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Mexican Government Criticized For Alleged Widespread Use Of Torture

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 20:07

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights excoriated Mexico’s human rights record Friday, saying the country’s security forces routinely torture and kill people with impunity.

The Washington-based IACHR, an arm of the Organization of American States devoted to protecting human rights in the hemisphere, fielded a group that has visited several cities in Mexico since Sept. 28. Group members have met with members of all three branches of the federal government, as well as victims of human rights violations, members of nongovernmental organizations, social activists and journalists.

The group's preliminary findings, posted online Friday, come on the heels of a separate report by a different IACHR panel last month that said the Mexican government’s investigation in the high-profile case of the disappearance of 43 students from the city of Iguala was marred by torture, and its conclusions were unsupported by forensic science.

“The Inter-American Commission confirmed on the ground the grave human rights crisis that Mexico is experiencing, characterized by a situation of extreme violence and lack of public safety, extrajudicial executions and torture, high levels of impunity and insufficient care for the victims and their families,” the preliminary findings of the report read.

Friday's report highlighted several positive steps the Mexican government has taken in recent years, including reforming the constitution to specify that all Mexicans enjoy human rights guarantees.

But the group’s preliminary findings present a dismal image of a country in which people fear security forces who kill and torture with impunity, where criminal groups pay off authorities to traffic drugs and people, and where the armed forces have taken on a policing role, leading to what the commission called a “militarization” of criminal justice.

Mexico’s human rights crisis has drawn international attention repeatedly in recent years. Some 100,000 people have died in drug-related violence since former President Felipe Calderón launched an assault on the country’s cartels in 2006, prompting a spike in Mexican asylum claims in the United States. More recently, Mexican police attacked a group of students in Iguala several times during the night of Sept. 26, 2014, killing six people, wounding several and abducting 43.

Then-Attorney General of Mexico Jesus Murillo Karam said in November that police handed the missing students over to four accused members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, who confessed to killing the students that night and incinerating their bodies at a trash dump in the neighboring town of Cocula.

Journalists and independent experts have poked gaping holes in the federal government’s version of events, however. Investigative reports by journalists Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher published since December, based largely on government documents, say Mexican security forces had tortured several key witnesses in the investigation -- including the accused gang members, all of whom were impoverished construction workers who didn’t have the means to carry out such a complex crime.

The IACHR panel’s report last month found evidence that security forces tortured witnesses in the investigation. The report also said the government’s assertion that students bodies’ were burned to ashes at the Cocula site had no basis in forensic science, echoing concerns expressed months earlier by other forensic experts.

Mexico’s federal government has supported the IACHR’s evaluation of the Mexican government’s widely discredited investigation in the missing students’ case with roughly $1 million, and plans to contribute another $1 million for the panel to continue its research, according to Mexican daily Excelsior.

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Weekend Roundup: Syrian Refugee Crisis Triggers Bombs and Backlash

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 20:06
This week the refugee crisis caused by Syria's horrific civil war moved to the next stage. Though prompted into action to curb the carnage, the U.S. and Russia are at odds over whom to bolster and whom to bomb. With no end to the conflict in sight, the influx of asylum seekers in Europe continues to swell and the prospect of permanent settlement there for the displaced grows. In even the most welcoming countries a political backlash is in the making. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity at home is falling for the first time as compassion reaches its limits. In Sweden, the anti-immigrant right-wing party now tops the polls.

Alex Gorlach explains why many Germans are now doubting Merkel's refugee policy, including President Joachim Gauck, who has said that while "our hearts are wide open . . . our absorption capacity is limited." Akbar Ahmed chronicles Germany's long engagement with Islam going back to the likes of Goethe, and wonders if Merkel's kindness toward refugees is linked to that historical "soft spot." In a short essay that discusses how some Europeans feel their way of life is threatened by refugees and migrants, I recall the ideas of the great pluralist thinker Isaiah Berlin and cite the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. "One of the great Left taboos," Zizek says, "will have to be broken here: the notion that the protection of one's specific way of life is in itself a proto-Fascist or racist category. If we don't abandon this notion, we open up the way for the anti-immigrant wave which thrives all around Europe." In an interview, IMF chief Christine Lagarde discusses the double European crisis of refugees and Greek debt.

The assumption that Syrians seeking refuge from the conflict would not stay long outside their borders has proven "devastatingly wrong," writes Louise Finan. The more than 4 million people now displaced in the region around Syria five years after war broke out, she says, are beginning to look like the Palestinians who still have not been able to return to their homes decades after they first fled. Similarly, Jina Krause-Vilmar says that interim opportunities that stop short of full integration must be provided for refugees in Lebanon and Jordan who are going nowhere soon. Daoud Kuttab argues that Jordan must grapple with the challenge that the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees now there for an extended time must sooner or later gain access to the job market. From Athens, Angeliki Kougiannou reports on the generosity of a woman in Greece who took in stranded refugees.

We also review what an array of world leaders, from Jordan's King Abdullah to French President Francois Hollande, had to say at the United Nations this week about the Syrian refugee crisis and remember that the migrant calamity in Calais continues. Rowaida Abdelaziz walks us through a day in the life of those caught in another brutal war raging in the region in Yemen.

