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Four Bad Things We Learned About The Epic California Drought This Week

ThinkProgress - April 19, 2014 - 1:54pm

Those concerned about California’s record-breaking drought received four pieces of bad news this week.

First, the state’s drought conditions did not improve at all. For another week, an unprecedented 23.5 percent of California is experiencing the worst drought category -– exceptional drought. And nearly 69 percent of the state is still either under extreme or exceptional drought. And a remarkable 95 percent of the state is still suffering from severe drought or worse.

Second, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported a stunning loss of snowpack due to extreme warmth:

Another dry week over much of the western United States … and in California, temperatures were 9-12 degrees above normal. This was detrimental to the low snowpack as some areas of California lost half of the snow water equivalence (SWE) in a single week….

Third, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center predicted that the drought in California — and indeed in much of the Southwest — will either persist or worsen in the next three months:

Fourth, as Climate Progress reported Tuesday, a major new study found “a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge [of high pressure] during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.” If this result stands up, it suggests future California droughts will keep getting longer and stronger if we don’t reverse carbon pollution emissions trends ASAP.

The only bright spot in recent news is that we still appear headed towards an El Niño, which “may suggest wet conditions in California later this year.” Of course, an El Niño typically means dangerously extreme weather in other parts of the world — especially if it turns out to be a super El Niño as some forecast. Thanks to our greed and myopia, our children and future generations face an ever worsening plague of extreme weather events.

The post Four Bad Things We Learned About The Epic California Drought This Week appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Coal Company Cuts Off Ex-Miners From Their Health Benefits

ThinkProgress - April 19, 2014 - 1:50pm

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

More than one-thousand ex-coal miners are losing their promised health benefits in eight months. Murray Energy redirected the blame in its announcement this week to the Obama administration, insisting that the largest independent coal company in the U.S. is the real victim here — of the so-called war on coal.

“Murray Energy’s inability to provide these benefits is, in part, due to the destruction of the coal industry, including our markets, by the Obama Administration and its appointees and supporters, who have eliminated the livelihoods of thousands of coal miners, and their families, by the forced closing of 392 coal-fired electric power plants in America, now and in the immediate future,” Murray said in a statement confirming the cuts. “Due to these action and devastated coal markets, Murray Energy is unable to support these benefits.”

The affected workers are all non-union retirees at five West Virginia mines, which Murray bought out from Consol Energy last year. Unionized coal workers were not affected, but the move impacts anyone belonging to the broad “supervisor” category. “Consol Energy’s hope and expectation was that Murray Energy would honor these obligations beyond the one year period that was negotiated as part of our agreement,” Consol said in a statement reacting to Murray Energy’s decision. “While we respect the fact that Murray Energy is a different company with different priorities, this is an unfortunate and disappointing decision.”

Ex-miners are in bad shape to lose health insurance (Murray claimed 80 percent of the lost benefits can be made up by Medicare). Black lung disease has been on the rise for years while the Obama administration kicked around a long-delayed rule to monitor dust exposure. At the same time, the industry systematically fights coal miner claims for disability benefits with lawyers and well-paid physicians, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. In the past, Murray’s mines have been the target of federal investigations for having excessive coal dust.

At Murray Energy, miners historically have the bad luck of serving as a political tool, too. When Bob Murray’s candidate of choice lost the 2012 presidential election, the company immediately fired hundreds of employees, because the coal industry had, in Murray’s words, entered “survival mode.” Months later, they quietly rehired a number of workers. Murray also allegedly coerced miners to attend a pro-Romney rally without pay and donate to Republican candidates. Most recently, the company launched a lawsuit against the EPA for its coal-fired power plant regulations under the Clean Air Act.

CEO Robert Murray has warned of dire consequences from the “War on Coal” for years. These warnings usually have little relation to the actual level of employment or the full economic picture contributing to coal’s decline. Experts agree low natural gas prices and a sluggish economy contribute the most to coal’s shrinking market share, not government regulations.

