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|Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lights Up (PHOTOS)|
NEW YORK (AP) ? With a flick of the switch, a 76-foot Norway Spruce officially became the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree Wednesday night after it was illuminated for the first time this holiday season in a ceremony that's been held since 1933.Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned on the lights just before 9 p.m., setting off a dazzling 45,000 multi-colored LED lights and a 9 ½-foot-wide Swarovski star that topped the 12-ton tree.Read More... More on Christmas
Silent Films Lost: Vast Majority Of Early Hollywood Movies Lost Due To Time, Neglect (VIDEO)
WASHINGTON (AP) ? The vast majority of feature-length silent films made in America have been lost due to decay and neglect over the past 100 years, allowing an original 20th century art form to all but disappear, according to a study released Wednesday.The Library of Congress conducted the first comprehensive survey of silent films over the past two years and found 70 percent are believed to be lost. Of the nearly 11,000 silent feature films made in America between 1912 and 1930, the survey found only 14 percent still exist in their original format. About 11 percent of the films that survive only exist as foreign versions or on lower-quality formats.Read More... More on Movies
Here\'s Why It\'s So Great Congress Held A Hearing On Aliens
The House science committee carved out two hours of time on Wednesday to discuss the search for extraterrestrial life. Read More...
Obama\'s Vision For High-Speed Rail Is In Danger Of Stalling Out
WASHINGTON -- In an auditorium inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on a mid-April day in 2009, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled an ambitious plan to revamp America's rail infrastructure.Public funds would be used to develop a system of high-speed passenger rail lines in 10 regions throughout the country, fundamentally revamping the way Americans conceive of travel."What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century," said the president, "a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs."Read More... More on Trains
Drug Defendants Are Being \'Forced\' To Plead Guilty, Report Claims
Only 3 percent of U.S. drug defendants in federal cases chose to go to trial instead of pleading guilty in 2012, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.The small number begins to make sense if you consider the consequences faced by drug defendants convicted in court, argues the report's author, Jamie Fellner. ?Prosecutors can say, ?Take these 10 years or, if you get a trial and are convicted, you?re going to look at life,?? said Fellner, an attorney who specializes in criminal justice issues at Human Rights Watch. ?That?s a pretty amazing power that unfortunately they are more than willing to wield."Read More...
UNC Upsets No. 1 Michigan State 79-65 In ACC-Big Ten Challenge (VIDEO, PHOTOS)
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) ? J.P. Tokoto had 12 points and a career-high 10 rebounds to help North Carolina beat No. 1 Michigan State 79-65 Wednesday night, giving the Tar Heels another impressive victory in their inconsistent season.The Tar Heels (5-2) have been talented enough to defeat the top-ranked Spartans and then-No. 3 Louisville this season, but they've also lost to Belmont and UAB.Read More... More on Detroit Sports
Tunnels Under Rome Are Being Mapped As Pace Of Collapses Rises (PHOTO)
A massive project to explore and map a labyrinthine quarry system under Rome is under way, as worried Roman officials seek to stop the crumbling passages from collapsing and possibly swallowing up buildings.While tourists and locals pass overhead, researchers from George Mason University and Italy's Center for Speleo-Archaeological Research (Sotterranei di Roma) are using laser 3D scanning techniques to pinpoint the tunnels at greatest risk of collapse, LiveScience reported. "There might be cracks, so they will be showing as veins almost, or openings, so we map the openings and map any kind of detachment," Giuseppina Kysar Mattietti, a geoscientist at the university, told LiveScience. "In some spots, the ceiling of the tunnel sloughs off like cracking plaster. In others, there are total collapses ? sometimes not reaching quite to street level, but leaving very little ground between the surface and the void."Read More... More on Archaeology
Scientists Hope Coral Reef Breeding Will Save Great Barrier Reef
Little known fact: coral reefs procreate.And since the number of reefs has been cut in half in the last 30 years thanks to climate change, pollution, and predatory species, coral reefs are procreating like there's no tomorrow.Unfortunately, for many reefs, there might not be a tomorrow, which is why, in an effort to save the foundation of the ocean?s ecosystem, scientists are crashing the breeding party.Read More... More on Green Hawaii
Al Qaeda Resurgence Tied To Syrian Crisis, Scholar Says
WASHINGTON -- For a while, talk of al Qaeda had died down. American troops withdrew from Iraq, and Osama bin Laden was dead. But in 2012, that changed, with a fresh spate of deadly attacks in Iraq sparking fears of a resurgent al Qaeda. Today, the uptick in discussions of a rejuvinated al Qaeda is motivated in part by the renewed threat the terrorist network could pose amid the ongoing Syrian conflict.For Jessica Lewis, research director at the Institute for the Study of War, the tie between the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Syrian war is clear: The crisis in Syria helped revive al Qaeda. "I see that conditions in Syria are the primary driver that gave al Qaeda the opportunity to become strong again both in terms of having mutual support areas in military terms, but also in terms of resources, also in terms of human resources," Lewis said Tuesday, speaking on a panel at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.Read More... More on Al Qaeda
Obama Says He\'s Not Allowed iPhone For \'Security Reasons\'
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The troubled mobile phone maker BlackBerry still has at least one very loyal customer: U.S. President Barack Obama. At a meeting with youth on Wednesday to promote his landmark healthcare law, Obama said he is not allowed to have Apple's smart phone, the iPhone, for "security reasons," though he still uses Apple's tablet computer, the iPad. Apple was one of several tech companies that may have allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) direct access to servers containing customer data, according to revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The companies deny the allegation. Obama fought to keep his BlackBerry after coming to the White House in 2009, though he said only 10 people have his personal email address. Neither George W. Bush nor Bill Clinton used email during their presidencies. BlackBerry, a Canadian company formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd, virtually invented the idea of on-the-go email, but lost its market stranglehold as rivals brought out more consumer-friendly devices, like Apple's iPhone and phones using Google's Android software. The company recently halted plans to be sold and is trying to chart a new course by focusing on large business and government clients. (Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Paul Simao)Read More... More on Barack Obama
Sam Thompson Alley-Oops: Ohio State Star Dunks All Over Maryland (VIDEO)
Ohio State's Sam Thompson put on a show against Maryland on Wednesday night, throwing down a trio of alley-oops in a 76-60 win. Read More... More on Highlights
Jared Polis Goes On Epic Tirade In Defense Of Dreamers
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) ripped into his Republican colleague during a House session Wednesday afternoon, coming to the defense of immigration reform advocates attending the session.Shortly after Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) recognized the Dreamers present in the gallery during his floor speech, Speaker Pro Tempore Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) noted that it was out of order for him to announce the presence of guests in the gallery. Polis erupted over the comment."You think they want to be spending their time here, Madam Speaker?" he asked. "Is that what you think? You think they want to be here in the gallery, probably traveling at their own expense to Washington? And you're saying we're addressing them, and that's what you're upset about Madam Speaker? I want you, Madam Speaker, to address the reason that they are here! They are here because our government is tearing apart their families, Madam Speaker!"Read More... More on Immigration
Reggie Bush: NFL Games Are Like \'Car Crashes\' And Thursday Games Don\'t Allow Needed Recovery Time
The roster of NFL players taking issue with Thursday games just got a big-name recruit: Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush, reports CBS Detroit.Several players have been weighing in on the NFL schedule that can give players only three-days' rest between games, Bush being the latest to express concern for player safety.Bush told CBS Detroit, "I?m not a huge fan of it." He likened the hits absorbed during NFL games to "being in a car crash" and lamented that Thursday games do not allow enough time for players to recover.Read More...
