SINQUEFIELD FRONT GROUP OFFERED DIRECT PAYMENTS TO MISSOURI POLITICAL REPORTERS.

Grow Missouri also became embroiled in a new controversy today after a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter revealed she had been approached by the public relations firm Skyword and offered money to write content for Grow Missouri’s blog.

“Grow Missouri if offering to pay contributors $250 for bylined, or no byline if preferred, articles ranging from 500 to 700 words in length with the opportunity to earn more for special on-site projects,” the email to the reporter said.

Other reporters later said they or their organizations had been approached by Skyword.

“You’ll be happy to know this reporter cannot be bought,” Alex Stuckey, the Post-Dispatch reporter, tweeted.

(Excerpted from New-Leader 9/26/14 and Progress Missouri 9/26/14)

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Missouri’s hunger problem gets worse and worse

If you are poor, hungry live in Missouri, you don’t need a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tell you how bad things are. Those Missourians who are more fortunate need to know. Every year, the USDA issues its “food security” report, which analyzes hunger problems across the country. In Missouri, the news is very, very bad.

In a state that is getting used to ranking poorly in things that count — like education funding, poverty and health-care outcomes — Missouri is No. 1 in a dubious category for the second year in a row.

Over the past decade, as a percentage of population, more Missourians have fallen into hunger, defined in the report as “very low food security,” than in any state in the nation.

All of Missouri’s rankings in the hunger report got worse in 2013 compared to 2012.

Nearly 17 percent of Missourians reported being food insecure, meaning at least once last year, in most cases several times, they skipped meals for lack of money. That’s the fifth-highest percentage in the nation, up two spots from 7th the year before.

Worse, more than 8 percent of Missourians reported more severe hunger, defined as “very low food security,” second only to Arkansas in terms of the dubious ranking. Here’s where the numbers get really bad, and they don’t show up in the USDA report: Over the past year, as Missouri’s hunger problems got worse, fewer Missourians had access to food stamps to help feed their families.

St. Louis activist Glenn Koenen has been collecting food stamp numbers from the Department of Social Services for the past year. Mr. Koenen is the chairman of the hunger task force for the Missouri Association of Social Welfare, and the former executive director of the Circle of Concern food pantry in Valley Park. His research indicates that nearly 90,000 fewer Missourians have access to food stamps than they did a year ago. These aren’t people who have magically found jobs and improved their economic status, but people who have been frustrated by the system.

Over the past few years, the administration of Gov. Jay Nixon has reorganized the Family Support Division, which administers important health-care and food programs to the poor, in an effort to save money. The same problems that have caused a backlog in Missourians trying to get access to the Medicaid insurance they qualify for has affected the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Progam (food stamps).

“I have talked to pantry folk who routinely hear from families who have waited two and three months for a routine re-authorization of the food stamp account,” Koenen wrote in an email. “Many pantry customers talk of lost documents, the inability to talk to a person who knows their case when they call, and, general confusion in the system.”

This is a tragedy and an embarrassment. It should shame every politician and bureaucrat in Jefferson City. Missourians are better than this. Statistically, the hunger problem in Missouri is getting worse, caused by ongoing and rampant poverty, and yet the government’s ability to provide aid to those who qualify under even weak guidelines is hampered by poor funding and mismanagement.

Simply put, there aren’t enough social workers to get the job done in a state that has public policies which are making the economy worse, not better.

In January 2013, current and former GOP speakers of the Missouri House gathered in the Capitol to celebrate a decade of Republican control in the Legislature. Among the honorees was former Speaker of the House Rod Jetton, who used to brag about being on food stamps in his college days, before he and the speakers who followed him committed to making Missouri tougher on people who are hungry.

In cutting taxes in a low-tax state, Missouri Republicans have made it harder to take care of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of Missourians, in big cities and rural counties alike, still live in poverty. For them, the recession never ended. For them, record profits on Wall Street are a vicious joke.

The numbers don’t lie. In the past decade, hunger has gotten worse in the Show-Me State. Ever more Missourians are going hungry. Food stamps only provide $1.46 per meal in Missouri, but state government’s response has been to make it harder for them to get help. And then government brags about it.