Nick Robins-Early reports on the widely-held suspicion among American policymakers that Russian airstrikes in Syria are aimed more at buttressing Assad than blasting ISIS. In this week's "Forgotten Fact," Charlotte Alfred traces the evolution of the conflict in Syria to show "there would be no ISIS without Assad." She also reports on why Russian maps of Syria have vastly different versions of where ISIS controls territory. In an interview, Cambridge University international law professor Marc Weller questions the legality of the strikes. Raghida Dergham says the Russian intervention "has imposed on the United States, Europe and the Arab nations a fait accompli, which they have no choice but to accept. Ian Bremmer sees Putin's move in Syria as a reminder to the West that Russia is still a player outside its neighborhood. Indeed, Faisal Abbas writes that Russia will from now on have "a much bigger say" -- and become a permanent presence -- in the region.

In an exclusive op-ed for The WorldPost, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas writes about "our moment of hope" when the Palestinian flag was raised at the U.N. this week for the first time.

In the wake of Chinese President Xi's announcement last week of a new cap-and-trade program to stem climate change in his nation of 1.4 billion, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd joins Dai Bingguo in a first-ever co-authored blog post with such a high-ranking former Chinese official on how "the East and West must work together" to build an "eco-civilization" for the future. Jeremy Haft argues that Donald Trump's obsession with China as a job-sucker is misplaced and questions China's official growth statistics.

Writing from Rome in our "Following Francis" series, Sébastien Maillard explains how the pope's "shock-the-Yankees-with-humility" gestures during his recent visit to the U.S. helped foster a "perspective of dialogue." Mariane Pearl writes about the global dialogue of Chime for Change that is "connecting the dots" in women's lives around the world.

Actor Matt Damon wants us to focus on the fact that 2.5 billion people live without clean water or toilets. Alexandra Ma reports on the "landfill salad" and other dishes served to world leaders at the U.N. this week to illustrate the amount of food that goes to waste on a hungry planet.

Writing from São Paulo, Brasil Post's Diego Iraheta says the crisis in Brazil has reached a critical moment in which responsible debate about the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff is necessary. Writing from Madrid, Montserrat Dominguez calls for new policies "capable of healing wounds and weaving a new space for coexistence" in polarized Catalonia. Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo is convinced that the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers has bolstered the political chances for reformists.

Also this week, Charlie Rose interviewed historian Niall Ferguson about his just released biography, "Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist," at a book party hosted by The WorldPost at the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York.

In the last installment of our exponential technology series, the grand theorist of Singularity, Ray Kurzweil, talks in a video about how nanotechnology implanted in our brains can make us "more godlike." In an interview, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who filed antitrust charges against Google earlier this year, tells HuffPost, "What we're aiming for has nothing to do with Google as such -- it has to do with the market allowing innovation."

Also in an interview, Edward Snowden tells WorldPost partner Fusion, "there is nobody good enough to block every [cyber] attack." In our Singularity series we report on how new educational technologies for Kenya proposed by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are running into the same kind of local resistance faced by the introduction of genetically modified organisms. "Much of the resistance to GMOs," the report notes, " comes from the heavy-handedness of their advocates and the sentiment that they were ultimately disempowering for many who adopted them."

In the "What's Working" category this week, Joseph Erbentraut tells the story of a campaign by women in Mumbai who purposefully "loiter" in groups at night in order to create safe public spaces for themselves, and Carol Kuruvilla reports on how Shia and Sunni Muslims prayed "shoulder to shoulder" in Lucknow, India for Eid.

Finally, see this remarkable video of a "dirty thunderstorm" in Chile where a volcanic eruption meets lightning.

Charlie Rose questions Niall Ferguson at WorldPost book party in New York. The WorldPost.


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CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

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Senate Looks Poised To Pass Major Overhaul Of Chemical Safety Law

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 19:14

 WASHINGTON -- The Senate may pass bipartisan environmental legislation as soon as next week, and it's kind of a big deal.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Friday announced support for a bill overhauling the country's decades-old chemical safety law, bringing the number of co-sponsors to 60. 

The bill would reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which has been widely panned as outdated and ineffective at protecting the public from hazardous chemicals. It would give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to test and regulate chemicals, and to identify risky chemicals that should not be on the market. A Senate committee approved the legislation in April.

Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) have taken the lead on the reform bill, and agreed to additional changes to accommodate the concerns of Markey and Durbin. The changes include increased funding from industry fees, which will pay for additional EPA testing, as well as faster compliance timelines for regulations. The senators said the changes are also meant to make it easier for states to move forward on their own regulations if the EPA has not issued a determination on a chemical's safety.

Markey said in a statement that the changes represent "positive and meaningful progress." 

The Senate legislation has caused some tensions among environmental groups over whether the proposed changes to the law go far enough. Elizabeth Thompson, president of Environmental Defense Fund Action, said the additional changes have "further strengthened" the bill and put it closer to passing Congress. "Today we are even closer to a new law that can finally protect public health and the environment from harmful chemicals," Thompson said in a statement.

Representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, March of Dimes, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine are slated to appear with senators at a press conference in support of the bill on Tuesday. 

But the Safer Chemicals, Health Families coalition, which represents a number of environmental, public health and consumer groups, said that while changes are an improvement, it remains concerned about " problematic provisions" -- especially how the bill deals with state preemption. "We believe we must do better and we hope the senators will support further efforts to strengthen the bill either on the floor or in conference," Andy Igrejas, the coalition's director, said in a statement.

There is still potential for additional changes through amendments on the Senate floor, but the bill has enough support to pass as it is. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said McConnell has said the bill "will be coming soon," but is not yet scheduled for a vote. Other Senate sources said it could come up next week, after the Senate passes the National Defense Authorization Act.

