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Why American Apples Just Got Banned in Europe

Mother Jones - April 23, 2014 - 11:01pm

Back in 2008, European Food Safety Authority began pressing the chemical industry to provide safety information on a substance called diphenylamine, or DPA. Widely applied to apples after harvest, DPA prevents "storage scald"—brown spots that "becomes a concern when fruit is stored for several months," according to Washington State University, reporting from the heartland of industrial-scale apple production.

Read about 7 more dodgy food practices that are banned in Europe—but just fine in the United States.

DPA isn't believed to be harmful on its own. But it has the potential to break down into a family of carcinogens called nitrosamines—not something you want to find on your daily apple. And that's why European food-safety regulators wanted more information on it. The industry came back with just "one study that detected three unknown chemicals on DPA-treated apples, but it could not determine if any of these chemicals, apparently formed when the DPA broke down, were nitrosamines," Environmental Working Group shows in an important new report. (The EFSA was concerned that DPA could decay into nitrosamines under contact with nitrogen, a ubiquitous element, EWG notes.) Unsatisfied with the response, the EFSA banned use of DPA on apples in 2012. And in March, the agency the slashed the tolerable level of DPA on imported apples to 0.1 parts per million, EWG reports.

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Not Everyone Needs to Learn Programming, But Every School Should Offer It

Mother Jones - April 23, 2014 - 8:27pm

From the Washington Post:

In a world that went digital long ago, computer science is not a staple of U.S. education, and some schools do not even offer the course, including 10 of 27 high schools in Virginia’s Fairfax County and six of 25 in Maryland’s Montgomery County....Across the Washington region’s school systems, fewer than one in 10 high school students took computer science this academic year, according to district data.

That first stat surprises me. My very average suburban high school offered two programming courses way back in 1975 (FORTRAN for beginners, COBOL for the advanced class). Sure, back in the dark ages that meant filling in coding sheets, which were sent to the district office, transcribed onto punch cards, and then run on the district's mainframe. Turnaround time was about two or three days and then you could start fixing your bugs. Still! It taught us the rudiments of writing code. I'm surprised that 40 years later there's a high school in the entire the country that doesn't offer a programming class of some kind.

The second stat, however, doesn't surprise me. Or alarm me. It's about what I'd expect. Despite some recent hype, computer programming really isn't the kind of class that everyone needs to take. It's an advanced elective. I'd guess than no more than 10 percent of all students take physics, or advanced algebra, or art class for that matter. Ten percent doesn't strike me as a horrible number.

Darren Aronofsky: We Nearly Abandoned "Noah" Because of Concerns About Diversity

Mother Jones - April 23, 2014 - 6:55pm

The release of Darren Aronofsky's film epic Noah last month left many pop-culture writers wondering: Why was the cast—the film's representation of humanity before the great flood—so white? Ari Handel, who cowrote Noah with Aronofsky, drew critical responses a few weeks ago when he answered that very question, saying that "as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn't matter" and that the film's characters were "supposed to be stand-ins for all people." PBS host Tavis Smiley called Handel's comments "one of the most demeaning and dehumanizing portrayals of nonwhite humanity."

Speaking Wednesday at an event sponsored by Climate Desk, the Center for American Progress, and the Sierra Club, Handel took a second crack at addressing the criticisms about the film's lack of diversity, and he attempted to clarify his earlier comments.

Handel said that he and Aronofsky thought about the issue of diversity in the film before they even started writing it, and "there were times along the way when we almost abandoned the project because we weren't sure how to solve the problem."

"In this story, God, the highest moral authority of all, says very clearly that one family is good and deserves to be saved, and everybody else on the planet is wicked and deserves to die," Handel said. "So those are really high moral stakes. And what was clear to us and essential was that we could not, no matter what, show racial differences between who lived and who died, or we'd be making a terrible, terrible statement." Handel said that because of this, "we looked to make a cast, both on the boat and off the boat, who had as little difference as possible. And I want to be clear that there's no reason that that cast had to be Caucasian. We could have cast any Noah and built the world around him." After Russell Crowe was chosen for the role of Noah, he said, "the rest of the casting followed from there."

"I think Ari said it perfectly," added Aronofsky, who similarly said that "we nearly abandoned the project several times because we knew it would be an issue."

You can watch Aronofsky's and Handel's comments above.

Here's Handel's full answer:

I'd actually like to respond to that because comments that I made, people took offense at, and I felt badly about that, because I felt things that I had said had been interpreted in ways that I didn't intend.

The truth is we thought about the question of diversity, of humans, in the film from the very beginning, even from when we were starting to write it, even before we started writing it. And there were times along the way when we almost abandoned the project because we weren't sure how to solve the problem.

And the problem really comes down to this for us: You know, this is the story, the story of Noah is, in this story, God, the highest moral authority of all, says very clearly that one family is good and deserves to be saved, and everybody else on the planet is wicked and deserves to die. So those are really high moral stakes. And what was clear to us and essential was that we could not, no matter what, show racial differences between who lived and who died, or we'd be making a terrible, terrible statement.

But the problem is there's eight people on the boat, they're in one family, they're almost all from the same blood—you know, related by blood, so there's no way to come even close to showing the full diversity of human beings on this planet amongst the survivors.

So actually what we did is, we went the other way. And we looked to make a cast, both on the boat and off the boat, who had as little difference as possible. And I want to be clear that there's no reason that that cast had to be Caucasian. We could have cast any Noah and built the world around him.

In the end, as you know, we cast Russell Crowe, who is a tremendous actor and was a great fulfillment of Noah. And the rest of the casting followed from there.

And here's what Aronofsky said after Handel spoke:

You get into—I think Ari said it perfectly. It becomes an issue because once again, it's about you know, is it historical, or is it mythical? For us, I think the way we got out of it was saying, there was no solution to it, and as Ari said, we nearly abandoned the project several times because we knew it would be an issue. But it just came down to, we felt that it was just something I was very passionate about since I was a teenager, telling this story. And it was—something good would come out of it.

