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Friday, 17 April 2015

VA Turns Back on C-123 Crews Poisoned by Toxic Herbicides, States Vietnam Veterans of America

Today, the US Department of Veterans Affairs turned their back on reservists who suffer from disabilities as a result of their exposure on contaminated C-123 aircraft following the Vietnam War. Despite their legal authority to grant disability compensation to these reservists, the agency went against its own binding legal opinions and instead asked Congress to pass legislation. The US Department of Veterans Affairs has taken the stance that these reservists do not qualify as "veterans" under 38 U.S.C. ss 101 (2) and (24). Vietnam Veterans of America denounced the policy. "Vietnam Veterans of America calls upon VA Secretary Bob McDonald to overturn the erroneous legal opinions of the VA Central Office attorneys and immediately grant these beleaguered veterans their overdue benefits, effective from the date they filed their first claim," said John Rowan, National President of VVA.

"Since we have defeated the VA on its claim of junk science, now they are throwing junk law at us to prevent justice to those harmed by their exposure on these contaminated aircraft. The VA's position is unconscionable. These men and women worked, slept, and ate in toxic planes for years. Waiting for congressional action on this issue is an affront to these elderly, dying reservists," said Rowan. Today's announcement came after an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report in January 2015 concluded that exposure to these re-used C-123 aircraft put approximately 1,500-2,100 personnel and reservists at greater risk of adverse health consequences. After the IOM report, the agency faced mounting pressure to formally change its policy towards this group of reservists whose claims have been denied for decades. In February 2015, six senators, including the top-ranking Democrat on the Committee on Veterans Affairs, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, sent an open letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, urging the administration to give these reservists the compensation they deserve.

"The Secretary has the statutory authority, supported by agency-binding legal opinions issued by the VA Office of General Counsel, to immediately grant these reservists service-connected disability as a result of their exposure to Agent Orange," said former Marine Rory Minnis, a law student intern in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which represents VVA. "The Secretary is hiding behind his lawyers, who are blocking relief to these deserving veterans because they themselves disapprove of the binding legal opinions issued by their office."

SOURCE Vietnam Veterans of America

Saturday, 11 April 2015

GMO Trees Approved in Brazil: Groups Denounce Illegal Decision

The Campaign to STOP GE Trees announced today that the Brazilian Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) formally approved an industry request to release genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees on 9 April despite international outcry against their potential dangers. Groups point out the decision is illegal and are looking into avenues for stopping this GE eucalyptus in Brazil.

The request was made by FuturaGene, owned by Brazilian pulp and paper company Suzano. This is the first approval for commercial release of GE trees in Brazil or Latin America.

In an email from CTNBio member Paulo Paes de Andrade to the Campaign to STOP GE Trees dated 8 April, he stated the decision to approve GE eucalyptus was already made, indicating the 9 April meeting was merely a formality.

He went on to state "...the release of this GM tree is solely a Brazilian question and no other country or group of countries has the right to interfere in our decision."

Geneticist Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, co-Director of EcoNexus and member of the Federation of German Scientists, countered by explaining that their large-scale dispersion of reproductive material means GE trees are likely to cross national borders. This, she points out, violates the 2008 decision on GE trees made by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, to which Brazil is a signatory.

"A review of the scientific literature shows that currently no meaningful and sufficient risk assessment of GE trees is possible. Both scientific literature and in-field experience show that contamination by and dispersal of GE trees will take place," Steinbrecher added.

Winnie Overbeek, International Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement, said CTNBio's approval of GE eucalyptus trees was no surprise. "Over the years, CTNBio has made many decisions in favor of GMO crops in Brazil, ignoring protests from a wide range of groups."

In Brazil, there are also major concerns about the impact of GE eucalyptus on thousands of families that produce honey in the regions where eucalyptus trees are grown. These producers risk losing their international markets if their honey is contaminated by GE eucalyptus pollen.

