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Things that won’t be brought up during Hagel’s confirmation hearings

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Nick Turse at TomDispatch:

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: After TD Managing Editor Nick Turse appeared on Fresh Air Monday, his new book on the Vietnam War, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, rose to #48 at Amazon.  Congrats, Nick!  Our offer of a signed, personalized copy of the book in return for a $100 donation to this site has had a remarkable (and heartening) response.  We can’t thank those of you who contributed enough!  The offer remains open; just check it out at our donation page.  If you want to know more about the book itself, make sure to read Jonathan Schell’s How Did the Gates of Hell Open in Vietnam? Tom]

Think of it as the Great Obama Shuffle.  When U.N. ambassador Susan Rice went downin flames as the president’s nominee for secretary of state, he turned to ally, former presidential candidate, and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (who had essentially been traveling the world as a second secretary of state during Obama’s first term). Next, he nominated his counterterrorism “tsar” and right-hand man in the White House-directed drone wars to be the next head of the CIA, which dominates those drone wars.  Then he picked White House chief of staff (and former Citigroup exec)Jack Lew to head the Treasury Department.  Meanwhile, he tapped his key foreign policy advisor and West Wing aide Denis McDonough to replace Lew as chief of staff.

He also renominated Richard Cordray, whose recess appointment as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was recently endangered by a federal appeals court, to the same position, and picked B. Todd Jones, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, as the man to reinvigorate that agency.  Otherwise, Tom Donilon will remain his national security advisor and James Clapper, his director of national intelligence.  And so it goes in Obama’s Washington where new faces and fresh air are evidently not an operative concept.

In such an atmosphere, the nomination of retired Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, the co-chairman of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board, as secretary of defense was the equivalent of a thunderbolt from the blue.  Republicans, in particular, reacted as if the president had just picked Noam Chomsky to run the Pentagon, as if, that is, Hagel were the outsider’s outsider.  When it comes to military and foreign policy, the former Nebraska senator remains the sole breath of fresh air in today’s Washington.  That’s because he has expressed the most modest of doubts about the U.S.-Israeli relationship, as well as the efficacy of the U.S. sanctions program against Iran and a possible attack on that country’s nuclear facilities, and because he has spoken, again in mild terms, of“paring” a Pentagon budget that has experienced year after year of what he’s called “bloat.”

Of course, what little fresh space might exist between the Obama I and Obama II years (not to speak of the George W. Bush II years) has been rapidly closed.  Hagel was soonforced to mouth the pieties of present-day Washington, offering an ever friendlier take onIsrael and an ever-tougher set of positions on Iran, while assuring everyone in sight that his previous positions had been sorely misunderstood.  This should be a healthy reminder that, at least when it comes to war and national security policy, debate in Washington can be fierce and bitter (as over the Benghazi affair), even as what Andrew Bacevich calls “the Washington Rules” ensure that not a genuine new thought, nor a genuinely different position, can be tolerated, no less seriously discussed in that town.

Barack Obama arrived in Washington in 2009 buoyed by the slogan “change we can believe in.”  The bitter Hagel hearings will be a fierce reminder that, when it comes to foreign policy, old is new, and the words “change” and “Washington” don’t belong in the same sentence.  It remains something of an irony that, whether it’s John Kerry or Chuck Hagel, what little breathing room exists in the corridors of power can be credited to a now-ancient war whose realities, as Nick Turse reminds us in his remarkable new book,Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, most Americans — Chuck Hagel evidently among them — could never truly face or take in. Tom

The Hagel Hearings 
The Last Best Chance for the Truth About a Lost War and America’s War-Making Future 
By Nick Turse

He’s been battered by big-money conservative groups looking to derail his bid for secretary of defense.  Critics say he wants to end America’s nuclear program.  They claim he’s anti-Israel and soft on Iran.  So you can expect intense questioning — if only for theatrical effect — about all of the above (and undoubtedly then some) as Chuck Hagel faces his Senate confirmation hearings today.

You can be sure of one other thing: Hagel’s military service in Vietnam will be mentioned — and praised. It’s likely, however, to be in a separate and distinct category, unrelated to the pointed questions about current issues like defense priorities, his beliefs on the use of force abroad, or the Defense Department’s role in counterterrorism operations.  You can also be sure of this: no senator will ask Chuck Hagel about his presence during the machine-gunning of an orphanage in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta or the lessons he might have drawn from that incident.

Nor is any senator apt to ask what Hagel might do if allegations aboutsimilar acts by American troops emerge in Afghanistan or elsewhere.  Nor will some senator question him on the possible parallels between the CIA-run Phoenix Program, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese venture focused on identifying and killing civilians associated with South Vietnam’s revolutionary shadow government, and the CIA’s current targeted-killing-by-drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands.  Nor, for that matter, is he likely to be asked about the lessons he learned fighting a war in a foreign land among a civilian population where innocents and enemies were often hard to tell apart.  If, however, Hagel’s military experience is to be touted as a key qualification for his becoming secretary of defense, shouldn’t the American people have some idea of just what that experience was really like and how it shaped his thinking in regard to today’s wars?

Chuck Hagel on Murder in Vietnam

“In Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength — they see him as one of their own,” President Obama said as he nominated the former Republican senator from Nebraska to become the first former enlisted service member and first Vietnam veteran to serve as secretary of defense.  He went on to call him “the leader that our troops deserve.”

Chuck Hagel and his younger brother, Tom, fought together in Vietnam in 1968. The two are believed to be the only brothers to have served in the same infantry squad in that war and even more remarkably, each ended up saving the other’s life.  “With Chuck, our troops will always know, just as Sergeant Hagel was there for his own brother, Secretary Hagel will be there for you,” the president said.

