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Gender Inequality in the Labor Market: Don't Call It a Wage Gap

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-04-15 19:13
When President Obama announced the Paycheck Fairness Act on Equal Pay Day this week, we applauded his efforts to address the so-called "gender wage gap" but, from a data point of view, mourn the fact that he, like many others before him, is building his case around a flawed number. The oft-quoted statistic that women only earn 77 cents for each dollar earned by a man, is not actually very accurate and distracts legislators and the public at large from coming up with solutions to the real problem -- the gender jobs gap.

The 77 cents on the dollar number is calculated from Census data and simply compares the average earnings of men and women overall. In other words, it doesn't take into account job choice, industry, experience, education or any other factor that contributes to one's pay. PayScale has examined the gender wage gap numerous times and has determined that if you compare apples to apples -- men and women with the same background (education, years of experience, etc.), doing the same job for the same type of employer, the wage gap all but disappears for most positions. This outcome isn't popular as it goes against the typical gender wage gap mantra. However, clinging to this argument just because it makes a catchy headline isn't going to help us solve the deeper problems.

The subsets of jobs where a wage gap does persist, even when we control for all measurable factors, typically fall into two main categories: high level executives and director positions. This is a topic that does need exploration. We need to be asking why there are so few female executives and why men are earning more than women doing those same senior-level jobs. If things like the pressure of raising a family are making it harder for women to rise to the same level of career success as men, as this Pew study suggests, we need to focus our efforts around making it easier for men and women to share the responsibility of raising families.

Ironically, Obama's own staffing practices have been called out as an example of unfair pay based on the Census data's method, and they've fought back using a methodology more akin to the one we use at PayScale. A New York Times article reports that a January study showed that females in Obama's own staff only earn 88 cents for each dollar male staff members earned. A rebutting staff member said that these numbers were incorrect because the study compared all males to all females, "including the lowest levels, where women outnumber men." The Obama staff insists that men and women are paid equally for doing the same jobs. If they are going to use an apples-to-apples comparison for their own staff, why not use it when investigating gender pay differences for the whole country?

Job choice plays a huge role in potential earnings. Common jobs for men tend to be in relatively high-paying fields like IT and engineering, while women dominate relatively low-paying fields like education and human resources.

PayScale has performed a rigorous examination of 125 common jobs ranging from Line Cook to Anesthesiologist, and found that once we controlled for measurable compensable factors, almost two thirds of the jobs on the list showed men and women earning the same pay within statistical errors. Of the remaining one third, the controlled difference was always under 20 percent (still below the Census figure).

The good news is that President Obama's mandate to track pay data and to make salaries more transparent can help close the real gap, provided the results are analyzed correctly -- job to job, not in the aggregate.

By focusing on the average earnings of all men and all women, who frequently pursue different careers, legislation is missing out on the opportunity to understand why men and women make these different career choices.

We should also be encouraging young women to enter male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, which are not only in-demand, but high-paying. And, we should focus efforts on creating workplace environments where women feel supported to negotiate their salaries and rise to executive positions without fear of discrimination or a lack of support.

Conservatives Lash Out At Rand Paul Over Foreign Policy

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-04-15 19:04
Rand Paul's noninterventionist foreign policy views aren't currying him any favor with conservative pundits, who have recently attacked the Kentucky senator and possible 2016 presidential candidate as naive and immature.

Earlier this month, Mother Jones surfaced a 2009 video of the Republican speaking to a student group at Western Kentucky University prior to announcing his Senate candidacy. In his remarks, Paul alleged that former Vice President Dick Cheney had his own financial gain in mind when he pushed for the Iraq War after 9/11.

"Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars -- their CEO. Next thing you know, he's back in government, it's a good idea to go into Iraq," Paul said.

The charge isn't sitting well with some conservatives.

In a Monday op-ed, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens offers the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Paul is the perfect candidate for the GOP in 2016 -- "because maybe what the GOP needs is another humbling landslide defeat."

Stephens argues that Paul's foreign policy views and his former aide's pro-Confederate ties are more problematic than potential 2016 rival Jeb Bush's stance on immigration and education or Chris Christie's role in the Bridgegate scandal.

"When moderation on a subject like immigration is ideologically disqualifying, but bark-at-the-moon lunacy about Halliburton is not, then the party has worse problems than merely its choice of nominee," he writes.

The WSJ writer also takes a stab at Paul's relatively short political career, noting that President Barack Obama had more years of public service under his belt when he ran for president in 2008 than Paul would have in 2016.

"That's worked out well," Stephens writes.

National Review editor Rich Lowry gave a similar take on Tuesday, chiding Paul's "dewy-eyed foolishness" and "blame-America-first libertarianism."

"[Paul's] instincts sometimes seem more appropriate to a dorm-room bull session than the Situation Room," Lowry writes. "The default position of the GOP is still toward strength, and the party will instinctively recoil from the distorted view of America implicit in some of Paul’s more impolitic statements."

Lowry points to Paul's positions on recent conflicts in Syria and Ukraine as proof the libertarian-leaning senator is out of step with his party.

"Rand Paul is running in a party that, while chastened on foreign policy, still has a hawkish reflex — and not because it is beholden to Halliburton," he writes.

Obama Congratulates UConn For NCAA Basketball Dominance

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-04-15 19:01
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has congratulated the University of Connecticut's men's and women's basketball teams on winning last week's NCAA tournaments.

The White House says Obama commended men's head coach Kevin Ollie and his team on their decisive championship victory and noted how he enjoyed watching them throughout the tournament. He told women's head coach Geno Auriemma (aw-ree-EH'-muh) how impressive it was to see the team continue to dominate women's collegiate basketball. The women's team, undefeated this season, won a record ninth championship. The men's team triumphed after an unexpected run under a neophyte coach.

