Possible new clues on the fate of the lost Roanoke Colony emerge from a 16th century map being re-examined by the British Museum.[...]
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As always, the jobs numbers are confusing - seemingly getting better, but not "better" enough, thus the tepid reviews of what looks like 'good' news. CNBC:
April's job report lived up to muted expectations, with the economy creating a meager 115,000 jobs during the month as the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent.
Job creation in the private sector was slightly better at 130,000, but overall the report painted a picture of a jobs market that had gotten a boost from unseasonably warm winter weather but now has cooled....
Though the headline number indicated job creation, the total employment level for the month actually fell 169,000. The disparity likely emanates from a drop in the labor force participation rate ? or the level of Americans actively looking for jobs or otherwise employed ? from 63.8 percent to 63.6 percent, its lowest level since December 1981.
by Sarah Pavlus, via the American Independent
An influential trade association representing companies that provide water services to one in four Americans says it will continue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that has worked with the energy industry to create loophole-filled water protections and opposes federal oversight of fracking.
The National Association of Water Companies represents the far-reaching privatized water utility industry that serves ?nearly 73 million people every day,? according to the association?s website. NAWC represents more than 150 private water companies, each of whom pay an annual fee to the association. Its board of directors is drawn from the leadership of some of the country?s largest water companies.
NAWC works with ALEC to persuade state and local officials to adopt policies favorable to the private water industry. NAWC declined to comment on when it first became involved with ALEC and the amount it pays in annual dues. According to The New York Times, ALEC ?is primarily financed by more than 200 private-sector members, whose annual dues of $7,000 to $25,000 accounted for most of its $7 million budget in 2010.?
ALEC connects its corporate members with state legislators to create model bills on a variety of issues. In recent weeks, high-profile companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald?s, and Kraft Foods have dropped their ALEC memberships after the organization?s support for controversial gun rights legislation and voter identification laws was exposed. Following the uproar, ALEC announced it would eliminate its task force that dealt with ?non-economic? issues.
ALEC has also been active on issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water ? mixed with sand and chemicals ? is forced into the ground. Fracking can generate substantial revenues for some water companies, but environmentalists fear that it has the potential to put drinking water resources at risk.
Last week, The New York Times reported that ALEC?s model legislation requiring disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking ? which the paper reported was backed by ExxonMobil ? includes ?loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets.?
Asked if the NAWC planned to continue its ALEC membership despite ALEC?s stances on fracking regulation, the trade association defended its involvement.
Jessica Knight, NAWC?s Director of Strategic Relations & Communications , said in an emailed statement: ?At the core of NAWC?s mission is education of local decision makers on the role private water companies can play in helping communities provide their residents with safe, reliable water service. We belong to a wide range of organizations that include those individuals in their membership, such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the International City/County Management Association, and ALEC, just to name a few. Our involvement is limited to the educational part of our mission, described above.?
But Knight sought to distance the water industry from ALEC?s environmental policies, telling The American Independent that NAWC supports regulation by the EPA.
?As for hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as hydrofracking), NAWC supports regulation of these activities by the EPA and its partner agencies,? said Knight. ?Though NAWC understands the need for sound energy policy, our nation?s drinking water supplies must be protected.?
NAWC has also partnered with the EPA on issues like water conservation.
While Knight wouldn?t comment directly on the ?trade secret? loophole reportedly pushed by ALEC, she did emphasize the importance of requiring disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.
?Drinking water systems need information about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing activities, as well as the amount and sources of water to be used, in order to address potential impacts on communities and their drinking water supplies,? Knight said.
NAWC has worked closely with ALEC on issues relating to privatization.
At ALEC?s 2011 annual meeting, NAWC executive director Michael Deane participated in panel called ?Tapping the Private Sector to Save Money and Improve Performance,? according to documents obtained by the group Common Cause.
The panel was moderated by Geoff Segal, an expert on privatization who previously worked at the libertarian Reason Foundation. Segal currently sits on Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell?s Commission on Government Reform & Restructuring, whose mission includes seeking out ?means to more effectively and efficiently perform core state functions, including potential privatization of government operations where appropriate.?
According to minutes from the ALEC meeting, public- and private-sector ALEC members unanimously adopted model legislation called ?Establishing a Public-Private Partnership (P3) Authority Act.? The bill would establish ?a state Partnership Committee and an Office of Public-Private Partnerships to identify and establish public-private partnerships and approve qualified bidders, requests for proposals, and template contracts.?
Promoting public-private partnerships is a top policy priority for the NAWC.
According to the NAWC, Deane?s participation in the ALEC panel was limited to discussion of public-private infrastructure partnerships and was not related to hydraulic fracturing, and Deane did not vote on what model legislation should be adopted.
NAWC?s involvement in ALEC is not the only example of the private water industry?s entanglement with groups whose interests are seemingly at odds with the protection of drinking water resources. Two of the country?s biggest private water utility companies ? American Water and Aqua America ? are dues-paying members of a powerful industry coalition in Pennsylvania that lobbies to expand fracking. Both companies are on the NAWC?s board of directors.