Largely unnoted was the falling out the brothers had over the conflict.  After returning home, Tom began protesting the war, while Chuck defended it.  Eventually, the Hagel brothers reconciled and even returned to Vietnam together in 1999.  Years before, however, the two sat down with journalist and historian Myra MacPherson and talked about the war.  Although their interpretations of what they had been through differed, it’s hard not to come away with the sense that both witnessed U.S. atrocities, and that Chuck Hagel’s vision of the war is far more brutal than most Americans imagine.  That his experience of Vietnam would include such incidents should hardly be surprising, especially given the fact that Hagel served in the 9th Infantry Division under one of the most notorious U.S. commanders, Julian Ewell, known more colorfully as “the Butcher of the Delta.”

The Hagel brothers, MacPherson recounts in her moving and important history Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation, argued over whether American troops were “murdering” people.  Chuck disagreed at first, pointing instead to the depredations of Vietnamese revolutionary forces.  Tom reminded his brother of the CIA’s Phoenix Program which, with an estimated body count of more than 20,000 Vietnamese, too often turned murderous and was no less regularly used by corrupt Vietnamese government officials to settle personal grudges.  “There was some of that,” Chuck finally granted.

Tom then raised an example that hit closer to home — the time, after an enemy attack, when a sergeant from their unit took out his frustrations on a nearby orphanage.  “Remember the orphanage, Chuck… That sergeant was so drunk and so pissed off that he crawled up on that track [armored personnel carrier] and opened up on that orphanage with a fifty-caliber machine gun,” Tom said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Military, Obama administration

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Should we rewrite the Constitution?

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Some of the provisions seem outdated—and certainly some have been changed by amendment. Randy Hayes and Shannon Biggs ask whether it’s time for a re-do, knowing what we know now:

What do you love about the U.S. Constitution?

As we grimly mark the 3rd anniversary of the infamous Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) Citizen United ruling [3]that opened the corporate-funded floodgates, empowering Billionaires to speak loudest in our elections, it is an important if not overlooked question.

For the rest of us who can’t afford our own SuperPAC [4], ‘corporate personhood’ has become shorthand for all that ails our flagging democracy. Amending the Constitution to abolish it and/or repeal Citizens United is certainly a movement gaining steam, and it has created space for casting a critical eye on the structural defects of our system [5]. But if the bull’s eye is fixing government in the hands of the people, then it is time to ask: If the Supreme Court had never granted “personhood” privilege to corporations, would rights of people, communities and nature be protected [6]? Would we have democracy? Would this one fix affect the wide scale change we seek?

Truth is, there is far more standing in the way of building sustainable, democratic and just communities than corporate personhood. To dismantle corporate rule we have to look at ALL the tools that the U.S. Constitution provides to the powerful few corporate rulers, enabling them to override the needs of local and state majorities and the natural systems upon which we depend. Maybe it’s time to do what Thomas Jefferson [7] advised every generation to do and rewrite the Constitution itself.

While criticizing corporate personhood has reached the mainstream, questioning the Constitution is not just a conversation killer—but the ultimate taboo topic from the lunatic fringe. With so much at stake, it’s time to take open stock of this powerful document and contemplate: What do we really love about it, or find convoluted or missing?

What the Constitution AIN’T

Here we sit 225 years into the current Constitution—and from the onset of climate disruption to drone warfare [8] to the Internet, the world has changed in ways that would boggle a Founding Father’s mind. Yet questioning the legend or wisdom of the framers can still be as electrifying as touching the third rail on the subway.

Now consider that the Constitution doesn’t make it illegal to kill the planet. Nature’s needs are not addressed in the document. In fact, it encourages and legalizes destruction it every day by treating nature or natural systems as owned property with a price. That’s a problem when you realize that nature nourishes all things, including us. As far as business goes, remember that 100 percent of the economy depends on the functions of nature just doing their thing. The life support systems of this country, continent and planet are not mere things for the property and commerce titans to profiteer, plunder and trash. Consider natural entities such as a river and all the life it sustains have legal rights to exist and flourish [9]. Now take the idea of human rights and apply them to ecosystems. Legal rights of nature wouldn’t stop development—just the kinds of development that interfere with the existence and vitality of natural systems.

Chances are you, like most folks, “love” either the Preamble [10] or the Bill of Rights [11] … neither of which are actually part of the current Constitution [12], and neither of which affect the way decisions are made or who makes them. The “We The People,” Preamble encapsulates the dream of the Constitution for many, but has been ruled as mere poetry by the Supreme Court, and therefore cannot be used to make law, and bears little resemblance to the text that follows. The Bill of Rights is what most believe is the heart of the Constitution, but it was drafted as a tack-on concession to appease the masses who feared the new Constitution was a “conspiracy of the Well Born few against the sacred rights of their fellow citizens [13].” The Bill of Rights was left up to the unelected Supreme Court to interpret. Rather than using this unrivaled (and generally unquestioned) power to uphold these rights for the many, their decisions read like the wish list of the few: from ‘Separate but Equal’ to denying labor and environmental rights to creating corporate personhood.

If our own human rights come by virtue of being born, then they surely emanate from the natural world. And yet we treat the natural word as if our own rights don’t depend on the health of our planet. It’s like trying to take care of a single leaf on a tree that is dying all around us. We cannot protect nature as long as we treat it as a belonging, rather than seeing ourselves as part of the natural world. Nature needs legal rights in our Constitution. We would not be the first to do so; the Ecuadorian people ratified a new system of environmental protection based on legal rights when they rewrote their Constitution [14] (lots of countries do this). Bolivia, New Zealand [15] and some U.S. communities [16] have paved the way for us. We can enshrine this as well.

