Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Jan Brewer and AZ State Legislature Fall Short On Promises To Abused And Neglected Kids

Jan Brewer (by Gage Skidmore)


As skeptics predicted, Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer has once again failed to provide the protection that the state's abused and neglected kids need. She asked the state legislature to approve $80 million in the new budget for a child welfare program -- the one formerly known as Child Protective Services (CPS). The Republican-dominated body gave her $52.7 million before sending the final budget to her office on Tuesday for a signature.

In January, Brewer took the questionable step of dissolving CPS by executive order, announcing the move during her State of the State address. She declared the creation of a cabinet-level, free-standing agency that would report only to her instead. This was in response to the discovery last fall that over 6,500 CPS cases had been totally set aside, without the slightest degree of investigation.

The new program, the Child Safety and Family Services Agency, was to evolve out of a team Brewer put into place in December to investigate the 6,500 untouched cases. The only problem is, creating a new agency and funding it are legislative responsibilities. So, without an agency actually in place, the best the budget bill does is make sort of a promise about the future:
" ... this budget has been adopted without knowing the scope, department needs and funding requirements for the successor agency that are necessary to protect the safety of the children in this state. It is the intent of the legislature to reexamine the budget in conjunction with the legislation that will create a successor agency ..."
Um, ok. 'Intent'. The governor, however, already laid out specifics of what she believes is needed for the agency. She wanted $25 million to create it; the legislature gave her $20 million. She asked for $40 million over the next three years to create a new child-safety database; they gave her $15 million over the next three years. She proposed over $20 million to hire new child protection workers; the budget includes $15.3 million. She also wanted $8.6 million for more criminal-case investigators; she got $1.8 million.

The legislature has never taken child welfare to heart. Why Brewer believed she could singlehandedly create an agency and then get adequate funding from these people is a mystery. And now, any further funding will require lawmakers to return for a special session.

Here's what has actually happened since Brewer dissolved CPS. Each of the 6500 neglected cases was assigned a caseworker and most have been investigated. Great. However, the latest figures on the backlog of child protection cases (cases intended for further action that no one has gotten to yet) showed that, in January, even though the workers for the former CPS were still on the job, the backlog stood at 12,101. That's a 19 percent increase since the discovery last November of the ignored 6500 cases (for which there was no intent).

In a formal statement, Democratic leaders protested the budget. Senator Olivia Cajero Bedford and Representative Eric Meyer wrote:
"There is no justifiable reason to wait until the Legislature convenes a special session (to address the new Department of Child Safety and Family Services) to fund these staffing positions. The Governor's Office provided sound recommendations for staffing and funding levels which are disregarded in this budget. Staffing shortages have, in part, contributed to a legacy of tragic mismanagement of our child welfare program and have put the safety of Arizona's children in jeopardy for far too long."
Even Republican Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, sees danger looming in the current setup, including the level of staffing. According to the Arizona Republic, she said:
"If we start this agency out with a 12,000 (case) backlog, the ship will sink."
So where's the solution? Lame-duck Governor Brewer hasn't even managed to keep pace with the growth in child welfare cases, much less design a new agency. She'll be out of office in less than nine months and someone else, currently unknown, will be the sole person to whom the new Child Safety and Family Services Agency answers.

Where does this leave Arizona's kids? The same place they've always been -- shit out of luck.





Thursday, April 3, 2014

SCOTT BROWN WANTS TO CARPETBAG HIS WAY BACK INTO THE SENATE


Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown wants back in the Senate and he doesnt mind carpetbagging to get there. The question is, how will New Hampshire feel about it?

Brown lost his U.S. Senate seat to Elizabeth Warren after he completed three years of Sen. Edward Kennedys term. He accomplished that by winning a special election after Kennedys death. Now he has cast about for a likely road back and settled on the state where he has a summer home -- neighboring New Hampshire. After selling his house in Massachusetts, that place in Rye, NH has become the ex-senators new permanent residence.

His interest in the seat of New Hampshire's Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is well known. Brown formed an exploratory committee in March, followed by a circuit around the state to glad-hand voters. Shaheen, however, has a substantial history of public service in New Hampshire, having served as a state senator, plus three two-year terms as governor (1997 2003). She assumed her current office as U.S. Senator in January, 2009.

On Wednesday, Brown went on the radio show New Hampshire Today to announce that he will announce (?) his candidacy next week. WMUR News 9 also confirmed the plan with Brown.

