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Mass Shootings and "Crazy People"

Huffington Post News - 34 min 8 sec ago

Who knew that "crazy people" were such a problem!

The late neurologist Oliver Sacks, who passed away on Sunday, enriched all of our lives by showing in exquisite prose that people with severe neurological and psychiatric disorders not only have deficits; many of us have beautiful gifts.

With his extraordinary compassion and insight, Sacks understood that his patients were individuals and that each had his or her own idiosyncratic trajectory. Some of his patients were able to transmute what seemed like a curse into a blessing.

And yet if you listen to the recent televised discussions on mass shootings, you would think that those of us with serious mental-health diagnoses are responsible for most of the tragic shootings that occur in this country.

I have been listening and not listening for days to the talking heads in the wake of the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two young and promising broadcasters, based in Roanoke, Va. As we all know, they were gunned down by Vester Flanagan, a disgruntled former colleague at WDBJ.

As I wrote in my last piece, "Trump l'oeil, Virginia Tragedy Edition," Donald Trump, Republican presidential contender and wannabe mental-health pundit, said, in reference to the mass shootings in our country, and with his customary elegance and cluelessness, "It's not a gun problem; it's a mental problem."

Jeb Bush, another Republican presidential candidate, said recently that no new gun laws should be passed.

The NRA has weighed in, indicating that we should try to eliminate the "emotion" from the debate.

All of these responses by the right-wing establishment have been predictable and do not help us solve the problem that we have roughly 300 million guns in this country, nearly one per person, a shocking total for a developed nation.

More to the point, almost anyone can obtain these guns, not only at gun shows or gun stores, but also over the Internet.

Andy Parker, father of the late Alison Parker, has also weighed in on the debate. He has been interviewed regularly on CNN and by press around the world since the tragic death of his daughter.

This morning, September 2, he told Carol Costello on CNN that people in Europe don't really "get it" when he talks to them. As Andy Parker said, "We don't have the market cornered on people with mental illness, but we do have the market cornered on people with mental illness" who have easy access to guns.

During his interview with Costello, Andy Parker also referred to people with mental illness as "crazy people."

I have compassion for Parker. His daughter's life was cut short by an evil man. As was the life of Adam Ward.

Where I disagree with Parker is when he blames all of these shootings on people with mental illness.

Vester Flanagan was many things, but he was not mentally ill.

Flanagan was a poor journalist, who was reprimanded for his shoddy performance as a broadcaster. He was a former model, who liked to preen. He blamed his problems at work and elsewhere on the jealousies of others and on the fact that he was black and gay, rather than look deeply inside himself at his own contribution to his problems.

But more than anything else, Flanagan had a rage problem. He meticulously planned his "social media murder." And after he had committed it, he showed zero remorse. He went so far as to urge people to go to Facebook so that they could see the murders he had just carried out.

Flanagan obviously craved attention; he wanted to be a celebrity, to gain his Warholesque 15 minutes of fame.

As I have written for years now, a person who plans violent crimes for which he shows no remorse is not mentally ill; he is a psychopath, an evil person.

And, yes, evil exists.

As I have pointed out in numerous columns, evil has been with us since the beginning of time or the Fall of Man, depending on one's beliefs.

And evil will be with us until the end of time too.

The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by evil people, angry people, violent people, not people with mental illness.

What Andy Parker has to understand is that those with severe mental illness, but no substance abuse problems, commit only three percent to four percent of violent crime in this country.

Moreover, as Lindsay Holmes of the Huff Post reminded everyone today in a piece on myths regarding mental illness, people who suffer from severe psychiatric disorders are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime.

And when people with severe mental illness are in treatment, we are no more of a threat to anyone than people who do not have a diagnosis.

So, call us "crazy," if you must.

I have come to accept that word. As Mickey Rourke, channeling Charles Bukowski, said in Bar Fly: "Some people never go crazy; what truly boring lives they must lead."

We will always have crazy people like me, like the late Oliver Sacks' patients, people who have suffered unbearable trauma not only to our brains but also to our souls.

It is people like me, like Sacks' patients, like the late Robin Williams and Brian Wilson, as I wrote in my last piece, who often benefit the planet with our unique perspectives and imagination.

Yes, some people with mental illness commit violent crimes. But violent crimes and mass shootings are primarily committed by people with a rage problem, disgruntled, angry, evil people, like Vester Flanagan.

And they will always be with us.

That we cannot change. It is the dark side of humanity.

But we can change our gun laws, if our politicians have the courage to write and pass the legislation.

Call me "crazy," but won't those politicians, even if they are voted out of office, still get generous health benefits, pensions and jobs as lobbyists or, yes, TV pundits?

Maybe, we need not only fewer guns; we also need fewer gutless politicians.

And maybe we need more "crazy people" urging those politicians to do the right thing and pass gun-control measures.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Biden, the Vice Presidency and Running for President

Huffington Post News - 36 min 26 sec ago

The growing interest in the possible presidential candidacy of Vice President Joe Biden rebuts two inconsistent judgments that had gained popularity when conventional wisdom dismissed his prospects. One judgment saw Biden's standing as evidence that the vice presidency is not a good presidential springboard; the other read Biden's perceived status as reflecting poorly on him relative to his recent predecessors.

The judgments were inconsistent with each other and with reality. The vice presidency remains the best presidential springboard and has provided Biden a forum where he has demonstrated his presidential qualities. And Biden, like recent vice presidents, is and deserves to be a serious presidential candidate. The conclusions downgrading the office and its current occupant related not to shortcomings in either but to a tendency to ignore significant contextual factors in shaping analysis.

The vice presidency has been the best presidential springboard for more than one-half century. The office and political system before Richard Nixon's tenure (1953-1961) were so different that earlier data has little value. Yet beginning with Nixon, every sitting vice president a) who completed a term with a president who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term or elected not to seek a second and b) who wanted to run for president, received his party's presidential nomination. Only four vice presidents -- Nixon, Hubert H. Humphrey, George H. W. Bush and Al Gore -- met this two-part test but that was the sum total of sitting vice presidents since 1960 who had a fair chance to run for president and wanted to do so. Two other vice presidents (Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford) became president upon the death or resignation of their predecessor and two former vice presidents (Nixon, Walter F. Mondale) also received presidential nominations. Thus 7 of the 20 people (35%) who have received major party presidential nominations since 1960 have been sitting or former vice presidents. That number is smaller than the number of past or current senators (12) who have received presidential nominations since 1960. Yet the senate numbers are greatly inflated by two distorting factors. Five of the 12 senators (Nixon, Johnson, Humphrey, Mondale, Gore) only became presidential nominees after leaving the Senate to serve as vice president. All but Nixon had tried and failed to obtain the presidential nomination as senators but succeeded the first time after serving as vice president. And at any one time there are 100 senators but only one vice president. Six of the 20 presidential nominees were past or current governors but again there are always far more present or former governors than vice presidents. Only Bush of the sitting, and Johnson and Nixon of the former, vice presidents were elected president but Nixon (1960), Humphrey, Ford, and Gore ran essentially dead heats in losing. Quite clearly, the vice presidency provides a far better steppingstone for almost any individual than does any other public office.

Biden's experience follows the pattern. As a senator, his 2008 presidential candidacy attracted about 1% of the support in the Iowa caucuses before he withdrew. After less than seven years as vice president, he clearly is a formidable candidate. His recent favorability ratings are higher than those of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and he fares better against the leading Republicans than she does. Regardless of whether he decides to run or not and even if his numbers are inflated as a potential candidate as is often the case, his service as vice president has clearly enhanced his stature as a presidential candidate.

And well it should have. With 17 months remaining in his second term, Biden appears likely to be the most consequential two-term vice president in American history. He has served as a close and trusted presidential adviser and has skillfully handled a range of important assignments that required attention at the highest level. Unlike Gore and Dick Cheney, Biden's influence shows no sign of waning. On the contrary, President Barack Obama's testimonials to Biden have grown more effusive as their service continues. Interest in Biden's candidacy relates in part to Secretary Clinton's troubles but it also reflects an appreciation of Biden's skill and commitment to public service, and the sense that he is an authentic representative of values many Americans share.