When is the Constitution like a Hydra?

A deeper dive into our own history than we learned in school reveals that most Founding Fathers truly believed that the best form of government was one in which the wealthy made the rules, and set up the Constitution to put fat cats in charge to protect fat property and commerce, rather than liberty and justice for all. From day one, the Constitution embraced slavery and limited suffrage to only white men with property. And like a mythological many-headed hydra, when we finally ended the plantation system and freed the slaves (a time that looked like the birth of real democracy to many) out of thin air, the Supreme Court created and embedded corporate personhood into the 14th Amendment. No discussion, no vote, no accident, and nobody’s life was enriched but the corporate gentry.

So What IS the Constitution, anyway? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Shootings today

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Here’s one in Arizona.

Here’s one in Georgia.

From a Yahoo! answer:

According to this web site, there were 17,000 homicides in the US in 2007:
http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/data/tab…

According to this web site, about 68% of homicides are committed with firearms:
http://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp

That means there are about 11,600 homicides by firearms per year in the US, or about 32 per day.

This figure doesn’t include non-fatal shootings, or suicides by firearms. According to the following, there are about 75,000 non-fatal shootings per year (both deliberate and accidental) and about 17,000 suicides with firearms per year:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violenc…
(Interestingly, the majority of deaths by firearms are self-inflicted.)

Altogether, that’s an average of 284 people killed or injured by firearms every day.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 1:20 pm

Posted in Guns

Gayle Trotter Opposed Law To Protect Women Before Testifying On Guns For Moms

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UPDATE: Excellent commentary on the hearings and surrounding events.

Gayle Trotter seems to have some odd inconsistencies in her outlook. First, Evan McMorris-Santoro reports in TPMDC:

Gayle Trotter, the conservative activist who became the breakout star of Wednesday’s gun violence hearing in the Senate with her adamant cry that women need assault rifles to defend themselves, wrote last year that she opposed the Violence Against Women Act.

The reason, she said at the time, was the law would create the prospect of “false accusers” stealing taxpayer money by using shelters and legal aid.

On Wednesday, Trotter used the fear of violence against women to support gun laws that allow access to large capacity magazines and assault weapons in her testimony.

“An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon,” she said.

Trotter based her defense of gun rights on the need for women to defend themselves against those who would commit violent acts against them. Back in 2012, she was not as supportive of the federal government’s efforts to protect women with VAWA. The law, she wrote on the website of the Independent Women’s Forum, could promote false accusations of domestic violence.

Trotter opposed VAWA, she wrote last year, because it opened the door to false accusers wasting taxpayer funds.

“Americans all want to deter violence, but we also need to protect that foundational principle of the presumption of innocence,” said her April 2012 post. “Needed resources like shelters and legal aid can be taken by false accusers, denying real victims of abuse access to these supports. That result runs directly counter to the VAWA’s spirit.”

Trotter was also skeptical of the law for other reasons cited by . . .

Continue reading.

And Amy Davidson reports in the New Yorker:

What gun does a woman want? AR-15s are “easy for women to hold,” Gayle Trotter, of the Independent Women’s Forum, said to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in her explanation of why an assault-style weapon was just what a young mother needed. She praised their weight, handling, “and most importantly, their appearance,” since “the peace of mind knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage.” When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked whether a more modest weapon might not do the trick, Trotter said, “You can not understand. You are not a woman.” The senator was “a big man,” while women were little. A woman, Trotter said, might have to fight off four or five criminals “with her children screaming in the background.” She deserved “a right to choose” a weapon with a thirty-round magazine.

Women, as much as criminals and the mentally ill, were the subject of caricaturing at the hearings Tuesday. They were the besieged victims with only an AR-15 between themselves and a chaotic world of rapists and home invaders. To hear Trotter and her fellow-witness, Wayne LaPierre of the N.R.A., tell it, a gun is the sort of thing one ought to keep near a baby, like syrup of ipecac or a box of Band-Aids. Senator Chuck Grassley asked Trotter whether “banning guns which feature designs to improve accuracy disproportionately burdens women”—women apparently being not only small but also wild shooters. She thought they would. (Neither mentioned what might be the disproportionate benefit of closing a loophole that allows people with domestic-violence records to buy guns without background checks.) There was also a digression about how women, unlike criminals, quietly obeyed laws. Senator Lindsey Graham, in arguing about limits on magazines, told a story about a woman hiding in a closet who managed to put five of the bullets in her six-shooter into the body of a criminal who nonetheless drove away: “There can be a situation where a mother runs out of bullets because of what we do here.”

And yet, as I’ve written before, a gun in the home tends to do little more than make bad situations worse. When a gun is involved in domestic disputes, the chances that a woman will end up dead are far higher. A follow-up of a survey of women who had been the victims of domestic violence found that those who’d said they had a gun in the house were six times more likely to have been murdered. A gun kept within reach of a mother at all times is also something a toddler, or an older child, can find. Nancy Lanza had a lot of guns in her house. They kept neither her nor the children of Newtown safe.

But the talk about women was, in many ways, just a more crystalline version of a general vision of society and the law. In one of the day’s stranger exchanges, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, Guns, Law

Tracing the movement to nullify Federal gun laws

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The fight against the US government seems to be widespread. Eric Lach reports at TPMMuckraker:

On Jan. 11, five days before President Barack Obama unveiled 23 executive actions he intended to to take to reduce gun violence, Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) announced that he was working on a firearms measure of his own.

