $20,000 were 50 percent less likely to exercise, 42 percent less like to drink lots of water, and 25 percent less likely to cut down on sweets and sugars.

The vastly divergent weight-loss methods resulted in drastically different results for people in various income brackets. Among the two-thirds of the subjects in the study who attempted to lose weight, adults and youth gained an average of three pounds and 12 pounds, respectively. People in the lower income brackets gained an average of two more pounds than their more well-to-do counterparts.

Weight-loss supplements are designed to suppress one’s appetite, increase metabolism, and stop the absorption of food nutrients that increase body fat. While doctors often prescribe certain brands — including orlistat, Belviq, phentermine, and Qsymia — they advise that their use be coupled with adequate exercise and diet. Although manufacturers claim that weight-loss supplements contain natural ingredients, some health experts warn that even a short period of use poses a great risk. Side effects include nausea, fatigue, dry mouth, and constipation. Weight-loss supplements can also cause liver failure, as more than 100 people across the country recently learned.

The reasons for the significant use of weight-loss supplements among poor Americans go beyond lack of exercise and unhealthy habits. People living in low-income communities often don’t have access to healthy food sources, even with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at their disposal. While the United States has safer drinking water than some parts of the world, outdated federal laws meant to protect freshwater leave poor people — a group often reliant on tap water — susceptible to water-borne pathogens. Additionally, the stresses of an unpredictable work schedule and financial obligations on a meager budget make little time to exercise or diet.

Unfortunately, poor people have not been only preyed upon by producers of ineffective weight-loss supplements; they’re also at risk for other scams taking advantage of their socioeconomic status. Each year, more than 12 million Americans incur long-term debt when they take out short-term loans from payday loan establishments. Customers desperate to pay the next bill push themselves further into debt when they seek out an average of nine loan payments per year, each one carrying interest rates as high as 400 percent. As a result, more than two out of five borrowers will eventually default, even after paying off their loans.

The post Poor Americans Are More Likely To Use Bogus Diet Supplements appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Three Things Conservatives Wrote This Week That Everyone Should Read

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 12:19pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Welcome to TP Ideas‘ weekly roundup of the best conservative writing! Every Friday, we take a look at three pieces by right-leaning writers that constructively articulate core elements of their worldview. The goal isn’t to find conservatives telling us how right liberals are, but rather to pick out writing that helps liberals understand where their ideological foes are coming from.

So let’s get started.

1. “The New Nonconformist Conscience” — Helen Andrews, First Things

As Helen Andrews noted in the magazine First Things this week, the cases of Mozilla’s Brendan Eich, the Miami Dolphins’ Don Jones, and HGTV’s Benham brothers suggest the left is enjoying newfound success with online and social shaming as a tactic to fight intolerance. Liberals’ defense of this approach, as she characterizes it, is that not so long ago right-wing Christians and other traditional conservatives used these sorts of shaming tactics against the very groups liberals are attempting to defend.

Andrews takes exception to that historical claim by pulling out an episode from British history in which a group of Christians succeeded for a time in applying these tactics — but for Andrews, the purpose of the story is to illustrate what a departure from the norm this sort of behavior actually was for religious traditionalists. You don’t necessarily need to buy this argument to nonetheless find her article a fascinating bit of historical excavation:

It was a specific moment, with a beginning and an end, and a name — the Nonconformist Conscience. The name was thought necessary precisely because such a deliberate, programmatic, and privacy-invading shame campaign was seen at the time as an anomaly in the modern history of Christianity in the English-speaking world.

The term “Nonconformist Conscience” arose in Britain in 1890 to refer to the non-Anglican Protestants (mainly Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist) who pressured Prime Minister Gladstone into disavowing Charles Parnell when the latter was named in the divorce suit of his lover and her husband. The same faction had earlier derailed the parliamentary career of Charles Dilke, another divorce co-respondent. Having established a precedent for adulterers, the Nonconformists proceeded to assist in the toppling of Liberal prime minister Lord Rosebery, whose well-known fondness for horse racing made him in their eyes scarcely better than a casino operator in his relation to the sin of gambling.