In spite of the approval, the groups organizing to stop this GE eucalyptus highlight the many recent worldwide actions against GE eucalyptus. On 5 March, 1,000 women from Brazilian social movements occupied FuturaGene facilities in Sao Paulo state, while at the same time 300 peasants organized by La Via Campesina shut down the meeting of CTNBio in Brasilia, where the decision on FuturaGene's GE eucalyptus was to be made. Outside Brazil, global weeks of action were held at Brazilian Embassies and Consulates on five continents, and 100,000 people signed protest letters sent to CTNBio members.

"Our challenge now is to continue to strengthen the global movement against GE trees, in solidarity with Brazilian organizations and social movements," stated Anne Petermann, Coordinator of the International Campaign to STOP GE Trees.

SOURCE Campaign to STOP GE Trees

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Doctors Reject the Sugar Coating on China's Transplant Business

The international community should not find relief from the crisis in transplant medicine in China's recent promise to end the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners, said the medical watchdog organization, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (www.DAFOH.org).

The Chinese government has a lengthy record of secrecy, misleading numbers and contradictory statements, and, despite mounting evidence and international demands to stop, the government has refused to acknowledge the illegal harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience.

China's primary organ source, said to be executed death row inmates, foreshadows a different reality: an increased reliance on organ procurement from prisoners of conscience. This vulnerable group, of which the brutally persecuted Buddhist practice, Falun Gong, among others, is the primary target, is at increased risk of falling victim to the demand for forcibly procured organs. DAFOH urges the global medical community to be vigilant and not accept China's claims at face value, pointing out several key factors:
  • Murky legal situation. Since an implemented regulation in 1984, China has harvested organs from executed prisoners. Incredibly, in a recent interview, transplant architect Huang Jiefu denied that the policy was ever an official "law" – which, if true, would render tens of thousands of organ procurements illegal and the same amount of transplant surgeries unethical, demanding the prosecution of doctors and personnel.
  • Chameleon-like statements. In a 2013 report by ABC, Huang defended the practice saying that death row prisoners would want redemption, thus, "Why do you object?" In 2014, he stated that prisoners were citizens with the right to donate organs, an interpretation of ethical standards not shared by the international community. Last month, with a shift in political winds, Huang completely reversed this position, calling the practice "a forbidden zone," pointing the finger to the now disgraced Chinese security czar, Zhou Yongkang.
  • 'Implausible Disappearing Transplants.' Chinese hospitals have been busily scrubbing their websites of evidence to downplay the extent of the transplant business. In July, 2014, the Guangdong No. 2 Provincial People's Hospital boasted on its website that, since its establishment in 1999, it had performed over 1,000 kidney transplants. In February 2015, in a climate of global scrutiny over China's organ transplant policies, the same website was altered, now crediting the facility with only 500 kidney transplants since 1999. The number of kidney transplants that the department head performed was also changed from 2,000 to 1,200 during that time.
It is evident that China is not ready to join the ethical value based transplant community as an equal, trusted partner.
In order to take the Chinese government's claims seriously, international monitoring groups and medical organizations must demand:
  • Full disclosure of the use of prisoners of conscience as organ source,
  • Transparency of organ sources, and
  • Access to China's organ procurement pathways.
SOURCE Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting
RELATED LINKS
http://www.dafoh.org

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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Largest federal employee union denounces Indiana's freedom to discriminate law

The American Federation of Government Employees, the nation's largest union representing federal workers, today denounced the new Indiana law that opens the door to state-sanctioned discrimination.

"Allowing businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBT community or anyone else is wrong, regardless of the reason. Our nation repudiated legal discrimination more than 50 years ago, and we're not going back," said Augusta Thomas, AFGE's national vice president for women's and fair practices departments.

"This is the same kind of discriminatory behavior that once targeted African Americans, when we were forced to attend separate schools, use separate bathrooms, and drink from separate water fountains than whites," Thomas said.

"Growing up in the segregated South, I experienced intolerance, bigotry and prejudice firsthand. Discrimination is a part of America's history, but we cannot allow it to be part of our future."

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law last week by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, allows individuals to circumvent state laws on the grounds that they contradict a person's religious beliefs. Experts say this will allow businesses to turn away customers based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or discriminate against people based on their religion.

"Laws permitting discrimination and intolerance in any form or fashion have no place in America today," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. "I join with the legions of people from all walks of life who are voicing their outrage at this discriminatory law and urge Indiana lawmakers to repeal this despicable action at once."

