Sundays From 5-6pm on 89.1FM KEOS College Station-Bryan

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Political and Social Thought to the Left of College Station

Every day during 40 Days for Life protesters stand in front of the fence at the Planned Parenthood in Bryan, and every day they spread misinformation and lies to the patients that utilize the clinic for reproductive health care. The protesters regularly attempt to pass information to the clients of Planned Parenthood both verbally and in written form. However, much of the information that the protesters try and give the clients is both intellectually dishonest and factually incorrect. Often false information is given about the services provided at Planned Parenthood and the facts about abortion and reproductive health care.

One of the pamphlets that are often given to clients, titled “10 Reasons to Avoid Planned Parenthood,” includes several factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations. The first claim listed is that the services at Planned Parenthood focus only abortion, and that while over 6,000 abortions were performed less than 300 women received prenatal care. The truth is that according to annual reports abortion only makes up 7% of the total services provided at Planned Parenthood. Also Planned Parenthood does provide both prenatal care and adoption refers for women that chose not to terminate a pregnancy.

According to the Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas 2006 annual report, 87% of the patients visited Planned Parenthood for family planning: 89,611 out of the 103,004 patients. Also, 4,969 people were tested for HIV and counseled on prevention. Only 6,811 patients who visited all of the area Planned Parenthoods, including the Houston metropolitan area and Bryan-College Station, terminated pregnancies.

Another distortion of the facts include implying that surgical abortions are dangerous, even though less than 0.3% of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization.

The pamphlet also claims that the free condoms available at Planned Parenthood are “ranked dead last” in a study by Consumer Reports. This particular study used the airburst method instead of the “gold standard” water burst method, and all of the condoms tested in the study are FDA approved. While two Planned Parenthood where ranked 23rd and 24th in the comparative study of condoms, although another Planned Parenthood condom was ranked 14th in the same study. Consumer Report recalled the study after it was found to be flawed. It should also be noted Coalition for Life and its supporters are against all forms of birth control.

Free services such as pregnancy testing and STD screening are advertised in the pamphlet to be available at the local crisis pregnancy centers, and it claims that Planned Parenthood “is not the cheapest place in town.” However, Planned Parenthood does offer free pregnancy testing, and because Planned Parenthood is a medical facility medical grade pregnancy test are used and onsite STD screenings can be performed. Planned Parenthood also accepts Medicaid.

These distortions and outright lies are part of the propaganda that is spread by the protesters from the Coalition for Life in front of Planned Parenthood. The Coalition for Life does not care about the women of the Brazos Valley, as their advertisements proclaim, the Coalition for Life only cares about attempting to preventing women from having access reproductive health care.

Headlines

Local Politics
College Station Utility Rate Hikes Approved

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the College Station City Council this week approved rate increases for electric, water and wastewater use. The 2011 fiscal year budget that was recently approved was based on expectations of those increases, which will go into effect October 1st. Councilman Jess Fields voted against the measures. Dave Coleman, director of water services, said there will be a 2 percent fee increase for water rates for residents and commercial customers. There will also be a separate 10 percent increase for commercial irrigations a conservation incentive. Wastewater rates will see a 3 percent increase on all service fees. Coleman said the rate increase is required to keep up with the increased cost of operating the water and wastewater systems. Operating costs have been driven by rising electrical expenses. The rate increases are projected to bring in about $13.1 million in water and $11.9 million in sewer revenues, Coleman said.

Texas A&M News
Texas A&M Regents Analyze Budget

State funding per student within the Texas A&M System will decrease by more than 17 percent if a budget cut is as large as officials have been asked to prepare for. The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that the state provides $7,529 per student within the 11-university A&M System this biennium, the two-year period that began September 2009. The projected funding per student for the biennium that begins September 2011 is $6,230. That's based on a 10 percent state reduction -- as officials have been asked to plan for -- the loss of federal stimulus money and a 6 percent enrollment increase. At the flagship College Station campus, a 10 percent cut translates to a loss of $39 million, which will be met partly by eliminating 485 filled and vacant faculty and staff positions, according to budget reduction plans released in July.

Texas Politics
Texas Reaped $4.6 Billion From Federal Stimulus

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the American taxpayers have thrown $4.6 billion into emergency projects across Texas over the past 19 months to salvage the Lone Star State economy — creating or saving 47,704 jobs as of July, a review of federal records shows. Amid the nation's worst downturn since the Great Depression, that means each Texas job has cost taxpayers $96,727, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of federal stimulus spending. The stimulus-related jobs are spread across the state, from Abilene to Zavalla, and have paid for everything from airport runways to video recorders. The greatest chunk of dollars, more than $2 billion, has been directed to Austin, where myriad state agencies send much of the money elsewhere. But outside the Texas capital, Houston far outpaces Texas cities, with $1.69 billion of money covering an estimated 1,953 jobs. San Antonio has been awarded projects worth $721.4 million, accounting for 759 jobs, and Dallas has been awarded projects worth $615 million, accounting for 544 jobs.

National Politics
Midterm Campaign Spending Could Top $1 Billion

Nearly $285 million was spent by Democrats, Republicans and advocacy groups on political television commercials in the 2010 primaries, and when the dust settles on this midterm election, the final tally could reach $1 billion. CNN reports that the debate over health care reform helped influence the number of political commercials aired in this election cycle. Still, the possibility that Republicans have a shot of winning back the House as well as making substantial gains in the Senate has energized what was once a depressed Republican political base just 20 months ago. Current spending totals:

House Democrats, parties and allies: $19 million
House Republicans, parties and allies: $33 million
Senate Democrats, parties and allies: $115 million
Senate Republicans, parties and allies: $117 million

War and Peace
2010 Is Deadliest Year for NATO in Afghan War

According to an article in the New York Times, the worst helicopter crash in four years killed nine people, bringing NATO fatalities in Afghanistan in 2010 to 529 and making it the most deadly year of the war that began in 2001. The crash took place in Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan this week, according to a NATO statement. A later death brought the total for the year to 530. The fatality statistics were tallied by iCasualties.org, a Web site that tracks military casualties. The NATO statement did not list the nationality of the soldiers, but Pentagon officials said this week that most of the dead were Americans. There was no sign of enemy fire in the area, but the crash is under investigation, according to the statement. This is the deadliest helicopter crash for NATO forces in Afghanistan since one that killed 10 soldiers in Kunar Province in May 2006.

Veterans Issues
Military Suicide Prevention Efforts Failing

Efforts to prevent suicides among U.S. war veterans are failing, in part because distressed troops do not trust the military to help them. Reuters news services reports that poor training, a lack of coordination and an overstretched military are also factors, but a new 76-point plan lays out ways to improve this, Colonel John Bradley, chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington. Bradley said a team of experts spent a year interviewing troops who had attempted suicide, family members and others for the report and plan, presented last month to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is due to report to Congress in 90 days. Each branch of the services -- the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines -- rushed to create a suicide prevention program, but there was no coordination. The report recommends that the defense secretary's office take over coordination of suicide prevention efforts. According to the report, 1,100 servicemen and women committed suicide in 2005 to 2009 -- one suicide every day and a half. The Army's suicide rate doubled in that time. About 1.9 million U.S. service men and women have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Climate Change
2010 Tied With 1998 as Warmest Global Temperature on Record

According to a report from Science Daily, the first eight months of 2010 tied the same period in 1998 for the warmest combined land and ocean surface temperature on record worldwide. Meanwhile, the June-August summer was the second warmest on record globally after 1998, and last month was the third warmest August on record. Separately, last month's global average land surface temperature was the second warmest on record for August, while the global ocean surface temperature tied with 1997 as the sixth warmest for August. The monthly analysis from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, which is based on records going back to 1880, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides government, business and community leaders, so they can make informed decisions.