Obama told both coaches that he looked forward to congratulating their teams at the White House soon.

Obama had picked Michigan State to win on the men's side but stuck with UConn for the women's championship.

Small donors fund Sanders' campaign

Burlington Free Press - Tue, 2014-04-15 18:13
Could a campaign that relies on contributions of just $28.95 per donor lead to the White House? That's the average contribution that Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is considering a presidential run in 2016, has received this election cycle.

Vermont Senate votes 26-2 for GMO labeling

Burlington Free Press - Tue, 2014-04-15 16:13
The Senate gave a decisive 26-2 vote Tuesday for a bill that would require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, a strong indication that Vermont could become the first state in the nation to enact such a law.

This tiny portable wind turbine fits in your bag and charges your gadgets

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Tue, 2014-04-15 13:09
Who says you can't take it with you? This micro wind turbine folds into a foot-long cylinder for a portable solution to charging gadgets with clean renewable energy.

Worth your time: Legislative happenings for week of April 15

Burlington Free Press - Tue, 2014-04-15 06:09
A decades-long effort by advocates to differentiate food containing genetically modified ingredients could pass a crucial stage as the Senate votes on a bill that would require labeling of all such foods starting in 2016.

Syria Civil War: UN Security Council Sees Grim Images Of Victims

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2014-04-15 03:28
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The bodies of the young men in the photographs are emaciated, their bones protruding. Starvation was only one form of torture they endured. Some bear the marks of strangulation. Others have vivid bruises and welts from being beaten.

On Tuesday, the Security Council will meet privately to view projected slides of the dead, who offer mute testimony to the savagery of a Syrian civil war in which more than 150,000 have died. France, which is hosting the closed-door meeting, says the photos to be displayed are part of a collection of 55,000 digital images of Syrians who were tortured and slain by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. France says a majority of them were collected by a Syrian military police photographer code-named "Caesar," who smuggled them out on flash drives when he defected.

Syria's Justice Ministry has dismissed the photos and accompanying report as "politicized and lacking objectiveness and professionalism," a "gathering of images of unidentified people, some of whom have turned out to be foreigners." The ministry said some of the people were militants killed in battle and others were killed by militant groups.

The presentation at the Security Council is part of a process of documenting evidence of Syrian war crimes in the hope of eventually referring the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

That is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Because Syria never accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC, the only way a case can be opened while Assad is in power is for the Security Council to order a referral.

Russia and China have used their veto power three times to block resolutions threatening sanctions on Syria. The hope is that Russia and China will eventually agree to an ICC referral if a resolution names both Syrian government officials and rebels as war crimes perpetrators, according to a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because no resolution is in the works.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay has been pushing the council to refer Syria to the ICC for three years, but Security Council President U. Joy Ogwu said last week there is no consensus for such a step.

Still, France's U.N. mission said in a statement that the meeting Tuesday "will also allow a discussion on the means to ensure accountability for these crimes."

Pillay said last week that abuses by both the Syrian government and rebels should be documented and brought to the international court. But she added, "you cannot compare the two. Clearly, the actions of the forces of the government ... killings, cruelty, persons in detention, disappearances, far outweigh those by the opposition."

Ten of the photos were publicly released in January in a study known as the "Caesar Report," which was funded by the government of Qatar, one of the countries most deeply involved in the Syrian conflict and a major backer of the opposition. More will be seen Tuesday by the council.

Two of the authors of the "Caesar Report" will brief the council: David M. Crane, who was first chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Dr. Stuart J. Hamilton, a forensic pathologist from Britain. The third author was Sir Geoffrey Nice, the lead prosecutor of former President Slobodan Milosevic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"Caesar" had been a crime scene photographer for the Syrian military, the report says. When the civil war began, he and his colleagues were reassigned to photograph the tortured bodies of rebels and dissidents, providing proof to the regime that its enemies had been liquidated in detention. Victims were assigned a code number. Their relatives were told that the victims had died of "a heart attack or breathing problems" and their number was reassigned to a hospital. Bodies were then buried before relatives could view them.

A relative of "Caesar" who defected early in the civil war kept in contact with him, and persuaded "Caesar" to collect the images over the next three years, the report says. The report's authors found "Caesar" to be credible when they debriefed him in January, they wrote. They said "he made it plain that he had never witnessed a single execution," though he and his team had to photograph as many as 50 bodies a day.

In the collection of 55,000 images, each body was photographed four or five times, so the authors estimate that about 11,000 victims are pictured.

"Caesar" smuggled out almost 27,000 of the images, the report said. It said the others came from similar, unnamed sources.

The forensic team examined about 5,500 of the images and found that almost all were of men aged 20 to 40; only one woman was pictured, and she was clothed; and there were no children in the images.

The forensic team found that in a representative sample of images they studied, 62 percent showed emaciation. Nineteen percent showed neck injuries, and "16 percent showed evidence of ligature marks on the neck."

Based on the systematic pattern of injuries, the report said "there is clear evidence, capable of being believed by a tribunal of fact in a court of law, of systematic torture and killing of detained persons by the agents of the Syrian government" that would support "crimes against humanity" charges against the Assad regime.

Charlie Crist Aggressively Goes After Rick Scott

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 21:47

WEST PALM BEACH -- Charlie Crist didn't hold anything back Monday, delivering an aggressive denunciation of Gov. Rick Scott personally and politically, depicting him as an ethically suspect chief executive who doles out favors to big campaign contributors and doesn't understand or care about the lives and needs of average Floridians.