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees

RELATED LINKS
http://www.afge.org

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Friday, 13 March 2015

Tennessee Parents File Lawsuit Against Department of Education to Save Their Public Virtual School

Tennessee parents today filed a lawsuit to protect their children's public virtual school, Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), which has been illegally ordered to close at the end of the school year by the Tennessee Department of Education. A copy of the parent lawsuit, assigned docket number 15-307-I, which is being supported by PublicSchoolOptions.org (PSO), can be found at www.PublicSchoolOptions.org/Tennessee.

The lawsuit contends the Tennessee Department of Education exceeded its authority in ordering the school's closure. It asks the court to intervene and declare that the Commissioner cannot order any virtual schools closed until after the 2015-2016 school year, as intended by the law, and that the Commissioner cannot require that virtual schools reach higher achievement levels than what the law set forth. This is especially important to Plaintiffs when their school, TNVA, has significantly improved its academic outcomes from 2013 to 2014 and showed the most improvement of over 125 schools that received a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years.

"PSO is proud to support the brave families who came forward to file this lawsuit and all parents of virtual public students in Tennessee who have found a school in TNVA that is literally changing the lives of their children for the better," said Beth Purcell, president of PSO, a national alliance of parents that supports and defends parents' rights to access the best public school options for their children. "The law is clear that the Tennessee Department of Education exceeded its authority in ordering the school closed. It's truly sad that bureaucrats want to close a school that parents and children are fighting so hard to keep open. TNVA's children are public school students, too, and deserve equal treatment under the law. We support Gov. Haslam, and we remain hopeful that he will help these families by forcing the department to rescind its order to close the school."

The filing comes after an analysis by PSO found the Union County public virtual school showed the best improvement of over 125 schools that received a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years. After Union County opened the school in 2011, and worked to transition students to an online learning model, the department's own data reveals TNVA began significantly improving its student outcomes from 2013 to 2014. In fact, last year TNVA realized improvements seven times greater than similarly rated schools, despite facing several unique challenges, including serving a higher percentage of special education and low-income students than the state average.

Based on an analysis of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) of more than 125 schools with a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years:
36 schools declined from 2012 to 2014;
92 of the schools improved, by an average of 5.19 points, from 2012 to 2014; and
TNVA showed the largest improvement of 36.31 points – seven times higher than the average.

Despite the fact that TNVA is one of the fastest improving public schools in the state, it's the only school that was ordered by the state to close. This is the result of the Department of Education's arbitrary and capricious accountability structure, one that was enacted only after the school's first year and used in a punitive manner, rather than to improve schools as intended by the legislature. Unlike TNVA, all remaining Level 1 schools in Tennessee most likely received support and funds from the state due to their ratings and inclusion in the state's normal, well-established accountability system.

TNVA is a public school run by Union County Public Schools and ultimately reports to the elected Union County school board. Fifteen percent of TNVA students receive special education services, and 74 percent of its families qualify for free/reduced lunches, according to Union County.

For many families, TNVA, the state's only full-time, K-8 statewide online public school, is the lone school that fits the needs of their children. Last month, hundreds of students and educators descended on the state Capitol to express their support for protecting the right of parents to choose the school that works best for their children.

There are 1,300 unique students and 1,300 unique stories as to how and why TNVA is working to meet student and family needs – students who are excelling or who are far behind; students with significant and, in some cases, debilitating or even life-threatening illnesses; students who have been threatened or bullied; students with special needs, including many students with autism, who find it difficult to achieve in a traditional classroom.

PublicSchoolOptions.org is a national alliance of over 60,000 parents that supports and defends parents' rights to access the best public school options for their children. The coalition supports the creation of public school options, including charter schools, online schools, magnet schools, open enrollment policies and other innovative education programs. Additionally, we advocate for equal access without restrictions to the school that best suits the individual student's learning needs, whether it is public, non-public or home-based.

For more information on families and the Tennessee chapter of PublicSchoolOptions.org please visit: http://www.publicschooloptions.org/tennessee/.

SOURCE PublicSchoolOptions.org

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