Health Care
Health Provisions Begin Phasing In

Several key consumer protections under the nation's new health law begin taking effect this week — six months after its enactment. USA Today reports that insurers can no longer set a dollar limit on the amount of care they'll provide over a person's lifetime or deny coverage to sick children. Young adults can stay on their parents' health plans until age 26. And consumers get greater rights to appeal insurers' decisions. Many people, however, will have to wait until Jan. 1 for the changes to help them. That's because most of the new provisions apply to insurance policies that begin on or after this week. Many plans operate on a calendar year, and this fall will begin enrollment for next year. Some changes won't apply to plans that are considered "grandfathered" under the law, meaning they existed when the law was signed March 23 and haven't substantially changed. Those plans are supposed to notify policyholders of their grandfathered status.

Immigration
Crossing Border Deadly for Immigrants

According to a report by United Press International, the number of dead bodies found along the Mexico-Arizona border is close to breaking a five-year record, Mexican officials said. So far this year, 236 bodies have been discovered in what has been a deadly summer. In 2005 282, bodies were discovered. Most of the victims died from exposure, some were shot, and in some instances it is impossible to determine the cause of death. The Mexican Human Rights Coalition compiles its numbers based on reports of medical examiners. The number of dead could be higher because some authorities don't track undocumented immigrant deaths. The number of illegal border crossers has declined in the past five years even as the number of dead bodies is increasing. Sarah Roberts, a nurse volunteer with No More Deaths called the past 12 months the "most lethal ever." Tighter border enforcement is driving smugglers and immigrants deeper into the desert in their crossing attempts

Reproductive Rights
Judge Rules Shreveport Abortion Clinic Can Remain Open

A state court judge in Baton Rouge has ruled that a Shreveport abortion clinic can remain open while a lawsuit against state health officials makes it way through the court system. The Shreveport Times reports the state Health and Hospitals Department suspended the license of Hope Medical Group for Women Sept. 3 after judging that inspection deficiencies represented an immediate health and safety threat to patients. The Center for Reproductive Rights sued DHH on behalf of the clinic last week. DHH officials acted under a new state law that expands the agencies enforcement powers against abortion clinics. This week, the organization filed a federal lawsuit against DHH on behalf of five clinics and one doctor that perform abortions alleging that the new law is unconstitutional.

GLBT Issues
Florida Court Strikes Down Gay Adoption Ban

According to a report from Reuters news service, there is no rational reason to prohibit all homosexuals from adopting children, a Florida appeals court said this week in a ruling that upheld a gay man's adoption of two young boys. Florida was the only remaining U.S. state to expressly ban adoption by gay men and women, and state officials said after the court ruling the ban would no longer be enforced. They have 30 days to decide whether to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. A lower court found in 2008 that the ban violated the state constitution's guarantee of equal treatment. It allowed the plaintiff, a gay man named Frank Martin Gill, to adopt two boys -- half-brothers he had been raising as foster children since 2004. The Florida Department of Children and Families said the lower court erred and the adoption was illegal under the state's 33-year-old ban on adoption by gays. But the state's Third District Court of Appeal in Miami this week upheld the lower court's finding that "there is no rational basis for the statute."

Race and Racism
Low Black Student High School Graduation Rates

In the past few weeks, more than 400,000 young black men entered American high schools as freshmen. NPR reports that Four years from now, fewer than half of them will get diplomas. That's according to a new study from the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It found that only 47 percent of black male students entering high school in 2003 graduated in 2008. For white males, the graduation rate was 78 percent. Those numbers are dismal largely because of the lack of resources in schools with high black populations. There's hope in the story of New Jersey. In 2003, black male students there were graduating at a rate of 48 percent. Just five years later, that rate had soared to 75 percent. Advocates attribute New Jersey's turnaround to the changes made because of a court case, Abbott v. Burke. Parents sued, and a judge found that the state spent less in schools with two-thirds African-American enrollment. He ordered the state to spend the same across the board.

Friday, September 24, 2010

This Week on Information Underground

This week on Information Underground our studio guest is Selene Gomez from the Texas A&M University Council for Minority Student Affairs, and our topics of conversation will include the purpose of the CMSA, what political and social issues are the CMSA involved in, and significant challenges for students of color at predominately white universities.

Listen to Information Underground on 89.1FM KEOS on Sundays from 5-6pm after Tavis Smiley, for all the alternative news, politics, and commentary that you don’t hear in the mainstream media. To listen to Information Underground online and to listen to past episodes visit Information Underground on BlogTalkRadio. Tune in every week to hear headlines, interviews, and political and social thought to the Left of College Station.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Headlines

Local News
Bryan Council Appoints Interim Manager

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, a Bryan Texas Utilities administrator will temporarily fill the top spot in Bryan city government following former city manager David Watkins' resignation. Kean Register, a BTU group manager, was hired by a unanimous City Council vote this week, and began the job on Friday. One of the reasons he was hired, city leaders said, was because he has no plans to make the job permanent. At least four people from inside City Hall have shown interest in the job, Bienski said. Placing one of them in the temporary role would have complicated the hiring process. The city's two assistant city managers are Joey Dunn and Hugh Walker. Walker has been serving as acting city manager since Watkins' resignation last week. It's unclear which department heads might apply.

Local Politics
Edwards Issues Debate Challenge to Flores

Congressman Chet Edwards this week challenged his opponent, Bill Flores, to a series of debates before Election Day as both candidates fought over who has been more accessible to voters. The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that Edwards, a Democrat, said he wanted residents of every county in the sprawling Congressional District 17 to have the opportunity to hear the candidates discuss important issues. The district contains nine full counties and parts of three more. Flores gave no indication that he would agree. The request comes as the race heats up with less than two months to go. Both candidates have run radio and television ads criticizing each other. Flores threatened a lawsuit against Edwards for one ad that suggested Flores was involved in the layoff of more than 3,000 employees between two oil companies. Flores said he had nothing to do with the job losses. This week’s challenge came after Flores, a Republican, criticized Edwards for ignoring Flores' calls to host a town hall meeting in the district during a congressional recess.

Texas News
Projected State Budget Shortfall Reaches $21 Billion

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the working estimate of the looming state budget shortfall has grown to about $21 billion in the face of smaller-than-expected tax revenues and projected higher costs for education and health care. Previous estimates topped out at about $18 billion for the upcoming two-year budget period. The latest estimate from legislative budget writers' staff comes after the state closed the books on the 2010 fiscal year Aug. 31. Tax collections dampened by the recession are about $1 billion worse than anticipated, according to figures discussed by staff. Another $2 billion of the shortfall estimate is tied to new projections for growth in areas such as public school enrollment, Medicaid caseloads and higher health care costs for prisoners, government employees and retirees. Legislative staff called the figure a rolling estimate. Lawmakers have not begun writing the next budget, but the political cost already is being tallied: Democrat Bill White continues to work to use the issue against Republican Governor Rick Perry.