"Governor Scott has led like this: embrace the ideological fringe, take care of his friends, bully his opponents, hide from the public and the press, and run from tough issues," said Crist, a former governor who's seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November.

"It shouldn't come as a surprise," Crist said, running through what he sees as transgressions by the Republican governor. "He's already run ads that independent fact-checkers are calling misleading and false. But what does Rick Scott do? He keeps on running them because the truth means little to Rick Scott."

Crist delivered the broadside before nearly 700 people gathered for a luncheon at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, a bipartisan group that attracts movers and shakers from the political, legal and business worlds in Palm Beach County. He received polite, but not extensive applause; at the end, less than half the audience stood to clap.

Besides the tone, Crist's speech was unusual in that he put on his glasses and read a prepared text for the first two-thirds of the 23-minute speech. It's only the second time since Crist announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor on Nov. 4 that he's read his remarks, something he said later he did because he had a lot to say about Scott and wanted to make sure he got it all correct.

Another unusual feature: The Scott campaign dispatched Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to sit in the audience so he'd be on hand to offer an immediate rebuttal to reporters.

Lopez-Cantera said he was there because people "deserve to hear the truth.

"His entire speech was attacking and insulting Governor Scott, peppered with platitudes about how great things would be if he was governor," Lopez-Cantera said. "Most of his speech was divisive attacks. And a lot of the things he said just aren't true."

Crist said Obamacare is a great achievement and the battering he's receiving over the issue from Scott TV ads isn't going to hurt him the way Republicans believe. "I don't shy away from it. I don't back away from it. I don't apologize for it. It's the right thing to do."

He contrasted the health care law with Scott's background. When Scott was chief executive of Columbia/HCA, the company was found guilty of inflating Medicare bills and paid a $1.7 billion fine. Crist said Scott's wealth comes from "hundreds of millions of dollars of money you stole from poor, sick people."

During the speech and 18 minutes in which he answered a dozen questions, Crist said:

--Scott is giving away tax money to special interests who are funding his campaign. "Right now, Florida doesn't have an economic plan -- unless you count flying around in your private plane and holding press conferences and giving away taxpayer money to your buddies a plan. That may be a great way to take care of your friends and raise campaign dollars, but that's no way to create an economy that's built to last."

--Scott doesn't care about education. "Sadly, while our teachers work hard to make our schools great, the support they receive from this governor is pitiful. Four education commissioners in four years, budget cuts, constantly moving the ball on accountability and a governor who cares so little that he didn't even come to his own education summit -- though he did find the time to go to the tea party conventions that same week."

--Lifting the trade embargo on Cuba would help bring freedom to that country's people and open an important market to Florida.

--He believes in "a better way" to govern. "We can go in a new direction that embraces common sense and optimism -- and one that rejects the nasty tone of today's politics."

--He left the Republican Party to be "true to my core principles" after it was "taken over by the tea party."

--In response to questions from students at Santaluces High School in Lantana that he favors raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and supports legalization of same-sex marriage,

--His governing style wouldn't be much different than it was when he was the Republican governor from 2007 to2011. He said he'd reach out to both parties and independents. And he said he could work with a Republican-controlled Legislature "by being straightforward and honest and looking them in the eye."

aman@tribune.com, 954-356-4550 ___

(c)2014 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Middle-Class Conservatives Don't Get That the Joke Is on Them

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 21:23
Conservative pundits exploded on Thursday when CBS announced that Stephen Colbert would be replacing David Letterman as the host of The Late Show. And they weren't just mad because a highly paid and powerful position didn't go to a member of the Bush family.

"Low-Rated Hyper-Partisan Lefty to Replace David Letterman," screamed a headline from Breitbart's resident funnyman John Nolte.

Nolte's colleague Ben Shapiro -- whose act is based on calling liberals "bullies" -- went further and accused Colbert of "conservativeface," which to him is like blackface, but worse because it's "racism" against conservatives. Shapiro says that it's impossible to watch The Colbert Report, where Colbert performs as a caricature of a blustery right-wing O'Reilly wannabe, "without coming away with a viscerally negative response to conservatives." And frankly, that's Shapiro's job.

But when it comes to bluster, the godfather of monetizing right-wing outrage, Rush Limbaugh, is still the alpha of the Fox pack.

"I'll give you the short version: CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America," Limbaugh said.


As many people have pointed out, Colbert is a practicing Catholic who literally teaches Sunday School. But the right has a point in that he's a worthy target of their hate.

In 2006, Colbert performed at the White House Correspondents Dinner "in character" and delivered a searing indictment of both the failings of the Bush/Cheney administration and the media's complicity. Though the Washington insiders at the event mostly reacted frostily to Colbert's routine, the video went viral and helped put a crack in the baffling veneer that had shielded the administration from so many of its foibles.

So the anger is real, but the bluster is so comically inflated that it points to one of the charms of Colbert's conservative character. He seems to be playing with a long-held liberal suspicion that the loudest clowns on the right are putting their fans on because they know extremism sells.

When Ann Coulter tries to speak for black people... when Michelle Malkin -- author of a book defending Japanese-American internment -- joins a short-lived movement accusing Colbert of racism toward Asian-Americans... when Glenn Beck takes a break from calling liberals Nazis and tearfully threatens to leave America because of the left's incendiary rhetoric...

It's a relief to imagine they're parodying themselves.

And if Coulter, Malkin and Beck are joking, then Republican politicians too must be "in character."

Remember how the party that blew the surplus turned into the world's biggest deficit hawks when the country needed government most? Good one.