Mexico City Arena Hosting NBA Game Evacuated Due To Smoke (UPDATED: Game Postponed)
MEXICO CITY (AP) ? The game between the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves was postponed Wednesday night because of smoky conditions inside the Mexico City arena.The matchup will be made up in Minnesota at a later date.Read More... More on NBA
How To Take Better Sunset Photos
|Here\'s Why It\'s So Great Congress Held A Hearing On Aliens|
The House science committee carved out two hours of time on Wednesday to discuss the search for extraterrestrial life.
Obama\'s Vision For High-Speed Rail Is In Danger Of Stalling Out
WASHINGTON -- In an auditorium inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on a mid-April day in 2009, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled an ambitious plan to revamp America's rail infrastructure.Public funds would be used to develop a system of high-speed passenger rail lines in 10 regions throughout the country, fundamentally revamping the way Americans conceive of travel."What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century," said the president, "a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs."More than four-and-a-half years later, even the biggest boosters of the president's vision for high-speed rail admit that it hasn't turned out as planned. Political pushback combined with the absence of a steady revenue stream has allowed for only modest gains.Moreover, for every two steps forward it seems there is one step back. In late November, a judge for the Sacramento Superior Court blocked the state of California from accessing $8.6 billion in bonds for a bullet train project. The most promising high-speed-rail project in the country suddenly had the potential to turn, in the words of Joe Nation, a public finance professor at Stanford University, "into a real nightmare."In response to the judge's ruling, the Department of Transportation is reconsidering what exactly it plans to do with the $3.3 billion in money it awarded to California to build a high-speed rail system. Under the terms of the agreement, it can take the money back and even force the state to repay the funds it has already spent. A DOT spokesperson told The Huffington Post that the agency is still reviewing the judge's decision, adding that the Federal Rail Administration remains "committed to continuing to work with the California High-Speed Rail Authority and to supporting the president?s vision for high-speed and intercity passenger rail nationwide."LaHood, who left the Obama administration after the president's reelection, says he still believes that California's high-speed rail system will be built. But in an interview with The Huffington Post, even he, a congenial and optimistic advocate for infrastructure reform, acknowledged that achieving the vision that the president put forth on that April day would be tough given the current political climate."We were talking a couple years ago about the president?s vision for connecting 80 percent of the country in 25 years," LaHood said. "I think that is still a goal for President Obama, for the Department of Transportation, and frankly, for a lot of governors around the country.""I think it can be done over the next 25 years ... [but] I?m not that optimistic about the House," he added. "I think the Senate is different, but at this point, I don?t think the House has a vision for passenger rail and that?s a problem."When LaHood talks about a lack of vision in the House of Representatives, what he really means is an unwillingness to spend money. A shortage of funding, after all, is the main problem facing high-speed rail. When the president spoke in 2009, Congress had just allocated $8 billion to the initiative as part of the stimulus package. At the time, advocates argued that much more than even that historic investment was necessary. They were right, but with an important caveat. Instead of a one-time down payment, what the administration needed was a guaranteed funding stream. The Interstate Highway System, started in 1956 and completed in 1992, was funded by an ongoing federal fuel tax, but Obama's high-speed rail plan depended on sympathetic lawmakers to keep writing checks. They only wrote one more. Another $2.5 billion for high-speed rail and intercity passenger rail projects was included in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2010. But as the Congressional Research Service noted, "Since then, no additional funding has been appropriated for this program." In fact, in the next such appropriations act, $400 million was rescinded from unobligated balances."The window opened by the president was partially shut by lawmakers in Congress," said Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department. "The program is now at risk because we don't have adequate resources to meet the passenger rail challenge of the country." Even before the first $8 billion allotment was spent, high-speed rail faced hurdles. Whether out of genuine concern over cost overlays or for the sake of political expediency, Republican governors across the country rejected federal funds for their states, the most notable example being Rick Scott of Florida. Within a year of Obama laying out a goal to connect 80 percent of the country by high-speed rail, it began to seem as if a patchwork system would be the best result he could get.The subsequent investments were far from drops in the bucket. According to the Transportation Department, improvements to the existing Chicago to Detroit and Chicago to St. Louis lines have allowed trains to reach speeds of 100 miles per hour. By 2015, trips taken along those routes will be a full hour shorter. In the Pacific Northwest, meanwhile, 21 projects are being pursued that will result in a 50 percent increase in service between Seattle and Portland. And thanks to improvements in North Carolina, service on the Charlotte to Raleigh line will ultimately double.As for rail infrastructure in general, the Obama administration has put $20 billion into funding projects across the country; 6,000 miles of rail corridor have been constructed or improved, as have 40 stations.The problem is, much more is needed just to keep up with natural decay. "It?s a 50-to-100-year-old system, and except for the freight rails -? the class one freight rails have put money back into their systems and kept them up ?