Relief for the VA, Paul Ryan Rants, Saving Chicago, DC Gun Laws and Fast Food Worker’s Rights

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After six weeks of negotiations, House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a compromise to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays and deaths. Matthew Daly reports, After 6 weeks, finally a deal on VA health care, the chairman of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees will hold a news conference on Monday afternoon to unveil a plan to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care. An agreement Sunday by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House panel, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate veterans panel chair, was reached after many private meetings, no shows and public spats with only days left until Congress goes on a five week recess. A partisan impasse loomed which both sides hoped to avoid what Miller called the “sort of bickering and name-calling for which Washington has become infamous.” Three days later, via telephone from Florida and Vermont, Miller and Sanders were on the same page. The tentative deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators and a full vote in the House and Senate. The plan announced Monday, according to Miller and Sanders, is intended to “make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.” Luis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said on Sunday: “There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That’s what this is all about.” Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: “It’s about time they’re doing their jobs. You don’t get a medal for doing your job.” An updated audit by the VA this month shows 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still wait 30 days for an appointment with 46,000 veterans waiting at least three months for an initial appointment and an additional 7,00 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade that never got them. The Senate and House are set to adjourn at the end of the week until September and lawmakers from both parties see the VA bill as a top priority. Meanwhile, the Senate is also expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

While one problem may potentially be resolved this week, on Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) condemned the federal government’s approach to poverty reduction claiming the Obama administration is responsible for the system that “perpetuates poverty” in America, according to Ashley Alman’s article Paul Ryan Accuses Obama Administration Of System That ‘Perpetuates Poverty.’ On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Ryan came to discuss his new poverty proposal involving consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs including food stamps and housing vouchers into one program coordinated by each state. Host David Gregory commented that Ryan sounded like he had little “sympathy” for impoverished Americans. Ryan responded by saying: “We don’t want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty. The federal government’s approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work. Able-bodied people should go to work, and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential.” Ryan announced his poverty proposal Thursday saying it is an opportunity for reform that would be “budget neutral.” However, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) disagrees: “The core idea of the Ryan proposal is not a new idea at all: it’s nothing more than a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles. If you look at the block grant proposal in the context of the Ryan-Republican budget, it would dramatically slash the resources available to help struggling families.”

As families to continue to struggle to keep their heads above water, cities are not only struggling to keep people working, but keep gun violence to a minimum. Glenn Minnis reports, Can Noah’s Arc save streets of Chicago?, Joakim Noah, an NBA All Star Center, on Friday spoke to a room full of teens and adolescents at a Major Adams Community Center room about gun and gang violence culture so out of control it has brought his hometown of Chicago to its knees. Noah spoke of his motivation to start his “Stand up Chicago” campaign: “It’s very important that we understand that this is not just a problem that’s going on on the South Side, the violence is not a problem that’s going on on the West Side. This is a Chicago problem.” Noah also enlisted the help of teammate and Chi-town native Derrick Rose who appeared on a 60 second PSA for his initiative. Join by rapper and Chicago native Common, he states in the PSA: “I stand for my city.” In a statement on his Noah’s Arc Foundation site, Noah and his mom, Cecilia Rodhe, called on all Chicagoans to “take a stand against violence and become ambassadors for peace and positivity.” Over the first seven months of the year, 207 homicides have taken place in Chicago with the most recent incident on July 4 weekend where the L.A. Times reported at least 16 people killed and 82 injured over three and half days. In response, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has added seven more ATF agents to its former roster of 45 in hopes of somehow of corralling all the madness, according to Minnis. Noah summed up the goal of his organization by saying: “As somebody who plays for the Bulls, I feel like I’m somebody who represents the city, and I think that helping our youth is important. The summer months bring a lot of violence, and we felt it was urgent to get a public service announcement out now in order to bring some hope, change and support to the community. We have to find a way together, whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, whatever you are, to come together and solve this together. To me personally, this is just as important as winning a championship.”

