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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Georgia Senate Race Becomes a Battle of the Bushes

Georgia Senate Race Becomes a Battle of the Bushes


Georgia Senate Race Becomes a Battle of the Bushes

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:56 AM PDT

Former Dollar General CEO David Perdue flew to Kennebunkport, Maine over the weekend to seek former President George H. W. Bush’s endorsement of his bid to fill an open Senate seat in Georgia.

Bush’s endorsement of the Republican candidate should have been a no-brainer. But the former President has a special affinity for Perdue’s Democratic opponent, Michelle Nunn, who is on leave from her job as CEO of Bush’s Points of Light Foundation. Bush has said in the past that he was “lucky” to have Nunn, who came to work with the Bush Family Foundation after Points of Light merged in 1992 with City Cares, a national volunteer organization she’d started in Georgia.

Bush did end up endorsing Perdue but he didn’t mention Nunn, saying his support for Perdue grew out of his increasing opposition to the Senate Democratic leadership. Control of the upper chamber is at stake this November. “I have lost any confidence in the current Senate leadership, and believe David Perdue will be an independent voice for Georgia while working for positive solutions to our toughest challenges,” Bush, 90, said in a statement. “Barbara and I commend him to every Georgian voter who cares about America’s future.”

But then on Monday, Bush’s son Neil Bush, who is chairman of the Points of Light board, issued a statement expressing unhappiness with Perdue. At issue is a a Perdue campaign that says Points of Light gave money to “inmates and terrorists.”

“That’s ridiculous. It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation, whether it’s an independent political group or a candidate for office,” Neil Bush, 59, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Anyone who makes that claim needs to understand the facts and then they need to denounce those claims. To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.”

The line was drawn from internal research into its own weaknesses the Nunn campaign compiled, which was then leaked to the press. Perdue’s campaign on Wednesday said it had no plans to take down the ad, despite Bush’s criticism. “Michelle Nunn’s own campaign plan highlights serious concerns about her group’s association with terrorist-linked organizations,” said Megan Whittemore, a Perdue spokeswoman. “The people of Georgia will have to decide if that’s who they want representing them in the U.S. Senate.”

But opposition research documents tend to paint worst-case scenario attacks, and even FactCheck.org said the Perdue attack distorted Nunn’s leaked memo. “Actually, the grants refer to $13,500 that eBay sellers—not the foundation—donated to the U.S. affiliate of the international charity Islamic Relief Worldwide,” the group said. “Also, there is no evidence Islamic Relief USA, a federally approved charity, has ties to the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas.”

Nunn said in a statement that she was “appreciative of what Neil Bush said.”

“Washington can learn a lot from organizations like Points of Light,” Nunn said. “But David Perdue playing politics and falsely attacking an organization that helps so many is exactly what’s wrong with Washington and politics today. David Perdue should take down his dishonest ads and quit falsely attacking Points of Light.”

Iran Leader Says ISIS Wants to ‘Kill Humanity’

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:49 AM PDT

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told NBC News’s Ann Curry on Wednesday that ISIS terrorists “want to kill humanity.”

In an exclusive interview at the presidential palace in Tehran, ahead of his visit to the United Nations, Rouhani denounced the extremists’ beheading of innocents. “From the viewpoint of the Islamic tenets and culture, killing an innocent people equals the killing of the whole humanity,” he said. “And therefore, the killing and beheading of innocent people in fact is a matter of shame for them and it’s the matter of concern and sorrow for all the human and all the mankind.”…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

Occupy Wall Street Just Made $4 Million of Student Loan Debt Disappear

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:42 AM PDT

An Occupy Wall Street campaign says it has abolished almost $4 million in student loan debts, in a Tuesday announcement marking the third anniversary of the Occupy protests that brought renewed attention to the issue of income inequality.

The Rolling Jubilee Fund, an initiative of the Occupy movement, has been accepting donations and buying up student loan debt for pennies on the dollar from debt collectors, and then forgiving the loans altogether. The group has spent about $107,000 to purchase $3.9 million in debt, organizers said.

The debts were held by students who attended Everest College, a for-profit institution part of the Corinthian Colleges network. The fund called Everest College a “predatory” institution that is helping fuel the $1.2 trillion in total student loan debt in the United States.

“We chose Everest because it is the most blatant con job on the higher ed landscape,” the organizers said. “It’s time for all student debtors to get relief from their crushing burden.”

