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|Argentina Slides Into Default For Second Time In 13 Years After Talks With U.S. Creditors Collapse|
NEW YORK (AP) ? The collapse of talks with U.S. creditors sent Argentina into its second debt default in 13 years and raised questions about what comes next for financial markets and the South American nation's staggering economy.A midnight Wednesday deadline to reach a deal with holdout bondholders came and went with Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof holding firm to his government's position that it could not accept a deal with U.S. hedge fund creditors it dismisses as "vultures." Kicillof said the funds refused a compromise offer in talks that ended several hours earlier, although he gave no details of that proposal. "We're not going to sign an agreement that jeopardizes the future of all Argentines," Kicillof said after he emerged from the meeting with creditors and a mediator in New York City. "Argentines can remain calm because tomorrow will just be another day and the world will keep on spinning."But court-appointed mediator Daniel Pollack said a default could hurt bondholders who were not part of the dispute as well as the Argentine economy, which is suffering through a recession, a shortage of dollars and one of the world's highest inflation rates."The full consequences of default are not predictable, but they are certainly not positive," Pollack said.An earlier U.S. court ruling had blocked Argentina from making $539 million in interest payments due by midnight Wednesday to other bondholders who separately agreed to restructuring plans with the country in 2005 and 2010.There was no immediate comment from the hedge funds, which refused to participate in the debt restructurings and won a U.S. court judgment that they be paid the full value of their bonds plus interest ? now estimated at roughly $1.5 billion.Kicillof dismissed a decision by ratings agency Standard & Poor's to downgrade Argentina's foreign currency credit rating to "selective default" because of the missed interest payments."Who believes in the ratings agencies? Who thinks they are impartial referees of the financial system?" he said.Argentine President Cristina Fernandez had long refused to negotiate with the hedge fund creditors, often calling them "vultures" for picking on the carcass of the country's record $100 billion default in 2001.The holdouts, led by New York billionaire Paul Singer's NML Capital Ltd., spent more than a decade litigating for payment in full rather than agreeing to provide Argentina with debt relief. They also sent lawyers around the globe trying to force Argentina to pay its defaulted debts and were able to get a court in Ghana to temporarily seize an Argentine naval training ship. The threat of seizures forced Fernandez to stop using her presidential plane and instead fly on private jets.Restoring Argentina's sense of pride and sovereignty after the 2001-2002 economic collapse has been a central goal of Fernandez and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner.Argentina has made efforts to return to global credit markets that have shunned it since the default. The government paid its debt to the International Monetary Fund and agreed in May with the Paris Club of creditor nations on a plan to begin repaying $9.7 billion in debts unpaid since 2001. It also agreed to a $5 billion settlement with Grupo Repsol after seizing the Spanish company's controlling stake in Argentina's YPF oil company.Analysts say a new default undermines all of these efforts."This is unexpected; an agreement seemed imminent," said Ramiro Castineira of Buenos Aires-based consultancy Econometrica."Argentina would have benefited more from complying with the court order in order to get financing for Vaca Muerta," he added, referring to an Argentine region that has one of the world's largest deposits of shale oil and gas.Only a few international companies have made commitments to help develop the fields as many fear the government's interventionist energy policies. The government has also struggled to get investors because it can't borrow on the global credit market.Prices for Argentine bonds had surged to their highest level in more than three years on the possibility that Argentina would reach a deal with the holdout creditors. Argentina's Merval stock index also climbed more than 6.5 percent in midday trade on a likely deal.Optimism had been buoyed by reports Wednesday that representatives of Argentina's private banks association, ADEBA, were set to offer to buy out the debt owed to the hedge funds. In return, the reports said, the U.S. court would let Argentina make the interest payments due before midnight Wednesday and avoid default.The deal failed to materialize."It is an unfortunate situation which is pushing the country into another default. As defaults go, we all know when we get into one but it is very unclear when and how to get out of it," said Alberto Ramos, Latin America analyst at Goldman Sachs."We just added another layer of risk and uncertainty to a macro economy that was already struggling," Ramos said.___Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava, Ben Fox and Debora Rey in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
U.S. Attorney Warns Cuomo On Ethics Case
In an escalation of the confrontation between the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over the governor?s cancellation of his own anticorruption commission, Mr. Bharara has threatened to investigate the Cuomo administration for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering.
Seattle Cop Who Issued 80 Percent Of Marijuana Tickets Reassigned
By Eric M. Johnson SEATTLE, July 30 (Reuters) - The Seattle Police Department has reassigned an officer who single-handedly issued about 80 percent of the marijuana tickets handed out in the city during the first half of this year, authorities said on Wednesday. Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole said staff reviewing data to prepare the department's first biannual report on marijuana enforcement found that 66 of 83 citations for public pot use were given out by just one officer. "In some instances, the officer added notes to the tickets," O'Toole said in a statement, adding that some of the notes requested the attention of City Attorney Peter Holmes and were addressed to "Petey Holmes." In one case, she said, "the officer indicated he flipped a coin when contemplating which subject to cite." In another, O'Toole added, he referred to Washington's voter-approved changes to marijuana laws as "silly." Washington state voted in 2012 to legalize the sale of cannabis to adults for recreational use but does not allow it to be used in public places. She said the officer's actions were reported to the police's Office of Professional Accountability, and that he will not perform patrol duties while an investigation takes place. The six-month report, which was released last week, found African Americans in Seattle were ticketed disproportionately to their population for using pot in public. The police department said 36 percent of the tickets were issued to African-Americans, who make up just eight percent of the city's population. A spokesman said the SPD recognized the numbers were disproportionate, and O'Toole reiterated on Wednesday that the study was designed to provide more oversight and to flag "anomalies or outliers" in Seattle's marijuana enforcement. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Michael Perry)
Undocumented Worker in South Carolina Refuses to Live in Fear
SPARTANBURG, S.C.?At the grocery store, Erik notices how the cashiers sometimes smile at the customers ahead of him in line, but not at him.