Meanwhile, gun advocates in Washington, D.C. this weekend celebrate following a federal judge ruling that struck down the city’s ban on handguns in public, the AOL article, D.C.’s gun laws take another hit in handgun carry ruling, explains. District Judge Frederick Scullin reached the conclusion many other district courts reached in similar cases: “The Second Amendment secures an individual right … to carry a common weapon outside the home for self-defense.” The ruling prevents D.C. officials from enforcing public gun bans until licensing regulations are put in place. In 2008 a Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, overturned the city’s total ban on handguns ruling the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own weapons for self-defense, AOL reports. The latest decision comes from an Aug. 2009 lawsuit that, according to SCOTUSblog notes, got tangled up in the D.C. district’s legal red tape for five years frustrating the plaintiffs. “The challengers to the D.C. law tried repeatedly to get a ruling, even asking a federal appeals court to step in to command that the case be decided.” In addition, Congress is challenging gun control in D.C. House Republicans approved an amendment to the district’s funding bill that would prevent D.C. from enforcing their gun laws. However, it will still be illegal to bring to a gun into a federal building. D.C. officials have yet to announce plans to appeal the ruling, but a spokesman told reporters the city is looking into options.

As the gun fight rages on, on Saturday, fast food workers across the nation voted to escalate efforts for $15 an hour pay and union membership using nonviolent civil disobedience. More than 1,300 workers came together at a convention center in Chicago to discuss the future of a campaign to spread to dozens of cities in less than two years, Tammy Webber reports, Fast Food Workers Vow Civil Disobedience. The Service Employee International Union provides financial and organizational support to fast food protests. They began in 2012 in New York City including daylong strikes and peaceful demonstrations outside this year’s McDonald’s Corp. shareholder meeting where 130 protestors were arrested for stepping onto company property. Saturday’s convention in Villa Park, Illinois, included session on civil disobedience and leadership training. Rev.William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, said: “People should not work and be willing to work and then be denied living wages and be denied health care because of greed. This movement is saying that America is less than she promises to be, morally and constitutionally, by denying living wages. If you raise wages for workers, you buoy the whole economy.” The movement comes as President Barack Obama and many other Democrats try to make a campaign issue out of their call to increase the federal and state minimum wage which stands at $7.25 an hour for federal wages or about $15,000 per year for40 hours a week. Obama and others want to increase it to $10.10. The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage would lead to business closing and job cuts. According to Webber: “The National Restaurant Association said last week that increasing wages to $15 will not solve income inequality and that the campaign was an attempt by unions to boost dwindling membership.” Scott DeFife, the association;s executive vice president of policy and government affairs, said protesters are “demonizing” an industry that employs all ages, backgrounds and skill levels instead of focusing on policies to increase education and job training. Unfortunately, many workers say that people stay in these jobs for years because they are the only ones available. Barber believes that “this movement is intensifying and it is going to shake the moral consciousness of this country.”

The Human Cost of Conflicts and Wars

On Friday, protestors stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Ankara holding Palestinian flags to protest against the attacks on Gaza by Israel who allege the attacks are in response to rocket fire from Gaza. According to the Associated Press, Israel strikes mosque as death toll tops 120, the UN’s human rights office said that Israel could be violating the laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza where the death toll from Israeli strikes have risen to 100. Israel has alleged that the Islamic group Hamas and other Palestinian militants deliberately placed military installations in populated areas of Gaza as part of its defense by using civilians as human shields. Palestinian Officials on Saturday reported that the death toll has now reached 120 after an Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled killing two women. In response, the Israeli military alleged the mosque concealed rockets similar to the ones used during the five day offensive and is looking into claims that other sites were hit. The problem no facing Israel is how to orchestrate a ground invasion in the region with such a densely populated Gaza Strip  and immense danger to civilians.

While there are no fatalities reported in Israel from rocket fire, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra confirmed the death toll from Israeli strikes at over 120 and more than 920 wounded. Though the breakdown of casualties is not clear and Hamas militants have been hit hard, dozens of the dead are civilians. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Saturday that the Israeli people should prepare for several more days of fighting making it clear that the offensive shows no signs of ceasing anytime soon. Hamas said Israel struck a pair of mosques in its offensive, however, the claim along with Israel’s claim could not be confirmed. A Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar, had this to say: “The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much is it hostile to Islam. This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier.” The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it struck stating Hamas hid rockets next to another religious site and civilian homes. In addition, they said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups regularly use this tactic to endanger its own civilians. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman explains,”Hamas terrorists systematically exploit and choose to put Palestinians in Gaza in harm’s way and continue to locate their positions among civilian areas and mosques, proving once more their disregard for human life and holy sites.”

