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Off Their Front Porch: Protesters Have No Free-Speech Rights On Supreme Court Plaza

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-08-30 13:45

The Constitution doesn't apply in the area just outside the main court that interprets the Constitution.


A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the elevated marble plaza surrounding the Supreme Court building is a "nonpublic forum" and thus authorities may prosecute those who protest or pass out leaflets there.


"Under the lenient First Amendment standards applicable to nonpublic forums," wrote the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, "the government can impose reasonable restrictions on speech as long as it refrains from suppressing particular viewpoints."


The court drew a distinction between the public sidewalks outside the plaza -- which the Supreme Court in 1983 ruled were a public forum protected by the First Amendment -- and the plaza itself, which can be policed under a federal statute prohibiting "assemblages" and "displays."


The court's opinion included a detailed description and a photograph of the Supreme Court's grounds.



 The D.C.-based appeals court that decided the case is widely regarded as the second-most important federal court in the country.


The case was brought by a man who in 2011 stood on the plaza near the front entrance with a sign around his neck that read “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans And Hispanic People.”


After receiving and ignoring three warnings from Supreme Court police, Harold Hodge was arrested and charged under the statute proscribing protests and signs on the plaza. Prosecutors then agreed to dismiss the charges so long as he stayed away from the court's grounds for six months, which he did.


Following the dismissal, Hodge sued in federal court, contending the statute violated the First Amendment because it conflicted with his desire to "engage in peaceful, non-disruptive political speech and expression." 


A lower court bought the argument and struck down the statute as unconstitutional. But the D.C. Circuit reversed that decision, reasoning that the plaza is an "integral" part of the Supreme Court building, and that the 1949 statute is a "reasonable, view-point neutral" way for the government to maintain order. 


The court noted that Congress could at any time amend the law to allow "for the robust exercise of First Amendment activity by the general public" on the plaza. And it made clear that people have unlimited access to the area for "non-expressive" purposes -- such as posing for pictures or admiring the premises.


So if your goal is to picket and protest at the nation's high court, you're better off sticking to the sidewalks. At least there, the First Amendment still applies.

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Father Of Slain Journalist: 'They Messed With The Wrong Family'

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-08-30 13:42


WASHINGTON -- The father of slain TV journalist Alison Parker said that NRA supporters and lawmakers who voted against passing stricter gun laws have "messed with the wrong family."


Andy Parker, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, vowed to continue the push for stronger gun legislation and more in-depth background checks for those wanting to purchase weapons.


Parker's daughter was one of two journalists working for TV station WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, who were killed earlier this week by a disgruntled ex-employee of the station. Parker has since made the rounds on TV shows, calling politicians "cowards" for failing to pass gun legislation. 


"What I would like for everyone to know and to keep in mind is, you know -- just don't be desensitized to this issue," Parker said. "And don't go, 'Oh, gee, this is another horrific incident, what's for dinner tonight, honey?'"


Parker said he fears the public will forget his daughter's story, which is why he plans to "hold politicians' feet to the fire."


"I just want people to know that I'm going to be working on this for a long time," he said. "I know that this is not a sprint. It's a marathon." 


Parker expressed some frustration with questions that echoed comments made by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, putting the blame on mental health access rather than gun laws.


"I have been asked by several media outlets, you know, well, Trump says 'this is not a gun issue, it's a mental health issue,'" Parker said. "Well, he's half-right. It is a mental health issue. But there's a linkage there between guns and mental health, and there's got to be some kind of protocol established, so that we keep people from getting guns."


Unlike after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, Parker hopes this time results in the passage of gun legislation. He plans to visit Washington to meet with Mark Kelly, husband to former congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D), who was gravely injured in a mass shooting in Arizona in 2011.


Parker has also talked with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) who promised to help in any way possible, as well as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he added.

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Sunday Roundup

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 23:28
This week brought powerful reminders of what happens when a government fails its citizens. On Wednesday, as the nation continued to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's unnecessarily tragic destruction of a uniquely American city, the nation woke to yet another uniquely American tragedy, as two Roanoke-based news staffers -- reporter Alison Parker, and cameraman Adam Ward -- were gunned down on live television. It was the beginning of a news cycle we know all too well: shock, outrage, calls for sensible guns laws, and then, if past is prologue, nothing. Since the Newtown shootings in 2012, nearly 85,000 Americans have been killed by guns -- yet common sense gun legislation proposed at the time by President Obama continues to languish. On Thursday, the president called Katrina "a man-made disaster, a failure of government to look out for its own citizens." The same could be said of Roanoke.

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A Special Letter to the President from members of the Democratic National Committee

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 19:38
MINNEAPOLIS. At our just-completed summer meeting of the Democratic National Committee, we circulated a "Special Letter to the President" wherein we asked our DNC colleagues to sign the letter supporting President Barack Obama's leadership in negotiating an agreement that would place strict limits on Iran's nuclear program.

7 years ago this weekend, we nominated Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States. During that 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama had promised to choose diplomacy and engagement over conflict in pursuing American foreign policy objectives. Now, by working with the P5+1 (the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany), to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama has helped to fulfill that pledge. Promise made; promise delivered.

A majority of the DNC delegates joined us in co-signing our letter of support. In just a few hours, the two of us and a handful of allies collected signatures from over 160 DNC members, with endorsements continuing to come in.

We are proud to stand with our President and delighted to that so many others have joined us.

-------------------------------------------------

A Special Letter to the President from members of the Democratic National Committee.

We strongly support the courageous leadership you have demonstrated in choosing diplomacy and negotiations over conflict. We believe that the completion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated between P5+1 (the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany) and Iran to place strict limits on Iran's nuclear program is an important victory for diplomacy. We recognize that there are some who in good faith have expressed reservations with elements of the JCPOA but we believe that you and key members of your Administration have effectively and respectfully responded to these concerns. We, therefore, join you in supporting the JCPOA as the best way forward to secure our nation, our allies, and world peace.

Signed

Dr. James Zogby, DC
Christine Pelosi, CA
Donna Brazile, DNC Vice Chair, DC

Raymond Buckley, DNC Vice Chair, NH
Maria Elena Durazo, DNC Vice Chair, CA
Andrew Tobias, DNC Treasurer, DC
Henry R. Muñoz III, DNC National Finance Chair, TX