From Spain to Syria: A Modern Inquisition
My family name, "Maron," is a vestige of and a testament to the human capacity to hate. My family tradition tells the story of my ancestors' expulsion -- along with hundreds of thousands of other Jews -- from the Iberian Peninsula by royal Spanish decree in 1492 following an era of great success and coexistence there. Jews (and many Muslims) were given three options: convert to Christianity, leave their country and belongings, or die without trial.My family changed our name to "Maron" as a reminder that we were "marranos," the term for Jews who were forced to publicly join the church and kept their Jewish identities in secret. "Marrano" was a derogatory term literally meaning "pig" or "dirty"; this, of course, was meant to humiliate these Jews.While historians continue to debate the exact figures, many believe that approximately 200,000 Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, hundreds of thousands more were expelled, and thousands were cruelly executed by auto-da-fé (burning alive on the stake).So how was this brutal persecution enacted en masse?The answer lies in the little-discussed fact that the Inquisition in fact began 200 years earlier, during the 13th century, under religious decree of Pope Gregory IX. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain greatly enhanced its far-reaching, destructive capacity in the late 1400s when they supplanted papal authority by assuming responsibility for the Inquisition themselves. Their edict of expulsion called to "banish the ... Jews from our kingdom" for having "been most guilty of the said crimes ... against our holy Catholic faith."The political monarchy's adoption of a radical religious agenda granted it dangerous power. At a time when the pope and the king struggled with one another for political clout, only radical religion enabled by political legitimacy could mobilize and coordinate the massive discrimination and persecution including, but not limited to, the Spanish Inquisition.So what does medieval Spain have to do with 2014 Iraq, Syria, and ISIS?I was taken aback when I visited CNN's website and found the headline "ISIS to Christians in Mosul: convert, pay, or die." The radical al-Qaeda offshoot known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or sometimes as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which now controls much of northern Iraq and Syria, is now forcing the approximately 3,000 Christians remaining in Mosul (that figure stood at 35,000 in 2003), a major city with thousands of years of Christian history, to choose between essentially the same options given to Jews in 1492: live under intolerable, impoverishing dhimmi status; convert to Islam; leave; or die. Christians in Iraq have already been subjected to each of these horrific options.Yet no one seems to care. As I write this post (July 22 at 10:30 p.m.), only a day after the story broke on CNN, the front pages of The New York Times, the BBC, and CNN all have prominent articles about the Israeli incursion into Gaza and their conflict with Hamas but not a single link or headline about the persecution of Christians in Iraq.
Not Just Whistling \'Dixie\': Peroutka Stands Up for Southern Secession
Michael Peroutka, the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Council, stood up for secession and the white nationalist League of the South, at a hastily called, standing-room-only press conference on July 30 in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Peroutka has been under fire for months for his involvement in and leadership of the League of the South, a white nationalist group that advocates conservative, Christian theocracy and secession to form a Southern Republic. Top Democratic and Republican leaders had called for him to resign from the group.Most prominently, Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, Jr., recently disavowed Peroutka because of his involvement in the racist and theocratic group. Hogan campaign spokesman Adam Dubitsky said: "Larry absolutely disavows him. Those views have never been a part of the Republican Party and they never will."But before the state press corps, Peroutka refused to resign from the the League, which he calls "a Christian, free market group." But for all of his effort to come across as bold , principled, and forthright, he managed to reveal himself as both weaselly and demagogic.'Not a Mistake'Peroutka, the 2004 presidential candidate of the Constitution Party, twice affirmed that his pro-secession remarks at the League's 2012 national conference in Alabama were "not a mistake." In that keynote address, he had spoken favorably of secession. He had concluded by grabbing a guitar and asking the crowd to "please stand for our national anthem." But instead of singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," he belted out a raucous chorus of "I Wish I Was in Dixie." "No, I don't think it was a mistake," he told reporters.View an excerpt of Peroutka leading the League in "Dixie":Peroutka then tossed a red herring into his own press conference, but one that failed to divert attention from the matter of Peroutka's advocacy of Southern secession and his relationship to the League of the South. In fact, his evasiveness only drew further attention to it. Peroutka asserted that Professor Warren Throckmorton had "altered" the revealing 2012 video of his controversial comments and "Dixie" chorus at the League convention before posting it online. In fact, Throckmorton had reposted the entire, unaltered, 51-minute video on the conservative Evangelical Christian blog Patheos. The video was shot by Michael Cushman, a former member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group, who now leads the League's South Carolina chapter. Cushman had posted it at RedShirtArmy, a League-affiliated YouTube channel. Cushman, in an irate comment posted under Throckmorton's piece, demonstrates that the video is authentic, because he insists that he made it, and he demands credit. He complains that "neither this hit-piece nor the Leftist bloggers who are linking to it give me any credit for shooting this video." He adds, "Nor did they ask my permission to post it on their websites." The unedited video on Patheos is identical to the one on RedShirtArmy. Several outlets, including RightWing Watch, Raw Story, and Gawker, have posted clips of the video, crediting Throckmorton with the find.But it is the substance of the video that Peroutka would rather we not focus on. In the video (starting at 26 minutes), Peroutka stands up for secession as an alternative to working within a democratic system that he sees as beyond repair or reform:
"I don't disagree with Dr. Hill [League of the South president] at all that this regime is beyond reform, and I think that's an obvious fact, and I agree with him."He then edges up to the kind of theocratic government he envisions, after the Union is destroyed and the South rises again. He said:
"However, I agree that when you secede, or however the destruction of the rubble of this regime takes place and how it plays out, you're going to need to take a biblical world view, and apply it to civil law and government. That's what you're still going to need to do. We're going to have to have this foundational information in the hearts and minds of the people or else liberty won't survive the secession either."But his relationship with the League did not end there. In fact, it is as current as his post-primary appeal for support from League members on July 8. Peroutka emailed his thanks to League President Michael Hill and his fellow members for their friendship, work, and hospitality, and solicited their financial support. Hill separately called Peroutka's unexpected winning of the GOP nomination for Anne Arundel County Council - as well as a seat on the GOP's Central Committee there - "a victory for us."One week later, Hill discussed on the League's website some of his ideas of how we get from here to the new Southern nation. In Hill's July 15 essay, titled "A Bazooka in Every Pot," he calls for "guerilla war" and "three-to-five-man" death squads to assassinate elected officials, journalists, and other public figures in order to accomplish the League's secessionist goals."To oversimplify," writes Hill, "the primary targets will not be enemy soldiers; instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don't run."Peroutka nevertheless refused at his press conference to denounce any of the content on the League's website, because "people can go there and see for themselves."In a prepared statement, Peroutka declared, "Not only am I NOT a racist, but I am an anti-racist." Yet he remains under fire from Democrats and fellow Republicans for his involvement in the theocratic, racist group, of which he is not only a former board member but is auditioning for a role as its most proudly defiant member.Peroutka faces Democratic challenger Patrick Armstrong, who released prepared remarks of his own:
"Mr. Peroutka reaffirmed and defended his support of an organization that promotes secession and unapologetically seeks a white southern nation. Voters in District 5, a community packed with veterans, employees of Fort Meade, the National Security Agency, and the US Naval Academy, should be appalled that a man who believes our national anthem is 'Dixie' is seeking elected office to represent them on the Anne Arundel County Council."Steve Schuh, the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Executive, reacted to Peroutka's press conference by backing away from this GOP pariah. "I simply cannot support someone who is a member of an organization that appears to be racist or that advocates for the dismemberment of the United States," Schuh told the Capital Gazette.Yet the GOP remains in disarray about Peroutka's candidacy, which provides a bellwether for theocratic groups seeking to leverage national influence by running for local office. The Gazette reported: "Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said he was disappointed in Peroutka's decision to stay with the group but that the party had made no decision on the future of Peroutka's candidacy." Peroutka had set out in his stem-the-tide press conference to prove that he is not personally racist. However, what this GOP official demonstrated was his readiness to smear critics while maintaining his participation in the League of the South, a group that advocates "guerilla war" and white nationalist death squads to advance its theocratic, secessionist goals. So bigger than questions of individual bigotry, this county-level race is now a referendum on national issues of secession and theocracy.
George W. Bush Finishes His Latest Masterpiece: A Biography Of His Father
NEW YORK (AP) ? His paintings made news worldwide, but it turns out that former President George W. Bush has been working on another, highly personal project since leaving the White House: He has quietly completed a biography of his father, former President George H.W. Bush.Crown Publishers told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the book, currently untitled, will be released November 11. In 2010, Crown published the younger Bush's million-selling memoir, "Decision Points.""George H.W. Bush is a great servant, statesman, and father," George W. Bush said in a statement issued by Crown. "I loved writing the story of his life, and I hope others enjoy reading it."According to Crown, the book will cover the elder Bush's whole life and his influence on his son, from George W.'s "childhood in West Texas to his early campaign trips with his father, and from his decision to go into politics to his own two-term presidency."The book will be "heartfelt, intimate, and illuminating," Crown publisher Maya Mavjee said in a statement."As the only father and son to each have served as President of the United States since John and John Quincy Adams, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush occupy a unique position in history," Mavjee said. "George W. Bush brings to vivid life his unique perspective of the personal qualities and principles that have animated George H. W. Bush's extraordinary life of service to country and family."Financial terms were not disclosed. George W. Bush was represented by Washington attorney Robert Barnett, who also handled negotiations for "Decision Points."The relationship between the two presidents has long fascinated scholars, political insiders and the general public. Many have speculated that the younger Bush felt competitive with his father, driven to surpass him and to gain his approval. In a 2013 appearance on "CBS This Morning," George W. Bush said his father was a role model and that their relationship was based upon "love and admiration."George W. Bush first thought of the book around 2010 and began writing it two years later, consulting widely with friends and family members, including his father. The book is expected to be around 300 pages and Crown is planning a first printing of 1 million copies. Although Bush had assistance with research, he wrote the book himself.George H.W. Bush, who turned 90 in June, was defeated for re-election in 1992 by Bill Clinton, but his stature has steadily grown. In 2012, he was the subject of an admiring HBO documentary, "41," referring to his being the 41st president. Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, is working on a book about Bush. "George H. W. Bush: Character at the Core," by former Bush speechwriter Curt Smith, is scheduled to come out this fall.The elder Bush is one of the few presidents in modern times not to have written a memoir. His books include "All the Best: My Life in Letters and Other Writings" and "A World Transformed," a collaboration with former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft.