Image credit: Niko Tavernise/Paramount

How The New Internet Rules Could Undermine Net Neutrality

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 6:10pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will release proposed draft rules on Thursday that will “allow content companies to pay Internet service providers for special access to consumers,” the Wall Street Journal reports, potentially undermining the principle of net neutrality on the Internet.

Under the new rules, broadband providers (ISPs) like Verizon or Comcast would be able to charge companies like Netflix or Amazon separate fees to deliver video or other services in a special faster lane on the “last mile” of broadband “that connects directly to consumers’ homes.” Content companies may then pass on those additional costs to consumers. ISPs would be prohibited from blocking or discriminating against specific websites and would be required to spell out “commercially reasonable” terms that would be available to all interested content providers. The FCC would review each deal on a “case by case basis,” the Journal notes.

The new guidelines — which the New York Times describes as “a complete turnaround” for the commission — come after a federal court decision in January that struck down a rule that required broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic the same regardless of the source.

Net neutrality advocates quickly derided the proposed regulations. “Giving ISPs the green light to implement pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls,” Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “These users will all be pushed onto the Internet dirt road, while deep pocketed Internet companies enjoy the benefits of the newly created fast lanes.” Aaron also suggested that such an arrangement could encourage ISPs to “create congestion through artificial scarcity” in order to encourage more content providers to pay for preferential treatment.

In its January decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit conceded that “broadband providers represent a threat to Internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment.” The Court and a former FCC commissioner suggested that the FCC could reclassify ISPs and maintain full neutrality. Republicans, however, have characterized net neutrality as “federal control of the Internet,” arguing that the government “will restrict our online freedom and leave Americans facing the same horrors that they have experienced with HealthCare.gov.”

Should the five-member FCC approve the draft rules on May 15, the Commission will accept public comments and issue final regulations “by the end of summer.”

The post How The New Internet Rules Could Undermine Net Neutrality appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Net Neutrality Finally Dies at Ripe Old Age of 45

Mother Jones - April 23, 2014 - 5:38pm

Apparently net neutrality is officially dead. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the FCC has given up on finding a legal avenue to enforce equal access and will instead propose rules that explicitly allow broadband suppliers to favor companies that pay them for faster pipes:

The Federal Communications Commission plans to propose new open Internet rules on Thursday that would allow content companies to pay Internet service providers for special access to consumers, according to a person familiar with the proposal.

The proposed rules would prevent the service providers from blocking or discriminating against specific websites, but would allow broadband providers to give some traffic preferential treatment, so long as such arrangements are available on "commercially reasonable" terms for all interested content companies. Whether the terms are commercially reasonable would be decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis.

....The FCC's proposal would allow some forms of discrimination while preventing companies from slowing down or blocking specific websites, which likely won't satisfy all proponents of net neutrality, the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The Commission has also decided for now against reclassifying broadband as a public utility, which would subject ISPs to much greater regulation. However, the Commission has left the reclassification option on the table at present.

So Google and Microsoft and Netflix and other large, well-capitalized incumbents will pay for speedy service. Smaller companies that can't—or that ISPs just aren't interested in dealing with—will get whatever plodding service is left for everyone else. ISPs won't be allowed to deliberately slow down traffic from specific sites, but that's about all that's left of net neutrality. Once you've approved the notion of two-tier service, it hardly matters whether you're speeding up some of the sites or slowing down others.

This might have been inevitable, for both legal and commercial reasons. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.

Here Is "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's Wonderful Defense of Gay Marriage

Mother Jones - April 23, 2014 - 5:37pm

Hello. Good afternoon.

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin's defense of gay marriage is filled with cursing and common sense. All in all, pretty great!

I don't give a shit if two guys, two gals, guy-gal, whatever it is, I believe that any human being in America, or any human being in the goddamn world, that wants to be married, and if it's same-sex, more power to 'em. What also chaps my ass, some of these churches, have the high horse that they get on and say, 'We as a church do not believe in that.' Which one of these motherfuckers talked to God, and God said that same-sex marriage was a no-can-do? Okay, so two cats can't get married if they want to get married, but then a guy can go murder 14 people, molest five kids, then go to fucking prison, and accept God and He's going to let him into heaven? After the fact that he did all that shit? See that's all horseshit to me, that don't jive with me.

Listen:

(via Deadspin)

‘Freedom to Dissent’ Pledge Attempts To Justify Anti-Gay Activism

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 4:05pm

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman is among the “Freedom to Dissent” signatories.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

Since Brendan Eich resigned as CEO of Mozilla because of his donation to the Proposition 8 campaign, many have continued to debate whether public figures should be held accountable for their anti-gay activism. A new effort under the banner of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent,” which seems to be driven by pro-LGBT conservatives, argues that “disagreement should not be punished” because “disagreement is not, itself, harm or hate.”

The public statement compares Eich to Frank Kameny, an early gay rights activist who lost his job because of his sexual orientation, suggesting that those who celebrate Eich’s departure are engaging in the same kind of discrimination. “Like [Kameny],” the statement concludes, “we place our confidence in persuasion, not punishment.”

This “Freedom to Dissent” pledge essentially justifies anti-gay advocacy. Ilya Somin, writing for The Volokh Conspiracy at the Washington Post, ironically illuminates this reality while explaining why he felt he couldn’t sign it:

I felt unable to sign the petition when asked, because there are some parts that might be construed as claiming that it is never appropriate to fire people for their political views. For example, at one point the statement asserts that “the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job.” I think this is true in the vast majority of cases, but not always. For example, few would object if Eich had been fired for donating money to the KKK or a neo-Nazi organization – even if he had otherwise performed his duties well, and had never mistreated any of Mozilla’s black or Jewish employees. Despite some deplorable PC excesses, overall the effort to stigmatize racism and Nazism has produced some beneficial results.

