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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Political and Social Thought to the Left of College Station

What does it all mean? That is going to be the question that all of the political pundits are going to be attempting to answer after the midterm elections on Tuesday. While midterm elections generally favor the political party out of power, this election has some interesting nuances. While the Republicans appear poised to gain control of the House of Representatives, the Democrats seem as though they may be able to keep control of the Senate.

The mainstream media’s narrative surrounding the midterm elections has been that the electorate is angry. The Republican Party’s narrative for the midterm election is that President Obama and the Congressional Democrats are out of touch. The Democratic Party’s narrative is that they prevented the recession from deepening. There may be some validity to these narratives, but they hardly describe the entirety of the election. While Tuesday night commentators from both sides will be spinning their own versions of what the midterm elections mean. But we will not really know what the midterm election actually mean until well after the concession phone calls and the victory speeches.

The Republican Party will no longer be the opposition party, and will no share the responsibility of governing with the Democrats. However, a Congress fractured along ideological lines is going to make it very difficult to govern. The Senate which experienced and unprecedented level of obstructionism from the Republicans during the last Congress will in all likelihood be able to accomplish little legislatively. Even if the Democrats retain their majority, the Republicans will have the votes to prevent anything from passing. Secret holds will likely remain on many of President Obama’s nominees.

In the House the Republicans will have the majority, but it remains unclear if a Republican Speaker of the House will be able to control the Republican caucus. The freshman crop of Republican lawmakers will not be made up of moderate Republicans as the group of Republicans that we swept into office during the 1994 midterm elections. There will be a significant portion of Republican lawmakers that where elected with the backing of the Tea Party, and it is unlikely that they will be willing to negotiate are reach bipartisan deals. The Democrats in the House will also be much more ideologically liberal as many of the moderate Democrats that allowed the Democrats to achieve majorities in 2006 and 2008 will likely be defeated in the midterms.

So what does it all mean? The bigger the victory for Republicans, the better it is for the Democrats. Why? Because over the next two year the Congressional Republicans will remind the American public why they voted them out of office in the first place.

Headlines

Local News
Economist Says New Homes Spur Growth in Bryan-College Station

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the senior economist for the National Association of Home Builders told local business leaders this week that home construction will help bring Brazos County back to economically healthy times. The construction of 952 new single-family homes would bring in about $100 million in local income, $12 million in local taxes and create 2,390 jobs, said Elliot Eisenberg. The recession reduced housing construction by 70 percent, which meant the loss of millions of dollars locally. Eisenberg was invited to speak to members of the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce during a joint event with the BCS Home Builders Association at Pebble Creek Country Club, and he also gave a presentation last week night at the College Station City Council meeting.

Local Politics
Bryan Texas Utility Salaries Up for Release

Bryan's mayor said he wants the salaries for the city-owned utility's top administrators revealed to the public. The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that Jason Bienski said during last week’s City Council meeting that the salary figures for BTU General Manager Dan Wilkerson and the top-level positions had become a concern in the community. BTU has the largest budget of any city department, but the salary figures and other financial information cannot be made public because of an 11-year-old city ordinance meant to protect the utility's advantage in a competitive market. Bienski said revealing the information could hurt BTU competitively on the wholesale electric market, but the city needed to find a balance between protecting the utility and providing competitive rates and the taxpayers' right to know how their money is being spent. BTU operates with a board of directors whose members are appointed by the City Council but recommended by other board members. Some council members have questioned whether the board is necessary.

Texas News
New Study Finds Dropout Rate Falling But Still High

According to an article in the Texas Tribune, fewer Texans on average are dropping out of high school, but the number of droupouts remains high, according to a new study. The study, by the nonprofit education advocacy group Intercultural Development Research Association, says that 29 percent of students who enter high school as freshmen do not graduate. The attrition rate is the lowest in the 25 years since IDRA began performing the annual study, but IDRA notes that while the trend is declining, millions more Texas students will leave school without diploma before 2040, when, the group predicts, students will stop dropping out entirely. The IDRA estimates that 3 million Texas students have dropped out of high school since 1986, and that, by 2040, between 1.9 million to 3.5 million more students will leave high schools in the state without earning diplomas. A racial divide also still exists, the study says. Black and Hispanic students are twice as likely as Anglos to drop out. The study is based on Texas Education Agency data. Using different methods, the TEA's most recent figures showed a 28.6 percent attrition rate for the class of 2008-2009. That rate put Texas at 36th nationally.

Texas Politics
Texas' Early Voting Turnout Heavier Than in 2006

Nearly twice as many Texans have voted in this year's general election as in the last midterm and gubernatorial election four years ago. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that more than 1.1 million Texans living in the state's 15 largest counties voted during the first nine days of early voting this year. Four years ago, 662,324 people had voted in that period, according to the Texas secretary of state's office. Harris County residents have cast the most votes during the first nine days -- nearly 300,000, compared with 113,489 in 2006. This year's early voting turnout easily beats records from 2006, but it isn't coming close to the historic turnout in the 2008 election, when nearly 2.4 million Texans voted early.

National Politics
Campaign Spending by Outside Groups Tops $257 Million

According to a report by the McClatchy news service, independent groups, most of them with sharp partisan leanings, have spent $257.7 million to influence political campaigns, nearly quadrupling such interest groups' total spending in the last midterm election, according to a Washington watchdog group. In 2006, the last nonpresidential congressional election year, the groups spent a total of $68.8 million for the election, according to information from the Center for Responsive Politics. Spending by conservative groups this year is more than 2 to 1 ahead of spending by more liberal groups. In 2006, when Democrats regained control of Congress, liberal spending led by about 2 to 1. The 2010 spending spree is shattering records thanks partly to an unusually competitive year when control of Congress appears up for grabs, but largely due to the Supreme Court's ruling last January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 5-4 decision removed curbs on independent expenditures by corporations and unions, freeing them to spend without limit from their own treasuries on campaign.

Foreign Policy
Obama Administration Waives on Child Soldier Sanctions

The Obama administration this week issued waivers of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to four countries known to employ children in their militaries. United Press International reports that Chad, Sudan, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo were spared the cutoff of U.S. aid that the 2008 law, signed by President W. Bush and taking effect this year, would have provided because President Obama determined the waivers were in "the national interest.” Obama sent a memorandum Monday to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offering the "national interest" justification with no further explanation. But White House sources said the law would have punished countries that are crucial in the fight against al-Qaida. "Our intention is to work with them over the next year to try to solve this problem -- or at least make significant progress on it -- and reassess our posture towards them next year, depending on the progress they have made," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. Human-rights advocates decried the move.

Economy
US Economy Grew at a 2% Rate in the Third Quarter

According to an article in the New York Times, the latest report offers not much by way of immediate relief, as the Commerce Department estimated this week that the nation’s economy grew at an annual rate of 2 percent in the third quarter. That growth rate, matching the forecast, is the barest tick up from the second quarter. The weak report comes at a parlous time for President Obama and the Democrats, who are only two days away from crucial midterm elections that are widely expected to turn out well for Republican challengers. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. The nation’s tens of millions of unemployed — many now jobless for close to two years — present a political and social challenge. Two percent growth, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to reduce the nation’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate. The trade gap remained wide in the latest quarter, as imports again surged and outpaced exports, and that too could portend ill for job creation.

Energy
Alaska's Untapped Oil Reserves Estimate Lowered By 90%

The U.S. Geological Survey says a revised estimate for the amount of conventional, undiscovered oil in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska is a fraction of a previous estimate. The group estimates about 896 million barrels of such oil are in the reserve, about 90 percent less than a 2002 estimate of 10.6 billion barrels. The new estimate is mainly due to the incorporation of new data from recent exploration drilling revealing gas occurrence rather than oil in much of the area. The organization also estimates 8 trillion cubic feet less gas than a 2002 estimate of 61 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, conventional, non-associated gas -- meaning gas found in discrete accumulations with little to no crude oil in the reservoir. The petroleum reserve in Alaska has been the focus of significant oil exploration during the past decade, stimulated by the mid-1990s discovery of the largest onshore oil discovery in the U.S. during the past 25 years.