With such scalps in hand, many Nonconformists dared to hope that an elevated moral standard could be permanently established if they kept their dudgeon high. “Rational Christians can already see that debauchees, drunkards, and gamblers are utterly unfit to make the laws of England,” declared Rev. Hugh Prices Hughes. “We must agitate for the rigid exclusion of such enemies of mankind… When we have cleansed Parliament of their polluting presence the task of cleansing minor public bodies will be comparatively easy.”

Andrews points out that small fry and backbench politicians were also targets for the movement, and its not hard to see certain parallels between the unforgiving moralistic groupthink of this episode in British history and, say, the ousting of Brendan Eich from Mozilla. That said, Andrews’ additional claim that “Christianity has always recognized certain limiting factors in its application of shame” is rather hard to swallow. Consider, for example, the treatment gay people endured at the hands of mainstream American society and the police a mere five decades ago.

But she ends by noting that increased politicization had an ironically self-destructive result for Christianity: as political activism distracted and drew people away from the very church-centered life that’s meant to be the religion’s core. However, progressivism is not a religion, so it has no non-political form of life equivalent to the church community. So it faces no similar self-limiting internal tug between politics and any other way of being. It’s an interesting point.

2. “Unschooling: The Future of Education?” — Gracy Olmstead, The American Conservative

The left-right divide over education tends to be embodied by public education versus homeschooling. Liberals value the first for its egalitarian ethos and commitment to a broad and inclusive social vision; meanwhile, conservatives value the second for its localist and individualist ethos, and its comparative friendliness to unorthodox belief systems like Biblical creationism.

But in The American Conservative this week, Gracy Olmstead looked into a third movement: “unschooling,” which allows children an enormous amount of control over the use and direction of their own time, and thus the nature and content of their studies. Given that both public education and traditional homeschooling take the need for strict scheduling and structure for granted, unschooling tends to upend the assumptions of both:

If we let children direct their own education, should we also let them direct their leisure time, social activities, spiritual, or emotional development? At what point do parents say “no” to a given pursuit or inclination? During past interviews on this subject, a few different unschooling parents told me they make sure unschooling does not because “unparenting”: children still receive daily supervision, chores, parental direction, etc. [...]

And it seems that the unschooling method, when developed along these parameters, may indeed lead to healthier, happier kids: kids who have time to play, get exercise, develop their reasoning and problem-solving capacities, to discover and develop their pursuits with alacrity and passion. They can learn at their own pace, without the pressure and competition of a classroom. Some more extroverted or competitive children may find this method less palatable, but for highly self-motivated or introverted learners, something like the unschooling method may help them flourish and grow intellectually.

It’s also worth noting that, in today’s challenging job market, students may need a method such as this to thrive. Many of the grownup unschoolers I’ve met have become truly excellent at their given pursuit, whether science, veterinary work, farming, engineering, or what-have-you. These young adults were given the freedom and tools to build their own career out of passion and excitement, rather than squeezing such pursuits in between mandatory English and Chemistry classes.

The one issue Olmstead raises is the idea that such focus in pursuit can be taken too far, and that modern America has already fallen into a kind of conceptual trap of thinking that anything that doesn’t obviously advance career skills — topics like the humanities, literature, history, or the arts — is dispensable in a child’s education. In contrast to that, Olmstead points to the classical liberal arts education tradition, developed from the Greeks and Romans, which gave students knowledge that “transcended the professional, vocational, or technical, and sought to craft superior intellects and souls.”

But she also allows unschooling could embrace such principles in its own way, and thus perhaps achieve the best of both worlds.

3. “The Anti-Statist Alliance That Wasn’t” — Peter Blair, The American Interest

A recent theme on the right has been the growing alliance between civil libertarians and social conservatives, which is seen as a reaction to the popular success of social liberalism and the growing tendency of law and federal policy to reflect its norms and assumptions. But in The American Interest this week, Peter Blair argued the alliance is unsustainable.

First off, Blair notes the erosion of traditional local communities has led to new forms of nebulous social trust through technology: we have Yelp rather than a neighbor’s opinion, we have our Google profiles instead of business owners who know us personally, and instead of the proverbial moralistic church lady we have a surveillance society. The problem, as Blair lays it out, is that social conservatives and libertarians want to take this situation in two different directions. The former want a return to that personal fabric of the local community, while the latter merely want to reform the new state of affairs:

[W]e don’t all necessarily always prefer the old-fashioned, traditional way of going about business to the new way. A neighbor watching our child while we are at work obviously seems preferable to a cop “protecting” a child by arresting her mother. But lots of people very much value the greater anonymity and freedom that come from a society where matchmaking, shopping, and surveillance are all more impersonal than they are in a dense, nosy community — where everyone knows everything about you and your personal affairs.

