Last Week, In Case You Missed It: December 9, 2013

tagxedo-120913We published a number of news stories, features, and opinion pieces last week in Oak Ridge Now. None may have been more important than the news that child poverty has increased in Texas 47% since 2000. More than one in four children were living in poverty in Texas in 2011. How did we get here? And how do we reduce those numbers? I don’t know. Elected leaders in our state seem to be more interested in determining who is the most conservative rather than who can come of with a plan to ensure that the least of these have a warm place to sleep, food in their belly, and a good college education. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Elsewhere in Texas, there is a three-way race to replace outgoing Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has his sights sets on the Governor’s Mansion. Republicans in the Texas Senate may be looking to follow Harry Reid’s lead and get rid of the two-thirds rule in the Texas Senate, which would allow the GOP to pass legislation without the support of the remaining handful of Democratic State Senators. And President Obama’s waning popularity numbers may have an effect on Democratic candidates in Texas in 2014. Unless, you know, unemployment keeps falling, peace deals keep getting brokered, and people find they actually have a better selection of health insurance options. Nah, that could never happen.

Speaking of health care, Medicare wants to cut back on post-hospital-stay rehabilitative care. It seems that a number of rehab facilities and nursing homes abuse federal guidelines and keep patients for a maximum stay, rather than only as long as needed. (No, really? Here’s looking at you, Regent Care Center of The Woodlands). And everyone’s favorite website, healthcare.gov, may be operating much better than before, but there are still some unanswered questions about how much of the info gathered from applicants is passed on properly to insurance companies.

In our weekly features, Robyn O’Bryant could still think of nothing other than Auburn’s amazing last-second missed-field-goal-runback-for-a-touchdown play that propelled them into the National Championship game. Will E Sanders questions whether dolphins should really be considered mammals. If it looks like a fish, smells like a fish and swims like a fish, then isn’t it a fish?

In Unknown Soldiers we ran the story of Jason Van Loo’s yellow lab, Blu, who stayed alive long enough to greet Jason when he arrived back home from his latest tour of duty in Afghanistan. Dave Ramsey advised a young couple to buy a house after the baby arrives, rather than before. And Kurt Loder reviewed ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, a movie currently in limited release that should be in a theater near us (think Market Street) soon.

Jason Stanford wonders why important people really care if Texas is better than California. He says,

“Instead, how about we ask ourselves a more interesting question: How can Texas be better? Doesn’t that open up a whole new range of blue skies? The alternative to the status quo in Texas has never been California. The choice Texas really faces is different: Do you want more of the same, or do you think Texas can do better?”

John Stossel wonders if we shouldn’t think twice about giving money to charity. There are smart giving choices to be made, and folks don’t always make them. Bill O’Reilly laments that reality TV has ruined television for most people. Welcome to 2008, Bill. Mark Shields advocates requiring each citizen to serve two years for their country as a way of increasing citizen responsibility. It is an idea worth considering.

Finally, in our funniest story of the week, Will Durst recounts the Top 10 Comedic News Stories of 2013, including these gems:

6. Ted Cruz rallies fellow Tea Partiers by reading “Green Eggs and Ham” on the floor of the Senate, then misinterprets the moral of a book aimed at kindergarteners.

1. Affordable Care Act website debacle. Most people decide it would be easier to let the NSA handle the whole thing. After all, they have all our information and probably know which plan best fits.

All that and our terrific editorial cartoons, last week on Oak Ridge Now.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Does It Really Matter If Texas Is Better Than California?

Photo courtesy of The Texas Tribune

Photo courtesy of The Texas Tribune

Here we go again. Pointing to a conservative study, Gov. Rick Perry proclaimed, “The discussion’s over. The debate’s over. The proof is in. Texas wins.” And who did we beat? California, of course. It’s enough to make you wonder if little Ricky got enough love growing up on the dirt farm. Someone get this kid a 4-H ribbon so the grownups can talk, because we’ve got some work to do.

How about just once we skipped the provincial chest thumping? Yes, Texas, you’re doing fine. The barbecue is the best we’ve ever had, I promise. Oh yes, that’s quite a lot of jobs, yessir. No one could argue that Perry has not created a low-tax, low-regulation utopia for the wealthy and incorporated.

So why is Perry still arguing this point? Does he really need this much validation? I have no idea what it feels like to trip over my own rainbows live on national television, but why isn’t the love of a good woman, the laurels from business magazines, and the grudging thanks of employed Texans enough to heal his injured ego?

Most assume Perry’s jet setting jobs tour is prelude to another presidential campaign, though “I’m right, you’re wrong” seems a strange message to deliver to voters in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri and New York. His compulsion to impose his superiority over other states comes across as defensive and insecure. Everything is bigger in Texas, including, it seems, our unmet emotional needs.

