SAN DIEGO -- Finals week was dangerous for Thomas Saenz.
The Navy lieutenant needed armed guards and an armored car to get to an exam site, in Kabul, Afghanistan. A deadly bomb attack also caused him to his miss classes – transmitted live via the Internet – but he persevered and earned a master's degree in engineering from the University of Southern California while commanding a top security team.
His class graduated on Friday, as he joins a growing number of service members earning college degrees while deployed in a war zone.
"Not only was he out there living on the edge, but he had to get his homework done," USC professor Frank Alvidrez said.
The Obama administration is pushing universities to find creative ways to help service members complete their degrees as it tracks the success of its post 9/11 GI Bill, which is designed to be the most comprehensive education benefit for veterans since World War II.
Enrollments for the new GI Bill number more than 480,000, according to the Veteran's Administration, which is starting to track the number of graduates.
It's not known just how many others like Saenz earn their degrees while in combat. A commencement ceremony for 100 war-zone graduates from various universities is planned in late May in Kandahar.
"They really are multi-tasking in the extreme," said Bob Ludwig, spokesman for the University of Maryland University College, adding that the coursework can provide relief from the mental turmoil of war. "It really is an opportunity to step away from the battlefield and have the sort of the safety of being in a classroom."
UMUC has about 30,000 active-duty service members among its students and was among the first schools to send faculty to Iraq to teach troops in 2008 during the war. UMUC also has adjunct professors giving classes in tents in remote outposts of Afghanistan as well as online instruction on bases.
Completing degrees online is a growing phenomenon, as more traditional public universities join private, for-profit schools in offering courses.
Saenz, a 33-year-old father of two, used the GI Bill to enroll at USC but midway through his studies, the Navy pilot was called to be deployed to Afghanistan.
After getting approval from his professors and Navy commanders, Saenz spent his final year of studies racing to his computer on base at 5 a.m. to attend the live transmission of his classes before dedicating his day to overseeing security for top generals and then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
He missed a class that required his online presence when a suicide bomber blew himself up near NATO's headquarters in Kabul, killing six civilians.
The base was locked down. Saenz wrote to his professor and aide when the Internet was back up to explain his absence.
"I was worried because it was early in the semester and I was afraid it would affect my grade," he said. "But they were real supportive."
Another time, he was absent because he was arranging a helicopter to transport Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Saenz caught up by watching the recorded classes.
"I told my class if Thomas can get his homework done on time then I don't think there are any excuses for the rest of you all," Alvidrez said. "And he pulled an `A.' He was one of the top 10 percent."
Even getting to finals was treacherous. After military officials checked intelligence to ensure there were no imminent threats, he crossed Kabul on a highly dangerous road with armed guards in an armored SUV to the Army base where a military official was certified to give him the university exams. While there, he picked up ammo, weapons and dropped off radios to be repaired, then grabbed some barbeque at a tent.
Saenz said he was determined to finish his advanced degree – the second person in his extended family to do so – knowing his 10-year Navy career was ending in June. He is one of 91 service members in the university's online engineering graduate program called DEN(at)Viterbi.
An essay he wrote for one of his classes was on WWII veterans going on to lead top companies after returning home. With today's technology, he sees opportunities for veterans to follow in those footsteps more easily than ever.
"I think we're in that period again, with the post 9/11 GI Bill and all these kids coming back with their experience overseas," Saenz said. "Hopefully we can come back and do great things for our country outside of our uniform."
JACKSON, Miss. — A former Mississippi police chief already charged with demanding money or property in exchange for dropping criminal charges against people has been indicted on nine new federal counts.
The new indictment against ex-Mendenhall Police Chief Donald "Bruce" Barlow says he sometimes made people sign over their vehicles in exchange for him dropping charges and also demanded cash payments, in one case $4,500.
Barlow was first indicted Feb. 5 on eight counts including conspiracy, extortion, soliciting bribes and witness tampering. He pleaded not guilty March 8. The new indictment on Tuesday added nine additional counts.
Barlow was arrested in March. He has been free on $10,000 bond.
Barlow's attorney, federal public defender Mike Scott, said in an email Friday that he and his client "look forward to our day in court."
The indictments say Barlow instructed "his officers to seize cash at every arrest, including money from people arrested for misdemeanors."
Sometimes people were lured into the city so they could be arrested, the indictment said.
Mendenhall is a small town of about 2,500 residents, 25 miles south of Jackson.
In one case in January 2010, Barlow made someone sign over his car and pay between $1,500 and $2,000 for the charges to be dropped "like none of this ever happened," the indictment said.
Barlow gave the car to one of his officers to use as a personal vehicle and told the officer to use a department fuel card for gas purchases for the car, the indictment said.
Barlow demanded money "purporting to be contributions to the police department's `drug fund.'" If the payment was in cash, the money rarely made it to the drug fund, court records said.
Court records said the scheme went on from March to July 2010.
After learning of the investigation that July, Barlow tried to create and back-date an inventory list of the property he had taken and took money purported to be for the drug fund to Mendenhall City Hall for deposit, the indictment said.
In addition to the criminal case, Barlow is facing a federal civil lawsuit filed in 2012 by a man who says he was falsely detained for a week and forced to sign over nearly $7,000 in cash and property in exchange for his release. The lawsuit alleges that the man was held in jail for seven days without being formally charged and without a phone call.