This is a tragic legacy. It should not be celebrated, but fixed.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 9/22/14)

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Those Lazy Jobless

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work.

It’s hardly the first time a prominent conservative has said something along these lines. Ever since a financial crisis plunged us into recession it has been a nonstop refrain on the right that the unemployed aren’t trying hard enough, that they are taking it easy thanks to generous unemployment benefits, which are constantly characterized as “paying people not to work.” And the urge to blame the victims of a depressed economy has proved impervious to logic and evidence.

But it’s still amazing — and revealing — to hear this line being repeated now. For the blame-the-victim crowd has gotten everything it wanted: Benefits, especially for the long-term unemployed, have been slashed or eliminated. So now we have rants against the bums on welfare when they aren’t bums — they never were — and there’s no welfare. Why?

First things first: I don’t know how many people realize just how successful the campaign against any kind of relief for those who can’t find jobs has been. But it’s a striking picture. The job market has improved lately, but there are still almost three million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. That’s nearly three times the pre-recession total. Yet extended benefits for the long-term unemployed have been eliminated — and in some states the duration of benefits has been slashed even further.

The result is that most of the unemployed have been cut off. Only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens.

Strange to say, this outbreak of anti-compassionate conservatism hasn’t produced a job surge. In fact, the whole proposition that cruelty is the key to prosperity hasn’t been faring too well lately. Last week Nathan Deal, the Republican governor of Georgia, complained that many states with Republican governors have seen a rise in unemployment and suggested that the feds were cooking the books. But maybe the right’s preferred policies don’t work?

Why is there so much animus against the unemployed, such a strong conviction that they’re getting away with something, at a time when they’re actually being treated with unprecedented harshness?

My guess, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not.

Whatever the explanation, Mr. Boehner was clearly saying what he and everyone around him really thinks, what they say to each other when they don’t expect others to hear. Some conservatives have been trying to reinvent their image, professing sympathy for the less fortunate. But what their party really believes is that if you’re poor or unemployed, it’s your own fault.

(Excerpted from New York Times 9/21/14 )

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7 Actions that Could Shrink the Gender Wage Gap

Although women are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families, dollar for dollar they continue to earn, on average, 22 percent less than their male counterparts, with Latinas and African American women experiencing the sharpest pay disparities compared to white men. There are a number of factors that contribute to the pay gap, including where women work, differences in hours worked, and education differences. But there is also a portion of the pay gap that is unexplained; researchers have estimated that as much as 10 percent to 40 percent of the gender wage gap cannot be explained even when taking into account gendered differences between the occupations, educations, and work histories of men and women.
Closing the gap will require multifaceted solutions that together help ensure that the work women perform is valued fairly, that women are not penalized unfairly for their caregiving responsibilities, and that there is greater transparency in workplace pay practices. Here are seven steps we can take that could make a difference.

1. Raise the minimum wage – Women make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers, and estimates show that differences between women’s and men’s occupations could account for nearly one-half of the gender wage gap. Raising the minimum wage will help hardworking women better support their families.

2. Raise the tipped minimum wage – The gender wage gap is particularly prominent among tipped workers. The federal tipped minimum wage, which hasn’t been changed since 1991, only pays workers $2.13 per hour.

3. Support fair scheduling practices- Women, especially women of color, are more likely to work in low-wage jobs and often have rigid, unpredictable schedules that can change with little notice, making it difficult for working parents—especially mothers—to anticipate their schedules and arrange for child care. These workers risk losing their job because they lack the flexibility to alter their schedules when they need to take their child to the dentist or pick up a sick child from school—tasks that are more likely to fall to mothers than fathers.

4. Support pay transparency – When women are not able to discuss their salaries with their colleagues, they often cannot tell when they are making less than their male colleagues for doing the same job. The Paycheck Fairness Act would reduce pay secrecy, give women better tools to address pay discrimination, and make it more difficult for companies to pay male workers more than female workers—an important tool in combatting the gender wage gap.

5. Invest in affordable, high-quality child care and early childhood education – For parents of young children, particularly those who are low-income, the lack of affordable, high-quality early childhood programs can prevent working parents from ensuring that their families are cared for while they fulfill the demands of their jobs and can inhibit their long-term success. Furthermore, child care costed more than median rent in every state in 2012, yet access to reliable child care is a requirement for working parents to maintain employment.