If Perry were secure in his legacy, then he’d stick with the economic argument. Instead, Perry tells extravagant lies. In January, Perry claimed that the “funding that we have seen in the state of Texas for public education has been pretty phenomenal” even though school funding has dropped 25 percent since 2002. It ain’t bragging if it’s true, but if it ain’t true, it’s not bragging. It’s just a sad, easily disproved, totally unbelievable lie from Perry, and it’s one of 27 that Politifact has identified as “false” and 14 as “pants on fire.” Bless his heart.

I wish that just once the provincial pom-pom squad would stop making us all look like anxious ninnies in this eternal struggle to prove our superiority over other, less-Texan states. Have some compassion for them, for they know not what they miss.

Instead, how about we ask ourselves a more interesting question: How can Texas be better? Doesn’t that open up a whole new range of blue skies? The alternative to the status quo in Texas has never been California. The choice Texas really faces is different: Do you want more of the same, or do you think Texas can do better?

That question leads to so many others:

If our economy is booming, why is there never enough money for schools?

If Texas is creating wealth, can we reward work as well?

Why can’t the booming industry responsible for ripping up our state highways pay to fix them?

Speaking of booming, why is it OK for fertilizer plants to keep the fire marshal from inspecting them to make sure they don’t kill the neighbors?

If our economy depends on the human capital educated at universities, how come Texas still has only three Tier I research universities while—forgive me—California has 11?

Is it time to ask why Perry has to go to California in the first place to poach companies? Texas is a great place to grow a company, but why is California a great place to start a company? What do they know about fostering education, collaboration, and innovation that we can replicate here? Instead of stealing their companies, how about stealing their secret recipe?

The opportunity is as big as Texas, but admitting that we have room for improvement is the first step. Unfortunately, “The discussion’s over,” according to Perry. It’s not. Let’s get Perry a big, shiny trophy to distract him while we have a grownup conversation about how Texas can be even better. Otherwise, we’ll still be mired in silly political squabbles about whether Texas is better than California, and the only answer we ever get will be an unsatisfying “it depends.”

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Jason Stanford

Jason StanfordJason Stanford is a Democratic political consultant and opposition researcher based in Austin. He served as 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell's campaign manager and chief spokesman. As the head of Stanford Research, he leads opposition research for various candidates and interest groups across the region.

Stanford moved to Texas in 1994 to work as a Deputy Press Secretary for the Ann Richards Committee. Jason and a former colleague founded Stanford Ryan Research & Communications, Inc. in January 1997. The firm became Stanford Research in 1999.

He’s the co-author of “Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush”, and has a degree in Russian from Lewis & Clark College.

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Unknown Soldiers: Hico’s Hero

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn Hefner, 22, was killed by an enemy improvised explosive device in Afghanistan's Helmand province on Nov. 13, 2009. Photo courtesy of Hico's Hero.

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn Hefner, 22, was killed by an enemy improvised explosive device in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Nov. 13, 2009. Photo courtesy of Hico’s Hero.

You probably haven’t heard of Hico, Texas. With a population of well under 2,000, the city’s motto, “Where everybody is somebody,” captures its all-American charm.

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn Hefner may have lived in a small town, but his dreams were larger than life.

“He was always talking about being a Marine because his dad was a Marine,” Shawn’s mother, Robin Hefner, told The Unknown Soldiers. She added that her husband, Patrick, retired from the Marine Corps before Shawn was born.

For days at a time, young Shawn would camp alone on a mountain to develop survival skills. He also displayed the toughness needed to become a warrior.

At age 12, Shawn jumped on a wild mustang and rode bareback before falling and breaking his arm. That night, determined not to complain about his injury, he waited several agonizing hours before finally asking his parents for a ride to the hospital.

“He didn’t want to ruin our evening,” Robin said.

Shawn was 14 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. Like so many of this generation’s volunteer warriors, he was deeply impacted by 9/11 and refused to let the terrorist attacks go unanswered.

“He kept saying that he had to go over there and take care of it … that they had come onto our territory,” Robin said. “He always wanted to be a Marine, but he had to be after that.”

After graduating high school, one bad decision nearly put Shawn’s dream out of reach. During a drunken night with friends, Shawn, who planned to spend a year at home in central Texas before enlisting, broke into a country club and stole several cases of beer. As Shawn initially hid from authorities seeking to arrest him, his mom told him it was time to “own” the mistake.

“He turned himself in, went straight to the judge, and told him he wanted to be a Marine,” Robin said.

After working three jobs to pay restitution, Shawn, who was placed on one year’s probation, was allowed to sign up for the Marine Corps. Less than a year later, Robin was shocked by the transformation of a boy whose immaturity had nearly taken his life off track.

“I was utterly amazed when we went to California for his graduation,” she said. “I just thought, ‘Oh, my God. He’s a man.’”

In May 2009, Robin got another surprise when Shawn called to tell her he was deploying to Afghanistan.