- transit and passenger rail is way down on the list in terms of really keeping up with the needs of modern-day infrastructure," LaHood said. "You look at the cars that are being used by even Amtrak today ... some haven?t been replaced in two or three decades. The infrastructure, the track, they do the best they can, but we know that many of these transit systems are decades old and aging and in terrible need of repair."In its annual report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States' rail infrastructure a grade of C+. It was actually a higher grade than the D+ given to the nation's overall infrastructure, due largely to the fact that private investors have poured more than $75 billion into improving freight and passenger rail since 2009.Going forward, those private-public partnerships will be integral to ensuring that rail infrastructure continues to be modernized in the decades ahead, LaHood acknowledged. But at this juncture, the private funds seem more likely to be there than the public ones. Over the past few years, Obama has repeatedly pushed for $50 billion investment in infrastructure projects across the board. Congress has rebuffed him each time.Even the full $50 billion wouldn't be enough to meet the country's needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that a $3.6 trillion investment in American infrastructure is necessary by 2020. With respect to rail alone, the cost could be "a couple billion" of dollars to repair the current system and "hundreds of billions" of dollars to build a "rail system to the point were we can brag about having high-speed rail throughout the country," according to Pete Sklannik, vice-chairman of the ASCE's Transportation and Development Institute.It's cheaper to improve existing lines than to build new ones. But the trade-off is that faster trains can't run on older tracks. And with countries like Japan already investing in the newest form of rail technology ?- magnetic levitation, which LaHood called "way too expensive" for the U.S. ?- the nation is very much set to be left in the proverbial dust."It is going to take some really innovative thinking to make the investment attractive to the non-users and non-believers," Sklannik said. "And the other part is the government is really going to have to step up and treat this like they treated the interstate program or the space program and understand that this is an investment in our future.""It has to be made attractive and it has to be made convincing," he added. "We're not there yet."
Drug Defendants Are Being \'Forced\' To Plead Guilty, Report Claims
Only 3 percent of U.S. drug defendants in federal cases chose to go to trial instead of pleading guilty in 2012, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.The small number begins to make sense if you consider the consequences faced by drug defendants convicted in court, argues the report's author, Jamie Fellner. ?Prosecutors can say, ?Take these 10 years or, if you get a trial and are convicted, you?re going to look at life,?? said Fellner, an attorney who specializes in criminal justice issues at Human Rights Watch. ?That?s a pretty amazing power that unfortunately they are more than willing to wield."The effect, she argues, is that prosecutors essentially ?force? defendants to plead guilty.Last year, drug defendants in federal cases who went to trial and lost were sentenced to more than three times as many years in prison as those who took a plea, according to the report?s analysis of data from the United States Sentencing Commission, a government agency.And the majority of those who did go to trial -- 89 percent of them -- lost.The percentage of defendants in 2012 who fought their charges is likely an all-time low. In 1980, the first year for which the report reviewed the relevant data, the percentage of federal drug defendants who pleaded guilty was slightly more than 60 percent, and it has risen steadily since then.The advent of mandatory-minimum sentencing laws in the mid-80s is largely responsible for the steady increase in guilty pleas, according to Fellner. Such laws required judges to impose harsh, predetermined sentences on people convicted of the distribution and, in some circumstances, possession of illicit drugs, while giving prosecutors the ability to offer defendants smaller sentences as part of a deal. ?If you can get someone to acknowledge guilt without the burden and expense of a trial, without having to marshal witnesses and line up witnesses, and without risking an acquittal, why not?? said Fellner. ?You don?t have the cost of a trial, it doesn?t take the time and resources, and it increases the notches on your belt of how many convictions you?ve gotten.?But in reality, the government lacks the resources needed to try everyone who is charged with a drug offense, said Steven Jansen, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, a professional group based in Washington.?Justice would almost stand still if we took the majority of our cases to trial,? he said.Jansen noted that efforts are underway to reform the nation?s mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. Lawmakers from both parties have introduced bills that would scale back the reach of those laws, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has directed federal prosecutors to shift their attention away from drug cases. ?Our system is looking at mandatory minimums and what we?re going to either do or not do about them,? Jansen said. ?But a defendant is really not forced to accept a guilty plea. Obviously they have a right to go to trial no matter what the sentence is.?