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Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney appeared on "The Tonight Show" Friday, where he discussed a number of scandals unfolding in Washington.
Romney addressed the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups in the lead-up to the 2012 election, saying he thinks "a special counsel should be appointed because only a special council can investigate the administration."
"The IRS reports to the Treasury Department, that reports to the president. The buck stops at the president's desk," Romney said. "He's indicated he wants to look into it and has already taken action to remove the head of the IRS.
"The president is saying that, he and his team will look into it. But frankly, they can't investigate themselves," Romney continued.
Romney made it clear he still hasn't warmed up to the idea of Obama as president.
"I'm not a fan of the president, in case you didn't know that," Romney said. "But look, I believe he cares for the country and wants to make America a better place for the American people. But I think he's not being successful as he would have hoped to have been."
Click here for more on Romney's appearance from RealClearPolitics.
Officials from the mortgage financing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have withdrawn from a Detroit event where homeowners are set to talk about the impact foreclosures have had on their lives and communities.
The group Detroit Eviction Defense claims the last-minute cancellation of the May 20 hearing comes after officials for the government-backed agencies told organizers it would be "awkward" to hear testimony from homeowners who are currently litigating against them.
Steve Babson, a spokesman for Detroit Eviction Defense, said organizers received word of the cancellation through a series of phone calls with employees of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees Fannie and Freddie.
"They said, 'Well, we've decided it would be pretty awkward for us to be in the same room in a public event with homeowners who are in litigation against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over potential evictions,'" Babson told The Huffington Post. "This was a phone conversation, as it had been for several months, but this was unfortunately at the 11th hour saying they were pulling out."
Meg Burns, senior associate director of the Office of Housing and Regulatory Policy, sent a statement to The Huffington Post confirming that officials from FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had earlier committed to attending the hearing but now would be unable to do so.
“We are disappointed we can’t be at the event but we look forward to hearing the concerns of the homeowners and seeing the impact the housing crisis has had on the affected residents," she wrote. "This information will serve as the basis for the follow-up policy discussion that we remain committed to having with the UAW and other interested parties."
A spokesperson for Burns said that FHFA would hold a policy discussion with the United Auto Workers and other groups after the event, though no official date has been set.
The UAW helped Detroit Eviction Defense organize the event, along with the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. Supporters had hoped FHFA officials would get a first-hand view of the heavy impact of the housing crisis in the city.
In 2007, Metro Detroit led the nation with nearly 5 percent of properties in some stage of foreclosure. Although those rates are declining, 20,000 foreclosed properties in the city of Detroit were auctioned off by Wayne County last year.
About 20 homeowners are expected to speak to an audience of community activists, housing advocates and others. There will also be an open mic session for others who wish to comment. Organizers plan to videotape the testimony and deliver it to Fannie Mae at a later date.
Babson called the mortgage giants' concerns that testimony at the event would compromise ongoing legal cases a "phony argument," noting that officials were invited to listen, not to speak, and knew of the event's format ahead of time.
"I think it's outrageous," Babson said. "We find it very insulting and we think it's pretty transparent that what they find 'awkward' is the prospect of being with people who are victims of a foreclosure policy that we think is doing serious damage to Metro Detroit."
The Detroit Eviction Defense coalition has been working with the UAW and the AFL-CIO on foreclosure issues for about two years. The group defends homeowners against foreclosure and eviction through a variety of methods, including
non-violent direct action. The organization is calling for a moratorium on foreclosures by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in Metro Detroit, similar to the one instituted for regions affected by Hurricane Sandy, and a reduction of principal for "underwater" loans that have balances higher than a home's market value.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. They have received more than $187 billion in taxpayer funds and have paid $58 billion in dividends to the U.S. Treasury. The two government-sponsored enterprises provide a secondary market for mortgages, purchasing them from originating lenders, and sometimes selling them as guaranteed securities.
After two recent court decisions, the two lenders may be forced to pay real estate taxes and extend due process to foreclosed homeowners in Michigan.
The foreclosure hearing is scheduled to take place Monday, May 20, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at UAW Local 600, 10550 Dix Ave in Dearborn, Mich.
WASHINGTON -- Even though Rasel Parvez is out of prison, he isn't out of danger.
"They have pushed my life to a state in which I cannot walk free. I remain in self-confinement day after day, and my social relations are mostly snapped," said Parvez, 36, in an interview with The Huffington Post.
He is talking about the Bangladeshi government, which arrested him and three other bloggers last month for "derogatory comments about Islam." Parvez, who is currently out on bail, has been branded with the label "atheist" blogger because he dared to criticize the abuse of religion by politicians.
It took Parvez and Subrata Adhikary Shuvo, 24, another arrested blogger, more than a month to obtain bail. The other two -- Mashiur Rahman Biplob, 42, and Asif Mohiuddin, 30 -- remain in jail.
But Parvez's own home in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital city, has become something of a prison, as he fears for his life whenever he steps outside.
After his release from jail, some of his most vociferous critics took to Facebook to offer rewards to anyone who killed Parvez, with one offer as high as $12,871 in U.S. dollars. (Per capita income in Bangladesh in 2010 was $641 a year.)
"Who knows -- some of them may be waiting just outside my house," said Parvez.