In other words, supporting racism and anti-Semitism would be deplorable, but supporting laws that discriminate against the gay community is forgivable. This double standard not only justifies homophobic thinking, but also placates the narrative put forth by opponents of equality that the LGBT movement consists of bullies.

For example, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly claimed on his show this week that gay rights activists are threatening to “harm,” “hurt,” and “intimidate” marriage equality opponents, though he couldn’t cite a specific example of such tactics. The American Family Association sent a fundraising email this week highlighting “7 common careers Christians may no longer hold in America,” listing photographers, bakers, florists, journalists, counselors, innkeepers, and teachers as examples of professionals that the LGBT movement attempts to “ostracize and humiliate” for running their businesses “according to the dictates of their faith and conscience” — i.e., for blatantly discriminating against LGBT people. These tactics claim that those who engage in discrimination are the victims, not the actual victims of the discrimination.

Those supporting this “Freedom to Dissent” pledge are promising to tolerate intolerance, which is exactly what opponents of LGBT equality are demanding. It’s unclear how defending those who wish for LGBT people to remain second-class citizens constitutes “the only truly secure path to equal rights,” as the pledge claims.

The post ‘Freedom to Dissent’ Pledge Attempts To Justify Anti-Gay Activism appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Mississippi Enacts Blatantly Unconstitutional Abortion Ban

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 3:41pm

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

On Wednesday afternoon, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed a measure to criminalize abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy — even though the only abortion clinic in the state doesn’t perform the procedure after 16 weeks. And because of the way the legislation is worded, it’s actually a harsher restriction than the other 20-week bans that are currently in place in other states.

The other states with 20-week bans on the books calculate gestation beginning when the egg is fertilized and implanted in the uterine lining. After that point, women have a 20-week window to access legal abortion services. But Mississippi’s new law starts counting from the woman’s last menstrual period — about two weeks before fertilization. That ends up shaving off some time from the available window for legal abortion care.

Arizona is the only other state that’s enacted a 20-week ban that calculates gestation in this way. And last year, that law was permanently struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The panel of judges determined that Arizona’s stringent ban was blatantly unconstitutional, since Roe v. Wade guarantees legal abortion services up to about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Since Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic doesn’t even perform later abortion procedures, it’s clear that the legislature’s decision to pass a 20-week ban isn’t intended to have any real policy impact. Indeed, the most recent data from the Mississippi Department of Health confirms that only two abortions were performed after 20 weeks in 2012, likely in a hospital.

Instead, the legislative move is intended to fit into the broader “fetal pain” strategy. Abortion opponents claim that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and this scientifically disputed concept has allowed them to successfully impose unconstitutional limits on later abortion in 20 different states. Fetal pain measures are specifically intended to slowly chip away at the boundaries of Roe v. Wade, and so far, they’ve been working.

Legislatures’ willingness to pass harsh abortion laws is often directly related to the politics of the federal appeals court district they fall under. For instance, Mississippi is under the jurisdiction of a much more conservative federal appeals court than Arizona, and abortion opponents in the state are counting on that working in their favor.

The post Mississippi Enacts Blatantly Unconstitutional Abortion Ban appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Last Month Was The Fourth-Hottest March On Record

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 3:16pm

CREDIT: NOAA

The Midwest’s corn crop may be delayed because the ground is still too wet or too cold to plant, and much of the United States is still not quite sure if spring has arrived.

But looking at the entire globe — as scientists do when they track things like global warming — 2014′s month of March was the fourth-hottest one on record. Only 2002, 2010, and 1990 were warmer. Data from 135 years of records show that the average global temperature in March 2014 was 1.3°F warmer than the 20th century average of 54.9°F. This was the 38th March that was hotter than average.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate scientist Jessica Blunden said that “the change was primarily due to warmer-than-average temperatures over central Asia in March, compared with cooler-than-average temperatures in February.”

NOAA’s data analysis matches that of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which also found March to be the warmer than all but three other Marches on record.

The land surface temperature anomaly from December through February in North America. The record warmth in the west vied with the extreme cold in the east.

CREDIT: NASA

Yes, the U.S. experienced its 34th-coldest winter in 119 years of data. But the U.S. National Climatic Data Center reported last month that the winter of 2013-2014 ended up being the 8th-warmest, globally, on record.

NASA’s Earth Observatory noted in a blog post that “human memory is not a scientific measure, and long-term perspective tends to get lost in everyday conversation and news coverage”:

The winter of 2013-14 followed two winters that were significantly warmer than the norm, which likely made this season feel worse than it was. Researchers at the U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reported that the average temperature of the contiguous U.S. for the winter was just 0.4° Celsius (31.3° Fahrenheit), about 1°F below average.

Why was it only the 34th coldest winter in 119 years of records? Because most of the land west of the Rocky Mountains was warmer and drier than average, so those warmer temperatures offset the cold snaps to the east. California had its hottest winter on record, and several other states came close. Though it is not included in the contiguous U.S. measurements, Alaska also thawed in spring-like heat and rain that melted snow and ice.

This temperature schism in North America, caused by a kink in the jet stream, could also become the norm due to climate change, according to Climate Central.

The warm March manifested mostly in higher latitudes. For the first time since its records began, Slovakia’s average March temperature exceeded 50°F — which means it was the warmest March the country had experienced since records began in 1871. Austria saw its second-warmest March since 1767. Norway saw its third-warmest since records began — so did Germany. South Korea’s March was the second-warmest since its records began in 1971. Parts of northern Siberia saw temperatures averaging 9°F warmer than normal, and the mid-summer temperatures were matched by unexpected major wildfires.

