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Sen. Rand Paul Introduces Economic Freedom Zones Act of 2015

March 18, 2015 in Politics & Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Rand Paul today reintroduced the Economic Freedom Zones Act of 2015. This legislation will establish free market enterprise zones and dramatically reduce taxes in order to help facilitate the creation of new jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities, enhance and renew educational opportunities and increase community involvement in bankrupt or economically distressed areas. These zones will apply to any zip code with unemployment greater than one and a half times the national average. ‘There are many communities in our country still waiting and praying for economic recovery and opportunity,’ said Sen. Paul. ‘I want to give Americans in these places the chance to succeed.’ ‘The Economic Freedom Zones Act will allow impoverished areas to remove the shackles of big government by reducing taxes, regulations, and burdensome work requirements. These zones will give parents and students the flexibility to find better schools and provide incentives for philanthropy. By taking drastic, meaningful action, we can create new jobs and finally get these communities back to work,’ Sen. Paul continued. …read more


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San Francisco Church Installs Watering System to Drench Homeless and Keep Them Away

March 18, 2015 in Blogs

By Zaid Jilani, AlterNet

“There is only so much you can do,” a spokesman for the church said.

KCBS, a news station out of San Francisco, has a shocking story about Saint Mary's Cathedral, the main church of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The station has learned that the cathedral has installed a special watering system to keep homeless individuals from sleeping in the doorways. Similar anti-homeless measures have been carried out in other cities including London and New York, as AlterNet's associate managing editor Allegra Kirkland recently reported

The church has a sign saying “No trespassing” but it posts no warnings that individuals who lay down in the doorway will be sprayed by water. KCBS notes that the sprinkler system in the ceiling above the doorway “ran for about 75 seconds, every 30 to 60 minutes while we were there, starting before sunset, simultaneously in all four doorways. KCBS witnessed it soak homeless people and their belongings.”

They also captured video of the sprinklers:

“We refer them, mostly to Catholic Charities, for example for housing,” a spokesman for the Archdiocese told KCBS. “To Saint Anthony’s soup kitchen for food, if they want food on that day. Saint Vincent de Paul if they need clothes. We do the best we can, and supporting the dignity of each person. But there is only so much you can do.”

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When Buddhism Goes Bad: How a Yoga and Meditation Retreat Turned Cult-Like and Deadly

March 18, 2015 in Blogs

By Laura Miller, Salon

How did a troubled follower of a charismatic, renegade American monk end up dead in a remote cave in Arizona?

When the public learned of 38-year-old Ian Thorson’s death in a cave in the Arizona desert three years ago, the details behind the tragedy were both jarring and ominously familiar. Thorson had belonged to a religious splinter group, headed by a charismatic leader, that had holed up in a remote, isolated enclave. There were rumors of sexual shenanigans, weapons and highly secretive practices. In that respect, it was an old story. This wasn’t even the first time that an insular, renegade sect had chosen that particular apocalyptic landscape for its refuge. In the early 1980s, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department got into a shootout with a fringe Christian group living in a compound called Miracle Valley. Three people died.

What startled many about Thorson’s fate, however, was that this time the group was not Christian but (ostensibly at least) Tibetan Buddhist. The leader of the sect, a former diamond merchant named Michael Roach, continued to wear the robes of a monk despite growing objections from traditional Tibetan Buddhists, who were pretty sure he’d departed from accepted doctrine and broken some of his monastic vows — particularly the vow of chastity. Even so, the idea of a Buddhist retreat turned cult-like and deadly is a far cry from the popular American view of Buddhists as wise, modest and gentle souls who warn us against attachment to the fleeting things of this world.

As Scott Carney recounts in his new book, “A Death on Diamond Mountain,” Roach had strayed far enough from orthodoxy, and had exhibited enough hubris, to earn a rebuke from the Dalai Lama. But he’d also collected an international following, especially among Americans and the Chinese, by preaching a maya-friendly spirituality that promised not just inner peace but also wealth and true love. At his side for over a decade stood his consort, Christie McNally, a willowy, pretty woman 20 years his junior. In the early 2000s, during a three-year silent retreat, Roach claimed to have realized that McNally was …read more


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Calling Out One Racist Doesn't Make White People Any Less Complicit in Supremacy

March 18, 2015 in Blogs

By Rebecca Carroll, The Guardian

Your ‘not all white people’ argument doesn’t dismantle systematic racism. It only reinforces white privilege.

I always knew that I was black, but I did not begin to understand what it meant to be black until it was demonstrated to me: when I was nine years old, a white teacher called me “pretty for a black girl” as if she were talking about the quality of fresh tomatoes in February.