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Maps Are The Ammo In The Information Wars Over Russia's Military Campaign In Syria

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 19:08

As Russian jets strike Syria for a third day, the information war about which groups Moscow is targeting and why fiercely continues.

Russia says it is bombing the Islamic State and various other "associated terrorist groups," which it declines to name. When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was asked to explain who Moscow is referring to, he had this clarification Thursday: "If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it's a terrorist, right?" 

The U.S. and its allies say the Russian airstrikes have hit American-backed rebel groups, and activists on the ground say they have killed civilians far from Islamic State-controlled territory. 

Analysts, citizen journalists and media organizations have tried to verify the Russian accounts by comparing the locations of the airstrikes with the areas controlled by the different groups fighting in Syria. The maps show that Moscow has mostly hit rebel groups that are not aligned to the Islamic State, in areas where they are fighting the Syrian regime, apart from a few strikes on Islamic State-controlled Raqqa on Friday.

What accounts for the discrepancies?

Many news organizations trying to parse the competing claims use data from the Washington-based research group the Institute for Study of War to map Russian airstrikes and areas of regime and rebel control. The group has been closely tracking the war based on information from Syrian activists and state-run media, as well as Russian and Western officials, and updated its map of Russian airstrikes on Friday.

Other outlets, including the New York Times, are using data from the Carter Center, which has been mapping the conflict using information from activists and other on-the-ground contacts, as well as videos posted on social media. 

Both organizations are widely respected. Even so, collecting data from the ground in Syria is dangerous, difficult and complicated by the myriad rebel groups fighting with the regime and sometimes one another, so slight discrepancies are bound to occur.

"The mapmakers have to sift through the boasts of various groups, often unreliable evidence from local activists and residents and data from news reporters on the ground, who are severely constrained by the extreme danger of the conflict," Berlin-based author Leonid Bershidsky writes in Bloomberg View.

Excellent map that shows what the Russians are really doing in #Syria: pushing from Assad's front line. http://t.co/iqFutclItq

— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) October 1, 2015

Supporters of Russia's military action in Syria slammed the maps, as well as other critiques, as part of a "huge propaganda war" in Western countries against Russia.

Meanwhile, maps of Syria presented by Russian media organizations looked entirely different. One Russian outlet had a vastly different geography to most analysts, Washington Post reporter Liz Sly pointed out on Twitter. (Her tweet juxtaposing the two maps was re-tweeted by the official account of the U.S. embassy in Russia.)

Russia's map of where ISIS is is completely different to the @ISW's. Kurds should be careful. So should Aleppo. pic.twitter.com/fKcMgv2FAa

— Liz Sly (@LizSly) September 30, 2015

The map, posted on Twitter by Moscow government-owned newspaper Argumenty i Fakty, included two color codes: dark orange for areas under Islamic State control and light orange for areas under Islamic State influence -- in which they included several areas that aren't under Islamic State control, including the Syrian cities of Homs and Aleppo.

In a second map published on the Argumenty i Fakty website, the outlet made a distinction between the "Islamic Group" (apparently a reference to the Islamic State) and "Islamist groups not falling within IG" (apparently a reference to all other rebel groups.) Another map, on state-owned Russian television channel Rossiya-1 included the same vague distinctions: Kurds, the Islamic State, and "other Islamic organizations."

This follows Moscow's official line on the Syrian rebels -- most rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad are with the Islamic State, and the U.S. and its allies are naive to think otherwise. 

The weeks of rumors and Russian denials of a military build-up, followed by the surprise strikes and media blitz coming out of Moscow, may feel familiar to the citizens of Ukraine.

As Max Seddon points out in Buzzfeed, the Kremlin is reprising some of the same information tactics it used in Ukraine, as well as America's own portrayal of its campaign against Islamic State.

"War correspondents from state-owned media have deserted the conflict in eastern Ukraine in droves to resurface in Syria," he writes. "Some of those reports appear to marshal Russian public opinion, which broadly opposes military intervention, behind the strikes by convincing them of the threat ISIS poses to Russia -- as much as they warned of the “fascist” menace in Ukraine." 

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In fact, a group of Ukrainian software developers who founded mapping tool Liveuamap.com to crowdsource information during the February 2014 revolution and ensuing conflict in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, have now set their sights on the Syria campaign.

Liveuamap CEO Rodion Rozhkovsky told The WorldPost in an email that the team predicted an escalation of the Syrian conflict this summer and intensified work on their Syria map, which includes social media posts and news reports that are collected using a computer algorithm and are cross-verified by editors.

"Me and my team believe big data could prevent future conflicts, deaths, human rights violations," Rozhkovsky said. "Like the idea of the butterfly effect ... With social media we could gather all the "flapping of the butterfly wings" and say that there will be a "hurricane," he said.



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What President Obama Meant to Say After the Oregon Shooting

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 19:06
My fellow Americans, I'm obviously disheartened, and saddened by the events that occurred in Oregon today, I want to express my deepest sympathy, thoughts and prayers to the families of those we've lost and those that have been injured. Sincerely.

I'd like to take this moment to tell all of you watching, that statistically, some of you under the sound of my voice are going to end up dead. You'll be shot, killed, or severely injured because we won't fix the problems that lead to mass killings, like the one that we saw today. You, your mom, your child, your sibling, relative, friend, neighbor... someone else, many more people will certainly die -- at the rate we're going.