Temperature is not the only way to see that March was actually warmer than normal. Last month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado announced that Arctic sea ice extent reached its maximum on March 21, which is good for the fifth-lowest winter ice cover extent since satellite records began in 1978.

Still, not much of the observable evidence reaches political circles. On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s chief business advisor, Maurice Newman, pushed the regularly debunked trope that there has been a “pause” in warming for the last 17 years.

The post Last Month Was The Fourth-Hottest March On Record appeared first on ThinkProgress.

The NRA Is Now Helping Advance Anti-Domestic Violence Laws

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 3:11pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Thanks to clandestine support from the National Rifle Association (NRA), domestic violence victims in several states have been granted a major protection from their abusers. Lawmakers are taking guns away from offenders who are issued protective orders — with the backing of the country’s most prominent gun rights organization.

As the Huffington Post reports, the NRA consented to HB 1840, a Washington state bill making it legal to strip abusers of their guns if they are served with “no-contact orders, protection orders, [or] restraining orders.” And while the bill was signed into law last month, the NRA also approved similar measures elsewhere, within the last year. Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Minnesota have signed or advanced legislation banning abusers from keeping guns if they’ve been issued an order or charged with misdemeanors, all with NRA support.

The NRA’s latest stance contrasts its previous attitude toward campaigns against domestic violence. Previously, if legislation was on the table to take guns away from offenders, the NRA adamantly opposed it. Specifically, the lobby consistently argued that guns should only be stripped from abusers convicted of a felony, and lawmakers under its influence refused to advance new gun laws. But the NRA’s new position is clearing the path for lawmakers to target perpetrators in a substantial way.

The shift can be attributed, in part, to ongoing efforts aimed at boosting gun rights support among women. For instance, the NRA sold bras with holsters and pink guns at a convention last year, in an attempt to make the weapons more appealing to women. And a campaign by NRA Women encourages women to embrace guns and “Refuse To Be A Victim.’ In reality, arming women doesn’t actually protect them from their abusers.

The NRA’s approval of slightly stricter gun laws is part of a larger trend: Strategies to address domestic violence are advancing at local, state, and national levels. Activists are developing creative ways to assist victims, such as teaching beauticians how to identify signs of abuse. Police departments are also implementing policies to identify perpetrators. The Supreme Court recently took a step toward ensuring that domestic abusers can’t get their hands on guns, and survivors of domestic violence have new medical benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

Today, roughly one-third of all women living in the U.S. have experienced domestic violence.

The post The NRA Is Now Helping Advance Anti-Domestic Violence Laws appeared first on ThinkProgress.

There's an Award for Comprehensible Writing in Government. Guess Who Won.

Mother Jones - April 23, 2014 - 3:05pm

It's like the Oscars, but for paperwork.

The Clearmark Awards, sponsored by the DC-based Center for Plain Language, are handed out annually to the government agencies, corporations, and nonprofits that produce the most coherent literature. On Tuesday, for the 11th-consecutive year, the nominees gathered at the National Press Club in downtown Washington to nibble on chocolate mousse and celebrate their colleagues for making bureaucratic copy comprehensible. Up for awards were the Social Security Administration, for its redesigned website; the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, for its revision of its rules of procedure; and the National Diabetes Education Program, for its pamphlet on taking care of your feet. In a year in which a broken website became a symbol of bureaucratic ineptitude, these were the heroes the media never told you about.

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The Most Outrageous Ways Schools Are Trying To Enforce Gender Stereotypes

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 3:02pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Over the past several years, school dress codes haven’t been without controversy. Particularly because gender-based dress codes often end up furthering unhealthy attitudes about female sexuality — suggesting that it’s girls’ responsibility to cover up because boys can’t help but get “distracted” — students and parents sometimes protest against what they see as a harmful approach to kids’ understanding of gender roles.

There are other subtle ways that schools’ clothing requirements impose messages about gender and sexuality on America’s youth, too. In the name of creating a uniform learning environment without any distractions, school administrators often require students to fit into a narrowly defined view of what it means to be a boy or a girl. Here are five recent examples of schools attempting to police kids’ gender expression, ultimately reinforcing unnecessary stereotypes about how girls and boys ought to behave:

1. A high school senior was kicked out of her prom for wearing pants.

A senior in North Carolina says she was kicked out of prom this past weekend because she showed up in red skinny jeans. “It was kind of a slap in the face,” Shafer Rupard told a local WBTV outlet. She says she was approached by a teacher and asked to leave the event, which was being held at their town’s country club. Her mother, who doesn’t understand what’s wrong with her daughter wanting to wear pants, says she doesn’t think the school publicized any dress code requirements for prom. “It’s just the way she’s always been and she wanted to feel comfortable in her own skin,” Shafer’s mother said. “We want to put out the message to all teenagers that you should be allowed to be yourself.”

2. A fourteen-year-old boy was penalized for wearing makeup.

Last year, eighth grader Chris Martin decided to wear eyeliner, eye shadow, and lipstick to his last day of school. But administrators told him that he needed to wash the makeup off because it would be “distracting” to the other students. According to his mother, the principal told her that it’s “completely ridiculous and unnecessary for boys to wear makeup.” In response, Chris’s parents started a petition demanding that the school board ensure that school is a safe and inclusive place for all students, noting that Martin has been bullied for his gender expression. “I can’t believe in this day and age that someone would think this was that big of an issue,” Chris’s mother told the Tampa Bay Times.

3. An eight-year-old girl was asked to leave her Christian school because she’s not “girly” enough.

Sunnie Kahle’s grandparents were shocked when they received a letter from Timberlake Christian School informing them that Sunnie would no longer be welcome if she didn’t start looking more like a girl. The school administrators cited the institution’s “biblical standards” to justify their discomfort with Sunnie’s short hair, sneakers, and t-shirts, saying other students weren’t sure whether she was a boy or a girl. “We believe that unless Sunnie and her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education,” administrators wrote. Sunnie’s grandparents, who are her legal guardians, withdrew her from TCS and started sending her to public school. “I should just be able to be me and not let them worry about it,” eight-year-old Sunnie told a local outlet last month.

