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Aug 31st
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Town Hall with Rep. Sam Farr

SamFarrNewWhat are you, and others in congress, doing to address the problematic backlog of claims at the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is keeping so many returned soldiers from accessing their benefits? 

When a soldier puts on their uniform, they make a promise to defend our country at all costs. In exchange, we make a promise that our nation will never forget their service and will provide them with the benefits they earned. Unfortunately, our country is failing to live up to that promise.

 The backlog at the Veterans Benefits Administration is nothing short of travesty. The inability to process claims in a timely manner has left our veterans without access to the benefits and healthcare they need.

As a member of the Appropriations subcommittee that handles veteran issues, I am working to end the VA backlog. We have provided the department with the funds necessary to implement a new Veterans Benefits Management System, an electronic processing system designed to end the backlog by 2015.

However, a new system is not enough; we also need to change the culture of the VA that exacerbated this problem. Earlier this year, I met with Secretary Eric Shinseki personally and told him to end the backlog. Shortly after that meeting, he announced that the department would expedite all claims over a year old. 

This is a step in the right direction but we must hold the VA’s feet to the fire. The FY 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill passed last month included language requested by myself, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Mike Thompson and other members of the California delegation that will do just that. This bill allows Congress to conduct additional oversight and requires regular updates from the department on the status of the backlog.

No veteran should have to wait for the benefits they earned. I plan to pursue every avenue possible until our country can once again say that we are living up to the promise we made to our veterans.

In light of the recent NSA leak, what are your thoughts about the mass-surveillance Prism program that was revealed?

The recent reports concerning the National Security Agency’s collection of customer data from the telecommunication companies are disturbing.  When the Patriot Act was first proposed in 2001, I was worried that it could be used to circumvent an individual’s privacy in the name of security. That is one of the reasons I voted against the legislation then and every time it was up for reauthorization since.

One of the things I find particularly troubling is the role of the FISA court in this program. The court is meant to be a check against the government’s power. Supporters of the Patriot Act told us that it would prevent violations of personal liberty. Yet every request made by the NSA under the PRISM program was approved by the FISA court. It cannot be a safeguard to our individual freedoms if the court is nothing more than a rubber stamp. 

As a nation, we need to use this controversy and the upcoming debate on the Intelligence Authorization Act, as an opportunity to reevaluate our methods of domestic surveillance. Instead of programs that infringe upon our rights, we need to develop programs that respect the privacy and civil liberties of American citizens.

National security should be one of the top priorities of any nation but we must weigh that against the foundations of our democracy. We should not abandon our freedoms in pursuit of safety. If we build too many walls to protect us, we may soon find ourselves living in a prison.

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The Meaning of ‘LIFE’

With a new documentary film about his work, and huge exhibits on both coasts, acclaimed Santa Cruz nature photographer Frans Lanting is having a landmark year. But his crusade for conservation doesn’t leave much time for looking back

 

Seasons of Opportunity

Everything in our world has a specific time (a season) in which to accomplish a specific work—a “season” that begins (opportunity) and ends (time’s up). I can feel the season is changing. The leaves turning colors, the air cooler, sunbeams casting shadows in different places. It feels like a seasonal change has begun in the northern hemisphere. Christmas is in four months, and 2015 is swiftly speeding by. Soon it will be autumn and time for the many Festivals of Light. Each season offers new opportunities. Then the season ends and new seasons take its place. Humanity, too, is given “seasons” of opportunity. We are in one of those opportunities now, to bring something new (Uranus) into our world, especially in the United States. Times of opportunity can be seen in the astrology chart. In the U.S. chart, Uranus (change) joins Chiron (wound/healing). This symbolizes a need to heal the wounds of humanity. Uranus offers new archetypes, new ways of doing things. The Uranus/Chiron (Aries/Pisces) message is, “The people of the U.S. are suffering. New actions are needed to bring healing and well-being to humanity. So the U.S. can fulfill its spiritual task of standing within the light and leading humanity within and toward the light.” Thursday, Aquarius Moon, Mercury enters Libra. The message, “To bring forth the new order in the world, begin with acts of Goodwill.” Goodwill produces right relations with everyone and everything. The result is a world of progressive well-being and peacefulness (which is neither passive nor the opposite of war). Saturday is the full moon, the solar light of Virgo streaming into the Earth. Our waiting now begins, for the birth of new light at winter solstice. The mother (hiding the light of the soul, the holy child), identifying the feminine principle, says, “I am the mother and the child. I, God (Father), I Matter (Mother), We are One.”

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

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