Mike Wenstrup, AK
Casey Steinau, AK
Kimberly Metcalfe, AK
Ian N. Olson, AK
Hon. Nancy Worley, AL
Rev. Randy Kelley, AL
William Roe, AZ
Danica Oparnica, AZ
Vincent Insalaco, AR
Hon. Joyce Elliot, AR
Hon. Lottie Shackelford, AR
John Burton, CA
Alexandra Gallardo Rooker, CA
Steven K. Alari, CA
Shawn Bagley, CA
Rachel Binah, CA
Becca Doten, CA
Jess Durfee, CA
Mary Ellen Early, CA
Alice A. Huffman, CA
Aleita J. Huguenin, CA
Bob Mulholland, CA
Garry S. Shay, CA
Keith Umemoto, CA
Hon. Maxine Waters, CA
Hon. Rosalind Wyman, CA
Maria Echaveste, CA
Matt Johnson, CA
Mattie McFadden Lawson, CA
Hon. Hilda Solis, CA
Pat Hobbs, CA
Anthony Graves, CO
Blanca O'Leary, CO
John W. Olsen, CT
Karen Kirkpatrick-Valentine, DE
Katie Solon, Dems Abroad
Kenneth Sherman, Dems Abroad
John Eastwood, Dems Abroad
Dr Stanley Grossman, Dems Abroad
Sandra Loridans, Dems Abroad
Gary Suwannarat, Dems Abroad
Hon. Anita Bonds, DC
Ed Potillo, DC
MaryEva Candon, DC
Hon. Arrington Dixon, DC
Rev. Leah Daughtry, DC
Earl Fowlkes, Jr., DC
Sunita Leeds, DC
Tefere Gebre, DC
Harold Ickes, DC
Lorraine C. Miller, DC
Minyon Moore, DC
Steve Regenstreif, DC
Max Richtman, DC
Bel Leong-Hong, DC
Alan Clendenin, FL
Richard Boyland, FL
Nancy Jacobson, FL
Marian Williams, FL
Nikema Williams, GA
Wendy Davis, GA
Sally Rosser, GA
QIQDavid Worley, GA
Hon. Rory Respicio, Guam
Jadine Nielsen, HI
Jan Bauer, IA
Bert Marley, ID
Jeanne Buell, ID
Carolyn Boyce, ID
Pete Gertonson, ID
John Keller, IL
Karen Yarborough, IL
Hon. Iris Martinez, IL
Hon.t Carol Ronen, IL
Teresa Garcia Krusor, KS
William Roy, KS
Hon. Karen Carter Peterson, LA
Ben L. Jeffers, LA
Deborah Langhoff, LA
Hon. Arthur Morrell, LA
Debra Kozikowski, MA
Gus Bickford, MA
Kate Donahue, MA
David M. O'Brien, MA
James Roosevelt, Jr., MA
D. Bruce Poole, MD
Glenard S. Middleton, MD
Hon, Greg Pecoraro, MD
Dr Maggie Allen, ME
Hon. Debbie Dingell, MI
Barry Goodman, MI
Virgie M. Rollins, MI
Ken Martin, MN
Marge Hoffa, MN
Nancy Schumacher, MN
Lori Sellner, MN
Rick Stafford, MN
Dr. Doug Brooks, MO
Hon. Sly James, MO
Brian Wahby, MO
Johnnie Patton, MS
Jean Lemire Dahlman, MT
Hon. Pat Cotham, NC
Jake Quinn, NC
Akilah Ensley, NC
Renee Pfenning, ND
Hon. Martha Fuller Clark, NH
Kathleen Sullivan, NH
Jane Dowdell, NH
John Currie, NJ
Reni Erdos, NJ
Marcia Marley, NJ
Barbra Casbar Siperstein, NJ
Debra Haaland, NM
Joni Marie Gutierrez, NM
Erin Bilbray, NV
Stuart H. Appelbaum, NY
Hon. Herman Farrell, Jr., NY
Ralph Dawson, NY
Jay Jacobs, NY
Sarah Kovner, NY
David Pepper, OH
Jocelyn Bucaro, OH
Hon. Isabel Framer, OH
Karen Packer, OR
Laura Calvo, OH
Lupita Maurer, OR
Penny Gerber, PA
Hon. Kenneth McClintock, PR
Liza M. Ortiz, PR
Kaye Lingle Koonce, SC
Hon. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, SC
Don Fowler, SC
Ann Tornberg, SD
Joe Lowe, SD
Hon. Nick Nemec, SD
Sharon Stroschein, SD
Will Cheek, TN
Hon. William Owen, TN
Hon. Glen Maxey, TX
Rafael Anchia, TX
Montserrat Garibay, TX
Peter Corroon, UT
Hon. Tim Jerman, VT
Richard Cassidy, VT
Cecil Benjamin, VI
Fred Hudson, VA
Sandra W. Brandt, VA
Frank Leone, VA
Alice Germond, VA
Janice Griffin, VA
Jaxon Ravens, WA
Ed Cote, WA
Sharon Mast, WA
David McDonald, WA
Juanita Luiz, WA
Rion Ramirez, WA
Pat Maroney, WV
Jason Rae, WI
Ana Cuprill, WY
Hon. Mike Gireau, WY

-partial list-

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.











A Special Letter to the President From Members of the Democratic National Committee

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 19:25
MINNEAPOLIS -- At our just-completed summer meeting of the Democratic National Committee, we circulated a "Special Letter to the President" wherein we asked our DNC colleagues to sign the letter supporting President Barack Obama's leadership in negotiating an agreement that would place strict limits on Iran's nuclear program.

7 years ago this weekend, we nominated Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States. During that 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama had promised to choose diplomacy and engagement over conflict in pursuing American foreign policy objectives. Now, by working with the P5+1 (the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany), to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama has helped to fulfill that pledge. Promise made; promise delivered.

A majority of the DNC delegates joined us in co-signing our letter of support. In just a few hours, the two of us and a handful of allies collected signatures from over 160 DNC members, with endorsements continuing to come in.

We are proud to stand with our president and delighted to that so many others have joined us.

-------------------------------------------------

A Special Letter to the President from members of the Democratic National Committee.

We strongly support the courageous leadership you have demonstrated in choosing diplomacy and negotiations over conflict. We believe that the completion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated between P5+1 (the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany) and Iran to place strict limits on Iran's nuclear program is an important victory for diplomacy. We recognize that there are some who in good faith have expressed reservations with elements of the JCPOA but we believe that you and key members of your Administration have effectively and respectfully responded to these concerns. We, therefore, join you in supporting the JCPOA as the best way forward to secure our nation, our allies, and world peace.

Signed

Dr. James Zogby, DC
Christine Pelosi, CA
Donna Brazile, DNC Vice Chair, DC

Raymond Buckley, DNC Vice Chair, NH
Maria Elena Durazo, DNC Vice Chair, CA
Andrew Tobias, DNC Treasurer, DC
Henry R. Muñoz III, DNC National Finance Chair, TX

Mike Wenstrup, AK
Casey Steinau, AK
Kimberly Metcalfe, AK
Ian N. Olson, AK
Hon. Nancy Worley, AL
Rev. Randy Kelley, AL
William Roe, AZ
Danica Oparnica, AZ
Vincent Insalaco, AR
Hon. Joyce Elliot, AR
Hon. Lottie Shackelford, AR
John Burton, CA
Alexandra Gallardo Rooker, CA
Steven K. Alari, CA
Shawn Bagley, CA
Rachel Binah, CA
Becca Doten, CA
Jess Durfee, CA
Mary Ellen Early, CA
Alice A. Huffman, CA
Aleita J. Huguenin, CA
Bob Mulholland, CA
Garry S. Shay, CA
Keith Umemoto, CA
Hon. Maxine Waters, CA
Hon. Rosalind Wyman, CA
Maria Echaveste, CA
Matt Johnson, CA
Mattie McFadden Lawson, CA
Hon. Hilda Solis, CA
Pat Hobbs, CA
Anthony Graves, CO
Blanca O'Leary, CO
John W. Olsen, CT
Karen Kirkpatrick-Valentine, DE
Katie Solon, Dems Abroad
Kenneth Sherman, Dems Abroad
John Eastwood, Dems Abroad
Dr Stanley Grossman, Dems Abroad
Sandra Loridans, Dems Abroad
Gary Suwannarat, Dems Abroad
Hon. Anita Bonds, DC
Ed Potillo, DC
MaryEva Candon, DC
Hon. Arrington Dixon, DC
Rev. Leah Daughtry, DC
Earl Fowlkes, Jr., DC
Sunita Leeds, DC
Tefere Gebre, DC
Harold Ickes, DC
Lorraine C. Miller, DC
Minyon Moore, DC
Steve Regenstreif, DC
Max Richtman, DC
Bel Leong-Hong, DC
Alan Clendenin, FL
Richard Boyland, FL
Nancy Jacobson, FL
Marian Williams, FL
Nikema Williams, GA
Wendy Davis, GA
Sally Rosser, GA
QIQDavid Worley, GA
Hon. Rory Respicio, Guam
Jadine Nielsen, HI
Jan Bauer, IA
Bert Marley, ID
Jeanne Buell, ID
Carolyn Boyce, ID
Pete Gertonson, ID
John Keller, IL
Karen Yarborough, IL
Hon. Iris Martinez, IL
Hon.t Carol Ronen, IL
Teresa Garcia Krusor, KS
William Roy, KS
Hon. Karen Carter Peterson, LA
Ben L. Jeffers, LA
Deborah Langhoff, LA
Hon. Arthur Morrell, LA
Debra Kozikowski, MA
Gus Bickford, MA
Kate Donahue, MA
David M. O'Brien, MA
James Roosevelt, Jr., MA
D. Bruce Poole, MD
Glenard S. Middleton, MD
Hon, Greg Pecoraro, MD
Dr Maggie Allen, ME
Hon. Debbie Dingell, MI
Barry Goodman, MI
Virgie M. Rollins, MI
Ken Martin, MN
Marge Hoffa, MN
Nancy Schumacher, MN
Lori Sellner, MN
Rick Stafford, MN
Dr. Doug Brooks, MO
Hon. Sly James, MO
Brian Wahby, MO
Johnnie Patton, MS
Jean Lemire Dahlman, MT
Hon. Pat Cotham, NC
Jake Quinn, NC
Akilah Ensley, NC
Renee Pfenning, ND
Hon. Martha Fuller Clark, NH
Kathleen Sullivan, NH
Jane Dowdell, NH
John Currie, NJ
Reni Erdos, NJ
Marcia Marley, NJ
Barbra Casbar Siperstein, NJ
Debra Haaland, NM
Joni Marie Gutierrez, NM
Erin Bilbray, NV
Stuart H. Appelbaum, NY
Hon. Herman Farrell, Jr., NY
Ralph Dawson, NY
Jay Jacobs, NY
Sarah Kovner, NY
David Pepper, OH
Jocelyn Bucaro, OH
Hon. Isabel Framer, OH
Karen Packer, OR
Laura Calvo, OH
Lupita Maurer, OR
Penny Gerber, PA
Hon. Kenneth McClintock, PR
Liza M. Ortiz, PR
Kaye Lingle Koonce, SC
Hon. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, SC
Don Fowler, SC
Ann Tornberg, SD
Joe Lowe, SD
Hon. Nick Nemec, SD
Sharon Stroschein, SD
Will Cheek, TN
Hon. William Owen, TN
Hon. Glen Maxey, TX
Rafael Anchia, TX
Montserrat Garibay, TX
Peter Corroon, UT
Hon. Tim Jerman, VT
Richard Cassidy, VT
Cecil Benjamin, VI
Fred Hudson, VA
Sandra W. Brandt, VA
Frank Leone, VA
Alice Germond, VA
Janice Griffin, VA
Jaxon Ravens, WA
Ed Cote, WA
Sharon Mast, WA
David McDonald, WA
Juanita Luiz, WA
Rion Ramirez, WA
Pat Maroney, WV
Jason Rae, WI
Ana Cuprill, WY
Hon. Mike Gireau, WY