His wife, Asma Begum, said she's at her wit's end. She does her best to protect Parvez -- among other things, preventing him from taking phone calls until she has checked the caller's identity.
"His insecurity means the entire family is in danger," Begum said.
"I don't know if he could go to the office again. I am not sure if it is safe now to shift our home and find a new address. And how long should I expect him to live an imprisoned life like this?" she asked.
Newcomers to Bangladesh's blogosphere consider Parvez a first-generation blogger. A graduate in physics from the University of Connecticut, he has tried to use science to challenge religious doctrine in his home country. But he said he has never written anything that was intended to defame the Prophet Muhammad.
The term blogger, let alone "atheist" blogger, was barely known in the country before February of this year, when activists took to a busy intersection in Dhaka, demanding that all war criminals from Bangladesh's 1971 battle for independence be hanged. An online call by bloggers, dissatisfied over the sentencing of a war criminal to life in prison -- even after his complicity in war atrocities was proved -- touched off the protest known as the Shahbagh movement.
Since then, bloggers have found themselves in the cross hairs, with death threats becoming part of the job. One of them was killed in February by Islamist fundamentalists, who justified the murder by saying the blogger was a nonbeliever. More broadly, a massive smear campaign was launched targeting bloggers.
Following a demand by a little-known Islamist party called Hefazat-e-Islam, the government arrested the four bloggers, including Parvez, in early April. Even before any formal charges were brought against them, the men were labeled "atheists" and paraded before the media.
"While standing before the media after my arrest, I could feel how this exposure would endanger my life," said Parvez, adding, "I have yet to get an idea about the extent of the jeopardy I am in. I need to know how well-known I am by the identity of an 'atheist' blogger."
But Parvez started to get a feel for his dangerous situation while in jail. The bloggers were put in a 10x10 foot interrogation room with other prisoners -- including individuals who clearly wished them ill, according to Parvez.
"Three of them had been arrested for a January attack on Asif [Mohiuddin], who needed 56 stitches to close the wounds inflicted in his neck and parts of his body upwards," said Parvez.
Along with Mohiuddin's attackers, the cell also contained a handful of activists with Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamist party whose top leaders are facing war crimes charges. They were furious at the sight of Mohiuddin and proceeded to curse and threaten all the bloggers for approximately two hours, Parvez recalled.
He said the other prisoners taunted them with such threats as, "Even if we could not kill them you, our brothers will definitely succeed. Those standing against our religion deserve to be assassinated."
That wasn't all the bloggers had to endure while incarcerated. When they were transferred to the local prison, the news of their arrival proceeded them, according to Parvez, and other Jamaat-e-Islami supporters, already in prison, gathered to scorn them.
"They knew Asif, as his photograph was published in the media after he was attacked. They became sure of our identity, seeing Asif with us. They used all kinds of derogatory and dirty language as they talked. They even threatened to harass us sexually; some threatened to rape us," Parvez recollected.
The bloggers were kept confined to their cells around the clock for the first three days.
Now, the government suggests the bloggers should agree to stay in prison for the next five years for their personal security.
"How can I stay in jail for five years when I have kids and a family?" lamented Parvez.
"I have heard about the rewards announced to get my head," he said. "The amount of money promised is enough to encourage at least a thousand killers to get the job done, given that sometimes only 2,000 taka [about $25.74] can get your enemy killed in Bangladesh."
WASHINGTON -- Some Alabama physicians and physician assistants were surprised this week to receive a letter with a new demand from the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners: Show us your papers.
Under the state's 2011 immigration law, these medical professionals are now required to prove they are U.S. citizens or in the country legally to maintain their licenses to practice, according to the letter, dated May 16.
The immigration law, H.B. 56, was signed into law two years ago. Based on the the much-contested S.B. 1070 in Arizona, Alabama's law is considered the toughest in the country, in part due to its "papers, please" provision that requires police to ask for an individual's immigration status if they have "reasonable suspicion" the person is undocumented. It was designed specifically to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state, but much of it has since been blocked by the courts.
The medical license component did not kick in until this year. Already-licensed physicians and physician assistants now have only two weeks to get their information to the Medical Licensure Commission. Those applying for a license for the first time will be required to either demonstrate they are in the country legally or sign a declaration of U.S. citizenship and give proof, according to the letter. If they don't provide the information, they will not be able to receive or renew their licenses.
From the letter, signed by Alabama Board of Medical Examiners Executive Director Larry D. Dixon:
A person applying for or renewing a professional license is required to sign a declaration of U. S. citizenship and demonstrate U. S. citizenship or demonstrate lawful presence in the U. S., which is then verified by the federal government. After initial demonstration and verification of U. S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence in the U. S. is made, further demonstration of such status is not required.
H.B. 56 initially made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to engage in business transactions with the state, creating problems for people who wanted to buy utilities or register their mobile homes, among other things. Civil rights groups sued the state on behalf of mobile-home owners, and the provision was blocked by a federal judge in November 2011.
When state lawmakers revised the bill last year -- in part to stem concerns that it was driving out business -- they narrowed that provision but maintained the ban on unauthorized immigrants conducting business with the state for professional licenses, such as those for physicians and physician assistants.