The guys who spent years connecting Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and pushing bad evidence about weapons of mass destruction? They're mad that the Obama administration didn't have flawless talking points a few days after the Benghazi attacks. And get this -- the party that was behind the color-coded terror-alert system that mysteriously withered away after the 2004 election says that those talking points were all about presidential politics.

But seriously, folks.

Those guys who say no actual evidence of voter fraud swinging elections means we need to make voting harder for groups who were discriminated against for centuries? They also say that 30,000 deaths a year by gunshot means we don't need any new gun laws.

We all love that "deregulating business while regulating vaginas" bit. And my new favorite? The fear that gay people are having their rights too protected, even though they're denied the right to marry and can be fired for being gay in a majority of states. What's better than that, except telling a Republican congressman from Louisiana he must resign for kissing his mistress even after a senator from that same state admitted to visiting prostitutes -- and was rewarded with re-election? Hilarious!

Who would take these guys seriously?

A 2009 study found that conservatives actually found Colbert funny, but they were far less likely to get that the joke was on them.

Limbaugh says that CBS has "declared war on the heartland of America." But what about the Ryan Budget, which would savagely cut programs that poor people in rural communities depend on while cutting taxes for the richest?

On Thursday, 219 Republicans voted for a budget that immediately cuts Medicare benefits for all seniors, then cuts them in four more distinct ways for every American under the age of 55. It's a budget that guarantees that most Americans will have to work harder, longer and with less support from the government, especially if they become indigent or disabled. And Ryan introduced this formula to put millions of America's poorest into Depression conditions after months of pretending to care about alleviating poverty.

That's no joke. It's actual Republican policy, which includes cuts that the GOP has been campaigning against for years -- and will continue to campaign against this year.

The reason Colbert's "character" was so effective was because his stunning lack of introspection, his callous indifference to the poor and his willingness to contradict himself all reflect the reality of the modern conservative movement. It was a potent formula that made the Report extraordinarily popular with young people who increasingly watch almost no TV news.

Conservatives should be glad Colbert's "character" is going away. It will make it easier for them to keep doing theirs.

Get the latest from Jason Sattler AKA @LOLGOP in the National Memo's free daily newsletter and TheLOLGOP.com.

Student Loan Borrowers' Costs To Jump As Education Department Reaps Huge Profit

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 21:19
The U.S. Department of Education is forecast to generate $127 billion in profit over the next decade from lending to college students and their families, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Beginning in the 2015-16 academic year, students and their families are forecast to pay more to borrow from the department than they did prior to last summer’s new student loan law, which set student loan interest rates based on the U.S. government's costs to borrow. The higher costs for borrowers would arrive at least a year sooner than previously predicted.

James Kvaal, a top White House official, last year dismissed the possibility that student borrowers would pay higher costs under the new law. The Consumer Protection Financial Bureau on Monday warned borrowers about a "jump" in rates.

The projection, made public Monday by the nonpartisan budget scorekeepers, provides the federal government’s best estimate of how much the government's student loan program will cost taxpayers. That the program is predicted to generate an average annual profit of about $12 billion through 2024 is likely to fuel calls for the Obama administration and Congress to take additional steps to reduce borrowers’ debt burdens, which the Education Department pegs at an average of more than $26,000.

The program produces a profit because the interest rate paid by borrowers exceeds the federal government’s cost to fund those loans and administer the program. The figure also accounts for loan defaults and borrowers’ use of flexible repayment plans that tie monthly payments to their incomes.

The congressionally mandated accounting method that determines the profit figure has been criticized by some experts, including the Congressional Budget Office. The Education Department in the past has disputed the use of the word “profit.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has used the profit to help his department reduce its cost to taxpayers to the lowest level since 2001, budget documents show. As Washington focuses on reducing federal expenditures, some experts and student groups said they fear the Education Department may be too reliant on student loan revenues to advocate for debt relief.

“This is a profit-making machine for the Education Department,” said Chris Hicks, who leads the Debt-Free Future campaign for Jobs With Justice, a Washington-based nonprofit group. “The student loan program isn’t about helping students or borrowers -- it’s about making profits for the federal government.”

Education Department representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Amid an era of falling inflation-adjusted incomes for college graduates and increasing student debt burdens -- total student debt has doubled since 2007, according to the Federal Reserve -- a group of federal regulators, policymakers and student loan experts worry that the nation’s economy will be restrained for years as monthly student loan payments take an increasing bite out of borrowers’ paychecks.

Researchers have found that student loan borrowers are less likely to start small businesses, save for retirement, take out a home mortgage or buy a car. A group of bank chief executives that advise the Fed also have warned about negative repercussions on the nation’s banking system from growing student debt loads.

Hicks said younger borrowers face daunting circumstances. If forced to choose, he said he reckons that borrowers would most likely default on their federal student loans rather than give up their credit cards or forgo health insurance. “I really wonder whether the Education Department is thinking of the consequences of potentially setting up a generation of borrowers to fail,” he said.

To prevent economic ruin, a loose coalition of groups led by the Center for American Progress has been advocating for a federal plan that would enable borrowers with high-rate student loans to refinance into cheaper debt.

Refinancing plans have either been endorsed or formally introduced by lawmakers, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Some White House officials are said to support a student loan refinancing scheme, proponents said, but President Barack Obama has not yet publicly endorsed it.

The Education Department, on the other hand, has told some refinancing supporters that a plan to enable borrowers to refinance expensive debt into loans carrying lower interest rates could cost as much as $100 billion over a 10-year period in foregone federal revenue. The department also has warned that a refinancing plan likely would force it to reduce the number of Pell Grants given to college students from low-income households.

Supporters have taken the rough estimate and Pell Grant warning as an indication that the department does not want to allow borrowers to refinance.