Israel’s military, the Associate Press reports, has struck more than 1,100 targets including rocket launchers, command centers and weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, while Gaza officials said the strikes, in addition to hitting the home for the disabled and the mosques, have hit affiliated charities and banks. The “Iron Dome,” a U.S. funded, Israeli developed rocket defense system, has intercepted more than a 130 rockets from Gaza preventing any fatalities and only a handful of Israelis have been wounded. As a precaution, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv has relocated personnel to Beersheba. The frequent rocket fire, particularly in southern communities, has disrupted daily life with most people staying indoors, television channels airing non-stop coverage of the violence and radio broadcasts being interrupted by air raid siren warnings. Meanwhile, at the border of Gaza and Israel, Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

However, recently, Israel has come under international pressure to halt its offensive due to the growing casualties in Gaza, the Associate Press reports. With the United States and Europeans leaders defending Israel’s actions, the United Nations has expressed its concern over civilian deaths in Gaza and anti-Israel protests in Europe. In the West Bank, Hamas supporters clashed with Israeli troops over the Gaza offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has requested an emergency meeting with the Arab League and Arab foreign ministers that will happen in Cairo Monday to discuss the continued offensive and measures to urge the international community to pressure Israel. In New York, the United Nations Security Council called unanimously for a ceasefire, even though there are no signs of stopping from Israel nor Gaza.

Even with international pressures for a cease fire, Israel has widened its range of targets to civilian institution with alleged Hamas ties and deployed troops inside Gaza early on Sunday to raid a rocket launching site, according to Khaled Khazziha and Mohammed Daraghmeh, Israel troops briefly raid Gaza as offensive rages. The death toll now stands at more than 156 Palestinians killed. Four Israeli soldiers were hurt during the brief incursion to destroy rocket sites in norther Gaza, but returned to Israeli territory the military confirmed. Even though this was the first time Israeli ground troops entered Gaza in the current offensive, the military did say the operation was carried out by special forces and was not the beginning of a broad ground invasion. In a move to broaden the conflict, Israel fired into Lebanon late Saturday in response to two rockets fired into norther Israel. No injuries or damages reported, however Israel fears Lebanese militant groups may try to open a second front.

Critics say Israel’s heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, “this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well.”But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following Israeli warnings.At the United Nations, a Security Council statement approved by all 15 members called for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm, and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.The statement also called for “the re-institution of the November 2012 cease-fire,” which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.

While Israel faces international criticism for his possible human right’s violations, on Saturday, the Human Rights Watch alleges that Iraqi security forces and government affiliated militias have unlawfully executed 255 prisoners over the past month in apparent revenge for killings by Islamic State fighters. According to Reuters’ Stephen Addison, Iraqi Forces Executed 255 Prisoners: Human Rights Watch, the group claims the killings took place in six Iraqi towns and villages since June 9 and at least eight of the dead are under 18. On the groups website, the groups says that the killing took place while the Iraqi forces were fleeing from Islamic State militants and other armed groups. In addition, most of the security forces and militias are Shiite, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni. HRW said,”The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by (Islamic State).” The Islamic State was formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The militants have never hid the face that mass executions of their prisoners occurred. Days after they began sweeping through norther cities last month, they released videos showing their masked fighters machine gunning captive government soldiers in shallow graves, Addison reports. In addition, Addison states, “HRW said it has statements from witnesses, security forces and government officials indicating Iraqi soldiers or police, pro-government Shi’ite militias, or combinations of the three had extrajudicially executed prisoners, in nearly all cases by shooting them….(HRW) has documented five of Sunni prisoners between June 9 and 21 in Mosul and Tal Afar in northern Nineveh province, in Baaquba and Jumarkhe in eastern Diyala province, and in Rawa in western Anbar province. It said residents and activists those areas believed Iraqi security forces and militias killed Sunni prisoners released by Islamic State, to stop them joining the rebellion and in revenge for the killings of government troops.” Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director believes the actions of the government are “an outrageous violation of international law” adding that “While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of (Islamic State), it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces.”