Karen Tumlin, a managing attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said the license requirement seems to susceptible to the same legal problem as the provision affecting mobile-home owners: The federal government, not the state, has the responsibility to verify immigration status.
"We're deeply troubled by what the board is doing here, because once again it raises the constitutional problem with localities determining who has permission to remain in the United States and who does not," said Tumlin, who has worked to block H.B. 56. "And as a practical matter, we're concerned it would lead to duly licensed individuals in the state of Alabama not being able to contribute to Alabama society and pursue their profession."
By Jerry Campbell
Religion News Service
CLAREMONT, Calif. (RNS) Last Sunday (May 12), Timothy Murphy began a fast of solidarity with the Guantanamo inmates who are on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention. As one of our Ph.D. students and an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Timothy felt spiritually called to the hunger strike. He is drinking water and nothing else.
Timothy intends to continue as long as he is able, or until the Obama administration begins taking action to address the prisoners’ legitimate grievances, including deliberate steps to find homes for the 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release. Timothy says he would be happy to stop the fast tomorrow if the administration indicated that it was taking steps to do this.
I, like Timothy, believe this is a basic human rights issue for the prisoners. I also believe that it is critical for the health of our nation’s collective soul and integrity to get it resolved. Timothy’s deep commitment inspired me, so I decided to join him, but in a more limited fast: I am fasting three days this week, and every Thursday hereafter, until steps are taken to resolve the Guantanamo issues.
“Many Americans,” Timothy recently told me, “tend to think of the Guantanamo prisoners as ‘the worst of the worst.’ It’s easy to not pay attention to their plight, regardless of whether they die of hunger, have tubes shoved down their esophagus for force feeding, or languish in Guantanamo permanently — even the prisoners who have already been determined not to have been enemy combatants.”
His hope, which is now mine as well, is that enough Americans will join us to make people think twice about their assumptions and to pressure Congress and the White House to address the detainee situation conclusively.
Each day of his fast, Timothy calls his senators and representatives on Capitol Hill, and the White House to express concern over the Guantanamo situation, to tell them of his fast, and ask if any steps have been taken. He is encouraging everyone he knows to contact them as well.
Timothy has also emailed Carlos Warner, an attorney who represents some of the detainees, saying, “I don’t know for how long I will do this,” he told Warner, “but if nothing else, I want the men in Guantanamo to know that myself and others care about their situation enough to act in support of them so that the Obama administration responds to their grievances.”
Timothy has already lost more than 7 percent of his body weight and feels dizzy when he stands. He has consulted a doctor, because he doesn’t intend to fast to the death, unlike the 100 prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo. Those men are so depressed about their situation that many of them would be relieved to end it all.
What happened to the ideals of due process and innocent until proven guilty? What about no unjust imprisonment, and no cruel and unusual punishment? How can America claim to be a beacon of justice and democracy for the world, when after more than 11 years, we continue to let this situation fester?
Timothy tells me that by the time he’s burned up his remaining fat, he has read that his body will start eating away his muscles, a feeling he is not looking forward to. But he’s taking it one day at a time, praying for a resolution.
I urge you to join Timothy and me, in whatever capacity you are able, to pray, fast, and contact your representatives. We need to close Guantanamo.
(Jerry Campbell is the president of Claremont Lincoln University and Claremont School of Theology.)
Thursday President Obama stood before the nation declaring that "the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity." Will the words Internal Revenue Service and integrity ever be synonymous? Integrity means consistency in actions and values. It means an agency that acts in accordance with the principles it is meant to embody. Integrity means honesty. As with the integrity of a person, the integrity of the IRS is measured by human accounts -- the experiences people have when interacting with the agency. On a more scientific scale, it means the agency's results need to meet the nation's expectations.
There is far more that needs to be fixed for the IRS to bask in an aura of integrity. This latest scandal examining whether IRS employees had a political bias when scrutinizing applications for tax-exempt status is merely the tipping point. The scandal draws attention to a larger problem -- death and taxes should not be the only certainties in life. In the same vein, dealing with the IRS should not instill the fear and frustration in taxpayers that it often does.
The agency's powers must be checked. Neither the IRS, nor credit card companies, nor student loan lenders, nor any other collector should have the ability to make an American citizen feel like his or her life will fall to ruins. According to former IRS employees, the harassment that those groups applying for tax-exempt status say they experienced, is not unlike the harassment that everyday taxpayers experience on a regular basis when dealing with the IRS in a variety of circumstances. In a 2002 speech at a Washington, D.C. 'Truth in Taxation' hearing, one former IRS agent, who was imprisoned for refusing to file tax returns said, "In my tenure as an IRS agent, I personally saw marriages broken, families torn apart, homes confiscated and businesses destroyed...without the proper authority." Prior to 1998, the IRS used to be allowed to seize homes for outstanding tax bills that amounted to less than $5,000.
A new law in 1998 changed that. The law blossomed out of Congressional hearings in 1996 and 1997. The entire nation watched as the testimony of former IRS employees exposed the widespread abuse practiced by IRS agents against taxpayers. Taxpayers who challenged the IRS and the tax system back then were labeled "illegal tax protesters." One former IRS employee testified that in addition to its unscrupulous practices, the agency destroyed its paper trails. Following the explosive hearings, President Clinton joined Republicans and enacted "The Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998." The law banned the term "illegal tax protester," it created a taxpayer advocate and an oversight board to monitor taxpayer interaction with IRS employees. It also broadened the protections for innocent spouses, meaning spouses shocked to learn of enormous tax liability as a result of filing a joint return. In short, the law contained more than 70 provisions intended to protect taxpayers and revamp, even moralize the Agency's operations.
