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To Ensure a Bright Future, Your Teen Needs to be Reading PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Monday, 19 March 2012 13:59
Author Offers Tips for Getting Adolescents to Turn the Page

Being able to read well is more important than ever for young adults to achieve economic success. But more than 60 percent of middle and high school students score below “proficient” in reading achievement, according to a December 2011 report by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“Teen literacy is a huge problem in the United States – its 15-year-olds rank 14th among developed nations in reading – behind Poland, Estonia and Iceland,” says Rhiannon Paille, 27, an advocate for teen literacy whose new fantasy novel, Flame of Surrender (www.yafantasyauthor.com) targets young adults. (South Korea, Finland and Canada rank 1st, 2nd and 3rd.)

“Kids need strong reading skills if they hope to graduate from high school AND they really need to plan for college – 59 percent of U.S. jobs today require some postsecondary education, compared to 28 percent in 1973.”

The best thing parents can do to help boost their 12- to 18-year-olds’ literacy is to get them reading – anything.

She offers these suggestions:

• Buy them comic books. Boys persistently lag behind girls in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Paille says. If your son isn’t a reader, try getting him hooked on comic books. “Stephen King started off reading comics, ‘Tales from the Crypt.’ Hey, if it was good enough for him …!’’ From comic books, they may move into graphic novels, a popular young adult genre. As long as they’re reading, they’re building comprehension skills and vocabulary, so it needn’t be “War and Peace.”

• Look for book-to-film novels. Chances are, if it was a great movie, they saw it, and that’s often enough to get a non-reader curious. This is another especially good hook for boys, Paille says.

• Tune into what they’re interested in. What kinds of video games do they play? Some popular games have spawned novels, including Halo, EverQuest, ElfQuest and Gears of War. Even gaming guides, which players read to unlock new clues to advancing in the game, can motivate a teen to crack a book.

• Read the same book your teen is reading. Book clubs are popular because people like talking to others who’ve read the same book. Your teen may not be ready for an evening of petit fours and grape juice while discussing the pacing of “Hunger Games,” but it can make for some interesting conversation on the way to soccer practice. And you can always nudge them along with comments like, “Oh, you haven’t gotten to that part yet? It’s really good!”

“People tend to think their young adults aren’t reading if they’re not reading novels,” Paille says. “But novels aren’t for everyone, and whether it’s a comic book or a gaming guide, all reading helps build comprehension skills and vocabulary.”

Good magazines, with shorter articles suited for distractible adolescents, might include Sports Illustrated, People, Seventeen or Mad.

“When you’re out shopping, think about what they’re interested in and pick up something just for them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as putting the right reading materials right into their hands.”

About Rhiannon Paille

Rhiannon Paille is an active advocate for youth literacy and an avid reader of young adult novels. Her first book, the non-fiction Integrated Intuition: A Comprehensive Guide to Psychic Development, remains a popular seller on amazon.com. Paille is the founder of the Canadian Metaphysical Foundation. She’s married and the mother of two children.

 
FOIA Compliance Lacking in Executive Branch PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 19 March 2012 12:37

Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary

“The Freedom of Information Act:  Safeguarding Critical Infrastructure

Information and the Public’s Right to Know.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing during Sunshine Week.

 

Open government and transparency are essential to maintaining our democratic form of government.  Our Founding Fathers knew this, as James Madison once said -- “a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

 

The Freedom of Information Act codifies this fundamental principle which our Founders valued so dearly.  So it’s important to talk about the Act and the need for American citizens to be able to obtain information about how their government is operating.

 

Although it’s Sunshine Week, I’m sorry to report that contrary to President Obama’s proclamations when he took office, after three years, the sun still isn’t shining in Washington, D.C.

 

Based on my experience in trying to pry information out of the executive branch, I’m disappointed to report that agencies under the control of President Obama’s political appointees have been more aggressive than ever in withholding information from the public and from Congress.

 

There’s a complete disconnect between the President’s grand pronouncements about transparency and the actions of his political appointees.

 

On his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act.  In it, he instructed executive agencies to

“adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.”

 

Unfortunately, it appears that in the eyes of the President’s political appointees, his proclamations about open government and transparency -- are merely words, which can be ignored.

 

Indeed, FOIA requestors appear to have reached the same conclusion. For example, when recently asked about President Obama and FOIA, Katherine Meyer, an attorney who’s been filing FOIA cases since 1978, said, that the Obama administration

“is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it… This administration is raising one barrier after another. … It’s gotten to the point where I’m stunned — I’m really stunned.”

 

The problem is more than just a matter of backlogs with answering FOIA requests.  Based on investigative reports, we’ve learned of inappropriate actions by the President’s political appointees.

 

In March of last year, two weeks after this committee held a hearing on FOIA, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a 153-page report on its investigation of the political vetting of FOIA requests by the Department of Homeland Security.  The committee reviewed thousands of pages of internal emails and memoranda and conducted six transcribed witness interviews.