Jason Delisle, director of the federal education budget project at the New America Foundation, said CBO figures show that the Pell Grant program will need more money to continue at present levels beginning in 2017. Assuming that Congress does not want to reduce the amount of Pell Grants available to low-income students, the program would need an additional $38.1 billion from 2017 through 2024, Delisle estimated.

Refinancing supporters argue that student loan profit should be used to offset the loss of future federal revenues that would result from allowing borrowers to refinance expensive student loan debts. Student loan profits are used to fund the federal government generally, rather than specific programs, James Runcie, Office of Federal Student Aid chief operating officer, told a Senate panel last month.

But the CBO estimates have been wrong before, underscoring the danger of basing policy on fleeting budget estimates from Washington’s main arbiter on the cost of federal programs.

For example, in August, when Congress was poised to pass the student loan law that set future interest rates, the budget office forecast that federal student loans would generate a $184.7 billion profit through 2023 -- more than the new estimate. Last year, the budget office estimated that the Pell Grant shortfall would be more than $47 billion, Delisle said. The budget office regularly revises its estimates, taking into account recent economic activity and other data.

Still, the Education Department’s estimated profits show a federal student loan program that is charging borrowers way too much, according to Hicks. Beginning in 2015, the average undergraduate borrower will pay 5.72 percent to borrow from the federal government, the budget office estimates. Graduate borrowers are forecast to pay at least 7.27 percent, while parents will pay 8.27 percent.

All three rates are higher than what borrowers paid in the 2012-13 academic year -- the last year before Congress changed the law. The Education Department could help borrowers deal with higher rates by pushing its loan servicers to offer distressed borrowers flexible repayment plans that base monthly payment amounts on incomes.

Despite White House pressure, the number of borrowers in income-driven repayment plans remains low.

“The public needs to be concerned about a government agency acting like a bank,” Hicks said. “The Education Department has a profit motive.”

Watch How People Help This Lady & Then Help Me Figure Out Why Health Care Is So Controversial

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 21:03
Laws are controversial — people who need help are not.

NCAA Lobbies College Administrators To Make Student Athlete Unions Sound Awful

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 20:10
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA contends that unionization by college athletes could lead to fewer scholarships and championships as well as a drop in academic support and career counseling.

In a set of talking points issued to school leaders late last week, college sports' largest governing body urged school leaders have a unified voice on the topic that could dramatically alter college athletics. This document includes some traditional points of emphasis for the NCAA — that school leaders want athletes to focus on their classwork, the NCAA has liberalized rules to allow athletic departments to purchase items such as suits and members continue to work on legislation to provide money to cover the full cost-of-attendance.

But the NCAA also warned that "scholarships would be cut or eliminated. The number of championship experiences would be dramatically reduced. Smaller sports would lose funding."

It also said support services such as academic support, career counseling and tutoring could all be "cut significantly or eliminated."

"Do we really want to signal to society and high school students that making money is the reason to come play a sport in college, as opposed to getting an education, which will benefit you for a lifetime?" the NCAA memo reads. "That's not the message I want to send."

The talking points were issued as the National Labor Relations Board weighs a decision by a regional NLRB official clearing the way for football players at Northwestern to form what would be the nation's first union for college athletes. The NCAA, Big Ten Conference and Northwestern all oppose the move, and the school has appealed.

A player vote is planned on April 25 and the topic has dominated college athletics for weeks amid speculation that the effort, along with antitrust and other lawsuits against the NCAA, could change the very nature of amateur sports.

The NCAA said the talking points were provided as a guide or starting point for school officials to share their own views.

"As a membership organization, it is our responsibility to provide accurate and timely information on matters impacting college sports," spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said Monday in an email. "Our members requested facts and data on pay-for-play because there was so much misinformation in the media, based in part on public statements from those who are advancing the union movement and those who have brought suit against the NCAA."

NCAA President Mark Emmert has been a longtime opponent of a pay-for-play proposal for college athletes, repeatedly pointing out the complexity it would create for Title IX compliance and whether a starting quarterback should be "paid" more than a backup kicker or a volleyball player. Just last week at the Final Four, Emmert expressed concern about unionization, too.

This document, however, urges school leaders to join the debate by discussing other potential problems.

"While advocates of professionalizing college sports make their arguments seem simple, they're not," according to the document. "The negative impact of turning these students into paid employees would be vast."

Emmert has supported legislation that would provide money beyond the allowable limits for tuition, room and board, books and fees and a provision to give athletes access to as much food as other students on campus as well as unlimited snacks in and out of season.

This document reiterates those points.

"Our members believe in addressing some of the legitimate concerns that critics have raised, like providing the full cost of attendance - to help pay for that trip home or to grab a movie and dinner - particularly for those students with limited economic means," it said.

But overall, the NCAA is opposed to unionization and is asking school leaders to speak with a unified voice.

"Yes, we need to re-evaluate some of the current rules," the document said. "But completely throwing away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college is absolutely not the answer."

Frazier Glenn Miller, Suspected Kansas Shooter, Oozed Racist Views In 2010 Radio Interview

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 20:09
The white supremacist accused of shooting three people to death outside a Jewish community center and retirement home in a Kansas City suburb Sunday espoused deeply anti-Semitic views in a 2010 interview while campaigning for U.S. Senate in Missouri.

Frazier Glenn Miller, the accused shooter, fulminated against what he said were Jewish conspiracies on a wide range of topics, including the future of the tea party movement and his previous conviction on weapons charges. The interview with talk radio host David Pakman was broadcast nationally.