Today, 15 years later, the IRS and its operations are before Congress once again. It is surprising that it took 15 years for the IRS to come back under the microscope. Congress is charged with overseeing the IRS. Under the Sixteenth Amendment, Congress is responsible for levying taxes. Congress must write and reform the tax code. The IRS interprets and enforces the Code. But, the Constitution did not give those powers to the IRS, Congress did. Allocated power must be regulated. It is Congress's job to ensure that IRS enforcement complies with the purpose and meaning of the tax laws. Congress, increasing its regulation of the IRS, would be one step toward integrity.
The Congressional hearings of 1996 and 1997 bear great significance as we look ahead toward an IRS with integrity. There is much to be learned from them. The most glaring point being that one new law, one new reform, one new Commissioner will not fix the problems inherent within. The IRS when left to its devices will find ways around the ethical enforcement of the Code, because ultimately its goal is to collect. We have seen this happen before, for example, with the evolution of the statute of limitations law. A statute of limitations governs how long the IRS can hunt down a taxpayer. It is a vital part of tax law, because it sets a limit on collection efforts. It creates a light at the end of the tunnel. If a taxpayer truly does not have the income or assets to pay his or her entire tax liability, often times compounded by interest and penalties, the statute of limitations allows that taxpayer to one day move on with life.
The present statute of limitations only allows tax collection for ten years from the date of tax assessment. Before 1998, the IRS used to "coerce" taxpayers to waive the statute of limitations. Some taxpayers signed waivers agreeing to let the IRS pursue them for an additional 20 even 30 years in exchange for leniency in immediate tax collection. One man agreed to waive the statute of limitations beyond his life expectancy so that the IRS would not levy his military retirement benefits. The 1998 law banned such waivers. It recognized the injustice. The parties were not operating on a level playing field given the sweeping powers of the IRS. It wasn't a fair quid pro quo under the law.
Today the IRS is STILL getting taxpayers to agree to extend the statute in exchange for workout plans. If a taxpayer agrees to a monthly payment plan called an "installment plan," he or she must also agree to toll the statute. If a taxpayer makes an "offer in compromise" to settle a debt for less than what is owed, the IRS can wait two years before deciding whether to accept or reject the offer. During those two years, the statute is tolled. Workout plans are designed to extend a helping hand. Participation often evidences a willing and cooperative taxpayer who sometimes just can't keep up with mounting interest and penalties. Yet, a good faith effort to resolve the debt results in a longer collection period. The statute is also tolled in other instances like during bankruptcy proceedings. At one point in 2000, one law repealed the IRS's ability to suspend the statute of limitations but less than two years later, the power was re-established by another law. Exceptions like this, that still exist today, and contradict the purpose of the 1998 revisions, show that one new law, one new reform, one new Commissioner will not fix the problems inherent within.
In 1998, when the sweeping IRS reform law passed, then Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth, Jr. said, "Today marks the dawning of a new era for the IRS, the way it does business, its service orientation, its efficiency and mission." The question is, will today mark the dawning of another new era? Or will Congress miss the opportunity to examine the problems within the agency that extend beyond this one scandal?
SAN FRANCISCO -- Efforts to put the brakes on the practice of hydraulic fracturing, often called "fracking," took a step forward in California earlier this week. A trio of bills aiming to impose a moratorium on the controversial oil and natural gas extraction technique were given the go-ahead from the state Assembly's Appropriations Committee.
"As the threat of fracking pollution to our air and water becomes clear, there’s huge momentum in the legislature to halt this dangerous practice," Patrick Sullivan of the anti-fracking group Center for Biological Diversity wrote in an email to the Huffington Post.
While California lawmakers are currently considering up to a dozen different pieces of legislation looking to place some guidelines on the practice, these three bills have been grouped together because they take the strongest stances against fracking--in some way or another, each of them would impose large-scale bans.
Assemblyman Richard Bloom's (D-Santa Monica) bill would put a moratorium on fracking and require legislative action to lift it, while Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell's (D-Los Angeles) bill would only lift the moratorium after an independent commission studies the practice's environmental effects. Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian's (D-Van Nuys) bill only applies to the area surrounding sources of groundwater that could theoretically be contaminated by the release of fracking wastewater.
Fracking is a petrochemical extraction technique where a combination of water, sand and a litany of chemicals are injected into a well in order to create cracks in the rock from which oil and natural gas can escape. While fracking has been employed in the state for decades, technological advances in the fields of fracking and horizontal drilling have opened up vast energy deposits across the country--particularly in North Dakota's Bakken Shale and Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale--that have drawn increased public scrutiny to the issue.
Fracking has also been pushed to the forefront in California in recent years, following the release of a report suggesting that over 15 billion barrels of oil are contained in the Monterey Shale--a sedimentary rock formation resting under much of Central California that may be unlocked using fracking or other related techniques.
"There is a new interest in regulating fracking this [legislative] session because the people are demanding it," explained Kristin Lynch, a director at the environmental organization Food And Water Watch. "You look at the sentiment of Californians about global warming and moving to renewables and you see how fracking is a hindrance to that."