Congress will tweet, Facebook, and otherwise send their condolences, talk about how they can't understand how this could happen, and then go back to work making sure that it most definitely will.

Congress, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, the "more guns" theorists, blood is on your hands today. Blood. Is on your hands. And it will continue to be, not if, but when, this happens again.

There will be people who will say that more guns will make this better, make us safer. To those people, I ask you to show me the evidence to support that. Show me where a country has increased their presence of guns and violence has gone down. Juxtapose that to the countries that have done the opposite and seen their gun violence deaths go down. It won't happen because that's not how facts work.

To those of you that will lose your own life or a loved one's life, my deepest condolences... in advance of your loss. Whether it'll happen to you at work, at school, in a grocery store, a shopping mall, in your home, wherever it happens, I'm terribly, terribly sorry. But our country will do nothing to stop it; though you will get our condolences because that's what we do. We've made the decision that our love of guns is more important than your life or your safety. We've made the choice that we'd rather carry assault weapons than save your children's lives.

So again, my apology and condolences in advance. I've already got the speeches written, I just need names and locations.

This is about more than mental health, it is a factor. Guns are the problem here.

God bless America, and good luck out there. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

For a look at what President Obama actually did say, you can see his full statement here:

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Obama Orders Flags At Half-Staff To Honor Victims Of Oregon Shooting

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:55

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation Friday ordering flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the victims of the Oregon shooting.

On Thursday, a man embarked on a shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, killing at least nine people.

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Below is the full text of Obama's proclamation: 

As a mark of respect for the victims of gun violence perpetrated on October 1, 2015, in Roseburg, Oregon, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, October 6, 2015. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.


IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.

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How To Help Heroic Army Veteran Wounded By Oregon Shooter

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:53

Chris Mintz stood between the Umpqua Community College shooter and his victims in an attempt to stop the violence.

The 30-year-old Army veteran and dad was shot at least five times on Thursday, and remains hospitalized with two broken legs and multiple injuries.

Now, people across the Internet are trying to help him as he recovers. 

An organization called Planting Peace has started an online fundraising effort to help cover Mintz's medical expenses. Members set up a Crowdrise page which had received more than $8,500 in donations by late Friday afternoon.

Here's your hero! Chris Mintz, Army vet used to live in Tacoma. He rushed the gunman and survived being shot 7 times pic.twitter.com/0lj8JF67or

— John R. Knicely (@KnicelyKIRO7) October 2, 2015

"This was something we did independently after hearing Chris' story on the news and the heroic actions he took," Aaron Jackson, president of Planting Peace, told The Huffington Post in an email. 

The money will help pay for Mintz's medical bills and any additional funds will go toward his son Tyrik's education, according to the Crowdrise page.  

Mintz served in the Army for about 10 years. He successfully completed his combat deployment without any injuries, according to Business Insider. 

"We know there are many people raising money and rallying to help Chris, so whatever his needs are, we want to try to help take care of them," Jackson told HuffPost. 

Celebrities have also taken to social media to help rally support for Mintz's recovery: 

Planting Peace is raising money for the medical needs for Chris Mintz, the hero who charged the Oregon shooter. https://t.co/RxFnrBmfAW

— Edward Norton (@EdwardNorton) October 2, 2015

#ChrisMintz was so brave in #Oregon, blocking students from the shooter. Now he needs our help recovering https://t.co/8jn3FQ8qnI #Umpqua

— Sophia Bush (@SophiaBush) October 2, 2015

Mintz's cousin also created a GoFundMe page to help with his hospital bills. The page notes that "Chris is not the type of person to ask" for help, but that he is going to need as much support as possible throughout his recovery process. 


Also on HuffPost:

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Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:42
Next year, the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will celebrate its 50th anniversary as one of the finest laws our Congress has ever passed. It is a vital investigative tool for exposing government and corporate wrongdoing.

The FOIA was championed by Congressman John E. Moss (D-CA), who strove to "guarantee the right of every citizen to know the facts of his Government." Moss, with whom I worked closely as an outside citizen advocate, said that "without the fullest possible access to Government information, it is impossible to gain the knowledge necessary to discharge the responsibilities of citizenship."

All fifty states have adopted FOIA statutes.

As the FOIA approaches its 50th year, it faces a disturbing backlash from scientists tied to the agrichemical company Monsanto and its allies. Here are some examples.

On March 9th, three former presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- all with ties to Monsanto or the biotech industry -- wrote in the pages of the Guardian to criticize the use of the state FOIA laws to investigate taxpayer-funded scientists who vocally defend Monsanto, the agrichemical industry, their pesticides, and genetically engineered food. They called the FOIAs an "organized attack on science."

The super-secretive Monsanto has stated, regarding the FOIAs, that "agenda-driven groups often take individual documents or quotes out of context in an attempt to distort the facts, advance their agenda, and stop legitimate research."

Advocates with the venerable Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) do worry that the FOIA can be abused to harass scientists for ideological reasons. This is true; for example, human-caused global warming deniers have abused the FOIA against climate scientists working at state universities like Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University.

Among other suggestions, UCS recommends the following:

Universities should clarify their policies and procedures with regard to open records requests, ensure that their employees understand these policies, and make sure they have considered how they will respond when overly broad requests are used to harass their researchers.....

Legislators should examine their open records laws and ensure that they include appropriate exemptions that will protect privacy and academic freedom without compromising accountability.