The suggestion that Biden was deficient because he did not dominate presidential speculation overlooked key contextual factors. Vice presidents Nixon and Humphrey operated in a presidential nominating system that accentuated their advantages. Even so, Humphrey might not have won had Senator Robert F. Kennedy not been assassinated. The nominations of other vice presidents were not as inevitable as hindsight suggests. Bush's campaign appeared in trouble after the Iran-Contra revelations tarnished the Reagan administration and again after he finished third in the Iowa caucuses and seemed likely to lose New Hampshire to Senator Bob Dole. Gore largely cleared the field but then found himself in a seemingly competitive race against Senator Bill Bradley after investigations of his earlier fund-raising activity and some early campaign stumbles weakened his position. After a surprise loss in New Hampshire to Senator Gary Hart, Mondale was on the ropes until victories in Alabama and Georgia saved his candidacy.

Biden has also operated in a unique context with unprecedented challenges. Secretary Clinton, was a)the 2008 runner up having run essentially an even race with Obama; b) linked to the popular Clinton administration which she served as First Lady; c) a respected participant of the first Obama administration; and d) the first significant woman candidate for president and accordingly an iconic figure. None of Biden's predecessors faced a rival with one, let alone all, of these attributes. Moreover, Biden is older than most presidential candidates, although his age is comparable to those of Ronald Reagan in 1984, Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008.

Biden may decide not to run or may run and not be nominated or elected. Yet the recent interest in his candidacy confirms the utility of the vice presidency as the best political springboard and the recognition of Biden as among the truly outstanding political leaders of his generation.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

The Educated Citizen

Huffington Post News - 37 min 27 sec ago

Every day we are bombarded by political assertions, opinions, ads, and statements of "facts" as identified by a political candidate or party. These are all thrown at us among the TV ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, Facebook pages, Twitter comments, and other media that offers to get a message to the masses. The problem, however, is so much of what we hear, read, or see in the media is distorted, stretched, quoted out of context, or simply not true. But often, it just seems convincing.

Now that we are entering an active political season, particularly at the federal level with the beginning of the presidential campaigns, the propensity of political fodder is exacerbated. How many times will we hear wars of words between candidates citing positions from years ago or statements made without any contextual basis? How often will we hear what bad shape the country is in; and how one party or the other took the U.S. into the depths of disparity? By the time we go to the polls in November, two years from now, we'll be happy to vote just to make it stop. Sadly, it will only stop for a few hours before they begin to speculate on who will start his/her run two years later.

However, voting for our elected officials - local, state and federal - is one of the great privileges and responsibilities as a citizen of the United States. How sad it is that relatively few actually vote in any given election. So, our elected officials are selected by a small percentage of our population. It seems to me that higher education has a duty to encourage our students and graduates to vote in any eligible election. Equally as important, we must encourage students to become informed about the issues and the candidates who are running for office.

No one should take at face value the statements of any elected official, particularly during the election season. No offense to our elected officials, but we have a responsibility to understand the issues on our own. Then we can understand the candidates' positions on issues because we have read and interpreted our own positions. No one can understand all of the issues that candidates face, so we need to pick the ones that are important to us, and gain a better understanding for ourselves.

At Fulton-Montgomery Community College we try to teach students that when you explore a subject, a topic, or an issue, it is important to explore all sides. Don't read only documents or data that reflect one's current opinions. Rather, those interested should read articles, books, and editorials expressing opinions that do not agree with our own. At the conclusion of our research we may or may not have the same opinion as when we started, but we are informed.

It is then that we can decide if candidates reflect our opinions or if they differ. We can determine if they are knowledgeable about an issue, or pandering to a sector. We can discuss if the candidates' position could lead to real change or if it is wrapped up in hyperbole.

Certainly one key to moving our society forward is having our citizens understand the issues and make informed decisions about our leaders. While a college education may not be the only way to prepare for such an endeavor, it sure helps.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Obama Orders $18.25 In Cinnamon Rolls, Leaves $31 Tip, Drops Mic

Huffington Post News - 59 min 27 sec ago

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Drop a total of $50 on pastries, all before 10 a.m.? Yes we can. 

President Obama's trip to Anchorage, Alaska, was highlighted by a Tuesday morning trip to Snow City Cafe, a downtown brunch spot well-known amongst locals. His to-go order included the cafe's entire stock of cinnamon rolls, as well as two pastry platters loaded with muffins and buns.

"How many of those do you guys have?" the president reportedly asked a barista upon seeing the cinnamon rolls. "I'm going to take all of those."

The president paid for his $18.25 order with a $50 bill, leaving the extra as a tip of more than $30. Apparently, he was slightly undercharged. 

"He probably got a couple extra in there [for free)]," sous chef Danny Atkins told The Huffington Post. "It was very exciting."

The restaurant had caught wind that Obama might be visiting this week, so it stocked its menu with presidential-titled specials like a Kale to the Chief salad, POTUS sliders and the Obamalet (an egg dish with "barakoli," otherwise known as broccoli). Those items will remain on the menu for the rest of the week, Atkins said.

Also on HuffPost:

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Detroit Jazz Festival schedule with artist descriptions - Detroit Free Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 1 hour 1 min ago

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Jazz Festival schedule with artist descriptions
Detroit Free Press
36th annual Detroit Jazz Festival. Friday through Monday, featuring about 70 national and local acts. 7-10:30 p.m. Fri., 11:30 a.m.-10:45 p.m. Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun., noon-8 p.m. Mon. Four stages at Hart Plaza and Campus Martius/Cadillac Square.
Why the Detroit Jazz Festival pushes its boundariesDetroit Metro Times

all 4 news articles »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Edward Snowden, American Hero? His Greatest Defender And Greatest Critic Hash It Out.

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 8 min ago

WASHINGTON -- More than two years after former National Security Agency contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. government’s mass surveillance program, his chief critic and his chief defender met on stage Wednesday morning at the annual Hewlett-Packard cybersecurity conference.

There was no bloodshed, raised voices or thrown tables as Glenn Greenwald, the journalist to whom Snowden provided his trove of documents, and former NSA Director Keith Alexander squared off. But even after two years of public outcry -- culminating with Congress voting this year to end the sweeping data programs Snowden revealed in 2013 -- tension was palpable when the whistleblower’s name came up.

“Around the world, he’s regarded overwhelmingly as a hero,” Greenwald said. “He came to established media outlets... he deserves our collective gratitude for enable us to have the discussion that we’re having.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alexander, who led the NSA through the tumultuous revelations, didn’t agree. 

“I see it slightly differently,” he said after a pregnant pause.

“You say you took an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic... he did not do that,” Alexander said. “So as a consequence, I think he should face justice with a jury of his peers.” 

Alexander did say he thought Snowden could have achieved a similar end if he had simply revealed the court documents justifying what was known as the “215” program, which sweeps up the telephone data of millions of Americans, including the numbers they dial and the length and time of the calls. But rather than just revealing the court records, Snowden provided Greenwald with millions of documents on the intricacies of programs and operations of the NSA, other intelligence agencies and U.S. allies.

“If he had taken the one court document and said, ‘This is what I’m going to do’... I think this would be a whole different discussion,” Alexander said. “I do think he had the opportunity [to be] what many could consider an American hero.”

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Court Cases Leave States Stuck In Redistricting Limbo

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 30 min ago

This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

The drawing of legislative districts is supposed to be a once-a-decade process, completed shortly after the U.S. Census Bureau provides updated population numbers. But in some states, the map-drawing based on the 2010 count—the most litigious in recent memory—is still dragging on.

Courts will likely draw maps for Florida and Virginia after legislators in those states failed to agree on new maps to replace earlier ones thrown out by judges. Alabama may need to redraw its district lines after the Legislative Black Caucus went to court arguing that Republican state legislators drew them to reduce the voice of minority voters. Democrats in Wisconsin are arguing that GOP lawmakers did the same to their voters. And a case in Texas could change the “one man, one vote” standard.