Al Qaeda Resurgence Tied To Syrian Crisis, Scholar Says
WASHINGTON -- For a while, talk of al Qaeda had died down. American troops withdrew from Iraq, and Osama bin Laden was dead. But in 2012, that changed, with a fresh spate of deadly attacks in Iraq sparking fears of a resurgent al Qaeda. Today, the uptick in discussions of a rejuvinated al Qaeda is motivated in part by the renewed threat the terrorist network could pose amid the ongoing Syrian conflict.For Jessica Lewis, research director at the Institute for the Study of War, the tie between the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Syrian war is clear: The crisis in Syria helped revive al Qaeda. "I see that conditions in Syria are the primary driver that gave al Qaeda the opportunity to become strong again both in terms of having mutual support areas in military terms, but also in terms of resources, also in terms of human resources," Lewis said Tuesday, speaking on a panel at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.Lewis spoke about the sectarian effects of the Syrian crisis with scholars Faysal Itani, fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center, and Frederic Wehrey, senior associate for the Middle East at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Itani covered Lebanon, Wehrey covered Gulf countries -- specifically Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- and Lewis discussed Iraq. Signs of a resurgent al Qaeda became most apparent in 2012 when attacks targeting predominantly Shia areas in Iraq occurred in over 40 locations in 13 cities, The Washington Post reported. According to a recent report by the Institute for the Study of War, by early August of this year, the Iraqi al Qaeda affiliate AQI, "has regrouped, regained capabilities, and expanded into areas from which it was expelled during the Surge," and "AQI in 2013 is an extremely vigorous, resilient, and capable organization that can operate from Basra to coastal Syria." The report stems back to July 2012, when AQI launched its "Breaking the Walls" campaign, an offensive that included freeing its top imprisoned members. Events such as the foiled plot to attack two shopping malls in Amman, Jordan, in December 2012 helped confirm the revival as well. The Washington Post reported at the time that investigations in Jordan "affirmed the key role played by al Qaeda?s Iraqi branch, commonly known as AQI, which analysts say is rebounding after being all but destroyed by U.S. troops in the past decade." The article goes on to quote Bruce Riedel, former CIA counterterrorism expert, as saying, ?What we?re now seeing is al Qaeda in Iraq?s revival, not only as a movement in that country but as a regional movement.? Fears of al Qaeda in Iraq trickling into Syria have grown in the months since the Iraqi al Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, changed its name to include "the Levant" (now known by ISIS), reflecting its expanded interests in the region that includes Syria.In her statements about Iraq, Lewis said she believes that sectarian violence in the country can be quelled with the defeat of al Qaeda, but that that defeat is becoming increasingly difficult with the situation in neighboring Syria. ?There are still ways to prevent against mutual violence in Iraq, but this points back to my current research. Iraq does actually have to defeat al Qaeda in order to achieve this," Lewis said. "What Sunni and Shia mobilization already exist must also settle. It is difficult to imagine this while the civil war, sectarianism, humanitarian disaster and al Qaeda rage next door in Syria. All the more reason that it is vital to regional stability that Iraq not slip further. This boils down in my view to a military campaign against al Qaeda -- a campaign that the Iraqi security forces are fighting, but not winning."When probed further by moderator Paul Salem, vice president of the Middle East Institute, about the tie between al Qaeda's revival and Syria and Iraq, Lewis said that she does not see a link between some of the more extreme rebel groups in Syria and AQI, but rather that the timing of al Qaeda's revival coincided with the crisis in Syria, and that in turn is "part of why Syria is strategically significant for ISIS / al Qaeda in Iraq."Lewis said she came to this conclusion by assessing al Qaeda attacks in early 2012 and comparing the timeline of those attacks to what was happening in Syria. Not only did those 2012 attacks coincide with the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, but they also occurred during the Syrian uprising, she said. This gave Lewis a sense that, ?al Qaeda?s operations in both countries were coming alive at the same time.?Lewis' statements come amid growing concerns from U.S. lawmakers that America is less safe from potential terrorism, official assertions by the head of the national counterterrorism center that al Qaeda in Iraq is at its strongest state since 2006 and intensified negotiations with Iran, a major player behind the conflict in Syria. For Lewis and the other panelists, many questions remain about the future of sectarian violence in the region and the involvement of al Qaeda. Perhaps one of the biggest unanswered questions -- who will emerge as a predominant influence in the region -- was posed by Lewis toward the end of the panel: "Is al Qaeda fighting a near-war in Iraq or is it actually fighting a far-war, directed this time at Iran and or Hezbollah?"
Jared Polis Goes On Epic Tirade In Defense Of Dreamers
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) ripped into his Republican colleague during a House session Wednesday afternoon, coming to the defense of immigration reform advocates attending the session.Shortly after Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) recognized the Dreamers present in the gallery during his floor speech, Speaker Pro Tempore Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) noted that it was out of order for him to announce the presence of guests in the gallery. Polis erupted over the comment."You think they want to be spending their time here, Madam Speaker?" he asked. "Is that what you think? You think they want to be here in the gallery, probably traveling at their own expense to Washington? And you're saying we're addressing them, and that's what you're upset about Madam Speaker? I want you, Madam Speaker, to address the reason that they are here! They are here because our government is tearing apart their families, Madam Speaker!""Will the gentleman from Colorado understand all members--" Walorski began, before being interrupted by Polis."No, will the speaker understand that the speaker is obstructing H.R. 15 from coming to the floor? Will the speaker understand that?" he demanded. "Will the speaker understand that the speaker is preventing H.R. 15 from coming to the floor and that is why there are men and women in the gallery that potentially face deportation and their families are being torn apart? It's very simple. It's very simple. It's very simple, Madam Speaker. Very simple."Watch the tirade here.