More Texans Living in Poverty, Census Figures Show

The number of Texans living in poverty jumped last year, but the ranks of children without health insurance dropped as more kids qualified for programs such as Medicaid, according to a new batch of census data. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that an estimated 428,000 Texans fell into poverty last year, bringing the total to 4.26 million, or 17.3 percent of the state's population. That compared with 15.9 percent in 2008. A family of four is below the federal poverty level if its annual household income is less than $21,954. Texans without health coverage rose to 6.4 million last year, or 26.1 percent of all residents, compared with 6.1 million in 2008, or 25.1 percent. More workers lost coverage through their employers in the weak economy. But the number of uncovered children dropped to 1.15 million from 1.2 million as more moved into programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Median household income rose to $47,475 from $46,490 but is essentially flat over the past two years.While Texas has long been a leading state in the numbers of uninsured and poor people, the new data show that the state is feeling the effects of the recession.

Texas Politics
Bill White Refuses to Meet Rick Perry's Debate Conditions

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Democrat Bill White on this week refused to meet Governor Rick Perry's debate conditions, creating the very real possibility that there will be no general election gubernatorial debate for the first time since 1990. Perry has gave White until midnight on Tuesday to release his personal income tax returns for three years in the 1990s or else there will be no debate. White paid no personal income taxes in 1995 because he was starting a business and had no taxable income, but Perry insinuates White is trying to hide something. White said Perry is using the income tax demand as an excuse to avoid a public discussion of the state's $18 billion budget shortfall. White noted that Perry also is avoiding newspaper editorial board meetings. Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said White "made a mistake" by not releasing his tax returns several weeks ago to take away Perry's cover. But Jillson said it is equally apparent that Perry does not want to risk his front-runner status in a debate with the former Houston mayor.

War and Peace
US Contractors Face Murder Charges

Jury selection is scheduled to begin in Virginia in the trial of two former defense contractors charged with the deaths of two Afghan nationals. Al Jazeera reports the trial of Justin Cannon of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Christopher Drotleff of Virginia Beach began this week in US District Court in Norfolk. It's expected to last two to three weeks. The former contractors for Blackwater Worldwide are accused in the shooting deaths of two Afghan nationals in Kabul in May 2009. Drotleff and Cannon have said they opened fire on a vehicle when it sped toward them. Cannon and Drotleff were arrested by FBI agents in January, and face a 13-count indictment. The defendants were in the country to train the Afghan National Army. Drotleff and Cannon face up to life in prison if convicted. North Carolina-based Blackwater is now known as Xe Services. Drotleff served three years in the marines and left with an other-than-honourable discharge in 2001. His military record included offences for unauthorised absences, assault and falsely altering a military ID card. Cannon was discharged from the army after going AWOL and testing positive for cocaine. He later succeeded to have his military records officially changed to an honourable discharge. But even before President Barack Obama announced the end of the US combat mission in Iraq, contractors outnumbered uniformed personnel.

Economy
More Americans Are Poor Than Ever Before

According to a report by McClatchy News Service, the withering recession pushed the number of Americans who are living in poverty to a 51-year high in 2009 and left a record 50.7 million people without health insurance last year. The 43.6 million Americans who were poor in 2009 — up from 39.8 million the year before — was the most since poverty estimates were first published in 1959. The national poverty rate of 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008, was the highest since 1994. Were it not for federal intervention in the form of extended unemployment insurance benefits, 3.3 million more people would have fallen into poverty last year, according to the chief of the Census Bureau's division on housing and household economics. Food stamp benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helped keep 2.3 million more people out of poverty. Massive job losses and work reductions for hourly employees led the number of uninsured Americans to rise from 46.3 million people in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009. The number of Americans who have health coverage decreased — from 255 million in 2008 to 253.6 million in 2009 — for the first time since the data began to be measured in 1987.

Health Care
No Link Found Between Vaccine Mercury and Autism

A new government study adds to the evidence that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative until recently found in many vaccines, does not increase children's risk of autism. Reuters news service reports it shows kids who had been exposed as babies to high levels of the preservative -- through vaccines they received or their mothers received while pregnant -- were no more likely to develop autism, including two distinct subtypes of the condition. Most scientists consider autism a developmental disorder, likely influenced by genes. Autism spectrum disorders range from mild Asperger's Syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability, and there is no cure or good treatment. The CDC researchers used data for U.S. children born between 1994 and 1999, who were enrolled in one of three managed care organizations. They found 256 children with an autism spectrum disorder and compared them with 752 children who did not have the condition, but were matched for age and sex. No matter when a child had been exposed to thimerosal -- before birth when the mother had a shot, or when the child itself was vaccinated as a baby or toddler -- there was no increase in the risk of any type of autism spectrum disorder.

Immigration
US Shifts Approach to Deporting Illegal Immigrants

According to a report by USA Today, the Obama administration is changing the federal immigration enforcement strategy in ways that reduce the threat of deportation for millions of illegal immigrants, even as states such as Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio and Texas are pushing to accelerate deportations. The changes focus enforcement on immigrants who have committed serious crimes, an effort to unclog immigration courts and detention centers. A record backlog of deportation cases has forced immigrants to wait an average 459 days for their hearings, according to an Aug. 12 report by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which analyzes government data. Among other recent changes are Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton ordered agency officials on Aug. 20 to begin dismissing deportation cases against people who haven't committed serious crimes and have credible immigration applications pending. The administration's new direction puts it at odds with those who believe the nation's immigration laws should be strictly enforced and that all illegal immigrants should be deported. The changes have also drawn complaints from immigration advocates. They say deportations under Obama are at record highs and immigrants who remain behind are living in limbo, without work permits, Social Security cards or driver's licenses.

Human Rights
Thousands of Iraq Detainees Risk Torture After US Handover

Tens of thousands of detainees held without trial in Iraq, many of whom were recently transferred from US custody, remain at risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, Amnesty International said in a new report launched this week. New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq details thousands of arbitrary detentions, sometimes for several years without charge or trial, severe beatings of detainees, often in secret prisons, to obtain forced confessions, and enforced disappearances. Amnesty International said it estimates that 30,000 detainees are held without trial in Iraq although the Iraqi authorities have failed to provide precise figures. Ten thousand of those were recently transferred from US custody as their combat troops ended some operations in Iraq. Several detainees are known to have died in custody, apparently as a result of torture or other ill-treatment by Iraqi interrogators and prison guards, who regularly refuse to confirm their detention or whereabouts to relatives.

Reproductive Rights
Man Charged in Abortion Clinic Bomb Plot

According to an article in the Boston Herald, a Concord man was charged with describing how to make explosives, in an effort to bomb an abortion clinic, after FBI agents found instructions on the man’s Facebook page and caught him in a sting this week. Justin Carl Moose, 26, is a self-described "extremist, radical" and the "Christian counterpart of Osama bin Laden," according to an affidavit filed by FBI agents. Agents arrested Moose on Tuesday. His arrest followed an investigation that began after Planned Parenthood alerted the FBI to a Facebook page registered to Moose, which the group said was advocating extreme violence against abortion providers. Agents began monitoring the page and Moose’s private messages. They say he collaborated last week with a confidential informant to plan the bombing of an abortion clinic in North Carolina. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on federal charges of distribution of information relating to explosives.

Women’s Issues
Gender Pay Gap is Smallest on Record

The earnings gap between men and women has shrunk to a record low, partly because many women are prospering in the new economy and partly because men have been hit hard by the recession. USA Today reports that women earned 82.8% of the median weekly wage of men in the second quarter of 2010, up from 76.1% for the same period a decade ago and the highest ever recorded, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. The Census Bureau this week will released a comprehensive look at earnings differences between men and women. USA TODAY analysis of current data shows dramatic changes are underway short-term and long-term. Men have been losing jobs at a faster rate than women in the recession because of troubles in manufacturing, construction and other industries, he says. By contrast, job loss has been slow in government and health care, which tend to employ more women. Women, who now make up 49.7% of the workforce, have outpaced men in the past 10 years in nearly every category.