I didn’t tell my white parents, who had adopted me and chose to raise me in an all-white town, because why would I? What would they know? How could they help? They thought the world was changing and they fought for all the right things, but we never talked about race, so I didn’t think to tell them when a teacher made sure I knew that being black made me less-than.

There’s a special kind of anxiety and rage and resentment that comes with discovering your racial identity through the default lens of racism, and without the support and refuge of a shared community vernacular. Folks who see you, recognize your skin, give length to your cultural narrative, exist under and within that space W.E.B. Du Bois wrote of, behind the veil.

Of course racism is more than just a fifth grade teacher devaluing me on the basis of race, or a boss in high school calling me a lazy n***er, or when a 21-year-old white frat boy gets caught gleefully participating in a racist chant. Racism is more than comments that hurt people’s feelings; its a system of power and convenience, the next level beyond cultivated privilege.

And yet, this country continues to mobilize around incidents of racist behavior and not against systemic racism, pushing public statements filled with shock and lip service to “diversity”, individual expulsions and university-wide disassociation. But naming, shaming and shunning individual racists – if it has any deterrent effect on other would-be racists at all, which seems increasingly doubtful in 2015 – doesn’t solve the systemic racism faced by black people in employment, in housing, in …read more


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Uber Offices Have Been Raided By Authorities In Two Countries

March 18, 2015 in Blogs

By Michael Arria, AlterNet

The ride-sharing company is suspected of illegality in South Korea and France.

The ride-sharing company Uber continues to spark controversy throughout the world, as authorities in South Korea placed employees under arrest this week (including the country’s brand manager) and police in France raided the company’s offices on Monday.

According to ZDNet, a business technology news website, Uber is breaking a South Korean law that makes it illegal for unregistered transportation companies to operate. Uber has teamed up with South Korean car services, with unlicensed drivers, and reportedly has received 20% in commission through the partnerships. Additionally, Uber is under investigation in the country for failing to register its app with the Korea Communication Commission and illegally cultivating private information from customers.  In the ZDnet piece, a spokesperson for Seoul District Police stated that, “Uber's service is used worldwide, but most of its cars and drivers are unlicensed. It disturbs the cab industry, and they are not paying any taxes because there are no proper taxation processes in place.” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was also booked in South Korea, the second indictment that the country has handed him. South Korean authorities claim that they will issue an arrest warrant for him if he continues to disobey the summons.

Meanwhile, Le Monde is reporting that 25 cops raided Uber’s Paris offices, seizing documents and cell-phones. French law now enables Uber to operate in the country, but it still requires the necessary insurance and licenses. Despite this, Uber’s peer-to-peer service, uberPOP has continued to operate in the country, leading to arrests of non-approved drivers.

Uber released a statement, to Business Insider, blaming the raid on a piece of French legislation it believes to be violation of EU law: “While reaffirming its commitment to transparency and to continue working positively with the French authorities, Uber takes note of this raid and is more than ever determined to vigorously defend the rights conferred upon it by EU law and the French Constitution.”

These raids come shortly after Uber had established a run of positive headlines by teaming up with the …read more


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Why I Haven't Had Sex in 10 Years

March 18, 2015 in Blogs

By Anonymous, xojane

The fear that I was unlovable because I couldn't do this very basic thing became too much.

I’m not ugly. I have, if I do say so myself, some really nice legs. My rack isn’t bad either.

I had sex for the first time at 15. It was typical teenage fare — sneaking a quick one up in my bedroom while my mom made dinner. I was the first one out of my friends to lose my virginity (despite all the bragging of an older friend who gave her boyfriend a blowjob and proceeded to show us how using a banana and yogurt.)

But then, something happened. When I was 22, a senior in college, I developed a painful disorder called vulvodynia. It gradually worsened to the point I could barely stand to be touched anywhere near my vagina. It hurt to sit for long periods of time or to wear tight pants. 

I found a doctor who specialized in the condition. He made me hold a mirror between my legs so he could show me the bright red circles around the vestibule, or the opening around the vagina. He told me those circles were evidence of damaged or overactive nerves.

A full exam, even with the smallest speculum they had, was out of the question. I remember him touching one of those red spots as I screamed. It felt like I had been stabbed with a knife. I looked down to see the doctor holding a Q-tip.

My boyfriend, same guy I lost my virginity to, was still around for better or worse, usually worse. He was supportive throughout painful treatments that rendered me completely abstinent and, ultimately, surgery. Then just as I was cleared to have sex again, he was gone. 