A New Day, A New Danger: Temp Workers Face Safety Hazards at Work
Rosa Ramirez, a 49-year-old Mexican immigrant and mother in Illinois, knew something was odd about the plastics factory where her temporary-labor agency had sent her. "From the minute one walks into that factory, one is hit by this incredible odor of [chemical] thinner ... It just goes right through you," she recalled through an interpreter in an interview with Working In These Times.But soon, the noxious smell was the least of her concerns. While making plastic molds on her first--and last--day in April, Ramirez suffered a searingly painful burn on her hand. When she tried to report the injury to her temp-work agency, Staffing Network, she says dispatchers laughed at her and called the wound minor, pressuring her to drop the issue.Looking back now, she remembers seeing several other people at the plastics factory with burns on their arms and hands. But as Ramirez points out, many temporary workers don't report injuries to avoid potential employer retaliation. "[We're] very afraid of saying anything for fear of losing our jobs," she says, who notes that she hasn't been called back to work by Staffing Network since she, as she puts it, "stood up for [her] rights."Temporary workers, or "temps," often go into work every day without even knowing what their job will entail, let alone what safety precautions they should take. These "contingent laborers" form a growing share of the workforce that is increasingly anonymous, dispersed, disorganized and, sometimes, in dire danger.Temps occupy nearly every sector today, including day-labor builders, office staffers and food-processing workers. They may be stepping in as you vacation this holiday season, running Big Box retail warehouses on Black Friday or fulfilling your gift mail-order. The one thing all these positions all have in common, though, is their high "cost-efficiency." This labor pool is usually indirectly hired by companies through subcontractors, allowing the company to generally avoid dealing with contracts, pensions, unions or organizing by workers--and to have an additional buffer against liability when workers fall at a construction site or faint from chemical fumes. And the temps who fill these roles--who comprise an estimated 2.8 percent or more of the workforce--are disproportionately female and of color, further reinforcing the systemic gender and racial inequalities present in the American job market.According to the worker advocacy group Chicago Workers' Collaborative (CWC), of which Ramirez is now a member, the group's temp members earn just $11,000 per year on average and "labor for minimum wages during short periods of time without any benefits such as sick days, holidays, vacations, or health insurance." Whether they're just trying to make ends meet this month or have become long-term "permatemps," they form part of a seldom-regarded workforce that provides contracted manpower and logistics services for some of the largest and most prominent commercial brands, such as Wal-Mart and Nike.Labor advocates like the CWC worry about keeping low-wage temp workers safe, especially those who do manual labor like front-line assembly work or furniture movement. Given that the Occupational Safety Health Administration has historically left the temp sector relatively unprotected, when workers line up at staffing agency offices each morning, they often have little hope of being adequately prepared for the hazards they may face.With this in mind, the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health, an independent advocacy organization, together with various labor and safety groups, recently issued suggested guidelines to OSHA, emphasizing that temporary workers are frequently thrust into jobs that demand comprehensive safety training but given little support. The group called on the agency to issue rules that clearly delineate the responsibilities of "host employers"--the corporations using the workers supplied by labor brokers--and temporary staffing agencies that do the hiring and to establish clear standards for workplace-safety training. Another recommendation was to establish a more comprehensive workplace inspection process and do outreach to inform workers about their right to report safety problems. OSHA, for its part, has announced plans to ramp up its regulatory action in the temp industry.In the meantime, much of the burden of keeping workers informed about safety issues and their workplace rights falls on workers like Ramirez, who, in her campaigning with the CWC, has developed a special safety committee with fellow temp workers. But the low-wage industries she's confronting are employing workers at a far greater scale than she can educate on an individual basis. Right now, she's worried about dangerous conditions at another Staffing Network workplace, an Illinois food-processing plant called Great Kitchens where CWC advocates say many workers have gotten hurt.When the CWC requested injury data for those workers from the administration of Staffing Network, the agency wrote back in September, "we are not required, nor do we maintain an OSHA Form 300 (log) for our temporary employees assigned to work at our client companies." Staffing Network has separately defended its labor practices in response to a ProPublica investigation on the temp industry last summer.But according to Ramirez, the temp agency asks workers to report any injuries directly to Staffing Network rather than to the plant. In turn, because Staffing Network claims it doesn't have to formally log these incidents, the CWC fears many injuries may ultimately go unrecorded. When the CWC obtained information about the injuries that workers did report to Great Kitchens, it found a list of dozens of workplace incidents there during the past two years that included wrist sprains, back strains and head laceration.Even while advocates try to increase employer accountability for worker safety, though, the temp sector continues to expand. Symptomatic of a long-term trend of eroding job security, with companies reluctant to hire full-time positions, temping has absorbed many people who lost regular jobs as well as younger workers who are finding their post-school job options dismally narrow. "Staffing firms accounted for 20,000 of the 148,000 jobs the nation added" in September, the Wall Street Journal reports. It seems there's an army of temps lined up to help heal the battered economy, even at the risk of getting hurt themselves in the process.Originally published at In These Times
Environmentalists Urge San Francisco To Ban Ceremonial Butterfly Releases
San Francisco may be the first major city to ban the release of commercially bred butterflies, a popular ceremonial practice at weddings that environmentalists say threatens the species.Local urban lepidopterist Liam O?Brien was one of the environmentalists that called upon San Francisco?s Commission on the Environment to vote the ban into place on Tuesday, though any decision the commission comes to will need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors before it can be written into law.?They are not creatures to be owned. They are not party favors for the human circus,? O?Brien told the San Francisco Examiner. ?We all know the exultation of a butterfly release. But it?s really a hellacious relationship to nature.?The proposed resolution identifies a number of adverse effects butterfly releases have on efforts to maintain and the city?s butterfly biodiversity, including the disease and disadvantageous genes farmed butterflies could spread to the wild population if released.?Experts on butterfly conservation have also declared that releases may present problems through the transfer of disease from wild habitats, laboratories or industrial breeding facilities to other colonies, where die-off may result or diseases may weaken wild populations and make them more susceptible to other stressors,? the resolution reads. ?Experts state that release of non-native and/or commercially raised butterflies can cause the introduction of deleterious genes into local populations, which could negatively influence the survivorship potential of native butterflies.??Allowing the sale of butterflies creates a commercial market for butterflies,? said Jeffrey Glassberg, head of the North American Butterfly Association, which supports the ban. ?Individual monarchs sell for about $10 each. There have already been reports of individuals capturing monarchs at the California overwintering sites to sell to the public.?The declining monarch is particularly at stake, environmentalists warn. The number of monarchs making their way to their yearly winter refuge in Mexico dropped 59 percent this year, marking the third consecutive year of the species? decline.Ceremonial releases of farmed butterflies, the proposed resolution states, interfere with scientists? ability to understand wild butterflies? breeding locations, migratory patterns and conservation needs.Opponents from the butterfly breeding industry argued that the ban was counterintuitive.?If they disallow reintroduction they will actually be injuring the butterfly population,? Dale McClung, a spokesperson for the International Butterfly Breeders Association, told the Examiner. ?People are just going to order butterflies anyway.?