The post Coal Company Cuts Off Ex-Miners From Their Health Benefits appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Justice Scalia Tells Law Students ‘Perhaps You Should Revolt’ If Taxes Become Too High

ThinkProgress - April 19, 2014 - 1:16pm


During an event at the University of Tennessee’s law school on Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia suggested to the capacity crowd that perhaps they should revolt against the U.S government if their taxes ever get too high.

During a question and answer part of the event, a student asked Scalia about the constitutionality of a federal income tax. Scalia assured the questioner that the tax was in fact permissible by the constitution, but added that if it ever became too high, “perhaps you should revolt.”

The remark, first reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel, has become a common rhetorical flourish for conservatives nationwide during the Obama presidency.

A state Tea Party chairman in Mississippi called for armed rebellion ahead of Obama’s reelection in 2012, and a Texas Judge told a local news station that he was prepared to join a “civil war” if Obama agreed to sign away U.S sovereignty to the United Nations. Michele Bachmann found herself in hot water in 2009, shortly after Obama took office, for calling upon a violent uprising against Obama, and faced accusations of using treasonous language.

Supreme Court justices have largely refrained from such rhetoric. Still, in recent years, Scalia has shifted even further to the right than when he was first appointed.

Days later, at a joint appearance with fellow Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Scalia offered a bit of ironic commentary on inflammatory rhetoric. “It sometimes annoys me when somebody has made outrageous statements that are hateful,” he told the audience at the National Press Club. “Sometimes the press will say, ‘well, he was just exercising his first amendment rights’…You can be using your first amendment rights and it can be abominable that you are using your first amendment rights. I’ll defend your right to use it, but I will not defend the appropriateness of the manner in which you are using it.”

The post Justice Scalia Tells Law Students ‘Perhaps You Should Revolt’ If Taxes Become Too High appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Baltimore Will Stop Automatically Detaining Immigrants, Maryland Governor Says

ThinkProgress - April 19, 2014 - 11:52am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The Baltimore City Detention Center will start scrutinizing federal orders to hold immigrants for deportation instead of automatically granting these requests, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced Friday. The policy change adds Baltimore to the growing number of cities in the U.S. resisting federal immigration policy.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents often ask local jails to hold immigrants for deportation. Baltimore will now only grant these requests if the immigrant has been charged with or convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor. “We will focus our efforts on complying with ICE detainers when there is an actual threat to the public’s safety,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley’s move comes on the heels of a Baltimore Sun investigation that found more than 40 percent of Maryland’s deportees had no criminal record at all, one of the highest percentages of any state in the nation.

The federal program Secure Communities was intended to catch and deport dangerous criminals by coordinating with local jails. In reality, the vast majority of “convicted criminals” deported through Secure Communities were guilty only of traffic violations or civil immigration offenses, such as crossing the border illegally or overstaying a visa. Just 12 percent of deportees in 2013 were convicted of serious crimes like murder, sexual assault, or drug trafficking.

While deporting mainly harmless immigrants, Secure Communities has also seriously damaged immigrant neighborhoods’ relationships with law enforcement. Immigrants are afraid to report crimes or come forward as witnesses for fear of being deported or getting a family member deported.

Because of this, California and Connecticut have passed laws to prohibit police officers from honoring ICE hold requests except in cases of serious crimes. Several cities, including Chicago, Santa Clara, and New York City, have adopted policies to defy ICE. Most recently, Philadelphia’s mayor signed an executive order to forbid police cooperation with ICE unless the federal government gets a warrant, making it one of the most progressive cities for immigrants.

As immigration reform continues to languish in the House, President Obama is coming under pressure from activists and members of his own party to end deportations nationwide for those who would be eligible for citizenship under the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform plan. In the meantime, states and municipalities all over the country are starting to take action to protect their immigrants from restrictive federal policies.

The post Baltimore Will Stop Automatically Detaining Immigrants, Maryland Governor Says appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Housekeeping Notes

Mother Jones - April 19, 2014 - 10:50am

These are real housekeeping notes. That is, notes about stuff around my house. First topic: LED light bulbs.