During a convention held in April, the California Democratic Party officially passed a resolution coming out in favor of an immediate ban on fracking, writing:
Fracking uses large amounts of water thereby reducing its availability for agriculture and other public use, uses large amounts of toxic chemicals some of which can cause cancer, creates wastewater that brings these chemicals and other deep earth contaminants (sometimes radioactive) to the surface and can pollute the water supply either directly or through leaky wells, releases methane gas into the air that exacerbates climate change, and may cause earthquakes.
However, in an editorial published in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month, Catherine Reheis-Boyd of the Western States Petroleum Association, an energy industry group representing the majority of California's energy producers, argued that criticisms of fracking are overblown and any moves to prohibit the practice would only hurt the state in the long run.
"California is on the brink of an energy and economic renaissance," wrote Reheis-Boyd, who noted that California has never recorded a single documented instance of fracking wastewater leaking out and contaminating the surrounding groundwater supply. "Outlawing a safe and effective technology in the absence of any scientific or other evidence that it has caused harm to the environment will deprive...the state its opportunity to thrive, and that is neither thoughtful nor sound energy policy."
Sullivan, who explained that there's a good chance these bills could be combined in a way such that the legislature only casts a single vote on a fracking moratorium, said he's confident issue will be heard on the Assembly floor some time in the near future.
Up until about an hour ago, most Americans thought Benghazi was the guy who palled around with John Cassavetes back in the 60s, but now it's obvious we're talking about the foreign policy arm of a multi-ramped tar pit in which the president has found himself swimming up to his armpits. Yes, friends, it's pity time at the White House.
After flogging the issue nonstop since September 11, the Fox News team's persistence finally pushed the story of the Libyan Embassy riot that resulted in the death of four Americans over the cliff into the public consciousness. Space available only because both Survivor and Duck Dynasty are on hiatus.
The hue and cry from the right is demanding many questions be answered. Was the protest planned or spontaneous? Did the group that initiated the attack have any affiliation with Arab terrorists? Who altered the talking points; the CIA or the State Department? Where were the drones? Queens? Wasps? Chigger mites? How many angels can dance on the head of a bent and broken Romney/Ryan pin? What would Cheney do?
Having taken all this in, the American people responded with what can only be characterized as even more penetrating questions such as: "Who cares? What difference does it make? Aren't we stuffed to the gills with enough partisan gobbledy goop already? Does anyone really give an albino rat's ass? Isn't there a seafood buffet around here somewhere?"
The revelations have been as startling as mint jelly on lamb. Tragic violent events occurring in the Middle East? Oh no! Not that. Perpetual infighting amongst government agencies? That couldn't happen here, could it? Republicans accusing a Democratic administration of not being patriotic enough? What are the odds?
Next you'll tell me the Justice Department investigation of the Justice Department's seizure of AP reporters' phone records will lead to the Justice Department concluding that the Justice Department did nothing wrong. The public's eyes are glazing over like a fifth grader lectured on the nutritional aspects of broccoli rabe.
Haven't we been told for the last 20, 30 years that Libya is a godless pit of iniquity and now they want us to heap truckloads of blame onto our own guys because someone got killed over there? After they themselves voted down additional money for embassy security? Another example of that whole "dynamite the front steps then complain what a pain it is to climb into the house on a rope ladder" school of logic.
But the GOP remains convinced they have the administration on the run, and is calling for all sorts of investigative committees and dedicated inquiry boards and pretty soon it will be special prosecutors and court rooms full of hopping kangaroos and then pointy sticks and barbed wire and dungeon doors with keys specifically designed to be thrown away. Just in time for the midterms.
And if everything goes according to plan, Hillary Clinton and her nascent 2016 presidential run will wither and rot behind the same Benghazi charges. But the Republicans must know how tricky this sort of maneuver can be. As with all smoke screens, you have to pay real close attention to which way the wind blows, or you could easily end up choking on the same stuff you're spreading.
Recipient of seven consecutive nominations for Stand Up of the Year, Will Durst's new one- man show "BoomerAging: From LSD to OMG" is presented every Tuesday, at the Marsh, San Francisco. Go to... themarsh.org or willdurst.com for more info.
A former infantry platoon leader in Iraq who now heads a veterans group said Friday that while positive steps have been taken to reintegrate America's veterans into the workforce, there's still a "long way to go."Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America -- the largest nonpartisan organization serving the newest generation of veterans -- offered his observations during a forum sponsored by RealClearPolitics at the Newseum in Washington.Rieckhoff (pictured, right, with RCP's Carl Cannon) said that after returning from Iraq in 2004, he...
The president's press secretary, Jay Carney, could be facing his most challenging days since joining the White House staff "” and that's saying something.
If you want to get a sense of how college students approach sex, the play Speak About It is a pretty good place to start. It's a series of skits written by students at Bowdoin, a small liberal arts college in Maine. The skits show students in a variety of sexual encounters, based on real experiences. Bowdoin students must watch the play during freshman orientation. It's meant to foster "healthy relationships" on campus by addressing the issue of consent and sexual assault. Speak About It has also been staged at colleges and universities nationwide, including Harvard,...
