As the date approaches for the scheduled execution of Terrance “Terry” Williams, who was sentenced to death in Pennsylvania for killing two men that he says sexually abused him, the state’s Board of Pardons voted unanimously today to “hold the case under advisement” in light of new evidence. The board had initially voted to deny clemency for Williams. It was expected that the board would make a final decision today, and the board did not indicate whether it would indeed hold a new vote before Williams’ Oct. 3 execution date.
Nearly one-in-five American households now have student loan debt, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center. Overall, 19 percent of households carried some amount of student debt in 2010, up from just 15 percent in 2007. Borrowers on average owed more than $26,000, double what they owed in 1995.
Student loan debt has the largest impact on poor and middle class Americans, who devote large chunks of their household incomes to student debt. The poorest fifth, as this chart from CNNMoney shows, have student debt that amounts to roughly a quarter of their household income while the share is much lower for wealthier Americans:
The richest share of households, not surprisingly, is better able to handle the burden. College debt accounted for only 3.3% of their household income. But student loan debt ate up nearly a quarter of the earnings of the poorest fifth, the study found.
Total student loan debt is expected to pass $1 trillion in 2012, and that is impacting young students’ ability to make the same transition into the economy earlier generations made. An earlier report, in fact, found that the growing amount of student debt was playing a role in holding back the nation’s housing recovery.
What do you get when you combine the tech industry with the health care industry? One answer is “mHealth,” which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines as “the use of mobile and wireless devices to improve health outcomes, healthcare services, and health research.”
Mashable estimates that there are about 40,000 mobile health apps currently available for tablets and smartphones — comprised of a wide range of apps that can help patients access their health records electronically, log exercise time, monitor blood pressure levels, track pregnancies, and check nearby pollen levels, among other things. By some estimates, the number of 2012 downloads for mobile health apps will reach around 247 million by the end of this year, nearly double the figure from last year.
The health care education portal Allied Health World created an infographic to communicate some of the impact that the rise of mHealth has had on health care consumers, including improved access to medical health information and significant savings on health care services for some segments of the U.S. population:
In fact, as a growing number of Americans consumers and businesses capitalize on mHealth, the Food and Drug Administration is paving the way for the safe and practical implementation of mobile technology in the health care sector. Last year, the FDA released guidelines for mobile health apps to help ensure that emerging health technologies are providing consumers with accurate information before they hit the market. The FDA’s website has also now includes an mHealth page under its Medical Devices section, noting that the agency “encourages further development of mobile medical apps that improve health care and provide consumers and health care professionals with valuable health information very quickly.”
In a speech to the American Legion today, Mitt Romney leveled fresh criticism against President Obama, accusing his administration of cutting the benefits of veterans who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and going so far as to call plans to cut the Veterans Affairs Department budget a “crisis.”:
Romney charged that the defense budget cuts would affect services for veterans, including the men and women returning from conflict overseas who need psychological counseling. Romney invoked the rising number of suicides – “This is a crisis,” he declared – as he sharpened his attack on the Obama administration’s proposed spending cuts.
But Romney’s claim — that veterans’ care will be negatively impacted by sequestration — is not grounded in reality. Earlier this month, the White House announced that virtually all of the Veterans Affairs Department budget will be exempt from mandatory cuts if and when sequestration goes into effect in January 2013. The only exception, according to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, would be possible cuts to administrative costs. That means health care, vocational, and education services will remain fully funded while cuts are made elsewhere within the Department of Defense, despite Mitt Romney’s claims to the contrary.
Of course, if Romney were actually concerned about the possibility of losing funding for the Veterans Affairs Department, he probably wouldn’t have embraced Paul Ryan or his budget, which could lead to reductions in veterans’ benefits.
Steve Cammett, 60, worked for nearly a decade at various Chick-fil-A branches and at their corporate offices, but he resigned in protest last month. He is now speaking out about the anti-gay environment nurtured by the fast food chain:
CAMMETT: It’s become a safe place for people to hate and they expect to be patted on the back for it. I don’t want to work in that kind of environment. [...]
[Customers on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day were] putting their arms around the person, and saying, “We sure are glad that your company is taking a stand against those perverts,” and this person was gay and they didn’t know it. And I just thought, “Wow, what has happened here?” Chick-fil-A allowed a mindset to continue amongst their customers that seemed to think Chick-fil-A didn’t like homosexuals.
Cammett has also penned an open letter to the restaurant’s president, Dan Cathy, asking him to make a public statement, “declaring your love, acceptance, and support for gay and divorced people.”