“I am currently having legislation drafted that is similar to firearm legislation recently introduced in Wyoming,” Metcalfe wrote in a memorandum sent to his fellow House members. “My legislation would prohibit the enforcement of any new federal restriction, prohibition or registration requirement for firearms, magazines, and ammunition. My legislation would also require the state to intercede on behalf of Pennsylvania citizens against any federal attempt to register, ban or restrict the purchase or ownership of firearms and firearms accessories which are currently legal products.”

Metcalfe is one of many. Over the last several weeks, he and Republican lawmakers nationwide have introduced bills addressing firearms, the Second Amendment, and federal power. The bills are a response to President Barack Obama and Democrats’ renewed interest in gun control measures, which itself is a response to the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

At least 20 states have had some kind of firearm-related legislation recently introduced or currently pending: Texas, Utah, Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Nebraska, New Mexico, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Iowa, Indiana, and Montana.

The language in the bills differs from state to state (and some states have seen several different bills proposed), as do some of the particulars. But the message and general thrust of the bills are the same: the lawmakers are telling the federal government to back off on guns.

“Our government and our legislature is not in place to simply do the bidding of the federal government,” Missouri state Rep. Casey Guernsey (R) told TPM in an interview. “That is not the function of a state. And there is an ability and a right, an inherent right, of states to protect [their] citizens when the federal government becomes overreaching.”

On Jan. 15, Guernsey introduced HB 170, which among other things would make it a class D felony for any federal official or agent to enforce or attempt to enforce any federal law or regulation on a firearm owned or manufactured in the state that remains “exclusively within the borders of the state.” It’s an idea contained in a number of other bills.

Asked what he imaged it would look like if Missouri were to, for instance, prosecute an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Guernsey said that “hopefully, it would look like a very strong statement on the part of state government.”

While these bills have come all at once, lawmakers and professionals who are tracking the bills said there is no publicly identified group organizing or coordinating the efforts. Jon Griffin, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures who has been keeping a list of recent firearms bills, told TPM the bills did not appear to be particularly uniform.

Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Dahm (R), for one, told TPM that a constituent had pointed him to model legislation prepared by The Tenth Amendment Center, a think tank which supports “the principles of strictly limited government.” (The center has prepared a model “2nd Amendment Preservation Act,” which serves to “prevent federal infringement on the right to keep and bear arms,” and maintains a map tracking which states have introduced similar bills.) Dahm said he liked the center’s model bill, but he “wanted to add some other things.”

On Jan. 16, Dahm introduced SB 548, which reads, in part: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Government, Guns, Law

Some bad times ahead: Southern rebellion redux

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Frank Schaeffer writes in Alternet:

The battle over gun control has exposed a truth the mainstream media is apparently too shy to mention: A bunch of far-right, white, mostly Southern, paranoid extremists are preparing for armed revolution and apocalypse. They speak treason: literally.

They are preparing to “defend” America from America with arsenals of weapons and stockpiles of ammunition. Their “enemy” is everyone in America not like them.

They think the world is ending and/or that the government is out to get them. That doesn’t mean it will happen. But expect violence and assassinations. Their ideology is made up of equal parts racism, evangelical Christian fascination with the “end times,” hatred of President Obama, resentment of the “Old “South” variety and a Fox News/Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh version of world history.

As the New Yorker noted [3]:

“Every demographic and political trend that helped to reëlect Barack Obama runs counter to the [South’s] self-definition:…The Solid South speaks less and less for America and more and more for itself alone… Solidity has always been the South’s strength, and its weakness. The same Southern lock that once held the Democratic Party now divides the Republican Party from the socially liberal, fiscally moderate tendencies of the rest of America… The South’s vices—‘violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas’—grow particularly acute during periods when it is marginalized and left behind. An estrangement between the South and the rest of the country would bring out the worst in both—dangerous insularity in the first, smug self-deception in the second.”

The Republican/white/Southern extremists make reasonable gun control impossible. Their cataclysmic irrationality risks taking the debate into the twilight zone, and that “zone” is a zone of violence: call it the civil war continued by other means.

Some “leaders” in the pro-gun lobby have literally said they will kill to protect their right to arm themselves with arsenals that are fit for nothing but murder and war. These delusional Americans are a vocal minority, and they have extreme fears — gun confiscation, civil instability, a tyrannical government, a “takeover” of the US by the UN and that Obama is a communist.

If you pay attention to the rhetoric, you hear code words calling out to the types of people who called January 19 and Martin Luther King’s birthday “Gun Appreciation Day.” The event chairman, Larry Ward, said in the press release, “The Obama administration has shown that it is more than willing to trample the Constitution to impose its dictates upon the American people.” Andrew P. Napolitano, a Fox News analyst, said in a video [4] posted on the network’s GretaWire: “Here’s the dirty little secret about the Second Amendment, the Second Amendment was not written in order to protect your right to shoot deer, it was written to protect your right to shoot tyrants if they take over the government.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 11:40 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Guns

Congress imposes on others rules that it itself will not follow

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This fails the test of reciprocity pretty badly: if the rules are good for others, why not for Congress? If not good for Congress, why would the rules be good for others? I fear it is the corruption that power brings. Theodoric Meyer has the story for ProPublica:

When CBS News reported in 2011 that members of Congress weren’t prohibited from insider trading, Congress moved swiftly.President Obama signed a lawbanning it within six months of the broadcast.