On Saturday, the same day that Israel and Iraq had accusations of human right’s violations and international law, Ukrainian war planes attacked separatists along the broad front causing huge losses according to Kiev, after President Petro Poroshenko said that many will pay for a deadly missile attack on Ukrainian forces. According to Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets, Ukrainian Fighter Jets Pound Rebels, a military spokesman confirmed that jets struck at the epicenter of the battle against the rebels near the Russian border. The planes targeted positions where high powered Grad missiles were fired by separatists on an army motorized brigade that killed 23 servicemen Friday. The warplanes also struck near Donetsk, the east’s main town where rebels have dug in, destroying a powerful fighter base near Dzerzhinsk, a spokesman for the anti-terrorist operation, Andriy Lysenko, said. Lysenko told reporters, “According to preliminary assessment, Ukrainian pilots … killed about 500 (rebel) fighters and damaged two armored transporters.” In addition, an earlier attack on a base near Perevalsk, two tanks, 10 armored vehicles and 500 rebel fighters were destroyed. However, Luhansk based separatists, referring to the Peravalsk attack, said,”There were no volunteers (rebels) where the Ukrainian aviation was active yesterday.” So far, Lysenko reports, during Friday evening and throughout Saturday, five Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 16 overflights by Ukrainian fighter jets have taken place.

The increasing violence require now more than ever a need for diplomacy to end the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. Since the ousting of the Moscow backed president in February and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, more than 200 Ukrainian servicemen have died and hundreds of civilians and rebels have died also. The United States and the EU have brought sanctions against Russian businesses as Ukrainian government claims Moscow has aided in the conflict and turned a blind eye to military equipment and Russian fighters crossing its border. On Saturday, the EU targeted 11 Ukrainian separatist leaders with travel bans and asset freezes without new sanctions on Russian business in order to avoid antagonizing its main energy supplier. Lysenko explained, “The situation on the border is very difficult because there is a strip of border there which has been turned into the epicenter of confrontation. This is because this is a part of the border through which the Russian terrorists are trying to bring in military equipment and arms. Ukrainian forces are there to cover that part. If the Ukrainian unit pulls out of there then columns of military equipment will start to flow on to Ukrainian territory again.” Poroshenko, urged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to use a sense of proportion in actions against separatists, had talked on Friday with Donetsk mayor Aleksander Lukyanchenko on the issue. Meanwhile,  western allies and Russia are pushing for a new meeting of the contact group involving separatist leaders to negotiate an end to the crisis. Poroshenko has proposed various venues for these talks to take place, but has said he will not repeat a 10 day unilateral ceasefire by government forces like the one that ended June 30. The rational is due to the fact, the Ukrainian government alleges that rebels repeatedly violated the ceasefire and more than 20 Ukrainian servicemen were killed while it was enforced.

Washington Pot Shops Open for Business

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Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

On Tuesday, Washington became the second state to allow people, living in and out of state, to buy marijuana legally in the Unites States without a doctor’s note. Several dozen people lined up outside shops like Top Shelf Cannabis, in Bellingham near Seattle, to purchase the drug as soon as state regulations allowed at 8 a.m. according to Gene Johnson’s article Washington pot shop customers cheer first legal sale. The start of the legal pot sales in Washington was a major step in a 20 month long process. Washington and Colorado voted to legalized marijuana back into November 2012 for adults over 21 and to create state licensing systems for growing, distributing and taxing pot. Sales of pot in Colorado began on Jan. 1. Washington issued its first 24 licenses Monday with six opening Tuesday, according to the Associate Press, and some opening later in the week or next and others opening in a month or more. While Colorado already had regulated medical marijuana system making its transition smoother to recreational selling, Washington’s unregulated medical marijuana system made for a bumpier transition since officials had to start from scratch to write regulations that made sense. Unfortunately, because growers and sellers were scrambling to prepare, product shortages caused the prices for pot to be higher as there are only 100 approved licensed growers in the state out of 2,600 applicants and only a dozen ready for harvest by early this month. The regulations included protocol for testing marijuana and requirements for child resistant packaging. Officials also had to determine how much criminal history was too much to get a license and what type of security systems pot shops and growers must have, the article reports. Washington law allows the sale of up to one ounce of dried marijuana, 16 ounces of pot-infused solids, 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids or 7 grams of concentrated marijuana, like hashish, to adults over 21.