And this is where the inchoate civil libertarian-social conservative synthesis tends to break down. What civil libertarians seem to want is to preserve the new, more indirect models of social trust, but with minimal infringements on privacy: no overweening state, no cop raids, no panoptic companies. As a general feeling, this is sensible enough. Certainly some discrete reforms for the worst overreaches of Leviathan are possible and necessary. The first steps taken by Congress to reform some of the NSA’s operating procedures and the broad-based outcry against ongoing police militarization are certainly welcome and necessary developments. [...]

[But] civil libertarians ultimately want latitude and freedom from restraint. Insofar as the motivating worries of the civil libertarians are about limiting the power of others over the autonomous self, the social conservative has little to offer him. The dense local communities that social conservatives pine after and advocate for as an alternative to the nationalized panopticon society ultimately point in the opposite direction: more restraint, not less. The restraint they advocate for might seem less scary when paired against some of the worst abuses of the panopticon society, but when paired against the civil libertarian dream world, they might appear very undesirable indeed to those same civil libertarians.

In an immediate sense, this is an internal debate on the right to which liberals are mere observers. But plenty of liberals also bemoan the spread of social atomization and suburban sprawl, and are embracing things like community revitalization and sustainable and walkable urban renewal as ways to get back to dense local communities.

And as the First Things piece above implied, many of the values liberals hold to — environmentalism, conscientious consumption, the organic movement, avoidance of smoking, acceptance of a broad range of lifestyle choices or sexual orientations, and so on — are themselves restraints that rely on the social pressure of a “nosy community” for enforcement. Yet social liberalism’s rhetoric still ostensibly embraces civil libertarianism and rejects social conformism as a good. So in a deeper sense, this is a tension and debate in which the left is also fully implicated.

The post Three Things Conservatives Wrote This Week That Everyone Should Read appeared first on ThinkProgress.

New York City Considers Banning Toys In Kids’ Fast Food Meals

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 12:16pm

CREDIT: AP Photo/Seth Perlman

On the heels of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I) infamous failed attempt to ban large sodas, New York City officials are trying their hand at nutrition policy again. This time, they’ve set their sights on a more specific target: the free toys that come with high-calorie kids’ meals at fast food restaurants.

New York City Councilman Ben Kallos (D) has introduced a “Health Happy Meals” measure that would ban toys in kids’ meals that fall short of strict dietary guidelines. In order for restaurants to give away free toys with kids’ food, they’ll have to offer meals that don’t contain more than 500 calories and 600 milligrams of sodium.

“It is difficult enough for parents to give their children healthy food without the fast food industry spending hundreds of million dollars per year advertising to children, and nearly half of that on toys,” Kallos said in a statement announcing his new bill. “If restaurants are going to incentivize children, they should incentivize them to eat healthy.”

Kallos also pointed out that an estimated one fourth of U.S. children’s meals come from restaurants or fast food places, and “those calories could be healthy calories.” Under his measure, restaurants that fail to comply with the toy ban would be fined.

Although several food industry giants promised to stop marketing junk food to kids back in 2009, outside studies have found they didn’t exactly follow through. Fast food companies continue to target their products to children using games, toys, and cartoon characters, and kids are now more likely to recognize unhealthy food brands over healthy ones. The World Health Organization warns that the push to market fast food to children has been “disastrously effective” and has ultimately contributed to the global obesity epidemic.

Banning toys in Happy Meals isn’t entirely unprecedented. In 2010, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to prohibit fats food restaurants from giving out free toys. McDonald’s quickly found a way around the new law, however, by deciding to charge an additional ten cents for the toys so they aren’t technically free. The move angered some public health experts, who said it essentially allowed McDonald’s to “gut this health ordinance” and “continue to seduce children.”