Race and Racism
Racial Disparity in School Suspensions

According to an article in the New York Times, in many of the nation’s middle schools, black boys were nearly three times as likely to be suspended as white boys, according to a new study, which also found that black girls were suspended at four times the rate of white girls. School authorities also suspended Hispanic and American Indian middle school students at higher rates than white students, though not at such disproportionate rates as for black children, the study found. Asian students were less likely to be suspended than whites. The study analyzed four decades of federal Department of Education data on suspensions, with a special focus on figures from 2002 and 2006, that were drawn from 9,220 of the nation’s 16,000 public middle schools. The study, “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization. The co-authors, Daniel J. Losen, a senior associate at the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Russell Skiba, a professor at Indiana University, said they focused on suspensions from middle schools because recent research had shown that students’ middle school experience was crucial for determining future academic success. One recent study of 400 incarcerated high school freshmen in Baltimore found that two-thirds had been suspended at least once in middle school.

Friday, September 17, 2010

This Week on Information Underground

This week on Information Underground our studio guest is Chelsea Noriega, volunteer coordinator of the Planned Parenthood in Bryan, and Shelly Blair, author and publisher of the blog Fair and Feminist. Our topics of conversation will include the upcoming 40 Days for Life protest, the current state of reproductive rights, and the future of reproductive rights.

Listen to Information Underground on 89.1FM KEOS on Sundays from 5-6pm after Tavis Smiley, for all the alternative news, politics, and commentary that you don’t hear in the mainstream media. To listen to Information Underground online and to listen to past episodes visit Information Underground on BlogTalkRadio. Tune in every week to hear headlines, interviews, and political and social thought to the Left of College Station.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Political and Social Thought to the Left of College Station

Your House is on Ground Zero (and Quite Without Permission)
By Tim Wise

In all the rancor over whether or not one group of Muslims should be allowed to build a cultural center and worship space near the site of the 9/11 attacks -- which were committed by a separate and totally unrelated group of Muslims --there is one thing above all else that no one appears anxious to point out: namely, that for any white Christian to say "Ground Zero" is off limits to anyone is possibly the most deliciously and yet grotesquely ironic thing ever suggested.

After all, there is scarcely a square foot of land upon which we tread that is not, for someone, Ground Zero. I am sitting atop one now: a killing field for Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek; a graveyard in which are buried the bones -- and if no longer the bones, then surely the dust -- of peoples whose evisceration occurred not so long ago, and is still remembered by those who have not the luxury of forgetting.

And so the New Yorkers who believe against all evidence that their trauma is unique in the history of the world -- or even their city for that matter -- prattle on about the "defiling" of the former World Trade Center location. Meanwhile they overlook that their precious island was itself cajoled from indigenous peoples for a handful of worthless beads. And white men have been swindling those we viewed as inferior -- be they of color, or even other white men -- ever since, especially (and this is where the geographic symbolism of their protests becomes revealing) in and around Wall Street, where the actions of wealthy investors and financiers have done far more damage than Osama Bin Laden ever could. Would that we might prohibit the construction of banks anywhere in New York so as to make a point about terrorism and our unwillingness to collaborate with it.

Indeed, if those protesting the Cordoba House were the least bit interested in consistency -- as opposed to being content to wallow in a type of hypocrisy both profound and typical -- they would, to a person, vacate downtown Manhattan immediately. And this they would do out of respect for the lives destroyed by people such as they: black peoples forced to build Fort Amsterdam for the Dutch, which is where Battery Park is now, or the walls that gave the famous street its name, or the roads, or the very auction blocks upon which their compatriots would be sold, thereby allowing 40 percent of white New York households to possess other human beings as property by the mid-1700s.

And they would vacate midtown too, especially any with Irish ancestry, since it was their ancestral fathers who - and so as to show how badly they desired to become white - burned down a black orphanage on 5th Avenue between 43rd and 44th during the 1863 Draft Riots. But I'm guessing there is an Irish Pub within walking distance of the former orphanage, and yet no one seems particularly concerned about the slight.

Truth be told, that whole city is a Ground Zero, and has been for far longer than the existence of al-Qaeda, since long before those phallic monuments to architectural ingenuity and big business were constructed, and since long before there were any airplanes capable of bringing them down. It was Ground Zero for Amadou Diallo but we still allow police to operate in the vicinity of Wheeler Street in the Bronx. It was Ground Zero for Sean Bell but we haven't banned the NYPD from around the environs of the Kalua Cabaret in Queens, where they shot he and his friends 50 times in 2006. Neither have we seen too many New Yorkers losing sleep over the inherent insensitivity towards the respective Ground Zeros for Patrick Dorismond or Timothy Stansbury Jr., both of whom were felled by police bullets, and yet which spots have hardly been made off limits to law enforcement out of respect for the dead.

That many New Yorkers in 2010, and especially white ones -- since there are few residents of the South Bronx or Washington Heights who are making their way downtown for these protests -- cannot feel those other pains hardly acquits their arrogance. That they cannot see how their livelihoods, their homes, their bank accounts, and the clothes on their backs have been paid for with the blood of innocent people, is their problem. It is not the fault of those who would build Cordoba House, and in so doing disturb the hallowed ground of what has been, most recently, a Burlington Coat Factory.

Their houses, and mine, and yours, sit atop Ground Zero. And those who died to make it so gave no permission for the construction of the homes, to say nothing of the churches that for so long were instrumental in rationalizing the slaughter. There were no building permits issued by those who died here so that we could be, as we like to say, "free." But here we are nonetheless. And it takes some nerve to pretend, even as we sleep above the graves of those extirpated to make way for us, that 9/11 was the day everything changed. Or to believe that we have the right to tell anyone where they can and cannot live, pray or work. Or to suggest that we are the only ones who have ever died, or known terror, and that having done so we now have the right to draw a circle around us, a bubble of specialness, which can keep us warm and protected as though it were an amniotic sac inside of which we will forever be insulated from harm.

We wish to be free from the pain, which is understandable. But it is not acceptable that in seeking that freedom we should ignore the pain by which we have come this far already.

Tim Wise is the author of five books on race, including his latest, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010). He can be reached at his website, www.timwise.org

Headlines

Local Politics
Bryan City Council Approve Budget

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the Bryan City Council approved the first reading of the fiscal year 2011 budget and tax rate. The proposed tax rate is 63.64 cents per $100 property valuation, which means an owner of a Bryan home assessed at $100,000 will pay $636.40 in annual city taxes. The rate has been the same for the past nine years. Officials have said the budget includes revenues of more than $41.6 million and more than $52.7 million in expenditures. The difference comes from a separate category that includes almost $11.5 million in funding transfers from revenue-generating departments and right-of-way permits, leaving a net of almost $400,000.

Texas News
Texas Officials Still Defending Arson Investigation

The Texas Fire Marshal's Office maintains that a man executed for murdering his children deliberately set the fire that killed them. United Press International reports that the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who died by lethal injection in 2004, has become a national issue since The New Yorker published an article on the case titled "The Innocent Man." Experts quoted in the article said the investigation was flawed even by the standards of 1991. Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado defended the investigators in an Aug. 20 letter to the Texas Forensic Science Commission. The commission in July issued a tentative finding that the investigators used "bad science." The Innocence Project, a New York-based group, wants an investigation into the Willingham case and other arson cases where similar findings were made. Officials in Corsicana, where Willingham lived, say whether investigators used the accepted techniques of the time should be the only issue. Investigators testified "pour patterns" in the house showed the use of an accelerant. Researchers now say those patterns are typical of many fires once they reach the "flashover" point.