Environment
Research Teams Find Oil on Bottom of the Gulf of Mexico

According to an article in USA Today, scientists who were aboard two research vessels studying the Gulf of Mexico oil spill's impact on sea life have found substantial amounts of oil on the seafloor, contradicting statements by federal officials that the oil had largely disappeared. Scientists on the research ship Cape Hatteras found oil in samples dug up from the seafloor in a 140-mile radius around the site of the Macondo well, said Kevin Yeager, a University of Southern Mississippi assistant professor of marine sciences. He was the chief scientist on the research trip, which ended last week. Oil found in samples ranged from light degraded oil to thick raw crude.

Climate Change
Companies Fight to Keep Global Warming Data Secret

Some of the country's largest emitters of heat-trapping gases, including businesses that publicly support efforts to curb global warming, don't want the public knowing exactly how much they pollute. The Associated Press reports that oil producers and refiners, along with manufacturers of steel, aluminum and even home appliances, are fighting a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency that would make the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that companies release — and the underlying data businesses use to calculate the amounts — available online. While gross estimates exist for such emissions from transportation and electricity production and manufacturing as a whole, the EPA is requiring companies for the first time to submit information for each individual facility. The companies say that disclosing details beyond a facility's total emissions to the public would reveal company secrets by letting competitors know what happens inside their factories. More importantly, they argue, when it comes to understanding global warming, the public doesn't need to know anything more than what goes into the air.

Immigration
Immigrants Brace For Document Fee Increases

According to an article in the Miami Herald, the prices of most federal immigration documents, including green card replacements, are scheduled to increase next month, the second fee increase in three years. Immigrants across the nation are bracing for the increases first announced in early June by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas. It's unclear if the number of people filing for documents is increasing in anticipation of Nov. 23, when the fee for a new green card petition will increase from $930 to $985. But figures released this week by Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees immigration benefits, show an increase. Immigration authorities would not speculate why the 41,187 new green card petitions filed nationwide in September was the highest monthly number in the last 12 months, but it was the month USCIS said the fee increase was on track to start Nov. 23. Immigration officials have said higher fees are necessary because of a drop in agency revenue caused by the filing of fewer applications.

Civil Rights
Arizona Voter Citizen Proof Requirement Overturned

A federal appeals court this week struck down an Arizona requirement that residents prove U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote but upheld a mandate that they present identification before casting their ballots. Reuters news service reports that opponents of the 6-year-old law incorporating both provisions -- designed to prevent illegal immigrants from voting -- said the ruling would likely lead to thousands being turned away at next Tuesday's elections for lacking the required identification records. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' invalidation of requirements for proof of citizenship comes too late for any prospective new voters who were barred from registering before the deadline for the November 2 U.S. mid-term elections. The state denied registration of an estimated 30,000 Arizonans who failed to prove their citizenship during the first four years of the law, said John Greenbaum, legal director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups challenging the statute.

Reproductive Rights
Abortion Opponents Want End to Telemedicine

According to an article in the Des Moines Register, abortion foes pleaded with the Iowa Board of Medicine on Friday to immediately halt Planned Parenthood's use of telemedicine to dispense abortion pills to women in rural communities, but the board said it needs more time to study the issue. The first-in-the-nation system allows a Planned Parenthood physician in Des Moines to visit with each patient by videoconference, then press a computer button to open a drawer in front of the patient, who could be at a clinic many miles from the doctor. The patient reaches into the drawer and withdraws the pills, taking the first dose as the doctor watches. About a dozen people raised questions and objections about the practice during the board's public comment session Friday. More than 1,500 Iowa patients have used the videoconferencing system to obtain the drugs over the past two years, and abortion opponents have complained the practice violates a state law requiring that all abortions be performed by a physician.

GLBT Issues
Most Troops Wouldn't Oppose Serving With Gays

A majority of active-duty and reserve service members surveyed by the Defense Department would not object to serving and living alongside openly gay troops, according to multiple people familiar with the findings. The Washington Post reports the survey's results are expected to be included in a Pentagon report, due to President Obama on Dec. 1, regarding how the military would end enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" law that bans openly gay men and lesbians from serving in uniform. Some troops surveyed - but not a majority - objected strongly to the idea of serving with gays and said they would quit the military if the policy changed, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly share details of the survey.

Race and Racism
More Hispanics Say Discrimination Is a Problem

According to an article in the New York Times, more than 6 in 10 Latinos in the United States say discrimination is a “major problem” for them, a significant increase in the last three years, according to a survey of Latino attitudes by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group. In 2007, the center reported, 54 percent of Latinos said discrimination was a major problem. That year, nearly half of Latinos — 46 percent — cited language as the primary cause for that discrimination. In the new survey, 36 percent — the largest number — said that immigration status was the leading cause. The Pew Hispanic Center report comes as Latino voters could play a decisive role in several close midterm races, including the Senate contests in California, Colorado and Nevada, and the governor’s race in California. The nation’s largest minority (at 47 million) feels beleaguered by backlash from the polarized debate over immigration in the last year, the survey shows. While 29 percent said the impact of illegal immigration on Hispanics living here had been positive, 31 percent said it had been negative, a sharp increase since 2007.

Friday, October 29, 2010

This Week on Information Underground

This week on Information Underground our studio guest is Hugh Stearns, a local business owner and an active member in the College Station community. Stearns has been involved in the Brazos Progressives, the Brazos Independent Business Alliance, and the College Station Planning and Zoning Commission. Our topics of conversation will include the issues surrounding the upcoming College Station City Council election and issues for the city moving forward in the future.

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.

Information Underground on Facebook

Information Underground on BlogTalkRadio

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Political and Social Thought to the Left of College Station

Republicans Campaign Against Stimulus While Campaigning for Stimulus Funds

If the Republican Party’s message during the midterm elections could be distilled into one word it that it has been campaigning against it would be: spending. The Republicans have been campaigning against spending without identifying any particular spending they would actually like to reduce. Except there is one particular program that they have been campaigning against: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Otherwise known as the stimulus.

In February of 2009 Congress passed the Recovery Act and President Obama signed it, with the intent to prevent the Great Recession from turning into the Great Depression 2.0. While Republicans have criticized the Recovery Act for being ineffective, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report that stated that the stimulus raised the gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.7% and 4.5%, lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7% and 1.8%, and increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million. Not exactly as ineffective as the Republicans claim. However, over the last year and a half the Republicans have consistently criticized the stimulus as ineffective, and the economy’s achingly slow recovery coupled with persistently high unemployment has contributed to the public’s overall negative view of the stimulus.

But, while the Republicans openly opposed the Recovery Act in Congress and criticized it in public, many of them worked behind the scenes to secure funds from the stimulus for their own districts. The Center for Public Integrity reported this week about a expansive letter writing campaign, where Congressional Republicans who voted against the stimulus sent letters to federal agencies requesting stimulus funds for projects in their districts. The Texas Observer reports that of the 22 Congressional Republicans from Texas, at least 16 officially requested stimulus funds from federal agencies.

After the Recovery Act was signed by President Obama, Michael McCaul, Republican Congressman from the 10th Congressional District of Texas, penned an editorial in the Houston Chronicle. McCaul wrote that the stimulus would not stimulate the economy and that it was a “one giant earmark, a massive collection of unnecessary spending, pet projects and kickbacks to well-heeled contributors.” However, McCaul, along with fellow Texas Republican Congressmen Pete Olson and Ron Paul, submitted a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood requesting $81.3 million in funding for “construction of freight rail improvements in the Houston area.

In a press release Pete Sessions, Republican Congressman from the 32nd Congressional District of Texas, said that the stimulus was “more about stimulating the government and rewarding political allies than growing the economy and creating jobs.” However, Sessions then wrote three letters to Secretary LaHood requesting funds for a project in the suburb of Carrollton. Sessions claimed that the request for $81 million would “create jobs, stimulate the economy, improve regional mobility and reduce pollution.”