Ajannah was one of approximately 120 attendees at Tuesday’s meeting in downtown Houston to become an a volunteer deputy registrar and help others register to vote. Thanks to a Texas law passed last year putting new restrictions on voter registration groups, only people who have attended a training are allowed to assist others in their registration applications.
Though Republicans claim to oppose enacting new bureaucratic rules, new regulations designed to make voter registration more difficult are a key exception. Republican legislators in Texas (as well as in Florida) passed legislation last year making it more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters to register people to vote. In the Lone Star State, new rules ban people who are not eligible Texas voters from helping others to register to vote, undermining legal immigrants and people with disabilities. The law also imposes mandatory trainings on anyone who wants to help register others.
Prior to March of this year, groups like the League of Women Voters trained their own volunteers, quickly and easily showing them how to register people to vote. Under the new law, volunteers must get certified by the state to do so, making it more difficult and time-intensive for registration groups to operate.
There are a limited number of opportunities to get certified, typically 2-3 per month in Houston’s Harris County. Because of budgetary constraints, Tuesday was the final training in Houston; anyone wants to help register voters but hasn’t attended a training yet will have to wait until the next election cycle.
“As usual, we have a larger than expected crowd,” Suzanne Testa of the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office said, opening the training. At 120 attendees, the meeting was standing-room only. But two weeks earlier, Testa told ThinkProgress, a massive overflow occurred when 350 people showed up to get their certification.
As required by the state, Testa explained on Tuesday each minute detail ad nauseum, such as how to fill boxes on the form like name and address, and counting off five days from a given day when the forms needed to be turned in.
When Testa informed the crowd that their deputy registrar certification would expire on December 31, 2012, groans spread across the room. “I have to come back and get re-registered again in 4 months?” one woman complained.
“If you don’t like the new rules, talk to the legislature,” Testa said.
Most attendees ThinkProgress spoke with afterwards were not pleased to have to drive downtown and sit in on the training that one called “self-explanatory.” Attendee Erica Burnette said she wished there “should be a more streamlined process,” including the option of completing it online. “It’s a bit burdensome to come down here,” she said.
At the end of the meeting, a Nigerian man who’s been a legal resident of the United States for 11 years and hopes to become a citizen next year, approached Testa to ask whether he was allowed to help register voters. She informed the man, who didn’t want his name used for this article, that because of the new law, it was now illegal for him to do so. He told ThinkProgress, dejectedly, about how he’d been inspired recently by a friend of his to “get up and not be an armchair critic, to do something.” Though he cannot vote, he had hoped to take part in the political process by helping others exercise their voice.
There’s an idea floating around the internet today that the National Football League owners “lost” their labor dispute with the NFL Referees Association after the two sides reached a deal last night. The Big Lead’s Jason Lisk said as much in a post today, and others have made similar arguments.
That might be an easy belief to hold, given negotiations got serious as a result of the public relations nightmare that was this week’s Monday Night Football game, when a blown call cost the Green Bay Packers a game. From where I’m sitting, though, that view couldn’t be more wrong.
When the lockout began, the owners had three major asks: they wanted to eliminate the pension benefits current officials receive, add full-time officials, and add a back-up pool of officials. More details will come out, but the deal they reached last night added a group of full-time officials and a back-up pool of officials and grandfathered in pension changes that will eliminate the current defined-benefit retirement program for all officials by 2016. The owners got basically everything they wanted, and somehow they lost?
I’m not seeing it.
If anything, this deal is more evidence of the power corporate interests hold in labor disputes. Laden with cash and able to wait, the NFL spent the offseason moving the NFLRA’s thin red line closer to what the owners wanted, to the point where the reasonable compromise was one that gave the league everything it wanted, if on a slightly slower timeline. That ensured that when fans firmly took a side, the league would still get its way. That power is shared by corporations in lower-profile battles, where companies are locking out workers to pay them less and eliminate pensions and benefits just because they can.
There’s only one loser in this, and it’s the American worker. Another pension is gone, and because the real refs are back on the football field, we’ll all forget about the nonsense and go back to watching the game as if none of this never happened. For a measly $60 million, the owners could have shored up the pensions of employees who make a $9 billion league work. Instead, they ruined three weeks of football to save less than a penny on the dollar, and their reward was to get everything they asked for. And this will keep happening, in sports leagues and factories and workshops across America.
If that’s a “loss,” I’d hate to see what it looks like when they win.
A report from Oxfam warns that global warming and extreme weather will combine to create devastating food price shocks in the coming decades.
Oxfam had previously warned that corn or maize would see a 177% rise in price by 2030 due to climate change and other factors (see Oxfam: Extreme Weather Has Helped Push Tens of Millions into “Hunger and Poverty” in “Grim Foretaste” of Warmed World).