No one else is going to tell you this, so I might as well.You sit here today, $30,000 or $40,000 in debt, as the latest victims of what may well be the biggest conspiracy in U.S. history. It is a conspiracy so big and powerful that Dan Brown won’t even touch it. It’s a conspiracy so insidious that you will rarely hear its name.
On Tuesday (May 14), the US government seized accounts that Japan-based Mt. Gox, the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, held at its US bank, Wells Fargo, and with Dwolla, an online payments company. The government said Mt Gox violated money laundering rules. (Mt Gox says it is investigating.) For the fast-evolving bitcoin ecosystem, this marks a new phase of development.
Republicans want the American people to know that Thursday’s House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act was most definitely not an act of empty political theater.
Washington’s need for periodic scandal is almost biological. For legislators, it’s an opportunity to strut on the national stage. For the party out of power, it is politics by other means. For the press, it’s an escape from the boredom and frustration of a second term. Scandal means a break in the routine, a thrilling emergency. At some level, the whole political class loves it.
Government is bad for personal freedom. That argument is premised upon the truism that everything government does interferes with freedom because it either prohibits or compels. Everything it owns it has taken from others. Much of what it says is divorced from the truth. President Obama, like President George W. Bush, has argued that his first job is to keep America safe, and if he impairs personal freedom in the process, that is a small price to pay for safety. Many of my colleagues in the media on the left and right have bought this argument, notwithstanding its fallacies.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told top advisers that he is prepared to take action if Senate Republicans block three upcoming nominations, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
Reid is reportedly focusing on the month of July to approach filibuster reform and possibly execute the "nuclear option," which would change the Senate rules and no longer require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
“This would take away the right to filibuster on nominations,” a senior Senate Democratic aide told the Washington Post. “All executive branch and judicial nominations would be subject to majority votes. He would not do it on legislative items.”
A Senate Democratic aide confirmed the Post report to HuffPost and said that Reid met recently with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a leader of the push to reform the filibuster, to lay out his thinking going forward.
Reid has consistently said publicly that he reserves the right to change Senate rules if he considers the GOP to be abusing the ones left in place by the bipartisan agreement in January.
“All within the sound of my voice, including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with, should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority, and I will do that if necessary," Reid said.
Ryan Grim contributed reporting.
BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Patty Wagstaff is a Hollywood stunt pilot, three-time U.S. aerobatic champion, inductee to the National Aviation Hall of Fame and favorite on the air show circuit. One of her tricked-out planes is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
But this weekend, she's grounded.
Federal budget cuts that eliminated military flying acts triggered the cancellation of dozens of air shows, meaning lost income for performers, air show announcers, concessionaires, vendors and others who depend on air shows and the millions of spectators.
The cancellations also mean disappointed fans, fewer events that celebrate aviation and inspire youngsters and lost military recruiting opportunities.
"This is as American as apple pie," said Sean Tucker, another top aerobatic pilot, from Salinas, Calif. "It's the Indianapolis 500, the Fourth of July, and `Top Gun' rolled into one."
Air shows pump about $1.5 billion into the economy and draw nearly three times more spectators than NASCAR events, according to the International Council of Air Shows.
And the biggest acts are the Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds, the precision flying teams whose performances were abruptly canceled April 1, along with the Army skydiving team, military flyovers, demonstration flights and even static displays.
The cancellations caused by automatic budget cuts known as sequestration sent ripples through the industry, because the jet teams anchor most shows in which they perform.
Without them, organizers of major air shows like Wings over Wayne at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina and Skyfest 2013 at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state scheduled for this weekend, coincidentally on Armed Forces Day, opted to cancel.
Large air shows like those feature pilots pulling seemingly death-defying maneuvers in all manner of aircraft from biplanes to jets, precision formation flying, skydivers jumping from planes and, of course, screeching military jets pulling high-G maneuvers.
One of Wagstaff's signature moves is to use her plane's propeller to clip a ribbon that's stretched 22 feet above the runway – while flying upside down.
"The whole thing is just sad," said Wagstaff, of St. Augustine, Fla., who was scheduled to perform at Wings over Wayne. "I really believe that air shows are good for aviation. They expose kids to aviation, and it's the only place where you can go and touch an airplane, sit in the cockpit, talk to the pilots."
All told, 64 air shows including the Great State of Maine Air Show that depended on military participation have canceled, accounting for a loss of nearly a third of air show revenue, and the figure could go as high as 100, said John Cudahy, the air show council's executive director.
Industry insiders believe the military jet teams will be flying again next year, but there's no guarantee from the military or Congress.
It's a huge disappointment to fans like Candace Muehleisen, a real estate broker who has attended nearly 20 air shows over the years in California and Maine, where she now lives, always arriving early to ensure she's on the front row.
Military jet pilots inspire spectators with their awe-inspiring skill while showing off the military's capabilities for taxpayers, Muehleisen said.
"It's a very positive thing for young people, just to see the skill and the beauty of what these guys can do and the training they get. It's a really, really good thing," she said.
Not everyone shares that view.
Critics like Bruce Gagnon say air shows pollute the environment, waste money and glorify war.
"It's a recruiting gimmick – a very expensive recruiting gimmick, and we think it's part of this, sadly, growing culture of militarism in our country," said Gagnon, a peace activist from Bath who served in the Air Force in the Vietnam era.