The Middle East Crisis Deepens as Militants Gain Ground

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Last Friday, Pentagon officials announced that the U.S. had started to fly armed drones over Baghdad to protect U.S. civilians and military forces in the Iraqi capital, according to the Associate Press. The senior defense official under anonymity confirmed that a handful of Predators armed with Hellfire missiles are being used in the mission. The drones are assisting manned and unmanned aircraft in the collection of data as well as provide protection for U.S. interests since President Obama has not authorized airstrikes against Sunni militants who have overrun parts of the country. The Pentagon on Thursday said that four teams of Army special forces had arrived in Baghdad bringing the number of American troops there to 90 of the 300 Obama promised to send. The Americans will advise and assist in the Iraqi counterterrorism efforts.

On Saturday of last week, the Iraqi government took steps to retake the northern city of Tikrit back from Sunni militants using soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, reported Ryan Lucas and Qassim Abdul Zahra (Iraq Launches Push For Militant-Held Tikrit). Reports coming from the city were conflicting as residents said the militants were still in control of the city by nightfall, while Iraqi officials said the troops had reached the outskirts and even made it as far as the heart of Tikrit itself. What has become very clear was the government’s desire to portray their efforts as a significant step in the right direction after two weeks of defeats at the hands of the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The series of defeats across the northern and western regions of Iraq has lead to the deepest crisis since the U.S. exited in December of 2011 threatening the stability of the country as the militants threaten to cleave the  nation in three along sectarian and ethnic lines. If successful, according to Lucas and Abdul Zahra, the Tikrit operation could restore some faith in the security forces and save Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s job. Many residents of the city have fled in anticipation of a government assault turning Tikrit into a ghost town. The city has been without power or water since last Friday night, according to one resident, Muhanad Saif al-Din. Early Saturday, the military carried out three airstrikes on the insurgent held city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the initial target of the Islamic State’s offensive in the country. The Islamic State, which has seized control of large parts of northern and eastern Syria, aim to create a state straddling Syria and Iraq governed by Islamic law. Al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has failed to unite the Shiite and Sunni groups allowing militants to tap into the deep seated discontent among Iraq’s Sunni community fueling their anger. The Unites States and other world leaders have told al-Maliki to reach out to the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities and have called for more inclusive government to address longstanding grievances, according to Lucas and Abdul Zahra. Al-Maliki has refused to step aside and will seek a third consecutive term as prime minister as his bloc won the most seats in the April election.

On Sunday of last week, the al-Qaida breakaway group declared the establishment of a new Islamic state demanding allegiance from Muslims worldwide, according to the Associate Press article Al-Qaida splinter declares new Islamic caliphate. The spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, made the announcement in an audio statement posted online on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Al-Adnanai declared the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the new leader, or caliph, calling for jihadi groups everywhere to swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi and support him. Al-Adnani states,”The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas. Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day.” The Islamic state’s territory runs from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala, according to Al-Adnani. With the establishment of the caliphate, the group changed its name to the Islamic State. In email comments, Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, explains that:”This announcement poses a huge threat to al-Qaida and its long-time position of leadership of the international jihadist cause. Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of (the Islamic State), largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality.” Al-Baghdadi has long been at odds with al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri and the two have had a very public falling out after al-Baghdadi ignored al-Zawahri’s demands that the Islamic State leave Syria. In February, al Zawahri formally disavowed al-Baghdadi. The declarations comes as the Iraqi government tries to take back some of its territory lost in recent weeks to jihadi groups and Sunni militants. The fighting continued on Sunday as Iraqi helicopter gunships took out suspected insurgent positions for the second day in the northern city of Tikrit. However, the insurgent were able to repel the military effort and remain in control of the city with clashes continuing to take place in the northern neighborhood of Qadissiyah, according to two residents.So far, Washington has sent 180 of the 300 American troops President Obama promised to help Iraqi forces, in addition, to flying unmanned and manned aircraft over Iraq.