 

The committee, under Chairman Issa, learned that political staff under Secretary Napolitano corrupted the agency’s FOIA compliance procedures, exerted pressure on FOIA compliance officers, and undermined the federal government’s accountability to the American people.  The report’s findings are disturbing.  I’ll just summarize four of them.

 

First, the report finds that by the end of September 2009, copies of all significant FOIA requests had to be forwarded to Secretary Napolitano’s political staff for review.  The career staff in the FOIA office weren’t permitted to release responses to these requests without approval from political staff.

 

Second, career FOIA professionals were burdened by an intrusive political staff and blamed for delays, mistakes, and inefficiencies for which the Secretary’s political staff was responsible.  The Chief Privacy Officer, herself a political appointee, did not adequately support and defend career staff.  To the contrary, in one of her emails, she referred to her career staff as “idiots.”

 

Third, political appointees displayed hostility toward the career staff. In one email, political staff referred to a senior career FOIA employee as a “lunatic” and wrote of attending a FOIA training session organized by the career staffer for the “comic relief.”  Moreover, three of the four career staff interviewed by the committee have been transferred, demoted, or relieved of certain responsibilities.

 

Finally, the report finds that the Secretary’s office and the General Counsel’s office can still withhold and delay significant responses. Although the FOIA office no longer needs an affirmative statement of approval, the Secretary’s political staff retains the ability to halt the release of FOIA responses.

 

The conduct of the political appointees at Homeland Security involved the politically motivated withholding of information about the very conduct of our government from our citizens.  In particular, it was the withholding of information about the administration’s controversial policies and about its mistakes.  This was a direct violation of the President’s orders.

 

I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more coverage of Chairman Issa’s report and the inappropriate conduct by political appointees at Homeland Security.  I’m also disappointed that the Justice Department hasn’t conducted an investigation of this scandal.

I have to say that I’m a bit surprised that some open government and privacy groups appear to be accepting the dramatic regulatory power that Homeland Security and Secretary Napolitano will have under the Lieberman-Collins’ cybersecurity bill and under President Obama’s proposal.  Given the FOIA scandal at Homeland Security, I’d have thought that they’d have more reservations.

 

I’m also sorry to say that the Department of Homeland Security isn’t alone when it comes to questionable actions.  Recently, the National Security Archive gave its annual Rosemary Award to the Department of Justice for the worst open government performance in 2011.

 

The charges the Archive makes against the Justice Department include:

(1)               proposing regulations that would allow the government to lie about the existence of records sought by FOIA requesters, and that would further limit requestors ability to obtain information;

(2)               using recycled legal arguments for greater secrecy, including questionable arguments before the Supreme Court in 2011 in direct contradiction to President Obama’s presumption of openness; and

(3)               backsliding on the key indicator of the most discretionary FOIA exemption, Exemption 5 for deliberative process.  In 2011, the Justice Department cited Exemption 5 to withhold information 1,500 times.  That’s up from 1,231 times in 2010.

According to the Archive, the Justice Department edged out a crowded field of contending agencies that seem to be in “practical rebellion” against President Obama's open-government orders.

So there’s a disturbing contradiction between President Obama’s grand pronouncements and the actions of his political appointees.  The Obama administration doesn’t understand that open government and transparency must be about more than just pleasant sounding words in memos.  Ultimately, the President is responsible for the conduct of his political appointees, especially after three years in office.  Both he and Attorney General Holder certainly know what’s been going on.

 

Throughout my career I’ve actively conducted oversight of the Executive Branch regardless of who controls the Congress or the White House.

 

Open government isn’t a Republican or a Democrat issue.  It has to be a bipartisan issue.  It’s about basic good government and accountability—not party politics or ideology.

 

I started out my remarks by quoting James Madison, the Founding Father who is one of the inspirations for Sunshine Week.  Madison understood the danger posed by the type of conduct we’re seeing from President Obama’s political appointees.  He explained that --- “[a] popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

 

So I’m looking forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses.  Their experiences and expertise should be helpful.  I want to thank all of the witnesses for coming in and for taking the time to prepare their testimony.

 

I also want to thank Sargent Ensminger for his service to our country.  I’m very sorry about the loss of your daughter.  I’m a cosponsor of the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, which was introduced by Senator Burr.  That bill will help to provide medical treatment and care for service members and their families, who lived at the camp and were injured by the chemical contamination.

 

Thank you.

 
Q&A: Sunshine and Accountability with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Sen. Chuck Grassley   
Monday, 19 March 2012 12:31

Q:        What is Sunshine Week?