4. A thirteen-year-old boy was suspended for carrying a Vera Bradley purse.

Last fall, an eight grader in Kansas was suspended from school after he refused to take off his flowered purse. School administrators said that no students are allowed to have bags or purses during certain classes, but Skyler Davis’s mother believes he was unfairly targeted, especially because there’s no official rule about purses in the student dress code. “Skyler is only 13 years old. He’s just a child. And if this isn’t bullying, I don’t know what is,” his mom, Leslie Willis, told KCTV5. Skyler’s story attracted the attention of the handbag designer, who ended up contacting reporters to offer to send products to the middle schooler. “Vera Bradley creates products that allow all of us to express our individual style. We encourage self-expression through color and design,” the company said.

5. A nine-year-old boy was banned from bringing his “My Little Pony” bag to school.

Last month, school administrators in North Carolina told Grayson Bruce that he should leave his pony-themed lunch bag at home. Grayson is often teased for liking “My Little Pony,” which he says is his favorite cartoon, and the school told him that his bag is a “trigger for bullying.” His mother retorted that “saying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying, is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape. It’s flawed logic, it doesn’t make any sense.” After thousands of people joined a Facebook group in support of Grayson, the school backed down and apologized. Grayson is hardly alone. “My Little Pony” has a growing male fan base, nicknamed “bronies” — although young boys who buck gender norms in this way often get teased, and some have even been driven to suicide.

***

Sociologists agree that children “learn gender” from constantly being the subject of society’s expectations. But pressuring kids to conform to traditional gender roles can have serious consequences. The children whose parents attempt to over-correct behavior that traditionally occurs within the opposite sex are at greater risk of developing negative psychiatric symptoms as an adult.

And reinforcing traditional gendered behavior can also teach kids to equate their gender with stereotypes that aren’t always healthy. Teaching a little boy that cultural markers of femininity, like purses and ponies, are worthy of his derision can end up influencing how he thinks about his female peers. Telling a little girl that she’s supposed to be “pretty” can send her the message that her value only comes from her appearance. And those attitudes are wrapped up in the power dynamics between men and women that persist into adulthood.

The post The Most Outrageous Ways Schools Are Trying To Enforce Gender Stereotypes appeared first on ThinkProgress.

There’s Even A Gender Gap In Children’s Allowances

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 3:01pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Nearly 70 percent of boys say they get an allowance, compared to just under 60 percent of girls, according to a new survey from Junior Achievement.

But unfortunately, it’s not likely because boys do more chores. One study found that girls do two more hours of housework a week than boys, while boys spend twice as much time playing. The same study confirmed that boys are still more likely to get paid for what they do: they are 15 percent more likely to get an allowance for doing chores than girls. A 2009 survey of children ages 5 to 12 found that far more girls are assigned chores than boys. A study in Europe also found fewer boys contribute to work around the house.

And it’s not just that boys are more likely to be paid by their parents, but they also get more money. One study found that boys spent just 2.1 hours a week on chores and made $48 on average, while girls put in 2.7 hours to make $45. A British study found that boys get paid 15 percent more than girls for the same chores.

Young girls suffer a wage gap even when they leave their home in search of wages. Despite the fact that the vast majority of babysitters are girls, the few boys who take on those jobs have higher hourly rates.

A chore and wage gap for young girls may seem trivial, but they are both problems that only grow as they age and the socializing children experience at home may contribute. Asking girls to do more chores without paying them teaches both genders that women are meant to do unpaid work. And when they’re older, far more women will end up doing housework than men. Mothers spend nearly double the time on unpaid work in the home that fathers do each week. On an average day, nearly half of women do housework compared to 20 percent of men, and on the days when they do those activities, women spend more time on them, on average. Meanwhile, fathers manage to find three more hours of leisure time.

At the same time, a record number of families is relying on women’s wages as the main source of income. Yet women are paid less than men in nearly job and at every educational level.

The post There’s Even A Gender Gap In Children’s Allowances appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Why We Can’t Erase Vietnam From LBJ’s Legacy

The Nation - April 23, 2014 - 3:01pm
Ronnie Dugger

The 50th anniversary celebrations of Johnson’s Great Society agenda should not overlook the travesties of the war. 

Climate scientist's privacy victory may prove a lose for journalists

Columbia Journalism Review - April 23, 2014 - 3:00pm
After deliberating for months, late last week the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of climate scientist Michael Mann in his quest to maintain the privacy of his emails against a Virginia legislator and conservative think tank that sought to access his records using Virginia's freedom of information laws. As I wrote last month, the trial and the court's verdict,...

Federal Report Shines Light On Health Impacts Of West Virginia Chemical Spill

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 2:57pm

The Freedom Industries site, which released 10,000 gallons of chemicals into West Virginia water, is seen in this Jan. 13, 2014, photo.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber

People who went to the Emergency Room after the notorious chemical spill in West Virginia experienced symptoms that were “consistent” with the mysterious substance involved in the leak, a joint report by both the West Virginia and federal Departments of Health said Wednesday.

After 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM — a licorice-scented chemical mixture used in the coal production process — spilled into the Elk River and tainted the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians in January, nearly 600 people checked themselves into local hospitals. The most common symptoms were what federal epidemiologists called “mild” illnesses, such as rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

But little was known about MCHM at the time of the spill, and it was unclear whether people were experiencing real problems, or just seeing symptoms out of sheer paranoia. At the time, the U.S. Department of Health would not say whether the chemical had any negative health effect until it released Wednesday’s study, called an “epi-aid” study, which reviews medical records for those who went to the hospital after the spill.