President Obama has become increasingly concerned that the battle hardened militants who have spent time in Iraq and Syria could pose a threat to U.S. security due to the fact they could enter the country without visas on European passports, the Associate Press reports Obama: Battle-Hardened Militants Pose Threat To U.S. In an interview last Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”, Obama said,”They’re gaining strength in some places. We’ve seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause traveling into Syria and now may travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened. Then they come back.”  The POTUS believes that the U.S. must improve surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering to neutralize the risk, in addition, possible military strikes against these organizations that could do us harm. As of Monday, officials confirmed that the U.S. will be sending another 300 troops to Iraq to beef up security at the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in Baghdad to protect U.S. citizens and property, the HuffPost and Associated Press report (Obama Orders More Troops To Iraq). This addition brings the count to 750 total U.S. troops present in Iraq. The State Department has announced it will temporarily move unspecified embassy staffers in Baghdad to U.S. consulates in the northern city of Ibril and the southern city of Basra. On Sunday and Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that 200 troops have arrived to reinforce security at the embassy, its support facilities and Baghdad International Airport as requested by the POTUS. In a written statement, the Pentagon’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, had this to say: “The presence of these additional forces will help enable the embassy to continue its critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraq on challenges they are facing as they confront Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” Obama notified House and Senate leaders in a letter Monday of the additional forces. Obama has ruled out sending combat troops and insists the extra troops will stay in Iraq until security improves and reinforcement are no longer needed. Kirby said 100 additional troops who are on standby in the Middle East since the mid June will move to Baghdad to provide security and logistics support.

NRA Believes Stalkers’ Have the Right to Bear Arms

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Wayne LaPierre (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

The National Rifle Association has now taken up the fight against federal legislation banning those convicted of domestic violence against dating partners and stalking from purchasing guns, according to Laura Bassett’s article on June 25, NRA Fights For Convicted Stalkers’ Gun Rights. The federal law already prevents persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from purchasing firearms. However, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) proposes the addition of convicted stalkers to the group and is in favor of expanding the definition of convicted domestic violence against “intimate partners” to include dating partners, according to legislation S. 1290 which she introduced. Bassett reports that two different senators’ aides confirmed that the NRA sent letters to lawmakers strongly opposing the measure even describing it as “a bill to turn disputes between family members and social acquaintances into lifetime firearm prohibitions.” The letter from the nation’s largest gun lobby also states that the measure “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.” Klobuchar in an email to HuffPost stated, “As a former prosecutor, I know how domestic violence and stalking can take lives and tear apart families. This is a commonsense bill that would protect victims and keep our families safe, and I will continue to work to move this legislation forward.”

Legislation has been gaining momentum in the states that would prevent all convicted domestic abusers from purchasing guns and even the NRA has relaxed its stance on such bills over the past year due to the fact one of its own top officials was convicted of domestic violence and prohibited from owning a firearm. However, the federal push for domestic violence gun bans has raised some red flags for the gun rights groupies e.g. Klobuchar, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) have all introduced measures to expand and strengthen gun restriction for people who are convicted of domestic abuse or stalking or who have emergency temporary restraining orders issued. According to a report released last week by the Center for American Progress, stalkers and physically abusive dating partners are just as deadly as violent spouses. In addition, domestic abusers with access to guns are seven times more likely to kill their partners than those without access.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), a congresswoman who survived a gunshot to the head in 2011, met last week with House and Senate leadership, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, numerous other lawmakers and policy experts to discuss what Congress can do to protect women from gun violence committed at the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers, Basset reports. Giffords’ gun violence prevention PAC, Americans for Responsible Solution, found that women in gun friendly Texas favor a law requiring stalkers to turn in their firearms. Halyley Zachary, executive director of the PAC, told HuffPost:  “Protecting women from gun violence means ensuring we have laws that keep guns out of the hands of stalkers and domestic abusers. By opposing this commonsense bill, [NRA chief] Wayne LaPierre and the NRA leadership has once again shown it is out of step with the vast majority of Americans and responsible gun owners. Now, the question for NRA-backed candidates around the country is: do they share the NRA’s position?”