“That’s when I jumped on a plane because I had this overpowering urge to see him before he left,” the Marine’s mother said. “I had to go.”

Five weeks later, the worried mom was gripped by panic and hysteria when she received a phone call saying her son had been injured on the battlefield. After six excruciating hours, Shawn was able to call home. While he suffered a concussion in an improvised explosive device attack, Shawn said, he felt fine.

“I broke down for three days,” Robin said. “I just kept thinking, ‘Oh, my God … it could have been over.’”

On Nov. 13, 2009, the military mom was opening her front door to receive what she thought was a package with materials for a scrapbook she was making for Shawn.

“Then I saw three uniforms,” Robin said. “I went running to the other side of the house.”

Moments later, she was informed that Lance Cpl. Shawn Hefner, 22, died after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. The next day, the Marine and his unit had been scheduled to leave the war zone.

While the pain was unbearable for Robin, Patrick, and their two surviving children, Hico and other patriotic communities across Texas rallied around their hometown hero.

“It was extremely overwhelming and honoring, and just amazing, to see the impact he had,” Robin said four years to the day after her son was buried.

Today, Shawn’s mom runs a non-profit organization called “Hico’s Hero,” which creates special pins so mothers who’ve lost a child to war can proudly display photos of their son or daughter.

“I’ve never left my house without my pin,” Robin Hefner said.

In this small Texas community, everybody is indeed somebody. But Lance Cpl. Shawn Hefner will always be Hico’s hero.

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Tom Sileo, Creators Syndicate

Tom Sileo, Creators SyndicateAn award-winning journalist who worked in newsrooms for eight years, Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and communications director at the Travis Manion Foundation. Tom's weekly newspaper column, also titled "The Unknown Soldiers," has been distributed by Creators Syndicate since its February 2011 launch.

Tom is the author of "BROTHERS FOREVER: A Marine and Navy SEAL's Sacrifice." Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, "BROTHERS FOREVER" will be released in Spring 2014.

Previously, Tom spent almost five years as a copy editor for CNN's broadband news service. He also worked at the USO, Associated Press, Tribune, WSPA-TV, and WTVM-TV. Tom has a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Media from Rutgers University.

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John Stossel: Milk of Human Blindness

Photo courtesy of Fiona Shields / Flickr

The Denver Post warns, “Milk, food prices could rise if Congress fails to act.”

Congress is working on a farm bill, which, among other things, will set limits on how high or low milk prices can be in different regions of the country.

Politicians from both parties like to meddle in agriculture. When the Heritage Foundation told Republicans not to pass any farm bill, “conservative” politicians banned Heritage from their weekly meetings.

But why should politicians be involved in agriculture? Why should they set food prices, any more than they set the price of books or staplers? The market decides most prices, so we don’t have to wait with bated breath for politicians to make up their minds.

In a normal market, sellers charge the highest price their customers will pay — and then lower the price when they lose customers to sellers who charge less. Competition keeps prices low, not generosity or warm-heartedness. Or government.

The price of milk, on the other hand, is decided by regulators, using complicated formulas. They set one price for wholesale milk used to produce “fluid” products and another for milk used in making cheese. It’s a ridiculous game of catch-up, in which the regulated prices never change as fast and efficiently as they would in a market, one buyer and seller at a time.

Next week, California will hold public hearings about milk price negotiations, as if more arguing will reveal the “correct” price. The agricultural news site Agri-View reports that dairy farmers filed a petition with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), demanding it implement an earlier, massive milk-price compact agreed to by cheesemakers and legislators.

Under the agreement, cheese processors must kick in an additional $110 million to a statewide pool of money used to pay dairy farmers, who are upset that they’ve been paid less than what farmers get in surrounding states.

Rob Vandenheuvel of the state’s Milk Producers Council says, “Government has the responsibility to keep us in line with what the rest of the country is making, and they’re not doing it. It gives us no choice but to spend money on lawyers.”

Great. How many lawyers does it take to produce a gallon of milk?

The dairy farmers say some dairy farms lose money, which proves milk prices are too low. But cheesemakers say they can barely stay in business, proving milk prices are too high.

Why is any of this the legislature’s business? It shouldn’t be. Prices should be decided by buyers and sellers.

Prices are not just money. They’re information. Rising prices tell farmers to produce more; that increases supply and prices go back down. Falling prices tell producers to invest in other products. This system works well for plums, peaches, cars and most everything we buy.

But bureaucrats and lobbyists say milk is “special.”

Vandenheuvel says cows can’t be subject to market demand because “there are several years of lead time between when you decide to buy a cow and when that cow produces milk.”

The CDFA agrees because: “Milk is a perishable product and must be harvested daily,” and “Milk continues to be viewed as a necessary food item, particularly for children.”