Obama Says He\'s Not Allowed iPhone For \'Security Reasons\'
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The troubled mobile phone maker BlackBerry still has at least one very loyal customer: U.S. President Barack Obama. At a meeting with youth on Wednesday to promote his landmark healthcare law, Obama said he is not allowed to have Apple's smart phone, the iPhone, for "security reasons," though he still uses Apple's tablet computer, the iPad. Apple was one of several tech companies that may have allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) direct access to servers containing customer data, according to revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The companies deny the allegation. Obama fought to keep his BlackBerry after coming to the White House in 2009, though he said only 10 people have his personal email address. Neither George W. Bush nor Bill Clinton used email during their presidencies. BlackBerry, a Canadian company formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd, virtually invented the idea of on-the-go email, but lost its market stranglehold as rivals brought out more consumer-friendly devices, like Apple's iPhone and phones using Google's Android software. The company recently halted plans to be sold and is trying to chart a new course by focusing on large business and government clients. (Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Paul Simao)
Detroit\'s Bankruptcy: Bondholders, Pensioners and Art Lovers in the Same Boat
Most of the discussion about the consequences of Detroit's bankruptcy has focused on pensioners, and rightly so. Of all the victims of this disaster, they are the most vulnerable and least deserving of harm. They did their jobs, live modestly and need the money, and they had a solemn promise of protection. It's an awful outcome, to be sure.But there's real suffering in the wind for others, and this may have national consequences. The odd couple in opposition to the bankruptcy petition was the public sector unions working with Wall Street bondholders. Wall Street lent Detroit lots of money, at least $2 billion of which is unsecured and subject to the same slash-and-burn bankruptcy workout that will hit pensioners.That infuriates the right, who predict the drying up of municipal credit and/or much higher interest rates. While some of that may happen, the real consequence may be that banks will be much more careful about to whom they lend money, and that's a good thing. Municipal and state governments who borrow to pay operating expenses are making a profound mistake that invariably comes back to haunt them. Too often, the solution when a crisis hits has been the creation of "control boards." These are much-beloved by Wall Street, for a simple reason: They invariably solve the problem by raising taxes and cutting services, while bondholders get back 100 percent of their investment.Bankruptcy will cause real suffering to pensioners. But bondholders are going to take a real hit. Now the pain will be shared, and that's a better outcome than just dumping on pensioners and public employees.As the municipal financial crisis spreads, the Detroit model will make it harder to continue to protect the one creditor with political clout: the banks. I mean no hostility to banks per se. It's a bad thing when anyone loses an investment or promised payments. But for too long Wall Street has occupied a place of privilege in the midst of economic suffering. That's ending, for good legal and political reasons.In New York, which I know something about, numerous cities, counties and school districts are careening toward bankruptcy. Governor Cuomo's solution has been to lend them more money, postponing the inevitable and making it worse when it comes. No one wants to take ownership of a systematic breakdown in the way we run cities. The president is no better. Congress is worse.So unless we start a national conversation about how we make our cities livable and what sort of financial model can replace the old industrial property taxpayer system, we're going to get more Detroits. Wall Street should wake up and smell the coffee. If Wall Street doesn't continue its odd-couple relationship with labor, things will get worse and worse. But put those two together and maybe something will change.To give you an idea of how widespread the suffering is likely to be, there's a real move to make Detroit's considerable municipal art collection an asset to be sold off to pay creditors. It's been the most powerful symbol of the breakdown in social and cultural norms that invariably accompanies not paying your debts. And if everything a city owns is fungible and sellable, what will we do with parks and libraries that might attract buyers?Pensioners, Wall Street and art lovers. That's a coalition that could get Washington and state capitals to honestly and openly confront looming municipal bankruptcies.
Scott Brown May Be Warming To The Idea Of A Senate Run In New Hampshire
WASHINGTON ?- Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) is "warming to the idea" of a run for a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire, but still thinks he has plenty of time to decide, a political operative who speaks with Brown on occasion told The Huffington Post on Wednesday.Brown believes he can make a decision even beyond January before he would have to jump in, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source added that Brown believes his likelihood of challenging Jeanne Shaheen, the state's Democratic first-term senator, has gone up over the last few weeks, but the chances for a run are still only at about 50 percent.The sudden movement this week behind the idea of a Brown candidacy could be read as a reaction to another former U.S. senator's entry into the race. Robert C. Smith, a Republican who held the Granite State's U.S. Senate seat from 1990 to 2003, announced Sunday he will challenge Shaheen. A highly placed Republican campaign operative in Washington sent reporters a link this week to a story touting a "Draft Brown" Tumblr page. The Drudge Report promoted the same story. One New Hampshire Republican operative also contacted this reporter to note Brown's increasing activity in the state, including a scheduled Dec. 19 speech to the New Hampshire GOP. The conservative editorial board at Foster's Daily Democrat, a Dover, N.H., newspaper, wrote Wednesday that Smith's candidacy is "an effort we hope will fail and fail quickly so as not to muddy the waters for credible candidates."But Smith is not considered a major factor by New Hampshire Republicans. He ran for president in 2000, first as a Republican, then as the Constitution Party candidate, and then as an independent, and in 2004 he endorsed Democrat John Kerry for president. The Brown source said the former senator's growing appetite for a run has been fed by two-months' worth of stories about Obamacare's failed launch, and the impact that fallout may have had on Shaheen's reelection chances. "Several months ago senior New Hampshire Republican operatives scoffed at the idea of Brown running for Senate in the Granite State," the source said. "Now they see Shaheen's blood in the water after the ObamaCare rollout debacle and think she can be beat. After a number of potential in-state candidates took a pass, there is now universal agreement that he is the strongest nominee for Republicans in that race."Brown mentioned the impact of Obamacare on New Hampshire, specifically, in an op-ed he wrote this week for FoxNews.com. A second New Hampshire Republican, however, said there are no current signs of Brown laying the groundwork for a run. To do so, he'd have to assemble a brain trust, which usually includes a consultant, a campaign manager, a pollster, an ad firm, and eventually a campaign staff of about 15 people, the operative said. Right now, Brown consults with a few of his former advisers from past campaigns, but does not have any political operation to speak of. He joined a Boston law firm last spring, and has recently spent some of his time learning to play the guitar, even joining the band Cheap Trick on stage during a concert in Hampton Beach, N.H., to play "Surrender." Brown has used his Facebook page to update supporters on his latest musical exploits, as well as to sell copies of his 2011 book Against All Odds, along with bobble head dolls. "Getting close to Christmas. If you still want to purchase my book or bobbleheads, I still have 10 bobbleheads left, 10 leather bound books and about 100 hardcover. Leather bound books are $75, bobbleheads and hardcover are $15," he wrote on Nov. 27. Brown advertised the P.O. Box in Wrentham, Mass., to which purchasers could send payments, and added, "Let me know how you want it signed."