Children\'s Deaths Prompt New York Governor\'s Bold Medical Marijuana Move
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Wednesday called for faster implementation of the state's medical marijuana law, which passed last month but won't take effect for another year and a half. In a letter to the state Health Department, Cuomo cited the deaths of two children from complications of seizure disorders who could have been treated with medical cannabis. The Huffington Post reported last week that the death of 9-year-old Anna Conte prompted drug reform advocates to demand that Cuomo find a way to speed access to medical marijuana for patients with chronic conditions. "The deaths ... were tragic reminders of the urgent help children with epilepsy desperately need," Cuomo wrote. "The children struggling with this condition deserve every consideration we can make that will potentially ease their pain and suffering."Conte's mother, Wendy Conte, applauded the governor's effort in a statement Wednesday, saying she hopes he will continue to focus on the issue. "We know that this medicine is readily available," Conte said. "There is simply no reason, or excuse for why another child, like Anna, must die."Conte, who repeatedly lobbied state legislators on behalf of her daughter, is widely credited for New York's medical marijuana law. The measure faced years of resistance from both Cuomo and conservative state lawmakers, and the legislation is one of the strictest medical marijuana laws in the U.S. The law allows patients to ingest cannabis in the form of edibles, tinctures or vapor, but they can't smoke it -- a restriction drug reformers argued will alienate lower-income patients.Strains of medical marijuana that are high in cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive ingredient that doesn't cause users to feel high, have proven extremely effective in treating rare conditions like Anna Conte's. Children in states that allow the treatment, including Colorado and California, ingest the drug in pills or as a liquid tincture and in some cases have seen remarkable results. A 10-year-old boy HuffPost profiled in January used to suffer from thousands of debilitating seizures every day. He's been seizure-free since beginning his medical marijuana regimen more than a year ago. But cannabis remains illegal under federal law, with classifies the drug alongside heroin and LSD as having no medicinal value. As a result, states are adopting laws similar to New York's that specifically target children with seizure disorders and other crippling ailments that may be helped by marijuana. Action has included even conservative states like Georgia, which is exploring using medical marijuana in clinical trials, and Florida, which passed a limited-access cannabis law earlier this month.As Capital New York noted Wednesday, despite Cuomo's efforts, there may not be much the governor can do to speed implementation of the law. Cultivating the marijuana plants for patients may take up to 10 months.Some may not have that much time. "We have a moral obligation to ensure that this medicine is available to those who are critically ill now," Kate Hintz, whose child suffers from a severe seizure disorder, said in a statement. "We cannot sit and wait for more deaths to occur before this is made a priority."
World Bank Faces Pushback Over Leaked Safeguards
WASHINGTON -? The World Bank has been working to update safeguards intended to ensure that development projects it backs don?t hurt people or the environment. But environmental and civil activists are pushing back on a draft of proposed safeguards leaked last week, arguing they would weaken the standards and fail to adequately address climate concerns.Nezir Sinani, climate change coordinator at the Bank Information Center, a group that monitors the World Bank, criticized the climate portion of the draft. "There is sporadic mention of climate change, but nowhere lays out what governments have to do to assess if their projects will exacerbate climate change or how climate change will affect the viability of their projects," Sinani said. "This sends a horrible message to the world before next year?s crunch time to get to an agreement to act on climate," he added, referring to the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has emphasized climate change in his public remarks, and has said 2014 should be the year for climate action. The bank has highlighted the benefits of addressing climate change through development projects, and its reports have pushed the urgency of addressing climate change. "[I]t is problematic that such analysis and messaging is not being matched by the Bank?s own core operational safeguards in adequately mainstreaming climate change assessments," Sasanka Thilakasiri, a Washington-based policy adviser for Oxfam International, said in a statement. "In order to gain such development benefits, safeguards need to be strengthened, not weakened as is the case with the current draft." The draft was discussed Wednesday at a meeting of bank directors' Committee on Development Effectiveness. A World Bank spokesman told The Huffington Post in an email that the committee "will be seeking their agreement to use the proposed framework as the basis for a second round of global multi-stakeholder consultations.""We are currently in the process of reviewing and updating our safeguard policies to deliver efficiently on the twin goals and to support more sustainable use of resources, promote social inclusion, discourage discrimination, help address new development challenges and be mindful of the economic burdens development can place on future generations," said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified. "We want a new and strong environmental and social set of policies that will support sustainable development through standards that are clear to those impacted by the projects we finance, those who implement, and those holding us to account." The consultation process, the spokesman said, will be used to "refine the proposals."While the draft toughens labor standards, some groups criticized it for neglecting other areas, including indigenous rights. A group of 99 non-governmental organizations and civil groups from Asia, Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe sent a letter to the bank this week criticizing the draft for being too weak in some areas. The letter argued that the draft standards, if approved, would "narrow the scope of the current policies and weaken land rights protections for poor and vulnerable groups."UPDATE: 11 p.m. -- The World Bank said in a statement that its board of directors' Committee on Development Effectiveness cleared bank staff on Wednesday to publicly share the draft safeguards and to accept comments until December."The proposal aims to maintain and build on existing protections, including the enhanced protection of disadvantaged and vulnerable people, Indigenous Peoples, communities and the environment, including provisions for pest management, dam and road safety, natural habitats, and cultural heritage," the statement said. "It also highlights the importance of non-discrimination."Read the full World Bank statement here.