Not all air shows are being canceled. And many in the air show business will do fine this summer.
Tucker, who's performing over Memorial Day weekend at the Jones Beach Air Show in New York, said corporate sponsors are trying to line up smaller events to fill his schedule after eight of his 20 shows were canceled.
For others, it's a bigger deal.
In Tallahassee, Fla., Bob Anderson and his family operate a six-figure business selling T-shirts at air shows. Business was so good for his product line that focused almost exclusively on the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds that he upgraded to a motor home for his seasonal business travel.
Instead, the motor home is parked, and he's installing floors.
"People are very bitter now," he said. "I'm very saddened by everything that's going on because we've worked hard to get to where we are, and we've been shut down by no fault of our own."
Air show announcer Rob Reider, of Cincinnati, lost half his season, which is his primary source of income. "Am I angry? Yes, because it's hurting me," he said. "If something doesn't brighten up by the end of this year, I'll be looking to do other things and air shows will become a backburner business."
The losses carry on down the line to the concessionaires who feed spectators, vendors who provide hundreds of portable toilets, rental car companies that supply vehicles, hotels that house pilots and crews, and providers of aviation fuel.
In Brunswick, the canceled Great State of Maine Air Show had a budget of about $750,000. Last year's show paid out $31,000 for motel rooms for Air Force Thunderbirds team alone.
"It's a little issue on a national level, but it's a big issue locally. It's a big weekend for us," said Steve Levesque, executive director of the agency that organizes the show. "A lot of people were angry that we shut it down, but we didn't have any other choice."
For Reider and the pilots like Tucker and Wagstaff, the air shows cancellations mean losses that aren't easily calculated.
The shows tend to inspire young people, serve as a demonstration and recruiting tool for the military, and provide wholesome entertainment for families, they said.
"The metaphor of flight is about pushing boundaries; that's what we do as Americans," Tucker said. "It really disappoints me that because of politics, opportunities to be patriotic have been lost to millions and millions of people. What's the price of that?"
Follow David Sharp at http://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP
The IRS investigates conservative groups. Military officers and NCOs use their authority to commit and cover up sex crimes. Education administrators manipulate student scores on standardized tests to meet mandated progress targets and collect bonuses. The nation's largest lenders illegally foreclose on homeowners. CEO compensation grows exponentially while the jobless rate and median pay for the workforce stagnates. Congress repeals the one-year-old prohibition on Congressional insider trading. Everywhere we turn Americans are confronted by unethical behavior.
Every society has individuals who break the law -- people who cross over the boundaries of acceptable behavior and damage others. Citizens work together to arrest and convict those who commit murder, assault, larceny, conspiracy, and other crimes. It is disturbing when laws are broken, but we feel even more violated when our fellow citizens profane our trust -- and there is no need to break any laws to do so. Obedience to the law is not enough. Americans demand legal and ethical behavior from themselves and their fellow citizens. Today we have cause to question the ethics of our society. We have a crisis of confidence in our government, our military, and in religious, social, and business institutions.
It is not the first time Americans have faced such a crisis of confidence. Our history reminds us that acting ethically has been a constant challenge. Remember that ethical concerns were one of the chief causes of the American Revolution. We all want to commemorate tea parties and taxes, but the causes for our separation from Great Britain ran much deeper than just a tax revolt.
In the decade before the Revolution, Americans questioned the ethical values of the British government. It was not simply that Americans disliked laws the British government passed. Americans believed that British government had become corrupt: that government officials used authority self-servingly, that the British mercantile system trapped American colonists in economic subservience, that politicians and corporations were in collusion, and even that British society itself had slipped into moral decay.
Two hundred and thirty-seven years ago this month, Virginians, meeting in the Fifth Virginia Convention in Williamsburg, took action and separated themselves from this perceived unethical behavior. Virginians declared independence from Great Britain: they sent instructions to the Virginia delegates sitting in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to make a motion for American independence. Then, the Fifth Virginia Convention delegates penned and adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights is a clear statement of the principles on which Virginia established its first constitutional government; both the inherent legal rights of individuals and the ethical responsibilities of citizens. The declaration reminds us that there is a synergy between law and ethics. The purpose of law and government is to provide the "greatest degree of happiness and safety" for the community. But delegates were aware that law alone was not sufficient. The document does not just allude to our ethical responsibilities. The declaration reminds us that it is the "mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other." Article fifteen explicitly states "That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." It was clear to the founders of our nation, then, that government as well as individual citizens must be held to an ethical standard, not just a legal one.
"We the People" and our representatives pass laws and enforce them, but that does not fulfill our ethical responsibility. If we understand our civic responsibility, we understand that we must create a synergy and balance between the law and our ethical values. Just as citizens work to create just laws, we must demand from ourselves and our leaders -- governmental, military, social, business, religious -- the ethical values of "justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue" essential to our American republic. The American Revolution lives within every American citizen. We are the beneficiaries of the Fifth Virginia Convention. It is our civic responsibility to demand ethical -- not just legal -- behavior from those who purport to be our leaders.
New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's star has been rising for the past several years. She was elected to fill Hillary Clinton's senate seat in 2010, and since then, has been championed by Democratic party stars like Howard Dean or the super-PAC EMILY's List as a possible contender for president.