I've purchased several LED floods that are can-mounted in my ceiling. They're great. The quality of the light is good; they turn on instantly; they don't flicker; and they use hardly any electricity. There's only one problem: they seem to last less than a year. The LEDs themselves last for decades, of course, but the circuitry that drives the bulb doesn't. As near as I can tell, there's eventually enough heat buildup in the can to burn out the chip that controls the whole thing, and when the chip burns out, no more bulb.

I'm just guessing here, but this has now happened three times out of five bulbs I've purchased, and in all three cases the case of the bulb was hot to the touch when I unscrewed it from the base. So here's my question: Does anyone know for sure what's going on here? Is my guess that a chip is burning out probably correct? Am I just buying cheap bulbs? Can anyone recommend a can-mounted flood that's reliable and will actually last for the 25 years that manufacturers so cheerfully promise?

Second: a cell phone update. In last weekend's thread, the Google Nexus 5 got a lot of love, but so did the Motorola Moto X. I had actually made up my mind on the Nexus 5, but the T-Mobile store only sold it in a 16GB version, so I decided to go home and buy one online. But then I started dithering because of all the nice things people had said about the Moto X. Eventually, after far more dithering than makes sense for someone who doesn't use a cell phone much, I decided the slightly smaller Moto X was the better choice. So: thanks, folks! I don't think this would have come across my radar otherwise.

Half of New York City Teens Behind Bars Have A Brain Injury, Study Finds

ThinkProgress - April 19, 2014 - 10:13am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

About half of teens between the ages of 16 and 18 suffered a traumatic brain injury before being locked up in a New York City jail, a new study finds.

Traumatic brain injuries can cause mood and behavior changes that vary depending on the nature of the injury, but often include impulsiveness, emotional volatility, and slowed brain processing speeds. These factors not only contribute the likelihood of individuals ending up in jail; they also affect the proper treatment while there and their likelihood of returning once released.

“Two of the most common features of TBI, emotional dysregulation [mood volatility] and processing speed, may be linked to criminal justice involvement as well as problems while in jail,” according to the study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Ohio State University professor John D. Corrigan, a national expert on head injuries, told the Associated Press that inmates with head injuries are more likely to break jailhouse rules, engage in substance abuse, and have difficulty re-entering society after release.

Individuals 16 and older are treated as adults in New York City’s criminal system, meaning the teens in this study were serving time at the adult jail, where their ongoing development, vulnerability, and particular potential for rehabilitation are not accounted for. In jail, many of these teens have been charged but not yet convicted or sentenced for a crime.

Past studies have suggested that about 60 percent of adults in prison have had a traumatic brain injury — more than seven times that of the general population by some estimates.

This study aimed to assess those rates among juveniles. Behavioral changes are particularly common among those who experience a TBI at a younger age, according to previous studies of boxers. Screening of some 300 male teens and 84 female teens entering New York City jails in 2012 found that 50 percent of males and 49 percent of males reported at least one severe head injury that led to an altered mental state — either loss of consciousness or and/or post-traumatic amnesia. It does not assess symptoms resulting from the injuries.

Researchers also found that more than a quarter of the inmate participants were placed in solitary confinement while in jail and that individuals were more likely to incur new injuries while in confinement, raising the “concern that these environmental and personal variables may interact to heighten risk new TBI while in jail.”

The findings also relate to increased evidence that prisons are becoming de facto asylums for the mentally ill. Those with TBIs have increased rates of psychiatric illness, and would benefit from treatment that addresses the root cause of behavior.

Head injuries can be incurred in any of a number of ways, but are often associated with sports and military combat. An analysis by medical experts at the National Academy of Sciences found that high school athletes are even more likely to suffer concussions than those at the collegiate level. But in this study, the greatest number of injuries were caused by assaults.

Several researchers for the study work for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and intend as a result of this research to educate adolescents and jail staff about head injuries.

The post Half of New York City Teens Behind Bars Have A Brain Injury, Study Finds appeared first on ThinkProgress.

The US Government Really Isn't Worried About "Transcendence" Happening in Real Life

Mother Jones - April 18, 2014 - 5:34pm

This post contains spoilers, but the movie is bad so I don't think you'll care.