As of Wednesday’s report, the connection between the symptoms and the chemical is still cloudy — but the agencies acknowledge its possibility.

“These data can not ‘prove’ that MCHM caused the reported symptoms; however, these data are consistent with what is known about MCHM from animal studies,” the report said, noting that there is no scientific way to “reliably distinguish” mild illness caused by the chemical from normal mild illness. “These symptoms are consistent with known health effects of MCHM.”

Though the study does little in terms of conclusive results, it does shine a light on something greater: the amount of mystery that still surrounds both short- and long-term health impacts from the chemical spill, which is still a large part of life in some of the places where it occurred. Even though the spill happened in January, some residents still detect MCHM’s licorice-like scent coming from their faucets, and question whether the water is safe to drink.

The data analyzed in the joint study was from hospital admissions from January 9, the day the spill was first reported, and January 23, a few days after West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told residents that it was “their decision” whether or not to use tap water. From that time 584 patients were treated, but only 369 records were included because of either a lack of symptoms, duplicate records, or other inconsistencies. More than 96 percent of those patients were treated and released, while 3.5 percent were hospitalized — all of whom had chronic illnesses such as kidney, liver or lung disease.

It is unclear how many people have experienced symptoms after that time, and if they did, whether they would know to be able to trace it to MCHM. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the chemical has been found to “cause headaches, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and can also cause a skin rash.” But comprehensive health effects — what happens if the diluted chemical is ingested, or how exposure to the chemical could affect people in the long term — are largely a mystery, and residents there have largely had to figure out their symptoms for themselves.

Long-term effects are also unclear. There is currently no data on crude MCHM’s carcinogenic effects, ability to cause DNA mutations and physical deformities, or its ability to interfere with human development, according to the chemical’s Material Safety Data Sheet.

The issue is clearly important for those who may still be being exposed to the chemical on a daily basis. On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) wrote to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking for the agency to provide details about its effort to determine a safe level of exposure to the chemical.

“[The] spill has made it clear that additional information needs to be available for chemicals circulating in the marketplace that may impact human health,” she wrote. “In cases where that information is not available, however, health officials should error on the side of informing that public of the uncertainty.”

The post Federal Report Shines Light On Health Impacts Of West Virginia Chemical Spill appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Arizona Police Stopped This Future Schoolteacher Four Times in Three Years For Driving While Latino

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 2:47pm

Jose Patiño (left), with fellow DREAMers Erika Andiola, Ola Kaso, and Alejandro Morales at an immigration rally in Washington, D.C. in April 2013.

CREDIT: Jose Patino

Before he ever had a chance to put the final touches on his lesson plan, Jose Patiño was putting the final touches on houses. Like some undocumented immigrants living in Phoenix, Arizona, Patiño works in construction.

“You think to yourself, I have a degree, why am I doing this?” he asked after he applied stucco to a house in a documentary about so-called DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants brought to the country as kids.

Under President Barack Obama’s initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, Patiño can finally use his college degree to work and live without the fear of deportation for two years. The program opened up the opportunity for him to apply for and accept a Teach for American fellowship. Next year, Patiño will be teaching math to young students in Phoenix. Patiño’s path to come this far has not been easy and may not last past the end of Obama’s presidency. That’s why he has been tirelessly working as an immigration advocate to pressure Congress and the President to act on meaningful immigration reform to make his teaching career permanent. But what sparked his passion to become an immigration advocate is not just because he is undocumented, but because he is undocumented in Arizona.

It was four years ago Wednesday that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed Senate Bill (SB) 1070 into law — that law implemented the so-called “show me your papers” policy, which made it legal for state and local law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants. That law made it legal for police to arrest anyone who provided shelter or transported an undocumented immigrant. And that law incentivized pretextual stops for police officers to stop Patiño, his family, and other Latinos who just looked Latino.

In the intervening years, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down many of SB 1070′s most insidious provisions by limiting local immigration enforcement, based on constitutional grounds. Yet, the “show me your papers” provision remains. Some police encounters aren’t as bad as they were. But Patiño tells a story of the culture surrounding the law that still endures. Take for example Maricopa County’s anti-immigration Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been publicly vocal about his opposition to a federal judge requiring a court-ordered monitor to ensure that Maricopa County officers would no longer use race to make law enforcement decisions.

Over the course of three years, police stopped Patiño on four separate occasions. Six months after SB 1070 was signed and three months after the law was enacted, a cop pulled over Patiño for failing to fully come to a halt at a stop sign in October 2010. The cop accused Patiño of being drunk or high. “We talked and did every single test: the breath test, [recited] the alphabet backwards, walk on a line,” he told ThinkProgress on Tuesday. “I proved I wasn’t drunk, but they still impounded my car.” The cop gave him two tickets for not having a driver’s license and for not stopping fully. Another time, an officer pulled over Patiño for speeding and not using his turn signal. He explained that at least two dozen other cars had done the same. Patiño asked, “There were about 30 cars. Why was I the only car that was pulled over? It’s different for a person of color. You gotta find a way around it.”

In Brewer’s Arizona, Patiño has been unable to get any kind of state identification card since undocumented immigrants, even those with DACA status, are unable to obtain driver’s licenses. Instead he carried an alternate form of identification to indicate that he was harmless. The first time he was pulled over, he had a transcript; the next time, an Arizona State University (ASU) identification card; and finally by the fourth encounter, his diploma. Each time, the police softened their voices and let him go with a warning, citation, a ticket, or some tacit understanding that the officer was just following orders mandated by law.

“The cops would tell me that [the law is] messed up, but that things would get better. They would tell me, ‘don’t drive’ [in the meantime].” Patiño recalled about the third time he was pulled over. “I think it’s because they understand that I’m a person who’s just trying to get a degree.” Cops who pulled over his younger siblings would tell them some variant of, “You speak English too well to be illegal.”