"Compared to our Jewish problem, all other problems are mere distractions," Miller, now 73, told Pakman in 2010. "Jews control the mass media, the United States federal government and they control the Federal Reserve bank."

Miller, who uses the alias Frazier Glenn Cross, appeared on Pakman's show as an independent Senate candidate with the campaign slogan "It's the Jews, stupid." (Miller, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, won seven votes in the general election.)

Pakman said he regularly books guests with far-right viewpoints for his syndicated program, even though he disagrees with them.

"I talk to a lot of extremists on my program and I always feel that they're always close to taking rhetoric and putting it into real-world action," Pakman told The Huffington Post. "It was clear that he was very well versed in all of the traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes that exist."

When asked about the tea party movement, Miller cast doubt on its staying power.

"I'm watching them closely," Miller told Pakman. "I suspect however that they'll be infiltrated by the Jews and therefore, led into defeat."

Miller also blamed Jews for his three years of imprisonment on weapons charges, and for plotting robberies and the assassination of the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"They were responsible for my conviction that prompted me to go underground and declare war, sons of bitches," he fumed to Pakman.

Miller said his conviction was a source of pride. During the roughly 17-minute interview, Miller praised former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Adolf Hitler, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The radio host laughed occasionally at Miller's statements during the recording, but said he took his words seriously.

"There are still people that are still bogged down in these stereotypical caricatures of groups," Pakman said Monday. "Their lives are so consumed that you can't help but laugh superficially, but they're probably not that far from taking it to the next level."

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Obama To Putin: Russia's Actions Not Conducive To Diplomatic Approach In Ukraine

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 19:25
WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaking for the first time in more than two weeks, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin showed little sign of agreement on Monday, with the U.S. leader urging pro-Russian forces to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine and Putin denying that Moscow was interfering in the region.

The White House said Russia initiated the phone call, which came as pro-Russian forces deepened their insurgency in Ukraine's east, seizing more than a dozen government buildings. "The president expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine," the White House said in a description of Obama's call with Putin. "The president emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized."

In its own description of the call, the Kremlin said Putin told Obama reports of Russian interference in the region were "based on unreliable information." The Russian leader also urged Obama to discourage the Ukrainian government from using force against those protesters.

Both sides did suggest that plans would go forward for talks Thursday in Geneva between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and Europe. But the White House said Obama told Putin that while a diplomatic solution remained his preferred option, "it cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine's borders, armed provocation within Ukraine, and escalatory rhetoric by Kremlin officials."

U.S. officials say there is compelling evidence that Russia is fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine, but have suggested Obama has not yet concluded that Putin's actions warrant broader sanctions on key Russian economic sectors.

"We are actively evaluating what is happening in eastern Ukraine, what actions Russia has taken, what transgressions they've engaged in," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "And we are working with our partners and assessing for ourselves what response we may choose."

Administration officials confirmed Monday that CIA chief John Brennan visited the Ukrainian capital of Kiev over the weekend, breaking with the administration's typical practice of not disclosing the director's travel. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accused Brennan of being behind Ukraine's decision to send troops into the east to try to quash an increasingly brazen pro-Russian insurgency.

While U.S. officials denied those accusations, confirmation of Brennan's visit could provide fodder for Russian officials to create a pretext for further incursions into eastern Ukraine.

Obama and Putin last spoke on March 28. Since then, pro-Russian forces have undertaken a rampage of storming and occupying local government offices, police stations and a small airport in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has proved powerless to rein in the separatists, who are demanding more autonomy from the central government in Kiev and closer ties to Russia.

The White House has blamed the unrest on Russia, saying there are undeniable similarities between the situation in eastern Ukraine and the Kremlin's maneuvers in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine last month.

"The evidence is compelling that Russia is supporting these efforts and involved in these efforts," Carney said. "You saw this coordinated effort in a number of cities across eastern Ukraine all at once that sure didn't look organic to observers from the outside."

Despite those assertions, it was unclear whether the U.S. planned to respond with deeper economic penalties. Obama has repeatedly warned that Russian advances into eastern Ukraine would mark a serious escalation of the crisis that would warrant a stronger international response, including the prospect of sanctions on Russia's energy sector and other key industries.

But the administration has avoided saying whether Russia's actions in the east thus far have crossed that line. U.S. officials are also still trying to rally support for sector sanctions from Europe, which has a far deeper economic relationship with Russia and would therefore be more likely to be negatively affected by the penalties.

As part of that effort, Obama spoke Monday with French President Francois Hollande. The French leader said in a statement that he and Obama discussed the importance of avoiding provocations in Ukraine and establishing a policy of strong and calibrated sanctions along with other European partners.

A high-ranking European Union official said foreign ministers did decide Monday to sanction more Russians with asset freezes and visa bans, though they appeared to stop short of the broader penalties on Russia's economy.


Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Nedra Pickler in Washington and Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.

Democrats Should Widen Focus on Voter Suppression

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 19:22

What with the ceremonies at the L.B.J. presidential library last week to commemorate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 becoming law, the subject of current-day voter suppression was brought up by several Democrats, including President Obama. While it was important to spotlight Republican efforts to move backwards on expanding voting rights in the speeches, what was noticeable on the weekend political talk shows was how adept Republicans are at centering their entire argument around voter identification laws. Democrats presenting their own case seemed willing to go along with this, for the most part.

Now, Democratic willingness to directly take on the arguments of voter ID laws is admirable. Democrats know that the facts are on their sides, and they repeatedly point out that voter fraud is pretty much non-existent in America today. If you added up all the successfully-prosecuted cases of voter fraud for the past three or four election cycles, the total would be not be enough to swing even a statewide race, much less a national one. The Republican efforts are nothing short of a "solution" in search of a problem.