Partial list, additional names to be added.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.











Iowa Poll: Bernie Sanders Is Closing In On Hillary Clinton

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 19:10

A new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll shows Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) only 7 points behind Hillary Clinton in the race for the Iowa caucus, a worrying sign for the Democratic frontrunner. Clinton leads with 37 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers, with Sanders following at 30 percent.


As Clinton's campaign struggles to counter negative press from her ongoing email controversy, Sanders has energized liberal Democrats with impassioned talk of political revolution. According to the poll, 96 percent of Sanders supporters said they support him for his ideas, while two percent said their support lies mostly in the fact that they do not support Clinton.


The poll also includes Vice President Joe Biden, who captured 14 percent. He has yet to announce a presidential bid.


Clinton has lost a third of her support since May, the poll found. This is also the first time Clinton has fallen below the 50 percent mark in a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll this year. "It looks like what people call the era of inevitability is over," said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll.


While the poll results show a notable departure from Clinton's presumptive lead, they don't necessarily predict what's to come. In June 2011, former Rep. Michele Bachmann was polling just one point behind eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney in Iowa. Bachmann finished in sixth place, with a dismal 5 percent of the vote at the caucuses.


The poll, conducted August 23-26, is based on telephone interviews with 404 likely Democratic caucusgoers. The findings have a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.


Sanders is currently polling at a hair under 30 percent in the HuffPost Pollster chart, which aggregates all publicly available polls.  




Also on HuffPost:


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With Jeb and Torture, It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 18:22


Just when you thought the summer of Fant4stically-failed reruns was over, here comes Bush III. As the New York Times reports on August 24, candidate Jeb has finally come out swinging at provocations from his Republican rivals.

Contrary to tough-guy Jeb Bush, I would not leave the door open to torture, not even for use against those U.S. officials who, post 9/11, secretly conceived and implemented torture in our foreign policy. Experts now agree that torture does not produce credible intelligence. It is also immoral and illegal. Torture defiles those who undertake it and taints all Americans in whose names it has been committed.

Its practice should not be on the table at presidential debates. U.S. representatives responsible for opening, and carrying out, this Pandora's box should be tried for war crimes, as William Cheng deftly summarizes.

With a possible remake in development, it's time to wrestle again with past Bush presidencies.

The current chaos in the Middle East lies at the feet of America's interventionist neoconservatives. Dick Cheney et al seem to have taken inspiration from the La Fontaine maxim that "might makes right." With a dash of Tony Stark's desire to carry on his father's "unfinished" work, George W. Bush went along with his consiglieri's suicidal policies.

Many journalists, anti-war protesters, and experts predicted the political void that would open if the U.S. toppled the secular nationalist Saddam Hussein. Extremism loves a vacuum. Having failed to conquer Al-Qaeda, the Bush regime created a void in the Middle East lately filled by ISIS, another group that doesn't rule out torture. But few predicted the U.S.'s scandalous embrace of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (read "torture"), now depressingly catalogued in countless books and documentary films.

Could it possibly be that a Bush III administration will revive the use of torture against the Islamic state, an organization that owes its existence to the U.S.'s disastrous occupation of Iraq? And so our country prepares to wrong the wrongs of the past.

Beginning in 2002, I started researching Arab cinema, eventually traveling to North Africa to learn what filmmakers from Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco had to say about the so-called "clash of civilizations," the invasion of Iraq, and the Middle East generally.

Deeply bi-cultural, educated Tunisians speak French as fluently as Arabic, and understand the French Enlightenment as well as the history of the Ottoman empire. Among the most liberal of their Arab brethren, Tunisians - in private then highly critical of their own totalitarian government - complained bitterly about Saudi Arabia's exportation of Islamic extremism throughout their region and the world.

18 months after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, I attended the Carthage Film Festival in Tunis, then the largest festival of Arab cinema in the world. A taxi cab driver from the airport told me, "Saddam is a bastard, but he's our bastard." Tunisian filmmakers mused that if the U.S. really wanted to promote democracy in the Arab world, then it should have invaded Tunisia. A progressive, secular middle-class country, Tunisia held the most promise for a representative government à la Turkey. Tunisia is not a cookie-cutter country assembled by colonial powers. It has been a coherent nation-state for hundreds of years. In addition, the police state of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali routinely tortured its political opponents.

In 2006, I again attended the Carthage festival. In the ongoing mayhem of the occupation of Iraq, Tunisian and Arab directors, producers, and critics remained stupefied by the 2004 election of G.W. Bush as president. Ok, they said, the Republicans stole the 2000 election, these things happen in the Middle East as well.

In 2016, history risks repeating itself, first as tragedy, now as farce. For those who have been paying attention - and I know it's hard with Donald trumping around - Jeb Bush has quietly assembled a group of foreign policy advisors. 19 of 21 come from his father's or his brother's administrations (including Paul Wolfowitz, the "architect" of the American war in Iraq), opening wide the possibility of further adventurism in the Middle East.

Candidate Bush now walks a thin red line between owning and disowning the finally unpopular war in Iraq, wanting to have his torture cake and eat it, too. Do politicians who endorse torture actually imagine what it entails? Why won't a Republican presidential candidate step forward to publicly undergo waterboarding, as did journalist Christopher Hitchens, or nudity, slapping, humiliation, sleep deprivation, and hanging from ceiling, all disgracefully used by the CIA in tandem with complicit governments abroad?