A:        In 2005, a group of advocates, including journalists, launched a national initiative to encourage individuals to play an active role in their government at all levels and to work to give them access to information about their government.  Sunshine Week is scheduled each year to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution.   The observance promotes a dialogue about open government in honor of Madison’s founding principle that government gets its limited powers by “consent of the governed.”  Transparency and the accountability that results strengthen our system of self-government.

 

Q:        What’s the role of transparency and open government?

A:        Letting the sun shine in and making information public is basic to accountability.  James Madison wrote, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  As a U.S. senator, I’ve championed the public’s right to know with oversight and enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act, fighting for disclosure by federal agencies of the people’s business, and pushing for measures to protect watchdogs and whistleblowers.

For many years, I’ve worked to keep the people’s business open for public consumption by shedding light on information from federal agencies.  The taxpaying public pays the bills and deserves to know how its government operates.  Bureaucratic stonewalling harms public confidence in our system of government.  Accountability is needed to safeguard the integrity of the rule of law.  These principles are at stake in my current oversight of the Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious gun walking fiasco that allowed the illegal sale of thousands of weapons in the United States which then often flowed to Mexico, for example.  They are why I’m standing up to the Federal Communications Commission to release information about a fast-tracked licensing agreement.  Responsible stewardship of public programs is on the line when the Department of Housing and Urban Development fails to oversee how federal dollars are grossly misused, and I want to make sure the problems are fixed.  My scrutiny of reports from Inspectors General about Defense Department spending also is drawing attention to egregious waste and misconduct.  With $500 billion in controversial defense budget cuts proposed, the waste described in the reports is the perfect place for the Pentagon to begin its belt-tightening.  To curb fraud and overpayments with health care dollars, I seek greater disclosure and oversight of where Medicare and Medicaid dollars are spent.  The judicial branch should be open to the public, as well, and I’m making progress on my legislative effort to allow broadcast coverage of the federal courts and the Supreme Court.

The sunshine effort has no better friend than whistleblowers.  Private citizens and government employees who come forward with allegations of wrongdoing and cover-ups risk their livelihoods to expose misconduct.  The value of whistleblowers is the reason I continue to challenge the bureaucracy and Congress to support them.  As one whistleblower said famously, they “commit truth.”  Over the years, I’ve worked for enactment of several whistleblower initiatives to protect and empower these patriots.  Whistleblowers have made a positive difference by standing up to defense contractors and pharmaceutical companies, for example.  They’ve helped hold accountable the Defense Department, the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.  Currently, I’m seeking to update the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Act that I first authored in 1989, so that it continues to protect from retaliation whistleblowers inside the federal government, including those involved in homeland security.  This latest bill has been approved by the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and awaits action by the Senate and House.

Q:        In addition to an informed citizenry, how does our system of government establish accountability?

A:        Congress plays a major part in a system of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches of our government, and restoring some of the checks and balances that have eroded is an important challenge for Congress, where the people have a voice through their elected representatives.  The Constitution vests all legislative power in Congress yet, year after year, Congress passes legislation that delegates more power to the executive branch without really assessing the full impact of those laws and how that power is used.  Federal agencies are increasingly bypassing Congress by imposing new regulations that Congress never intended.  This year, in addition to a focus on major regulations handed down from the executive branch, fundamentally important protests have been made over the President’s effort to put the executive branch above the other branches of government with unprecedented appointments to high-level government positions.  The President purportedly exercised his temporary recess appointment power, despite the fact that Congress was not in a prolonged recess.  What’s happened is both unconstitutional and counter-productive.  It’s an approach that Americans rejected 235 years ago.  And, working to finding common ground with the elected representatives of Congress would be more productive than trying to govern by edict from the Oval Office.

As an elected representative, I’m committed to cultivating the freedoms and responsibilities of all Americans.  And, as James Madison wrote, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

 
Bipartisan Concerns About "Specialized Knowledge" Standard in Visa Program PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 19 March 2012 11:03
WASHINGTON – Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin are raising concerns about potential changes being made to the L visa program that would further encourage companies to use the L-1B visa program to import foreign workers and evade restrictions of the H-1B visa program, and putting American workers at a disadvantage.

 

The L-1B visa program allows companies to transfer employees with “specialized knowledge” from the foreign facilities to their U.S. offices for up to seven years.  “Specialized knowledge” as defined by Congress is “special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or … an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures for the company.”

 

Grassley and Durbin wrote in a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas that they “are concerned about attempts by unscrupulous petitioners to obtain L-1B status for workers who do not truly possess specialized knowledge relating to the petitioning company.”

 

The senators also wrote that both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Administrative Appeals Office have considered the term “specialized knowledge” when adjudicating these visas, and encouraged U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to adopt the clear standards and reasoning provided by the State Department and the Administrative Appeals Office.

 

Grassley and Durbin are leading the effort to reform the H-1B and L visa programs and are planning to introduce legislation later this year.

 

Here’s a copy of the text of the letter.  A signed copy of the letter can be found here.

