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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Likelihood of Strike on Syria Rising

Western countries amped up their rhetoric toward the Syrian government today, with France vowing to ‘punish’ those responsible for gassing civilians last week and the U.S. defense chief announcing that the military has put weapons in position and is ‘ready to go.’ The language the Obama administration is using strongly suggests the U.S. is planning to mount a legal defense for any strikes against Syria outside of the UN framework and without the support of the security council. Ironically, these updates corresponds with the release of documents proving the U.S. knew Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against his own people and Iranis, and did nothing.

The U.S. and its allies have told rebels that Western forces could attack Syria within days. As the White House is insisting that it is not interested in “regime change,” the goal seems to be solely to punish Assad for breaking the international chemical weapons ban which Syria has never signed. Unfortunately, many civilians will also be punished, since military interventions typically result in more civilian casualties, not less.

The U.N. chemical weapons inspectors currently in Syria have not endorsed the assertion that Assad’s regime was behind the attack.

Good News for Gay Rights

New Mexico’s most populous county began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples today, after a judge ruled that gender-based discrimination violates the state constitution. An additional two counties followed suit and a mass wedding took place at noon in Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza. The court case could set the precedent for legal same-sex unions statewide.

In a surprisingly positive act, Wal-Mart announced that it would begin offering equal partnership benefits, like health insurance and life insurance, to same-sex couples in 2013. But because it’s still Wal-Mart, a leaked memo to employees emphasized that this was “a business decision” not an intentional step towards LGBT equality.

Budget Cuts and Waivers Threaten At-Risk Students

Students will start feeling the effects of sequestration when they return to school this year to bigger classes and fewer teachers. As always, the cuts will disproportionately hurt at-risk children by reducing help for low-income children, special education and ESL classes.

A study was released today that found in the past year, three-quarters of America’s teachers have had students routinely show up to school hungry; half of those surveyed said their students’ hunger impedes their teaching. This is a significant spike upwards from last summer, before sequestration cuts.

Finally, a waiver from the Education Department gives some states permission to ignore parts of No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, this includes the requirements about collecting and publishing data about students to pinpoint problem schools. In states that have received the waiver, at-risk students are already being tracked less carefully than before.

The Obama Administration Vs. Journalists

The Department of Justice asked a federal appeals court not to overturn a previous ruling against New York Times  reporter James Risen that decided reporters had no privilege that would safeguard the confidentiality of their sources in a criminal trial.

Risen wrote a 2006 book in which he revealed details of the CIA’s attempts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. He is being asked to testify against former CIA employee James Sterling, who is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for the criminal disclosure of information. Sterling is one of 8 people the Obama administration has charged with leaking or mishandling information under the act. Before Obama took office, a total of only 3 people had been charged with doing so in the past 90 years.

In (somewhat) related news in terms of whistleblowers and governmental transparency, the ACLU has filed a detailed court motion arguing that the NSA’s surveillance program violates the constitution.

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