Transcendence is an awful movie—two hours of squandered potential. (You can read my colleague Ben Dreyfuss' review here.) The film stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, and Kate Mara. It was executive-produced by Christopher Nolan, and marks the directorial debut of cinematographer Wally Pfister (the guy who made Christopher Nolan movies look like Christopher Nolan movies). The plot goes something like this: Depp plays a renowned artificial-intelligence researcher named Will Caster. He gets assassinated by a terrorist group that fears super-intelligent, sentient machines will one day rule the world. Will's wife Evelyn (played by Hall) has the bright idea to upload his consciousness to a big computer thing, hoping he'll live on in cyberspace or something. It works, and this achieves technological singularity (when A.I. becomes greater than the human mind), which Will calls "transcendence."

Things get really creepy and it starts to look like Johnny Depp The Omniscient Computer really is trying to take over the world. The US government begins to wage a secret war on him/it, and gets into bed with some shady, gun-toting characters in doing so.

Anyway, that may sound like a cool premise, but the movie is really, very boring—but it did get me and my buddy thinking: What would our government do if this happened in real life? Does the government have a contingency plan if (as some believe is possible) sentient machines began outdoing mankind? What if the machines went to war against us? What would Barack Obama do???

Okay, this is stupid. But if America once drew up legit plans to invade Canada, maybe there's a chance we have a plan for this. I called up the Department of Defense, and was transferred to spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart. I asked him these questions, and if anyone working in cyber warfare had anything to say about this. His response:

I'm gonna be frank with you. There is nobody here who is going to talk about that...There are currently no plans for this. It's just a completely unrealistic scenario. We have a lot of people working on this team on serious stuff, but this just isn't a real threat.

"Well," he concluded, "at least not for now."

For now.

Obama's America.

Here's the trailer for the Johnny Depp movie:

Review: "Transcendence" (2014)

Mother Jones - April 18, 2014 - 4:29pm


Released by: Warner Brothers Pictures

Starring: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall

Directed by: Wally Pfister

Screenplay by: Jack Paglen

Release Date: April 18, 2014

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 119 minutes

Review: Wow awful.


Beloved Author Gabriel García Márquez Was Also a Go-Between for Colombian Guerrillas and the Government

Mother Jones - April 18, 2014 - 3:41pm

Gabriel García Márquez passed away on Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87. The Nobel Prize-winning Colombian novelist was celebrated for such works as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. "The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers—one of my favorites from the time I was young," President Obama said on Thursday.

When a literary figure as towering as García Márquez dies, there are too many fascinating things to write about—his writing, his political history, his wild ride of a life. (Hell, I could see myself writing an entire term paper on his friendly relationship with Colombian pop star Shakira!) I'm not going to attempt anything close to a definitive obituary of a man who gave the world so much through his art. I'll leave that to others.

But I'd like to highlight one politically significant part of Gabo's life: García Márquez wasn't just an acclaimed writer and passionate supporter of left-wing causes—for a time, he was an intermediary between Colombian leftist guerrillas and the government.

Here's an excerpt from a 1999 New Yorker profile written by Jon Lee Anderson:

García Márquez who has often referred to himself as "the last optimist in Colombia," has been closely involved in the peace negotiations. He introduced [Colombian president Andrés] Pastrana to his old friend Fidel Castro, who could facilitate talks with the guerrillas, and he helped restore good relations between Washington and Bogotá. "I won't say that it was Gabo who brought all this about," Bill Richardson, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, said early this summer, "but he was a catalyst." García Márquez was invited by the Clintons to the White House several times, and friends say he believed that he was going to not only carry off the immediate goal of getting some sort of negotiated settlement between the guerrillas and the government but also finally help bring about an improvement in relations between the United States and Cuba. "The U.S. needs Cuba's involvement in the Colombian peace talks, because the Cuban government has the best contacts with the guerrillas," he explained to me. "And Cuba is perfectly situated, only two hours away, so Pastrana can go there overnight and have meetings and come back without anyone knowing anything about it. And the U.S. wants this to happen." Then he smiled in a way that indicated he knew much more than he was telling me, as usual.

The whole profile, which you can check out here, is definitely worth a read.