A Friendlier 420 Government

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On Tuesday June 24, 2014, HuffPost reported that the Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing the medical evidence associated with the safety and effectiveness of marijuana in an effort to possibly downgrade the classification of the drug as a Schedule I drug which is the most dangerous. As Matt Ferner explains in the article, FDA To Evaluate Marijuana For Potential Reclassification As Less Dangerous Drug, the recent review of the drug was at the behest of the Drug Enforcement Agency according to the FDA Press Officer, Jeff Ventura. Ventura describes the process to Ferner as follows: “FDA conducts for Health and Human Services a scientific and medical analysis of the drug under consideration, which is currently ongoing. HHS then recommends to DEA that the drug be placed in a given schedule. DEA considers HHS’ analysis, conducts its own assessment, and makes a final scheduling proposal in the form of a proposed rule.”

The United States currently has five schedules for drugs or chemicals to make those drugs. Schedule I covers those drugs the DEA regards as the highest potential for abuse with no medical use such as heroin and LSD. While rescheduling would not legalize marijuana, it could allow for more research into the drug as well as allow banks to feel more secure about lending to state legalize marijuana businesses. During a Friday House Committee hearing on Oversight and Government Reform, FDA Deputy Director Doug Throckmorton stated, “While DEA is the lead federal agency responsible for regulating controlled substances and enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, FDA, working with NIDA, provides scientific recommendations about the appropriate controls for those substances. To make these recommendations, FDA is responsible for preparing what’s called an eight-factor analysis, which is a document that is used to assess how likely a drug is to be abused. There are eight factors the FDA must consider when deciding which schedule marijuana falls under (as described by the CSA):

  1. Its actual or relative potential for abuse
  2. Scientific evidence of its pharmacological effect, if known
  3. The state of current scientific knowledge regarding the drug or other substance
  4. Its history and current pattern of abuse
  5. The scope, duration, and significance of abuse
  6. What, if any, risk there is to the public health
  7. Its psychic or physiological dependence liability
  8. Whether the substance is an immediate precursor of a substance already controlled under this subchapter

The reason for the current review, as explained to HuffPost by a DEA spokeswoman, is due to two public citizens who petition the agency for review. If the review favors rescheduling and the DEA approves, marijuana could be moved to a Schedule II drug like cocaine and methamphetamine. Two previous times, in 2001 and 2006, marijuana has come up for review due to similar requests and both times federal regulators felt that it should remain a Schedule I substance since at the time there was not enough research about the efficacy in treating ailments. The only federally legal marijuana garden in the U.S. resides at the University of Mississippi and the National Institute on Drug Abuse oversees that operation. NIDA has conducted 30 studies on the benefits of marijuana to date, while approving more than 500 grants for marijuana studies as there has been a market upswing in recent years, according to McClatchy. Both the DEA and other federal authorities have been accused of obstructing science around the drug and delaying the rescheduling process.  As of recent, a number of studies have demonstrated the increasing medical potential of cannabis as the purified forms help to fight certain forms of aggressive cancer even finding that its use helps with blood sugar control and slowing the spread of HIV.  Right now, there are 22 states and the District of Columbia, according to Ferner, that have legalized marijuana for medical use with New York being next in line. In addition, 10 other states have legalized CBD-oil, a non-psychoactive ingredient often used for epilepsy patients, for research or limited medical purposes. Even though the FDA is not ready to approve marijuana as a safe and effective drug, it does want to continue to study the potential benefits for medical treatment. Posted last Friday, the FDA did say with regards to its latest guiedlines for the drug that:

“The FDA has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any indication. The FDA is aware that there is considerable interest in its use to attempt to treat a number of medical conditions, including, for example, glaucoma, AIDS wasting syndrome, neuropathic pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and certain seizure disorders.”