6. Pass paid sick days legislation – Almost 40 million U.S. workers, or about 40 percent of the private-sector workforce, do not have access to any paid sick days. For part-time workers, that figure climbs to 73 percent. As a result, these employees often must go to work sick, send their sick children to school, or leave their sick children at home alone because they fear they will be reprimanded or fired for missing work.

7. Pass a national paid family and medical leave insurance program
Because caregiving responsibilities most often fall to women and mothers, women are more likely to have to leave the paid labor force to provide family care.

(Excerpted from Centre for American Progress 9/19/14)

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Even when Rex loses, Missouri loses worse

How did one man spend so much, lose so often, and still have so many politicians, most of them Republicans, bow down to nearly his every wish?

Part of the answer is timing. Mr. Sinquefield made a lot of money and decided to spend it at a time when the Supreme Court and state governments had taken restraints off political spending. If money is a form of speech, as the court has ruled, then Mr. Sinquefield is talking freely, loudly and ceaselessly. He found no shortage of people willing to take his money, even for candidates and causes that were doomed.

Last week, one of Mr. Sinquefield’s pet projects died a painful death even before voters had a chance to reject it. Teach Great, one of numerous “Astroturf” (fake grass roots) organizations funded by Mr. Sinquefield to make it look like his ideas have widespread support, announced it was ending its efforts to pass Amendment 3 in November.

If lawmakers won’t do his bidding, he buys new lawmakers. If that doesn’t work, he buys ballot access. If that doesn’t work, he tries to buy the secretary of state so he can control the ballot access. And if that doesn’t work?

Mr. Sinquefield has currently invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in candidates for statewide office in 2016. On Friday, one of Mr. Sinquefield’s political arms announced it was investing $2.5 million to support a a pet project of the next speaker of the House, state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country.

Here’s where this week’s abandon-ship effort by Teach Not-So-Great really shows off the cynical approach adopted by Mr. Sinquefield’s team of political oxpeckers who feed off his back: Unless he goes to court and asks a judge to take Amendment 3 off the ballot, opponents of the bad idea will still have to spend large sums of money to simply counter the fact that it is there and make sure it goes down in flames. That means Mr. Sinquefield spent about $2.3 million just to put the rest of the state through an exercise in futility. He quit when it became clear it “was not the right time” for the effort, which probably means the polls were bad.

This is the second time in three years that an ill-conceived ballot initiative has been placed before voters and then abandoned by its supporters. The last time was when a group of Republicans tried to replace Missouri’s nonpartisan court plan with a system in which well-heeled folks like Mr. Sinquefield could buy their judges at election, like they do most other political offices in the state.

Missourians shouldn’t wait until scientists of the future look at the crumbling ruins of our democracy and offer an analysis of the cracks in the foundation. The state’s ballot initiative process needs to be changed. Its campaign finance and ethics rules need work.

The biggest crack in Missouri’s broken democracy is an easy one to identify and a tough one to fix: The pernicious and sleazy influence of too much money on politicians who lust for it.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post-Dispatch 9/15/14)

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Missouri appeals court gets early voting challenge

A Missouri appeals court has set a Sept. 12 hearing on a challenge to a ballot measure authorizing a limited early voting period.

The state Court of Appeals’ Western District approved an expedited schedule for the case after a Cole County judge on Monday rejected a challenge to the ballot wording.

At issue is a measure placed on the November ballot by the Republican-led legislature that would allow a six-day early voting period before future general elections. The measure prohibits voting on weekends or after regular business hours.

A lawsuit filed by an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union contends the ballot summary is misleading because it fails to say early voting would be allowed only during regular business hours and only if funded by the legislature.

(Excerpted from ;Missourian 8/29/14 )

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Hard to resist – the Affordable Care Act

A successful first open enrollment period with 8 million enrollees. The uninsured rate at a record low 13.4 percent. Insurers clamoring to join state exchanges for next year. Health insurance premiums for 2015 beating expectations. The successes of the Affordable Care Act are clear.