I say, so what? It’s not “lead time” or being “perishable” or even being “necessary” that makes milk unique. Plums and newspapers are perishable and harvested daily. It takes long lead times to build assembly lines to make cars. No entrepreneur has a guarantee of market demand once the factory is complete. All business is risky.

The CDFA wails that without price controls, “no other regulations would be in place to assure an adequate supply of milk.”

Give me a break. It’s in planned economies, like Venezuela, North Korea and the former Soviet Union that shortages occur. When politicians micromanage markets, consumers suffer.

Milk isn’t “special.” Almost no product is. Let competition set the price.

Copyright 2013 by JFS Productions, Inc. Distributed by Creators,com.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

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GOP Has to Reach Out to Hispanics and Other to Survive

Photo courtesy of Donkey Hotey / Flickr

Forget Republican comebacks in 2014 or 2016.

Unless it gets its head and its heart straight, the party might never win the popular vote or the White House again.

The GOP today is not my father’s party.

And until the hierarchy of the GOP stops talking about how great Ronald Reagan was and starts embracing what he really stood for, the party of conservatism is destined for the ash heap of history.

Ronald Reagan was somebody who believed in inclusion, not exclusion. He found a way to reach out to all voting groups, which is why he was the last Republican presidential candidate to win the Hispanic vote.

The GOP in 2012 reminds me of the state of disarray it was in during the mid-1960s.

It was so bad for Republicans in California then that they held a special convention and invited the state’s Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, Jesse Unruh, to come and tell them what was wrong with them.

Unruh came and was blunt: The GOP had no vision and no message for voters, because they didn’t know who they were or what they stood for.

Those pre-Ronald Reagan Republicans got the message. They left that convention, turned their fortunes around, and ended up with Ronald Reagan in the governor’s chair.

Today’s national GOP needs the same kind of turnaround, and the process starts with fixing the party’s inclusion problem with Hispanic, black and Asian voters.

Last week I spoke to a room of 400 conservatives. The only blacks in the room were serving us breakfast. There were only a couple Hispanics — in Florida.

That’s not inclusive. Republicans have got to find a way to reach out to these communities.

I told those conservatives in Florida a story about a young man who as a child came to the United States illegally with his parents in the early 1980s.

He became an American citizen in 1986 when my father signed into law the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which granted amnesty to 3 million illegal residents and made them citizens.

When he turned 18, to thank the United Stares for allowing him to become a citizen, he joined the Navy to serve his new country.

When the USS Ronald Reagan was home porting in San Diego, he volunteered to serve on the ship named after the president who allowed him to become a citizen. Now he mentors 275 sailors on that aircraft carrier and is working on his master’s degree.

There are a thousand stories like that that nobody wants to tell when Republicans talk about immigration.

The GOP has got to find a message of inclusion instead of “Get the hell out of my country.” That’s what Hispanics and other immigrants hear from the Republican Party — “Get out.”

We have to attract immigrants to the GOP, not repel them. We have to do it with more than words every two or four years. And we can’t do what Mitt Romney did.

He came to California, held a fundraiser, grabbed his money and left. He did nothing to get out the vote or reach out to the Hispanic community.

Romney wasn’t going to carry California. But we lost three good incumbents in close congressional races in the state on Nov. 6 — Mary Bono Mack, Dan Lundgren and Brian Bilbray.

Why did we lose those seats? Because only 29 percent of registered voters in California are Republican. And why is that? Because the GOP lacks a vision. Because it lacks a message.

If the GOP is to survive and get this country back on track, it has to regain its Reaganesque vision and make its message more caring and welcoming to immigrants.

The Republican Party has to reach out to the Hispanic, black, Asian and other communities and become involved with them — and do it every day from now on.

Until that happens, the GOP is going to have lots more Thanksgivings with less and less to give thanks for.

Photo courtesy of the gifted and talented Donkey Hotey.

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Michael Reagan

Michael ReaganMichael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan and a political consultant. He is the founder and chairman of The Reagan Group and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Look for Mike’s books and other information at Reagan.com.

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What’s Happening in Libya: A Guide to the Best Coverage

President Barack Obama greets State Department employees after speaking to them in a courtyard at the State Department in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2012. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stands at left. The President made the visit after Chris Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three others were killed at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, yesterday. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

THE ATTACK: ITS ORIGINS AND VICTIMS

U.S. Suspects Libya Attack Was Planned, New York Times The connection between an anti-Islam film that reportedly sparked this week’s protests in the Mideast and the attack that killed the American ambassador is unclear. Unnamed U.S. officials have told the New York Times and CNN that militants behind the attack may have instigated a protest against the film as a diversion or taken advantage of it as an opportunity.

Stevens ‘was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up’, YouTube In a U.S. embassy video uploaded to YouTube in May, Ambassador Stevens introduced himselfto the Libyan people. He described his childhood in California and how he fell in love with North Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, and compared the challenges facing Libya to the American Civil War.

