Pentagon Extends Benefits To Same-Sex Couples

From Huffington Post:


WASHINGTON — More than a year after lifting the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military, the Pentagon has extended certain benefits to these service members and their families.

Gay rights groups have been pressing the Pentagon to extend equal benefits to gay service members and their families since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The newly granted benefits include commissary privileges; ID cards to get on base; access to family support initiatives, legal assistance and sexual assault counseling; ability to take emergency leave for family emergencies and joint duty assignments. The move was one of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s last moves as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, and it will likely be one of his most lasting legacies.

“At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy,” Panetta said on Monday. “It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country. The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated. Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members.”

The new benefits do not include certain items that could have been granted, such as burial rights at national cemeteries, on-base housing and certain travel expenses for spouses. In a memo explaining the changes, Panetta said extending these items to gay service members presents “complex legal and policy challenges to due their nexus to statutorily-prohibited benefits and due to ongoing reviews about how best to provide scarce resources.”

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Charlie Morgan Dead: Woman Who Fought To Repeal Defense Of Marriage Act Dies At 48

From The Huffington Post:

By Kathy McCormack

CONCORD, N.H. — Charlie Morgan, a chief warrant officer in the New Hampshire Army National Guard who fought to repeal the federal law barring her wife from receiving benefits to help care for their daughter, has died. She was 48.

Morgan died Sunday at a hospice in Dover after a battle with breast cancer, a spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan said.

Morgan, of New Durham, was a nationally recognized advocate in the effort to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. She was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit in 2011 saying the act violated her constitutional rights.

Under the federal act, the Pentagon is required to ignore same-sex marriages, which are legal in several states including New Hampshire. Morgan, after finding out she had cancer, was worried her spouse and their daughter would be unable to receive military, Social Security and other benefits if she died.

“She deserves the same benefits as any other spouse,” Morgan said in 2011 at the first national convention of gay military personnel on active duty. “She went through the same stress, fear and concern during my deployment as any other spouse.”

Shortly before that, Morgan came out on national television on the day the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed.

On Monday, a Department of Defense memo detailed a number of benefits that will be extended to same-sex partners of service members, including identification cards that will provide access to commissaries and other services but not some housing benefits. It appears the additional benefits don’t apply in Morgan’s case because they would not be retroactive.

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Raytheon Develops Software That Predicts Peoples Future Behavior

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Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaires

From Desmog Blog:

Brendan DeMelle
Mon, 2013-02-11

A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.

Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving climate disruption.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party’s anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.

Published in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Tobacco Control, the study titled, ‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party, is not just an historical account of activities in a bygone era. As senior author, Stanton Glantz, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) professor of medicine, writes:

“Nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party have longstanding ties to tobacco companies, and continue to advocate on behalf of the tobacco industry’s anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda.”

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Increasing Social Security Benefits: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

From Campaign for America’s Future:

February 10, 2013

Archaeologists of the future will sift through our newspapers, websites, and other ephemera and marvel at the inverted shape of our political debate. They’ll be particularly surprised to discover that, at a time when retirement security was being destroyed for an entire generation, politicians were posturing over how to make the problem even worse by cutting Social Security.

And they’ll marvel over how long it took us to agree on the right solution: Increasing Social Security benefits instead.

The concept of increasing Social Security has been around for a while. Strengthen Social Security, a coalition of 320 groups, reviewed the program’s ability to meet current and future needs and concluded that benefits should be increased rather than cut. The National Academy for Social Insurance proposed increasing benefits for vulnerable groups. The AFL-CIO has called for raising benefits. We got in the game, too, suggesting that a 15 percent increase in 2011 be included as part  of a forward-thinking progressive agenda.  (That earned us our only Rush Limbaugh rant so far – that was fun).

Now the idea may be re-entering the national id, beginning on the left. In a USA Today op-ed, economist and influential blogger Duncan Black (Atrios) proposed a 20 percent increase in benefits.  So did Joan McCarter at the widely-read Daily Kos site.

But it’s not really a “left” position. As a recent survey from the National Academy for Social Insurance revealed, strong majorities of independents and Republicans think the idea has merit. In fact, pretty much everybody agrees – except the parties who are talking about making a “Grand Bargain”: Republican leaders who are out of step with their own rank and file, and the President and some other Democratic power players (who are really out of step with their rank and file).

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The Ignorance Caucus

From The New York Times:

Published: February 10, 2013

Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.

To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. (By the way, how much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.)