Texas Politics
Two New Polls Show Statistical Tie Between Perry and White

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, a pair of polls released this week showed Governor Rick Perry's re-election bid had slipped toward a statistical tie with Democrat Bill White, but both surveys may have reflected more of a short-term Democratic attack than a shift in the race. One survey commissioned by the Democratic-leaning consumer group Texas Watch showed Perry leading 43 percent to White's 42 percent, a tie within the margin of error. The other poll, commissioned by Democratic philanthropist Bernard Rapoport, had Perry leading 44.4 percent to White's 40.6 percent, a slight lead for the governor. However, both polls were done in the days after the Democratic Back to Basics PAC ran ads in 24 papers Aug. 24 calling Perry a "Coward" for refusing to debate White. The ad also generated widespread TV news coverage. Despite heavy television advertising in July and August, White has remained in the low 40s of most public opinion polls that have been released. Perry has fluctuated between the mid-40s and 50 percent in those surveys. Perry has done no television advertising, but Back to Basics has run several commercials critical of Perry.

National News
Massive Cache of Iraq War Docs to Be Published by WikiLeaks

A massive cache of previously unpublished classified U.S. military documents from the Iraq War is being readied for publication by WikiLeaks. Wired.com reports the documents constitute the “biggest leak of military intelligence” that has ever occurred, according to Iain Overton, editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit British organization that is working with WikiLeaks on the documents. The documents are expected to be published in several weeks. Overton, who discussed the project with Newsweek, didn’t say how many documents were involved or disclose their origin, but they may be among the leaks that an imprisoned Army intelligence analyst claimed to have sent to WikiLeaks earlier this year. Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been charged with improperly downloading and leaking classified information, disclosed to a former hacker in May that he had given WikiLeaks a database covering 500,000 events in the Iraq War between 2004 and 2009. Manning said the database included reports, dates, and latitude and longitude of events, as well as casualty figures. A leak of this sort would vastly dwarf the cache of about 75,000 documents that WikiLeaks published in July from the Afghanistan War. That cache involved field reports from analysts who compiled information from informants and others on incidents and intelligence.

Foreign Policy
Report Finds Blackwater Created Shell Companies

According to an article in USA Today, the security company Blackwater Worldwide formed a network of 30 shell companies and subsidiaries to try to get millions of dollars in government business after the company faced strong criticism for reckless conduct in Iraq. It was unclear how many of the created companies got American contracts but that at least three of them obtained work with the U.S. military and the CIA. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has asked the Justice Department to see whether Blackwater misled the government when using the subsidiaries to gain government contracts. The North Carolina-based Blackwater, which now is known as Xe Services, went to great lengths to find ways to get lucrative government work despite criminal charges and criticism stemming from a 2007 incident in which Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians. A committee chart outlines the web of Blackwater subsidiaries. The 2007 incident and other reports of abuses by Blackwater employees in Iraq led to criminal investigations and congressional hearings, and resulted in the company losing a lucrative contract with the State Department to provide security in Iraq. But recently the company was awarded a $100 million contract to provide security for the agency in Afghanistan, prompting criticism from some in Congress. CIA Director Leon Panetta said that the CIA had no choice but to hire the company because it underbid others by $26 million and that a CIA review concluded that the contractor had cleaned up its act.

War and Peace
US Soldiers Charged With Afghan Murders

Twelve U.S. soldiers have been charged in what military authorities say they believe was a conspiracy to murder Afghan civilians and cover it up. United Press International reports that murder charges have been brought against five American soldiers, while another seven are charged in the cover-up. They also face charges they used hashish, mutilated corpses and kept grisly souvenirs. Military documents allege Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs and four other soldiers, members of a 2nd Infantry Division brigade operating near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, threw grenades at civilians and shot them in separate incidents. Three Afghan men died, the documents say. Authorities allege Gibbs kept finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from Afghan corpses. Another soldier allegedly kept a skull from a corpse, several soldiers are charged with taking pictures of the corpses, and one, Spc. Corey Moore, is charged with stabbing a corpse, military charging documents say. The five facing murder charges are Gibbs, of Billings, Montana; Pfc. Andrew Holmes of Boise, Idaho; Spc. Adam Winfield, of Cape Coral, Florida; Spc. Michael Wag non, of Las Vegas, Nevada; and Spc. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska.

Science & Technology
US Appeals Court Puts on Hold Stem Cell Funding Ban

According to a report from Reuters news service, a U.S. appeals court granted an Obama administration request to temporarily lift a judge's ban on federal funding of research involving human embryonic stem cells this week. The three-judge panel of the appeals court said in a brief order that it put on hold the judge's ban while it considers the merits of the administration's emergency request for a stay of his injunction. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth last month ruled that the research violated U.S. law because it involved destroying human embryos, a setback for President Barack Obama, who had tried to expand research in hopes it would lead to new cures of diseases. The appeals court ordered that briefs be filed by September 20. It then will have to decide whether its temporary administrative stay should be extended or ended. The administration told the appeals court that Lamberth's ruling was at odds with the intent of Congress when it wrote the law limiting federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research and that it would undercut ongoing medical research. Supporters of the research hailed the court order.

Economy
Federal Reserve Signals Widespread Slowdown of Economic Growth

The U.S. economy continued growing this summer but "with widespread signs of deceleration," according to a new report on business conditions around the country. The Washington Post reports that the Federal Reserve's "beige book," an eight-times-a-year compilation of anecdotal information from companies in the 12 Fed districts, offers a portrait of an uncertain economic moment in which growth has slowed in much of the United States. "Economic growth at a modest pace was the most common characterization of overall conditions," said the report, released this week and based on interviews with businesspeople from mid-July through the end of August. However, five of the regional Fed banks east of the Mississippi River "highlighted mixed conditions or deceleration in overall economic activity." New evidence pointed to American consumers continuing to reduce their indebtedness, though at a slower pace than forecast. Consumer credit declined by $3.6 billion in July, the Fed said, compared with the $4.7 billion decline analysts had forecast. The drop was steepest in revolving debt, suggesting that people were paying down their credit card bills. The decline in debt is helping Americans adjust their finances to a more sustainable position, but using money to reduce debts also is a drain on economic activity in the near term.

Poverty
Texas Lottery Relies Increasingly on the Poor and Less Educated

According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman, a decade ago, Donald Price, an economics professor from Lamar University in Beaumont, examined whether the Texas lottery disproportionately took money from the poor — known as a "regressive" form of revenue raising. The results of the research seem to confirm the fears of lottery critics. Many other academic studies have reached similar conclusions. By law, the Texas Lottery Commission must take regular surveys of player demographics, and for many years it reported that the games did not rely unduly on the poor. A 2003 survey stated that “those with the lowest levels of education and income were the least likely to play the games of the Texas Lottery, despite the participation myths to the contrary.” As the survey started asking for more detailed information from lottery players, however, its conclusions have become less reassuring. The most recent survey, conducted in 2009, indicated that Texas instant tickets were more likely to be purchased by a person who was out of work than someone who was employed or retired. Studies financed by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, which opposes legalized gambling, have consistently shown that urban lottery sales tend to be higher in legislative districts whose residents have the lowest average incomes.