Republicans Tussle Over Gay Candidates
Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, a senior House Republican eyeing a powerful committee chairmanship, is causing friction with some of his colleagues by pushing the House GOP campaign arm to deny support for some of the party?s gay congressional candidates.
RNC Turns Focus To Hillary Clinton In Anticipation Of 2016 Election
Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, says the party is narrowing in on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, a potential candidate and threat in the 2016 presidential election.Priebus told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Wednesday that the Republican Party, with the help of the America Rising PAC, has "begun focusing in" on Clinton, but there's more to be done."I think that there's a lot of rough stuff coming out on Hillary," Priebus said. "But I think you're right, I think that we have to be very aggressive on what she's done and what she hasn't done, and the things that she is famous for, like a botched health care roll out in the '90s and Benghazi and the things that she is involved with that went obviously pretty badly."Hewitt referred to Clinton as the "de facto" nominee for the Democratic Party in 2016. But Priebus said the party could not lose sight of the 2014 elections just yet."I agree with you that there needs to be more of a focus," Priebus said. "But obviously we're trying to get to the midterms and we're trying to make sure that we set ourselves up properly in these governors and Senate races."Of course, the former secretary of state has not yet announced her intent to run in 2016.During a November event in Beijing, former President Bill Clinton said he hoped to see a woman president serve the nation in his lifetime, but he couldn't be sure whether that woman would be his wife. "I do not know if she's going to run, and there is no such thing as a sure thing in politics," he said in Beijing.
Utah Gay Marriage Ban Weighed By Federal Judge
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) ? A federal judge should strike down Utah's same-sex marriage ban because the precedent has been set by the U.S. Supreme Court and discrimination has gone on long enough, an attorney for three gay couples challenging the 2004 voter-passed law argued Wednesday.During a nearly four-hour hearing in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, lawyer Peggy Tomsic contended marriage is a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution. "This case embodies the civil rights movement of our time," Tomsic said. "This is the time and this is the place for this court to make it clear that the 14th Amendment is alive and well, even in Utah."About 100 people packed the courtroom in the city that is home to the Mormon Church, known for its efforts in helping California pass its anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby heard arguments from both sides as he weighed what will be a precedent-setting decision that he hopes to make by early next year.His ruling would be the first on a state same-sex marriage ban since the Supreme Court last summer struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which stipulated that marriage was between a man and woman.Attorneys for the state asserted it is not the courts' role to determine how a state defines marriage, and that the Supreme Court ruling doesn't give same-sex couples the universal right to marry.They also reinforced the state's argument that Utah has a right to foster a culture of "responsible procreation," and the "optimal mode of child-rearing," which the state believes the law does."There is nothing unusual about what Utah is doing here," said Stanford Purser of the Utah Attorney General's Office, objecting to the notion that the law is rooted in bigotry or hatred. "That's the nature of legislation: You draw lines and make designations."Though more than 40 similar court challenges to same-sex marriage bans are pending in 22 states, Utah's is among the most closely watched because of the state's history of staunch opposition to gay marriage, said Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, which pursues litigation on a wide range of LGBT issues across the country.Utah is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which believes homosexuality is a sin. The state was among the first to pass a state amendment banning same-sex marriage, Davidson said."Utah has a particularly symbolic position in the history of the struggle of same sex couples to be able to marry," Davidson said.Shelby, who took the bench in September 2012, asked dozens of questions to both attorneys. He said afterward that he had his "hands full" with the case but vowed to do his best to make a ruling by early January.Much of the hearing focused on the state's premise that the law helps promote procreation. Shelby grilled the state's attorneys on the connection between banning same-sex marriage and the number of babies born to heterosexual couples."How is it by excluding same-sex couples from marrying you're increasing procreation?" Shelby asked.Purser declined to answer directly, saying the issue was irrelevant in this case. Pressed, he said nobody knows yet the effects of same-sex marriage on heterosexual marriage.Shelby also questioned if having children is essential to a person being able to take advantage of the constitutional right to marriage, proving his point by asking the state attorneys if Utah would consider giving fertilization tests before granting marriage licenses. He also asked how allowing a heterosexual post-menopausal woman to marry was different than allowing a gay or lesbian couple to wed.Philip Lott of the Utah Attorney General's Office said the state wouldn't give fertilization tests and said a post-menopausal woman may still raise a grandchild or niece or nephew.Tomsic scoffed at the state's rationale of promoting procreation, saying there is no evidence to suggest banning same-sex marriage has any effect on whether men and women have children. She also took exception to the idea that same-sex couples can't provide stable, loving homes for kids. She said an estimated 3,000 Utah children are being raised by gay and lesbian parents who are suffering because of the state's law."These kids every day of their lives are facing a social stigma," Tomsic said. "The harm is immense in this state."Shelby questioned why harm should be considered in his judgment, and also pointed out that Tomsic's interpretation of the 14th Amendment was overly simplistic. He noted the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage had sections that benefited both sides in the legal challenge.The judge also asked why he should overturn what nearly two-thirds of Utah voters decided was best for the state nearly a decade ago.Five of the six people who brought the lawsuit in March attended the hearing.Tomsic said one of the couples was legally married in Iowa and just wants that license recognized in Utah. She said the couples work and contribute to society and deserve equal rights in the state where they live, no matter how the law came to be.Utah's law is "based on prejudice and bias that is religiously grounded in this state," Tomsic said.___Follow Brady McCombs at https://twitter.com/BradyMcCombs
Delay Iran Sanctions