Since then, other states have proposed their own Happy Meal bans — but they’ve been quietly defeated by restaurant groups. In Florida, Arizona, and Nebraska, lobbyists for the $170 billion fast food industry prevented measures similar to San Francisco’s from passing the legislature. “Certainly, there are conversations about strategy,” Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, told the Los Angeles Times in 2011 regarding the push back to toy bans. “It’s something that we’re following very, very closely.”

New York City failed to get enough votes to pass a toy ban back in 2011, and it’s unclear whether Kallos’ new bill has any better chance now. But it might win more support from the public health community than Bloomberg’s proposed soda restriction did; some critics argued that policy was riddled with too many loopholes and would have been more effective as a tax.

The rates of obesity among children have more than doubled over the past 30 years, and medical services stemming from childhood obesity cost the United States an estimated $14 billion each year. Nonetheless, policies hoping to encourage kids to eat more healthy meals have faced an uphill battle; a recent effort to make school lunches healthier has been met with controversy, and House Republicans recently threatened to vote to weaken those new nutrition standards.

The post New York City Considers Banning Toys In Kids’ Fast Food Meals appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Greenland And West Antarctic Ice Sheet Loss More Than Doubled In Last Five Years

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 11:54am

Map of elevation change in Greenland between January 2011 and January 2014. Red indicates area where the ice sheet lost mass in this period, while blue represents ice gains. Map: Helm et al.

A new study finds that both the Greenland ice sheet and West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) have seen an astonishing increase in ice loss in just the past five years.

This first-ever extensive mapping of the two great ice sheets using the CryoSat-2 satellite confirms the findings of several recent studies that “suggest that the globe’s ice sheets will contribute far more to sea level rise than current projections show,” as NASA glaciologist Eric Rignot said recently.

Comparing the current CryoSat-2 data with “those from the ICESat satellite from the year 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since then.” Coauthor and glaciologist Prof. Dr. Angelika Humbert further explained in the news release:

“The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has in the same time span increased by a factor of 3. Combined the two ice sheets are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometres per year. That is the highest speed observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago.”

So we are at record rates of ice loss now. What is particularly stunning is that a major international study found in 2012 that Greenalnd’s ice loss was up by a factor of five since the mid-90s, while Antartica’s was up 50 percent in the prior decade.

We are seeing ice sheet loss at rates not imagined even a few years ago. Back in May, two studies provided evidence that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has begun an irreversible process of collapse, in part because its key glaciers are grounded below sea level and are melting from underneath.

Also in May, a team of researchers reported that the Greenland ice sheet has a similar warming-driven instability. As a lead author of that study explained, “The glaciers of Greenland are likely to retreat faster and farther inland than anticipated — and for much longer.”

It’s increasingly clear that if we don’t reverse carbon pollution emissions trends ASAP, sea level rise will likely be 4 to 5 feet or more by century’s end. Also, the rate of sea level rise in 2100 could be upwards of 1 inch per year.

We don’t have any idea of how to adapt cities, ports, and infrastructure to such a rate of sea level rise. As the New York Times reported in May, we are risking “enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.”

The whole notion of “glacial” change as a metaphor for change too slow to see is vanish in a world where glaciers are shrinking so fast that you can actually watch them retreat and then disappear (see “Greenland’s Fastest-Moving Glacier Sets New Speed Record Of 150 Feet A Day”).

A growing number of major glaciers are moving faster than America’s climate policy, which, sadly, still isn’t saying that much….

The post Greenland And West Antarctic Ice Sheet Loss More Than Doubled In Last Five Years appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Medicare fraud stories ignore larger issues of reform

Columbia Journalism Review - August 22, 2014 - 11:40am
This has been a summer for Medicare fraud stories. In the past week alone, there were stories from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. The Journal piece explained how Medicare's claims database "reveals that some alleged bad actors have been in the Medicare system for years." The story centered around one Dr. Robert Glazer,...

Forbes: The Average NFL Franchise Is Now Worth $1.4 Billion

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 11:36am

CREDIT: AP

The Dallas Cowboys in 2013 became the first American professional sports franchise to hit the $3 billion mark — as in, Jerry Jones’ franchise is now worth an astounding $3.2 billion. That’s enough to make the team that has become somewhat of a perennial disappointment the second-most valuable sports franchise in the world, after only the $3.4-billion Spanish soccer club Real Madrid. The Cowboys brought in a cool $560 million in operating revenues last year, $246 million of which was profit.