Though in some states commissions are responsible for drawing U.S. congressional and state legislative maps, in most it is up to state legislators to do the job.

“There are more cases at this time, post-2010 redistricting, than there have been in quite some time, certainly more than there were a decade or 20 years ago,” said Jeffrey Wice, a redistricting attorney who has advised a number of states and caucuses, primarily Democratic, on how to draw their borders.

There are several reasons for the increasing discord, according to Wice. One is that Republicans now dominate statehouses to an extent not seen since the 1920s, emboldening them to draw maps that go further in favoring their party.

Technology is another factor: New mapmaking software allows legislators to slice and dice populations more finely than ever before. At the same time, lawyers and judges can look at what was said in email exchanges to challenge lawmakers’ intent when they drew such maps.

More Gerrymandering?

Drawing legislative districts to give an edge to one party, commonly called “gerrymandering,” has been going on in the U.S. for at least two centuries, and most states still don’t explicitly prohibit it. (The term “gerrymander” comes from the name of a 19th century Massachusetts governor, Elbridge Gerry, who signed into law an unpopular redistricting plan that included one state Senate district shaped like a salamander.)

But some studies show it is a growing problem.

In Wisconsin’s 2012 elections, Democrats won 53 percent of the statewide popular vote, yet Republicans got 61 percent of the state legislative seats. That prompted a group of Democrats to sue the state, arguing they were the targets of political discrimination at the hands of Republican lawmakers. The plaintiffs cite one study that reviewed nearly all the redistricting plans since the 1970s and found Wisconsin’s to be one of the most gerrymandered.

A three-judge panel in Wisconsin will hear the redistricting case in the fall. If the panel rules against the plaintiffs, they are expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But convincing the high court to throw out the Wisconsin plan by arguing that it discriminates against Democrats won’t be easy.

In 2004, the court scrapped its previous gerrymandering standard—whether plans “consistently degrade a voter’s or a group of voters' influence on the political process as a whole”—without replacing it with anything else. As a result, though the court has rejected some gerrymandered plans, it hasn’t been able to come up with clear standards for what constitutes unlawful gerrymandering.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, courts often decide gerrymandering cases by determining “how much is too much,” and, more specifically, whether the plan is so discriminatory it violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits drawing boundaries that weaken the voices of minorities, but it doesn’t offer protections to people based on their political beliefs.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who is helping represent the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case, said redistricting plans in the 1970s didn’t give much advantage to either party. But Stephanopoulos said gerrymandering has increased by the decade, with Democrats getting a modest benefit in the 1980s and with plans becoming more favorable to Republicans from the 1990s through today.

Stephanopoulos ranked almost all maps since the 1970s based on their “efficiency gap,” a score that is based in part on the number of votes “wasted” by the winning party—votes received beyond the 50 percent needed to win each district. He said the calculations show how much more efficiently one party's votes convert into seats over the other party's. Of the more than 800 maps reviewed, Wisconsin’s plan ranked 28th, making it one of the most gerrymandered plans in modern history. 

Stephanopoulos hopes his data will show just how much “packing and cracking’” happened in Wisconsin, referring to the process of packing the opposing party’s voters into a small number of districts and cracking their support by spreading the remaining voters over many districts. He said such statistics could push the U.S. Supreme Court to embrace standards for determining when unconstitutional gerrymandering has occurred.

Michael Li, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said setting gerrymandering standards may not just help protect the rights of people in the minority party, but also racial minorities seeking protection under the Voting Rights Act.

“If the court does recognize partisan gerrymandering, it would be important because in some cases lawyers have argued, ‘We weren’t trying to discriminate against blacks, we were trying to discriminate against Democrats, and they happen to be African-American,’ ” he said.

But the situation in Florida illustrates the difficulty of preventing gerrymandering, especially when legislators are drawing the lines. In 2010, voters approved a ballot measure, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and other organizations, amending the state constitution to outlaw gerrymandering. The amendment says that districts may not be drawn with partisan intent or with the intent of supporting an incumbent, and they must also be contiguous and follow natural boundaries.

However, setting tougher rules did not stop gerrymandering, and the LWVF sued over the state House and Senate maps as well as the congressional map. The House map was upheld by the state Supreme Court, but litigation over the other two maps continues.

“The Senate took it upon themselves to talk with our lawyers, and the result was they confessed the maps were drawn unconstitutionally and with partisan intent,” leading to a recent special session to redraw the lines, said Pamela Goodman, president of LWVF.

Race and Redistricting

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown has argued that redrawing her Florida congressional district, which has a large African-American population, in the manner proposed by the state Supreme Court could violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of minority populations.

Rather than have Brown’s district snake down from Jacksonville to scoop up Gainesville and part of Orlando, the state Supreme Court suggested the map should extend east to west, toward Tallahassee.

While a new map could open the potential for more minority representation in Orlando, the case illustrates the complicated role race plays in redistricting.

In Alabama, the Legislative Black Caucus filed a lawsuit alleging the Legislature made minority districts too concentrated, making it harder for African-Americans to vote alongside like-minded white voters and diluting their power in the process, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

Alabama’s case is now back in the state’s U.S. District Court after it was remanded by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court said the lower court should look at the claims on a district-by-district basis, rather than using a statewide standard for determining whether minorities had enough power within districts.

“The African-American community is split on this. You don’t necessarily need a supermajority black district anymore to elect their preferred candidate,” Li, with the Brennen Center, said.

Race is also a factor in Texas, where a case heading to the U.S. Supreme Court questions whether the state should base redistricting on the total population of a district, as it currently does, or on the voting population—a move that could affect Hispanics.

While districts are required to be relatively equal in population, levels of noncitizens, children and felons effect how many eligible voters are in a district. These populations tend to concentrate in districts that are more urban and liberal.

The plaintiffs in the case, two Texas voters represented by the Project on Fair Representation, a group that challenges government distinctions and preferences based on race or ethnicity, argue their rural district is overpopulated with voters compared with districts that contain many ineligible voters, making their votes less powerful.

But observers worry a change to the “one man, one vote” standard could boost rural districts’ power at the expense of immigrant and other populations.

“This could have serious consequences for communities with large youth and immigrant populations, which are usually found in urban areas. This could be particularly detrimental for Hispanics who tend to have larger families and who may not be citizens,” said Wice, the redistricting attorney.

Wice said going from “one person, one vote” to “one voter, one vote” would be logistically difficult as well, because the census does not ask whether a person is a citizen. 


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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Women and Social Security

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 56 min ago

One of the guiding principles in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution is to "promote the general welfare." We'd be hard-pressed to name a program that achieves that goal more effectively than Social Security.

Today -- 80 years after FDR signed the Social Security Act -- Social Security continues to be one of the nation's most successful, effective, and popular programs. It's by far the most effective anti-poverty program in the United States.

Critical to Women's Retirement Security

While Social Security is important to all Americans, it is even more so to women. Women rely more on income from Social Security than men do. And older women are at greater risk of being poor: in 2013, of those 65+, more than twice as many women as men lived in poverty.

  • Women make up more than half of all beneficiaries age 62+, and around two-thirds of beneficiaries age 85+.

  • Without Social Security, nearly half of women 65+ would be poor.

  • Women have longer life expectancies than men, so they live more years into retirement and run a higher risk of exhausting their savings.

  • Women are less likely than men to have a pension, and their pensions are likely to be smaller than men's, due to earning lower wages or spending time out of the workforce to serve as caregivers.

  • Unlike pensions, Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation and last for the lifetime.

Did you know...

Widespread Support

Americans of all ages continue to have strong feelings of support for Social Security. An AARP survey conducted in conjunction with Social Security's 80th anniversary showed Social Security remains popular across generations and political ideologies:

  • 66 percent of Americans believe Social Security is one of the most important government programs.

  • Four in five adults rely on Social Security, or plan to rely on it, as a source of retirement income.

  • 82 percent of Americans believe it's important to contribute to Social Security for the common good.

  • 90 percent of adults under age 30 believe Social Security is an important government program, and 85 percent want to know it will be there when they retire.

OWL Recommends

We recognize that maintaining and strengthening Social Security is critical to ensuring the financial security of older women and their families.

