Archive

February 6th, 2016

How FBI blocks whistleblower fighting dismissal; new bill could help others

    Sometimes Uncle Sam's rules and regulations just don't make sense.

    Take the case of Darin Jones, a former FBI employee who said he was fired after making whistleblower disclosures about a $234,000 awards ceremony, improper procurement spending and a conflict of interest involving a former assistant director and computer help desk contract among other complaints.

    "I was wrongfully terminated from my GS-15 Supervisory Contract Specialist in retaliation for whistleblowing on August 24, 2012, the last day of my one year probationary period," Jones said.

    This story isn't about whether his allegations are right or wrong, but how the FBI and the Justice Department treats employees who, in good faith, make allegations about waste, fraud and abuse.

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It’s Not All in Your Head

    We often hear about public health crises related to poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking. But what about chronic stress?

    Canadian physician Gabor Maté studies the mind-body connection. He argues that chronic stress plays a big role in the development of disease.

    It should come as no surprise that that emotions can impact physical health. When we’re sad, we cry. When we’re embarrassed, we blush. When we’re nervous, we might have lumps in our throats or butterflies in our stomachs.

    Clearly, our feelings aren’t just experienced in our heads.

    When we’re stressed, our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones impact our entire bodies. They stop digestion, suppress our immune systems, and mobilize energy to gear up for fight or flight.

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Hillary Clinton’s Dutiful Slog

    Late Monday, as the unfinished vote count suggested the slimmest of victories for Hillary Clinton, she stepped to a microphone, flashed an Oscar-worthy smile of triumph and told supporters that she was “breathing a big sigh of relief.”

    She wasn’t. She isn’t. And she definitely shouldn’t be.

    That’s not because what happened in Iowa — almost a tie between her and Bernie Sanders — substantially loosens her grip on the Democratic presidential nomination. Iowa was better terrain for Sanders than much of what lies ahead, and the dynamics that made her a heavy favorite to be the nominee before the state’s caucuses make her a heavy favorite still.

    But Iowa demonstrated, yet again, what a flawed and tarnished candidate she is. And on the Republican side, the caucuses augured the possibility of a retreat from the party’s craziness and the rise of an adversary, Marco Rubio, who could give her trouble in a general-election matchup.

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Drowning the Oil Industry

    With oil cheaper than bottled water, the average American driver saved $540 at the pump last year.

    But oil prices are also battering Alaska’s economy, rattling the stock market, and leaving thousands of workers in states like North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas jobless.

    Can things get any worse for the oil industry and the folks who rely on it? Sure.

    The biggest short-term reason is Iran. Having honored the terms of its landmark nuclear deal, the Middle Eastern nation is now at liberty to export more oil after years of sanctions. That’s why the commodity has slid as low as $26.55 a barrel — about half of what it fetched a year ago. And that was following a steep slide from the summer of 2014.

    Iran has oodles of oil ready to ship at a time when global producers are already pumping 2 million more barrels daily than consumers need. The market is also bracing for a long-term gusher. Iran, with the world’s fourth-largest reserves, could eventually ramp up its exports by another million barrels a day.

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Government Keeps Rural West Going

    The 187,000 acres on which sits the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge never belonged to the state of Oregon, much less the band of cowboy exhibitionists who'd taken it over. This and other federal lands were acquired through conquest over, purchases from or treaties with Mexico, Russia, Spain, England, France and Native Americans.

    The federal government lets loggers, ranchers and other businesses make a subsidized living off public land, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. The fees ranchers pay for grazing on federal land are considerably below those charged by private landowners. The government loses money on nearly all timber sales on public land.

    Now that we've gotten this off our chests, let's sympathize with the hardworking people of the rural West, losing a beautiful way of life to harsh economic realities. The growing poverty in the sparsely populated high desert of south central Oregon is shared by communities far from the region's booming cities.

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Donald Trump says something that is true, and it should end his campaign

    On Sean Hannity's show Tuesday night, Donald Trump placed part of the blame for his second-place finish in Iowa on the fact that "we didn't have much of a ground game."

    "We could have done much better with the ground game," he said .

    This would not be a fatal admission for another candidate. But Trump based his candidacy on his uncommon ability to get things done, honed by years building things in the private sector. To critics who say he ignores facts and offers little or no realistic policy details, he responds with some version of this: " It's called management ." He will get " great people," like himself, to fix it all. Yet his incompetent campaign got outmanaged in Iowa.

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From steadfast Iowa to contrarian New Hampshire

    Strong showings in the Iowa caucuses by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio sent them roaring into next week's Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire with a head of steam at the expense of a deflated Donald Trump.

    On the Democratic side, the virtual tie between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders puts intense pressure on Clinton to rebound in New Hampshire and foreshadows a protracted struggle in a race she expected to dominate.

    New Hampshire is renowned for its independence and contrarian voting habits and anything can happen there. Trump and Sanders enjoy big polling leads that they now need to turn into New Hampshire victories. That will be a test of whether Sanders can retain the enthusiasm of his youthful supporters, and whether Trump fans still consider him a winner after losing the first contest of the 2016 campaign.

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February 5th

Finding the path between Zika panic and complacency

    No matter how things play out with the fast-spreading Zika virus, people are likely to end up angry at public health authorities.

    It's possible the situation will become worse than expected, both worldwide and in the U.S., where some spread can't be ruled out. Zika may be blamed for some U.S. cases of microcephaly - the birth deformity tentatively linked to the outbreak in Brazil. If that happens, health officials will be slammed for downplaying danger, as they were during the 2014 Ebola crisis.

    Or the epidemic may turn out to be smaller than expected and may never spread within the U.S. In that case, the public will accuse the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization of scaremongering and overreaction, as happened following two fizzled flu outbreaks, bird flu in 2004 and H1N9 in 2009.

    It will be easy in hindsight to pinpoint how the authorities got it wrong, but for the time being they are doing one thing right. In their attempts to impart an appropriate level of concern, both the CDC and WHO are being straightforward with the public about how little is known.

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Can U.S. consumers thrive if corporations don't?

    U.S. workers and consumers (who are for the most part the same people) seem to be doing pretty well at the moment. Businesses, not so much. As Bloomberg reported last week:

    "Consumer spending grew last year by the most since 2005, in spite of a slight slackening in the fourth quarter. Nonresidential business investment, meanwhile, rose at its slowest pace since 2010 as oil and gas companies sharply curtailed spending."

    The story suggested this was a temporary juxtaposition; eventually consumers would pull businesses up, or businesses would drag consumers down. Most economists predict it will be the former and the U.S. economy won't fall into a recession, the story said. Either way, the assumption is that businesses and consumers will eventually get back in sync. That's how things have worked in the past.

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An inequality in well-being matters more than an income gap

    The hot topic in economic policy discussions is inequality. Lots of kinds of inequality have been increasing in the U.S. -- income, wealth, housing, longevity and almost everything else. New data has caused economists and the public to become more alarmed about the extent of the rise, and has allowed people to start having a productive discussion about causes and solutions.

    People on the political right, especially libertarians, are always asking why we should even care about inequality in the first place. That might sound insensitive, but it's actually a very good question. We might worry about inequality because an unequal society grows more slowly, or is more politically unfair or corrupt, or even is less healthy. But one big reason is simply that we care about our fellow citizens, and about other human beings in general. When one person has much more than another, it just feels wrong to many people.

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