In 2014, our Senate produced a report demonstrating that, 1) the U.S. use of torture was more brutal than previously admitted; 2) the CIA lied about its use of torture; and 3) torture failed to produce intelligence that saved lives. Utilized during the Spanish Inquisition, waterboarding, like all forms of torture, has been denounced by Pope Francis as "a mortal sin." As is painfully clear in America today, torture rots the body politic that permits it.

Of resuscitating torture techniques that contravene the codes of the Geneva Convention, candidate Bush says that "now we're in a different environment." If elected, Jeb promises to take us back to the shameful policies of the new millennium, when the U.S. regressed to an "eye for an eye" method of its enemies. With a Bush around the corner, one could say that, as Faulkner put it, "the past is never dead. It's not even past."

Is the American public really ready for a Bush family dynasty to rival the Saudis? Fool us once, shame on you, fool us thrice....

If you think Bush II was bad, don't hold your breath for the sequel, or you may find yourself underwater.

Jeffrey Ruoff is an associate professor of Film and Media Studies at Dartmouth College and OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow.

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Michigan Rally Shows Support For Ex-Marine Held By Iran

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 17:30

BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) — Dozens of people at a Michigan rally released balloons Saturday to mark the four-year anniversary of Iran's refusal to free a former Marine from prison.


But they first heard from Amir Hekmati, whose words were recorded weeks ago during a phone call with relatives. He has been in an Iranian prison since 2011, although the U.S. government denies he's a spy and has repeatedly called for his release.


"The list of people I want to thank is far too long to include here," Hekmati, 32, said.


Rain suddenly stopped in Bay City as about 100 people turned out to hear remarks from Hekmati's Flint-area family, U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Michigan, and others, including a Detroit-area imam who said he visited Hekmati in prison on Aug. 18.


Mohammad Ali Elahi predicted that Hekmati could be released soon.


"It was a miracle that I was able to meet with him," Elahi told The Bay City Times. "He was very strong spiritually and psychologically, and very relaxed."


Kildee said he hopes there won't be a fifth-anniversary rally next year.


"We're closer now than we ever have been, but until we see him, we can't stop. We can't stop this fight," Kildee said.


Sarah Hekmati spoke to her brother by phone before the rally and said he's humbled by the support. It's a tough time for the family: Their father, Ali, was treated for brain cancer and has suffered two strokes since Amir was arrested.


Sarah Hekmati, 34, was in Vienna to meet with Iranian representatives during U.S.-Iran nuclear talks earlier this summer.


"For the most part they were receptive," she told The Associated Press. "We brought letters from our father's physicians to appeal to them. ... My father's health is deteriorating."


 

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Columbia Cites Free Speech In Defense Of Allowing Mattress Protest

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 17:24

NEW YORK (AP) -- Citing the importance of the First Amendment, Columbia University asked a judge Friday to reject a student's lawsuit alleging the school failed to protect him after a onetime friend called him a "serial rapist" and carried a mattress around campus to protest sexual abuse.


The New York City university said in a federal court filing that it was a "fatal flaw" in Paul Nungesser's lawsuit that he failed to sufficiently claim intentional gender discrimination by Columbia. His lawsuit alleged that the university's actions caused him to face gender discrimination and defamation during the last school year and damaged his job prospects.


The German citizen sued the university this year, saying it effectively sponsored attacks against him by letting Emma Sulkowicz obtain class credit with a mattress-toting project that was designed to draw attention to her claims against him for a year leading up to commencement proceedings. The lawsuit said Sulkowicz has repeatedly and publicly called him a "serial rapist," resulting in national and international media attention. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages.


Columbia's lawyers wrote that the lawsuit suggested that the university was obligated "to silence Ms. Sulkowicz, preventing her from speaking publicly on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses - an issue of national concern."


"However, at colleges and universities like Columbia the `atmosphere of speculation, experiment, and creation is essential to the quality of higher education,'" the lawyers wrote, adding that federal laws against gender discrimination were "never intended to curb this cherished tradition of vigorous, even raucous, debate."


They said letting Sulkowicz proceed with her project was a "decision at the heart of academic freedom."


"This is especially true here, where Ms. Sulkowicz was a visual arts major and inherently subjective judgments of aesthetic value were at issue," the lawyers said.


Sulkowicz has argued her case was badly mishandled by the school disciplinary panel after she reported in 2013 she was raped in her dorm months before. After a university investigation, a school panel heard Sulkowicz and Nungesser testify before clearing Nungesser of the accusation.


The Associated Press normally does not identify people claiming they were sexually assaulted, but makes exceptions when the alleged victim has spoken publicly on the subject.


Andrew T. Miltenberg, a lawyer for Nungesser, said the university "shamefully bowed to social pressure" and turned its back on his client.


"In this instance, the disciplinary system worked correctly at Columbia," he said in an email. "That still was not enough to save an innocent person from the wave of public sentiment regarding assaults on campus. Paul Nungesser quickly became a convenient scapegoat, a whipping boy, and Columbia not only stood idly by, but often participated in the attacks on Paul Nungesser. There is no amount of legal theory that can save Columbia from that reality."


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Thousands Join Largest Protest Yet In Lebanon's Garbage Revolt

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 17:06

BEIRUT (AP) -- Thousands rallied in downtown Beirut Saturday in the largest anti-government protest yet over a summer garbage crisis, chanting "revolution, revolution" and setting a three-day ultimatum for authorities to respond to demands, including the resignation of a Cabinet minister.


It signaled the most significant public outburst of anger against a dysfunctional system of government, but demonstrators have yet to chart a clear path toward change.


The government's failure to resolve the trash crisis has evolved into wider protests against a political class that has dominated Lebanon since the end of the country's civil war in 1990 and a government that has failed to provide even basic services to its people. Protesters filled up the square known as Martyrs' Square, shouting anti-government slogans in a peaceful, carnival-like atmosphere.


"Today is a step on a long road," said Fares Shoufani, a 48-year-old contractor. "We are depending on this movement. The more it advances forcefully, the more the people join. "



The main group behind the protests is an activist group that calls itself "You Stink," a catchy slogan playing off the garbage crisis that addresses Lebanese politicians. The group has attracted across the board support from ordinary Lebanese fed up with the system, and angered at the festering, uncollected garbage piling up near their homes.


In a speech before thousands of protesters in Beirut, "You Stink" representative Rasha Halabi gave the government 72 hours to respond to its demands, threatening to escalate protests by Tuesday evening if it doesn't.



The group called for the resignation of the Lebanese environment minister and for the interior minister to be held accountable for police brutality against protesters last weekend. It also demanded an end to the garbage crisis. In longer term goals, the group called for new parliament elections and the election of a president to fill a post that has remained vacant for more than a year due to political squabbling.


"We are still in the beginning," Halabi said to widespread cheers from the crowd.



Waving red, white and green Lebanese flags, thousands of people poured into Martyrs' Square, shouting anti-government slogans amid the district's fancy apartment blocks and next to the blue-domed Mohammed al-Amin mosque.


The huge protest crowds were reminiscent of the massive rallies that took place in that same square in 2005, following the assassination of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Those protests, which united hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from all sects for a while, were focused against Syrian troops in Lebanon and their Lebanese allies, and succeeded in pressuring Damascus to pull out its troops following a decades-old presence.



The current protest movement is a rare instance of Lebanese mobilizing without backing from any political parties. Those who turned up Saturday where largely drawn from Lebanon's middle class and across religious sects. A mix of civil society groups, activists and leftist groups took part, along with thousands of disgruntled Lebanese.


The groups consist of a variety of views and programs seeking different agendas, each with a specific demand. Many say they seek radical reforms including an end the patronage system that divvies up power among Lebanon's multiple communities - Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Druze and more. That system has been the center of Lebanese politics for decades and helped fuel the 15-year civil war. Others are looking for more modest goals, such as an end to water and electricity cuts.