The man has some work to do. A poll by the American Research Group, released on March 14th after his exploratory committee was created -- showed that he had the support of 38% of respondents compared to 50% that supported Shaheen.

But Sen. Shaheen may not even enter the equation. New Hampshire has more registered independents than it has either Democrats or Republicans, and they're allowed to vote in the primary. Brown's first hurdle is to convince enough independents to vote for him so that he emerges as the Republican nominee. Undaunted by the challenge, Brown resigned his position with a Boston law firm, Nixon Peabody, this week in order to pursue his quest

Two recent developments may significantly affect the degree of the candidate's future success, or failure. First, he has based his campaign so far on criticisms of Obamacare, apparently banking on the fact that the law has been unpopular in New Hampshire. However, enrollments in the state have not only exceeded expectations, but 3 out of 4 residents received the boon of qualifying for at least some financial assistance.

Second, Wednesday's shocking Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon vs. the FEC guarantees that a massive amount of money will pour into campaign coffers, especially of the Republican variety. In a state like New Hampshire, that can be a two-edged sword. Money gives an obvious edge in advertising, but the residents of the Granite State are staunchly independent and tend to resent outside interference.

When Brown made his run for reelection in Massachusetts, against Elizabeth Warren, he signed a 'People's Pledge', essentially rejecting money from outside groups. Of course, he cant feel too good about the outcome of that race. But in March, Senator Shaheen's campaign manager, Mike Vlacich, called on him to make the same pledge in the New Hampshire election. So far, Brown has declined.

On Wednesday, New Hampshire Today posted this on the show's Facebook page:

"Former US Senator Scott Brown just confirmed and announced on NH Today that he is running for the US Senate in NH and will be announcing next week. News made today on the show."

A fan, MJ McGee, almost immediately responded with a comment: "And after he loses -- there's always Maine."


Those Graniters are a tough crowd, Mr. Brown. Better keep that carpetbag packed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

AIPAC IS BUYING NOT ONLY OUR CONGRESSMEN, BUT ALSO OUR STUDENT LEADERS

From Blog 9000

AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee) isn't content with lining the pockets of members of Congress. The votes it gets them on bills they support apparently isn't enough. Now they are going after student governments at universities. The goal is to silence the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is growing on many campuses.

The BDS movement wants investors, including universities and their pension funds, to stop investing in Israel. Their goals include boycotting Israeli products as well as companies that facilitate the occupation of Palestinian territory. The resultant financial pressure is meant to bring Israel into compliance with international law and end the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories

Human rights groups like Students for Justice In Palestine are taking BDS resolutions to student governments for a vote. AIPAC is making their own attempt to control the outcome by using actual money.

In early March, AIPAC brought over 2,000 university students to their annual convention to educate them in the Israeli perspective. Among them were 242 student government presidents, representing every state. For some time, AIPAC has been paying the way for these student leaders, most of whom are not Jewish. ProfessorJohn J. Mearsheimer, author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, has pointed out that the 'education' the students receive is predictably biased:
"The specific game, of course, is to co-opt these individuals early in their life so they are exceedingly pro-Israel over time and very reluctant to criticize Israel or the special relationship ... That's the goal: to 'educate' them. Please put the word 'educate' in quotes. The name of the game here is to 'educate' these important student leaders to understand Israel's position on the various controversial issues of the Middle East."
Once they 'understand' Israel's position, the students are expected to act accordingly. This week, BDS resolutions at both the University of Michigan and Arizona State University fell victim to the pressure. Students at Chicago's Loyola University, however, passed a resolution. They asked Loyola to divest itself of companies involved in the occupation.

At ASU, Senate Bill 67 was introduced in a session of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). The purpose of the bill was to divest university funds from one company, Caterpillar, that has been found to be complicit in Israel's human rights abuses. The company sells bulldozers to Israel for the destruction of Palestinian homes on Palestinian land. The ASU bill was tabled without discussion. Aman Aberra of Students for Justice in Palestine objected, saying:  
I believe that even the people who disagree with me on this bill would agree that the bill should have been discussed. 
But Hillel member Jared Hirschl said that USG shouldn't be 'burdened' with the situation. Hillel is the largest Jewish campus group in the world and works in partnership with AIPAC.