Sarah Pavlus is a reporter with the American Independent. This piece was originally published at the American Independent and was re-printed with permission.
Food insecurity became a major problem during the Great Recession and through the economic recovery that has followed, with 17.2 million American households facing food insecurity last year alone. Nearly 50 million Americans live in households that are food insecure, and the number of hungry Americans increased 30 percent during the recession.
The increase for senior citizens was even bigger, according to a new report from Meals On Wheels authored by professors at the University of Kentucky and University of Illinois. The number of seniors facing the threat of hunger has spiked 78 percent over the last decade, and though the risk of hunger has declined since the end of the recession across the board, it is still increasing for senior citizens, the Huffington Post reports:
One in seven seniors in America — some 8.3 million people — faced the threat of hunger in 2010, a 78 percent spike since 2001, according to a study released today by Meals On Wheels, the nonprofit that delivers meals to the homebound.
The ?Senior Hunger Report Card? found while the risk of hunger for the U.S. population as a whole has declined since the end of the recession in 2009, it rose for people age 60 and older, mainly among those earning less than $30,000 ?- or one to two times the poverty level.
Hunger for senior citizens disproportionately affects women and minorities. Three out of every five seniors facing hunger are women, and African-Americans and Hispanics are twice as likely to face hunger threats as whites. Though the numbers for those groups have shrunk since the end of the recession, they have still spiked over the last decade.
The threat of hunger poses serious problems for the economy, posing nutritional risks that lead to higher health costs across the country. And the problems are only exacerbated by proposed cuts to the social safety net. More than half of the food insecure households participate in the three major food assistance programs, but the recently-passed Republican budget guts those programs and others — like Medicare and Medicaid — that help keep millions of Americans from sinking into poverty, and the hunger that often comes with it, every year.
The eight-million member Methodist Church upheld its prohibition on same-sex relationships during its national legislative meeting this week, calling them “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Delegates voted 61 percent to 39 percent against “softening the language on homosexuality in their Book of Discipline, which contains church laws and doctrine,” as pro-equality advocates “protested against the vote by singing and interrupting the meeting“:
The debate on the floor of the convention showcased the church?s passionate divide and demographic shifts. Several Americans begged delegates to ?hear the pain? of gay church members. Moments later, a delegate from Africa said in Swahili that saying that a homosexual person was created by God was like saying ?that God created me to live with animals.? The translator apologized while rendering the remarks into English.
The Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates full inclusion of gay people, said in an interview: ?I?m tired of being compared to beasts in our church. Even if our world understandings differ, it?s just horrendous. That our perspectives differ is the truth, and we just voted 61 to 39 percent that we can?t tell that truth.?
The votes set off a protest inside the convention. Gay rights supporters gathered around a communion table at the center of the hall, singing. The moderator canceled the remainder of the morning session, making it uncertain whether several other resolutions on homosexuality would come to the floor before the conference ends on Friday.
The vote may have also reflected the changing demographics within the church. While American membership has declined, the church expanded in Africa and the Philippines, where homosexuality is denounced. “This year about 40 percent of the nearly 1,000 delegates to the Methodist general conference are from outside the United States ? an increase of more than 10 percent from the last conference, in 2008,” the New York Times notes.
Meanwhile, a growing number of American religious organizations have embraced same-sex couples, including: Evangelical Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians (U.S.A), adherents of the United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalists. Polls also show that a majority of Catholics and non-evangelical white Protestants back marriage rights for gay couples.
For decades, attacks on “activist judges” were part of the conservative catechism. As President George W. Bush told the conservative Federalist Society, “such judicial lawlessness is a threat to our democracy, and it needs to stop.” Last month, however, President Obama offered a similar warning against judicial activism after it appeared likely that the Supreme Court would thumb its nose at the text of the Constitution and nearly 200 years of precedent to strike down health reform — and conservatives across the country suddenly found themselves in desperate need of a fainting couch. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) called Obama “stupid” for echoing decades of conservative rhetoric against activist judging. A Republican judge on the Fifth Circuit issued a partisan order trying to force the Justice Department to criticize President Obama. Even the president of the American Bar Association, who has historically not dragged his organization into partisan fights despite his own history as a major Republican donor, could not resist the urge to throw mud at President Obama.
On Fox News this morning, Florida Attorney General and Affordable Care Act nemesis Pam Bondi (R) got into the game, attacking the president for daring to criticize the Supreme Court and then offering a surprising promise of her own:
I mean, they’re our highest Court in the land. And I’m going to respect their decision. I’m never going to criticize the United States Supreme Court, no matter what happens. And, um, we argued our case, and if you heard any of the arguments — I’m sure you did — um, you know, the justices asked some very compelling questions.
Of course, there’s a small problem with Bondi’s pledge that she would never, ever lower herself to speak ill of the nine justices:
So Bondi’s hypocrisy is pretty glaring here, but her statement is also disturbing on a much more important front. There’s something deeply authoritarian about her suggestion that no one should ever criticize nine of the most powerful politicians in the country. The justices of the Supreme Court are not oracles and they are not gods. They are just as fallible as any other human being entrusted with power, and their decisions deserve to be discussed and evaluated just like any other government action should be subject to criticism in a free society.