But Congress is still exempt from portions of a number of federal laws, including provisions that protect workers in the private sector but don’t apply to the legislative branch’s approximately 30,000 employees.

Here’s our rundown of measures Congress exempts itself from:

  • Whistleblower Protections: Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act in 1989, which protects workers in the executive branch from retaliation for reporting waste, mismanagement or lawbreaking. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act gives similar protections to private-sectors workers. But legislative-branch workers — a category that includes congressional staffers as well as employees of the Library of Congress, the Architect of the Capitol and other offices —don’t get the same protections.
  • Subpoenas for Health and Safety Probes:  The Occupational Health and Safety Act empowers the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate health and safety violations in private-sector workplaces. If an employer doesn’t cooperate, the agency can subpoena the records it needs. The Office of Compliance, the independent agency that investigates such violations in the legislative branch, doesn’t have the power to issue those subpoenas.
  • Keeping Workplace Records: A number of workplace-rights laws — the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and others — require employers to retain personnel records for a certain period of time. But as arecent report on the congressional workplace notes, “Congress has exempted itself from all of these requirements.” Congress is also exempt from keeping records of injuries and illness the way private-sector employers are.
  • Prosecution for Retaliating Against Employees: If a private-sector employer retaliates against a worker for reporting health or safety hazards, the Department of Labor can investigate and, if necessary, sue the employer. Congress’ Office of Compliance doesn’t have that power — legislative-branch employees must file suit personally and pay their own legal fees.
  • Posting Notices of Workers’ Rights: Workplace-rights laws require employers to post notices of those rights, which often appear in office lunchrooms. Congress is exempt from this requirement, though this has little real-world impact. The Office of Compliance sends legislative employees the same information each year, formatted “in a manner suitable for posting.”
  • Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Retaliation Training: The No Fear Act requires agencies in the executive branch to provide such training to employees, but the legislative branch is exempt.
  • The Freedom of Information Act: The public can request information from federal agencies, but Congress, the federal courts and some parts of the Executive Office of the President are exempt.

In addition to sparing itself from complying with measures it has made mandatory for others, Congress is violating of some of the laws that do apply to it, according to a recent report from the Office of Compliance. (The pint-sized agency, created by Congress in 1995, is responsible for enforcing a number of workplace-rights laws in the legislative branch.) The sidewalks surrounding the three House office buildings, the report noted,don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Neither do the restrooms in the House and Senate office buildings and the Library of Congress’ James Madison Building.

The Office of Compliance cites certain congressional exemptions as particularly problematic. The agency’s inability to subpoena information regarding some legislative workers’ complaints about health and safety often means the office must negotiate with congressional offices to gather the facts it needs.

“It can tie our hands sometimes,” said Barbara J. Sapin, the office’s executive director.

The Office of Compliance has urged Congress to apply the laws listed above to itself — except the Freedom of Information Act — with little result. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting delegate who represents the District of Columbia, introduced a bill in 2011 to do this, but it died in committee.

The number of complaints of discrimination and harassment filed by legislative-branch workers with the Office of Compliance has nearly doubled in the last two years, from 102 in the 2009 fiscal year to 196 in the 2011 fiscal year. Workers’ complaints about retaliation or intimidation have risen even more sharply, from 36 in fiscal year 2009 to 108 in fiscal year 2011.

Even so, Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer who specializes in workplace-rights law, said some Capitol Hill employees might be holding back from filing complaints. House and Senate staffers, she said, are often reluctant to speak up about harassment or discrimination for fear of jeopardizing their careers.

“People are very loath to burn bridges by filing a complaint or going to the Office of Compliance,” she said. “They don’t want to go forward with bringing a claim, even when it’s covered under the law.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 10:58 am

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

Oregon Bill Would Make Cigarettes Controlled Substances

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Interesting idea, and it certainly makes sense: if marijuana, which compared with cigarettes is harmless, is classified as Schedule I drug:

  1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Except as specifically authorized, it is illegal for any person:

  1. to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or
  2. to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.[2]

And cocaine is a Schedule II drug:

  1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  2. The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.
  3. Abuse of the drug or other substances may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Then classifying cigarettes as a Schedule III drug makes sense:

  1. The drug or other substance has a potential for abuse less than the drugs or other substances in schedules Iand II.
  2. The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  3. Abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.

Indeed, cigarettes seem better placed as a Schedule II drug at least. And marijuana certainly doesn’t belong in Schedule I.

Here’s the story by Philip Smith in Drug War Chronicles:

An Oregon lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make cigarettes a Schedule III controlled substance. That means it would be illegal to possess or distribute cigarettes without a doctor’s prescription.

Other Oregon Schedule III drugs include ketamine, LSD, and anabolic steroids.

Sponsored by Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), the bill, House Bill 2077, would make violations a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison, a $6,250 fine, or both. The same penalty would apply to both possession and distribution.

The bill directs the state Board of Pharmacy to “adopt rules to classify nicotine as a Schedule III controlled substance.” It would also require people involved in tobacco transactions keep records and to “forward the records to the State Police if directed to do so by the department.” Failure to do so would also be a Class A misdemeanor.

The bill had a first reading last week and has now been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 10:54 am

Posted in Drug laws

Great lather, good shave

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SOTD 31 Jan 2013

The lather was fantastic—and, strangely, it seemed to get better with each pass. A perfect lather—and, as a matter of curiosity, tomorrow I’m going to use an Art of Shaving tallow-based soap (the old formulation) to compare. Based on price, the AoS soap’s lather should be 5 times as good, but I suspect that it will not turn out that way. We’ll see tomorrow.