Crisis at the Border: A Tragedy of Incentives
A picture by Jennifer Whitney for The New York Times perfectly captured the humanitarian crisis at the border. It has everything you need if you're looking for a way to get your heartstrings pulled at: It depicts a boy with a look of hope in his eyes handing over to a Border Patrol officer his birth certificate, which identifies him as Alejandro, age 8, and gives away his status as an unaccompanied minor of Honduran nationality who crossed the U.S. border illegally.The journeys across the desert of unaccompanied minors hoping to flee poverty and violence are not, by any means, a new fad. New are the attention of the media and the qualifier of "humanitarian crisis," which it is, at 50,000 unaccompanied minors detained by the Border Patrol so far, and counting. Understanding or explaining the immigration "phenomenon" that drives Central Americans to the United States doesn't require major academic research or political philosophy theories, because it's a matter of incentives, a concept so characteristic to the human condition and so basic to the framework of economic theory.Infallibly, human behavior is fueled by incentives: Regardless of fear, violence, or legal consequences, nothing determines decision making as much as the chance to increase well-being or survival. This simple axiom is what, for decades, has moved millions of Central Americans to uproot their lives and put themselves through the hell of crossing the U.S. border by foot: In their cost-benefit analysis, the benefit of the slight possibility of crossing safely and undetected is still larger than the costs of potential deportation, physical suffering, the taxing journey and the conformity of staying in their land.In a column published by the Dallas Morning News, Christine Wicker drew an interesting parallel between the voyage of the St. Louis and the unaccompanied-minor-immigration crisis, in which President Obama is pursuing legislation that will allow him to expedite the deportation of thousands of minors currently detained at the borders. In 1939 the St. Louis, a German trans-Atlantic ship, reached the U.S. with close to a thousand Jewish victims fleeing the Holocaust. There were no laws in place to provide them refuge, so the ship was turned away and had to make its way back to the war-ridden European coasts, where many of those on board faced sure death. Regardless of the legality of the policy decisions taken in this regard by the Roosevelt administration, a lot of ground could be covered in a discussion of their ethical implications.As hyperbolic as a comparison between the plights faced by the victims aboard the St. Louis and those faced by unaccompanied minor immigrants might sound, it provides for a valuable thought experiment that incorporates the ethical considerations surrounding the deportations that will continue to come as long as both a broken immigration system and the war on drugs remain unchanged. While it is true that many of the families that these children are hoping to reunite with are also in the United States illegally, a lot have managed to make a living for themselves, in environments where minorities have a place within a community, as opposed to being the victims of the chronic marginalization in the Central American societies they have now escaped from. Some of them have achieved a stability they don't want to risk by making a trip back to their countries of origin to visit the babies they left behind, who have now grown into children and young adults unafraid to endure long journeys just to be able to reunite with their parents. Some have saved enough money to be able to afford paying smugglers a fee that, without any guarantees, buys them a shot at bringing their children from Central America.According to investigative journalist Oscar Martinez from the Salvadoran digital media outlet El Faro, it isn't a surge in violence or an increase in poverty levels what has caused the migratory flow to escalate. The ugly statistics that depict the deadly Salvadoran reality -- and that of the region -- have fluctuated around the same levels since 2008, when 51.7 out of 100,000 Salvadorans were murdered. It declined to 39.6 in 2013 due to a truce between the main players in the gang wars, and though these levels have slightly increased in 2014, not a lot has changed in the region dubbed by the United Nations as "the most violent in the world." It is also untrue that rumors of more flexibility toward immigrants have undocumented families harboring hopes of an amnesty that could provide legal status: Families are well aware of the threat of deportation, which is communicated in campaigns in their countries of origin and remains the main talking point of U.S. politicians when meeting their Central American counterparts in summits. What also remains unchanged is the desire of parents to reunite with their loved ones. It is this element that has sparked a burgeoning market: Smugglers are capitalizing on the relative economic stability that some undocumented workers have achieved in the United States and are competing for their business, some of them by lowering the fees that were simply unaffordable for many families in the past.Deportations won't solve the roots of the problem; they only tackle the symptoms. The incentives to flee the homeland, like the violence that arises from the war on drugs that empowers cartels without affecting the consumption of narcotics, the politically motivated growth of the American welfare state that could be attractive to so many, the apparent inability of Central American societies to rehabilitate marginalized communities -- none of these elements incentivizing migration is affected by deportations. And because the crisis at the border is a human tragedy, it's nothing more, at the end of the day, than a tragedy of incentives. And it will remain tragic as long as incentives remain unchanged.
Is Being Pro-Israeli or Palestinian a Viable Position to Hold?