My surgeon cut away the nerve damage and reconstructed my vagina and the inner labia so that no one would ever know. But once you’ve had your lady bits sliced and diced it’s not that easy to lay out the welcome mat.

The recovery was pretty brutal. I never knew how many stitches I had down there. I had no idea …read more


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How the U.S. Export-Import Bank Taxes Florida Manufacturers, Workers

March 18, 2015 in Economics

By Daniel J. Ikenson

Daniel J. Ikenson

If you count yourself among the majority of Americans fed up with the unsavory, business-as-usual, back-room dealing that continues to define Washington, take heart in the fact that the charter of the scandal-prone U.S. Export-Import Bank is set to expire on June 30. If you are among the misinformed or privileged few who support the Bank’s reauthorization, how do you justify the collateral damage Ex-Im inflicts on companies in Florida and across the country?

Ex-Im is a government-run export credit agency, which provides below-market-rate financing and loan guarantees to facilitate sales between U.S. companies and foreign customers. In 2013, roughly 75 percent of Ex-Im’s subsidies were granted for the benefit of just 10 large companies — including Boeing, Bechtel, and GE — that could easily have financed those transactions without taxpayer assistance.

Supporters characterize the bank as a pillar of the economy, undergirding U.S. export sales, which allegedly create more and higher-paying U.S. jobs. But a fatty sheath of willful ignorance has insulated the Bank from the scrutiny it deserves. Like all Washington subsidy programs, Ex-Im gives to the few but takes from the many.

Like all Washington subsidy programs, Ex-Im gives to the few but takes from the many.”

When the government subsidizes your competitor’s sales but not yours, you are made worse off because your competitor can now offer lower prices or better sales terms. Call these the “intra-industry” costs.

Likewise, when the government subsidizes your suppliers’ sales to your competitor, you are made worse off because your competitor’s costs are artificially reduced, enabling him to charge lower prices or offer better sales terms than he could without the subsidy. Call these the “downstream” costs.

Ex-Im’s management and its Washington-savvy supporters have been running a shell game, dazzling Congress with the shiny new export sales it finances, while drawing policymakers’ attention away from the costs those activities impose on everyone else. Last year, Delta Airlines finally had enough and complained about Ex-Im loans to Air India, which were granted to enable the foreign carrier to purchase aircraft from Boeing. Delta officials demonstrated how those taxpayer subsidies, made for the benefit of Boeing’s bottom line, put Delta at a competitive disadvantage by reducing Air India’s capital costs, enabling it to lower fares and compete more effectively with Delta for international travelers.

Why should taxpayer dollars be used to promote the interests of one U.S. company over another? The problem …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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He's Not Dead Yet

March 18, 2015 in Economics

By Emma Ashford

Emma Ashford

Vladimir Putin’s 10 day absence from public view led to wild rumors, as commentators focused on one of the biggest questions in Russian politics today: what happens after Putin? After all, it is hard to imagine Russian politics without Putin, whose strongman persona and flamboyant PR exploits are ubiquitous. Unsurprisingly, many fretted about possible unrest if something were to happen to the Russian leader. But though chaos is possible if Putin were to unexpectedly die, it’s far more likely that he would simply be replaced by a close confidante, with no major changes to the political system.

The media furor seemed out of proportion to Putin’s relatively short absence. As Putin’s unexplained vanishing act entered its second week, even reputable media began to speculate on its causes. The hashtag #????????? (Putin is dead) began to trend on Twitter, and each new rumor became more outlandish than the last: Putin has the flu. He has back pain. He’s been having plastic surgery. Putin has cancer. He is attending the birth of his love child. He’s been overthrown in a palace coup. Moscow is even now preparing for Putin’s state funeral!

Anti-climactically, the president reemerged on Monday, looking pretty much unscathed and with no explanation given. And as far as we can tell, Vladimir Putin is a perfectly healthy 62-year-old man. There is no reason why he could not easily stay in power through the end of his term in 2018. Yet men younger than Putin have indeed suffered from ill health and sudden or even fatal diseases. And even if he remains in power till 2018 or beyond, the question still remains: What comes after?

Putin has been the lynchpin of Russian politics for 15 years, and remains — by far — the most popular politician in the country. At the time of his unexpected appointment as Yeltsin’s replacement in 1999, the unstable political system was dominated by cronyism, with Yeltsin’s oligarchic financial backers running the show. Putin brought these groups to heel, and though his regime is still undoubtedly corrupt, the Russian government today is no longer riven by large-scale conflict between competing interests.