For Patiño, SB 1070 did not spark, but rather solidified, his role as an immigration advocate. That spark came three years earlier when his undocumented status almost unraveled his future dreams — ASU had just revoked his merit-based scholarship based on a state law that prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving school-funded scholarships. The college later surprised him with a private scholarship, but he realized that he wouldn’t be so lucky again.

“For me, it just seemed that something was wrong with the way we were treated,” Patino explained. “You can’t wait, you gotta fight for what’s right and what’s moral. You have to educate people at the same time.”

“It got a lot more different when DACA passed,” Patiño said, noting that it is now easier for him and his siblings to live in Arizona. At the very least, he has an employment authorization card. But he expressed frustration that his parents are at risk for deportation, saying that they’re still “afraid.” That’s why Patiño will continue to be an advocate until there’s a federal solution. Just recently, he helped to organize hunger strikers, who are protesting the detention of their loved ones, in Phoenix and in Washington, D.C.

In July 2010, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked the most controversial portions of the law from taking effect, such as requiring law enforcement officers to determine immigration status; penalizing or criminalizing immigrants who don’t carry federally-issued alien registration documents; making it unlawful for undocumented immigrants to “knowingly apply for or perform work” in the state; and requiring the police to check the legal status of those stopped or arrested. Arizona filed a countersuit in February 2011, but two months later, the Ninth Circuit panel upheld a Department of Justice injunction that argued that the laws were unconstitutional.

By February 2012, Bolton further blocked a provision that would allow the arrest of day workers who block traffic to try and gain employment. In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court determined by a 5-3 majority that three sections of the law were preempted by federal law, but reinstated the central “show me your papers” portion of the law that would allow law enforcement to inquire about immigration status — albeit in a somewhat weakened form. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of an injunction against the provision that would have made it illegal to transport or harbor undocumented immigrants.

The post Arizona Police Stopped This Future Schoolteacher Four Times in Three Years For Driving While Latino appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Student Debt Nearly Tripled Over The Past Decade

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 2:43pm

CREDIT: Wall Street Journal

Total student debt has nearly tripled in recent years, according to new research.

Using a new dataset on various types of household debt, including student loans, research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that total outstanding educational debt nearly tripled from 2004 to 2012, growing from $364 billion to $966 billion. The total rose by 14 percent each year on average. The researchers’ chart of the growth in the average loan balance per borrower shows a smooth rise from just over $15,000 to nearly $25,000 over the nine years covered by their data.

And many of those debtors are struggling to pay the money back. The official rate of delinquency — defined as being more than three months behind on loan payments but less than nine months behind — was 17 percent in 2012. But the official rate doesn’t offer as clear a picture of borrowers’ repayment struggles as it might, the researchers say, because the way it is calculated includes many people who are not yet attempting to pay down their debt. The effective rate of delinquency among those who have begun paying down their loans is up over 30 percent.

Given these rising numbers, heavily indebted college graduates are flocking to programs that link their payments to their income and eventually forgive outstanding debt, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The programs, known as Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE), allow borrowers to make smaller payments than the standard plan would require. IBR is the less generous of the two, requiring enrollees to pay 15 percent of their discretionary income each month for 25 years before forgiving the remaining debt. PAYE uses a 10 percent cap and a 20 year timeline. If graduates work in the public or non-profit sectors rather than the private sector, debt forgiveness kicks in at 10 years instead.

IBR and PAYE have existed in their current form since 2007 and 2011, respectively. But relatively few borrowers were taking advantage of them as of last summer. As of the third quarter of 2013, when there were 50.8 million people with outstanding federal student loans, just 40,000 people were enrolled in PAYE and 910,000 were using IBR.

But the second half of last year saw an uptick in participation, rising nearly 40 percent in six months. The two programs now serve 1.3 million people, who owe a combined $72 billion. Those numbers represent just 3.2 percent of all borrowers who are out of school and in a position to benefit immediately from these programs, according to Department of Education data compiled by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but 8.9 percent of the raw dollar total of outstanding loans from such borrowers.

Still, the 40 percent jump in enrollment is enough to push the cost of the programs far above previous projections. The most recent White House budget calls for capping debt forgiveness at $57,500 per student in order to keep PAYE and IBR expenses manageable. Others, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the New America Foundation, and the Brookings Institution worry that the programs will just end up raising tuition costs.

But the New York Fed research finds that it is uncommon for borrowers to exceed that proposed cap. About 87 percent of the borrowers in its 2012 data had less than $50,000 in student loans to repay, and less than 4 percent had debts of more than $100,000.

IBR and PAYE are very effective at avoiding student loan defaults, which benefits the economy as a whole. Student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy like other debts can, so someone who defaults on educational debt is still going to have to spend money on their loans rather than on buying things that would grow the economy. Default rates are near record highs, and many of the almost 7 million people in default on student debt today could have avoided that fate had they enrolled in IBR or PAYE. Instead, the persistent student debt overhang is costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity per year.

There are a number of other policy proposals for curbing the student loan crisis. Two of the more radical — rewriting bankruptcy laws and making public college free for all who wish to attend — would benefit the economy by more than enough to outweigh their costs.

The post Student Debt Nearly Tripled Over The Past Decade appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Chicago’s Wrigley Field Turns 100 Years Old

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 2:41pm

Wrigley Field on Opening Day 1929

CREDIT: AP

I walked into Wrigley Field for the first time in the summer of 1998, a special summer for the game of baseball and, no matter what revisionist baseball historians want to say now, an especially fascinating summer for baseball in Chicago. The Cubs were in contention and Sammy Sosa was in the midst of the chase for the single-season home run record. For a young baseball fan, even one who wasn’t a Cubs fan, a summer trip to Wrigley couldn’t have come at a better time.