I now leave you with this footage of García Márquez visiting Shakira and dancing:


This Climate Scientist Just Won Another Victory in Court

Mother Jones - April 18, 2014 - 3:15pm

Michael Mann, the perennially embattled climate scientist best known for his "hockey-stick" temperature graph, came out victorious yesterday in a court battle against a Virginia legislator and a conservative think tank that had sought to obtain thousands of Mann's emails and research documents from his time as a University of Virginia professor.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that unpublished scientific research can be exempted from the state's Freedom of Information Act requirements, because disclosing such information would cut into the university's competitive advantage over other universities. As a result, some 12,000 of Mann's emails and papers won't be released to the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (formerly known as the American Tradition Institute) and Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall (R-Prince William), who had requested the documents in 2011.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Mann called the decision "a victory for science, public university faculty, and academic freedom."

Back in 2012, a lower Virginia court ruled that the documents in question were considered "proprietary," and thus shielded from FOIA requests. ATI appealed the decision, and the case landed with the state's Supreme Court last October. The main question was whether research-related documents should get the same kind of protection as trade secrets and other information that could cause financial harm if released. ATI argued that Mann's emails didn't merit such protection, while Mann and U-Va. maintained that scientists should be able to hammer out their work behind closed doors before presenting a finished product to the public.   

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court late last year, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued that in protecting Mann's research, the lower court had actually set the scope too wide, leaving open the possibility that a university could claim virtually any document to be proprietary. But yesterday's Supreme Court ruling revised the exemption criteria so that non-research-related documents—things like budgets and communications between administrators—could still be accessed with a FOIA, said Emily Grannis, the Reporters Committee staffer who authored the brief.

Of course, Grannis said, the ruling is only binding in the state of Virginia, but it could serve as a model for how other states set limits for what qualifies as proprietary if similar cases arise elsewhere.

Continue Reading »

Must-reads of the week

Columbia Journalism Review - April 18, 2014 - 2:50pm
Culled from CJR’s 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: How burrowing owls lead to vomiting anarchists -- Or SF's housing crisis explained The slaughter bench of history -- How war has made the world safer...

Court-Ordered Deportations Plunge, But This Mother Is Still Caught In The Deportation Dragnet

ThinkProgress - April 18, 2014 - 2:36pm

Undocumented immigrants rally outside the White House to ask the President to stop deportations.

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee

Court-ordered deportations decreased by 43 percent between the 2009 and 2013 fiscal years, according to new Department of Justice data released Wednesday. That statistic, which includes the last four months of the former President George W. Bush’s presidency, may help to bolster the Obama administration’s argument that federal immigration officials are now focusing on detaining and deporting criminal immigrants, but other immigrants are still caught in deportation proceedings.

The data found that in the 2013 fiscal year, immigration judges ordered deportations for 105,064 cases, down 56 percent from 185,426 cases ordered in 2009. Fewer immigrants wound up in immigration court in 2013 (187,678 cases) compared to in 2009 (254,537). And the sharpest drop in court-ordered deportations came in 2011, after then-Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton issued a memo directing federal immigration agents to focus on detaining criminal immigrants rather than immigrants without criminal records.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard confirmed to the New York Times on Thursday, that “the exercise of prosecutorial discretion had led enforcement agents and visa officials to file fewer deportation charges.”

Court-ordered deportations comprised about one-third of the 368,644 removals carried out in 2013. Border deportations accounted for the other two-thirds. As Dara Lind at Vox.com explained, “border” deportations can include immigrants living within 100 miles of the actual border, regardless of length of residency. Lind wrote that while those immigrants caught at the border are theoretically provided an immigration hearing, the Obama administration had increasingly deported people in the “border zone” through a process known as “expedited removal.” It is unclear from the DOJ data how many court-ordered deportations were a result of these border apprehensions. Although the DOJ report shows that President Obama has slowed down the court-ordered deportation rate, he is on track to deporting more immigrants overall than any other president.

The DOJ data doesn’t go into specific charges, but the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) found that since 2008, the most serious charge for nearly half all deportees was for an immigration or traffic violation.