That's a good case to make, and Democrats (to their credit) have been pretty strongly making it. But if Democrats focus solely on the voter ID laws -- as the conversation always seems to do -- they wind up ignoring a much wider and much more sweeping political case they could instead be focusing on. I am not suggesting here, to put this another way, that Democrats back off on defending their position at all. I am merely pointing out that focusing solely on voter ID means leaving a more-powerful argument on the table, undiscussed. Which is a shame.

The Republican voter-suppression efforts don't end with voter ID laws. Democrats would do well to point this out. Republicans are also busily passing laws which restrict registration efforts, restrict early voting, restrict poll locations, and restrict ballot-box access in many other ways. This should be the centerpiece of the Democratic argument: Republicans want to make it harder for you to vote.

Separate out the voter ID issue. Put it to the side. Widen the conversation to the larger picture, because it is an ugly one that most Americans would consider nothing short of a naked effort to suppress the vote. That is a much more powerful argument for Democrats to make. Republicans want to make it harder to vote, Democrats want to make it easier. It's a simple concept, and it's one that strikes at a foundational belief most Americans share: Things always get better throughout American history, never worse. Pointing out that this is exactly what Republicans are trying to do should be the main focus of the Democratic argument.

Voter identification laws are in a sort of limbo right now. In an initial legal case, the Supreme Court ruled that the concept of a state requiring identification to vote is not, in and of itself, unconstitutional. However, since that point, many states have passed such laws (increasingly, in the past few years) only to have them ensnared in legal actions. As these cases wind their way upwards through the federal court system, nobody really knows which case the Supreme Court will take next on the issue, and how it will ultimately rule. During this window of time, politicians on both sides of the issue are making their case to the public.

The problem for Democrats on the issue is that the Republican position sounds awfully reasonable, at first glance. After all, these days you have to produce a photo identification to board an airplane, open a bank account, drive, and many other aspects of modern life. So what's the big deal with requiring a photo ID to vote, after all? This argument plays well in the suburbs, and among people who have never lived in cities or otherwise come into contact with groups of Americans (and there are indeed millions of them out there) who don't drive, don't have a bank account, never fly, and don't do all the other modern-life things which require ID

The problem for Democrats is that this requires educating the public on the real victims of such laws. The reason that it's a problem is that this part of the larger argument takes so long to explain that it consumes the entire interview and the entire discussion on-screen. Democrats never have time to move on to their other points. Which, as I said, is a shame, because their bigger point is so much more powerful.

Imagine, if you will, a Democratic member of Congress being interviewed on the issue, paired up with a Republican. The Republican swiftly moves to make his points on voter ID laws. But instead of taking this path, the Democrat instead responds with some version of the following:

Well, the Democratic position on voter ID is well known, so instead of laying it all out for you again today, I'd like to make a different point. My esteemed colleague Senator Bushwah says that the reason voter ID laws are being enacted is to combat voter fraud. Well, voter fraud is all but non-existent, but whatever. Let's take a look instead at some of the other laws being enacted hand-in-hand with these ID laws. Over the past half-century, many states have made good-faith efforts to expand voting and make it easier for citizens to perform this important civic duty. But now, Republicans are trying to roll back all these voting expansions, because they think that by doing so, they'll make it harder for Democrats to vote. This includes efforts to: make it harder to register, make it harder for students to register, make it harder to get an absentee ballot, make it harder to vote by mail, and change polling locations to make them more inconvenient for voters. How does ending a program which allows high school students to pre-register so they are on the voting rolls by their 18th birthday fight voter fraud? Why in the name of sanity would we make it harder for these new voters to cast the first vote of their lives? That is what Republicans are indeed doing.

The most blatant of these efforts is to roll back early voting. Many states, to encourage people who find it hard to vote on a Tuesday (because they are hard at work), have extended voting to add days or even weeks of open polling days before Election Day. They have opened their polling places early, so people can cast votes on the weekend, or other times more convenient to them than Tuesdays. Republicans are against this, for some inconceivable reason. Making it easier for people to vote has nothing to do with voter fraud. Nothing. Making it harder for people to vote by closing down these early voting days is nothing short of trying to suppress the vote. There is no other possible explanation for doing so.

So I'd like to ask you, Senator Bushwah, why exactly did you support the new law in your state which got rid of early Sunday voting? Doing so has nothing to do with voter fraud, and everything to do with the fact that African-Americans in your state have been delighted with Sunday voting because it means they are able to go cast their votes right after they attend church. The only possible reason for making it harder for your constituents to vote -- by killing Sunday voting -- is that you don't particularly like who votes on Sundays.

This is a powerful case to make. It shifts the focus from the voter ID laws to all the rest of the voter suppression laws now being gleefully passed by Republican statehouses across the country. When you set aside the argument over voter fraud and voter identification and focus instead on the rest of the voter suppression efforts, it leaves the Republicans with a much weaker case to make. Reasonable people (especially low-information voters in the suburbs) can disagree about voter ID laws, after all, but it is much tougher to argue "reducing the number of voting days is a good thing for American democracy." That's not a reasonable argument to make, really. By forcing the conversation to the larger issue, Democrats make the much stronger case: "We stand for making it easier to vote -- Republicans want to make it harder for you to cast your vote." That hits home, even out in the suburbs.

Rather than getting into the weeds of the voter ID laws -- even when you've got a good point to make ("Texas accepts a gun permit for identification, but not state-issued student IDs!") -- Democrats need to instead take control of the larger argument. Because Republican efforts do not stop with just new voter ID laws -- they are passing all sorts of laws which have no other purpose than suppressing the vote. Or, even worse, suppressing certain demographic segments of the vote. And they really have no believable counterargument to make.