The typical response to inquiries to Republicans about their request for stimulus funds was that while they might be opposed to the stimulus their districts disserved their fair share. Of course don’t expect them to mention where the funds came from. Michael Burgess, Republican Congressman from the 26th Congressional District of Texas, wrote a letter to Secretary LaHood requesting $61 million in funds to improve a congested rail intersection in Fort Worth known as Tower 55. In an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Burgess said that he received criticism from a constituent about the Tower 55 project but that he hadn’t voted for it and he was only “supporting a grant request.”

As the midterms approach and the Republicans appear prepared to take control of the House of Representatives and make significant gains in the Senate, one question remains to be answered. How will the Republicans take credit for projects in their districts over the next two years without Democrats to pass the legislation?

Headlines

Local News
College Station Transportation Fee to Be on Ballot

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, College Station residents are being asked to vote on a transportation user fee on the November 2 ballot that could raise nearly $1 million a year for road repairs. If approved, the measure would add a $2-per-residence fee to monthly utility bills. For businesses, the cost would be $1 per 1,000 square feet. The city would be the third in Texas -- joining Austin and Bryan -- to implement such a fee, which would be used to pay for repairs to 10 percent of the city's streets each year. The City Council voted 4 to 2 to place the item on the ballot, with Mayor Nancy Berry and Councilman Jess Fields both saying money for street repairs should come from the general fund budget. Public Works Director Chuck Gilman said the wording of the ballot measure ensures money generated from the fee can only go toward the rehabilitation of the city's transportation system. The fund cannot be used for routine maintenance. If the fee isn't approved the city will have to find money to repair the streets from somewhere.

Texas News
Poorest School Districts Get Least-Qualified Teachers

Students in underachieving poor and minority districts are more likely to be taught by underqualified teachers than those in better-performing, affluent white districts, according to a survey released this week in Austin that measured teacher quality across the state. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Association of Texas Professional Educators presented its findings this week in a 60-page report that cited "substantial" differences in teacher quality at more than 5,700 schools in the state's 50 largest school districts. The study, which measured data from the 2008-09 school year, included such criteria as teacher certification test scores, years of experience and length of time in the same teaching position. The Fort Worth, Arlington, Keller and Mansfield school districts were included in the study. In poorer districts with a high percentage of minority students, teachers were more likely to be less experienced and to leave the school after a relatively short period, the survey found, while more-affluent districts had more experienced teachers who stay on the job longer. As a result of the findings, association officials said they will ask the Legislature to provide incentive pay increases to attract better-qualified teachers to poorer, low-performing districts, possibly in the range of an additional $7,500 to $10,000 a year. The association also plans to call for other improvements, such as teacher mentoring programs and measures that would encourage greater collaboration between principals and teachers in problematic districts.

Texas Politics
Voter Intimidation Complaints Surface

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, allegations continued to surface this week of poll watchers intimidating voters and of poll watchers themselves being harassed. On the fourth day of early voting, the Harris County district attorney forwarded to the county attorney about a dozen allegations filed by poll watchers; voters called the county attorney about alleged intimidation by poll watchers; constables ejected a woman from a polling station for wearing a political T-shirt; and Commissioner El Franco Lee felt compelled to deny an Internet rumor that he had yelled at poll watchers to leave their posts. First Assistant County Attorney Terence O'Rourke said the district attorney's office had forwarded allegations by poll workers to his office. He said he had not yet found any of them worthy of criminal charges. The back and forth continues a pattern of charges and countercharges throughout this election season. Harris County, which accounts for roughly a sixth of the state's registered voters, figures to be a central battleground in a gubernatorial election that pits a former Houston mayor against a 10-year Republican incumbent. Statewide results also will determine which party has control over next year's legislative redistricting. Democrats say the county's changing demographics are causing the area to trend toward their party, while Republicans expect to ride on the wave of what they see as a national backlash against the Obama administration.

National Politics
Millions Will Lose Benefits By Year's End Unless Congress Acts

If Congress fails to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits by the end of November, it will spoil the holidays for 1.2 million people, according to the National Employment Law Project. The Huffington Post reports that the program deadline falls in the midst of the holiday season, when unemployed families do their best to put food on the table and hold on to their family traditions. It's also a time when the economy, especially the retail sector, is counting on consumer spending -- supported in part by unemployment benefits -- to maintain the recovery. Around this same time last year, NELP raised the alarm about Congress playing Scrooge as expiration loomed for federally-funded extended benefits. Congress dutifully reauthorized the benefits, but that was before several months of jobs gains, GDP growth, and the coming campaign season brought about a surge in deficit worries among conservative Democrats in the House and Senate. Whether Congress will act on time this fall is an open question. Over the summer, the Senate spent nearly two months fighting over the reauthorization as 2.5 million people who've been unemployed for six months or longer missed checks. States fund jobless aid for the first 26 weeks after a layoff, and during recessions Congress routinely makes additional benefits available. Right now in the hardest-hit states, the unemployed are eligible for an additional 73 weeks of benefits. According to the latest data from the Labor Department, 4.3 million people receive state benefits and 5.1 million people receive federal benefits.

War and Peace
Report Shows Drones Strikes Based on Scant Evidence

According to a report by TruthOut.org, new information on the Central Intelligence Agency's campaign of drone strikes in northwest Pakistan directly contradicts the image the Barack Obama administration and the CIA have sought to establish in the news media of a program based on highly accurate targeting that is effective in disrupting al Qaeda's terrorist plots against the United States. A new report on civilian casualties in the war in Pakistan has revealed direct evidence that a house was targeted for a drone attack merely because it had been visited by a group of Taliban soldiers. The report came shortly after publication of the results of a survey of opinion within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan showing overwhelming popular opposition to the drone strikes and majority support for suicide attacks on U.S. forces under some circumstances. Meanwhile, data on targeting of the drone strikes in Pakistan indicate that they have now become primarily an adjunct of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, targeting almost entirely militant groups involved in the Afghan insurgency rather than al Qaeda officials involved in plotting global terrorism. The new report published by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) last week offers the first glimpse of the drone strikes based on actual interviews with civilian victims of the strikes.

Economy
US Jobless Claims Fell Last Week

New claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, government data showed this week, pointing to some improvement in the labor market. The New York Times reports that initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 452,000. Despite the drop, claims remain perched above levels usually associated with a strong job market recovery. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 455,000 from the previously reported 462,000. The government revised the prior week’s figure up to 475,000. Last week’s claims data covered the survey period for the government’s October nonfarm payrolls report. A Labor Department official said only the Virgin Islands’ claims had been estimated in the most recent week and noted the previous week’s claims number had been pushed up by administrative factors. The labor market has stumbled as the economy’s recovery from the most painful recession in 70 years fizzled, leaving the jobless rate at an uncomfortably high 9.6 percent.

Education
For-profit Schools Lobby to Avoid Proposed Federal Aid Rule

According to an article in the Washington Post, Companies that run colleges and trade schools for profit are mounting a full-tilt, high-dollar campaign against an Obama administration effort to tighten rules for their access to federal aid. The industry has staged a Capitol Hill rally, run advertisements in national newspapers, hired big-name lobbyists and coordinated thousands of comments on the proposed regulation in an effort to derail or dilute it. At stake is a lucrative source of funding for a sector of higher education that serves about one of every 10 postsecondary students and has more than doubled its market share in the past decade. Stocks of for-profit colleges have fallen sharply in recent months amid warnings about how the proposed rules could shake up the schools. The proposal, to be aired in public hearings at department headquarters in early November, would be the most significant new regulation for the fast-growing industry since the early 1990s. Administration officials say it addresses their concern that students from for-profit schools often end up with unmanageable debt and weak job prospects. Industry leaders respond that their schools offer older and low-income students an opportunity to get ahead in life.

Environment
Warmer Arctic Probably Permanent

The signs of climate change were all over the Arctic this year -- warmer air, less sea ice, melting glaciers -- which probably means this weather-making region will not return to its former, colder state, scientists reported this week. Reuters news service reports that in an international assessment of the Arctic, scientists from the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark and other countries said, "Return to previous Arctic conditions is unlikely." Conditions in the Arctic are important because of their powerful impact on weather in the heavily populated middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. The heavy snows in the United States, northern Europe and western Asia last winter are linked to higher air temperatures over the Arctic. The scientists found evidence of widespread Arctic warming, with surface air temperatures rising above global averages twice as quickly as the rate for lower latitudes. Part of the reason for this is a process called polar amplification. Warming air melts the sun-reflecting white snow and ice of the Arctic, revealing darker, heat-absorbing water or land, spurring the effects of warming. This is further amplified by the action of the round-the-clock sunlight of Arctic summers.