Education
For-Profit Colleges Step Up Lobbying Against New Rules

For-profit colleges have increased their lobbying against proposed Education Department rules to cut off federal financial aid to programs whose students take on too much debt for training that provides little likelihood of leading to a well-paying job. The New York Times reports that in addition to making personal visits to Capitol Hill, executives at the colleges have provided employees with “personalized” letters to send to Washington and urged students to speak out against the proposals. So far, the department has received about 45,000 letters on the proposed “gainful employment” regulations, in the comment period that ended this week. Last week, John Sperling, the founder of the nation’s largest for-profit college, the University of Phoenix, e-mailed every member of Congress, seeking help opposing the regulations, and attached a sample letter to be sent to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking him to withdraw them. Under the proposed regulations for-profit education programs would qualify for federal student aid only if enough former students were repaying their student loans, or if graduates generally earned enough to repay their debts.

Environment
Gulf Oil Spill Does Not Lead to Dead Zones

According to a report by the McClatchy News Service, the amount of oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico near oil plumes created by the BP well blowout is 20 percent lower than normal, but not so low as to create dead zones where little life exists, federal scientists reported this week. The drop in oxygen levels is caused by microbes that use oxygen as they consume oil that's drifting 3,300 feet or more below the Gulf's surface, the scientists reported. Dissolved oxygen levels would have to drop by an additional 70 percent to create dead zones, and that's unlikely, said Steve Murawski, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's chief scientist for fisheries and the head of the group of federal scientists who analyzed data and produced the report. Dead zones are less of a threat as the oil degrades and spreads out, and as the oxygen-rich waters mix in from surrounding areas, he said. Still, the impact of the oil plume at such deep levels isn't fully understood.

Health Care
Report Finds Health Reforms Cause Bump in Cost

U.S. reforms will slightly accelerate the rise in healthcare spending, according to a survey released on this week, handing Republicans more ammunition as they attack the Obama administration's legislative victory. Reuters news service reports that the survey, conducted by U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) auditors, said the spending bump is modest, and the more dramatic change is in how money is spent as roughly 32 million Americans gain coverage. Government researchers said U.S. healthcare spending will rise at an average annual rate of 6.3 percent over the next decade, reaching almost $4.6 trillion by 2019. That compares to a prior prediction released in February of a 6.1 percent average annual rise, before health reform was passed. But the CMS said they expect the sharp changes to come in the type of spending -- not only curbing Medicare costs but also pumping more money toward the private sector -- as the bulk of the recently passed law starts taking effect in 2014.

Immigration
Secure Communities Opt-Out May Be on the Table

According to a report by TruthOut.org, as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities program continues to expand aggressively, ICE is finally suggesting a procedure for local jurisdictions to opt out of the newest local immigration enforcement program. Touted as a voluntary partnership between federal, state and local agencies which "supports public safety by strengthening efforts to remove the most dangerous criminal aliens from the United States," Secure Communities (S-Comm) was set up to allow local law enforcement officials to share their data with ICE, in order to prevent undocumented immigrants with serious criminal records from being let out of jail. Advocates have raised a number of red flags about the program since its inception in 2008, saying that it does not effectively target criminal immigrants, but instead focuses on deporting individuals with minor offenses, or none at all. Critics of the program also argue that it adds obstacles to community policing and encourages racial profiling. Though the program is not mandatory, ICE has never offered a clear path for localities to opt out. It has provided contradictory information and ignored requests for opt-out information - until now. In response to mounting public pressure and the release of internal ICE documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request from a group of civil rights organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Day Labor Organization and others, the agency issued a document describing for the first time what may be an opt-out process.

Civil Rights
Court Dismisses a Case Asserting Torture by CIA

A federal appeals court this week ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information. The New York Times reports that the sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets. By a 6-to-5 vote, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a Boeing subsidiary accused of arranging flights for the Central Intelligence Agency to transfer prisoners to other countries for imprisonment and interrogation. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case on behalf of five former prisoners who say they were tortured in captivity — and that Jeppesen was complicit in that alleged abuse. Judge Raymond C. Fisher described the case, which reversed an earlier decision, as presenting “a painful conflict between human rights and national security.” But, he said, the majority had “reluctantly” concluded that the lawsuit represented “a rare case” in which the government’s need to protect state secrets trumped the plaintiffs’ need to have a day in court.

Women’s Issues
Mexican Women Freed in So-Called Infanticide Cases

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, advocates say the women, who insist they suffered miscarriages, got caught up in Mexico's cultural wars over abortion. The seven women were accused of killing their newborn babies and handed long prison sentences. They insisted they had suffered miscarriages and should not be punished; one claimed she wasn't even sure she was pregnant. The women have finally been freed, after years in jail and only after their cause was taken up by human rights organizations here and abroad and by a handful of determined legislators. However the pregnancies ended, the cases highlighted the poor quality of reproductive healthcare and education in parts of Mexico, and the stigma still attached to unwanted pregnancies. This week the seven stepped from prison in the colonial city of Guanajuato, 220 miles northwest of Mexico City, raising their arms in joy and shouting, "We are free!" Relatives and supporters greeted them. Free, but not exonerated. The women were released only after the state legislature reduced the penalty for the crime most were convicted of: infanticide.

GLBT Issues
Judge Rules That Military Policy Violates Rights of Gays

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gay members of the military is unconstitutional, a federal judge in California ruled this week. The New York Times reports that Judge Virginia Phillips of Federal District Court struck down the rule in an opinion. The policy was signed into law in 1993 as a compromise that would allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve in the military. The rule limits the military’s ability to ask about the sexual orientation of service members, and allows homosexuals to serve, as long as they do not disclose their orientation and do not engage in homosexual acts. The plaintiffs challenged the law under the Fifth and First Amendments to the Constitution, and Judge Phillips agreed. The rule, she wrote in an 86-page opinion, has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services. The decision is among a number of recent rulings that suggest a growing judicial skepticism about measures that discriminate against homosexuals, including rulings against California’s ban on same-sex marriage and a Massachusetts decision striking down a federal law forbidding the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This Week on Information Underground

This week on Information Underground our studio guest is Chris Sheppard, editor-in-chief of the Maroon Weekly. Our topics of conversation will include the Maroon Weekly’s upcoming fall semester coverage, the use of the internet and social media in journalism, and role of independent journalism.

Listen to Information Underground on 89.1FM KEOS on Sundays from 5-6pm after Tavis Smiley, for all the alternative news, politics, and commentary that you don’t hear in the mainstream media. To listen to Information Underground online and to listen to past episodes visit Information Underground on BlogTalkRadio. Tune in every week to hear headlines, interviews, and political and social thought to the Left of College Station.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Political and Social Thought to the Left of College Station

Undocumented Motivations: The Real Reasons Behind Militarization of Border

Immigration has become a hot button political issue in the last several months, and politicians from around the country have campaigned on immigration. Even though according to a recent Gallup poll only 7% of those surveyed considered it the “most important problem facing this country,” with the rising rhetoric concerning undocumented immigrants, there has been a significant political push to increase the militarization of the US-Mexico boarder. However, according to the numbers the border is more secure and less undocumented immigrants are crossing over into the United States.

According to a study released this week by the Pew Hispanic Center, the inflow of unauthorized immigrants to the United States has decreased by two-thirds from the from March 2000 to March 2005 when compared to the March 2007 to March 2009 period. This has lead to an overall reduction of 8% in the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States; falling from a peak of 12 million to an estimated 11.2 million. An average of 150,000 unauthorized immigrants from Mexico arrived annually during the March 2007 to March 2009 which is 70% below the annual average of 500,000 during the first half of the decade.