The rest of the NFL isn’t quite that valuable, but the other 31 teams aren’t struggling either. According to Forbes’ team valuations released this week, the average NFL franchise is now worth $1.43 billion after a 23-percent increase in 2013, the largest year-over-year jump since 1999. Three other franchises — New England, Washington, and the New York Giants — are worth at least $2.1 billion, and just seven of the league’s 32 teams fall below the $1 billion mark. Even the least valuable franchise, the St. Louis Rams, is worth $930 million and hauled in an estimated $16 million in operating profits in 2013.

Forbes’ numbers are just valuations — sales and financial documents have shown that sometimes the true values and profits are higher — but life is clearly good in the owner’s boxes around the league. The biggest reason for this continued growth is TV, where the NFL is bringing in record revenues and, thanks to new deals, will continue to see those numbers escalate.

The single-year jump only adds to already skyrocketing values. Between 1998 and 2008, NFL franchises increased in value by 360 percent, according to University of Chicago economic professors Kevin M. Murphy and Robert H. Topel. TV isn’t the only reason that has happened. Another factor, one that Forbes also noted and that should cause these rising values to draw more public attention, is the value of the NFL stadiums and the revenues they are generating. The NFL, like other leagues, has seen a boom of new stadium construction in the last decade-plus, and new stadiums have allowed teams to generate more revenue through seat licenses, naming rights, and other factors. Of course, they’re almost always doing it with the help of public money.

Indeed, the Cowboys moved into the $1 billion AT&T Stadium in 2009. It was built with the help of more than $300 million in public funds. Others have done and continue to do the same.

And while Forbes points out that there is “a widening wealth gap in the NFL” in part “due to the piles of cash big market teams generate from modern stadiums,” those in the bottom half ought not worry too much. At least two of them — St. Louis and Oakland — are at the end of lease deals and are asking their home cities or any other for new or renovated stadiums. The Atlanta Falcons, valued at $1.125 billion, will get at least $200 million from the city for their new stadium. The Buffalo Bills, another member of the less-than-a-billion club, are about to be sold and, amid fears that new owners might ship them across the border to Toronto when the current stadium lease ends, will likely get public money for either renovations or a new stadium. The San Diego Chargers will want a new stadium soon. Other teams, like New Orleans and Cincinnati, are benefiting from new lease agreements with their hometowns or are asking cities to hand over naming rights and other revenue generators.

The benefit of publicly financed stadiums and the sweetheart deals that often accompany them is huge for owners in all sports. New stadiums built in this spree of public financing have helped double the value of American sports franchises since the turn of the century, Bloomberg reported last year. In other words, the massive public commitments that rarely have sizable economic returns for taxpayers and their cities have helped generate huge benefits for the men who own these teams. And, in cohort with massive TV revenues, they only appear poised to continue doing so in the near future.

There are other factors for rising growth. The owners certainly aren’t hurt by the friendly collective bargaining agreement that resulted from the lockout they orchestrated prior to the 2011 season. At the time, owners were seeking a huge cut to the share of the league’s $9 billion in revenues that went to player salaries, and though they didn’t claim a victory as massive as the NBA owners who followed in their footsteps just months later, they were able to extract concessions that made owning an NFL team even more lucrative than it already was.

So bookmark these figures. Next time an owner comes calling on a city council or state government for massive subsidies to finance a stadium, remember how much that means to his personal finances. And a few years from now, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires, remember these numbers if owners decide to jeopardize the start of football season with another labor dispute. As a University of Oregon business professor told Deadspin when it obtained Carolina Panthers financial documents last year, “These franchises are a license to print money.” That’s true in part because owners have gotten so good at asking the public and players for more and more of it.

The post Forbes: The Average NFL Franchise Is Now Worth $1.4 Billion appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Eric Hananoki: Campaign Propaganda: Scott Brown Screens Fox Documentary For Voters

Media Matters - August 22, 2014 - 11:07am

Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown loved an anti-Obamacare documentary from his former employer so much that he's now screening it for New Hampshire voters.

Brown's campaign website states that he is hosting "a special screening" of the Fox News documentary Live Free or Die: Obamacare in New Hampshire on August 22 in Dover, New Hampshire. Brown's campaign describes the special as "the documentary that" incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne "Shaheen doesn't want you to see." Brown also promoted the event on his Facebook page and Twitter account.