These aspects of the program are particularly important to women and should be protected:

  • Eligibility for Social Security benefits through work and marriage;

  • Progressive benefit formula;

  • Cost of living increases;

  • Payments that last for the lifetime.

We recommend strengthening the program by:

  • Creating an improved minimum benefit;

  • Allowing credit for years spent care-giving;

  • Raising the payroll tax cap that has been kept artificially low because of stagnant wages*;

  • Providing equal benefits for married same-sex couples, and

  • Improving the current cost of living adjustment by adopting the Consumer Price Index --CPI-E (for "elderly"), an alternative, experimental index maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that is more sensitive to retirees' spending.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

This 99-Year-Old Chinese Veteran Fought Japan With U.S. Help. He's Finally Getting His Due.

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 58 sec ago

CHENGDU, China -- When I enter his living room, Zheng Weibang plants his deeply veined hands on the seat of his wooden couch to help himself up. It takes effort, but there Zheng stands, ramrod straight on feet that have been on this earth for over 99 years.

“I want to thank America’s Flying Tigers,” he says, saluting his visitors.

It’s been 73 years since those American fighter pilots cleared the way for Zheng’s night raid on a Japanese airstrip. Zheng and his comrades cut through an electrical net defending the base, and timed their guerilla attack to coincide with the American air assault. Together they destroyed two Japanese planes.

Those coordinated assaults marked a high point in China-U.S. relations that hasn’t been approached since. Beginning in 1937, American advisers, pilots and engineers aided Chinese Nationalist troops who were under withering assault by Japanese forces deep in the jungles of southwest China and Burma.

Four years before Pearl Harbor, Japan launched a brutal conquest and occupation of China that is still seared deep into Chinese memory. Japanese troops swept down from China’s northeast and across its eastern seaboard, unleashing civilian massacresbiological warfare and sexual slavery along the way.

Japan’s 1945 surrender will be commemorated in China’s blockbuster military parade held Thursday in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping will flaunt China’s latest weaponry, and he will personally award medals to Zheng and other veterans of that war.

Recognition for Zheng and Nationalist veterans is long overdue in mainland China, where the ruling Communist Party was locked in a life-and-death struggle against the Nationalists both before and after World War II. For decades after the Communist victory in 1949, the Nationalists’ role in the war was minimized and those remaining in mainland China were subject to periodic persecution for their “political background.”

But this week, at least some Nationalist veterans -- those that didn’t fight against the Communists in the subsequent civil war -- are getting their due.

Zheng was 23 years old when he swore his oath:

“We pledge to leave our wives and mothers to go out on the battlefield. We hate the savage Japanese who have invaded our northeastern provinces and pillaged at the Marco Polo Bridge. We will not leave the battlefield until the Japanese are annihilated.”

That oath led him on a straw-sandal march to central Shanxi province. There, women working in the fields would run toward the secret Chinese encampment when Japanese troops came looking for them. The Chinese counterattack left Japanese troops fleeing, some losing their helmets in the process. Zheng and his comrades turned the helmets into pots for boiling porridge.

Small victories like that were tempered by a betrayal that forced Zheng’s platoon into a frenzied retreat through a swamp. He remembers hearing female soldiers screaming “Save us commander!” as they drowned in the muck.

Later Zheng was sent to southeast China and Burma where he fought to reopen the Burma Road, China’s only existing overland resupply. At the battle of Mount Song, Zheng and 300 fellow troops charged into a hail of gunfire.

“Bullets were whizzing right over your head,” Zheng told The WorldPost. “I was terrified but you just had to grit your teeth and charge ahead. If you don’t attack them, they’re going to attack you.”

With comrades falling on all sides, Zheng shielded himself with a dead soldier’s body as he crawled into a locust-filled cornfield. Only 53 of the 300 soldiers survived the mission.

While Zheng was fighting to open up the northern end of the Burma Road, Sun Ziliang was building its southern extension, the Ledo Road.

Sun was born in the southwestern city of Chengdu in 1925, six years before Japan captured northeast China and 12 years before it launched its full invasion. His father sold tobacco leaves, and Sun grew up singing songs about Japanese aggression.

My fellow countrymen,
Come here and listen in,
In the east there lies Japan,
For decades there troops have trained,
Across Asia they hope to reign,
To destroy China is their aim.

Defying his parents’ objections, Sun enlisted in the Nationalist Army at age 17 and took his first flight across the Himalayan “hump” to India. There he trained under American Gen. Joseph Stilwell, nicknamed “Vinegar Joe” for his acidic temperament.

After learning to shoot a gun and drive a bulldozer, Sun began working alongside Americans to forge a road across mountain switchbacks and treacherous jungle. It was the first time Sun interacted with anyone who was not Chinese, and it was the small kindnesses that stuck with him.

“I feel really grateful to the American workers,” he said. “Every day they would share their cigarettes and matches with us.”

For Zheng, the memories of battle remain etched into his body: toes shortened by a landmine, a burst eardrum and a stomach crisscrossed with shrapnel marks. When surgery was required to remove the shrapnel, instead of anesthesia Zheng got two nurses to hold down his arms.

Those painful memories are now a source of pride for Zheng personally, but the national historical narrative remains a source of tension.

After their victory over the Nationalists, the Chinese Communist Party hailed itself as national saviors who put an end to a “century of humiliation”-- a period of foreign aggression and internal strife lasting from the Opium Wars through 1949. Credit for the victory over Japan was lavished on Mao Zedong’s rebel army, while the Nationalists were derided as toadies of imperial powers.

The next three decades saw wave after wave of violent “class struggle” against former landlords, intellectuals and members of the defeated Nationalist forces.

Zheng and Sun grow hazier when talking about this period. Both say they didn’t fight in the subsequent civil war, and neither mentions outright persecution during the Cultural Revolution. Sun used his wartime skills to land a job as a truck driver. Zheng worked as a butcher and then on construction teams, but when promotions were posted his name was never on the list. Both started families and now live with their adult children.

If post-war persecution soured Zheng’s view of the ruling Communist Party, he doesn’t let it show.

“When I see Chairman Xi,” he declares, “I want to say ‘Long live Chairman Xi! Long live the Communist Party!’”

Today Zheng lives with his daughter and granddaughter in a modest apartment in his hometown of Chengdu. In order to be heard, his daughter must lean in toward Zheng’s ear and practically shout. But his mind is still limber and his stories colorful. Every morning he goes for a short walk around the neighborhood, and he spends his free time listening to local operas on a handheld radio.

Across the arc of a century, Zheng has seen his country emerge from the shell of a rotted empire. Born just four years after China’s last imperial dynasty fell, he’s lived through warlordisminvasioncivil warwar with America, the largest famine in history, the Cultural Revolution, and a three-decade economic miracle.

“If the government isn’t good to the people, just getting enough to eat is a problem. How could you even think about going to college?” Zheng told The WorldPost. “Back then we were poor. I studied three years at a private school but couldn’t pay the tuition anymore. There was nothing we could do, and so I’m uneducated.”

Since the days of the Flying Tigers and American aid, U.S.-China relations have also been through the ringer repeatedly. The Communist victory meant a 23-year break in diplomatic contact. Now after several decades of cooperation, hacking and territorial disputes risk turning the relationship frosty again.

But for 91-year-old Sun, it’s still the days of Vinegar Joe and the Flying Tigers that are closest to home.

“As I see it, America was friendly to us, so I’ve always admired Americans,” Sun says. “If America hadn’t been there for us, this war would’ve been tough to win.”

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One Day Soon, That Drone Overhead May Be Pointing a Taser at You

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 5 min ago

North Dakota has just become the first state to legalize police use of drones equipped with "less than lethal" weapons, including rubber bullets, Tasers, tear gas, pepper spray and sound cannons. Now, police will be able to remotely fire on people in North Dakota from drones, much as the CIA fires on people in other countries.