The debt belonged to 2,761 people who had taken at loans at Everest College. The group is only able to purchase private student debt, not the majority of outstanding U.S. student debt that’s backed by the federal government. Corinthian Colleges told CNN it stands by the “high-quality” education it provides and denied charges of predatory lending.

Bumpy, Shark-Like Surfaces Could Lessen Disease Transmission

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:28 AM PDT

A surface that imitates the scaly, bumpy skin of sharks could reduce the transmission of bacteria in hospitals, according to a new study in the journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control.

“The [pattern] consistently demonstrated a reduction in microbial attachment, transference, and survival following simulated real-world inoculation methods,” the study said of the micropattern tested, called Sharklet. “When adopted into real-world use, application of the [micropattern] onto high-touch surfaces in hospitals or shared public spaces is expected to limit environmental contamination of infectious microorganisms.”

Bacteria struggles to attach itself to the textured surface of the Sharklet micropattern. The study found that surfaces with the micropattern retained 94% less antibiotic resistant bacteria than an ordinary smooth surface.

In the past, health officials have considered installing copper surfaces, which kills some bacteria. The study found that copper surfaces reduced bacteria by 80%.

In a press release, Ethan Mann, a researcher for the maker of the product, said the micropattern would be manufactured as a part of typical plastic surfaces in hospitals including “environmental surfaces” and “medical devices.”

“Sharklet does not introduce new materials or coatings – it simply alters the shape and texture of existing materials to create surface properties that are unfavorable for bacterial contamination,” he said.

Kerry Washington Carries a Purple Purse to Call Attention to Domestic Violence

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:24 AM PDT

Fans of Kerry Washington, known for her chic looks on her show Scandal as well as the red carpet, may have noticed she’s been toting purple purses. She carried a deep purple Prada clutch at both the Emmys and the NAACP Image awards this year, and an amethyst bag around New York City this week. But turns out the purses aren’t just a fashion statement: she’s dressing for a cause.

On Monday night, the Django Unchained actress hosted the launch of the 2014 Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Program dedicated to educating women about domestic violence and financial abuse. “One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence,” Kerry says in a PSA for the organization. “Finances are almost always a weapon of choice. Taking away access to cash, destroying credit, jeopardizing jobs; financial abuse leaves invisible bruises that can take decades to heal.”

The purple purse, she explains, is a metaphor. Purple is the color of domestic violence awareness, and — as Olivia Pope would know — the purse is the source of a woman’s power.

66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Arrivals
Kerry Washington carries a purple Prada clutch at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Steve Granitz—WireImage/Getty Images

Washington, who welcomed her first child with husband and former NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha in April, designed the purple purse she has been carrying to raise money for the initiative. Only 500 will be made: some will be given to celebrities to carry on the red carpet to draw attention to the issue, some sold as fundraisers and others gifted to domestic abuse survivors.

The actress’ campaign comes at an important moment in the cultural conversation about domestic abuse. Investigations into NFL players Ray Rice and Ray McDonald have sparked conversations about how women get trapped in abusive relationships and why they stay in them.

Scotland’s Health Care System Becomes Key Referendum Issue

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:24 AM PDT

Britons are fiercely protective of their country’s taxpayer-funded National Health Service (NHS). A 2013 poll showed that, for many, it was a bigger source of pride than the armed forces or the Royal family. It is no surprise then that the future of the 66-year-old NHS has emerged as a major political flashpoint in the Scottish independence debate.

The pro-independence Yes campaign led by Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) claims that Westminster is moving toward healthcare privatization, which “would mean automatic cuts for Scotland’s budget.” Pro-union leaders like former British finance minister Alistair Darling, who is leading the Better Together anti-independence campaign, say the Scottish nationalists are “scaremongering.” Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, another unionist, has vowed to “nail the SNP lies” about the potential privatization of the NHS.

So, who’s right, and what might happen to Scotland’s public hospitals and clinics after independence?

FUNDING SCOTLAND’S NHS

The NHS, though it might sound like one unified body, is in fact comprised of four independent health care systems in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland’s NHS operates under separate management, administration and political authority since it became devolved in 1999. Westminster gives Scotland a “block grant”, a lump sum to spend on all public services, including its healthcare. If public spending is raised or cut by policymakers in England, the block grant for Scotland increases or falls correspondingly. A convention called the Barnett formula automatically adjusts the amount of overall public expenditure allocated to Scotland to reflect any changes. Budgets for each branch of government spending, including the NHS, are determined not by Westminster but by the Scottish government, who decides how to split its block grant between public services.