Crime in border states is often linked to undocumented immigrants, but what statistics are showing is that crime in border states is actually decreasing. Part of the rationale that was used by supporters of Arizona’s new immigration law, SB1070, was that it was to fight crime. However, the Immigration Policy Center has documented the falling rates of crime in Arizona over the last several years. In fact the US-Mexico border is the location of some of the nation’s safest cities. According to a report by the Associated Press, the top four large cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin. That same report showed that police officers are much more likely to be assaulted than Border Patrol agents.

While there is an underlying reasons of xenophobia and racial animosity among anti-immigrant activist and groups, the underlying reasons behind many politicians movement towards the militarization of the US-Mexico border is money. Between increasing funding to the border security, the increase in funding to defense contractors, and the increase in funding to private prisons, the militarization of the border has made certain corporations significant amounts of money and has in turn filled the campaign accounts of certain politicians.

Reuters news service reported that this week that the US government will have unmanned surveillance aircraft monitoring the whole southwest border with Mexico. This comes as President Barack Obama also signed $600 million legislation to fund 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and other law enforcement officials as well as paying for unmanned drones. TruthOut.org reported on Texas Republican Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson push for Predator drones to monitor the US-Mexico border in Texas. Both candidates have received significant amounts of political donations from companies that are military a contractors that develop drone aircraft technology and compete for government contracts. On average Predator drones usually cost between $10 and $12 million. Recently Cornyn and Hutchinson successfully lobbied the Federal Aviation Administration to approve the use of Predator drones across the entire border.

In Arizona the connection between the new immigration laws, private prisons, and campaign contributions is even more problematic. Governor Jan Brewer’s campaign chairman and policy adviser is also a lobbyist for Corrections Cooperation of America, the largest private prison company in the country. According to reports by KPHO in Phoenix, CCA executives and employees contributed more than $1,000 to the Brewer’s re-election campaign, and the company’s political action committee contributed $60,000 to Brewer’s top legislative priority. The new law which criminalizes undocumented immigrants, SB1070, may increase the amount of prisoners in private prisons in Arizona. According to that same report Arizona turned over 23,000 undocumented immigrants to ICE over the past three years, and Hundreds of them ended in up CCA facilities. In these same prisons that Human Right Watch has documented incidents and allegations of abuse.

The real reasons behind the increased militarization of the US-Mexico border are not to increase security, but to increase government contracts and to increase campaign donations.

Headlines

Local News
Wellborn Group Looking for Deal After Being Denied Hearing

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, a group of Wellborn residents is pursuing efforts to form their own city said this week that they are ready to work toward some sort of an agreement with the city of College Station after the Texas Supreme Court declined to intervene. The leader of the group Citizens for Wellborn said she was disappointed that the state's highest court refused to hear arguments about whether the city was required to put Wellborn's incorporation plans on the November ballot. A three-judge appellate court ruled last month that the city didn't have to act on a petition signed by 1,500 College Station residents. Many Wellborn residents are concerned that College Station plans to annex the community in the next 10 years, and they have been pushing to incorporate as a preventive measure. Because Wellborn is in College Station's extraterritorial jurisdiction, the city has some control over the area, including whether to allow a vote on incorporation. Citizens for Wellborn President Jane Cohen said the group will review its options but plans to take the city up on an offer to hold a joint meeting -- possibly this month -- to discuss the next step.

Local Politics
Campaign for College Station City Council Place 5 Begins

Residents of College Station will not only be going to the polls in November to vote in the Congressional midterm elections, they will also be choosing a new city council member. College Station Place 5 City Councilmember Larry Stewart passed away in June from pneumonia while in South Africa, and two candidates have filed to campaign to serve the rest of his term. Jana McMillan and John Nichols will be the two candidates on the ballot in November; Timothy Delasandro withdrew his candidacy before the filing deadline. McMillan is a retired paint contractor, who has been involved with several nonprofit and political organizations. According to her campaign web site, McMillan is campaigning for city council to “improve its approach to governance and expenditures.” McMillan contends that College Station needs “common sense solutions that provide sustainability for existing projects; respecting sensible long range planning,” and that the city needs to “reduce its debt and curtail its involvement in the housing business, recreational tree business, and land acquisition.” The other candidate, Nichols, is a Texas A&M University professor and head of the department of agricultural economics. Nichols has been chairman of the College Station planning and zoning commission, and has also served on the city's community appearance committee, the parks and recreation board and several local organizations. According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Nichols believes that it is important to serve the community, and the fact that he has “demonstrated commitment to serving the city of College Station and its citizens is the cornerstone of my campaign.”

*Read more about the candidates at www.leftofcollegestation.com

Texas A&M News
Texas A&M Receives $10M Energy Grant

Texas A&M has received a $10 million federal grant that will help build a $70 million combined heat and power generation system to meet the 5,200-acre campus' growing energy needs. The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that the university was one of more than 400 applicants that received the Department of Energy grant, which will be used to replace aging equipment and save money through reduced energy use. Funding for the grant -- which came from federal stimulus money -- was finalized in August. The CHP project was approved by regents in 2009, and is set to be complete by the end of 2011. New buildings have resulted in an 18 percent increase since 2002 in overall square footage. Even so, Riley said, energy consumption has been reduced by 23 percent in that time.

Texas News
Texas Education Agency's List of Cuts Includes English, Science Textbooks

According to an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Thousands of new textbooks and a steroid-testing program for high school athletes would be among the casualties if the Texas Education Agency is forced to cut its budget by 10 percent over the next two years, according to its newly released budget plan. State agencies, courts and universities, acting on orders from Governor Rick Perry and other state leaders, are presenting supplemental plans for 10 percent cuts as they submit their spending requests for the 2012-13 budget. The recommended cuts are designed to help lawmakers deal with a projected budget shortfall of at least $18 billion. In what is by far its biggest cut, the agency proposes eliminating $48 million for English and science textbooks that were scheduled to be purchased over the next biennium. School districts could use existing texts and workbooks, but unless lawmakers decide to finance the purchase, schools would not have access to the newer materials, which are scheduled to be in classrooms by 2011.

National News
Gulf Oil Platform Explodes in Flames

An offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that exploded this week did not leak a significant amount of oil into the water. USA Today reports that all 13 rig workers donned bright orange survival gear — known as "Gumby suits" — and scrambled into the Gulf after the explosion. They were rescued by a supply ship, and none were seriously injured. The owner of the oil and gas platform, Mariner Energy of Houston, reported that a mile-long slick was visible on the water near the rig. When the Coast Guard reached the scene a short time later, there was no evidence of any leaks. The outcome of the explosion was very different from the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig 200 miles to the east. That well, owned by oil company BP, spewed crude oil and natural gas for nearly three months in the worst offshore environmental disaster in U.S. history. About 206 million gallons of oil polluted the Gulf.

War and Peace
US Troop Deaths in Afghan War Up Sharply

Twenty-two American troops have been killed in Afghanistan last week, a spike that follows record-high death tolls for U.S. forces in June and July. The Washington Post reports that the deaths brought the number of U.S. troops killed in August to 55, according a count by the Associated Press - significantly fewer than the 66 who died last month and 60 in June. Roadside bombs along military routes have been responsible for most of the deaths, as international forces penetrate deeper into areas controlled by Taliban insurgents. A Pentagon spokesperson responded to inquires about the numbers by saying that "Historically, August usually yields somewhat higher numbers as it tends to be the insurgents' last push before the winter months. With elections coming up, the numbers may remain somewhat elevated through September.” The violence, including a spike in civilian casualties caused largely by more aggressive action from insurgents, has prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to challenge the United States to significantly alter its war strategy. In particular, he has pushed U.S. and NATO forces to root out insurgents in their hideouts in Pakistan, limit night raids on the homes of Afghans and remove international troops from everyday interactions with civilians, leaving those to Afghan forces.