Stevens: ‘The whole atmosphere has changed for the better’, International Herald Tribune The International Herald Tribune published a tribute to Stevens from foreign correspondent Harvey Morris, which included passages from a “catch-up email”Stevens had written to family and friends in July.

The victims: Sean Smith messaged fellow gamers in hours before attack, Wired Sean Smith, a foreign service officer stationed in Libya who was also killed, was an avid gamer whose death was first reported by his online friends. Yesterday, he wrote a message to an online gaming friend saying he hoped “we don’t die tonight.” He added, “We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.”

Violence at demonstrations in Benghazi is not unprecedented, BBC In 2006, during the height of the protests against the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, at least 10 people were killed in Benghazi during a large demonstration. The BBC reported at the time that the Italian consulate in Benghazi had been set on aflame and police had fired on demonstrators. Protesters were reportedly angry because an Italian minister had worn a t-shirt featuring the cartoons.

THE FILM

The provenance of the movie connected to this week’s protests is murky.

A trailer for The Innocence of Muslims was posted on YouTube in July on an account bearing the name “sam bacile.” Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches first raised questions about information “Bacile” — identified as a California real estate developer — gave to the AP and the Wall Street Journal in recent phone interviews. Christian activist Steve Klein, who has been described in the media as a consultant on the film, told the Atlantic that “Sam Bacile” was a pseudonym and he did not know the person’s true identity. The AP reported that “Bacile” is an Israeli Jew living in California and that he had raised $5 million for the film from 100 Jewish donors. But Klein told the Atlantic that “Bacile” is not Israeli.

LIBYA IN TRANSITION

With Qaddafi gone, Libya is ‘boiling over’, New York Review of Books In June, Nicolas Pelham offered an overview of the state of Libya with a focus on outbreaks of tribal violence in the south of the country. The piece also profiles Benghazi, reporting that militias “rule in and around” the city amid a collapse of central authority.

Libya Captors Become the Captives, New York Times Magazine In May, the magazine profiled former prisoners of the Qaddafi regime who are now in positions of power in Libya. Reporter Robert Worth summed up the state of the government: “Libya has no army. It has no government. These things exist on paper, but in practice, Libya has yet to recover from the long maelstrom of Qaddafi’s rule.”

State Dept. Warned Americans Away from Libya, Foreign Policy Just last month, the State Department issued a travel warning against U.S. citizens visiting Libya. “The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem,” the statement read. “In addition, political violence in the form of assassinations and vehicle bombs has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli.”

Libya Democracy Clashes with Fervor for Jihad, New York Times A tale of two emergent political leaders in the new Libya – one, a former jihadi who has renounced violence and says he wants to promote Islamic values as a politician, and the other a militia leader who was held in Guantanamo for six years and has said he wants a Taliban-style Islamist state.

Qaddafi: King of Kings, The New Yorker Last November, New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson chronicled the life of Libya’s deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and how his 42-year reign devastated the country’s civil and political culture, ending in “a void, a sense that his mania had left room in the country for nothing else.”

HISTORY OF U.S.-LIBYA RELATIONS

U.S.-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya, Human Rights Watch A new Human Rights Watch report includes interviews with 14 Libyans who had fled the country in the 1980s, most of them members of an anti-Qaddafi Islamist group. The Libyans interviewed said they were detained by the U.S., interrogated as terror suspects, and then sent back to Qaddafi’s Libya “at a time when Libya’s record on torture made clear they would face a serious risk of abuse.”  One described being waterboarded by his American captors in Afghanistan.

Files Note Close C.I.A. Ties to Qaddafi Spy Unit, New York Times Documents found in an abandoned office after Qaddafi’s fall documented what appeared to be regular communications between the CIA and Britain’s MI-6 and Libyan officials about terror suspects, and suggested that prisoners were rendered to Libya for questioning.

As U.S. Rebuilt Ties with Libya, Human Rights Concerns Took Back Seat, ProPublica The U.S. began normalizing its relations with Libya in 2004, removing the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006. Our explainer from last year covered how oil companies were among the proponents of more engagement with the regime. Evidence also continues to emerge that the U.S. and Qaddafi cooperated on some counterterror efforts, despite the Libyan government’s often inflammatory anti-Western public rhetoric.

Obama’s defense of U.S. role in Libya, MarketWatch Last March, President Obama defended American involvement in the Libyan conflict, saying: “I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Gadhafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives—then it’s in our national interest to act. And it’s our responsibility. This is one of those times.”

Ongoing coverage: The Guardian | The New York Times Lede Blog | CNN | The Twitter feed of Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell

This article was originally published in ProPublica

 

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Interactive: Who’s Eligible for Deferred Action in Texas

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman and Kyle Steed

The Obama administration next week will begin accepting applications for deferred action from what it expects to be hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the country illegally.