The National Academy of Sciences and other research organizations should provide guidance to legislators and universities on what should be disclosed and what should be protected....

For more on the UCS positions see: http://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-and-democracy/protecting-scientists-harassment/freedom-bully-how-laws.

The proper response to abuses of the FOIA is not, however, to advocate blocking citizens or reporters from using the FOIA.

There are countless government and corporate scandals that have been revealed by the FOIA, but here are just two from this year.

In February, Justin Gillis and John Schwartz of the New York Times used documents obtained by the Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center through the FOIA to expose the corporate ties of the climate-change-denying scientist Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon, who received over $1.2 million in contributions from the fossil fuel industry over the last ten years. Soon even called his scientific papers "deliverables" to his corporate donors.

Another area of risk to food and health was revealed by FOIA requests. There are legitimate concerns about the health and environmental perils of genetically engineered crops and food. And the concerns are mounting. For example, in March, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the herbicide glyphosate - which is sprayed as Roundup on many genetically engineered crops - as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

On August 20, in the New England Journal of Medicine, Philip J. Landrigan and Charles Benbrook wrote that "the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer." Another study published on August 25 in the journal Environmental Health suggests that very low levels of exposure to Roundup "can result in liver and kidney damage" in rats, "with potential significant health implications for animal and human populations."

U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer group staffed by consumer advocates, is conducting an investigation of the food and agrichemical industries, including companies like Monsanto, and how they use front groups and taxpayer-funded professors at public universities to advance their claims that processed foods, artificial additives, and GMOs are safe, wholesome, and beyond reproach.

Based on documents that U.S. Right to Know obtained through the FOIA, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Lipton wrote a front page New York Times article about how Monsanto and the agrichemical industry use publically-funded scientists to lobby, and to promote its messages and products. For example, Lipton reported on a $25,000 grant from Monsanto to University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta, who had repeatedly denied having ties to Monsanto: "'This is a great 3rd-party approach to developing the advocacy that we're looking to develop,' Michael Lohuis, the director of crop biometrics at Monsanto, wrote last year in an email as the company considered giving Dr. Folta an unrestricted grant."

One thing is clear; food safety, public health, the commercialization of public universities, corporate control of science, and the research produced by taxpayer-funded scientists to promote commercial products are all appropriate subjects for FOIA requests.

The use of the FOIA by citizens, journalists, and others to expose scandals is essential to ensure honest scientific inquiry and is critical to developing protective public health and environmental standards. Scientific research should not be contaminated by the inevitable biases and secrecy that come with corporate contracts at public universities.

The FOIA is a valuable tool to help citizens uncover corruption and wrongdoing, and to vindicate our right to know what our own governments are doing.

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Hello... Moderate Gun Owners. Where ARE You?

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:36
I used to own two guns like these when I was younger. I know how gun owners feel about their guns because I've known a lot of them, and most have been rational, educated and caring people, many with school-aged kids. So, why haven't these gun owners been moved enough by the killings of school children to join efforts to stop the carnage?

Ultra right-wing gun owners who toe the NRA party line will take no action to stop the shootings, yet we keep expecting they'll eventually come around and become sensible. Each time there is a school shooting, the NRA circles their wagons and prepares their routine second amendment press materials to respond to the outrage. What they're saying, and not so indirectly, is that these deaths are the unfortunate cost of doing business for an America that must defend itself, that their guns have an important role in keeping citizens safe.

The reality is that gun lovers just love playing with their guns and see the killings as something that doesn't involve them. Guns are their recreation, their hobby, and they're not killing anyone. The NRA is simply the defender of the toys, not the nation.

Some of what hardliners say is true. Guns in and of themselves don't kill and the majority of gun owners would never kill anyone, just as cars don't kill people, drunks do. But guns are involved in these school shootings just as automobiles are when a drunk driver mows down a sidewalk full of people. The difference is that there are rules about drunks driving cars to keep Americans safer, but there are few rules regulating guns thanks to the NRA's hard-line policy of "give em an inch and they'll take a mile." Tough luck about those kids...

But what about moderate gun owners, those reasonable people who are horrified that these kids are being killed and would be willing to come to the table to curb the deaths? If gun ownership mirrors political parties, then hardline extremists are not at all the majority; they're on the fringes. So, where are these multitudes of middle-of-the-road gun owners?

I believe the reason we haven't heard from them is because gun ownership is a one-party system; owners have no one to turn to except the powerful NRA. There needs to exist a politically moderate gun association to sweep the NRA out of the way and organize the scattered millions of levelheaded gun owners, sensible individuals who enjoy owning a gun but loathe that they're used to shoot up schools, people of conscience who believe that kids dying every year is just not a price they're willing to pay.

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Good People Make Good Leaders

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:17
Fred Kiel, author of Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, conducted a seven-year study of more than 100 CEOs, their companies and 8,500 of their employees. What he found was that leaders of strong character achieved up to five times the return on assets as did leaders of weak character.

Kiel discussed his findings and views on leadership in an interview with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also is the head of the organization's Center for Government Leadership. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. What are the traits of leaders who have high character?

A. The leaders who attained the greatest financial bottom-line results had strong character habits that involve four basic principles: integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. They almost always tell the truth, keep their promises, are willing to own up to their mistakes and take responsibility for their choices. They are very forgiving of others. They are all about learning from mistakes rather than punishing. And finally, they care about people.

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.