But Mr. Cantor’s support for medical research is curiously limited. He’s all for developing new treatments, but he and his colleagues have adamantly opposed “comparative effectiveness research,” which seeks to determine how well such treatments work.

What they fear, of course, is that the people running Medicare and other government programs might use the results of such research to determine what they’re willing to pay for. Instead, they want to turn Medicare into a voucher system and let individuals make decisions about treatment. But even if you think that’s a good idea (it isn’t), how are individuals supposed to make good medical choices if we ensure that they have no idea what health benefits, if any, to expect from their choices?

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Class tensions in Europe at the breaking point

From World Socialist Web Site:

Peter Schwarz
11 February 2013

Class tensions in Europe are rapidly intensifying. The ruling class will not rest until it has imposed the full burden of the international financial crisis on the working class. Its aim is to destroy the social gains of the post-war period and slash wages in Europe to a level comparable with those in China and India.

Greece, where five successive austerity packages have thrown broad layers of the population into unemployment and poverty, is only the beginning. Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia, Romania, Spain and Italy are all being subjected to similar austerity policies.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung noted smugly that since his election last spring, French President François Hollande has undergone a “radical paradigm shift.” His predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, the newspaper commented, talked a great deal about social “reform,” but accomplished little. The new Socialist Party president, on the other hand, has launched significant “reforms”—i.e., attacks on the working class—without making a fuss about it.

Hollande’s government has cut labor costs by €20 billion, begun to make the labor market more “flexible,” and resolved to reduce state spending by €12 billion every year. This, however, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, is just the beginning. “The task is to carry through a backlog of reforms going back decades.”

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Peer Steinbrück of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the two leading candidates in parliamentary elections to be held in September, are both unconditional advocates of attacks on the European working class and committed to initiating new social attacks after the elections.

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A New Manhattan Project – A lesson from Australia!

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Exelon chief: Wind-power subsidies could threaten nuclear plants

Isn’t the whole idea to help us get rid of nuclear power plants along with other polluters like coal fired power plants?

From The Chicago Tribune:–20130208_1_exelon-nuclear-plants-power-plants

CEO Christopher Crane warns plant closings could become possible; company slashes dividend

By Julie Wernau
February 08, 2013

Exelon Corp. Chief Executive Christopher Crane said Thursday that the rapid pace of subsidized wind-generated electric power could ultimately force it to shutter nuclear plants.

“What worries me is if we continue to build an excessive amount of wind and subsidize wind, the unintended consequence could be that it leads to shutting down plants,” Crane said in an interview.

Crane said states that have helped to subsidize wind development in order to create jobs might find themselves losing jobs if nuclear plants shut down.

The Chicago-based company doesn’t have any immediate plans to mothball nuclear plants, although at least one analyst has predicted that could occur as soon as 2015.

“We continue to believe that our assets are some of the lowest-cost, most-dispatchable baseload assets and don’t have any plans at this point of early shutdown on them,” Crane said.

Exelon’s stance against the extension this year of the wind-production tax credit resulted in the company being ousted from the American Wind Energy Association, a lobbying group. Exelon owns a large number of wind turbines but they comprise only a fraction of the company’s overall power-generating portfolio.

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Thousands still without power as US north-east recovers from snowstorm

From The Guardian UK:

Authorities warn that further snowfall and freezing rain could hamper recovery efforts as transport networks face delays

and agencies, Monday 11 February 2013

More than 100,000 people in the north-eastern US were still without power on Monday morning, as the clear-up from last week’s historic snowstorm continued. Driving bans across the region were lifted on Sunday and public transport systems in Boston, New York and Connecticut were functioning, though with delays.

Most of the power failures were in south-eastern Massachusetts and on Cape Cod, where around 35,000 people were still without electricity. NStar said 93,844 homes and businesses were affected, while National Grid reportedly had some 20,000 properties without power.

Efforts to reconnect homes could be affected, however, by further snow which was predicted to fall on Monday. The National Weather Service said that between 2in and 4in was expected across northern areas of New England, gradually changing to sleet, freezing rain and rain.

In southern New England warmer temperatures could add to the danger of collapsing roofs, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency warned. Flat or gently-sloped roofs were at greatest risk, officials said, although they cautioned people against attempting to clear their own homes. “We don’t recommend that people, unless they’re young and experienced, go up on roofs,” said a spokesman, Peter Judge.

In Boston, which received 24.9in of snow – the fifth-largest storm in the city’s history – some public schools were closed on Monday. City officials encouraged commuters to use public transport to travel to work, as many roads are still unsafe, according to a local news station, WCVB. The Boston-area public transportation system partially resumed subway service and some bus routes on Sunday. Beverly Scott, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, told the Associated Press that a full service was expected on Monday, albeit with delays.