Although drones in North Dakota will be limited to "less than lethal" weapons, some of these devices can cause injury or even death, according to Christof Heyns, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. He reported that rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas have resulted in injury and death. "The danger is that law enforcement officials may argue that the weapons that they use are labeled 'less lethal' and then fail to assess whether the level of force is not beyond that required," Heyns wrote. The Guardian reports that at least 39 people have been killed by Tasers as far in 2015.

Heyns warned the U.N. General Assembly that the use of armed drones by law enforcement could threaten human rights. "An armed drone, controlled by a human from a distance, can hardly do what police officers are supposed to do--use the minimum force required by the circumstances," he said.

Drone manufacturers in North Dakota lobbied hard to stymie efforts that would have required police to obtain warrants before using drones. Al Frazier, a sheriff's deputy who pilots drones, revealed their motivation. He told The Daily Beast, "I think when you're trying to stimulate an industry in your state, you don't want things that would potentially have a chilling effect on [drone] manufacturers."

When North Dakota police suspected Rodney Brossart of cattle rustling, they asked Homeland Security to use a Predator drone to fly over his land. Predator drones are also used by the CIA to conduct surveillance and drop bombs in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. The police, who didn't get a warrant to fly over Brossart's land, used evidence gathered from the drone surveillance to prosecute him. Brossart was convicted of terrorizing, preventing arrest and failing to comply with the law for stray animals.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether police must obtain a warrant before using drones. In California v. Ciraolo, the court upheld the warrantless use of a fixed-wing aircraft at an altitude of 1,000 feet to peer into a private, fenced backyard and identify marijuana plants because "any member of the public flying in this airspace who glanced down could have seen everything that these officers observed." The court noted that no warrant is needed for what is "visible to the naked eye." The justices reached the same result in Florida v. Riley, in which officers saw marijuana plants in a greenhouse from a helicopter 400 feet above.

But in Kyllo v. United States, the court held that the police need a warrant to use a thermal imaging device that measures the temperature of the roof of a house to detect the growing of marijuana inside. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that if the government could freely collect any information "emanating from a house," we would be "at the mercy of advancing technology--including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home." The majority thought it significant that the technology used in Kyllo was "a device that is not in general public use."

It is unclear how the court will apply these cases to the use of drones, which could be used to conduct long-term surveillance of private property with imaging systems that pick up much more detail than the naked eye.

Fourteen states have enacted legislation that limits how the police can use drones. But, "in the states that don't require warrants, it's pretty much a Wild West," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the National Journal.

Drones are increasingly used for surveillance in the United States.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which patrols almost half the Mexican border with drones, has loaned its drones to local agencies and other national agencies, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Drones were used 700 times for domestic surveillance between 2010 and 2012.

Stanley cautions against government use of drones for mass surveillance. In my book "Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues,"he writes:

"Police and government agencies, meanwhile, are likely to seek to use this technology for pervasive, suspicionless mass surveillance. To begin with, there is a long history of government agencies seeking to engage in mass surveillance, from the Cold War spying abuses to today's deployment of license plate scanners and surveillance cameras in our public places, to the sweeping NSA programs that were revealed by Edward Snowden."

Stanley warns about discriminatory targeting of people of color, citing the experience in Britain where black people were 1½ to 2½ times more likely to be the subject of surveillance than the percentage of their numbers in the general population would indicate.

Stanley cites the Electronic Frontier Foundation's revelation of CBP documents that suggest the CBP will use "non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize TOIs [targets of interest]." But, he thinks, "there is good reason to think that, once current controversies subside and the spotlight of public attention shifts elsewhere, we will see a push for drones armed with lethal weapons."

The private use of drones can also be quite threatening.

Augustine Lehecka was enjoying a San Diego County beach with friends when a drone flew a few feet above them, its four blades whirring, its camera rotating from side to side. Lehecka said, "We had like a peeping Tom. I felt threatened."

So Lehecka threw his T-shirt at the drone, it hit the propeller and the drone fell to the ground. He was arrested for felony vandalism, and after spending the night in jail and posting $10,000 bail, Lechecka was released without charge. The incident caused a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist to write an article titled "Pin medal on drone downer's shirt."

In response to Lehecka's arrest, the Encinitas City Council is considering local regulation of drones. John Herron, who urged the council to take action, told a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter that his 3½-year-old son had been terrified by a low-flying drone, saying, "Once my son saw the drone, he became visibly scared . . . he told me he wanted to leave the park."

Children in Yemen and Pakistan are also terrorized by U.S. drones, which hover above their communities for hours at a time, according to the study "Living Under Drones,"published by Stanford and New York University law schools. The constant buzzing of the drone is terrifying. Medea Benjamin spoke to people in Waziristan, Pakistan, many of whom "live in a state of constant fear." She wrote in "Drones and Targeted Killing," "Residents I met with said they had a hard time sleeping, that many people suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that there is widespread use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication." She added, "They also reported a spate of suicides, something they said never existed before."

William Merideth downed a drone with a shotgun, claiming it was flying over his property near Louisville, Ky. He said, "I had no way of knowing [if] it was a predator looking at my children." Charged with first-degree endangerment and criminal mischief, Merideth was released on $2,500 bond and is due to return to court in September. The operator of the drone was not charged with any offense.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued proposed regulations on drone use earlier this year. Drones would not be allowed to fly over people unless they are directly involved with the flight. The rules would apply to drones that weigh 55 pounds or less. Drone flights could take place only during the daytime. They would be limited to an altitude of 500 feet and speeds of 100 mph. And they could not fly near airports or restricted airspace. The operator would have to maintain eye contact with the drone at all times.

It could take years for these regulations to be implemented. Meanwhile, the FAA has reported 700 near misses between airplanes and drones in U.S. airspace so far this year. Some of the drones have been flying at high altitudes--10,000 feet or more.

Twenty-six states have passed laws regulating the use of drones, and six more states have adopted resolutions. Issues addressed in these laws include defining what a drone is, the manner in which they can be used by law enforcement and other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public, and how they can be used to hunt game.

In February, the White House began requiring government agencies to inform the public where federal agencies fly drones, how frequently, and what information they secure from drone use.

Two federal bills are pending: in the Senate, The Protecting Individuals From Mass Surveillance Act, and in the House, Preserving American Privacy Act. The Senate bill would require a warrant before federal law enforcement officers could use drones and manned aircraft, but it carves out an exemption within 25 miles of the border, and it wouldn't bind state or municipal agencies. The House bill would require warrants to conduct state or federal drone surveillance with some exceptions. Evidence obtained in violation of both these bills would be inadmissible in court.

Given the significant invasion of privacy occasioned by the use of drones by law enforcement, warrants should be mandatory before using them for surveillance. And weaponized drones of any sort should be outlawed.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is "Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues."

This article was first published on Truthdig.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Marco Rubio: The U.S. Does Not Need A Federal Education Department

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 13 min ago

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio says the U.S. doesn't need a federal Education Department, arguing that its recommendations to state and local governments often turn into mandates tied to money.

The Florida senator made the comments Tuesday during a town hall meeting in Carson City. About 200 people attended the gathering in a community center, part of a tour of northern Nevada.

"What starts out as a suggestion ends up being, `If you want money from us, you must to do it this way,' and you will end up with a version of a national school board," Rubio said. "We don't need a national school board."

Democrats pointed out that Rubio's expensive college costs were footed in part by Pell Grants and Stafford Loans, which are administered by the Education Department.

Rubio said the department administers certain programs that have merit but those could be transferred to other agencies. "I honestly think we don't need a Department of Education," he said.

The candidate drew claps and cheers when he told his audience he opposed Common Core education standards. "I do support curriculum reform," he said, but that should be done at the state and local level.

Rubio spoke in Reno on Monday and is campaigning in the rural Nevada communities of Yerington and Fallon on his trip through the state.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Debtors Prisons Alive and Well in Louisiana

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 13 min ago

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said it is unconstitutional, Louisiana still puts hundreds of people in prison every year just because they are too poor to pay court-ordered fines, court costs and costs of probation, according to a recent investigative report by the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

This misuse of the criminal legal system, often called "pay or stay" is flatly illegal. As The Marshall Project reported, the U.S. Congress outlawed the use of debtors' prisons -- jails for people too poor to pay off their debts -- under federal law nearly 200 years ago in 1833. The U.S. Supreme Court followed suit in 1983.