Despite a great lather—and a great razor, a Gillette Diplomat (the glad-plated version of the Gillette President)—the shave was but good. Okay, but not the BBS I got yesterday. The reason, I believe, is that the Swedish Gillette blade was well past its prime, and it has now been replaced so the next shave should be awesome once more, provided the stars align.

Three passes, a final rinse, and then a good splash of Krampert’s Finest Bay Rum, which has a very pleasing aftereffect: it seems to be moisturizing.

And now, on to today.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2013 at 10:38 am

Posted in Shaving

Fishermen fight to harvest cod to extinction to save the cod industry

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No, it doesn’t make sense: Fishermen want to continue fishing cod until the species is extinct, because (they apparently believe) this will somehow ensure their livelihood. Read the story.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Business, Science

Another example of forcing non-believers to follow rules of a religion

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It seems that when religions become powerful, they are eager to force non-believers to obey the rules of the religion. Here’s another example.

And there’s no reciprocity: the Catholic church in Los Angeles, for example, went to great lengths NOT to obey the laws on pedophilia. They are saying that in 1980 it was not understood how damaging pedophilia was to the victims, but (strangely) there were laws against the practice, and the Catholic church deliberately found ways to disobey the law, in letter and in spirit. See, the law wasn’t their rule.

And here’s yet another example: nonbelievers must obey what any religion holds—is that going to work?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Religion

Assault-weapons ban was not, in fact, a “failure”

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Although that’s the talking point the NRA advances. Alex Seitz-Wald writes in Salon:

There’s plenty to digest from today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on guns, but it’s worth setting the record straight about a key study that “proved,” as two Republican witnesses claimed, that the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was a failure. The study did no such thing.

The study in question was the Department of Justice’s official assessment of the ban, which was completed when it expired in 2004. Congress mandated that the executive branch conduct the study, which was carried out on behalf of the DoJ by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, led by criminologists Christopher Koper.

If you listened to the testimony today of Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, or David Kopel, a law professor and researcher at the libertarian Cato Institute, the study’s findings were unequivocal.

“Independent studies, including a study from the Clinton Justice Department, proved that ban had no impact on lowering crime,” LaPierre said. A footnote in his prepared testimony indicated he was referring to the Koper study.

Cato’s Kopel dwelled on the study at length, spending several minutes discussing its history and findings. “We do not have to speculate about whether ‘assault weapon’ bans do any good. A Department of Justice study commissioned by the Clinton administration found that they do not,” he explained. “The study found the [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein ban to be a complete failure.”

So is that what the study said? No, according to the author of the study himself. I emailed Koper, now at George Mason University, after the hearing to note that I had a fairly different reading of his paper from that of LaPierre and Koper, and asked if he could sort it out.

“I agree with your reading of our 2004 study,” Koper replied. You can read the full study for yourself here and see that while it was not a ringing endorsement of the assault weapons ban, as many gun control advocates had hoped, it hardly “proved” the law to be a failure, as LaPierre claims. To the contrary, it found some encouraging signs, like an average 40 percent drop in the number of assault weapons used in crimes (some cities saw a drop of over 70 percent) and some benefit from the ban on high-capacity magazines.

But mostly, the study was inconclusive. Not enough time had passed for the ban’s effect to be fully felt and there were too many loopholes to get a good read on its effect. For instance, the number of high-capacity magazines in the country actually increased during time of the ban because it was still legal to import magazines made in other countries before the law went into effect. Meanwhile, numerous other variables contributed to the drop in crime during that decade, including better policing and the end of the crack epidemic.

In his testimony, Cato’s Kopel zeroed in on this passage from the study: “We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence.”

By the same token, the study didn’t rule out the ban as a contributor to the drop in crime. Just because something can’t be proven does not mean that the opposite is automatically true.

Meanwhile, the very next sentence after Kopel’s reads: “However, the ban’s exemption of millions of pre-ban AWs and LCMs ensured that the effects of the law would occur only gradually. Those effects are still unfolding and may not be fully felt for several years into the future.”

For more, study author Koper pointed me to an Op-Ed he wrote in the Baltimore Sun in 2004. “So is the ban working?” he asked rhetorically in the essay. “It’s a work in progress,” he answered.

There’s a big difference between “a work in a progress” and a failure. And there’s a big difference between inconclusive results and proof that something was fruitless. But LaPierre and Kopel would rather pretend there is not.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Government, Guns, Law

The NYPD is out of control

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Natasha Lennard in Salon:

Bronx police arrested a 7-year-old boy, put him in handcuffs and held him in custody for 10 hours after a playground fight over $5, according to a $250 million claim brought by the child’s family against the city and the NYPD. Officers allegedly arrived at the Bronx public school on Dec. 4 in the morning and handcuffed and held Wilson Reyes in a room there for four hours before taking him to the station house for another six hours of interrogation and verbal abuse, the suit alleges.

The New York Post reports that Reyes’ mother found him at the police precinct, “panicked” and “seated in a shabby chair with his left wrist cuffed to the wall.”

The incident apparently began when Reyes’ was falsely accused by another child of stealing $5, provoking a scuffle. Children 7 to 17 years old can be tried as juveniles and Reyes originally faced a robbery charge before another child admitted to taking the money and charges against the 7-year-old were dropped. But Reyes’ family is seeking damages.

“I never imagined the cops could do that to a child. We’re traumatized,” his mother, Frances Mendez, told the New York Post. “It’s unfathomable, what the police did. The whole thing sounds so stupid. They were interrogating him like he was a hardened criminal,” said Mendez’s attorney, Jack Yanowitz.