It’s the Little Things that Lead to Big Change

The news ain’t all bad here. Some stories highlight the good deed of a few that are bringing attention to the important issues of this generation and maybe thr next. As the world’s leader continue to struggle to find the answers and some sort of conclusion to the ever growing problems of peace, population, climate change and a plethora of other issues, these individuals have found a way to make their voice heard whether to help others or bring the issues to light. So here we go, some good news to help keep your faith in humanity.
Banana vitamin: Altered to increase Vitamin A levels, super banana saves
According to AOL.com and Agence France-Presse, ‘Super bananas’ may save millions of lives in Africa, Australian researchers are pioneering a new project to enrich bananas with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A in order to provide poor and subsistence farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food. The project, if successful in its mission to grow the special variety in Uganda by 2020, will save million of lives. The Researchers as of June 16 have announced the bananas are being sent to the United States to start the six week trial to measure how well the bananas will raise vitamin A levels in humans.

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In Mexico City, as the world watches with bated breath to see who will win the World Cup, for the past 18 years another kind of soccer championship has been going on. AOL.com reported on the 17 of June about the men of the Ignacio Trigueros Soccer League for the Blind and Visually Impaired who spend their Sundays traveling from their homes to Mexico City to play the country’s most popular sport. Each team has one sighted player or two visually impaired players who use their eyes on the court, while others wear blindfolds to make sure the match is fair. Without their sight, they rely on sounds the ball makes when it hits the boards or rolls at their feet. The six team league allows a rare chance for the blind and visually impaired community to come together and play their favorite sports while family watches, according to the league president Javier Mosqueda Lomeli.

Ad courtesy of Jim Romenesko

HuffPost’s Eleanor Goldberg’s on June 18 reported the story of a Chinese multimillionaire has decided to come to New York city to tackle the issue of poverty.  In the article, Chinese Mogul To Throw $1 Million Lunch In Central Park For The Poor, Goldberg explains that Chen, a recycling tycoon, wants people to see how generous people are in his country by “taking out a half page ad in the Wall Street Journal and a full-page ad in The New York Times on Monday June 16, inviting people who are struggling in New York City to lunch at Central Park’s Boathouse on June 25, the South China Morning Post reported.” The idea? To spread the message that not all well to do Chinese millionaires are crazy spenders and are good philanthropists, according to the South China Morning Post. The guest list will allow 1,000 people to attend the free meal and will cost $1 million. In addition, diners will get $300 to be used toward occupational training. This is not the first time Chen has created a spectacle to get people talking about important issues. Last January, Chen handed out free cans of fresh air in Beijing to draw attention to the increasing pollution problem reported the Guardian.

ronnie goodman

Another article posted by Eleanor Goldberg of HuffPost, entitled Homeless Artist To Run Half Marathon For Charity That Helps People On The Streets, posted on June 17, tells the story of Ronnie Goodman, as homeless man himself, who has decided to run a 13.1 mile half marathon for charity next month. The 53 year old man has been living under the freeway in San Francisco, according to San Francisco Chronicle, and trains every day to fulfill his dream of running in the event. His fans have stepped up and donated $120 to cover the entry fee for the July race. Instead of using the race to raise money for himself, Goodman has decided to give the money to Hospitality House who has helped him get back on his feet. The organization empowers the homeless and low income people through a number of initiatives including the art program Goodman takes part in. Goodman hopes to raise $25,000 and donors will be entered to win one of his original works. If you would like to help click here.

In an Associate Press story covered on AOL.com entitled Obama Expands Government Benefits For Gay Couples, the article covers the plethora of newly approved benefits allocated to same sex couples granted on June 20 by the Obama administration including those who live in states where gay marriage is against the law. The new measures range from Social Security and veterans benefits to work leave for caring for sick spouses. The effort to expand protections to states that don’t recognize gay marriage have been confounded by laws stating that benefits are conferred only to couples whose marriages are recognized by the state they live in rather than the states where they were married. In order to get around this, the Veterans Affairs Department and Social Security Administration are letting gay people who tell the government they are married to apply for those benefits only allocated to married couples i.e. veterans can now be buried alongside their same sex spouse in the national cemetery and apply for survivor and death benefits regardless of the state they live in. In additions, the Labor Department will start drafting rules that make it possible for gay and lesbian workers to receive unpaid leave to care for a sick spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act. On top of everything else. last week, the Obama administration with support of gay rights advocated has announced he will sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.