Supporters of the law in competitive races have taken notice, and are increasingly running on, not from, the ACA. But they are not the only ones acknowledging the changing political landscape; the ACA’s opponents have also seen it, and are taking action. In particular, some GOP-led states who have been putting politics over people by opposing Medicaid expansion are now taking steps to accept it. Here are some of the latest to change their tune:

Pennsylvania: The Keystone State will become the 27th state, and the 12th Republican-led state, to expand its Medicaid program in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. The Obama Administration announced last Thursday that it had granted a waiver and reached agreement with the state to provide health care coverage to 500,000 low-income residents through private insurance. Gov. Tom Corbett (R), the deeply unpopular Pennsylvania governor, has previously fought against expansion but trails in his re-election bid by 25 points while 59 percent of voters support expanding Medicaid.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Haslem indicated late last week that the state will likely submit a Medicaid expansion plan this soon. “I think we’ll probably go to [the Obama Administration] sometime this fall with a plan … that we think makes sense for Tennessee,” Haslem said. While he did not comment on any further details, the move could mean health coverage for 162,000 Tennesseans.

Wyoming: After initially rejecting Medicaid expansion that would provide health insurance to 17,600 low-income Wyoming residents, Gov. Matt Mead has now said he is now in negotiations with the Obama Administration to find a way to expand the program next year. The LA Times reports that “the reason for Wyoming’s wavering is clear: It’s money.” The state stands to save $50 million per year by expanding. Meanwhile, Wyoming hospitals are losing $200 million per year by treating people who lack insurance.

Another thing for these states, and all other conservative-led states who continue to deny health care to their low-income residents, to consider: they are sending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to other states who are expanding Medicaid, and receiving nothing in return.

BOTTOM LINE: As candidates who support the ACA increasingly embrace it on the campaign trail, conservatives nationwide are downplaying their opposition to the law. In the latest sign, more conservative states are finally changing course by pushing forward with Medicaid expansion to provide health care to hundreds of thousands of low-income working people and save billions of dollars

(Excerpted from Think Progress 9/3/14)

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Food Stamp Policy: Correcting a ‘Problem’ that Isn’t a Problem

When Republicans want to support their position that Americans have become dependent on welfare, they frequently point to the number of workers on food stamps.”

But: “Just as the number of food stamp beneficiaries rises during recessions though, it falls as the economy improves. And that’s exactly what’s happening now, as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.”

“In other words, food stamps aren’t out of control. But Republicans have used the temporary surge in beneficiaries as a reason to make permanent cuts to the program.”

“Democrats and Republicans agreed on a farm bill with $8.7 billion in cuts. That’s certainly better than the original House version, but will still hurt many Americans—all in the name of ‘correcting’ a problem that isn’t a problem at all.”

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(Excerpted from WonkWire 9/3/14)

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Workers are at the mercy of markets

The questions hanging over Labor Day 2014 are whether and when the United States gets a pay raise. Ever since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the job market has been in a state of heartbreaking weakness. But the worst seems to be over. As Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve Board, recently noted, monthly increases in payroll jobs have averaged 230,000 this year, up from 190,000 in 2012 and 2013. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in July from 7.3 percent a year earlier and a peak of 10 percent in October 2009.

What’s missing are wage increases. Since late 2009, hourly earnings have risen at an annual rate of about 2 percent, but when corrected for inflation, “real” wage increases vanish, reports the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. The EPI says that median hourly wages were actually 0.4 percent lower in the first half of 2014 than in 2007. Using a different inflation adjustment (the “deflator” for personal consumption expenditures instead of the consumer price index) produces a 1.7 percent gain over the same period, says Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute. Either way, wages are basically flat.

We should do better.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 8/31/14)

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Citizens United elected more Republicans

The 2010 Supreme Court decision that helped usher in a new era of political spending gave Republicans a measurable advantage on Election Day, according to a new study.

The advantage isn’t large, but it is statistically significant: The researchers found the ruling, in Citizens United v. FEC, was associated with a six percentage-point increase in the likelihood that a Republican candidate would win a state legislative race.

By freeing corporations to spend their own money, the study found, “Citizens United has, on balance, increased the political influence of corporations relative to that of unions.”