Together they're charting a comprehensive vision. One placard held at the protest read: "Go Home, You Have Failed in Everything!" with mug shots of Lebanese politicians on it.


It is not clear, however, whether the protesters, who are up against an entrenched political class for which there is no clear alternative, will be able to keep momentum and achieve results.


Mona Awali, a 30-year-old teacher from south Lebanon, said she doesn't expect politicians to yield to the ultimatum issued, but said that would only increase the resolve of protesters. She said was impressed by the young, independent crowd that turned up.


"This is what we wanted. This is the public we want to reach," she said.



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Two protests last weekend outside the prime minister's office drew up to 20,000 people and were generally peaceful. But the rallies turned violent when security forces used batons, tear gas and water cannons to disperse groups of people who tried to break the security cordon around the prime minister's office. There was no official estimate for Saturday's crowd, which appeared to be significantly larger.


To avoid friction with security forces, organizers of the protest shifted the location from Riyad Solh square opposite the government building known as the Grand Serail to Martyr's Square, a major square a few hundred meters away. As night fell, a small group of protesters returned to Riyad Solh, pelting plastic bottles and fire crackers at security forces. A small group of masked youth repeatedly tried to break through the barbed wire.



 


"It is turning into - I won't say revolution - but kind of an uprising. It would be great if we win on the rubbish issue because this will cause the beads to come undone," said Alex Paulikevitch, a 33-year-old choreographer and protester.


Paulikevitch said he doesn't think the protests will bring down the system, "but if we get one demand to solve the rubbish problem it will be great."


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Bill Maher Calls Out Rick Santorum On Climate Change

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 16:45


Bill Maher thinks all politicians should prioritize climate change.


In an interview with Rick Santorum on Friday night's "Real Time With Bill Maher," the host challenged the Republican presidential candidate about his failure to seriously consider the issue. But Santorum didn't sway from his point of view. 


"There was a survey done of 1,800 scientists and 57 percent said they don't buy off on the idea that CO2 is the knob that's turning the climate," Santorum said. "There's hundreds of reasons the climate's changed."


"Rick," Maher replied. "I don't know what ass you're pulling that out of." (Some 97 percent of scientists agree that human-caused emissions are driving global warming.)


Elsewhere in the episode, Maher criticized the media's Donald Trump coverage, and joked about stock photos of the stock market floor.


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A Tale of Two Katrinas

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 16:23
When I teach a course on the history of New Orleans I often tell my students that there were two Katrinas. To be sure, this is a heuristic device, but I've found that it helps students understand the historical origins of the disasters that struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. The first Katrina was the result of a low-pressure system that formed off the Bahamas on August 21st, 2005 and that in short order gained incredible speed and strength as it swept over South Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. By the time it made landfall in Southeast Louisiana on August 29th it was a Category 5 storm. The confluence of this hurricane with an antiquated, poorly funded, and incompetently managed federal levee system, along with bungling and criminal emergency management at all levels of government were the immediate causes of at least 1,833 lives being lost, 1.2 million people forced out of their homes, and the destruction of entire communities.

Like the first Katrina, the second was also a man-made disaster. Like the first, it visited tremendous destruction on the lives of poor New Orleanians and Southeastern Louisianans, a group of people disproportionately African American. At the meteorological level though the first Katrina really did not care about your income or racial status. Access to transportation and disposable dollars aside, if you were in the working-class and black Lower Ninth Ward on August 29, 2005 you were lucky to get out alive. If you were in working class and predominately white St. Bernard Parish that day you were lucky to get out alive. If you were in wealthy and white Lakeview that same day you were also lucky to get out alive.

The second Katrina, on the other hand, cares all too much about these things. Its ever-stronger winds swirl around New Orleans today, turning a city already rife with injustice in 2005 into an elite laboratory of plutocratic governance, market choice, education "reform," ever-skyrocketing rents and real estate values, and the second highest level of economic inequality in the nation. From liberal to conservative, Americans have seen in the second Katrina, a blank canvas onto which they can play out a variety of self-serving fantasies. The fantasy that choice leads to equality. That knowledge conferred in a Yale or Tulane classroom trumps experience. That the poor do not understand the things they should really want. That those who produce our culture and traditions and those provide the support for them to do so do it from their hearts and souls and thus don't need paychecks or places they can afford to live. That trickle down economics will actually lead to money trickling down. That the wealthy, powerful, and connected--by nature of their wealth, power, and connections--should be entrusted to make decisions for all of us. That a few small protests, hashtags, and petitions can constitute anything more than a sandbag in a levee breach.

Like all hurricanes, the second Katrina began as a low-pressure system. Our best radar systems show it forming in Washington D.C, on September 8th. That day, while water still covered much of New Orleans, President George W. Bush suspended the Davis-Act that mandates federal contractors pay prevailing wages. Many residents on the Gulf Coast were understandably occupied with other matters those days. In retrospect though, Bush's decision to guarantee that federally funded rebuilding efforts would not provide decent wages to help bring those in the Katrina diaspora home can be understood as the beginning of a new hurricane, a storm that unlike a regular hurricane which tracks and dissipates slowly upon landfall, would park itself over New Orleans and only gain strength as time went on.

Later that month, the second Katrina became a tropical storm when Mayor Ray Nagin named his Bring Back New Orleans Commission. A diverse black and white committee inclusive of many of the city's wealthiest residents and key powerbrokers, the only member of the Commission who was in any way answerable to any constituency of residents was City Councilman Oliver Thomas who went on record hoping that the "soap opera watchers" in public housing would not come home. Along with Thomas, many of the most influential members of the Commission like multimillionaire real estate developer Joe Canizaro, entrepreneur James Reiss, and shipbuilding magnate Donald Bollinger were clear in their advocation of a massive purge of poor people from the city.

The second Katrina reached hurricane status on January 31st, 2006. That day, the democratically elected Orleans Parish School Board, as a result of having the vast majority of schools stripped away from their control and handed over to an unelected state agency, fired all 4,600 teachers in New Orleans. This disproportionately African-American and female group had been the backbone of the city's black middle class before the first Katrina. Now, rather than having jobs to return to, this cohort of experienced classroom teachers were left blowing in the wind of the second Katrina.

The state's takeover of the school system and the firing of its teachers was a dream come true for a national education "reform" movement that proffered that market choice in schools combined with inexperienced yet energetic recent elite-college graduates would be a literal magic bean for underfunded and understaffed public schools serving students in the nation's poorest neighborhoods. New Orleans and its poor residents would be the lab rats in a grand experiment to show the world that schools should be managed like corporations, teachers should be evaluated like stock portfolios, and out of line students should be treated like prison detainees. Meteorologically speaking, the second Katrina became a category 2 storm when education "reformers" and leading opinion pages like those of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal doubled down on the notion of an educational grand experiment even as their own idiotic metric of high stakes test scores continued to show no improvement for poor and working-class New Orleanians--the people whose names these "reforms" were enacted in.

At is peak strength over land, the first Katrina topped out as a category 5 storm. As for the second Katrina, it continues to gather strength little by little, showing no signs of breaking up. It certainly hit category 5 status when the city's remaining public housing units were shuttered, despite their structural soundness, in favor of land giveaways to developers who have been vocal in their desire not to raise the prospects and equality of the city's poorest residents but to rather keep them as far away as possible from the new New Orleans. The second Katrina's wind speeds probably reached the category four threshold of 130 mph when the contractor chosen to run the state's Road Home Program, ICF International distributed only 1.5 billion dollars of the 6.4 billion it was allocated--even as its own stock price nearly tripled.

Day by day, the wind speed and quotidian storm surges of the second Katrina increase as the city is remade with amenities for tourists, property developers, and prospective residents with stable incomes while reliable transportation is a cruel joke, wages are stagnate and even declining in the city's largest employment sectors, and income inequality ranks second in the nation. They grow stronger when the entire world pays homage to the cultures of New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana but cares little if those who produce and enable that culture--as well as through their presence and performance add astronomical value to the city's real estate and tourist booms--live on less than $17,000 a year. They grow stronger when we see the little effectual resistance that has been mobilized against the second Katrina as anything even as strong as the shoddily maintained levees that allowed the first. The winds of the second Katrina will reach category five status when on August 29 many will celebrate the city's "recovery" and "resilience" without giving a second thought as to who has recovered and upon whose back they have done so.