But in a survey of six weeks of court records from last year, the ACLU found that hundreds of people in Louisiana were given pay-or-stay sentences and well over a hundred people were jailed for unpaid fines or court costs. If this many people were wrongly sentenced and jailed in just six weeks, that means thousands have been illegally jailed annually.

The report tells the story of Dianne Jones, a grandmother of three, who was arrested in New Orleans for possession of marijuana. She was given the choice of six months' probation and paying $834 in fines and costs, at a rate of $150 per month, or spending every weekend in jail for six months. She protested that she did not earn enough to pay off $150 a month. Ultimately she had to accept the payment plan anyway because she was helping care for her grandchildren on the weekends so her daughter could work. Unable to pay off the last $148 of her $834 because of unanticipated moving costs, she was arrested and jailed under a $20,000 bond. She stayed in jail until a community group took up a collection to pay off the remaining $148.

The ACLU report, "Louisiana's Debtors Prisons: An Appeal to Justice," points out a number of similar cases in Orleans, St. Tammany, Bossier, Caddo, Lafourche, La Salle and Ouachita Parishes.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Bearden v. Georgia, ruled in 1983 that courts can not put people in jail when they are too poor to pay fines. Certainly if people have the money to pay and just refuse to pay, the law allows them to be jailed after a court determination that they had the ability to pay and their refusal was willful. But no one should be sent to jail if the reason they cannot pay off a fine is because they earn too little to cover it. The Court restated its promise, mostly not kept, that "there can be no equal justice where the kind of a trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has."

There are alternatives. For example, Montgomery, Ala., recently made significant changes as a result of a federal court challenge to similar practices in a case filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Equal Justice Under Law. Before imposing court costs and fines, Montgomery courts now make individual determinations to see if people earn less than federal poverty guidelines. Low-income people are now allowed to pay off traffic tickets, court costs or fines at affordable rates -- $25 a month, for example -- or the courts waive the fees entirely and order them to perform community service.

These alternatives are increasingly important as courts impose more and more fees and costs on people.

A recent National Public Radio investigation found that most states charge defendants in traffic and criminal court for the services of a public defender, for costs of parole and probation and for electronic monitoring, in addition to court-ordered fines. This means lots more people are going to jail for minor offenses like failure to pay fees and costs.

The ACLU report indicates that every day some poor person in Louisiana is going to jail because they're poor.

That must change. When the only reason you are in jail is because you are poor, that is not legal and that is not just. No one should accept a system that allows courts to effectively order jail for the poor and payment for the rich.

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Starved for Democracy? CA Says Pay $2K

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 16 min ago

Governor Brown's signature on legislation increasing the filing fee for citizens who file ballot initiatives from $200 to $2,000 is the modern equivalent of the famous salvo attributed to Marie Antoinette upon hearing of a famine among the French peasants, "Let Them Eat Cake."

If citizens are starved for better democracy, let them pay 2K.

After a year in which FBI corruption scandals removed three state senators from office, and voters came out in smaller numbers than ever before for a California election, what's the response from Sacramento? Make it harder for citizens to use the process of direct democracy. 

As my Capitol Watchdog colleague Carmen Balber wrote, "Even as the Secretary of State and legislative leaders are championing legislation to make it easier for Californians to register and turn out to vote (for them), lawmakers don't seem to want Californians to be able to vote on ideas of their own."  She called AB 1100, signed by the governor yesterday without any comment, "a $2,000 initiative poll tax."

Only four other states, of the 26 with initiatives, require a filing fee at all: Mississippi $500, Alaska $100, Ohio $25, and Washington $5.  Now California's outdone Mississippi in creating barriers for citizens who have initiatives they want voters to take on. 

The cause celeb of AB 1100's backers was an atrocious and unconstitutional ballot initiative that called for killing gays. California's Attorney General obtained a court ruling that she could disregard the filing, but those with their eye on limiting citizen access to decision making had a flag to fly in Sacramento.

Backers of the new ballot initiative fee argue that anyone who can collect 800,000 signatures, which almost always are paid for with at least $1 million, can come up with 2 grand.   Of course everyone in Sacramento got there by being able to raise tens of thousands of dollars, so why not make up the ante for those who want to play in the initiative process?

With digital democracy and social media on the rise, as well as electronic voting and signature gathering on the horizon, its very conceivable that students angry over escalating tuition, or some other penniless disenfranchised dreamers, could collect signatures for a revolutionary idea for virtually nothing.  Now they have a $2,000 ballot entrance fee pay that would almost certainly be a serious hurdle.

Shame on the sanctimonious legislature and Governor for dismissing the dreamers and political outsiders who could teach them a thing or two about democracy if they had a couple of hundred bucks and a great viral idea. 

This arrogance and indifference to public opinion is why we launched Capitol Watchdog recently to pull the curtain back on elitism and cronyism in Sacramento.

Hiram Johnson, the great populist California governor who gave citizens the initiative process to battle the railroad baron's control over Sacramento, would be ashamed at the signing of AB 1100. 

The golden state lost a little of its shine with this signature. California's direct democracy became less direct.

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Deadly Car Bomb Rocks Assad Stronghold In Syria

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 34 min ago

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- A car bomb exploded Wednesday in a square in the Syrian port city of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar Assad, killing at least 10 people and wounding 25, the official Syrian news agency SANA said.

It was one of the biggest bombings, and the highest single death toll, in Latakia since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011.

TV footage from the scene showed thick black smoke rising from a car, damage to nearby vehicles and a puddle of blood. Syrian state TV said the explosion went off in Hamam Square on the edge of Latakia.

Latakia is a stronghold of Assad, whose forces are locked in a civil war with an array of rebel groups, including Islamic militants. Last month, rebels shelled Latakia, killing six people and wounding 19. Still, Latakia has largely remained on the sidelines of the conflict, and explosions in the city have been rare.

Also Wednesday, rocket fire struck an engineering college in the capital, Damascus, killing two students and wounding 15 people, SANA reported. A day earlier, mortar rounds killed one student and wounded six at the same college.

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Smart Ranked Choice Polling in the Presidential Race by PPP: New Poll Clarifies Nature of Donald Trump's Support

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 38 min ago

After a fiery first Republican Presidential Debate on August 6th, the GOP primary field has continued to shift and change, leaving many pollsters struggling to catch up. To the surprise of many observers, Donald Trump has continued his surge - but new polling techniques helps clarify the nature of his support.

While most polls ask for second choices, few report the full breakdown of first and second choice support that allows more precise matching of candidates. In failing to do so, they give only a portion of the information needed to accurately understand the field as it may evolve in the coming months. Especially as candidates start to drop out, pollsters must ask voters to provide more information on their preferences and report that information with greater detail. Second-choice polls reveal what connections and crossovers exist among different groups of supporters.

As a start, polls can do something quite simple - and indeed something most polls are already doing in a limited manner. They should ask voters for their second-choice candidates and, ideally their third-choice as well. With that additional data in hand, better analysis of it can provide a wealth of insight.

PPP Excels in Presentation of Second Choices

As we recently blogged, Public Policy Polling (PPP) continues to show leadership in their collection and presentation of second choice data. Not only does the firm present the aggregate second-choice percentages, PPP reports the full breakdown of who each candidate's supporters would select as their second choice.

Take PPP's August 25 poll on New Hampshire. Part of its finding was that businessman Donald Trump is dominating the field - he is at 35% in New Hampshire, with John Kasich far back at 11%, followed by Carly Fiorina with 10% and Jeb Bush and Scott Walker tied with 7%. Trump finishes third among respondents for second-choice votes with 8% - only slightly behind Ben Carson (11%), and Carly Fiorina (10%). In other words, Trump is either the first- or second-choice of 43% of respondents, while former frontrunner Jeb Bush is the first- or second-choice of only 14%.