The city has responded to the claims saying Mendez’s account is “grossly untrue” and that “the child was held in the precinct … less than half of the time mentioned” — which still means a 7-year-old was held for well over four hours by police.

As Gothamist noted, this is not the first alleged incident of excessive police action in New York schools.  In 2010, for example, a Queens 12-year-old was put in metal handcuffs by police when caught doodling on her school desk in green marker. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country schoolchildren have been arrested for acts including burping in class, spraying on perfume and milk fights.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

One of our daily shootings

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The NY Times has a story of another shooting, this one in Phoenix.

Now it should be understood that the easy availability and great number of firearms in this country have nothing whatsoever to with these shootings. The NRA is quite clear on that. Indeed, the source of the problem is that we do not have enough guns in circulation. As the NRA points out, the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, so we must make sure all good guys are armed, including (as the new NRA/gun manufacturer initiative shows) adolescents. What could go wrong with that?

And pointing out that other developed countries do not have enormous numbers of people lost to gun violence every year (those countries have strict limits and controls on firearms) is very misleading. Correlation is NOT causation. Indeed, if we had the strict limits and controls that they have, we’d probably still have as many gun fatalities as ever—because, and I can’t stress this enough, gun fatalities have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with guns. If we didn’t have guns, we’d have just as many fatalities, only they would be from rocks, clubs, and knives. Guns are fine. We just need more and more of them, without limit, with everyone carrying at least one (and preferably two) guns. Then we’d see something!

UPDATE: Another one. I imagine Wayne LaPierre will point out that the 6-year-old should have been armed.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 11:47 am

Posted in Guns

I want this blade

with 4 comments

Read the article—a blade that lasts five years—and watch this video:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 11:31 am

Posted in Shaving, Technology

Jim Crow and Coca-Cola

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Very interesting column by Grace Elizabeth Hale in the NY Times:

THE opposition by the New York State chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s restrictions on sugary soda caught many Americans by surprise. But it shouldn’t: though the organization argues it is standing up for consumer choice and minority business owners, who it claims would be hurt, this is also a favor for a stalwart ally — Coca-Cola alone has given generously to support N.A.A.C.P. initiatives over the years.

This is more than a story of mutual back-scratching, though. It is the latest episode in the long and often fractious history of soft drinks, prohibition laws and race.

While it is widely known that John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist, invented Coke as a kind of patent medicine, it was in fact his second drink. His first, an 1884 invention called French Wine Coca, was a copy of a popular French wine that contained cocaine. But in November 1885, just as the product began to sell, Atlanta outlawed alcohol sales.

Across the nation, support for prohibition was often tied to the desire by native whites to control European Catholics, American Indians, Asian-Americans and, especially in the South, African-Americans. It gave police officers an excuse to arrest African-Americans on the pretext of intoxication.

Pemberton went to work on a “temperance drink” with the same “medicinal” effects, and he introduced Coca-Cola in 1886. At the time, the soda fountains of Atlanta pharmacies had become fashionable gathering places for middle-class whites as an alternative to bars. Mixed with soda water, the drink quickly caught on as an “intellectual beverage” among well-off whites.

Eliminating alcohol granted only a temporary reprieve. Though Asa G. Candler, who had taken over the business, kept the formula secret, an Atlanta paper revealed in 1891 what many consumers — who called the soda “dope” — already knew: Coca-Cola contained cocaine.

Candler began marketing the drink as “refreshing” rather than medicinal, and managed to survive the controversy. But concerns exploded again after the company pioneered its distinctive glass bottles in 1899, which moved Coke out of the segregated spaces of the soda fountain. Anyone with a nickel, black or white, could now drink the cocaine-infused beverage. Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, Candler had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.

Coke’s recipe wasn’t the only thing influenced by white supremacy: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 11:29 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

No more for me, thanks: A deconstruction of the Egg McMuffin

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Who knew? Among other findings at the link:

Among these, the worst offenders [in the preceding list of ingredients] may be:

a) Unbleached wheat flour. Wheat as our grandparents knew it—the four-feet-tall “amber waves of grain”— isn’t the same. For the past 40 years, farmers have been manipulating the gene to grow a crop of two-feet-tall dwarfed wheat that contains gliaden protein, which produces a morphine-like compound that binds to brain receptors and triggers overeating up to 400 extra calories a day! Gliaden has also been linked to inflammatory issues from irritable bowel to heart disease. That’s not all: There’s also wheat gluten, which may cause digestive problems, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, and other symptoms, and amylopectin A, which is responsible for “wheat belly” (you know, the new “muffin top”).

Interesting article, and the genetic modification described in the above paragraph seems a bad one. Unfortunately, the authors seem to suggest that all genetic modifications are bad, and that is absolutely wrong, so far as I’m concerned. For one thing, all domesticated plants and animals have long be genetically modified by breeding programs. Direct genetic manipulation simply is another method. And just as breeding programs can be misused (see some of the grotesque dog varieties bred past the point of good health), so can genetic manipulation—but the contrary is equally true: breeding can be done to improve the breed, and so can genetic manipulation.

At any rate, it’s an interesting article, and I doubt that I’ll be buying any Egg McMuffins.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 10:59 am

Posted in Business, Food, Health, Science

Politeness and Pogonotomy: shaving and masculinity in Georgian Britain

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Via Wicked_Edge, this sounds like a fun seminar:

The next seminar in the History of Pre-Modern Medicine academic seminar series, will take place on Tuesday 5th February.