Spending by outside groups, dubbed “super PACs” in the wake of the Citizens United decision, exploded between 2010, when those PACs were created, and 2012, when they established themselves near the top of the political hierarchy. Business contributions to the 10 largest super PACs multiplied from about $35 million in 2010 to more than $345 million in 2012, the researchers found.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 9/2/14)

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A SIMPLE PLACE TO START THE DISCUSSION OF RIGHTS AND WRONGS IS WITH LABOR DAY ITSELF

Labor Day is a day of rest that commemorates years of war. Congress inaugurated the holiday just days after President Grover Cleveland sent 12,000 federal troops to break the Pullman strike. The tactics were bloody; U.S. deputy marshals killed two men, and wounded many more.

That was 1894, an election year. Cleveland needed a way to win workers back to his side. He saw an opportunity in a federal holiday honoring workers — as well as organized labor.

 “The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time,” writes PBS Newshour. “In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland’s harsh methods made the appeasement of the nation’s workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland’s desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.” 
Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, said Labor Day would be “the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed.”

A simple place to start the discussion of rights and wrongs is with Labor Day itself. Labor Day is a federal holiday, which means that federal employees get the day off, and some federally chartered businesses have to give their employees the day off. But there’s no guarantee that workers in private businesses will get the day off with pay — Time reports that data collected by Bloomberg BNA shows roughly 40 percent of employers require some employees to come into work on Labor Day.

It’s not just Labor Day. The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee workers in private businesses any paid days off at all,

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This isn’t to say that paid vacation days are unknown to American workers. Many, even most, workers get a few each year. Workers with in-demand skills won’t accept a job where they can’t take a day off now and again. But workers with less bargaining power often have to accept jobs where they don’t get paid days off. The result is that the people with the worst jobs are least able to take the occasional vacation.

America is the richest country the world has ever known. We can afford to guarantee workers a few days of paid rest a year

 

(Excerpted from Vox 9/1/14)

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Unchecked Emissions’ Risks

Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the draft report said. “The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

The report was drafted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists and other experts appointed by the United Nations that periodically reviews and summarizes climate research

Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the new draft highlights the urgency of the risks that are likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

That means if society wants to limit the risks to future generations, it must find the discipline to leave a vast majority of these valuable fuels in the ground, the report said.

(Excerpted from New York Times 8/27/14)

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When youthful mistakes turn deadly

To be young, male and black in America means not being allowed to make mistakes. Forgetting this, as we’ve seen so many times, can be fatal.

Fatal encounters such as the one between Brown and Wilson understandably draw the nation’s attention. But such tragedies are just the visible manifestation of a much larger reality. Most, if not all, young men go through a period between adolescence and adulthood when they are likely to engage in risky behavior of various kinds without fully grasping the consequences of their actions. If they are white — well, boys will be boys. But if they are black, they are treated as men and assumed to have malicious intent.

There is disparate treatment even in communities where the racial makeup of the police force more closely resembles that of the population. I believe the central problem is that a young black man who encounters a police officer is assumed to have done something wrong and to be capable of violence. These assumptions make the officer more prepared than he otherwise might be to use force — even deadly force.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 8/25/14)

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5 Facts About The Child Migrants On Our Southern Border

In all of the political debate over the children at the southern border, a fundamental fact seems to be getting lost: these are children fleeing murder, rape, and other violence in some of the most dangerous countries in world. The Center for American Progress has issued a brief to provide more details about the situation faced by these child refugees. We’ve highlighted a few key facts and figures, and check outthe full report here.

1. The countries these children are fleeing from are the most dangerous countries in the world. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, while El Salvador and Guatemala sit at numbers four and five, respectively.

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2. In fact, Honduras is more violent than Iraq was at the height of the insurgency.The 2012 murder rate in Honduras was 30 percent higher than the civilian casualty rate in Iraq in 2007, when the insurgency was at its peak.

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3. The most violent cities in Central America are far more violent than cities in the United States. The three Central American cities with the highest homicide rates are far more dangerous than the worst cities in the United States.

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4. Children and girls are increasingly being targeted. Gangs and other organized criminal groups are targeting children, reports show. Children ages 12 and younger are the fastest-growing group of child refugees. That group has seen a 117 percent increase in arrivals since last year.