PPP presents its second-choice polling data in a simple one-page table form that provides a more detailed picture of the field than polls only asking for first choices or only reporting aggregate first- and second-choice data. For example, these results tell us that not only is Carly Fiorina one of the more popular first-choice and second-choice but she has broad appeal among other candidates' supporters -- with sizable percentage of the second-choice support from Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. If Fiorina keeps rising and any of these candidates falter or drop out, she stands to gain.

The real emerging winner of these second-choice results however, is Donald Trump. Over the past few months, expectations of Donald Trump's impending implosion have been almost as persistent as his rise in popularity. Political commentators and candidates alike have repeatedly predicted his departure from the race, insisting that his following among the Republican electorate is deep but narrow. That may have been true earlier in the summer, but the new numbers from PPP show a more complex story: a candidate who is starting to draw support from both establishment and anti-establishment voters in New Hampshire, but is far more polarizing in North Carolina.

Trump's Impressive Breadth of Support

In New Hampshire, Trump is the leading second-choice option among the supporters of almost every establishment candidate including Jeb Bush and John Kasich. Trump earns the second-choices of 19% of Jeb Bush supporters, easily beating more moderate candidates like Kasich (9%), Walker (6%), and Rubio (1%). This trend continues among John Kasich supporters, 16% of whom would chose Trump second, ahead of all the other candidates.

Among other establishment candidates, Trump only narrowly trails Jeb Bush as the most popular second choice. Twenty-four percent (24%) of Rubio supporters listed Jeb Bush as their second-choice, compared to the 22% who listed Trump as their second-choice. Trump also earns a sizable 20% second-choice support from Scott Walker, just 1% behind Marco Rubio and Fiorina.

Interestingly, the reverse of this trend does not hold true. Trump's large number of first-choice supporters show notably little interest in selecting establishment candidates as their second choice. Instead, fellow outsider candidate Ben Carson emerges as the most popular second-choice for Trump supporters, with similar outsider candidates Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina trailing close behind him. Trump's supporters remain as pleased as ever with their varied outsider second-choice options - and if his campaign indeed does fade, the establishment candidates may not gain.

So, with data limited to just first- and second-choice numbers, one-on-one comparisons make Trump's lead all the stronger. Here are a few examples:

Contrast with New Hampshire: Trump May Hit Ceiling

PPP on August 19th released another state poll from North Carolina. Here again, Trump leads in first-choices with 24%, ahead of Carson (14%), Bush (13%) and Cruz (10%). But his second-choice support is far smaller - he is the second-choice of only 2% of backers of the other candidates, trailing eight other candidates and far behind Ben Carson (21%), Bush (13%) and Fiorina (12%). Note the same one-on-one comparisons here.

In short, while Trump clearly has a hold on the anti-establishment vote and is building new support from backers of establishment candidates in New Hampshire, he is facing a very different scenario right now in a more socially conservative state. He certainly could win a plurality in such a state, but right now would likely lose on-on-one to several other candidates. That's not to say that if primaries were held next week that he couldn't win the nomination - Mitt Romney lost his share of primaries in 2012, for example--but his success will depend on building the kind of depth of support he is showing in New Hampshire.

More Information with Second-Choices, Well Presented

Capturing and showing this more specific second-choice data reveals, the true breadth of Trump's support beyond his first-choice base. When pollsters take advantage of this method, the data offers a timely and unique ability to estimate which candidates will rise and fall as the primary season continues and the field inevitably narrows. Trump's substantial second-choice support among a wide range of establishment and anti-establishment candidates could foreshadow a growth rather than a reduction in his popularity throughout the fall.

Polls that don't ask participants for their second-choices or only show aggregate data are limited to an incomplete picture of a dynamic and shifting Republican Primary field. To really understand how the field will adjust to drop outs, and which candidates have sturdy support, we must start asking voters to rank the field. We hope PPP's leadership will inspire other polling firms to expand their reporting practices, and contribute to a more accurate and more reflective understanding of voter support.

FairVote is seeking to make this easier for pollsters. Working with Civinomics, we have developed an innovative ranked choice voting app that, in its beta form, allows users to rank candidates in the Republican field. Then, in showing the results, users can manually eliminate candidates to see where their second support goes, or run a ranked choice voting tally to see who would win under that system designed to test the two strongest candidates one on one. We soon will be able to import pollsters' ranked choice data into the app, so that it can be analyzed more fully. Stay tuned!

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Father Attacks The Killer Of His 3-Year-Old Daughter In Court (VIDEO)

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 39 min ago

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A distraught father took justice into his own hands at the sentencing hearing last week of his daughter's killers. 

When Dwayne Smith stood up to make a victim impact statement against Jasmine Gordon, his child's mother, and her boyfriend Clifford Thomas, Smith decided to make a different statement. The grieving father launched an attack on Thomas, punching him in the head

Wayne County Sheriff’s Office deputies swept in to restrain Smith, who could be heard shouting at Thomas.

“It was pretty scary,” attorney John McWilliams, who was in the courtroom, told the Detroit Free Press.

"No charges were pursued against those involved as the judge declined to hold Dwayne Smith in contempt of court,” Paula Bridges, a spokeswoman with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, told the local publication in an email. “Clifford Thomas refused prosecution of Smith.”

Thomas and Gordon were convicted last month of killing 3-year-old Jamila Smith, who died of blunt force injuries in September 2014, according to Fox 6 Now. 

Thomas will serve up to 15 years behind bars. Gordon, who was also convicted of first-degree child abuse, will serve up to 25 years. 

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Obama's Iran Deal Will Survive As 34th Senator Announces Support

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 39 min ago

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WASHINGTON -- A nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers that promises to fundamentally alter the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East and beyond will not die in the U.S. Congress.

On Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) announced that she would support the agreement, becoming the 34th member of the Senate to do so. In offering her backing, Mikulski, who is retiring in 2016, assured that President Barack Obama will dodge a Republican-led effort to kill the deal. Although a resolution of disapproval may still pass the chamber, the White House now has the necessary support to sustain a presidential veto of said resolution. 

“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime. I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb," Mikulski said in a statement. "For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal. However, Congress must also reaffirm our commitment to the safety and security of Israel.”

With the deal now seemingly safe from congressional torpedoing, Obama has both notched one of the most significant nuclear non-proliferation agreements in history and cemented a foreign policy legacy of robust diplomatic engagement. Whether that legacy turns out sterling or sour will be determined well beyond the end date of his presidency.

Under the deal, Iran would be subjected to comprehensive inspections on its nuclear program and forced to reduce current uranium stockpiles and the number of its centrifuges. In exchange, it will be granted sanctions relief estimated to be anywhere between $50 billion and $150 billion. But the deal phases out between years 10 and 15, albeit with Iran still forced to provide some access for inspections for another 10 years thereafter. And even for supporters of the initiative, concerns remain about the possibilities of a quick military breakout once restrictions ease.  

"That's the core concern," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in an interview with The Washington Post when announcing his support for the deal Tuesday. "All they've got to do is be really patient."

Faced with this pushback, the administration has implored lawmakers to consider the alternative, in which no restrictions are placed on Iran and the world community is unwilling to rework the accord. A briefing between ambassadors and officials from the other countries party to the deal -- in which they articulated their reluctance to head back to the negotiating table -- was highly persuasive to several Democratic senators.

While the passage of the deal is now secure, its long-term viability is not. Nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates have pledged to end the deal should they win the office. And though that seems to be more of a campaign applause line than thought-out foreign policy, the politics of the accord are difficult to predict or interpret. Public opinion polls in July alone showed support varying from 33 percent to 56 percent. Opponents have been better funded, running millions of dollars in television ads during the August recess to convince Democrats to jump ship. But that campaign has had, seemingly, only a marginal effect.

So far just two Senate Democrats have announced their opposition. And both Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) were seen as skeptics of the deal from the outset. That said, Democrats could find themselves in an odd proposition in which the vast majority of the party supports the deal except their incoming Senate leader (Schumer), their likely next House leader (Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland remains undecided), and the chair of the Democratic National Committee (Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida is undecided too).