Details:

Alun Withey (University of Exeter)
‘Politeness and Pogonotomy: shaving and masculinity in Georgian Britain’

Abstract:

By the mid eighteenth century, facial hair fell dramatically from favour as the face of the polite gentleman was increasingly clean-shaven. The arrival of the newly-invented cast steel enabled razor-makers to produce ever sharper (and indeed blemish-free) blades, rendering shaving more comfortable, and razors more durable and capable of re-sharpening. Razor-makers increasingly advertised their wares in popular publications and, importantly, began to target domestic consumers, rather than professional barbers. Little has yet been done to explore the various contexts of shaving and, in particular, the status of razors as items of both utility and ‘fashion’.

But razors were also a conduit for broader, societal expectations of civility and social order; they helped to define and shape concepts of cleanliness and civility. Shaving the face evinced neatness and elegance, and notionally separated the gentleman from the unkempt yokel. Shaving the head prepared it for the wearing of a wig – an expression of gentlemanliness, masculinity and taste. Equally, shaving also dovetailed with (albeit declining) humoural medical notions of ridding the body of internal detritus. As such it sits astride various discourses of understanding the body and the self, and the spread and importance of new technologies. This paper will look anew at the practice of shaving, the market for shaving accoutrements, and the various contexts through which the removal of facial hair was understood and articulated.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 10:15 am

Posted in Education, Shaving

Perfect shave again, testing shaving soaps

with 4 comments

SOTD 30 Jan 2013

I wanted to compare Strop Shoppe’s Black Tie with Tallow shave soap (shown above) with their Special Edition Black Tie with Tallow (tomorrow’s shave, using my Gillette Diplomat instead of the Gillette President shown: the identical razor except gold-plated instead of rhodium-plated as above (original plating for the one above was nickel).

So I worked up a very fine lather with my Rooney Victorian, a very nice brush I have thanks to a recommendation from Todd O. After working it into my stubble, the lather seemed a tad thick, so I added a driblet of water to the center of the brush and worked that in, starting with my chin. As usual, I took my time.

Then three passes with the President holding a newish Astra Platinum blade. Once again I had the feeling that I could not possibly harm myself: the razor felt totally comfortable, cutting easily and smoothly, and I thoroughly enjoyed the shave. After three passes, I rinsed and my face was totally BBS, noticeably better than yesterday’s shave.

In fact, it was so much better that I got to wondering whether it was the lather that made such a noticeable different. The Strop Shoppe lather was significantly better than the Haslinger lather, and left my skin feeling much softer and more moisturized. Could it be that which so improved my shave? The Edwin Jagger head used yesterday is not bad at all, and the Swedish Gillette blade is good, though that one was not so sharp as today’s Astra Superior Platinum simply because the ASP was newer.

Still, it’s an interesting consideration. I’ll try back to back shaves using the same razor and blade, one with a mediocre lather as from the Haslinger, and the other with a superior lather, as from Strop Shoppe. It will be interesting to see what difference a lather can make. I suppose it’s no surprise that the lather could be a critical component of a great shave, but I had not really focused beyond the greater pleasure a lather from an excellent soap provides.

A hearty splash of Speick—I love that aftershave—and I’m getting ready for the cleaning.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 9:13 am

Posted in Shaving

Making sure nonbelievers follow the rules of your own religion

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And yet I wonder whether those involved are willing to follow the rules of religions in which they don’t believe. Katie McDonough reports in Salon:

Last year, a pair of researchers at North Dakota State University won a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families to start a sexual health program aimed at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in at-risk teens.

But as Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones reports, the school had contracted Planned Parenthood to provide the services, and antiabortion activists in the state started complaining about NDSU doing business with the nationwide women’s health — and in states other than North Dakota, abortion services — provider.

“When I see something that says this is Planned Parenthood — they’re not even a part of the state of North Dakota. They don’t serve anyone in North Dakota, and they shouldn’t be a part of North Dakota. They’re not a part of how we do business in this state,” said Rep. Bette Grande on a local radio show denouncing Planned Parenthood and NDSU. “It is an overt abortion industry that we don’t want to be a part of,” she added.

The uproar over the partnership soon reached NDSU officials, who quickly soured on the contract.

According to Sheppard:

On Jan. 15, NDSU President Dean Bresciani said on a conservative talk radio showthat the school had decided to block the funds, citing a “legal hang-up” that prevents the school from working with Planned Parenthood.

As the local newspaper Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reports, NDSU now says that it is “freezing” the grant while it figures out if it violates a 1979 state law that bars state dollars, or federal dollars coming through the state, from being used “as family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortion.”North Dakota Catholic Conference praised NDSU for making “the right decision,” and it got glowing reviews in the anti-abortion outlet Life Site News.

Professors and local reproductive and sexual health advocates balked at what they considered a purely political interference with research — and health service delivery.

According to a statement from Thomas Stone Carlson, president of the Faculty Senate:

We are aware that you have received significant pressure from legislators (Betty Grande and Jim Kasper in particular) who have political agendas that oppose the work of Planned Parenthood. The announcement of your decision to freeze this funding on a conservative talk show and the quick response of several conservative groups thanking legislators for this important victory against Planned Parenthood, makes it difficult to see your decision as anything other than bowing to political pressure.

Critics of NDSU’s decision to return the grant say it is the North Dakota teens who were the target of the program — youth who are homeless, in foster care, or in the juvenile justice system — who stand to lose the most in the botched partnership. As Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, told Mother Jones, the funding would have served as a “lifeline for kids that don’t have other options.” Adding, “To turn away the grant on an ideological basis really just defies logic, particularly in North Dakota, where there is so little available to at-risk youth.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2013 at 4:34 pm

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