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Guns and Insanity are Not Compatible

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 16:14
Over a year ago I wrote a post about mental illness and the demise of mental health facilities. I spent a lot of time researching the timeline of how we got where we are today. Take a look if you're curious about how we ended up here with no mental health facilities, to speak of, for people in need.

I wrote about my grandparents and their time working in the state mental hospital in Toledo, Ohio when I was a child. The stories were sad, especially the children's stories.

It was the '50's and many of the mental illnesses we now have a name for were nameless and frightening. Parents were unable to care for children who couldn't get along in school and needed supervision. Many of those children were just left at the state hospital.

What concerns me more today is how we are very aware of the mental illnesses that permeate our society and yet we have fewer safe places for those who suffer them to go.

Schizophrenia, as well as many other forms of mental illness, is not alcoholism or drug abuse. Thirty days in a rehab facility is not going to make a difference. It's also important for someone to monitor medications for someone with a mental condition. How can that happen without supervision?



I don't have a lot of answers but until we can get a handle on how to help those with mental health issues there needs to be more controls on gun purchases.

Our gun culture has become insane compared to the rest of the world. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a great group to join and follow if you want to get involved and make a difference. Power in numbers, I say.

The NRA, which owns a majority of our representation in Washington D.C., is out of control. They are fully aware of the issues with background checks and continue to push for less stringent regulations. All the while admitting mental illness is a huge issue with our out of control senseless murder rate.

So many places in our country have open carry now it scares me to death. If I walked into a store and saw someone walking around with an assault rifle over their shoulder, and likely wearing some kind of flag shirt, I would leave immediately. Of course, their answer to sane pleas for gun sense is to arm everyone.

Other than shooting a bb gun when I was a child, I've never touched a real gun and never want to. The idea of turning our country into the Wild West of a hundred years ago is insane. Even then in Dodge, Kansas you had to check your gun at the door.

I worry about those who really seem to believe that's a solution. Arm the whole damn country! Arrgh! They're nuts! With guns!

If most of the folks running for President of the United States of America focused on getting common sense gun regulations instead of trying to control women's reproductive rights we would all be much safer, including the fetuses they don't want aborted because, they will likely end up dead in a school or church or movie theater anyway.

PRIORITIES PEOPLE!

The only way to make that happen is to write, write, and write to every representative in and from your state and demand common sense regulations for gun purchases. Not just once, daily if necessary until we are heard.

You can make copies of your letters and send them through the mail daily, or you can find your representatives email here and email them at least once daily. Think power in numbers! Lip service is not going to work any longer. Collectively we may not be able to match them with $$ but we can make sure our voices are heard and they know we are going to VOTE!

Once we get a sane government, perhaps, we can finally make a difference. It won't happen overnight, but we CAN make it happen.

Who's with me?

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Smugglers Who Drove Migrants To Their Deaths Were Part Of A Vast Network

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 16:13

The smugglers responsible for driving 71 migrants to their deaths in the back of a cramped, unventilated truck in Austria were part of a vast international syndicate that has been a subject of multiple criminal investigations, a leading European law enforcement official said Saturday.

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Dick Cheney: Iran Deal Will Lead To First Use Of Nuclear Weapon Since Hiroshima And Nagasaki

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 16:06

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Former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz Cheney launched a broad attack against President Barack Obama's foreign policy in an excerpt of a forthcoming book that was published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday.


Both Cheneys accused Obama of lying about the Iran nuclear deal and said that the agreement would lead to the first use of a nuclear weapon since 1945.


"Nearly everything the president has told us about his Iranian agreement is false. He has said it will prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, but it will actually facilitate and legitimize an Iranian nuclear arsenal," they wrote. "The Obama agreement will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East and, more than likely, the first use of a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki."


The Obama administration has aggressively defended the deal, saying that it cuts off all pathways to a nuclear bomb. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that a better deal simply does not exist.


The Cheneys also blamed the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011 -- a talking point that Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has also used.


"He has abandoned Iraq, leaving a vacuum that is being tragically and ominously filled by our enemies. He is on course to forsake Afghanistan as well," the Cheneys wrote.


But former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, who was one of the architects of the 2007 surge and a top official in Iraq, has disputed that the decision to leave Iraq was Obama's.


“I remind everybody that us leaving at the end of 2011 was negotiated in 2008 by the Bush administration. That was always the plan, we had promised them that we would respect their sovereignty,” Odierno said at a press conference earlier this month.


The Cheneys' book, Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America, will be available Sept. 1.


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Chris Christie Wants To Track Immigrants Like FedEx Packages

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 15:45

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Saturday revealed a plan to curb unauthorized immigration: track anyone who enters the country from the time they receive their visa, like a FedEx package.


At a New Hampshire town hall, the presidential hopeful lamented that 40 percent of the undocumented immigrants in the United States entered on legal visas that they had overstayed.


"So here's what I'm gonna do if I'm president. I'm gonna ask Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, come work for the governor for three months. Just come for three months to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and show these people," Christie said, drawing laughter from the crowd. 


"We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in," he continued. "And then when your time is up...then we go get you. Tap you on the shoulder and say excuse me, thanks for coming, time to go."


Christie's campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.


FedEx uses barcode technology and unique tracking numbers to keep track of shipments, with each package scanned an average of 13 times between dropoff and delivery, said FedEx spokeswoman Jennifer Caccavo. She declined to comment on Christie's plan. 


Earlier this month, Christie called for a re-examination of birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants born on United States soil.


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High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 15:21
All across the country, Americans are finding that the prices of the prescription drugs they need are soaring. Tragically, doctors tell us that many of their patients can no longer afford their medicine. As a result, some get sicker. Others die.

A new Kaiser Health poll shows that most Americans think prescription drug costs in this country are unreasonable, and that drug companies put profits before people. Want to know something? They're right.

Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world - by far. Drug costs increased 12.6 percent last year, more than double the rise in overall medical costs. (Inflation in this country was 0.8 percent that year.)

Even before that, we spent nearly 40 percent more per person on prescriptions in 2013 than they did in Canada, the next most expensive industrialized country. Prescription drugs cost nearly five times more per person in this country than they did in Denmark that year.

This is not a partisan issue. Most Americans -Republicans, Democrats, and independents - want Congress to do something about drug prices. 86 percent of those polled, including 82 percent of Republicans, think drug companies should be required to release information to the public on how they set their prices. Large majorities support other solutions to the drug cost problem as well.

The Kaiser poll also showed that Republican voters care more about drug prices than they do about repealing Obamacare. They should. Republicans in Congress have tried to repeal that law so many times that it's an embarrassment. It's also a distraction from the very real health care problems our country faces. Millions of Americans still can't see a doctor when they need one. Another poll showed that nearly one in five Americans didn't fill a prescription because of cost.

That should not be happening in the United States of America - but it is. And it's not likely to end anytime soon, unless we do something. Medicare is predicting that drug costs will continue to rise by nearly 10 percent per year for the next 10 years. Tens of thousands of Americans now spend more than $100,000 a year on prescription medication. One drug costs $1000 per pill.

None of this has happened by accident. Our drug costs are out of control because that's the way the pharmaceutical companies want it. Other countries have national health insurance like the Medicare For All plan I have proposed, and these national plans are able to negotiate better prices. In this country, however, drug lobbyists have been able to block Medicare from negotiating better prices on behalf of the American people.

The pharmaceutical industry is also riddled with fraud. As a result, the American people are ripped off to the tune of billions of dollars per year. Virtually every major pharmaceutical company in this country has either been convicted of fraud or has reached a fraud settlement. Offenses include price manipulation, kickbacks, and substandard manufacturing practices.