Climate Change
Global Temperatures Continue to Rise

According to an article in USA Today, the government's National Climate Data Center reported this week that the January-September period is tied with 1998 for the warmest first nine months on record. The average temperature for the period was 1.17 degree Fahrenheit (0.65 Celsius) above normal for records going back 131 years, the agency said. For a full year the warmest on record was 2005. It has been the warmest January-September on record in the Northern Hemisphere and the second warmest in the Southern Hemisphere. Steadily rising temperatures in recent decades have spawned worries among environmentalists and atmospheric scientists that human-generated pollutants are contributing the a dangerous global warming.

Civil Rights
Officials Push to Bolster Law on Wiretapping

Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, citing lapses in compliance with surveillance orders, are pushing to overhaul a federal law that requires phone and broadband carriers to ensure that their networks can be wiretapped. The New York Times reports that the officials say tougher legislation is needed because some telecommunications companies in recent years have begun new services and made system upgrades that caused technical problems for surveillance. They want to increase legal incentives and penalties aimed at pushing carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast to ensure that any network changes will not disrupt their ability to conduct wiretaps. An Obama administration task force that includes officials from the Justice and Commerce Departments, the F.B.I. and other agencies recently began working on draft legislation to strengthen and expand the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, a 1994 law that says telephone and broadband companies must design their services so that they can begin conducting surveillance of a target immediately after being presented with a court order. There is not yet agreement over the details, according to officials familiar with the deliberations, but they said the administration intends to submit a package to Congress next year.

Reproductive Rights
Texas Sues Clinic for Selling Cheaper IUD

According to a report from United Press International, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says the state is suing a women's clinic for offering unauthorized birth-control devices from Canada. Abbott charges that Women's Integrated Healthcare in Grapevine, Texas, and its doctors got intrauterine devices from an online Canadian pharmacy even though Bayer, the manufacturer, offers a US version. Neither Abbott's office nor Bayer has said the device is unsafe. Doctors at the clinic said they turned to Canada because they were desperate to provide a safe but cheaper IUD for uninsured patients who could not afford the American product. The Mirena IUD costs about $200 in Canada and $700 in the United States. Bayer told Texas the Canadian Mirena is different because it has cheaper packaging and foreign-language medical warnings. The physicians removed the foreign labeling and inserted an English warning.

GLBT Issues
Appeals Court Temporarily Reinstates Military's Gay Ban

A federal appeals court in California temporarily reinstated "don't ask, don't tell" while it considers an Obama administration appeal of a lower court judge's ruling that the military's ban on openly gay service members is unconstitutional. McClatchy news services reports that the decision marks the second time in the past week that federal courts have ruled on the legality of the 17-year-old policy, leaving the military in disarray over how to abide by the law. Last week, a district court judge issued an injunction calling for a worldwide end to the policy. In the one-page finding issued Wednesday night, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering a government appeal, didn't explain why it issued the stay. Instead, the court simply wrote: "The order is stayed temporarily in order to provide this court with an opportunity to consider fully the issues presented." The Obama administration sought a stay while the Defense Department completes a year-long study on how to implement a repeal.

Friday, October 22, 2010

This Week on Information Underground

This week on Information Underground our studio guest is Maggie Charleton, chairwoman of the Brazos County Democratic Party. Our topics of conversation will include the politics upcoming midterm elections, the possible outcomes of the elections both nationwide and in Texas, and the possible effects on public policy moving forward.

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.

Information Underground on Facebook

Information Underground on BlogTalkRadio

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Political and Social Thought to the Left of College Station

Letter from a Cadet:

October 11, 2010

Colonel Jake Betty
Interim Commandant, Corps of Cadets
Texas A&M University

Colonel Betty,
I am a proud Aggie, and as such, I believe that it is my responsibility to inform you that as a cadet, I broke the Aggie Honor Code in every way and would like to come clean and come out.

As a closeted gay man in the Corps of Cadets, I lied. I lied to my buddies, to my leaders as an underclassman, to my followers as a First Sergeant and a Company Commander, and to myself. I lied because in a setting that is so masculinized that it is “Not a privilege to be gay, sir!” there was seemingly no possible way to be honest.

As a closeted gay man in the Corps of Cadets, I cheated. I cheated during the selection process for leadership positions. I was selected to be a company First Sergeant and Commander over my buddies because of my dishonesty. I knew that, should I have been truthful, I would not have been placed in those leadership positions.

As a closeted gay man in the Corps of Cadets, I stole. I stole the learning experience of knowing a gay person from my buddies and fellow cadets. There is a stigma and fear of gay people that only knowing and conversing with a gay person can dispel. I have seen it time and time again, the literal eye-opening experience when a person I knew has had a meaningful and educational conversation with a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person and realizes that what they have been told was wrong.

As you may know, today is National Coming Out Day. It is a day where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and ally individuals across the nation make an effort to make people they know and love aware that they know and love a GLBT person. At this critical time in our nation and ultimately, humankinds history, it is imperative that you, the Commandants Staff, Corps Housing, cadets, and anyone affiliated with the corps know that you are all surrounded by co-workers, friends, family, cadets, classmates, buddies, ol‟ ladies, leaders, followers and professors who are openly being discriminated against and forced to live a life of lies. Since 1994, more than 14,000 soldiers have been discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, 29 states allow GLBT persons to be fired because of their sexuality, and GLBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

With nearly 2,000 cadets walking the quad every day, it would be naive to believe that the Corps uniform is not being worn by even a single gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individual. We are there. We are in the ranks of khaki. We are living on the quad. We are eating in Duncan. We are marching into Kyle Field to the beat of the drums that countless other gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender cadets have marched to for over a century.

Within each fish Cadence and in every Standard is a section of Core Values that states, “We respect others and have regard for their dignity, worth, and individuality.” Yet, I do not believe this to be so. When young men and women, destined to become leaders in the public and private sectors of society are made to feel rejected, insignificant and outcast, then there is no regard for dignity, worth and individuality.

As an integral part of a university that is constantly working on not only advancement in education and science, but in improving our society, the Corps, as a foundation of the university, should take a stand on the acceptance of GLBT cadets and individuals in general. The Corps of Cadets proudly boasts that it is producing “leaders of character.” These future leaders will undoubtedly lead or be GLBT people. To deny this is absurd. This nation is changing and the movement is reaching far and wide. People, young and old, are taking to the streets, picking up their phones and writing to their congressmen and women, demanding their own or their loved ones rights. One of our own, former-President of Texas A&M, Robert Gates, is currently working on the process of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Wouldn’t it be prudent for the Corps of Cadets to be at the forefront of this movement?

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is succumbing to public opinion and will be repealed sooner than later, states will change their employment laws that allow people to be fired based on their sexuality, and equality will lead to more public acceptance of the GLBT community. When this happens, should the Corps of Cadets be left behind as a relic of the past? Or should the Corps of Cadets take the necessary steps now to ensure that its former, current, and future cadets are proud to say that they received the quality leadership experience and education that I received without having to break the Aggie Honor Code?

Colonel Betty, I am asking you to take a stand for the rights and welfare of the cadets that you advise and oversee. Though they may not be known to you, they are there and they are looking to you for leadership. Support the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and make it known that the Corps of Cadets is a safe environment for everyone no matter their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, (dis)ability or sexual orientation. That hate is not an Aggie value, discrimination based on sexuality will not be tolerated and that the leaders, destined for the military and for the civilian sector, which are forged and educated in our corps are true leaders of character. To not do so would be an injustice to them, to you, to our Cadet Corps, and to the university we hold so dear.