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Progress for Children's Health

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:14

Recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is working and helping get people health coverage. This is a welcome stark contrast to new census data showing children remain our poorest age group and the younger they are the poorer they are. Clearly the ACA has had positive effects on the uninsured. There were 8.8 million more people insured in 2014 than in 2013 and the percentage of people without health insurance coverage decreased from 13.3 percent to 10.4 percent. In 2014 nearly 1 million more children gained health coverage and 93.8 percent had health insurance coverage although they were covered at a lower rate than seniors. Adult gains in coverage mean extra gains for children because when parents are covered children are more likely to be covered and receive needed preventive care too. The high rate of coverage for children is also evidence that Medicaid and CHIP are working for children and should be preserved as we work to expand protections for children in private coverage.

Although progress was made for large numbers of children, some lag behind. Hispanic children were more likely to be uninsured than children of other races and ethnicities and the uninsured rate for noncitizen children in 2014 was 20.8 percent—about 3.5 times greater than the uninsured rate for native-born citizen children. Assuring universal coverage for children requires providing coverage to undocumented children and to citizen children of undocumented parents who fear deportation if they seek health coverage for their children.

This summer, California took an historic leap towards providing health coverage to every child – the culmination of more than a decade of relentless advocacy by the Children’s Defense Fund’s California office and other child health and immigrant advocates. Led by state Senator Ricardo Lara, the legislature and Governor expanded Medicaid coverage to all income eligible children regardless of immigration status. Starting May 1, 2016, more than 170,000 undocumented children will gain access to health coverage they need to survive and thrive and grow up ready to contribute fully to California’s workforce and economy. The progress in California reflects a bipartisan recognition that the state is stronger when everyone has access to health care including immigrant children and families. California child advocates know the fight is not over and are continuing the “Health for All” effort to ensure all Californians — adults and children — health coverage. With its recent advances California joins Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Washington State and Washington, D.C. in covering undocumented children. Every state should do so.

States that have taken the Affordable Care Act’s option to expand Medicaid to more low- and middle-income adults also saw important strides in 2014. Although all 50 states and Washington, D.C. had a decreasing number of uninsured people between 2013 and 2014, the greatest gains were in the states that took the ACA’s option to expand Medicaid. The uninsured rate in Medicaid expansion states was lower than in states that did not expand Medicaid. The largest drop in the uninsured rate was in a Medicaid expansion state, Kentucky (5.8 percent). Massachusetts had the lowest rate of uninsured people (3.3 percent); Texas, a non-Medicaid expansion state, had the highest (19.1 percent).

We can increase this good news for all who need health coverage. We need to push hard for Medicaid expansion in all 50 states and push all states to follow California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Washington State and Washington, D.C. in covering undocumented children. The progress made on reducing the number of uninsured people should inspire us to keep going until every child and adult has needed health coverage.

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Managing Employees Who Are Older and Have More Experience

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:12
You've been promoted at a relatively young age and now manage a group of employees, almost all of whom are older than you.

How do you handle this situation, especially if some of the employees believe they deserved the job and are resentful, and others are not particularly overjoyed about taking direction from someone who is younger and has less experience?

It's a tough situation, but it is quite manageable.

As a starting point, hold a team meeting and let everyone know that you do not plan to launch any arbitrary changes, but intend to hold one-on-one sessions with the staff. Then follow through by sitting down with each person to learn what they think is working, what needs to be changed and what they're most interested in doing.

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.

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Nancy Pelosi Calls For A Select Committee On Gun Violence

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:10

WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants Congress to establish a Select Committee on Gun Violence in the wake of the Oregon college shooting that left 10 dead on Thursday.

There's already a Select Committee on Benghazi, and there will likely be one to investigate Planned Parenthood. On Friday, Pelosi called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to create a committee to investigate the "crisis" of mass shootings.

"The epidemic of gun violence in our country challenges the conscience of our nation," Pelosi wrote to Boehner. "As we pray for those who lost their loved ones at Umpqua Community College, we must address the tidal wave of grief guns have caused to so many families."

In her letter, Pelosi challenged the common response from politicians when confronted with questions about what should be done to stop gun violence.

"As Members of Congress, how can we in good conscience engage in moments of silence to honor these victims of gun violence, if we refuse to take action? We take a solemn oath to protect and defend the American people," she wrote. "We must not accept the horror of gun violence as routine."

Pelosi said the House should first pass a bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), which would expand existing background checks to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows, over the Internet or in classified ads.

"But we should not stop there," she wrote the speaker. "I urge you to create a Select Committee on Gun Violence to confront this crisis and report back common sense legislation to help end it. The bipartisan committee would be charged to present its recommendations to the House within 60 days -- in time for a vote before the third anniversary of the Newtown shooting this year."   

Thursday's attack by the lone gunman on Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon, came nearly four months after a mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, which left nine people dead. In 2015 alone, there have been 45 mass shootings at schools. 

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The Government's Most 'Social' Chief Information Officer

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 18:03
David A. Bray, the chief information officer of the Federal Communications Commission, is modernizing the agency's information technology systems to better meet mission needs. He tweets as @fcc_cio and was named the most social CIO in the world for 2015 by Forbes magazine.

In an interview with Tom Fox, Bray talked about his transformation efforts and his views on leading people. Fox is a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and head of the organization's Center for Government Leadership. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. What issues should government information technology leaders be focused on?