AIPAC and its wealthy donors have also brought pressure to bear on universities themselves. They want to ban groups that advocate BDS or that peacefully protest against the policies of Israel. On March 7th, NortheasternUniversity in Boston suspended SJP because of such activity. The notice of suspension said that if SJP is reinstated next year, No current member of the Students for Justice in Palestine executive board may serve on the inaugural board of the new organization. Plus, its representatives must attend university-sanctioned trainings. 

Columbia University and University of California Irvine have each either suspended SJP or put it on probation for peaceful demonstrations. Florida Atlantic University ordered activist leaders to attend 're-education' seminars that were designed by the (Jewish) Anti-Defamation League. Because, obviously, they weren't 'thinking right'.

AIPAC calls support for the BDS movement, as well as any criticism of Israel, anti-semitic. This has become a familiar ploy, although it is clear that Judaism and Zionism are not the same thing. It's also clear that many American Jews do not support Israeli policies. 

Chris Hedges recently wrote an article for BDS entitled "Israel's War On American Universities". In it he said:
"Israel has for decades been able to frame the discussion about the Palestinians. But its control of the narrative is coming to an end. As Israel loses ground it will viciously and irrationally attack all truth tellers, even if they are American students, and especially if they are Jews. There will come a day, and that day will come sooner than Israel and its paid lackeys expect, when the whole edifice will crumble ... "

Once upon a time, American universities took pride in encouraging the free thinking that challenged autocracies and human oppression. Those days are apparently over on many campuses. Perhaps this is just a reflection of the example set by our 'leaders' in Washington, D.C. who can't seem to kiss up to Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu often enough, or pour enough money into Israeli coffers. But if universities are now operating at the same moral level as Congress, America is in a very deep crisis concerning the future leadership of this country. Time, indeed, for the whole edifice to 'crumble'.       

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wisc. Republican 'Did Everything Right' And Still Got Cancer, Does An About-Face On Bill To Cover Chemotherapy Pills

State Rep. Mary Czaja of Wisconsin


Wouldn't we all like some compassion when confronted with a life-threatening illness? Wisconsin state representative Mary Czaja, R-Irma, just found some -- for herself.

Czaja opposed a healthcare bill that would require insurance companies to cover chemotherapy pills, just as they cover intravenous treatment. Then she had a conversion experience. In January, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She faces a 16-week course of chemotherapy medications to deal with it.

Ten years ago, the representative underwent a double mastectomy after pre-cancerous cells were found in the milk-ducts of her left breast. The surgery was a preventative measure, meant to keep cancer from developing. But two months ago, a stabbing pain in her left shoulder was diagnosed as metastasized breast cancer.

Czaja said that after the double mastectomy, she thought she was safe. She described the new pain as excruciating but said, I never in a million years thought I had cancer. A conversation with her doctor brought about some new thinking and a reversal on her position about insurance and chemotherapy. She added, "Its not just the affordability factor; its about helping people get back to normal and get back to work.

It's certainly about all those things: affordability, a healthy life, getting back to normal, getting back to work. And it's wonderful that the bill has now passed in the Wisconsin Assembly. The Assembly amended a Senate version to add some co-pays, with a cap of $100 a month. The bill is not exactly overflowing with generosity. Still, it passed, 75-18. And wonder of wonders, Governor Walker has promised to sign it.

But wouldn't it be nice if Rep. Czaja were just as enthusiastic about other women's health issues as she is about her own particular one? According to We Are Wisconsin, she is an insurance industry insider who has a history of lobbying against affordable health care for Wisconsinites. As for the governor, Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Wisconsin's Planned Parenthood, recently made comments about his usual stance on such issues. In Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel, she wrote: 

"Since 2011, Walker has authorized 11 policies that take away basic health care access from women, including unprecedented cuts for women and families in need of essential preventative and diagnostic health care such as birth control and cancer screenings."

As for herself, Czaja opined that:

I did everything right, but still the cancer was somehow able to sneak back in. We as women can be such caretakers that we dont take time to care for ourselves.

Yes, Representative, people who do everything right get cancer, just like people who don't. But everyone deserves adequate healthcare without judgement. Apparently, Czaja believes only a certain class of people deserve coverage, especially those who need to 'get back to work'. So, good for all those Wisconites who need the same coverage Czaja does and will soon have it; too bad for all those with other healthcare needs that don't have a lawmaker rooting for them.