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Climate Change Forces Halt In Ethanol Production

From Fire Dog Lake:

Monday February 11, 2013

The droughts in the Midwest caused by Climate Change are taking their toll on corn production. The situation has now deteriorated to the point where corn-based ethanol production facilities have been halted due to lack of supply.

The persistent drought is taking a toll on producers of ethanol, with corn becoming so scarce that nearly two dozen ethanol plants have been forced to halt production.

The Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry trade group, provided data to The Associated Press showing that 20 of the nation’s 211 ethanol plants have ceased production over the past year, including five in January. Most remain open, with workers spending time performing maintenance-type tasks. But ethanol production won’t likely resume until after 2013 corn is harvested in late August or September.

Industry experts say as long as the recent droughts prove to be exceptional rather than typical then the ethanol production system can continue to function.

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Dietary Supplements Show Promise for Treating Depression: Tryptophan, 5-HTP, SAMe, and St. John’s Wort

From Truth Out:

By Robert Wilbur
Friday, 08 February 2013

The National Institutes of Health should fund rigorous trials of four promising dietary supplements used to treat depression so consumers can make an informed choice, with knowledge of their benefits and side effects.

The word “natural” – though somewhat degraded by food processors’ efforts to use it promotionally – still retains cachet, especially when it comes to pharmaceuticals. And make no mistake: Many of the natural products on the market, here and abroad, are drugs – no less so than the creations that come out of Pfizers’ and Astra’s test tubes. This applies with particular force to four natural substances that are used to treat depression: tryptophan, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), St. John’s Wort, and S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe).

Proponents of natural substances endow them with two properties that may or may not apply: 1) Natural substances are safer than red-blooded prescription drugs; and 2) They are no less effective than “real” drugs.

Tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort and SAMe are classified by the US Food and Drug Administration as “dietary supplements.” The FDA has evinced scant interest in these substances. The agency lacks the manpower to keep abreast of prescription drugs and the foods we eat, because at budget-cutting time it is the victim of politicians who are in the pocket of Big Pharma and agribusiness, so it is hardly surprising that it neglects the dozens of companies, ranging from bucket shops to reputable operations that manufacture dietary supplements.

One consequence, writes David Mischoulson, MD, PhD, of Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, in a seminal paper, is that the FDA has not examined clinical studies, so that optimal doses are undefined, and contra-indications, drug-drug interactions and possible toxicity are unevaluated. What is more, different brands may have different amounts of the active ingredient and indeed may be manufactured under disparate conditions of quality control.

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Genetically Engineered Meat, Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You

From Common Dreams:

by Bruce Friedrich
Published on Monday, February 11, 2013 by Common Dreams

If you’re one of the 91 percent of Americans who opposes genetically engineered (GE) meat, you may have limited time to act: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed approval of the first-ever GE animal, called “AquAdvantage Salmon.” If this first approval proceeds, the process is likely to become top secret in the future: we won’t find out about new GE animals until after they’re approved for human consumption, and they won’t be labeled. Welcome to the new world of genetically engineered meat — unless we act now.

The Process

The problems begin with FDA’s bizarre decision to consider GE meat using its “New Animal Drug Approval” (NADA) process, a process designed for evaluation of new animal drugs (hence the name), not genetically engineered animals. The GE salmon themselves are, according to this analysis, the animal drug. As food blogger Ari LeVaux explains on Civil Eats, “the drug per se is AquaBounty’s patented genetic construct… Inserted at the animal’s one-cell stage, the gene sequence exists in every cell of the adult fish’s body.”

Of course, NADA was not designed to analyze the human health or environmental consequences of new animal drugs, and because the animals are the drugs in this process, their welfare is also ignored. In all three areas, there is ample reason for concern.

Human Health

Since they aren’t consumed by humans, new animal drugs are not evaluated for their human health impact, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that FDA’s analysis in this area has been almost nonexistent. Health and consumer rights advocates have raised alarms, noting among other concerns, that: 1) these animals will require massive doses of antibiotics to keep them alive in dirty, crowded aquaculture conditions, and we don’t know these antibiotics’ effect on human health; 2) the limited testing that has been conducted was carried out by or for AquaBounty and included shockingly small sample sizes; and 3) what studies have been done indicated increased allergic potential and increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, which is linked to various cancers — an outcome ignored in FDA’s approval according to the Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, and the Center for Food Safety.

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