Between our government's unwillingness to negotiate prices and its failure to effectively fight fraud, it's no wonder drug prices are out of control. We need to do more.

Here are some of the common-sense measures I will fight to see enacted into law:

Congress should instruct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies on behalf of Medicare. We should use our buying power to get better deals for the American people. Other countries do it; why aren't we?

We should penalize drug companies that commit fraud. They seem to feel the same way big banks do: that paying fines and settlements is simply part of the cost of doing business. That needs to change. We should pass legislation which says that drug companies lose their government-backed monopoly on a drug if they are found guilty of fraud in the manufacture or sale of that drug.

We should end "pay for delay." That's the collusion which takes place between drug companies when the holder of a brand-name patent pays another drug company to hold off on manufacturing a generic substitute. Brand-name drugs cost ten times as much as generics, on average, and can cost as much as 33 times as much.

We should also demand transparency from drug companies, who have been concealing the true cost of their research and development while at the same time taking tax breaks for it and using biased figures as an excuse for price gouging.

We should also make it easier to import lower-cost drugs from other countries. Years ago, I was the first member of Congress to take Americans across the border to Canada to purchase drugs at a fraction of the cost they were paying in the United States. They were able to buy breast cancer medication at far, far lower prices than what they were paying in our country. Americans should be able to do this online or by mail, provided they have the proper prescription from a physician.

Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick. People should not have to go without the medication they need just because their elected officials aren't willing to challenge the drug lobby. The public is fed up, and they have a right to be fed up. It is time we joined the rest of the industrialized world not only by enacting a national health care program, buy by implementing prescription-drug policies that works for everybody, not just the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry.

 

 

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Refugee Children Found In Critical Condition Inside Van In Austria

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 15:01

VIENNA, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Three young children suffering from dehydration and close to death have been rescued from a van crammed with 26 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Austrian police said on Saturday.


The two girls and a boy, aged five and six, were found in a dire state when police stopped the vehicle after a chase near the Austrian town of St. Peter am Hart on the border with Germany, a police spokesman said. They are recovering in hospital.


"The emergency doctor told us they would not have made it much longer - two, maybe three hours," said David Furtner, police spokesman for Upper Austria province.


The incident follows the discovery of the corpses of 71 refugees in an abandoned lorry on an Austrian highway on Thursday - victims of an unfolding tragedy as refugees and migrants escaping conflict and poverty in Africa, Asia and the Middle East flock to Europe in unprecedented numbers.


The International Organization for Migration estimates a third of a million people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, leaving from Libya, Turkey and other countries to land in Europe.


Hundreds have drowned in shipwrecks but the recent deaths on land have exposed another horrific side of the people-smuggling racket.


"The driver did not give a damn about the people in the back. We would not transport animals under these conditions on our roads in Austria," said Furtner, refering to Friday's discovery.


Austria lies on the way from poorer countries in southern and eastern Europe where many refugees first land, such as Greece, to more prosperous nations in the north and west.



DRIVER ARRESTED


The 29-year-old Romanian driver of the van found on Friday, registered in Romania, was arrested. The children and their parents were taken to the hospital in Braunau, where they are now in a stable condition.


Among the dead found in the lorry on Thursday, four were children, one of them a baby girl, police said on Saturday. They were presumed to be from Syria - in the grip of a four-year-old civil war - or possibly Afghanistan.


Three Bulgarians and an Afghan arrested in Hungary in connection with the deaths made their first appearance in a court in the central Hungarian town of Kecskemet on Saturday. They were given one month's detention pending further proceedings.


A prosecution spokesman told journalists the truck had left Kecskemet and picked up the migrants near Hungary's border with Serbia, before taking them through Hungary to Austria.


Police hoped to identify the dead refugees by examining mobile phones found on some of the bodies. Searches of backpacks, luggage and clothing had provided few clues apart from one Syrian travel document, said Helmut Marban, a police spokesman in Burgenland province.


Marban was speaking in front of a former customs hall where the lorry was parked on a tarpaulin to catch fluids, with investigators in protective suits gathering forensic evidence.


Police estimated the refugees could have been dead for up to two days and the truck might have been standing on the hard shoulder of the highway for as long as 24 hours.


"It seems unbelievable," said Marban, asked about how 71 people could have fitted into the medium-sized refrigeration lorry.


"At first when they got in they were of course standing, but when we had to bring them out they were (entangled) all together."


In nearby camps, refugees said the news had left them stunned, but they saw little choice but to flee to Europe.


"We had to walk so much, it was so dangerous, in the forest and in the water," said 21-year-old Qariburahman, who had been on the road for a month before Austrian police picked him up and brought him to the Nickelsdorf refugee reception center.


"When I came from Afghanistan, about three people died on the way, the way is very dangerous," he said.


His journey had cost him $5,000.


A Syrian refugee in the camp of Traiskirchen south of Vienna said people had no choice but go with traffickers.


"We didn't know what the car was, maybe it's a truck, maybe it's a van. And we had to follow (the trafficker) because in his area, he is the boss," he said, his pregnant wife and baby son close by.


"My wife, she told me, oh maybe we were supposed to be one of them ... maybe it is one of my friends, maybe it is one of my brothers on that truck.'"



"MASS GRAVE"


On another front in the crisis, Libyan authorities arrested three people on suspicion of involvement in launching a boat packed with migrants that sank off the country's Mediterranean coast, killing up to 200 people, a security official said.


The vessel, with up to 400 African, Syrian and Asian migrants on board, capsized on Thursday after setting off from the town of Zuwara, close to the Italian island of Lampedusa and a center of operations for people smugglers exploiting the anarchy in Libya, a country with two rival governments.


By Saturday, 115 bodies had been recovered and about 198 migrants rescued, officials said.


Arrests of smugglers are rare in Libya, where the judiciary has little power since the country is effectively controlled by former rebel groups which helped to oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.


The head of the European Parliament meanwhile said the "glaring failures" of some European countries to take in refugees were turning the Mediterranean into a mass grave.


Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat, said those European governments that had resisted European Union proposals to agree a common plan must do more to deal with the crisis.


He did not single out any states. However, Hungary, which is part of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, is building a fence along its border with Serbia to contain what it calls a threat to European security, prosperity and identity.


"The Mediterranean becomes a mass grave, gruesome scenes play out at borders, there is mutual blame - and those in greatest need, seeking our protection, are left without help," Schulz told Germany's Die Welt newspaper.


Germany's highest court on Saturday overturned a weekend ban on assemblies in an eastern town that was the scene of violent protests against refugees. More than 30 policemen were injured in clashes in the town of Heidenhau, near Dresden, last weekend.


Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Heidenau on Monday and condemned the protests. Germany expects the number of asylum seekers to quadruple to about 800,000 this year.


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Why The Debate Over Europe's Migration Crisis Is Full Of Myths

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 14:50

Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we speak with Hein de Haas, professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam and former co-director of the International Migration Institute.


European nations' struggle to cope with an influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees in recent years has exacerbated a growing humanitarian crisis in the region. 


The number of people seeking a better life in Europe currently shows no signs of decline. Countries including Germany and France have signaled the need to create a cohesive common policy that could address this migration, but EU leaders have so far rejected plans like spreading asylum claims throughout the union.


Hein de Haas, a professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam and former co-director of Oxford's International Migration Institute, believes that this debate over migration is lacking a number of key facts. The WorldPost spoke with De Haas to discuss some of the myths surrounding policy making and migration.


You wrote in a blog post that “much conventional thinking about migration is based on myths rather than facts.” Could you clarify that idea?


A lot of policy making around migration is based on politics rather than a real understanding of migration. The primary aim of a lot of politicians when talking about migration is to give the public the impression that they’re going tough on migration, but reactions like building a fence, deporting migrants or increasing border controls are not really based on real insight of what drives migration and are therefore ineffective.


A lot of politics is relatively fact-free in this arena, and we need to much better understand what drives migration before we can form the right policies.