According to the New York Times, “the share of cases in which judges decided against deportation and for allowing foreigners to remain in the United States has consistently increased, to about one-third last year from about one-fifth in 2009.”

An increase in court victories can partially be attributed to better access to legal representation to fight deportations: New York launched a pilot legal representation program to provide public defenders for immigrant detainees and a 2013 federal ruling required ICE to provide legal representation to immigrants with mental disabilities. One study found that 97 percent of immigrant detainees without legal representation lost their case, while 74 percent of those with legal representation had successful outcomes.

Despite the drop in court-ordered deportations, undocumented immigrants who would otherwise qualify for discretion, like those having strong familial ties, are still getting caught in the deportation dragnet. Maria Esmeralda Cornejo, an undocumented parent of three U.S. citizen children under the age of ten, may become another deportation statistic by the end of April if an immigration judge decides that she should go back to Mexico.

Border officials first apprehended and deported Cornejo in 2000 when she was caught coming into the United States without papers. She reentered the country later that year and had been living and working in Ohio until 2013 when police pulled her over for speeding. After running a background check, police found her illegal entry charge and handed her case to ICE, who put her in deportation proceedings. By federal immigration standards, the illegal entry charge qualified as a felony, so Cornejo has become a high-priority deportation case. Her lawyer, Julie Namecek, is hoping that immigration officials will exercise prosecutorial discretion and has requested a stay of removal.

Cornejo told ThinkProgress on Thursday that she was afraid of going back to Mexico not only because she would have to uproot her children. “The little one cries a lot,” Cornejo said. “She doesn’t want to go to Mexico because someone can kill her.”

“She’s a very involved parent,” Namecek added. “Her daughters were getting bullied and she actively sought out a bilingual school in Columbus. Her daughters aren’t just good students. They’re the role models for the school. Every time a new student comes in, they’re the ambassadors.”

“Sometimes in my class, I look up news and they say lots of bad things about Mexico,” Carnejo’s nine-year-old daughter, Jocelyn said. “I have my friends and my school here. I speak a little Spanish, but writing and reading is hard for me.”

The post Court-Ordered Deportations Plunge, But This Mother Is Still Caught In The Deportation Dragnet appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Newly Released Clinton Doc: White House Aide Blasts Bill Clinton and Al Gore for "F***ing Stupid" Move

Mother Jones - April 18, 2014 - 1:58pm

Among the trove of Clinton-era documents released Friday afternoon by the former president's library is an email from an angry White House aide who blasts President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for not attending the funeral of Oklahoma Democrat Carl Albert. Known as the "Little Giant from Little Dixie," Albert, who stood five feet four-and-a-half inches tall, served as speaker of the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1976.

Albert died on February 4, 2000, and many Democratic politicians attended his funeral five days later. But Clinton and Gore skipped the event. In an email, Tim Emrich, who worked on the White House's scheduling team, said "it's fucking stupid" that Clinton and Gore didn't attend. Emrich elaborated: "It's stupid that neither BC nor AG is attending this funeral. ESPECIALLY AG, it's such an easy home run in the largest democratic part of the state."

Here's the email:

HIV-Positive Basketball Player Kicked Out Of City Rec League

ThinkProgress - April 18, 2014 - 1:51pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

More than 20 years after Magic Johnson returned to the NBA following his HIV-positive diagnosis, a player in a Kissimmee, Florida recreational basketball league was pulled off the court and temporarily banished from the league because he is HIV-positive.

The Orlando Sentinel told the story of 21-year-old Dakota Basinger, who was playing in a recreational basketball game as part of the Kissimmee Parks and Recreation league on Sunday, was taken from the court into a private room and told by a city employee that he wouldn’t be allowed to play anymore. “I feel humiliated and discriminated against,” Basinger told the Sentinel. “I felt horrible walking out of that gym.”

Thursday, the city of Kissimmee announced that the employee, Dale Boston, has resigned from his position with the Parks and Recreation Department, and that he had “acted independently and without supervisor approval.” Basinger will be allowed to return to the league, but he told the Sentinel he was unsure if he would:

Basinger is welcome to continue playing with the league, she said. But Basinger isn’t sure whether he will. “I’m going to have to think about that,” he said.