The policy, which was announced June 15, grants relief from deportation proceedings to certain immigrants who meet certain guidelines. Two-year work permits will also be issued to qualified applicants.

The administration has argued that the directive is part of the government’s efforts to spend its limited resources on deporting serious criminal immigrants. It has championed the measure as a way to reward children brought to the country illegally through no fault of their own, but who have since excelled in school and stayed out if trouble.

Opponents, however, claim the move is little more than election-year pandering that places illegal immigrants ahead of unemployed Americans.

Some lawmakers estimate that as many as 800,000 people will benefit from the policy, while the Immigration Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, puts the figure of people who could immediately benefit closer to 937,000. About 426,000 more could potentially qualify if the policy is kept in place and they apply when they are older.

The policy pertains to certain immigrants brought to the country illegally before they were 16 and who were younger than 31 as of the June 15 announcement. Applicants must have graduated or currently be enrolled in school, have earned a GED or be an honorably discharged veteran of the armed forces. They must have also lived in the country consistently since June 15, 2007, and never have been convicted of a serious misdemeanor, three misdemeanors or a felony.

Texas is second to California in the number of beneficiaries who could immediately apply, with about 152,550 to California’s 298,000, according to the IPC. If the policy is kept in place, about 74,000 and 114,500 could potentially apply in Texas and California, respectively, when they are older.

This interactive map reflects how many illegal immigrants could benefit immediately and if the program is kept in place after this year, using information from the Immigration Policy Center.  The potential applicants’ countries of origins are also included. Click on the map to see detailed information on potential beneficiaries in each congressional district.

The program could cost more than $585 million to implement, according to an Associated Press report released last month. On Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said applicants would be charged a $415 fee to apply, which USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said would offset the cots of the program. The AP reported that the costs could range from $467 million to $585 million during the program’s first two years, with revenues estimated at about $484 million, meaning the government could gain or lose money depending on how many applicants surface.

Opponents of the plan, including key congressional leaders, have blasted the Obama administration over the initiative. After USCIS announced additional details about the program, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said the policy gives “lawbreakers an unfair advantage over legal immigrants.”

“When will this President’s assault on the rule of law and the American people end?” Smith said in a news release.

But the Immigration Policy Center says there is an economic benefit to giving legal status and issuing work permits to thousands of illegal immigrants, specifically because it increases their standard of living and how much they pay in taxes. The center found that college graduates earn about 60 percent more in income over their lifetime than those with no college degree, and that immigrants who were given legal status after the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 saw their wages increase about 15 percent over five years.

Becca Aaronson also contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/immigration-in-texas/immigration/interactive-mapping-dream-eligible-youth-texas/.

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Julian Aguilar, The Texas Tribune

Julian Aguilar, The Texas TribuneJulián Aguilar reports on politics and border affairs from the Texas-Mexico border. His focuses include immigration reform and enforcement, voter ID, international trade, border security, and the drug trade. His political coverage has included local, legislative and congressional races in Texas, as well as local and national elections in Mexico. Before joining the Tribune, he was a freelance writer for the Fort Worth Weekly; a government and crime reporter for the Laredo Morning Times; and a political writer for the Rio Grande Guardian. A native of El Paso, he has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas and a master's degree in journalism from the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

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Dave Says, “If They’re Working, They’re Not Playing Beer Pong”

Photo courtesy of Laura Bittner

Dear Dave,

My son is a freshman in college. Do you think he should work during his first year in school or focus all his attention on his classes?

Ben

Dear Ben,

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either direction during their first year of college. But as a parent, I’d urge you not to fall into the trap of thinking that a kid’s grades will go down if they work while in school. Research shows that kids who work while in college carry higher grade point averages than those who don’t.

To me, the reason for this is pretty simple. If you’re working and going to school at the same time, you have to learn how to manage your life and your time effectively. Lots of kids could pay their way through college, and not have to worry with student loans, if they just used the time they spend on social activities and watching television at a job.

I never required my kids to work during the school year. But they all have good work ethics, and they’re definitely not bums. During the summer, though, there was no such thing as sitting around. They had jobs. My youngest just finished his sophomore year, and he’s already started a job. Being a vegetable for the entire summer is useless, and we don’t do useless in our family.

But the philosophy of not wanting a kid to work so they can spend all their time studying is misguided. For the most part, kids who work while they’re in school will make better grades and develop into more mature and well-rounded individuals. And besides, if they’re working they can’t waste all their time playing beer pong!

—Dave

Dear Dave,

I plan to move to Los Angeles to chase my dream of working in the television and film industry. I’m not married, have no kids, and I have $2,500 saved to live on until I can pick up a couple of jobs. I may have to finance a car, though. I’m not sure mine will survive the trip. Under these circumstances, how much of an emergency fund should I shoot for?