That could explain the timing of Mikulski's announcement. The Maryland Democrat is a strong symbolic choice to bring the vote tally for the agreement to the critical 34. She is the chamber's longest-serving female member and a prominent Israel supporter -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has lobbied heavily against the deal, called her "a stalwart supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship." And her backing could foreshadow forthcoming support from another critical member: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a fellow Marylander who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Indeed, at this juncture, Democratic leadership is gunning to get to 40 supportive members, which would prevent a resolution of disapproval from even making it to Obama's desk, should they choose to filibuster it.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

The Iran Nuclear Deal: A-Must-Approve, Not to Be Politicized!

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 43 min ago

The nations of the world meet to negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement (credit:


The Iran Nuclear Agreement is so unprecedented in major universal ways that playing politics with rejecting it reduces this universal deal to the level of petty local politics. Consider the nations and the brains that negotiated on it and show some intellectual honesty, humility, and respect.

Whether one looks at it from planetary interests, from US interests, or from our friend Israel's interests, one cannot in good conscience call this deal a bad one, a dangerous one, or even a so-so one.


As long as Iran is kept from developing a nuclear weapon, the power for peace prevails.

The American chest-beating and foot-stomping politics of ignorantly and immaturely accusing the president of being "weak" because he is not insulting, threatening, being a warmonger, or unilaterally sending American children to go die in unnecessary and unneeded wars is dépassé and rejected by the majority of this generation of Americans. The American people got tired of being lied to and being bamboozled with scary and doomsday outcomes unless we invade and go to war against second and third-class armies and nations. Barack Obama won the presidency on the power of his foresight and wisdom in opposing Dick Cheney's Iraq war. Acting wisely and using judiciously the immense and unmatched power of the United States armed forces, Obama has never backed down from a measured use of US forces in going after America's enemies as he has been decapitating the multiple heads of Islamic extremists' octopus. He showed guts in getting Osama ben Laden, America's enemy number one, at the time, by doing exactly what he promised to do, going into a sovereign nation without fear and without asking permission, something his opponents, democrats and republicans, had criticized and berated him for, and something his predecessors did not succeed in doing. We all remember how Americans reacted that night when it happened.

President Obama not only restored America's leadership and respect throughout the world, but, most importantly, he was able to bring together the ENTIRE world in imposing the most biting sanctions against Iran which made Iranian people vote for a government that would embrace the modern world, and these sanctions convinced the mullahs that their people cannot be satisfied with mere bombastic verbal threats against America, against Israel, and against the free world on this global and interdependent planet. Thus, Iran decided that it was wise to negotiate and, in the end, Iran agreed to a deal that is also unprecedented in ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon for 15 years and beyond.

All the powers of the earth were brought together by President Obama and all, including nations that are Iran's historical supporters and partners such as China and Russia, not only joined in the negotiations, but they all approved this nuclear deal. This is why the petty local politicking of opposing it in light of the world's experts who negotiated it is so pretentious and "high-schoolish".


While some politicians and the extremists bombastically criticize and oppose this deal, the people of the world who want peace support it.

The New York Times, on 8/13/2015, ran an article by Rick Gladstone titled "Reporter for Jewish Paper Finds no Anti-Israel Plot in Iran". In this article, the Jewish reporter who visited Iran, writes of "9000 to 20,000" members of Iran's Jewish community (in Iran? who knew?) who are "basically well protected second-class citizens - a broadly prosperous, largely middle-class community whose members have no hesitation about walking down the streets of Teheran wearing yarmulkes." As to what Larry Cohler-Esses, the reporter, found out about the Iranians' feelings toward Israel, Rick Gladstone writes that "The first journalist from an American Jewish pro-Israel publication to be given an Iranian visa since 1979 reported Wednesday that he had found little evidence to suggest that Iran wanted to destroy Israel, as widely asserted by the critics of the Iranian nuclear agreement."

"Ordinary Iranians with whom I spoke have no interest at all in attacking Israel... Their concern is with their own sense of isolation and economic struggle." As for the Iranian view of the state of Israel, "No one had anything warm to say about the Jewish state... But, pressed as to whether it was Israel's policies or its very existence to which they objected, several were adamant: It's Israel's policies." The reporter "emphasized that there was no freedom of the press in Iran", but, "freedom of the tongue has been set loose."

President Obama speaks on the Iran nuclear deal at American University (cr.:

In the US, American people who care about peace and about Israel, understand the details of the deal that President Obama presented at Washington University, and they agree with and trust that their president who, according to Israel officials themselves, has done more for the security of Israel than any American president before him, made sure that this agreement is the best not only for America and Israel, but also for peace in the world, which even the Iranians people need if they are going to get out of sanctions and join the global world.

Efraim Halevy, former head of Israel's Mossad, speaks with PBS's Judy Woodruff on Iran deal (Cr.:

While in America, millions are being spent to influence public opinion and the US Congress, we learned from the former head of Israel's Mossad, Mr. Efraim Halevy that, as of August 21, 2015, there has been

• "No real public debate in Israel on this (nuclear agreement with Iran)".
• "The Knesset - the equivalent of US congress in Israel - has not discussed it even once".
• "There is an attempt here (in Israel) to stifle public discussion"...

Mr. Efraim Halevy's interview on PBS must be required viewing for our entire US Congress and for ALL.

The need to know and to understand what is being rejected or agreed to in their name is power for people.


There are things that the president cannot publicly say about America's and Israel's capacity to monitor and, if necessary, to attack and destroy any site, in Iran or anywhere else, if it would pose a threat to America's or Israel's security. Iran knows it, the world knows it. Do our American politicians know it, too?

Is there anyone who is uninformed on the fact that, in the Middle East, power for power, there is NO nation that equals Israel in military might or that America has got Israel's back 100% anytime and anyhow?

In an op-ed titled "Mr. Obama, try these arguments," Nicholas Kristof concludes that "Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the patriarch of Republican security experts, tells me that he supports the Iran deal in part because it exemplifies American leadership on a crucial global issue."

American leadership: power for power, power for people, power for peace!

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Gaza Could Become 'Uninhabitable' By 2020, UN Warns

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 47 min ago

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- A new United Nations report says Gaza could be "uninhabitable" in less than five years if current economic trends continue.

The report released Tuesday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development points to the eight years of economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars between Israel and the Palestinians there over the past six years.

Last year's war displaced half a million people and left parts of Gaza destroyed.

The war "has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid," the new report says.

Gaza's GDP dropped 15 percent last year, and unemployment reached a record high of 44 percent. Seventy-two percent of households are food insecure.

The wars have shattered Gaza's ability to export and produce for the domestic market and left no time for reconstruction, the report says. It notes that Gaza's "de-development," or development in reverse, has been accelerated.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

The report comes as Egyptian military bulldozers press ahead with a project that effectively would fill Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip with water and flood the last remaining cross-border underground smuggling tunnels, which have brought both commercial items and weapons into Gaza.

The report calls the economic prospects for 2015 for the Palestinian territories "bleak" because of the unstable political situation, reduced aid and the slow pace of reconstruction.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Protesters Gather For Key Hearing In Freddie Gray Case

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 57 min ago

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Protesters demonstrated outside Baltimore Circuit Court on Wednesday morning as the first court hearing was set to begin in the case of six police officers criminally charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died a week after suffering a critical spinal injury in custody.

As dozens of sheriff's deputies patrolled the streets around the courthouse and journalists and observers lined up waiting for the courthouse to open, protesters carrying yellow signs with slogans including "Stop racism now" gathered outside. They chanted: "Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell" and "Tell the truth and stop the lies, Freddie Gray didn't have to die."



Prosecutors and defense attorneys will present arguments at Wednesday's hearing on three key issues: whether State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby should recuse herself, whether the officers should be tried separately, and whether charges should be dismissed.

The officers face charges that range from second-degree assault, a misdemeanor, to second-degree "depraved-heart" murder. Gray's death led to protests in Baltimore, and a riot that prompted National Guard intervention and a city-wide curfew.

Protester Lee Paterson said he's concerned charges could be dropped.

"You know, this whole thing is bigger than Freddie Gray," Paterson said. "It's about poverty."


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Categories: Political News and Opinion