Economy
Unemployment Rate Rises But Private Firms Ratchet Up Hiring

According to a report by the McClatchy News Service, the unemployment rate went up slightly to 9.6 percent in August as employers shed 54,000 jobs during the month, the Labor Department said this week in a jobs report that nonetheless provided a surprise in better-than-expected private-sector and temporary hiring. Much of the net job loss was the result of census 2010 workers exiting payrolls, as their work was complete. The narrower number for private-sector hiring showed that 67,000 jobs were added in companies and corporations, down from July’s 107,000 but above what mainstream forecasters had expected. Also surprising forecasters were the 16,800 temporary positions created last month, generally a harbinger of future hiring as employers test the waters with part-timers. Wage growth also was stronger than expected at 0.3 percent, a sign that some workers are getting more money to spend. Government statisticians revised preliminary estimates for June and July, too, showing that about 123,000 fewer jobs were lost over those months than originally had been projected. It all added up to a more bullish jobs report than the consensus expectations of mainstream economists.

Climate Change
Pacific Hot Spells Shifting as Predicted in Human-Heated World

Federal researchers have published work concluding that a particular variant of the periodic El NiƱo warmups of the tropical Pacific Ocean is becoming more frequent and stronger. The New York Times reports that the pattern appears to fit what is expected from human-driven warming of the global climate, said the researchers, Tong Lee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Michael McPhaden of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The work provides more evidence the climate system is being pushed by the buildup of greenhouse gases, with big consequences likely.

Health Care
Report Finds 14 Percent Increase in Cost of Employer-Sponsored Healthcare

According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET), workers on average are paying nearly $4,000 this year toward the cost of family health coverage - an increase of 14 percent, or $482, above what they paid last year. According to the benchmark 2010 Employer Health Benefits Survey released last week, the jump occurred even though the total premiums for family coverage, including what employers themselves contribute, rose a modest 3 percent to $13,770 on average in 2010. In contrast, the amount employers contribute for family coverage did not increase. Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) continue to dominate the employer market, enrolling 58 percent of covered workers. Average PPO family premiums topped $14,000 annually in 2010. Since 2005, workers’ contributions to premiums have gone up 47 percent, while overall premiums rose 27 percent, wages increased 18 percent, and inflation rose 12 percent. Many employers are also raising the annual deductibles workers must pay before their health plans begin to share most health care costs. A total of 27 percent of covered workers now face annual deductibles of at least $1,000, up from 22 percent in 2009. Among small firms (3-199 workers), 46 percent face such deductibles.

Immigration
ICE to Suspend Some Deportations

The head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ordered the cancellation of deportation proceedings against foreigners with pending residency applications or whose family members are citizens or legal residents and are petitioning for them to stay in the country legally. New America Media reports that ICE also announced that it will focus on the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have criminal records. Immigration lawyers and activists say the move is the first sign of a more tolerant ICE policy on illegal immigrants who are in the process of deportation despite having no criminal record. It is difficult to know how many people in deportation proceedings will benefit from the policy change. In 2009, the Department of Justice identified 17,000 cases of family residency requests that are waiting in a backlog.

Human Rights
South Sudan to End Use of Child Soldiers

According to the BBC, the army in Southern Sudan has pledged to demobilise all child soldiers by the end of the year. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has established a child protection unit to fulfil the pledge. The UN children's agency estimates that the SPLA, thought to have already discharged more than 20,000 children, still includes about 900 in its ranks. South Sudan, which fought a long civil war against the north, is to hold an independence referendum in January. Sudan's civil war ended with a peace agreement in 2005, which committed both sides to an extensive process of demobilisation. But tensions have remained high in the run up to the referendum.

Civil Rights
Rights Groups File Challenge To Targeted Killing By US

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit this week challenging the government's asserted authority to carry out “targeted killings” of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone. The authority contemplated by the Obama administration is far broader than what the Constitution and international law allow, the groups charge. Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. An extrajudicial killing policy under which names are added to CIA and military “kill lists” through a secret executive process and stay there for months at a time is plainly not limited to imminent threats. The groups charge that targeting individuals for execution who are suspected of terrorism but have not been convicted or even charged – without oversight, judicial process or disclosed standards for placement on kill lists – also poses the risk that the government will erroneously target the wrong people. In recent years, the U.S. government has detained many men as terrorists, only for courts or the government itself to discover later that the evidence was wrong or unreliable.

Reproductive Rights
Abortion Ban in Military Facilities Discriminates Against Servicewomen

According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, current policy prohibiting abortions in American military facilities should be overturned because it discriminates against U.S. servicewomen and endangers their health and safety. At a minimum, Congress should follow the lead of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which earlier this year voted to let active duty women in the military pay out-of-pocket for abortions at U.S. military facilities. Many servicewomen will face an unintended pregnancy during their military career, but they often confront much steeper hurdles in obtaining abortion care than their civilian counterparts, the analysis finds. The ban on abortions in military facilities is particularly devastating for service members who live overseas and depend on their base hospitals for medical care. If they live in a country where abortion is illegal or otherwise unavailable, they are severely restricted in their ability to access a safe and legal procedure. The current ban compromises women’s health and safety, since—by definition—it delays women in having the procedure. Although the risk of serious complications from an abortion is low at any point, it increases dramatically with increased gestational length. The analysis also found that current restrictions fall hardest on the most junior enlisted women, who are the most likely to have an unintended pregnancy.

Women’s Issues
Number of Women in Congress Likely to Fall

With this fall's midterm elections, the number of women serving in Congress could drop for the first time in a generation — a twist on a political season many had dubbed "the year of the woman." The Los Angeles Times reports that if large numbers of Democratic incumbents lose in November, as expected, many women could be replaced by men. Female candidates tend to do better in Democratic years, and 2010 is shaping up as a successful year for Republicans. Women now hold 90 seats in Congress: 69 are Democrats and 21 are Republicans. After the November election, Congress could end up with as many as 10 fewer female members, prognosticators now say, the first backslide in the uninterrupted march of women to Washington since 1978.

GLBT Issues
Married Gay Couple Can't Divorce in Texas

According to a report from McClatchy News Service, a Texas appeals court ruled this week that a same-sex couple living in Texas may not get divorced here because this state recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman. The 5th Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling in the case of two Dallas men, "J.B." and "H.B.," who sought a divorce from the appeals court in April. This is the first such case in Texas to be appealed to a higher court, and it could go to the Texas Supreme Court for a precedent-setting ruling. In 2005, Texas voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex civil unions and marriages. H.B. and J.B. were married in Massachusetts in 2006, separated two years later and now want a divorce. They have no children. In October, Judge Tena Callahan of the 302nd Family District Court in Dallas didn't dismiss the divorce case, ruling that Texas' gay-marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. She didn't get to the point where she could grant a divorce because Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott intervened, calling the case an "apparent constitutional attack." Abbott has also appealed a divorce granted this year to two Austin women who have an adopted child.

Friday, September 3, 2010

This Week on Information Underground

This week on Information Underground our studio guest is Timothy Elliott, professor of counseling psychology in the Texas A&M Department of Educational Psychology, and graduate students. Our topics of conversation will include the work being done to improve the care veterans receive for mental health issues, and articles the graduate students will co-author for a special issue of the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development.

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