Rep. Czaja is optimistic about her health. She's gearing up for a reelection campaign. Voters in Wisconsin's 35th Assembly District might want to think about gearing up, too. Their best option just might be to send her home -- to take care of herself and to protect the health of the public.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

CATHOLIC NUNS TO SUPREME COURT: 'THE SIN' IS NOT IN USING BIRTH CONTROL, BUT IN DENYING IT TO WOMEN


Image Credit: Will O’Neill via Flickr

At a time when some American Catholic organizations are joining other religious groups in challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in court, a group of nuns has added an important voice to the debate. The National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) came out in support of the law's provision mandating birth control coverage.


NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives.

The head of NCAN, Sister Donna Quinn, expanded on the organization's stance in an interview with Religion Dispatches:

This has gotten out of hand. It isnt faith and freedomwhen reproductive autonomy isnt extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise. It isnt freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.

On March 25th, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on lawsuits brought by two companies -- Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood -- that are challenging the mandate to provide birth control coverage in health insurance plans provided to employees. The business owners claim that their religious beliefs should dictate whether they provide such insurance coverage. It doesn't matter to them whether their employees share those beliefs or not.

The nuns are undertaking two major projects to let the Supreme Court justices know that Catholics aren't a unified voice on birth control. They especially want it known that the bishops don't speak for the women of the church. Their first task is an online petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. The petition is being circulated with the cooperation of The Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute. It says:

As people of faith, we stand with the Sisters as they speak out for family planning services and real religious freedom. We join them in asking the Supreme Court to protect women's access to basic health care and contraception when they hear two cases this March.

The petition's goal is at least 6,000 signatures. It can be seenand signed here. The accompanying statement makes it clear that "the sin is not a person using birth control. The sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families."

The second undertaking of these brave women is a Faith Rally at the Supreme Court on March 25th. Again, the support of all available women is welcome in Washington, D.C. that day. This is far from being a Catholic issue. According to Rev. Haffner, access to birth control is supported by more than fourteen religious denominations -- to say nothing of all the women who are not religiously affiliated.

If Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are allowed to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, the door is open to all kinds of control in the name of religion. Even Arizona's infamous governer, Jan Brewer, recently accepted the negative, unintended consequences of imposing one version of 'morality' on the population as a whole. Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to gays because of 'sincerely held' religious beliefs.

The implications for any oppressed group are horrifying if the lawsuits succeed. The nuns need an outpouring of support to be heard across the nation -- not for their sake, but for our own.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

STUDENT DEBT CRUSHES BORROWERS AND THREATENS THE U.S. ECONOMY


Back in 2010, CNBC did an extensive report on student debt, part of which highlighted a website called studentloanjustice.org. The site was created to give borrowers advice on dealing with their loans. Its founder, Alan Collinge, defaulted on his own debt and then joined a fight to restore consumer protections to such loans. He told CNBC that he has heard multiple stories of drastic solutions to the burden: suicides and people leaving the country to escape what they can’t manage. Just last month, a Wisconsin man was arrested while trying to rob a credit union because of $250,000 in student loan debt that he couldn’t pay; he saw prison as his best option.
Since the report by CNBC, alarm bells have been getting louder over what is happening to our young people as well as what a threat the enormous, snowballing debt poses to the country. On Saturday, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow called the situation a “dangerous new normal”, concluding that:
“Our national educational aspirations and the debt crisis that they’re creating are colliding. We are on an unsustainable track. This will not end well.”
 The problem seems unresolvable, especially by desperate students. According to an analysis by economist Donghoon Lee of the Federal Reserve Bank, student loan debt is the only household debt that has risen through the ‘Great Recession’ and is now the second largest debt nationwide, after mortgage debt. Between 2004 and 2012, both the number of borrowers and the average amount they owed rose by 70%. The poorest households, of course, owe the largest percentage of their income. The bottom one-fifth owe 24% of their incomes to education loans.