THE IMPACT OF PRIVATIZATION

The SNP has raised concerns over reforms to NHS England involving the private sector, which they predict will eventually lead to less public spending and hence a smaller grant for Scotland. It is true that the British government, under the leadership of a Conservative Party-led coalition, is offering up more contracts to private providers to deliver services, but the NHS continues to be funded only by public money. Under the current system, it is the amount of healthcare spending, rather than the balance of public and private provision, that affects Scotland’s overall block grant.

However, both the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and the opposition Labour Party have committed to continued austerity measures in the U.K. Any future cuts in overall public spending in England would impact Scotland’s economy. But the Barnett formula ensures any moves by Westminster to increase private sector involvement in the NHS won’t automatically lead to budget cuts in Scotland. On Tuesday, the three main U.K. political parties pledged to preserve the Barnett formula, but the U.K. Treasury will continue to hold the power to change it at will. This worries SNP leaders, who have accused the U.K. government of planning to do just that.

THE IMPACT OF AUSTERITY

“We’ve protected Scotland’s NHS from [Conservative] cuts, and with independence we can ensure that it is never again under threat from Westminster’s dangerous obsession with austerity,” said Scotland’s Health Secretary Alex Neil in August. Yet an independent report from The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that the Scottish government has actually brought in bigger cuts to the NHS than England,despite suffering less from austerity measures and enjoying higher public expenditure per capita (thanks to the Barnett formula). Spending in real terms on Scotland’s NHS will have dropped by 1% between 2010—2016 compared with a 4% increase in England — and that’s with the Scottish government setting spending levels.

Scotland’s pattern of spending less on its NHS is not just a reaction to the financial crisis, according to another study from the Nuffield Trust. When Westminster decided to increase NHS spending in the 2000s (and consequently giving more money to Scotland’s block grant), Scotland did not increase NHS spending in real terms as much as England did from 2001 to 2013. The study estimates that that in choosing not to pass its extra funding to the NHS, Scotland had around £900m to spend on other services. Much of that likely went toward social welfare, instead: Scotland is the only country within the U.K. that provides free personal and nursing care to those aged 65 and over. Indeed, the SNP’s White Paper for Independence highlights plans to look beyond the NHS for healthcare solutions that depend “on breaking the cycle of poverty, educational under-attainment, worklessness, poor mental wellbeing, and, through these, preventable ill-health.”

THE ROAD AHEAD

The impact on healthcare of Thursday’s referendum will largely depend on what future governments, either in Westminster or in Scotland, decide to do with their finances. Should Scotland vote yes to independence it could struggle to end austerity measures and support a national healthcare service, an IFS report suggested, because of the possibility of an eventual fall in oil revenues and an aging population. But if it remains part of the U.K., Scotland’s overall budget will continue to be determined by a Westminster government that has committed to further austerity measures. Both sides of the independence campaign have argued that only they can save the country’s health service. But whatever the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, it’s not clear that either side will be able to make good on that promise.

Scotland Vote Becomes Million Dollar Question for British Gambler

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:19 AM PDT

One British businessman has more than a million reasons to hope that Scotland will vote to stay in the United Kingdom in Thursday’s referendum, after betting almost $1.5 million (£900k) that the country will say no to independence.

The unidentified middle-aged businessman from London placed what is believed to be one of the largest sums ever staked on a political event in Britain. He made the first part of his bet (around $653,000) in June at his local bookmaker William Hill, reports the Daily Telegraph. He then returned twice in August and once more on Wednesday to take additional bets, bringing the total to a staggering $1.5 million. The customer, who is not Scottish, took odds of 1/4 for his first bet, 1/6 for the second, and 1/5 for the third and fourth parts.

The customer stands to collect around $1.8 million if Scotland votes to remain part of the union, though he himself will not be able to cast a vote. A spokesman for William Hill called the customer a “responsible gambler” and said “this man is confident, if not entirely convinced, that his gamble will pay off – in fact, he has called it an ‘investment.'”

Latest polls for the referendum have revealed it is too close to call but suggested a small lead for the “No” vote with 52% to 48%

[Daily Telegraph]

Congressional Hearing into Benghazi Attack Avoids Political Circus

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:19 AM PDT

The first hearing of a special congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Libya could have dissolved into partisan bickering, finger pointing and cut microphones on Wednesday. But it did not.

Instead the committee, led by Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), focused on how the State Department can better protect U.S. diplomats as it implements recommendations from an independent review board. The 2012 attack in Benghazi killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and has long been political fodder for conservative criticism of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy record.