So while, as I said, Democrats are overall doing a pretty good job of defending their position on voter ID laws, by doing so at the expense of the larger argument they wind up selling themselves short. Because there is a much easier and much more powerful argument to make, if you set the voter ID sub-argument to the side for a moment. Democrats should be making this larger case, every chance they get. One party fights for expansion of voting rights. One party is now fighting as hard as they can against expanding the ease of voting. For no supportable reason. That's a political argument worth making, and one that Democrats should now be strongly pointing out.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Conflict Minerals Disclosure Rule Struck Down By Appeals Court

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 19:20
WASHINGTON -- Business groups won a partial victory Monday when a U.S. Appeals Court struck down part of a regulation designed to discourage the trade in "conflict minerals" from war-torn parts of Africa.

The rule would have required public companies to disclose whether their products contain certain minerals that were mined in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where warlords control much of the mineral trade. A U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the disclosure requirement violates a company's right to free speech, by essentially forcing the company to criticize its own products.

Though the court struck down the public disclosure rule, it upheld the basic premise of the conflict minerals resolution, which says that the Securities and Exchange Commission can require companies to monitor their global supply chains to determine whether their components are conflict-free. This has already caused a number of companies to start collecting their materials from sites other than the eastern Congo, say human rights groups.

Monday's ruling was nevertheless a setback for human rights groups, which lobbied Congress to get the conflict minerals rule included in 2010's Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. The rule is enforced by the SEC, which regulates publicly traded companies.

Three of the nation's largest business lobbying groups filed a lawsuit in 2012 challenging the rule: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers. They argued that the regulation was overly burdensome, costly and difficult to enforce.

Human rights groups, however, say that the regulations are already working to quell the trade in tungsten, gold, tin and tantalum from the eastern Congo, the proceeds of which help fund the rebel groups and warlords engaged in a brutal, ongoing struggle in that region. According to Sasha Lezhnev, a senior policy analyst at the human rights watchdog group the Enough Project, since the adoption of the conflict minerals rule, "over two-thirds of tin, tantalum and tungsten mines [in the Congo] are now free of armed groups."

While groups like the Enough Project say the court was right to uphold the regulation's basic premise, they argue that the public disclosure component was a crucial part of the enforcement mechanism of the rule. The prospect of negative public relations or consumer boycotts would have put far more pressure on companies to comply with the rules, the groups say, than enforcement alone.

"Consumers and investors are more aware than ever about conflict minerals, and will be holding companies accountable for what they are or are not doing on conflict minerals," Lezhnev said.

As of late Monday, none of the business groups involved in the case had issued a formal response to the ruling, telling reporters they needed time to review it before commenting.

This Is What The World's Most 'Perfect' Marijuana High Would Feel Like

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2014-04-14 19:16
Marijuana users really enjoy strong weed, but would prefer that it came without paranoia, memory loss and impaired ability to function. That's according to a new report from the Global Drug Survey in partnership with The Huffington Post, which anonymously surveyed more than 38,000 users around the globe.

All marijuana is not created equal. Effects can vary depending on the plant variety, cultivation, processing and blending. Cannabis has two major plant types -- indica and sativa -- and hundreds of hybrid strains with different characteristics. It's produced in forms that include dried flowers, oil and wax.

The survey asked users what they'd like in a "perfect cannabis." The results show that the "global dominance of high potency [marijuana] leaves many users far from satisfied," the researchers say.

So what would the effects be of perfect pot -- or "balanced bud" as the Global Drug Survey calls it?

Users want their cannabis to be strong and pure. And they want it to have a distinct flavor, and to impart a high marked by greater sensory perception, allowing them to "comfortably" speak to others with more giggles and laughs, while giving them the "ability to function when stoned," according to the Global Drug Survey report.

Users report they don't like some side effects of strong marijuana, including hangover feelings, paranoia, harmful effects on the lungs, feelings of becoming forgetful, an urge to use more, and feelings of being distracted or preoccupied, according to the survey.

Responses to the Global Drug Survey:

"There appears to be a paradox in the way people describe their perfect cannabis," the Global Drug Survey report says. "This is because most the effects of being ‘high’ are due to THC, but higher doses of this drug are associated with more negative psychological effects. So while they want a preparation with overall more pleasurable effects, they also describe wanting less of the negative effects that are also due to THC such as sedation, munchies, memory impairment, restlessness. It might well be what they are describing is a high potency THC containing preparation balanced by CBD which is missing from many current strains."

Currently, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use and more than a dozen other states are considering legalization in some form. With all that interest and all those regulated marketplaces, growers and sellers can tap into users' preferences with the Global Drug Survey data and help design a better plant.

The Global Drug Survey bills itself as the world's biggest annual survey of drug users. This year, 79,322 people from more than a dozen countries participated in the anonymous online questionnaire.

Because the Global Drug Survey does not involve a random sample of participants, its results cannot be considered representative of any larger population. "Ultimately, the only people that this study (like so many others) can definitively tell you about are those who have participated," the researchers say.

Former NSA head to speak at Norwich commencement

Burlington Free Press - Mon, 2014-04-14 19:08
The man in charge of the National Security Agency while it secretly monitored the communications of foreign leaders and millions of Americans will be the 2014 commencement speaker at Norwich University, the school announced Monday.

Former NSA head to speak at Norwich commencement

Burlington Free Press - Mon, 2014-04-14 19:08
The man in charge of the National Security Agency while it secretly monitored the communications of foreign leaders and millions of Americans will be the 2014 commencement speaker at Norwich University, the school announced Monday.