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5. More child refugees are girls. More female children are fleeing than ever before: In just the past year, the number of girls fleeing unaccompanied to the United States has increased 77 percent.

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BOTTOM LINE: Given the extraordinary violence in Central America, we need to show compassion and take care of these child refugees who have traveled thousands of miles, often alone. They deserve a hearing to determine if their claims are valid, and we should treat them humanely throughout that process, while sending resources to expedite it.

(Excerpted from Think Progress 8/14/14)

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When ordinary citizens chose not to vote

A shattering new study by two political science professors has found that ordinary Americans have virtually no impact whatsoever on the making of national policy in our country. The analysts found that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.

This study should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government. To reclaim the promise of American democracy, ordinary citizens must act positively to change the relationship between the people and our government

The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.

The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.

The authors also say that given limitations to tapping into the full power elite in America and their policy preferences, “the real world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater” than their findings indicate.

Ultimately, Gilens and Page conclude from their work, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Rich individuals and business interests have the capacity to hire the lobbyists that shadow legislators in Washington and to fill the campaign coffers of political candidates. Ordinary citizens are themselves partly to blame, however, because they do not choose to vote.

Excerpted from The Hill 8/12/14)

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Is a Hard Life Inherited?

ONE delusion common among America’s successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence.

In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with Little League sports, library cards and music lessons. They were programmed for success by the time they were zygotes.

Yet many are oblivious of their own advantages, and of other people’s disadvantages. The result is a meanspiritedness in the political world or, at best, a lack of empathy toward those struggling — partly explaining the hostility to state expansion of Medicaid, to long-term unemployment benefits, or to raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.

Too often wealthy people born on third base blithely criticize the poor for failing to hit home runs. The advantaged sometimes perceive empathy as a sign of muddle-headed weakness, rather than as a marker of civilization.

In effect, we have a class divide on top of a racial divide, creating a vastly uneven playing field, and one of its metrics is educational failure. High school dropouts are five times as likely as college graduates to earn the minimum wage or less, and 16.5 million workers would benefit directly from a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

But just as wealthy Americans inherit opportunity, working-class men inherit adversity. As a result, they often miss out on three pillars of middle-class life: a job, marriage and a stable family, and seeing their children succeed.

This crisis in working-class America doesn’t get the attention it deserves, perhaps because most of us in the chattering class aren’t a part of it.

There are steps that could help, including a higher minimum wage, early childhood programs, and a focus on education as an escalator to opportunity. But the essential starting point is empathy.

(Excerpted from New York Times 8/9/14)

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Our Gratitude / Our Commitment

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Republican Congress, Unhinged on Immigration

It was a remarkable two days of legislative dysfunction, even for congressional Republicans, who have been pushing the limits of unhinged governance.

The House speaker, John Boehner, tried on Thursday to pass a bill dealing with the crisis of migrant children at the Texas border — a harsh bill to deport the children more quickly to their violent home countries in Central America, and to add more layers of border enforcement. But it wasn’t harsh enough to suit the Tea Party, and it was pulled for lack of votes. The hapless House leadership had to drag members back from the start of a five-week vacation to try again on Friday.

The revised legislation sought to appease the hard-liners, who were insisting on swiftly expelling migrant children but also intent on killing the Obama administration’s program to halt the deportations of young immigrants known as Dreamers. Tea Party members believe, delusionally, that the program, called DACA, has some connection to the recent surge of child migrants, who would never qualify for it. On Friday night, the House passed a bill that dragged immigration reform so far to the right that it would never become law.

As Congress takes the rest of the summer off, there may be no two happier House Republicans than Steve King and Michele Bachmann, charter members of the “hell no” caucus that resolutely blocks all efforts at sensible immigration reform. The Senate’s attempt to address the border crisis, meanwhile, is also dead — filibustered by Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who engineered the House revolt, was exultant. Nothing will happen there until September, if then.

Meanwhile, the border crisis is still a crisis and people are suffering. The Border Patrol and refugee programs will run short of money for aiding and processing traumatized children. Immigration courts will still be overloaded, due process will continue to be shortchanged or denied. Because House Republicans killed a comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate more than a year ago, the larger immigration system, choked by obsolete laws, backlogs and bureaucratic breakdowns, still awaits repairs.