If you would like to discuss these issues with me or other Aggies with the same experience, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Very Respectfully,
Clint Hooper 09

Headlines

Local Politics
College Station City Attorney Resigns Unexpectedly

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the College Station City Council discussed appointing an interim city attorney after longtime counsel Harvey Cargill's abrupt resignation. Cargill stepped down during a short meeting with Mayor Nancy Berry this week. He gave her a hand-written, 64-word letter that offered no explanation for his decision. "By this letter I am resigning as City Attorney," he wrote. "I thank you and the citizens of College Station for the opportunity to serve you." Carla Robinson, one of the city's three assistant city attorneys, will serve as acting city attorney at Thursday's meeting. Cargill recommended in his brief letter that she fill in for him and be considered for the permanent position. Reached on his cell phone late Wednesday afternoon, Cargill declined to comment, saying he "can't talk about it." Berry said she had no idea that Cargill was planning to leave.

Texas News
Texas Needs to Be More Aggressive in Educating Residents

Unless Texas becomes more aggressive in educating its minority population, the state could face a shortage of educated workers in the coming decades. The Corpus Christi Caller reports that Steve Murdock, a sociology professor at Rice University and former state demographer, said 30 percent of the Texas labor force will have less than a high school education by 2040. Now, nearly 19 percent of the state’s labor force has less than a high school diploma. Population growth is fueling the gap, Murdock told a group at Del Mar College’s Center for Economic Development. From 2000 to 2009, Texas’ Hispanic population grew 37 percent. By 2040, Murdock predicted that Hispanics, Blacks and Asians will make up more than 60 percent of the Texas population. In the coming three decades, college enrollment will increase by an average of 4 percent for blacks, 29 percent for Hispanics and 21.9 percent for all other minority groups. The median household income in Texas, now about $54,000-per-year, will drop to about $47,000-per-year by 2040 unless education levels increase.

Texas Politics
Rick Perry Approved $4.5 Million for Donor's Firm Without Regional Board Approval

According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, Governor Rick Perry approved a $4.5 million award from the state's technology fund to a company founded by a major campaign donor despite the company's failure to win the endorsement of a regional screening board. The money was awarded in August to Convergen Lifesciences Inc., founded by Perry contributor David G. Nance. Convergen was allowed to bypass a key part of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund's extensive process for vetting applications, and to proceed for approval to a statewide advisory board appointed by Perry. A spokeswoman for Perry said this week that the money was properly awarded to Convergen because the law establishing the tech fund allows applicants to appeal decisions by regional reviewers. However, the law makes no mention of such appeals. The chairman of the regional board in Houston, one of the state's largest, told The News he had never heard of an appeals process. Walter Ulrich, also a former member of the tech fund's statewide advisory committee, said approval by regional boards is mandatory.

National News
Bush Administration Detainee Experimentation Program Revealed

In 2002, as the Bush administration was turning to torture and other brutal techniques for interrogating "war on terror" detainees, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz loosened rules against human experimentation, an apparent recognition of legal problems regarding the novel strategies for extracting and evaluating information from the prisoners. TruthOut.org reports that Wolfowitz issued his little-known directive on March 25, 2002, about a month after President George W. Bush stripped the detainees of traditional prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions. Bush labeled them "unlawful enemy combatants" and authorized the CIA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to undertake brutal interrogations. The Wolfowitz directive weakened protections that had been in place for decades by limiting the safeguards to "prisoners of war." One former Pentagon official, who worked closely with the agency's ex-general counsel William Haynes, said the Wolfowitz directive provided legal cover for a top-secret Special Access Program at the Guantanamo Bay prison, which experimented on ways to glean information from unwilling subjects and to achieve "deception detection."

War and Peace
US Military Releases Data on Iraqis Killed

According to an article in the Washington Post, the U.S. military released its most detailed compilation of data on Iraqi casualties during more than four years of the Iraq war, reporting that 63,185 civilians and 13,754 members of the country's security forces were killed from the beginning of 2004 through August 2008. The number of Iraqis killed in the more than seven-year-old war is a hotly debated topic. Estimates range from fewer than 100,000 to hundreds of thousands, and it is difficult to determine which number is the most accurate. The casualty figures released by the United States are lower than Iraqi government accounts. Iraq's Human Rights Ministry reported last year that 85,694 Iraqis, including military and police personnel, were killed from the beginning of 2004 through October 2008.

Economy
Wall Street Sets Record for Pay and Bonuses

US bankers are set for record compensation for a second consecutive year, shattering both the illusion of pay-reform and the expectation that bank bonuses would be tempered while the US economy remains weak. The London newspaper the Guardian reports that with third-quarter figures from JP Morgan expected to begin a bumper profit reporting season this, a study of more than three dozen banks, hedge funds, money-management and securities firms estimates they will pay $144bn (£90bn) in salary and benefits this year, a 4% increase on 2009. The research, by the Wall Street Journal, found pay was rising faster than revenue, which gained 3% to $433bn, despite a slowdown in stock trading. And while profits have fallen from their 2007 peak, the percentage directed to compensation has increased by 23%. Banks say their hands are tied, arguing that firms say that do not adequately compensate risk losing their top bankers. Political pressure and regulatory reform is no match for the market forces. Where watchdogs were successful in altering the structure of compensation, they were not able to control its levels.

Poverty
Hunger Index Shows One Billion Without Enough Food

According to a report by BBC News, one billion people in the world were undernourished in 2009, according to a new report. The 2010 Global Hunger Index shows that child malnutrition is the biggest cause of hunger worldwide, accounting for almost half of those affected. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were shown to have the highest levels of hunger. The report's authors called on nations to tackle child malnutrition in order to reduce global hunger. The Global Hunger Index is produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines hunger as the consumption of fewer than 1,800 kilocalories a day - the minimum required to live a healthy and productive life. Despite the number of undernourished people in the world falling between 1990 and 2006, the report's authors say in that number has crept up in recent years, with the data from 2009 showing more than one billion hungry people.

Environment
White House Lifts Ban On Offshore Drilling

The Obama administration announced this week that companies able to meet new safety standards will be allowed to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, ending a six-month moratorium that had been scheduled to end next month. NPR reports that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the new rules imposed after the BP spill — the worst environmental disaster in the country's history — have strengthened safety measures and reduced the risk of another catastrophic blowout. The administration has been under heavy pressure from the industry and others in the region to lift the ban on grounds it has cost jobs and damaged the economy. A federal report said the moratorium likely caused a temporary loss of 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the Gulf region. While the temporary ban on exploratory oil and gas drilling is lifted immediately, drilling is unlikely to resume immediately. Michael Bromwich, director of the agency that oversees offshore drilling, said it would take "at least a couple of weeks" after the ban is lifted before permits are approved.

Human Rights
UN Says Government Troops Continue to Commit Rapes in Congo

According to an article in the Washington Post, Congolese government troops are raping, killing and looting civilians in the same area of eastern Congo where militias carried out mass rapes over two months ago, a top U.N. envoy said this week. Margot Wallstrom, who is responsible for U.N. efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict, told the Security Council U.N. peacekeepers have received reports of rapes, killings and looting by government soldiers. Following the mass rapes that ended in early August, Congo President Joseph Kabila ordered a moratorium on mining in the mineral-rich area and sent in thousands of army troops to reassert government control. Wallstrom also called for U.N. sanctions against a Rwandan Hutu rebel commander over the alleged mass rapes of more than 300 people in eastern Congo. Sanctions could include an asset freeze and travel ban.

Civil Rights
Education Department Sees 11% Increase in Civil Rights Complaints

African American boys who are suspended at double and triple the rates of their white male peers. English language learners who, for years, remain in separate classes, falling behind their peers and scoring poorly on standardized tests. Disabled students and those with illnesses who are shortchanged at school because of their impairments. USA Today reports that the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights received nearly 7,000 complaints this fiscal year, an 11% increase and the largest jump in at least 10 years, according to data provided by the department. The increase comes as the office proceeds with 54 compliance reviews in districts and institutions of higher education nationwide, including cases involving disparate discipline rates and treatment of students with disabilities. Information on the reports was provided to The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act request. They highlight issues that, in some cases, have long been documented, like the disparate discipline rate between black and white male students, and in other cases are reflective of the new challenges facing schools, such as changing demographics and rising numbers of students with diabetes and food allergies, now considered disabilities.