Upon learning of Boston’s resignation, Basinger said, “I’m pretty upset. I feel like it wasn’t his fault.” He said Boston told him the city had asked him to remove Basinger from the game and from all future games.

When Johnson, who announced he was HIV positive on November 7, 1991 and promptly retired from basketball, returned to the sport for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, there were fears that he would spread the disease to other players. Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, Johnson’s teammate on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, responded to rumors that Johnson was returning to the NBA with concern. “Look at this, scabs and cuts all over me,” Malone said after a game in 1992. “I get these every night, every game. They can’t tell you that you’re not at risk, and you can’t tell me there’s one guy in the N.B.A. who hasn’t thought about it.”

Those fears were misplaced then, though perhaps Malone had an excuse then because the public was still largely uneducated about the disease (Malone apologized to Johnson a year later). But such concerns are even more misplaced today. The Centers for Disease Control says that HIV cannot be spread by casual contact, saliva, or sweat, and it is “extremely rare” for it to spread through blood contact with open woods or skin. To mitigate what little risk exists, sports leagues and organizations have implemented policies for dealing with players who are bleeding, both when they are HIV-positive and not. In 1994, when the NFL implemented its HIV policy, it noted that the CDC had “not attributed one AIDS case to athletic competition.” A 2004 study of HIV and hepatitis B and C found similarly that “there are no confirmed reports of HIV transmission during sport.”

The responsibility of limiting whatever small risk exists should be on parks and rec departments to have first aid policies to prevent the spread of HIV or any other transmittable disease. But there is no more reason to keep an HIV-positive player off the court today than there was to keep Magic out of the NBA 20 years ago.

The post HIV-Positive Basketball Player Kicked Out Of City Rec League appeared first on ThinkProgress.

READ: The Clinton Administration's Internal Memo on the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy"

Mother Jones - April 18, 2014 - 1:43pm

In a 1995 internal memo, President Bill Clinton's White House Counsel's Office offered an in-depth analysis of the right-wing media mill that Hillary Clinton had dubbed the "vast right-wing conspiracy." Portions of the report, which was reported on by the Wall Street Journal and other outlets at the time, were included in a new trove of documents released to the public by the Clinton presidential library on Friday.

The report traced the evolution of various Clinton scandals, such as Whitewater and the Gennifer Flowers affair allegations, from their origins at conservative think tanks or in British tabloids, until the point in which they entered the mainstream news ecosystem. Making matters even more complicated was new technology, the report explained: "[E]vidence exists that Republican staffers surf the internet, interacting with extremists in order to exchange the ideas and information." The administration even had a name for the process: "The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce."

Per the document:

The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce refers to the mode of communication employed by the right wing to convey their fringe stories into legitimate subjects of coverage by the mainstream media. This is how the stream works. Well funded right wing think tanks and individuals underwrite conservative newsletters and newspapers such as the Western Journalism Center, the American Spectator and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Next, the stories are re-printed on the internet where they are bounced all over the world. From the internet, the stories are bounced into the mainstream media through one of two ways: 1) The story will be picked up by the British tabloids and covered as a major story, from which the American right-of-center mainstream media (i.e. the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and New York Post) will then pick the story up; or 2) The story will be bounced directly from the internet to the right-of-center mainstream American media. After the mainstream right-of-center media covers the story, Congressional committees will look into the story. After Congress looks into the story, the story now has the legitimacy to be covered by the remainder of the American mainstream press as a "real" story.

Chief among the White House's frustrations was conservative reaction to the death of Vince Foster, the president's former chief of staff. Right-wing outlets alleged that the Clintons had murdered Foster (or hired someone to do it) and covered it up as a suicide. According to the report:

The controversy surrounding the death of Vince Foster has been, in large part, the product of a well-financed right-wing conspiracy industry operation. The "Wizard of Oz" figure orchestrating the machinations of the conspiracy industry is a little-known recluse, Richard Mellon Scaife. Scaife uses his $800 million dollar inherited Mellon fortune to underwrite the Foster conspiracy industry. Scaife promotes the industry through his ownership of a small Pittsburgh newspaper, the Tribune-Review. Scaife's paper, under the direction of reporter Chris Ruddy, continually publishes stories regarding Foster's death. The stories are then reprinted in major newspapers all over the country in the form of paid advertisements. The Western Journalism Center (WJC), a non-profit conservative think tank, places the ads in these newspapers. The WJC receives much of its financial backing from Scaife.