A. We need leaders who do more than keep the trains running on time. CIOs and CEOs can work together to digitally transform how an enterprise operates. As the FCC's CIO, my primary role is that of a digital diplomat who partners with the 18 different offices of the commission to best use digital technologies to achieve their missions, whether it be dealing with satellites, wireless communications, enforcement or public safety issues.

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.

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Facts Don't Support TANF's "Work-First" Approach

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 17:59

The facts don't support claims by the American Enterprise Institute's Robert Doar that TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is a success so we should continue and even strengthen its "work-first" approach -- which requires recipients to participate in activities that mimic work (like unpaid jobs) and thereby limits their access to education and training. 

  • Like others who claim that the 1996 welfare reform law that created TANF succeeded, Doar relies on data from TANF's early years, when the economy was booming. More recent data paint a very different picture.  For example, Doar says labor force participation among never-married mothers rose between 1995 and 2001 but doesn't point out that most of those gains have since disappeared (see graph).

  • The most effective work program from welfare reform's early years wasn't a work-first program.  Rather, it was a "mixed model" in Portland, Oregon that provided several pathways to work, including training, job search, and unpaid work.  Participants' earnings over five years were 25 percent higher than the control group's.  The earning impacts for all but one of the work-first programs in the same study, in contrast, were under 20 percent and as low at 8 percent. 

  • Most work-first participants aren't stably employed and their situations don't improve over time.  The early evaluations of work-first programs all show a similar pattern: modest increases in employment that don't lead to steady employment.  For example, about 75 percent of participants in Riverside, California's work-first program -- often presented as a model in TANF's early years -- worked at some point in the five years after the study began, but only 26 percent had earnings in all four quarters of the fifth year.  And a recent study of parents that left welfare in Maryland found that over five years, only 8 percent had continuous earnings above the poverty line for a family of three ($19,790).   

  • Over the long term, work-first programs don't outperform programs that encourage intensive training.  Participants in intensive training programs in Missouri and North Carolina had lower earnings initially than participants in work-first activities but significantly bigger earnings gains over time, a 2005 study found. 

  • Training programs, especially those focusing on jobs in demand locally, significantly boost earnings.  A study of several training programs found that people randomly selected for sectoral employment programs in health care, construction, and computer repair had earnings 18 percent higher than non-participants.  As this and other studies show, a common pattern in training programs is lower employment and earnings while participants are in training, followed by a significant increase in earnings. 

Claims of welfare reform's success also ignore Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer's new book, $2 a Day:  Living on Almost Nothing in America, which traces the doubling of the number of extremely poor children between 1996 and 2011 -- from 1.4 million to 2.8 million -- to TANF's failure. 

In today's increasingly skill-focused economy, work-first approaches that limit TANF recipients' opportunities to increase their skills through education and training hurt their chances of finding jobs and lifting themselves out of poverty.

This post originally appeared on Off the Charts, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' blog.

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Netanyahu Glares At UN Members For 45 Seconds To Protest Iran Deal

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 05:38

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave U.N. leaders the silent treatment during his speech on Thursday to protest the Iran nuclear deal.

Lashing out at the U.N. General Assembly, which gathered in New York this week for its annual meeting, Netanyahu gave the body a stern glare for full 45 seconds.

"Iran's leaders promised to destroy my country, murder my people and the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here has been absolutely nothing. Utter silence. Deafening silence," he said.

The Israeli leader also hit back at what he called "brazen lies" about Israel made in earlier U.N. speeches.  

Netanyahu has been vehemently opposed to the Iran deal, which he claims will "allow a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons."

Last month, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei reportedly said that Israel wouldn't exist in 25 years. However, President Barack Obama has assured Jewish leaders that he is committed to Israel's security.

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Vatican: Pope's Meeting With Kim Davis 'Not A Form Of Support'

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 05:30

 VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday that Pope Francis' meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, "should not be considered a form of support of her position."

After days of confusion, the Vatican issued a statement Friday clarifying Francis' Sept. 24 meeting with Davis, an Apostolic Christian who has become a focal point in the gay marriage debate in the U.S.

In a statement, the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Francis met with "several dozen" people at the Vatican's embassy just before leaving Washington for New York.

Lombardi said such meetings are due to the pope's "kindness and availability" and that the pope only really had one "audience" with former students and his family members.

"The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects," Lombardi said.

Davis, a Rowan County, Kentucky clerk, spent five days in jail for defying a series of federal court orders to issue same-sex marriage licenses. She said earlier this week that she and her husband met briefly with the pope at the Vatican's nunciature in Washington and that he encouraged her to "stay strong."

The audience sent shockwaves through the U.S. church, prompting questions about whether the pope had been duped into meeting with her and whether he truly knew the details of her case, which has polarized the country.

Initially the Vatican only reluctantly confirmed the meeting but offered no comment.

On Friday, Lombardi issued a fuller statement to "contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired."

Francis did not focus on the debate over same-sex marriage during his visit last week. As he left the country, he told reporters who inquired that he did not know Davis' case in detail, but he defended conscientious objection as a human right.

"It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," Francis said.

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Kevin McCarthy Does Damage Control On Benghazi Comments

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 04:46

Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the House's investigation of the 2011 Benghazi attack wasn't meant to hurt Hillary Clinton's presidential chances -- and he didn't mean to suggest otherwise. 

"This committee was set up for one sole purpose, to find the truth on behalf of families for four dead Americans," McCarthy told Fox News on Thursday night. "Now, I did not imply in any way that that work is political, of course it is not. Look at the way they have carried themselves out."