Eleven million people are still living outside the law with no way to legalize their status. Farmers and other business owners who depend on immigrant labor are still looking to Congress to bring order and efficiency to the system. They have been waiting for at least a decade. They will have to wait some more.

Congressional nihilism has created a vacuum. Now it’s President Obama’s job to fill it, to keep his promise to end the border crisis and find ways to redirect immigration enforcement and protect possibly millions of families from unjust deportation. Of course, regardless of what he does, the system will still be marked by chaos and pain. And the hard-liners will scream at any action he takes.

Having spent the summer howling about a catastrophe at the border, Republicans are now congratulating themselves for refusing to solve it.

(Excerpted from New York Times 8/02/14)

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How we treat vulnerable children on the border shows the world America’s values

The debate that came to a head in Washington this week on the unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border can be boiled down to one clear choice: Protect them and give them due process or change the law and send them back to possible death. While some may disagree with this characterization, the truth is inescapable, as are the life-and-death consequences facing this most vulnerable population.

Disturbingly, on Friday the House of Representatives was steering toward the latter course.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Subjecting these children to removal without the due process of a formal immigration hearing would no doubt mean that the vast majority would be returned to the gangs and drug cartels that threaten them in Central America. Mexican children, for example, are regularly returned to Mexico this way, after only a short interview with a Border Patrol agent to determine whether an asylum claim is valid, despite the fact that the United Nations found that more than 60 percent of them have a claim to protection under international law.

The real issue here is who we are as Americans. As a leader in human rights protection around the world, we often instruct other nations to receive refugees or protect human rights. Yet when child refugees appear on our own border, we struggle to respond in a humane way. Calls for deploying the National Guard and more border enforcement, for example, suggest that these children and families threaten our national security when they are the ones running from terror. Instead of sending an army to the border, we should be sending an army of child welfare and mental health experts.

To be fair, our elected officials are right to have concerns about the long-term effects of the current policy. Where should we draw the line? But some of these children would qualify for asylum as a targeted group under U.S. domestic and international refugee law, and many others would have a legitimate claim to admission on other grounds; sending them back without due process cannot be our answer.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 7/30/14)

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ALEC Offshoot Takes Aim at Local Government

After forty years of pushing corporate-friendly policy in state legislatures, this week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is launching its new project aimed at doing the same at the local level.

The director of the American City County Exchange (ACCE), Jon Russell, has been described as a “divisive” local government official, better known for pushing a national anti-immigrant agenda than for serving local interests and his constituents. ACCE’s first meeting will coincide with ALEC’s Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas this week.

The creation of ACCE comes as national corporate and ideological interests increasingly try to exert influence over municipal government.

Early reports suggests that ACCE will pursue similar policy objectives as ALEC. According toThe Guardian, “An early draft of the agenda for [the] meeting revealingly listed ACCE’s very first workshop under the simple title: ‘Privatization’ – though in the final version the wording had been sanitized into: ‘Effective Tools for Promoting Limited Government’.” Privatization has been a long term goal for many ALEC member firms, and ALEC model bills have called for the creation of a special state commission to privatize public services. Other ALEC bills call for the privatization of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, public schools, state pensions and more. Another workshop at the inaugural ACCE meeting is titled “Releasing Local Governments From the Grip of Collective Bargaining,” which fits into ALEC’s long-standing antipathy towards unions.

Like ALEC, ACCE’s funding appears comes almost entirely from its corporate members. Local elected officials are asked to pay just $100 for a two year membership, where corporate members pay between $10,000 and $25,000.

Some are skeptical of ALEC’s newfound commitment to local control. For years, ALEC has pushed state-level preemption bills to prohibit local governments from enacting policies like paid sick days, a higher minimum wage, municipal broadband, or limits on GMOs, all of which would benefit ALEC’s corporate members.

Given this history, many local officials aren’t buying that ALEC and ACCE are looking out for the best interests of their constituents, as opposed to the interests of ACCE’s corporate funders.

(Excerpted from PR Watch 7/31/14 )

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