I don’t really remember a whole lot about the ballparks I went to as a kid, probably because I grew up going to games in Cincinnati and St. Louis and Atlanta and their stadiums all looked and felt and sounded roughly the same. The minor league team in our hometown played in a multi-purpose dump too. I saw a lot of baseball. I’d never realized that a ballpark itself could be an experience to enjoy and remember.

Then I walked into Wrigley. I don’t remember the game much, other than the fact that the Cubs were hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks and that Sosa didn’t hit a home run while I was there. All I remember, really, is the feeling of Wrigley, the sense that this is what baseball was supposed to look and feel and sound like. This, the ivy on the walls, the ramps and steel beams and bleachers, this didn’t feel like any of those bland stadiums I’d been to before.

The Friendly Confines turn 100 years old today, on the anniversary of the first game Chicago’s Federal League team played there in 1914. The Cubs moved in two years later; the ivy was planted and the outfield bleachers installed in 1937. The place has been a mecca of baseball ever since. Wrigley’s history isn’t exactly pretty: it is now officially 100 years absent a championship, and the Cubs haven’t won so much as a National League pennant in nearly seven decades. Wrigley is marked more by despair — curses of Billy Goats and Bartman and god knows what else — than it is by anything other than hope that the next season will be better.

And for 100 years now, there has always been a next season. Wrigley has changed and more changes may be coming soon. But it’s still there and, for all intents and purposes, remarkably similar to the Wrigley that opened a century ago. That’s something only one other ballpark in baseball — Boston’s Fenway Park — has ever lived to say, something that seems unlikely any other ballpark will say in the future. In a game where more than two-thirds of the parks aren’t 25 years old and others aren’t going to survive adolescence, in a game where even its oldest friends — Comiskey across town, Tiger in Detroit, Yankee in the Bronx — are gone, Wrigley is the old man in the bleachers who isn’t just talking about baseball’s history but is actually living it. It’s a place that links baseball’s far past to its recent history to its present and future, the Dead Ball Era to the Integration Era to the Steroid Era and beyond. People at Wrigley today are sitting in the same seats where fans once saw The Babe call his shot, where others watched Ernie play two, where I saw Sammy chase Maris, and where still others groaned as Bartman touched that ball. In a game that lives and breathes its own history more than any of our sports, where the ballpark is an inherent part of the charm of the game, there’s something indescribably special about one park lasting 100 years. About a century of Chicago’s hardball hopes and despairs being Wrigley’s and Wrigley’s alone.

Wrigley was once its own sort of shiny object, a place that lured the Cubs away from Chicago’s West Side because it was a nicer park. It was, as author Sean Deveney describes, the first park with concession stands and Ladies’ Days and souvenirs. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about the place, though, is that over the next century, it survived even as it became outdated and simplistic. It marched on even as its contemporaries were shuttered — when places like Crosley and Shibe and Forbes succumbed to the horrific cookie-cutter era that marked the middle of the century, Wrigley stood. It was still around decades later when baseball came to its senses and realized it should have never left ballparks that were pretty, enjoyable, and charming in their simplicity. By the 1990s, cities started replacing those awful behemoths with parks that were more like…Wrigley.

So today we have Camden and AT&T and Arlington and PNC and Coors, beautiful ballparks that have charm and aesthetic appeal and fit into their neighborhoods the way Wrigley has always fit right in right there at the corner of Clark and Addison. Those parks are all lovely places to see a game. Most of them are updated versions of the Friendly Confines, with much of the charm and and more amenities. But none of them are Wrigley. And these days, they’ll be lucky to live half as long.

The post Chicago’s Wrigley Field Turns 100 Years Old appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Which U.S. Universities Are The Greenest?

ThinkProgress - April 23, 2014 - 2:36pm

In a recently released free book by the Princeton Review, three-hundred and thirty universities in the United States and two in Canada are profiled as green four-year higher education institutions. The Princeton Review’s Guide to 332 Green Colleges, released on April 17, set out to profile these institutions for “[demonstrating] a strong commitment to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities, and career preparation.” The schools were scored on a Green Rating system based on data obtained from schools using a ten point survey questionnaire which included queries on a range of topics such as: mass transit programs like bike sharing and local housing, whether a school has a formal committee dedicated to sustainability on campus, and whether the school has a sustainability-focused undergraduate degree programs or an equivalent.

The guide, the result of a collaboration between the Princeton Review and the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, began production after the Review took notice of a growing number of student and school-based sustainability initiatives on university campuses around the 2007-2008 school year. This observation led the company to begin incorporating questions on environmental responsibility in annual university surveys. The book was ultimately released for free online in line with the company’s commitment to allow access to data that may be difficult for prospective students to obtain in order to find a “best fit” school.

In each university profile, the guide highlights individual accomplishments a school has made in promoting environmentalism and sustainability. Brandeis University, for example, is noted for four funding cycles of its Sustainability Fund which awards student-run sustainability projects $50,000 annually. Florida State University is recognized for their robust alternative transportation system with their bike sharing program and special GOTCHA green taxi service. The George Washington University is noted for its unrivaled roster of over 100 courses on sustainability that span a variety of majors and fields of study including anthropology, religion, and political science.

Of the three-hundred and thirty universities featured in the United States, eighteen of the schools reside in the states of Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, making Northern New England the region with the highest number of green campuses per capita in the country, although the Review emphasizes that the guide is meant to be purely quantitative and qualitative and, ultimately, not a ranking of any kind.

Not everyone is for universities adopting green energy practices and educating students about sustainability. Some, such as the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Tice, argue that universities that educate students about clean, renewable energy sources are pushing an agenda. However, as a survey done last year by the Princeton Review finds, sixty-two percent of prospective students say they would value information about a school’s commitment to environmental and sustainability issues. With over half of pre-undergraduate students showing that a school’s commitment to environmental issues has an influence over their choice of school, it’s clear that an America in support of green initiatives is not the fault of any college.

The post Which U.S. Universities Are The Greenest? appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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