In 1990, I went to Israel for a two-week study mission. I spent time in Gaza and the West Bank. I recall how evening conversations were periodically interrupted during my stay at a kibbutz in Kiryat Shmona by artillery fire coming from Lebanon. For those living in the area it was part of the routine, but my short stay did not afford me the time to grow accustom. I met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, including future Prime Minister Ehud Omert. My overarching observation then, as it is now, was that right in this convoluted narrative was invariably based on who is telling the story. It is through this lens that I view the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a tragic intermission that has successfully obfuscated the larger issues. Under the rubric of disputed ideology and history, the Palestinians have their movements restricted, while Israelis live in fear, each serving to formally and informally occupy the other. Both helplessly clinging to their version of the story that is void of acknowledged imperfection. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr would often warn about the danger of placing complex issues in the simplistic framework of good versus evil. Niebuhr would opine that the choice is more often between evil and more evil. When one becomes so convinced of the efficacy of their position it can leave them vulnerable to an arrogance that blinds them to the areas where their position may be lacking. Proclaiming one is either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian is the morphine of certainty that makes one numb to the pain of the other side. Buffered by "yes, but" when confronted with a point that runs counter to their preferred narrative, there is no obligation to see the humanity in totality of the side they oppose. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its present-day arrangement, is it even possible to be pro one side without being anti the other?It is a conflict where propaganda masquerades as an integral part of history, thereby vindicating ones point of view, where the "two-state solution" is more apt to be a punch line than an achievable goal. This makes sense when the dominant ethos is to view the other by its worst attributes. It is to live in a black and white world where Israelis are occupiers and Palestinians are terrorist. The complexity of the story necessitates oversimplification if it is to fit neatly within the contours of social media or the 24-hour news cycle. The debate sits uncomfortably on a reactionary axis, where perceived self-assurance trumps being circumspect. However this latest tragedy ends, the long-term damage has already been realized. Each side is further entrenched in the comfort of its own story. In January, former lead Palestinian negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh stated, "We know that Israel wants a permanent military presence in the Jordan Valley, which we will never accept. Never." From the Palestinian perspective, Shtayyeh's statement would make the discontinuation of Israeli occupation a perquisite for peace. But Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, also in January, was still calling for the annihilation of Israel. Both sides are at impenetrable stalemate, resulting in irreconcilable differences. And this is before any discussion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. When the state of Israel was established in 1948, the world could still hear the cries emanating from infamous places such as Dachau, Belzec, and Auschwitz, but it also serve to deafen the cries of Palestinian pain. The historical pain paralyzes both sides of this conflict; they are either unable or unwilling to let go. The history of this conflict is useful if it can serve as a road map to a peaceful solution. However, it is of little value if it used to maintain the ongoing absurdity. To be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, in its current form, equates to support for the disastrous status quo. As George Bernard Shaw opined, "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
We\'re Fighting for Access, Not Choice
An article in Tuesday's New York Times focusing on limitations of the term "pro-choice" both over-claimed the recentness of this development and did not fully represent the history of questions about this framing. The issue isn't that "pro-choice" is no longer sufficient. It's that "pro-choice" was never sufficient for many women. I was sorry to see that the Times had not included those voices and missed the rich history of women of color fighting not just for "choice," but for full reproductive justice.And there's good reason for that fight. The concept of "choice" speaks only to those who had (and have) the ability to make and exercise choices in the first place. We at Planned Parenthood recognize that organizations and leaders of color made this shift decades before we began to doubt the capacity of the "pro-choice" label to fully represent the dreams of our movement. They led the way, and we respect and honor their vision and leadership. There's a rich context that needs to be told and shared, by Planned Parenthood and others. We should have done more to ensure that the New York Times was hearing from organizations and leaders of color who have provided a reproductive justice framework for decades and led the way in the discussion about the limitations of a "pro-choice" movement. It wasn't our intention to contribute to the exclusion of the history and the work of reproductive justice activists and organizations. Pregnancy and childbearing have been experienced quite differently by women of various races and economic classes. White married women with economic privilege, who have been able to prevent or terminate unintended pregnancies, indeed have been able to "choose" abortion since it became legal in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. However, historically women of color have not had choices because the ability to control their bodies and reproduction was stolen from them. Racist policies and attitudes have obstructed the ability of women of color to choose whether and when to bear children.Meanwhile, white unmarried women in the twentieth century were pressured to give up their "illegitimate" babies, and all women lacking economic resources also have been unable to "choose" whether or not to have abortions. After all, if you can't afford an abortion, and you don't have insurance or your insurance refuses coverage, what choice do you really have?"Choice" as a framework for talking about abortion originated with Roe v. Wade. In their dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justices William Rehnquist and Byron White associated "the power of choice" with women's "convenience," "whim," and "caprice," and worried that women would be able to abort simply because of their "dislike of children" or "for no reason at all." Historian Rickie Solinger, in her book Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States, notes that "The dissenters clearly and early associated 'choice' with bad women making bad choices." The majority opinion also referred to women's "choice." On one level, this new way to talk about women inaugurated a sense of freedom and possibility -- women could now take control over their bodies. Yet this language alienated millions of women who were pressured to not bear children and were punished when they did.Moreover, today "choice" does not exist for women in more than 30 states because they live in states in which legislatures have passed laws restricting access to abortion. When there is no access, there is no choice.For these reasons, Planned Parenthood is working to broaden the conversation beyond the "pro-choice" label -- so that our terminology reflects our aspirations and women's full experience.
Congressional Vacations For All!