GLBT Issues
Judge Orders Military to Stop Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

According to a report by Reuters news service, a U.S. judge this week ordered the Pentagon to stop banning openly gay men and women from serving in the military after ruling last month that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips in California rejected the administration's request to limit her ruling to only military personnel who are members of the Log Cabin Republicans, the organization that sued to overturn the policy. Phillips said in a 15-page order that because she had ruled that the policy was unconstitutional, the only proper remedy was to grant the organization a broad injunction barring the U.S. military from enforcing its policy. She granted a permanent injunction that barred the Pentagon from enforcing the policy against anyone under its jurisdiction and told the Defense Department to suspend or end any pending investigation, discharge or other proceedings under the policy. The law had barred homosexual acts in the military but allowed gay men and lesbians to serve in the armed forces so long as they keep their sexual orientation private. Otherwise, they are to be expelled.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This Week on Information Underground

This week on Information Underground our studio guest is representatives from the Texas A&M Aggie Democrats, the College Republicans and the Aggie Libertarians. Our topics of conversation will include the politics of the upcoming midterm elections, how the possible results of the midterm elections may affect policy, and how each group will be involved in politics on campus.

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.

Information Underground

Information Underground on Facebook

Information Underground on BlogTalkRadio

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Headlines

Local News
Wellborn and College Station Make Little Progress at Meeting

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, residents in the community of Wellborn continue to plead with the city of College Station to let them vote on incorporation, even as city officials insist that doing so is not in the city's best interest. Little progress toward a resolution came this week, despite a 90-minute meeting aimed at finding common ground between the College Station City Council and a group of Wellborn residents. Two questions were repeated throughout the meeting. From the Wellborn residents: "What are you afraid of in allowing a vote of incorporation for Wellborn?" And from College Station officials: "What do you fear about being a part of the city of College Station if all your objectives are met?" Wellborn residents spent more than an hour of the special meeting at the Wellborn Community Center making their case for a vote on incorporation as a way to avoid being annexed by the city. Community members have said they're afraid of losing the town's historic charm and rural lifestyle. Because the community of Wellborn is within College Station's extraterritorial jurisdiction -- an area outside the city limits but under some control of the city -- city officials must authorize a move to incorporate.

Local Politics
Local Candidates Spend Thousands on Campaigns

Candidates in Brazos County's contested local races are spending thousands of dollars in preparation for the November elections. The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that there are 20 candidates for local office on the ballot this year, but three races with a Republican and a Democrat on the ballot have brought in thousands of dollars in contributions. The most expensive campaign in Brazos County isn't partisan. Candidates in the race for College Station City Council have spent almost $9,000 so far this year, according to their 30-day campaign finance reports. Jana McMillan, a retired paint contractor, has spent $5,055 and raised $5,730 -- the most of any candidate seeking local office this fall. Her opponent, Texas A&M University professor John Nichols, spent $3,983 and raised $4,010. McMillan received money from Texas A&M University System Regent Phil Adams and Republican U.S. House candidate Bill Flores. Nichols' contributors include Brazos County Democratic Party Chair Maggie Charleton and former College Station Councilman James Massey. Nichols and McMillan are squaring off for the Place 5 seat on the City Council left vacant by the death of Councilman Larry Stewart.

Texas A&M News
Texas A&M Student Senate Passes Meal Plan Opposition Bill

According to an article in the Texas A&M University Battalion, delegates representing residence halls met at the Mandatory Meal Plan Open Forum this week to evaluate student feedback about the meal plan proposal which A&M President R. Bowen Loftin signed in September and to review the Mandatory Meal Plan Opposition Bill. The Texas A&M Student Senate and the Residence Hall Association voted on the bill, which passed by a 48-4-7 vote. More than 550 students responded to a poll about how the meal plan affects residence plans. Forty-eight percent of students would not live on campus if it were in effect and 49 percent would still live on campus if they had to buy a meal plan. Seventy-one percent of respondents have a meal plan currently. Jonathan Spencer, senior industrial engineering major and fifth-year resident of Aston Hall, introduced the legislation to the forum via video. The video is viewable on YouTube under the name "Introduction to the Mandatory Meal Plan Opposition Bill." In the video, Spencer highlights questionable aspects of the bill. These included the insubstantial amount of student involvement and inconsistencies regarding minimums for junior and senior meal plans in the proposal, the bill's initial introduction to RHA and its failure to take into account the loss of 600 beds, which may affect the meal plan minimums.

Texas News
Texas is Getting Hotter Due to Climate Change

Triple-digit temperatures will be the norm in Texas within a few decades, and 115-degree heat won't be surprising, according to the state climatologist. USA Today reports that Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor John Nielsen-Gammon said recently that models he's analyzed show temperatures rising as much as 1 degree each decade, meaning that by 2060, temperatures around the state would be 5 degrees hotter than now. Every region of the state will become warmer, although East Texas is expected to be less affected than the rest, he said. Temperatures have been rising since the 1970s, which was the coldest decade in Texas' recorded history. A recent Texas A&M University news release said the heat could bring water shortages, more severe droughts, crop failures and more difficulty controlling air pollution.

Texas Politics
Statewide Property Tax Seen as Possible Fix to School Finance System

According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman, with yet another legal challenge to Texas' school finance system lurking, some key senators say it is time the state finds a lasting fix for the broken system. Their proposed solution: asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment to authorize a statewide property tax that would replace much of the local school property tax. Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he knows that just mentioning a possible statewide property tax will stir up emotions. But he would prefer that the state's voters, rather than the courts, have the final say on how Texas should pay for its public schools. Texas public schools are paid for through a complicated mix of state and local tax dollars that amount to nearly $49 billion a year. Over time, the formulas have been made less effective by a hodgepodge of fixes intended to meet concerns of specific legal challenges. Since the most recent fix in 2006, a general consensus has emerged across the political spectrum that the system is badly broken.

National Politics
Interest-Group Spending for Midterm Elections Up Fivefold

Interest groups are spending five times as much on the 2010 congressional elections as they did on the last midterms, and they are more secretive than ever about where that money is coming from. The Washington Post reports that the $80 million spent so far by groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties dwarfs the $16 million spent at this point for the 2006 midterms. In that election, the vast majority of money - more than 90 percent - was disclosed along with donors' identities. This year, that figure has fallen to less than half of the total, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post. The trends amount to a spending frenzy conducted largely in the shadows. The bulk of the money is being spent by conservatives, who have swamped their Democratic-aligned competition by 7 to 1 in recent weeks. The wave of spending is made possible in part by a series of Supreme Court rulings unleashing the ability of corporations and interest groups to spend money on politics. Conservative operatives also say they are riding the support of donors upset with Democratic policies they perceive as anti-business.

Veterans Issues
Woman Sues KBR Claiming Liability for Sexual Assault

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, a Houston woman has filed suit against government contracting firm KBR, alleging it created a "sexually violent workplace" that allowed a co-worker to sexually assault her at an Iraqi airbase two years ago. The woman was attacked by co-worker David C. Breda Jr. of Pearland while he was helping her move into new quarters at Camp Al Asad on Oct. 8, 2008. Breda, 35, a former U.S. Army recruiter who had previously been sanctioned for molesting an 18-year-old female recruit, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison in January after he pleaded guilty to assaulting the woman in Iraq. The lawsuit in a Harris County state district court is the latest in a number of claims brought against Houston-based KBR by employees who say they were attacked by co-workers or others at jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the first was brought by Jamie Leigh Jones, formerly of Conroe, who contends she was gang-raped at a KBR facility in Baghdad in July 2005. Heather Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, denied the assertions in the lawsuit and said KBR's top priority is the safety and security of its employees, and said that KBR maintains a strong and effective sexual harassment and assault prevention and reporting program.

Economy
Jobs Reports Finds that US Lost 95,000 Jobs in September

The US lost 95,000 non-farm jobs in September, surprising some analysts. The unemployment rate stayed steady at 9.6 percent. The US Department of Labor Statistics also adjusted the employment number for July and August down. Fifteen thousand more jobs were lost than originally thought. NPR reports that the private sector added an anemic 64,000 jobs, the worst numbers since June, but local governments cut 76,000 jobs, mostly in education. That's the largest cut by governments in 28 years. Also, 77,000 temporary census jobs ended in September. All told, 14.8 million people were out of work last month.