We should acknowledge that to a certain extent migration is inevitable, and that saying that is not a judgment on whether migration is something good or bad, it’s just a statement of fact. 


Are you referring to people who are migrating because of economic reasons, or does that also include forced migration and people who would be classified as refugees? 


The vast majority of migration is still economic migration and family migration. What we’ve seen in Europe right now -- where the issue of refugees has come to the fore -- that’s still a minority of migrants coming to Europe. 


The main drivers of migration are clearly economic and social, and there I think there’s a failure to understand how migration works. 


To give you one example, there’s the myth that in order to prevent irregular border crossings we should combat smuggling. It’s based on a failure to understand that the smuggling is a reaction to the border controls, and that where there is a systemic demand for labor migration or conflict in origin countries, it means that some level of migration is inevitable. 


In terms of this latest period of European migration in the last few years, is there a certain type of language we should be using to describe it? It's been termed both a "refugee crisis" and a "period of forced migration."


As a matter of framing, the real crisis is not about migration or refugees. The real crisis in Europe is the incompetence of Europe to come to a common response.


With more than half a billion inhabitants, the European Union has the resources to cope with this, and can make sure that people arriving at the European border get access to asylum procedures. 


These are big numbers if you are reading about a small island like Kos with tens of thousands of people arriving, but not on a European scale. And not if Europe would get its act together and show real solidarity -- not just between member states, but also towards the people arriving. 


The big increase we’ve seen in irregular migration is clearly people fleeing conflict, with a large percentage of them Syrian. We have asylum procedures in place, we have an international legal framework in place for that. The real crisis is European impotence to respond, and it would be outrageous if Europe can’t cope with that when the vast majority of refugees are in much poorer countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.


How is this migration into the EU affecting European economies?


As far as the impact of migration, there is a lot of research on that, and it shows that migration increases GDP because migrants add to the workforce. There’s very little real evidence to support the claim that migration is crowding out labor or bringing down wages.


 However, various studies have shown that the effect on migration on GDP per capita and growth is very small and it is, apart from the migrants themselves, primarily businesses and the higher income earners that benefit from migration. In public debates, the negative or positive effects of migration are generally exaggerated by adversaries or proponents of migration. Migration is primarily driven by economic processes, but it’s not a big economic game-changer.


It would be outrageous to suggest that migration is either the cause of structural unemployment, which is one example, or the precariousness of labor. Or, on the other hand, to propose that migration is a panacea for structural problems like aging. 


What is missing from media coverage and representations of migration?


What is really missing is an understanding of how the way we have reshaped societies and economies over the last decades has also changed the structure of labor demand and migration.


There is a huge incompatibility between economic policies that have very much trended towards liberalization, increasing economic openness and deregulation of labor markets on one hand and on the other hand an increasing call for less migration.


If you create societies that are wealthy, open and de-regularized, then you also create much more demand for migrant labor. These societies inevitably attract migration, and if you close the door, we know what you get -- you get more smuggling and more irregular migration because there are no legal channels to match the labor demand.


So I think that’s the biggest trouble and biggest lack of understanding. There is a sort of progress in people’s understanding of migration though. For instance, people increasingly realize that 25 years of fortress Europe have completely failed. People are arriving anyway, and the main result has been an increase of smuggling, suffering of migrants and the number of recorded border deaths.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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Why Bernie Sanders Is Best on Women's Issues

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-08-29 14:45
Women's issues are taking center stage in the lead-up to 2016. As they should: The conservative war on women's health and reproductive rights has raged on for far too long. And in all measures of social and political inequality, we remain what number-crunchers coolly term "disproportionately affected."

Many people believe that electing a woman president will help. I'm not so sure. Does breaking glass ceilings constitute a real political strategy -- that's capable of improving women's lives? And does voting one's gender really translate to voting one's interest?

Let's consider the issues:

On women's right to choose, Republican state legislators from Florida to Oklahoma have concocted a series of procedural roadblocks to undermine Roe v. Wade--like mandatory waiting periods, ultrasounds, and ideologically-informed, "counseling," some of which is medically unsound. In 2015 alone, they proposed more than 300 regulations restricting abortion in 45 states, and over the last four years, passed over 200 laws.

Far from protecting women's health, as advocates claim, anti-choice laws drive up costs and reduce access, especially for women in vulnerable situations. They also drive up risks: Experts warn that drastic reductions in the number of abortion clinics in states like Texas and Alabama are likely to increase the numbers of dangerous, self-induced abortions.

The Right's war on women has also targeted basic gynecological services that save millions of women's lives each year, like STD and breast-cancer screening. Fervent efforts by anti-abortion groups to delegitimize and defund Planned Parenthood -- alongside political battles over the Affordable Care Act to refuse birth control and emergency contraception -- are restricting access to much-needed health services, especially for low-income women.

Bernie Sanders has consistently fought against Republican attacks on reproductive rights. If elected president, he would increase funding for Planned Parenthood. He's vowed to only nominate Supreme Court justices who uphold Roe v. Wade, and plans to expand women's health programs, and access to safe and legal abortions. Clinton has also been out front on reproductive rights, but her historic refrain that abortion be "safe, legal, and rare" has only served to stigmatize it and justify conservative efforts to impose legal restrictions.

On the issue of families, Sanders has often pointed out that of 178 countries worldwide, the U.S. is one of three that does not provide new mothers with paid leave. He argues for a Scandinavia-like model, where family leave is part of a robust system of social safety nets. As president, he would provide workers with up 12 weeks of family and medical leave, funded with a small payroll contribution -- so that parents can bond with their newborns, and family members care for sick relatives. He would also free millions of women from the struggle to secure childcare by making high-quality services and pre-K available to all Americans, regardless of income.

The Clinton campaign has made family leave a centerpiece of its platform, but the candidate's level of enthusiasm is not encouraging. Just last year she openly admitted to CNN, "I don't think, politically, we could get it now."

In terms of income, most people know that women make only a fraction of what men earn (78 cents per dollar), and the numbers are much worse for blacks and Hispanics. Even women in labor unions, who enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining and workplace regulation, get only 88 cents to a man's dollar.

Sanders has said that if elected he would sign the Paycheck Fairness Act to end wage discrimination based on gender. He would also increase the minimum wage to $15. Women account for more than half of those who would benefit from just a $10 increase, and they make up 72 percent of all tipped workers, who would also get a substantial raise. Clinton supports a $15 minimum, but only in her home state of New York. She's offering just $12 for everyone else.

Even with decent wages, however, many Americans have spiraled into financial ruin from excessive medical costs. Women are especially afflicted, as we are less likely than men to be insured, and our healthcare expenses tend to be higher. While Clinton says she'll go with "what works" in Obamacare, Sanders' Medicare for All will help reduce out of pocket costs for lower income Americans. Along with expanded retirement benefits, universal healthcare can help eradicate these ruinous trends -- which are especially pronounced for elderly women, half of whom would sink into poverty without their Social Security checks.

Finally, there's the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which promises to bring jobs, but mostly the kind that exploit poor women in the developing world. American women also stand to lose, as the TPP will enable corporations to outsource low-wage majority-female jobs (and some high-wage ones too). Clinton has been woolly on the TPP, most likely because her husband is among the world's premier trade liberalizers.

Sanders, on the other hand, has spearheaded the opposition -- not just now, but back in the '90s against Bill Clinton's NAFTA, which cost American workers over one million jobs and put enormous downward pressure on their wages.

In the end, it looks like the Senator from Vermont is outdoing the woman candidate on pro-woman policy. That shouldn't come as a surprise. A recent survey by the Ms. Foundation for Women found that "Women do not lead single-issue lives... birth control and abortion is impacted by income level, racial and cultural bias, gender discrimination and immigrant status."

Bernie has long-understood that women's struggles can't be compartmentalized into issue-silos. That's why he's long-eschewed counterfeit gestures of "gender diversity" -- in favor of genuine social equality.

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