This is a rare week indeed in Washington, since it is one of those weeks when Congress actually attempts to get something done. There's a reason for this, of course, and it is the usual one: they're about to take another jaw-droppingly extensive vacation. They scurry about, in the days leading up to playtime, in an attempt to con the American people into thinking they can still get something done. It is, in fact, just about the only time any bills actually move forward -- when the threat of possibly having to cut their vacation short by a few days inspires them to action.Think I'm being too harsh? Consider their big accomplishment so far this week: moving forward on a bill to fix the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A bill finally made it out of the House and is expected to pass the Senate -- right before they all disappear for an astonishing five weeks. Some might react to this news with praise that Congress actually moved to solve a problem. I'm not that impressed, personally.The problem hit the news headlines a while back, if you'll remember. The media absolutely obsessed over the fact that veterans were having to wait an average of six weeks before getting a doctor's appointment. That, not to put too fine a point on it, happened over six weeks ago. Eric Shinseki resigned at the end of May -- two whole months ago. But that doesn't even tell half the story, because the House held hearings a full 16 weeks ago where they were made aware of the problem -- including the fact that people had died during the wait period. You can even go back to March of last year to find people testifying before Congress that wait times had gotten completely out of control. So, take your pick, it has either taken 16 weeks -- or a full 68 weeks -- for Congress to do its job.Time and time again, the news media focuses a spotlight on something that needs doing, and rams the point home for about a week or so. Big headline news! Crisis! Congress must act! Then the media gets distracted by some other story, and nothing gets done for a very long time indeed (if ever). Remember the last cycle? The "border crisis" that required immediate action? Congress will likely be heading for the seashore for over a month, starting tomorrow, without actually tackling this problem. The House may (or may not) pass something unacceptable to Democrats, and the Senate may or may not pass anything either, but it's almost a certainty at this point that they won't both pass a compromise bill and put it on Obama's desk before heading off to bask in the sun for five straight weeks.In American English, the phrase "banker's hours" used to mean "I only work a short amount of time, because I am so important." Maybe we need a companion phrase to describe the overly-generous vacation schedule our lawmakers allow themselves each and every year: the "congressional workweek."So far this year -- from the beginning of January through tomorrow (the last scheduled work day until September) -- the House of Representatives has worked 107 days and the Senate has worked 106 days. That is out of a total of 152 weekdays on the calendar. To be fair, we'll subtract the five federal holidays that have already happened this year, to come up with a possible 147 working days. What this means is that Congress has worked under 73 percent of the possible days it could have. That's worse than even "three days out of four," folks. Stated as a portion of a 40-hour workweek, the House has worked an average (per week) of 29.1 hours and the Senate 28.8 hours.That is, in a word, pathetic. But it gets even worse.If you calculate out to when they plan on returning to doing their jobs (adding on five weeks of scheduled vacation, in other words), the House will work 107 days out of the first 172 workdays of the year, and the Senate only 106 days. Put another way, out of over 34 workweeks on the calendar, Congress will actually work less than 22 of them. This lowers their percentage to roughly 62 percent each, which is pretty dismal. Again, out of the 40-hour workweek most full-time employees are expected to put in, Congress instead worked less than 25 hours (24.9 House and 24.6 Senate). Out of every two weeks, Congress shows up for a little more than six days of actual work.So you'll have to forgive me if I'm not joining in the praise for Congress actually passing a few bills this particular week. The problems at the V.A. are going to be solved? Hey, that's great -- it only took them 68 weeks to do so! It's only been four months since Congress was told people are dying in waiting lines! Hey, wow -- they took care of the problem only two months after the top guy resigned! At this pace, we can expect the border crisis to be addressed long about October or so -- whoops, maybe not... since there will doubtlessly be another big chunk of time right about then where Congress decides to go off and campaign rather than do their jobs (it is, after all, an election year).So while I do appreciate that Congress is actually doing a few things this week, I cannot in any way say I'm impressed by this tiny burst of energy. The only real reason action in Congress is even news this week is because they spend so much time they're supposed to be working either by doing absolutely nothing (when they're in town) or by doing absolutely nothing (on one of their many, many vacation weeks). This is supposed to be impressive? I think not.Now, I try to only write articles pointing this fact out once or twice each year, since it's not exactly news within the Beltway. But, as always, I am simply astounded that regular Americans don't demand more from the people who represent them. If you were an employee, would you give full-time pay and benefits to someone who showed up to work only 25 hours a week? Well, "we the people" are supposed to be the ultimate employers of Congress. So where's the outrage? At the very least, we should demand that all American employees get their own five-week vacation. Maybe that would shame Congress into cutting back on its leisure time a bit, who knows? If Congress passed a mandatory five-week paid summer vacation for all American workers, that would get me to applaud, loud and long. But I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for it to happen, if you know what I mean. Chris Weigant blogs at: Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigantBecome a fan of Chris on The Huffington Post
Bob McDonnell\'s Legal Team Unfurls Genius \'It\'s-All-The-Woman\'s-Fault\' Defense Strategy
Remember former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell? He was once thought of as a possible Republican presidential candidate by the people who evaluate such matters in their free time. Now, however, he is spending the majority of his time defending himself in a federal corruption trial, accused of trading political favors for gifts provided by former Star Scientific CEO, Jonnie Williams Sr.For those unfamiliar with the vagaries of the case, The Washington Post has a November 2013 rundown of the prosecution's case against McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. But be sure to check out the Post's equally interesting recap of McDonnell's defense strategy, which essentially amounts to "Burn The Witch!"Per the Post's Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind S. Helderman and Laura Vozzella:
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife on Tuesday unveiled an unorthodox defense to the federal corruption charges against them: Maureen McDonnell had a ?crush? on the charismatic executive who lavished gifts and cash on the couple.Maureen McDonnell?s intense ? even romantic ? interest in Jonnie R. Williams Sr. helps explain why she let him pay for expensive shopping trips and vacations for her and her family while she promoted a nutritional supplement he was trying to sell, defense attorneys said during opening statements. She was not hatching a scheme with her husband to get rich by abusing the prestige of the governor?s office; rather, she was a woman in a broken marriage who craved attention.That's right: McDonnell's defense plan is to essentially slut-shame his own wife in court, making the case that he was "an honest public servant who promised Williams nothing of consequence," while his wife, gripped with hormonal lust over walking charisma-dispenser Williams, got the couple in deep ethical trouble. The Post reports that the ex-governor will "take the witness stand to proclaim his innocence even if that required him to lay bare his family?s troubles and discuss his wife?s dealings with another man." So remember that this is a huge sacrifice that Bob McDonnell is making, that probably weighs very heavily upon him, maybe even as heavy as the $6,500 Rolex watch that his wife, through Williams, obtained for him. Because that's what you do when you are involved with another man and your marriage is falling apart: You have your paramour buy your spouse a Rolex. That's just common sense.The Post reports: "To be sure, defense attorneys have not asserted that Maureen McDonnell and Williams had a fully romantic or sexual relationship." That's the sort of thing McDonnell's legal team miiiiight want to button up before they attempt this line of defense. But heck, I'm no lawyer.The whole "all this corruption came about because of some woman who couldn't control her emotions" defense is the hot new thing among Republican governors in 2014.READ THE WHOLE THING:Defense attorney: McDonnell marriage had ?broken down? [Washington Post][Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]
Stigmatizing and Shunning the Severely Ill
We are civilized people in the United States. We don't set up leper colonies or concentration camps or psychiatric snake pits to banish people with severe mental illness. Instead we send them to jail or prison -- almost 400,000 of them, more than 10 times the number receiving care in hospitals. And we also blithely ignore the fact that additional hundreds of thousands live homeless on the streets or in squalid housing and have little or no access to treatment. The severely mentally ill are rarely sent to jail for real crimes; they are usually locked up for doing annoying things that disturb the peace of the neighborhood. These offenses against public decorum could have been avoided had they received adequate treatment and decent housing. Most European countries regard such services as a basic societal responsibility and provide them efficiently and humanely. Our fairly recent reliance on prisons and homelessness as solutions to mental illness was the common fashion 200 years ago but now seems anachronistic and indecent in a society that has the tools and can afford to do much better. The extreme absurdity of our system is perhaps best illustrated when some of our mentally ill are reduced to repeatedly inviting arrest in order to get "three hots and a cot." For them a restricted life behind bars beats a chaotic and dangerous life on the streets. But for most prison is a living nightmare. People with mental illness don't adapt well to its rituals and dangers. They are vulnerable targets for physical abuse, rape, and prolonged (further crazy-making) solitary confinement. Our society's mismanagement of the severely mentally ill is a disgrace -- perhaps not quite as bad as medieval witch hunting, but close behind. We can't in any way excuse it, but how do we explain the lousy care and subsequent shunning to prison and street? Some of the neglect certainly arises from felt economic necessity; many states have been forced to sharply slash spending to balance budgets, and one of the easiest things to cut is mental-health funding. But the fundamental reasons must go much deeper. The same states, simultaneously and without much notice or qualm, have radically increased their appropriations for prisons, despite the fact that it is much more expensive to cruelly imprison people with severe mental illness than to compassionately treat them in the community. It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to shortchange community treatment and housing while wasting funds on inappropriate prison beds. The best explanation for this irrational distribution of scarce resources is the stigma of severe illness. We begrudge the severely ill the necessary funding for humane and cost-effective care but don't seem to mind locking them up in expensive and soul-destroying prisons. Dictionary definitions of "stigma" describe it as a mark of disgrace, shame, dishonor, ignominy, opprobrium, humiliation, or bad reputation unfairly attached to a person, group or quality. Tellingly, the "the stigma of mental disorder" is almost always offered as the first and most classic example. A troubling paradox has, I think, developed in the stigma attached to mental illness: Never has there been less stigma for having mild psychiatric problems, but never has there been more stigma for having severe ones. This has come about because the definition of "mental illness" is now so loose: One in four of us qualifies every year, one in two across a lifetime, and one in five is taking a psychiatric medicine. There is enormous power in these numbers. The sting of having a psychiatric diagnosis or receiving treatment is much reduced when so many people take psychiatric medication or participate in psychotherapy. But the cleansing of stigma for the milder problems has paradoxically made things worse for those who suffer from severe problems. We spend a fortune treating the 20 percent of the population with mild or equivocal symptoms (many of which might improve just as well on their own) while shamefully neglecting the 5 percent of the population with severe problems that are devastating to them and shaming to our society. Just as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the mildly troubled are increasingly accepted while the really ill are increasingly neglected and shunned to prison and street. A much more subtle (but still very harmful) stigma is evidenced by those who hold excessive hopes that a quick fix for severe mental illness can be provided by neuroscience research and/or prevention programs. The National Institute of Mental Health has become so fixated on the brains and genes of people with severe mental illness that it has lost all interest in the desperate ways they have to lead their day-to-day lives. Its huge research budget now focuses almost exclusively on reductionistic biological research, the kind that so far has never improved the life of a single patient. I am all for supporting remarkable advances in neuroscience and genetics, but experience over the past 40 years teaches us how difficult it is to translate exciting basic science findings into effective clinical treatment. Meaningful progress based on neuroscience research will gradually occur, but it will be frustratingly slow and, at best, very partial. We mustn't continue to neglect the crying needs of our current patients for the promise of future breakthroughs, especially since these breakthroughs will likely take decades, if they will occur at all. And it really doesn't take new, high-powered science to materially improve the lives of people with severe illness. The formula is simple and well established: Just provide a decent place to live, access to treatment, social support, and vocational and skills training. We have the necessary tools, and lots of other countries are already applying them quite well. All we lack is the compassion and the will to provide the funding.Premature enthusiasm for programs attempting to prevent psychosis arises from a similar future-oriented blindness that allows indifference to current suffering and responsibility. Australia is leading the way here, betting hundreds of millions of dollars on the totally unproven assumption that preventive services to high-risk teenagers will reduce future illness and economic cost. The goal is noble but completely unattainable with available tools. There is no way to accurately predict which kids are really at high risk for future severe illness, and no proof that preventive interventions work. Australia is neglecting the great unmet needs of its really ill on the unlikely hope that prevention can help its not-yet-ill. Prevention is fine only as a second and luxury step, after the bread-and-butter needs of the severely ill have been well cared for.If we didn't so stigmatize the severely ill, we would feel an urgent responsibility to rescue them immediately from prison and homelessness rather than waiting for some distant and probably unobtainable future utopia in which research and prevention work so wonderfully well their problems would never exist at all.Allen Frances is a professor emeritus at Duke University and was the chairman of the DSM-IV task force.