Climate Change
Increase in Flow of Fresh Water Into Oceans

According to a report by Science Daily, freshwater is flowing into Earth's oceans in greater amounts every year, a team of researchers has found, thanks to more frequent and extreme storms linked to global warming. All told, 18 percent more water fed into the world's oceans from rivers and melting polar ice sheets in 2006 than in 1994, with an average annual rise of 1.5 percent. The evaporation and precipitation cycle taught in grade school is accelerating dangerously because of greenhouse gas-fueled higher temperatures, triggering monsoons and hurricanes. Hotter weather above the oceans causes freshwater to evaporate faster, which leads to thicker clouds unleashing more powerful storms over land. The rainfall then travels via rivers to the sea in ever-larger amounts, and the cycle begins again. The pioneering study, which is ongoing, employs NASA and other world-scale satellite observations rather than computer models to track total water volume each month flowing from the continents into the oceans.

Immigration
Administration Reports Record Number of Deportations

According to a report by New America Media, the Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it has deported a total of 392,000 people during the 2010 fiscal year. About 35,910 were the product of the Secure Communities program. Of these, half came from California. According to the new figures, 195,772 convicted criminals were deported. Of these,150,227 were convicted of more serious crimes, and 45,545 were convicted of minor offenses such as traffic violations. There were more than 23,000 more general deportations this year than in 2008, and 81,000 more deportations of criminals. Currently, 650 jurisdictions across the country use the Secure Communities program. ICE expects this number to increase to 900 by next year. Secure Communities has been seriously challenged by civil rights organizations. The government initially presented the program as voluntary. However, when jurisdictions such as San Francisco tried to opt out, it was not possible.

Civil Rights
Supreme Court Appears Inclined to Rule Against Funeral Protesters

It seems likely the justices will set a limit to freedom of speech when ordinary citizens are targeted with especially personal and hurtful attacks, as was the father of a dead Marine. The Los Angeles Times reports, despite free-speech concerns, Supreme Court justices sounded sympathetic this week to a lawsuit filed by the father of a Marine killed in Iraq whose funeral was picketed by protesters with signs like, "Thank God for IEDs." The justices appeared inclined to set a limit to freedom of speech when ordinary citizens are targeted with especially personal and hurtful attacks. The 1st Amendment says the government may not restrict free speech, but it is less clear when it shields speakers from private lawsuits. The Phelps family from Topeka, Kan., has picketed at military funerals across the nation and proclaimed that God is punishing America and its troops because of its tolerance of homosexuality. In 2006, family members traveled to Maryland, where they held antiwar and anti-gay signs at the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, and they also put on their website a message that accused his father, Albert Snyder, of having raised his son "to defy the creator" and "serve the devil." A Maryland court awarded Snyder $5 million in damages, but the award was thrown out on free-speech grounds.

Reproductive Rights
Women Prefer Surgical Abortion to Pill in Second Trimester

According to a report by Reuters news service, a study has found women who undergo an abortion during the second trimester may often prefer a surgical procedure to the "abortion pill.” The study, of 122 women who were randomly assigned to either a surgical or medication-induced abortion during the second trimester, found that all women in the surgery group said they would opt for that form of abortion again, if necessary. In contrast, only 53 percent of women in the medication group said the same, according to findings published in the obstetrics journal BJOG. As a group, the study found, women who received a medical abortion reported more pain and had more vaginal bleeding than those who'd had surgery. And two weeks after the procedure, they had a higher average score on a standard measure of "intrusive" psychological symptoms -- such as unwanted thoughts or nightmares. The findings, researchers say, suggest that when it comes to abortions done relatively later in pregnancy, many women would prefer the surgical approach. Medication-induced abortions most often involve taking the drug mifepristone -- commonly referred to as the "abortion pill" -- followed by a hormonal medication called misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract.

GLBT Issues
Gay Marriage Gains More Acceptance

Polls this year have found that more Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally than did so just last year. A Pew Research poll found that in two polls conducted over the past few months, based on interviews with more than 6,000 adults, 42% favor same-sex marriage while 48% are opposed. In polls conducted in 2009, 37% favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally and 54% were opposed. For the first time in 15 years of Pew Research Center polling, fewer than half oppose same-sex marriage. The shift in opinion on same-sex marriage has been broad-based, occurring across many demographic, political and religious groups. Notably, pluralities of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally -- the first time this has occurred in Pew Research Center surveys. Political independents are divided in their views of same-sex-marriage; in 2009, they opposed it by a wide margin.

Race and Racism
Study Finds Institutional Racism Played Role in Foreclosure Crisis

According to a report by HousingWire, African-Americans were more likely to be offered subprime loans over whites who had similar financial backgrounds, according to a new study that looks at institutional racism in the nation's housing crisis. While other economic studies have concluded that leveraged refinancing, overbuilding, collapsing home prices and a poorly regulated mortgage market were primarily responsible for the rise in foreclosures, the authors of a new Princeton University study argue that the foreclosure crisis also had racial dimensions. The study, by two Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs scholars, found that racial discrimination from the point of origination to the point of foreclosure, played a key role in the large numbers of minority borrowers who have defaulted on their home loans. The authors of the study, published this month in the American Sociological Review, looked at credit profiles, down payment ratios, personal characteristics and residential locations of white borrowers and compared them with minority borrowers with similar qualities in 100 major metropolitan markets. The study found that from 1993 to 2000, the share of subprime mortgages going to minorities increased from 2% to 18%. The authors argue that residential segregation created a niche of minority clients who were marketed risky subprime loans.

Friday, October 8, 2010

This Week on Information Underground

This week on Information Underground our studio guest is Michael Alvard, member of the Brazos Progressives steering committee. Our topics of conversation will include the purpose and goals of the Brazos Progressives, recent activism by the Brazos Progressives, and the future plans of the Brazos Progressives.

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.

Information Underground on Facebook

Information Underground on BlogTalkRadio

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Headlines

Local News
B-CS Economy Continues Decline

Keeping on course with the choppy recovery predicted by many, the economic index for Bryan-College Station dipped slightly for the second consecutive month. The index, compiled by Amarillo-based economist Karr Ingham, began in January 2000 at a baseline measure of 100, peaked in December 2008 at 127.4 and declined for all of 2009 before reaching a low of 117.2 in January of this year. The index for August was 119.2, down from 119.6 in July. Prior to July it had increased slightly for five consecutive months. One of the most significant declines in the index was in automobile sales for the month. They were down 21 percent from August of last year but are up 7.5 percent for the year to date.

Local Politics
Bryan Council Agrees to Third-Party Audit of BTU

According to an article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the financial records of Bryan Texas Utilities will be reviewed by an independent firm, Bryan City Council members agreed Tuesday night. The city will pay up to $50,000 for the audit, which will include a report of preliminary findings in 30 days. Bob Shultz, the city's internal auditor, suggested the Houston firm Weaver and Tidwell for the job because it already does the city's annual financial audits and is familiar with the issues. Councilmen Paul Madison and Mike Southerland proposed the audit after former City Manager David Watkins struggled to gain access to the city-owned utility's financial records, including salary and bonus information. Watkins said he needed the figures to craft a city budget, but BTU officials said the information couldn't be shared because it involved competitive matters. The City Council eventually sided with Watkins and forced BTU to provide the information, which hasn't been released to the public because of an 11-year-old city ordinance meant to protect municipal utilities from revealing competitive financial information.