Earlier this week, McCarthy bragged that the Benghazi investigation had been successful in affecting Clinton's campaign.

"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" McCarthy told Fox News on Tuesday. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought."

McCarthy quickly faced backlash from Democrats, many of whom had already accused Republicans of dragging on the investigation in order to hurt the left. 

"This stunning concession from Rep. McCarthy reveals the truth that Republicans never dared admit in public: the core Republican goal in establishing the Benghazi Committee was always to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and never to conduct an even-handed search for the facts," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement released Wednesday. Cummings is a ranking member of the House committee handling the Benghazi probe.

“It’s really an ethical question," Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday. "It makes the whole operation practically an unethical operation. I think the Republicans should shut it down."

Even fellow Republicans distanced themselves from his comments. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the probe "has never been about former Secretary of State Clinton and never will be."  

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told CNN that McCarthy's comments were "absolutely inappropriate."

On Monday, McCarthy announced he would be running for the House speakership. Boehner is retiring at the end of this month.

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Creative Tax Legislation as a Way to Improve America's Public Safety, Gun Safety and Create Funds to Invest in Improving Mental Health Care

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 04:35
When old ways stop working, it's time to explore new ones.

On October 1, 2015 following another active shooter incident in Oregon, President Obama called for legislation and politics. Something to break the status quo that has made what should be rare incidents "routine". So what kind of gun legislation might work? What's something new? Something that isn't a placebo? Something that isn't a lobbyist's fundraising storyline? Something that isn't Orwellian propaganda? Try this.

I'm becoming less and less able to swallow the notion that disarming America does anything more than make us easy meat for the killing. But how do we turn things around? How to we make America safer? How do we ensure guns are used to gain actual improvements in crime reduction? How to we create the money needed to invest in better preventive mental health care? So I thought a little out of the box and it came to me. It's time to use the tax system against those who's elitist policies are exposing us to excessive danger. The free loaders who want all the benefits of a utopian society but won't lift a finger to help; or worse, belittle those who are so lowly and common to try to look out for themselves.

There should be a law! It's the cry of the day. And so lets try a little mental exercise shall we?

Let's say we respect the Second Amendment. This is a fair enough universal assumption as both the National Rifle Association and Moms Demand Action both say they do. Let's further say we want guns in good, well trained hands in America. And let's say we want to gain control over criminal elements that impede our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Let's add to this that we want to finally do something to invest in actually having the means to take proper care of our at-risk mentally ill. Well and good. All noble goals.

What if we legislated a tax that charged those who refuse to be part of the common defense a fee to opt out of being part of the working defense of the nation's domestic tranquility. So people could pay a fee to opt out, freeload and enjoy the best of life in America by paying for the movie ticket.

How about we use that tax to fund national training programs for gun owners so that they will be more effective CCW permit holders? Let's say forty-five percent (45%) of that tax base goes to it. We would quickly have a county as skilled and prepared as the Swiss. To ease the transition from the society model we now have where citizens are wards - some would say inmates in a prison with no walls - we allocate five percent (5%) of these taxes will go to training programs to teach law enforcement to work in better partnership with a population of armed citizens.

Both of these fund pools would be allocated to state and local programs on needs basis; basically, the training monies to where there are gun owning populations. To ensure these benefits are nationwide, accompany laws enshrining national CCW reciprocity would quickly spread the benefits of such a process to even the most anti-gun communities.

And here's the kicker. To reinvigorate our dismal mental health system, 50% of the taxes base collected under such a law would go to fund mental health programs and facilities to improve the nation's care for at risk mentally ill persons. This a badly need by the nation and we have a dismal record at filling this social good need. This type of tax would finally force our hand to be the helping hand it needed to be all along.

The tax could also be used to encourage more people to participate in active community safety instead of buying it via using a tax deduction or exemption. To qualify for the tax exemption a person would have to attest that they are a gun owner and provide a form of evidence that they currently practice with their firearm as hunters, competitors or CCW holders. This attestation mandates the creation of a public/private confidentially verified firearms qualifications database that will augment and improve NICS. Presto, you have your improved level of gun training and de facto register of qualified gun owners; and it's a net economic positive recognition of public good value and essentiality for gun owners instead of a vindictive repudiation of their very valid contributions to public safety that elitists seem to need to make them feel better about themselves.

The above is a national tax concept best implemented in the tax code as a federal income tax buried within the tax tables. The discounting on the tax would be structured as an exemption. States could do something similar probably using a state income tax approach. The scheme does not make sense to use sales, use or property taxes because these would not necessarily reach the non-gun owners who should be paying for the benefits being created through the efforts of others.

Roll this around in your head. It's thinking outside the box to be sure but at this point with Columbine repetitions becoming regular coverage in the news cycles, perhaps it's time to be thinking outside the box. We all need to be part of a new solution set. If the problem is this big - and I believe it is - we need to invest. It makes lots of sense to consider a purpose dedicated tax to enable the system to improve. It seems to me that those who refuse lower themselves to the level of commoners to help keep America peaceful and safe should be paying for this public good in their tax bills. It certainly seems a topic worthy of consideration by Congress and the White House.

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Dozens Of Endangered Seals Wash Up Dead, Starving On California Beaches

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-10-02 04:34

The threatened Guadalupe fur seal could be the latest victim of the unusually warm waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

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