We’ve created a vicious cycle in this nation. College degrees are absolutely essential to making a decent living, but in the current economic climate, graduates can’t find jobs, or are underemployed, so they can’t meet the payments on the loans that enabled them to get those degrees. At the same time, funding for education has been slashed by state and local governments. From 2001 to 2012, appropriations for education fell by a third while tuition rose by 40%. It’s an impossible quagmire for young adults who know they need a degree in order to compete in today’s society.
The charts in Donghoon Lee’s analysis clearly lay out all the elements of the problem: the growth of student loans, the increase in debt delinquency, the rise of student debt in relation to other debt, and also the reasons why a college education is a necessity. What is not obvious is that the debt is adversely affecting both ends of the age spectrum: the students themselves and, often, their parents who also went into debt to educate their children.
The consequences for the individual are enormous. As Martha C. White recently wrote for Time:
“The fallout from falling behind on a student loan can literally last for decades. Unlike most other debts, student loans are almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy. Most student loans are federal loans, and the government can garnish paychecks, withhold tax refunds, and pursue other means for getting their money back.”
The consequences for society are also vast. White continues:
“The broader economic implications are troubling. Graduates struggling to dig out from a mountain of student debt also tend to put off getting married, buying homes, and having kids. And … they’ll have less spending power when they do eventually buy big-ticket items like homes and cars.”
In other words, the prospects for economic recovery for the nation, including a housing recovery, are dimmed by the direness of the situation. Even those who keep up with their repayment schedules will have far less disposable income with which to stoke other parts of our economy. As William E. Brewer, Jr., president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, said in a recent report:
“Take it from those of us on the frontline of economic distress in America: This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy.”
When the debt bomb goes off, as it soon might, average Americans will learn whether the federal government deems them as worthy of a bailout as it does big banks and auto companies. If not, we all will suffer the consequences.

Friday, February 15, 2013

MOVE TO LEGALIZE INDUSTRIAL HEMP MAKES FOR STRANGE BEDFELLOWS


What do Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and Woody Harrelson have in common? They all are supporters of legalizing industrial hemp. Harrelson has been an advocate for many years, having been arrested in 1996 in Kentucky, the home state of the other two, for planting four hemp seeds–a protest against laws that failed to distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana as a drug. Paul and McConnell are relative Johnny-come-latelies to the issue, but they have caught a whiff of the profits to be made. 
Kentucky is tobacco country and tobacco farmers are hurting as the demand for their crop declines. Industrial hemp’s popularity would be enhanced by its multitude of uses, one of which was demonstrated by Rand Paul on Monday before Kentucky’s Senate Agricultural Committee. He whipped off his suit jacket to reveal a hemp-fiber shirt, purchased in Canada. The occasion was a hearing on legalizing industrial hemp and licensing growers in the state–an effort that paid off when the committee voted unanimously in favor of the proposed legislation after Rand’s testimony.
 Four members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation are now active supporters of legalizing hemp, including Paul, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, Democrat, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, Republican, and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell. McConnell became a convert after conversations with Paul convinced him of the profits farmers could make off the crop. He said of his conversion:
“The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real. And if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times that sounds like a good thing to me.”
Some of the uses for hemp cited in Wikipedia include the manufacture of paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, construction products, body products, health food, and bio-fuel. Hemp is the same type of plant as marijuana but contains only a trace of the active ingredient that creates marijuana’s high.

The two U.S. Representatives, Yarmuth and Massie, have declared they will introduce legislation in the House to legalize hemp. This is a necessary step because federal drug laws trump state laws and the federal government so far shows no sign of yielding on the issue.
The hearing in Kentucky also produced some naysayers, but their objections seem grounded in myth and prejudice. Rodney Brewer, the commissioner of the Kentucky State Police, expressed the opinion that marijuana growers would hide their plants in hemp fields, making it difficult for the police to enforce the prohibition against marijuana. Another high-profile witness, former C.I.A. director, R. James Woolsey, countered that no marijuana grower would want to risk lowering the potency of their product by exposing it to cross-pollination with hemp. As further reassurance, he said:
“The specter of people getting high on industrial hemp is pretty much exactly like saying you can get drunk on O’Doul’s [non-alcoholic beer].”
Rand Paul seemed to lose patience with the doubts expressed to the committee, saying:
“You’d think you’re at a D.E.A. hearing. This is a hearing about a crop. It’s a crop that’s legal everywhere else in the world except the United States.”
He has promised to introduce legislation in the U.S. Senate to legalize the crop, as a companion to the bill the Representatives will propose in the House.
If hemp can bring about a revolutionary coalition between Libertarian, Democrat, Republican, and, yes, the counterculture–a coalition that achieves results, that is–perhaps there is still hope the government can get moving again.
Peace and love, brothers and sisters.