Indeed, if anything, our present justices are far more fallible than most Americans. Their decision in Citizens United gave billionaires and wealty corporations a license to buy and sell democracy, and there are also more Americans who believe in “spells or witchcraft” than agree with Citizens United‘s reasoning. The Court’s forced arbitration decisions leave countless American workers and consumers powerless against corporations who break the law. And their disregard for workers such as Lilly Ledbetter is a direct blow to America’s promise of equal pay for equal work. Americans deserve the opportunity to criticize these erroneous decisions and to advocate for better judges and justices who will overrule them if given the chance.
Likewise, while Bondi is wrong about what the Constitution has to say about health reform, she has every right to criticize the nearly two centuries of Supreme Court precedent establishing that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Health reform’s opponents love to rail about their abiding love for freedom, but one of the first freedoms the framers added into our Constitution is the freedom to criticize our government.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was quick to lash out at the Obama administration’s handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Yesterday, when reports circulated that U.S. embassy officials had communicated threats to Chen’s family, Romney blasted the administration, saying, “if the reports are true” then the episode was a “dark day for freedom.”
The situation on the ground in Beijing remains uncertain but new reports suggest that progress is being made by the State Department in reaching an agreement with Chinese authorities to permit Chen to take up a fellowship from an American University, “where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children,” reports State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. But while Romney was quick to attack the Obama administration while sensitive negotiations were underway yesterday between U.S. diplomats and Chinese authorities, the presumptive Republican nominee has never answered questions about whether his own family has profited from Chinese surveillance of its own citizenry.
In March, The New York Times revealed that a Bain-run fund, in which a Romney family blind trust had invested between $100,000 and $250,000, purchased Uniview Technologies in December. Uniview is a Chinese company that claims to be the biggest supplier of surveillance cameras to the Chinese government and produces “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that allow police to share images in real time and provide technology for an emergency command center in Tibet “that provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s web site.
Security cameras played a central role in the house-arrest imposed on Chen Guangcheng’s family. After his escape to Beijing and the U.S. embassy, Chen reported that Chinese authorities installed seven video cameras and an electric fence at his house. However, it is not known whether Uniview supplied these cameras.
Yesterday, in a surprise call to a Congressional hearing, Chen told lawmakers, “I’m really afraid for my other family members’ lives” and “[n]ow those security officers in my house basically have said, ‘We want to see what else Chen Guangcheng can do.’”
With the news that Chinese authorities may permit Chen to leave China with his family, a political crisis may be averted. But Mitt Romney and his family’s investment of between $100,000 and $250,000 in Uniview Technologies should raise questions about Romney’s ties to a company that openly advertises its close ties to the Chinese government’s state security apparatus and the use of its technologies in “both peacetime and wartime.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) endorsed Mitt Romney yesterday despite leveling withering criticisms on him during the primary.
to her credit, however, the congresswoman is a much better surrogate for the presumed GOP nominee than Newt Gingrich — who said just yesterday Romney “said things at time that weren?t true” — completely reversing many of her charges against Romney in an interview with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren last night:
BACHMANN NOW: “He’s standing full square behind the pro-life cause. He believes in life.” BACHMANN THEN ?He has been very inconsistent on his positions. He has been both sides of the abortion issue.”
BACHMANN NOW: “He believes in marriage between one woman and one man. He stands for that.” BACHMANN THEN: Romney signed ?189 same-sex marriage license.? In December: ?He has been?on both sides of the issue of same-sex marriage.?
BACHMANN NOW: “He stands for the full scale repeal of Obamacare.” BACHMANN THEN: ?It?s highly unlikely that he will ever truly repeal [Obamacare].”
After Newt's lackluster endorsement of Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann stepped up today to endorse Romney. This, after she declared emphatically that Romney had no chance of beating Obama.
On this point, I happen to agree. But Michele Bachmann sells herself as a "principled conservative." To that end, her endorsement was, well...lukewarm.
After months of hints, Michele Bachmann finally endorsed her former rival Mitt Romney in his bid for the presidency, calling him "the last chance we have to keep America from going ... over a cliff."
In a statement, the Minnesota congresswoman said she was "honored" to back Romney, describing him as "a man who will preserve the American dream of prosperity and liberty."
You may have heard Republicans call President Obama a socialist a few times. But now Michele Bachmann is using the loaded term to attack Mitt Romney, dropping a veiled shot at an unnamed "frugal socialist" who could challenge Obama in 2012.
"Unfortunately for too many Republicans, they also aspire to be frugal socialists," Bachmann told an audience at the Family Research Council in Washington, citing health care in particular as a telltale indicator. "We cannot preserve liberty if the choice is between a frugal socialist and an out-of-control socialist."
I refer you to Shep Smith's observation on Wednesday:
Politics is weird. And creepy. And now, I know, lacks even the loosest attachment to anything like reality.