Texas A&M News
DREAM Week to Raise Awareness on Campus

The Council for Minority Student Affairs will be putting on DREAM Week, five days contributed to raising awareness of the DREAM Act from Oct. 4 through 8. The Texas A&M University Battalion reports that the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act or "DREAM Act" is a proposed legislation in the U.S. that would provide illegal aliens an opportunity to permanent resident status. To be applicable, beneficiaries must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16, obtain proof illustrating the alien has lived in the country for five consecutive years, be between of 12 and 35 at the time of the bill enactment and have a high school diploma from a U.S. institution or obtained a GED. The DREAM Act is a hot-button issue in Congress right now because Arizona lawmakers passed a controversial law that requires local and state police to arrest reasonably suspicious people who are unable to present documentation proving U.S. citizenship, which many claim is racial profiling. The Act was filibustered by the Republicans Sept. 21. There is still speculation about the Act, and there continue to be many supporters.
DREAM Week is dedicated to informing Aggies about the DREAM Act and to helping raise awareness of the issues that surround undocumented aliens.

Texas Politics
Perry's Appointed Regents Are Big Donors

According to a report by the Texas Tribune, in an election season marked by fights over the connection between campaign contributions and political appointments, members of the state's boards of regents continue to dominate the landscape. Over the past decade, the men and women chosen by Gov. Rick Perry to govern state universities have given his campaigns at least $5.8 million, according to an analysis by The Texas Tribune. About half of the governor’s appointed regents gave to his campaign; of those who gave, the average total given was about $64,000. The top giver, University of Texas System Regent Paul Foster, gave nearly $400,000. In total, Perry has collected nearly $90 million in donations over the past decade. At least $10 million has come from appointees to various boards and commissions — and more than half of that money has come from regents, who earn no salary but can be reimbursed for travel and other fees incurred for official business; they also collect perks ranging from reserved parking to free tickets to football games, though the latter has itself been a cause of some controversy over the years.

National Politics
New Super PAC’s Bringing Millions Into Campaigns

A new political weapon known as the "super PAC" has emerged in recent weeks, allowing independent groups to both raise and spend money at a pace that threatens to eclipse the efforts of political parties. The Washington Post reports that the committees spent $4 million in the last week alone and are registering at the rate of nearly one per day. They are quickly becoming the new model for election spending by interest groups, according to activists, campaign-finance lawyers and disclosure records. The super PACs were made possible by two court rulings, including one early this year by the Supreme Court, that lifted many spending and contribution limits. The groups can also mount the kind of direct attacks on candidates that were not allowed in the past. Three dozen of the new committees have been registered with the Federal Election Commission over the past two months, including such major players as the conservative Club for Growth, the Republican-allied American Crossroads and the liberal women's group Emily's List. FEC records show that super PACs have spent more than $8 million on television advertising and other expenditures, almost all of it within the past month. Groups favoring GOP candidates have outspent Democratic supporters by more than 3 to 1, mirroring an overall surge in spending by the Republican Party and its allies in recent weeks

Veterans Issues
Fort Hood May Break Record for Suicides

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the apparent murder-suicide of a soldier and his wife is among a rash of suspected suicides in recent days at Fort Hood, where the number of cases this year in which soldiers took their own lives has already matched the post's record, Army officials said this week. So far this year, 14 confirmed suicides and six more suspected suicides have been reported among soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, according to figures released by the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. The Army reported 11 suicides of Fort Hood soldiers in 2009, down from the previous record high of 14 in all of 2008. Fort Hood's senior commander, Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, said in a statement Tuesday night that Army leaders at all levels were deeply concerned about the suicide trend and were looking for innovative ways to reverse it. The suspected suicides this year include four soldiers' deaths reported since last week.

Economy
Census Finds Record Gap Between Rich and Poor

Three out of 10 children in the nation's capital were living in poverty last year, with the number of poor African American children rising at a breathtaking rate, according to census statistics released this week. The Washington Post reports that among black children in the city, childhood poverty shot up to 43 percent, from 36 percent in 2008 and 31 percent in 2007. That was a much sharper increase than the two percentage-point jump, to 36 percent, among poor black children nationwide last year. The grim childhood poverty numbers released this week were among an array of census statistics for 2009 that reflected a second year of national recession. Nationwide, incomes went down for the second year in a row, as did the proportion of households earning more than $100,000. The ranks of people living in poverty and near-poverty grew, and more people went without health insurance.

Environment
One-fifth of All Plant Species at Risk of Extinction

According to a report by the Environmental News Service, one in every five of the world's plant species is threatened with extinction, biodiversity experts said this week in the first global analysis of extinction risk for the world's estimated 380,000 plant species. Conducted by scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew together with colleagues with the Natural History Museum, London and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, the assessment presents a baseline for future plant conservation. Most of the threatened species are found in the tropics, the report shows. The greatest threat is habitat loss caused by human activities, mostly the conversion of natural habitats for agriculture or livestock use. The analysis was released this week as governments prepare to meet in Nagoya, Japan in mid-October to set new conservation targets at the United Nations Biodiversity Summit.

Health Care
Strong Link Between Diabetes and Air Pollution Found

A national epidemiologic study finds a strong, consistent correlation between adult diabetes and particulate air pollution that persists after adjustment for other risk factors like obesity and ethnicity, report researchers from Children's Hospital Boston. Science Daily reports that the relationship was seen even at exposure levels below the current EPA safety limit. The report, published in the October issue of Diabetes Care, is among the first large-scale population-based studies to link diabetes prevalence with air pollution. It is consistent with prior laboratory studies finding an increase in insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, in obese mice exposed to particulates, and an increase in markers of inflammation (which may contribute to insulin resistance) in both the mice and obese diabetic patients after particulate exposure.

Human Rights
UN Report Details Hundreds of Congo Atrocities

According to a report by Reuters news service, the United Nations released a report on this week documenting hundreds of atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo and suggesting ways to end the climate of impunity for the violence. The report is an attempt to cover rights abuses in the former Zaire between 1993 and 2003 in which tens of thousands of people were killed and many others raped, mutilated or otherwise victimized. The period of the report was marked by a string of political crises, wars and conflicts in the region that led to the deaths of millions of people. At least 21 armed Congolese groups were involved in serious human rights violations, and the military forces of at least eight other states operated inside the country. All armed forces systematically used rape as a weapon against civilians, at least 30,000 children were recruited or used by armed forces, and government security forces were among those committing the abuses.

Reproductive Rights
Study Finds No Link Between Abortion and Depression in Teens

A new study using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health finds no association between abortion and either depression or low self-esteem in teens within a year of terminating a pregnancy or five years later. TruthOut.org reports the researchers evaluated the outcomes for 289 female respondents that reported at least one pregnancy between 1994–1995 and 1996, of which 69 reported undergoing an induced abortion. The authors stated that "Socioeconomic and demographic characteristics did not substantially modify the relationships between abortion and the outcomes." The context for the study was to examine claims that abortion leads to depression and regret in women. A 2008 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found no evidence that induced abortion causes mental health problems in adult women, but "because of a scarcity of evidence on teens, no conclusions were drawn at that time about the impact on adolescents."

Women’s Issues
Women Managers Paid Less Than Male Counterparts

According to a report by Reuters news service, women managers in the United States are paid 81 cents for every dollar earned by male managers, according to a government report released this week. The 19-cent wage gap marks a slight narrowing from a study seven years earlier that showed women managers making 79 cents for each man's dollar, said the report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The study compared U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000 to 2007. Women made up 40 percent of managers and 49 percent of non-managers in the 2007 work force, largely unchanged from 2000, the study said. Having children was a major factor in gender pay differences, the study found. Of managers with children, women earned 79 cents for every man's dollar in 2007. Of managers without children, women earned 83 cents for every male manager's dollar, it said. Mothers of children under 18 comprised just 14 percent of managers and 17 percent of nominates, the 2007 study said.

Race and Racism
Study Finds Colorblindness Reduces Ability to Challenge Racism

"Colorblindness" has emerged as central strategy for managing racial diversity in schools, business, politics, and the law, with the hope that deemphasizing racial differences will lead to equality, tolerance and inclusion. However, new research from the Kellogg School of Management shows that promoting colorblindness can lead people to turn a blind eye to even overt examples of racial discrimination and hamper the prospect for intervention. In a new study entitled "In Blind Pursuit of Racial Equality?," researchers sought to determine the impact of colorblindness on elementary school students' capacity to recognize racially motivated incidents and subsequently report them to facilitate adult intervention. The researchers conclude that the study underscores the need to explore the effectiveness of value-diversity efforts in addressing inequity.