Cameron

Dear Cameron,

So, you’re looking at moving to California with $2,500 in your pocket, a car payment, and no job waiting. This is a disaster waiting to happen, my friend. Don’t get me wrong. I want you to live your dream, but I don’t want it turning into a nightmare.

There’s no way I’d take a car payment to California. And you’re going to need a lot more than just $2,500, unless you have a job lined up. Even if there’s work waiting for you, $2,500 will disappear in about 20 minutes in Los Angeles.

Slow down and take your time. Plan a trip to the coast and figure out what your living arrangements and expenses are going to look like first. Then, line up a job that will pay you enough to cover your expenses. In the meantime, save up enough money to fix your car, or if it’s in really rough shape, to buy a good, used one.

Once all this is done, then you make the move—without a car payment. Moving when you’re broke with no job prospects and a car payment hanging around your neck is a recipe for disaster!

—Dave

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Dave Ramsey

Dave RamseyDave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business. He’s authored four New York Times best-selling books: Financial Peace, More Than Enough, The Total Money Makeover and EntreLeadership. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 6 million listeners each week on more than 500 radio stations. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

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Along These Lines: Foods For Thought

Mmmm... turducken sandwich. Photo courtesy of Christopher Najewicz.

After the Los Angeles School District banned sodas in schools in 2004, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenergger went on to sign sweeping laws to improve the nutrition standards in California schools. Continuing that trend, flavored milk was outlawed in LA schools in 2011.  Now, New York mayor Bloomberg is proposing a ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces at restaurants and sports venues.

While those steps may sound drastic, perhaps other states need to follow these leads since obesity often follows children into adulthood. Studies have shown that this is especially true for folks in the South who seem to be losing the battle of the bulge. For instance, Alabamians and Tennesseans are now amongst the fattest in the nation, waddling in a close equal second behind the folks from Mississippi.

So perhaps we all need to get our heads out of the fridge and our tails off the couch, and re-examine our lifestyles.

We can begin by increasing our weekly exercise. For instance, instead of driving to the supermarket, I now try to walk there. I find carrying home a couple of shopping bags stuffed with glazed donuts, chocolate chip cookies, Rocky Road ice-cream, hot dogs, and frozen pizza burns off plenty of calories.

However, there’s one food item I refuse to bring home: turducken.

Have you heard of this? It’s straight from the American calorific hall of fame, and the mere mention of this dish plunges vegetarians into cardiac arrest.

It consists of a turkey, stuffed with a duck, which is stuffed with a chicken, which is stuffed with sausage. Several Laws of Nature are broken in preparing this monolith of meat.

Credit for inventing the turducken generally goes to (no surprise) a Louisiana chef who obviously wanted to push fellow Cajuns to the top of the Fattest State in the Nation list.  And there are even some cooks intent on cramming more fat into these poultry beasts by deep-frying these mountains of cholesterol. It would be healthier to cook by just basting with high-level nuclear waste.

So how should we improve our eating habits – and our health?  We could look to other nations where traditional diets often consist of more protein and less fat.

This might include tackling a bowl of Chinese cold shredded jellyfish, sampling some Vietnamese burnt sea slug, or digging in to a plate of live Ecuadorian lemon ants (which, if you have a liking for bugs, probably taste better than dung beetles).

Asia is also home to a low-cal treat known as Baalut: fertilized duck or chicken eggs that are buried in the ground for several weeks, then dug up, and eaten “ripe.”  I believe I’d only be handling those babies wearing a Hazmat suit. Although, I might be able to appreciate their delicate flavor after some beers ‒ many, many, many beers.

Along these lines, Australians are turning to local, leaner sources of meat, too, such as plump, juicy, tree-dwelling, witchety grubs. These are huge, chunky, white insect larvae that look like bleached caterpillars on steroids. Nowadays, these healthy treats are served in the finest Aussie restaurants and they taste like ‒ you guessed it ‒ chunky, white insect larvae.

While we probably won’t see bugs or grubs turning up on LA school cafeteria menus in the near future, the California Calorie Cops don’t appear to be going away any time soon. In 2011, they gave school menus a major revision replacing time-honored school cafeteria staples like corn dogs and chicken nuggets with treats such as sushi rolls and spinach tortellini in butternut squash sauce.

Perhaps hungry, soon-to-be-healthier Californian school kids will be tempted by these new dishes, and echo their former governor: “I’ll be back… for seconds.”

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Bracing For Disaster

Having a disaster kit in your home has several benefits: it makes adults feel more responsible and in control, offers kids a good lesson in survival, and, who knows, may even come in handy. Photo courtesy of Sue Harper/dreamstime.com

Apparently, there’s just no escaping disaster. When I lived in California, we got earthquakes. In Colorado, we got blizzards. In Kansas, we dodged tornadoes. Now in Florida, we brace for hurricanes.

Though disasters differ with the territory, home disaster plans are pretty much the same: Close your eyes and scream, “This can’t be happening!” If that doesn’t work, look at your husband and say, “Good Lord, would you stop watching the game and do something already!”