Last Sunday, Senator Bob Menendez suggested a fairly good idea for further economic sanctions on Iran. Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has come up with an answer which could possibly satisfy both sides -- those who support the diplomatic track and those who are pushing for harsher sanctions for Iran. The idea is to let the Senate go ahead and pass further sanctions, but to trigger them to the timeline of the ongoing negotiations, so that new sanctions wouldn't kick in until after the six-month period of talks. If a permanent deal is struck before that time, then new sanctions (obviously) wouldn't take effect, but if no deal is reached by the deadline, then the sanctions begin automatically.This seems like a sensible middle ground to take. It doesn't give either side everything it wants, but such is the nature of compromise. The White House doesn't want the Senate to pass any sanctions at all, and the hardliners in the Senate who aren't fans of the interim deal want to impose new sanctions immediately. Passing delayed sanctions may satisfy both sides enough to be workable, though.The Iran hawks have made it clear that they're not fans of the interim deal already. Their position is fairly absolute: sanctions must be made more and more crippling, until Iran essentially surrenders and agrees to a deal which gives America and the world everything they've been asking for. Nothing less than such a total surrender should be agreed to, even for a short term. "The sanctions are working," they say, "so let's increase the pressure until Iran capitulates!" Incremental improvements are not acceptable.The White House is worried that passing more sanctions (even delayed ones) will seem like bad faith to the Iranians. They are closer to a deal which resolves the nuclear problem than at any point in the last three decades, and they're nervous that the diplomatic effort could be derailed by new threats of sanctions.But delayed sanctions could work better than either side thinks. If the Senate passed sanctions with a six-month trigger, then the White House's position in the talks would actually be strengthened. John Kerry could tell the Iranians, "President Obama wants us to reach a permanent deal, but he can only hold back Congress for so long -- if a deal is not reached, then you're going to face even tougher sanctions the day after the deadline." This gives the Iranians more incentive to deal, because they'll see that the Senate has raised the stakes if no deal is struck.The hardliners in the Senate may not be completely happy with delaying sanctions. Some senators wouldn't be completely happy unless we were actively dropping bombs on Iran, though. But delayed sanctions would very likely gain the support of more senators (than a vote on immediate sanctions would), because those who believe diplomacy should be given a chance will be able to vote on the plan with a clear conscience. After all, the sanctions wouldn't take effect until the diplomatic effort has failed. And ratcheting up the pressure may be what is needed to send a clear message to Iran that we are not interested in stalling tactics. No endless years-long talks which go nowhere and produce nothing. That's not going to happen -- because the sanctions will take place automatically.Neither Iran nor America has much reason to trust the other -- that is the biggest obstacle a permanent deal faces. The shared past of the two countries is profoundly negative on both sides. But for the first time since the Iranian revolution, the two countries are sitting down together and trying to work out a deal. We've progressed far enough to be talking, and far enough to strike a temporary deal to allow a permanent framework to be agreed upon. Both sides will be extremely wary of such a final deal. We will insist on the strongest possible verification, and Iran will insist on joining the world's nations as a full equal rather than a pariah.But sanctions require no trust at all. We have already shown we are fully capable and fully willing to do all we can to cripple the Iranian economy. The sanctions up to this point have worked, to put it another way, and that fact is obvious to both Iran and the rest of the world. Iran already has proof of what sanctions can accomplish; they don't have to take it on faith. And, even before the Senate acts again, if Iran doesn't strike a deal, then the existing sanctions will kick back in. They know this, and they know full well what it means to their economy.The threat of more and tighter sanctions is not an empty one. It would increase the pain, should the talks fail. It would not be an idle threat, either, if the Senate passes a bill with a hard deadline specified. As long as the Senate includes language which states that a permanent deal would defuse the sanctions, then it could work -- whether a final deal is reached or not.Secretary of State John Kerry should be given a chance to negotiate, without being undermined by the Senate. If they passed immediate sanctions, the Senate would pull the rug out from under the diplomatic effort. But threatening future sanctions would not weaken Kerry's position; it would in fact strengthen it, because it would be more incentive for the Iranians to deal. It would say to the Iranians, "We're not going to wait forever," while at the same time saying, "If we strike a deal, these sanctions won't happen." The compromise suggested by Bob Menendez could indeed work, and it at least deserves consideration from people on both sides of the sanctions issue. Chris Weigant blogs at: Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigantBecome a fan of Chris on The Huffington Post
Rick Warren: Making Employers Pay For Birth Control Is \'Like Making A Jewish Deli Sell Pork\' (VIDEO)
Rick Warren, the noted evangelical Christian pastor and writer, said Wednesday that a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to provide their employees with insurance that covers birth control was ?like making a Jewish deli sell pork.?In an interview with HuffPost Live, Warren questioned the constitutionality of President Barack Obama?s signature health care law because it mandates that for-profit companies, including those with religious affiliations, provide coverage for contraception. Warren said that he did not personally challenge a woman?s right to use contraception, but he said the law "without a doubt" violated the First Amendment.?If a Catholic brother or sister says, ?Well, we don?t believe in contraception,? they?ve got that right ... That?s freedom of belief,? Warren said. ?The first sentence of the first phrase of the First Amendment ?- the first freedom in America is freedom of religion.?The U.S. Supreme Court announced last month that it would take up the issue of the birth control insurance mandate in a high-profile case filed by craft supply chain Hobby Lobby, which was founded by a conservative Christian family.When asked about supporting potential presidential candidates for the 2016 election, Warren, who identifies himself as a registered independent, said he had no plans to endorse anybody.?People say, ?Are you left-wing or are you right-wing?' I always say, ?Well, I?m for the whole bird,'? Warren said. ?A bird with one wing literally goes in circles.?View Warren?s discussion of the contraception mandate in the video above from HuffPost Live.