(Ruddy went on to found Newsmax, a conservative media outlet now promoting the theory that Chelsea Clinton decided to have a baby in order to help her mother's 2016 presidential bid.)

Read the document in all of its glory:

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State Department To Delay Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Until After November

ThinkProgress - April 18, 2014 - 1:33pm

President Barack Obama arriving at the TransCanada Stillwater Pipe Yard in Cushing, Okla.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez

The State Department will “extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the Nov. 4 midterm elections,” Reuters reported on Friday afternoon. The organization credited the information to a 1:30 call with Congressional staff.

The decision of whether or not to approve the northern leg of TransCanada’s pipeline, connecting the tar sands of Alberta to oil refineries and export facilities in Texas, will enter its sixth year in September.

State made the decision to give more time for 8 federal agencies to weigh in on the project. This would move the end of the review process, originally scheduled to end in May, to a date “likely” after the 2014 midterm elections, according to the Wall Street Journal. State Department officials cited a February district court decision that struck down a Nebraska law that aimed to put decisionmaking power over the pipeline in the hands of the governor.

Lancaster County District Court Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled that the law, which allowed pipeline companies to choose to submit their plans to either the governor’s Department of Environmental Quality or the more rigorous Public Service Commission, was unconstitutional.

Bold Nebraska director Jane Kleeb told ClimateProgress that the Nebraska Supreme Court will likely not issue a decision on the case until about January 2015. She also noted that South Dakota’s permit granted for the pipeline would expire on June 20, 2014 — meaning that TransCanada would have to reapply for a state permit after that date.

“The State Department is following Pres. Obama’s lead who has said all along he wants to follow the process,” Kleeb said in a statement. “The basic fact that Nebraska has no legal route is reason to delay any decision until our state can analyze a route using process that follows our state constitution.”

“Nebraska landowners will not give up their property rights with bad contract terms and unknown chemicals risking our water. This delay is yet more proof this project is not permit-able and not in our national interest.”


This post has been updated to reflect information from the call with State Department officials.

The post State Department To Delay Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Until After November appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Thomas Piketty Undermines the Hallowed Tenets of the Capitalist Catechism

The Nation - April 18, 2014 - 1:28pm
Jeff Faux

Not only does capitalist growth not reduce inequality; it increases it.

Lawsuit: Texas Hospital Caved to Anti-Abortion Activists' Demands

Mother Jones - April 18, 2014 - 1:23pm

Two abortion providers sued a Dallas hospital on Thursday, after the hospital revoked their admitting privileges. Because Texas law now requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, the revocation would mean that these doctors could no longer legally perform abortions. In a letter to the doctors, Chuck Schuetz, CEO of University General Hospital–Dallas, said they were disrupting the hospital's "business and the reputation" by providing abortions at their own facilities miles away. The lawsuit filed by the doctors, Lamar Robinson and Jasbir Ahluwalia, contends that the hospital discriminated against them because they perform abortions.

Last month, anti-abortion rights activists announced plans to hold a demonstration outside the hospital to protest its association with Robinson. But on March 31, the day before the protest was to take place, Schuetz canceled the doctors' admitting privileges. "Your practice of voluntary interruption of pregnancies...creates significant exposure and damages to UGHD's reputation within the community," Schuetz wrote to Robinson and and Ahluwalia. In the letter, Schuetz characterized providing abortions as "disruptive behavior." He claimed that the hospital was not equipped to treat complications related to abortion and that the doctors were increasing "the probability of malpractice." Robinson and Ahluwalia allege that Schuetz yielded to pressure from anti-abortion rights activists, promising them the hospital would be "pro-life" and not associate with abortion doctors.

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Bill Moyers presents "United States of ALEC," a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.