During the two natural disasters I’ve been through – one major earthquake (Northridge), one seven-day blizzard. Both times my strategy has worked. Neither time did I have a disaster “kit.”

I’m sorry, but a kit in the face of disaster seems about as useful as a squirt gun in combat. Just the word “kit” seems too trite for the task. Kits are for sewing, hatching butterflies and making gingerbread houses, not for typhoons. But if a kit makes you feel better, knock yourself out.

The idea of preparing a disaster kit reminds me of that David Sedaris book, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.” The title came from some actual instructions Sedaris read while staying at a foreign hotel. I can’t remember how the instructions finished, but they went something like … dial the hotel operator. Never mind that the phone lines have melted, that the operator has run away screaming, “This can’t be happening!” and that you’re on fire.

When I was in grade school, we had these duck-and-cover drills. Every so often some bell would ring, and we’d have to dive under our desks and curl up like snails. Then we carefully folded our hands over the backs of our necks to protect them. Even to my 7-year-old mind this seemed rather pointless in the event of a nuclear attack; however, I gave the adults the benefit of the doubt, granted that they knew what they were doing. Now I’m the adult, and I know for a fact none of us has a flippin’ clue!

Nonetheless, the other night, after I learned that hurricane season had officially begun here in the Southeast, I decided to do some adult role modeling and told my teenage daughter that we needed to put together a disaster kit. Actually, I suggested she assemble the kit now that it was her first day of summer, and she had free time I need to account for.

I was also motivated by the fact that since my husband lives in another state, and so would be fairly unresponsive if I yelled, “Do something already!” I’m the responsible one here, which in itself is terrifying.

My daughter looked at me as if I just told her to curl up under a desk. “A home disaster kit?”

“Seriously,” I said. “That’s what people do.”

“Right, but not us.”

She had a point. “Well, it can’t hurt.”

“Mom, last time you had an emergency earthquake stash in California, you used up all the water bottles and the tuna cans for our school lunches until there was nothing left but some expired batteries.”

“It did come in handy when we ran short, which is another good reason to have one!”

Eye roll.

“Let’s make a list,” I hand her a pen. “Flashlight, first aid kit, bottled water, booze.”

“Blankets, batteries,” she says, writing.

“Did you get the booze?”

“Canned goods,” she adds.

“Right. Tuna, and peanut butter,” I say. “Because when your house has burned down, or your roof has blown off, a jar of Jif will be just the thing.” I can only be an adult for so long.

“Will this really help?” she asks.

“Probably not. But plans make people feel like they have some control, even though we’re all at the whims of the universe.”

We continue like two girl scouts planning a sanitized campout. Afterward, we cross check our list with legitimate ones we found on websites for the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

So here are the basic disaster kit elements. Tailor yours for your region’s brand of devastation, but do make one. It will make you feel better, or at least more responsible:

  • Bottled water, a gallon per person per day for three days
  • A battery-powered radio
  • Flashlight and extra batteries, candles
  • A lighter, matches (in a plastic bag), Sterno, a small non-electric grill
  • First aid kit, including several days of prescription medications
  • Instant coffee and tea bags
  • Canned and jarred foods for several meals, also crackers, dried pasta and other foods that won’t perish
  • Baby and pet food and supplies (diapers, leashes)
  • Plastic or paper plates, cups, utensils, pans
  • Manual can opener
  • Moist wipes, and hand sanitizer
  • Copies of insurance policies
  • Cash. When the ATMs don’t work, cash usually does
  • Blankets, towels, sleeping bags
  • Tools
  • A deck of cards and other amusements
  • Phone number of a good hotel or friend with a guest room

Put all in a waterproof trashcan, in an accessible place, because you never know when you’re going to be engulfed in flames.

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Marni Jameson

Marni Jameson is a nationally syndicated home design columnist, and author of the best-selling The House Always Wins (DaCapo/Perseus, April 2008). Marni’s hugely popular syndicated column, “At Home With Marni Jameson,” appears in more than 30 newspapers throughout the United States and Canada reaching 7 million readers each week. Though her column is humorous as well as helpful, Marni shares her serious side in some of the nation’s most prestigious print media. A long time writer for the Los Angeles Times (more than 200 features), she also writes for other top-tier media, including Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Child, and Fit Pregnancy. She has been a guest on numerous television and radio programs around the country. Whether she’s writing about rescuing Romanian orphans, urging better diagnostic testing for breast cancer, living with AIDS, making better real estate decisions, getting in shape, or being a better parent, Marni hopes that through her work, others will live better, longer and help those who need help. Jameson graduated with distinction from the University of Kansas, William Allen White School of Journalism, consistently rated one of the top journalism schools in the country. She later received her master’s degree in writing from Vermont College, and taught writing at UCLA for nine years.

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