In the hearing, the State Department touted that it has taken each of the 29 recommendations from the review board, and 38 of 40 recommendations provided by another panel.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we are going to implement every one of these recommendations,” said Greg Starr, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security. Starr said the State Department has instituted new measures to better evaluate the security threats at the top 30 high-risk posts by creating a more efficient internal chain of command.

Some lawmakers focused their remarks on one of the recommendations that won’t be implemented—the creation of an undersecretary for diplomatic security—even though a similar recommendation had been approved but not carried out by the agency after an embassy attack in East Africa in 1998.

“It’s recommendation No. 1,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “What’s it going to take to put in place the practices that save American lives?”

But the committee did not devolve into a political circus. Outside opposition efforts, including a liberal website designed to counter attacks lobbied against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were largely silent. Cummings expressed hope that the committee could continue to work in such a manner.

“Too often over the past two years, the congressional investigation into what happened in Benghazi has devolved into unseemly partisanship,” Cummings said. “Today, we have an opportunity to focus on reform. How can we learn from the past to make things better in the future? This kind of oversight can be productive, it can be critical, and it can sometimes even be tedious, but it can also save people’s lives. I sincerely hope the Select Committee will stay on the course of constructive reform and keep this goal as our North Star.”

Pizza Hut Tests ‘Skinny Slice’

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:14 AM PDT

Pizza Hut is testing out “skinny slices” in two U.S. cities for those who are trying to cut calories without cutting their favorite foods, the Associated Press reports.

In Toledo, Ohio, customers will be able to create an entire pie of skinny slices with up to five toppings, with each slice under 300 calories. In West Palm Beach, Fla., customers will have a selection of six pre-set skinny slice pies, with each slice under 250 calories.

The caloric reduction is due to using less dough and fewer toppings, a Pizza Hut spokesman told the AP.

A non-skinny slice of Pizza Hut pizza ranges from 180 calories (12″ medium Thin ‘N Crispy Veggie Lover’s) to 470 calories (14″ large pan Meat Lover’s), according to Pizza Hut’s nutrition information.

Pizza Hut’s lighter pizza is the fast food industry’s latest attempt at improving its image, though to date the success has been limited. Burger King last year unveiled its lower-calorie fries, called “Satisfries,” but discontinued them in August after the snack failed to resonate with customers. Domino’s previously tested a whole wheat crust to appeal to diners on the Atkins diet, but soon abandoned that idea, too.

In fact, the real demand at fast food restaurants may in fact be for their unhealthy options. At Wendy’s, for example, owners decided to bring back the Pretzel Bacon Burger permanently after strong customer demand, and the burger soon garnered heavy praise from critics and customers alike.

Obama Rules Out U.S. Troops in Iraq, Syria

Posted: 17 Sep 2014 10:06 AM PDT

President Barack Obama redrew a firm line in the sand for his military planners Wednesday, saying he won’t send any American combat troops to take on the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)—under any circumstances.

His comments, at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, come a day after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said he would consider recommending that the President deploy U.S. ground troops should the current air campaign and Iraqi efforts fail. “If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific [ISIS] targets, I’ll recommend that to the President,” Dempsey said, instantly setting Washington aflame and sending the Obama Administration into damage control mode.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and a spokesman for Dempsey said he was clearly talking about a hypothetical, but Obama made clear that in all circumstances his answer will be the same.

“One of the things we’ve learned over this last decade is America can make a decisive difference,” Obama said. “But I want to be clear: The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission.”

Obama said more than 40 countries have pledged to be part of the international coalition against ISIS, but didn’t announce any direct commitments to join in airstrikes against the militant group. “We can’t do it for them, but this is an effort that calls on America’s unique abilities and responsibilities to lead,” Obama said. “In a world that’s more crowded and more connected, it is America that has the unique capability to mobilize against an organization like [ISIS].

“We’ve always known that the end of the war in Afghanistan didn’t mean the end of threats or challenges to America,” Obama said.

Speaking to a roomful of troops at CENTCOM, Obama highlighted the role the U.S. can play in the world, both in taking on militant groups and humanitarian crises, in some of his most vocal statements in support of American leadership on the global stage in recent years.

“If there is a hurricane, if there is a typhoon, if there is some sort of crisis, if there is an earthquake, if there is a need for a rescue mission, when the world is threatened, when the world needs help, it calls on America,” Obama said. “Even the countries that complain about America—when they need help, who do they call? They call us. And then America calls on you.”

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