 

March 7, 2012

 

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas

Director

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

20 Massachusetts Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20529

 

Dear Director Mayorkas:

 

It has come to our attention that you are planning to issue new guidance on the L-1B “specialized knowledge” standard in the near future.  We write today to urge you not to propose changes that would undermine the L visa program.

 

As you know, the L-1B visa program allows companies to transfer employees with “specialized knowledge” from their foreign facilities to their U.S. offices for up to seven years.  We are concerned that the L-1B program is harming American workers because some employers, especially foreign outsourcing companies, use L-1B visas to evade restrictions on the H-1B visa program.  For example, the L-1 program does not have an annual cap and does not include even the minimal labor protections of the H-1B program.

 

Congress defined L-1B “specialized knowledge” in the Immigration and Nationality Act as “special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or … an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures for the company.”  We are concerned about attempts by unscrupulous petitioners to obtain L-1B status for workers who do not truly possess specialized knowledge relating to the petitioning company.

 

As you know, on January 11, 2011, the U.S. Department of State issued new guidance to consular officers on how to adjudicate visas under the specialized knowledge category.  According to the guidelines issued by the Department of State to consular officers around the world, posts should use certain criteria to assist in making an L-1B adjudication.  The criteria include: 1) the proprietary nature of the knowledge possessed by the visa applicant; 2) whether the visa applicant is “key” or normal personnel; and 3) whether the applicant possesses more skills or knowledge than an “ordinary” employee.

 

In July 2008, USCIS’s Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) considered the definition of “specialized knowledge” and concluded that a specialized knowledge employee is “an elevated class of workers within a company and not an ordinary or average employee.”  In its decision, the AAO said that “‘specialized knowledge’ is used to describe the nature of a person’s employment and that the term is listed among the higher levels of the employment hierarchy with ‘managerial’ and ‘executive’ employees.”  The AAO also describes congressional intent regarding the L-1 visa program, indicating that “the original drafters intended the class of aliens eligible for the L-1 classification would be ‘narrowly drawn’ and ‘carefully regulated and monitored’ by USCIS,” and that “[t]his legislative history has been widely viewed as supporting a narrow reading of the definition of specialized knowledge and the L-1 visa classification in general”.

 

We agree with the AAO that “specialized knowledge” employees should possess “special” knowledge of a company product and its application in international markets or an “advanced” level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company.  A comparison to the knowledge held by workers in the company’s industry generally would be unacceptable and only undermine the specialized knowledge standard established by Congress.

 

We believe that USCIS guidance regarding the definition of specialized knowledge should adopt the standards and reasoning articulated in the January 2011 State Department guidance and the July 2008 AAO decision.  We are concerned that any weakening of the standard would create additional incentives for some employers to use the L-1B visa program in order to circumvent even the minimal wage and other labor protections for American workers in the H-1B visa program.

 

Please provide us with an update on USCIS’s activity with regard to the “specialized knowledge” standard.  A prompt response to our concerns would be appreciated.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

________________________________                    ________________________________

Charles E. Grassley                       Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator

United States Senator

 
20 Weeks To Preparedness Program PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - General Info
Written by Ross E. Bergen   
Monday, 19 March 2012 10:56
Region 6 Homeland Security Board and Safeguard Iowa
Partnership Announce Week 5 of “20 Weeks to Preparedness
Program”

Release Date: March 12, 2012
Release Number: 6

Welcome to Week 5 of the 20 Weeks to Preparedness Program brought to you by the Region 6 Homeland
Security Board and Safeguard Iowa Partnership. This program will help to better prepare you and your
family, a little at a time, over a 20 week period. Each week new preparedness information will be shared
in this publication including a list of items to gather or purchase for your disaster supply kit. Sign up at
www.safeguardiowa.org/subscribe-to-be-prepared to receive weekly reminders and announcements related to
the 20 Weeks to Preparedness program.

Use this program to gather items for your kit in small steps over a five month period. Remember to change
and replace perishable items by the expiration date. Purchasing the food suggested by this program would last
approximately 3-5 days.

Place in storage bin:

Disposable dust mask (one per person)
Travel sized shampoo, body wash, and deodorant
Manual can opener
Canned vegetables (one can for every two people)
Mirror
Personalized Item (if applicable):

Hearing aid batteries

To do:

Scan or make copies of health care information, including vaccination records, prescription
information, and insurance. Complete an emergency personal health record for each family
member. You should retain a copy by either storing a hard copy in a plastic bag, safety deposit
box, on a thumb drive or send to an email account that is accessible from anywhere.

Additional assistance is available by contacting the Scott County Emergency Management Coordinator
at 563-484-3050 or visiting the website at www.iascema.com.Visit Safeguard Iowa Partnership at
www.safeguardiowa.org, on twitter @safeguardiowa or Facebook at www.facebook.com/safeguardiowa.

 
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