Further modeling the impact of warming-driven extreme weather shocks leads Oxfam to conclude corn prices could increase a staggering 500% by 2030.
Note: The “additional price increase” percentage is calculated off the original price increase.
As Oxfam explains in its news release:
Food price spikes will get worse as extreme weather caused by climate change devastates food production
New research shows that the full impact of climate change on future food prices is being underestimated, according to international agency Oxfam.
Oxfam’s new report, Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices, highlights for the first time how extreme weather events such as droughts and floods could drive up future food prices. Previous research only tends to consider gradual impacts, such as increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns.
Oxfam’s findings should come as no surprise to anyone following recent headlines. Here’s an August 30th story from the World Bank:
Severe Droughts Drive Food Prices Higher, Threatening the Poor
Global food prices soared by 10 percent in July from a month ago, with maize and soybean reaching all-time peaks due to an unprecedented summer of droughts and high temperatures in both the United States and Eastern Europe, according to the World Bank Group’s latest Food Price Watch report.
And here’s one from the UK Guardian from September 2nd:
The era of cheap food may be over
A spike in prices caused by poor harvests and rising demand is an apt moment for the west to reassess the wisdom of biofuels
Duh? See CP’s 2011 posts, “The Corn Ultimatum: How long can Americans keep burning one sixth the world’s corn supply in our cars?” and “Biofuels May Push 120 Million Into Hunger, Qatar’s Shah Says.”
Last December I wrote that the Climate Story of the Year was “Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security.” This may well be the climate story of the decade — though the world’s inaction on carbon pollution, the media’s silence on climate change, the GOP’s descent into hard-core denial, and the Arctic Death Spiral will all be battling for that title.
Here’s more from the Oxfam news release on this most important of stories:
A new wave of anti-obesity ads launched this week in Minnesota is gaining new criticism for shaming parents instead of helping to address the nation’s obesity crisis. One of the ads in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota media campaign shows two boys at a fast food restaurant bragging about how much their dads can eat when an overweight man walks up and looks guiltily at his tray of burgers and fries. The other features a mother pushing a grocery cart loaded with junk food while her young daughter mimics her food choices.
Critics are arguing that these ads are unhelpful because they shame people who are overweight or obese, rather than offering them education or support. Lindy West, a blogger at Jezebel who called out the ad campaign, told NPR that the ads are “condescending.” “Fat people know about nutrition. We know that eating four cheeseburgers a day is not the way to go,” she said:
“Fat people hate being fat, because everyone’s mean to you, and you can’t find clothes that fit you, and you can’t fit into the chair at the restaurant,” she says. “We’ve been shaming fat people for decades, and clearly it’s not doing anyone any good.”
The ads were created by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. Marc Manley, the vice president and chief prevention officer, says he was very involved with the creation and messaging behind the ads.
“Our intent in creating these ads was really just to show good parents having moments of realization that they needed to change their own behavior in order to send the right message to their kid,” Manley says.
Manley told the Atlantic that Minnesota needs a stronger campaign to drive home the message in the hopes that parents will have an “aha moment” and change their behaviors to instill better habits in their children.
But researchers at Yale University found that messages that try to shame people into losing weight sometimes backfire because they “instill less motivation to improve health.” Negative messages are more likely to perpetuate stigmas against people who are overweight. As the Los Angeles Times points out, “Heavy workers earn less, are more likely to be passed over for jobs and promotions, and are more likely than their thinner peers to be viewed as lazy and undisciplined, researchers have found.” Instead, the Yale study found that the most effective public health campaigns didn’t even mention obesity and focused on specific ideas to improve health and empower people.
On Thursday, the Drudge Report splashed a video of an undentified woman who claims to have recieved a free “Obama Phone.”
The video has captured the attention of the right online, who see it as proof that Obama supporters are dependent on government. On his show today, Rush Limbaugh weighed in:
So these are the people that don’t like Romney because of what he said about 47%? No, these are the 47%!… She knows. She knows how to get this free Obama phone. She knows everything about it. She may not know who George Washington is or Abraham Lincoln, but she knows how to get an Obama phone.
Thousands of conservatives are on Twitter, telling jokes about the #ObamaPhone.
There is one problem with the Obama Phone: It doesn’t exist.
Since 2009, there has been an urban myth that Obama created a program to provide free phones to low-income Americans at taxpayer expense. There is, in fact, a government program that will provide low-income people with a free or low cost cell phone. It was started in 2008 under George W. Bush.
The idea of providing low-income individuals with subsidized phone service was originated in the Reagan administration following the break-up of AT&T in 1984. (It was expanded and formalized by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.) The program is paid for by telecommunications companies through an independent non-profit, not through tax revenue.