Fox News has engaged in an all-out effort to elect its former network contributor to the Senate from the Granite State. That has included airing the August 8 Live Free or Die special anchored by Bret Baier. The documentary was tailor-made for Brown's campaign, touting the upcoming election while raising concerns about the Affordable Care Act.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party criticized the "faux documentary" as "a blatant attempt to prop up their former employee's campaign, full of half-truths and misleading rhetoric." Even one of Brown's Republican primary opponents, former Sen. Bob Smith, has criticized Fox's pro-Scott Brown coverage as "shoddy" and "not fair and balanced."

In 2013 and 2014, Brown used his Fox News employment as a launching pad for his long-discussed run for Senate from New Hampshire, with the network's apparent approval. He's said that working for Fox News "really charged me up to" run for office again.

Brown has dismissed criticism that Fox News is helping his campaign. When asked on August 12 on WGIR about a reported fundraising email Shaheen sent criticizing Fox's documentary, Brown replied, "to think somehow that Fox is doing something for me because I was a, you know, part-time contributor, it's laughable ... she wants to talk about and run a fundraising ad off of a commercial or a show of some sort that basically is right on everything. How about she comes and does an ad and talks about why she voted for this." 

Fox paid Brown $108,000 as a "part-time contributor" in 2013.

The Brown campaign did not return a request for comment as of posting.

Congressman Suggests Obama ‘Signaled’ To Terrorists That It Was Okay To Capture Foley

ThinkProgress - August 22, 2014 - 11:04am

CREDIT: Screenshot

On Friday, a Republican congressman implied that the Obama administration’s decision to swap five Taliban officials for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl without notifying Congress in May emboldened terrorist organizations and may have contributed to the beheading of journalist James Foley.

Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) comments, delivered on Fox News, come a day after the Government Accountability Office concluded that Obama violated the law when he failed to give Congress 30 days notice that he had secured Bergdahl’s release in exchange for the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

“[T]o somehow signal to terrorists that all they have to do to bring America to its knees is to kidnap one of our own, and hold them for ransom, it is a signal to the whole jihadist world, to go out and do it again and it is extremely dangerous,” Franks said, responding to the report. He added, “I don’t want to say anything politically to exacerbate the tragedy with the James Foley but I’m afraid James Foley is an example of that in his family and friends are feeling the tragedy more than anybody else could possibly imagine.” Foley, who had gone missing more than a year before Bergdahl was released, was beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) earlier this week.

The Pentagon defended the transfer on Thursday, insisting the prisoner swap to recover Bergdahl was conducted lawfully after consultations with the Justice Department.

“The administration had a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger for almost five years,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. The Defense Department insists that the prisoner exchange was authorized under a section of the law that “allows transfers of Guantanamo prisoners if actions are being taken to reduce the risk that they will re-engage in hostile activity.” Under the terms of the agreement, the Taliban prisoners will remain in to Qatari custody for at least a year.

ISIS had demanded $100 million for Foley’s release but the United States refused, citing a longstanding policy of not negotiation with terrorists. This policy is what makes Frank’s comments all the more confused, as the Berghdal swap was the transfer of military prisoners, while Foley was a civilian hostage kidnapped while reporting in Syria. Earlier this week, the administration disclosed that it had launched a secret mission to attempt to rescue Foley and other American hostages, but they had been moved to another location.

Since August 8, the military has carried out at least 90 airstrikes against the organization and may soon expand its operations. During a press conference on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey characterized the ISIS threat as greater than anything America has faced in the past and admitted that the nation must do more to contain it. “We’re looking at all options,” Hagel said. Earlier this week, President Obama vowed that the United States “will continue to do what we must do to protect our people.” “We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” he said.

But Franks rejected this policy on Friday. “I’m afraid we sent the message to the terrorists, again, that this president will vacillate and not do what is necessary in times of crisis,” he said. “It just brings a smell of fear to their nostrils and they are, are supercharged in this terrorist mindset and it is something that we have to get ahold of as a people.”

The post Congressman Suggests Obama ‘Signaled’ To Terrorists That It Was Okay To Capture Foley appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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