Putin has been the lynchpin of Russian politics for 15 years, and remains – by far – the most popular politician in the country.”

Putin’s ability to act as a mediator between, and a check upon, the various factions within the Kremlin — the remnants …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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ISIS Is Not the Islamic State It Fiercely Claims to Be

March 18, 2015 in Economics

By Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

I approach Wikipedia cautiously as to whether its abundant information on a multitude of subjects is complete and authoritative. But I salute the site for its numerous citations concerning the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — specifically the “criticism of the name ‘Islamic State’ and ‘caliphate’ declaration” (found under its entry for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

Even The New York Times seemed to accept ISIS’ self-description on its March 11 front page: “Islamic State Finds New Frontier in Chaotic Libya.”

But Wikipedia, citing a Washington Post article, alerts us to this penetrating truth:

“There’s another name for the group that has brutally captured large swaths of Syria and Iraq: ‘al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria’ or more simply, QSIS” (“Meet ‘QSIS’: A new twist in what to call the extremist group rampaging in Iraq and Syria,” Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, Aug. 26, 2014).

“That new name comes not from the extremists themselves, but from Egypt, where a leading Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta, has asked people to stop using the term ‘Islamic State.’”

Ibrahim Negm, an Islamic expert, explains to Egypt’s Middle East News Agency that the name change is important, as it “aims to correct the image of Islam that has been tarnished in the West because of (ISIS’) criminal acts, and to exonerate humanity from such crimes that defy natural instincts and spreads hate between people” (“Islamic authority: Extremists no ‘Islamic State,’” The Associated Press, Aug. 24, 2014).

So how do the members of ISIS feel when they are not referred to as an “Islamic State”?

Dig this Iraqi mother’s account: “They will cut your tongue out even if you call them ISIS — you have to say ‘Islamic State’ ” (“Islamic State crisis: Mother fears for son at Mosul school,”, Sept. 29, 2014).

Not only was that woman’s story cited by Wikipedia, but so was this: “Politicians should stop using its preferred name (ISIS) to help halt the radicalization of British Muslims, leading groups have said” (“ISIS should be called the ‘Un-Islamic State’: British Muslims call on David Cameron to stop spread of extremist propaganda,” Andrew Griffin, The Independent (U.K.), Sept. 14, 2014).

“A group of prominent Muslims has written to David Cameron to ask that he uses a different name for the group, and to lead a national debate on what it should be called.”

What do they suggest?

The letter simply says: “We propose that ‘Un-Islamic State’ (UIS) …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Republicans Rethinking 'Tough on Crime'

March 18, 2015 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

It wasn’t so very long ago that every Republican running for higher office sounded as if he were really running for sheriff. “Tough on crime” was a slogan that never failed. Remember Willie Horton?

But this time around, something is different. Most of the Republican presidential candidates are touting their positions in favor of reducing prison time, allowing some felons to expunge or seal their criminal records, and even reforming federal drug laws. Rather than putting more people in jail and throwing away the key, Republicans are for letting people out of jail.

Senator Rand Paul, of course, has been the candidate most identified with calls for criminal-justice reform, both rhetorically and legislatively. Recently, for example, he joined Democratic Senators Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) in sponsoring legislation that would repeal the federal ban on marijuana. Paul has also co-sponsored the REDEEM (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) Act with Booker, to make it easier to expunge or seal criminal records for nonviolent offenses. The idea behind the legislation is that a youthful arrest for marijuana possession or joy-riding should not become a permanent barrier to getting a job.

But Paul is not the only senator cum presidential aspirant advocating criminal-justice reform.

Senator Ted Cruz has also been an important voice for reform. Recently, he joined Democratic Senators Richard Durbin (Ill.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.), as well as Booker, in introducing legislation that would significantly reduce sentences for many federal drug crimes. That bill passed the Judiciary Committee last year by a vote of 12 to 5. Cruz also co-sponsored legislation with Senator Paul to make the reduction in crack sentencing approved by Congress in 2010 retroactive, as well as cutting the mandatory minimum sentence for a variety of drug offenses in half.

Criminal-justice reform is increasingly an issue among potential 2016 candidates.”

More surprising to some, Cruz’s fellow Texan Rick Perry has also become a leader on these issues. For instance, the former governor told CPAC, “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” He has pointed out that “During my leadership as governor, Texas shut down three prisons, and we saved taxpayers $2 billion. When I left office, Texas had the lowest crime rate in our state since 1968. My administration started treatment programs and drug courts for people who wouldn’t be served well by sitting behind bars. We …read more

Source: OP-EDS