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These Biased Ideas Are Presented As Fact In Texas Curriculum Standards

Huffington Post News - 27 min 51 sec ago

Proposed Texas social studies textbooks may be flawed, but state standards are likely to blame for the imperfections.

In September, nonprofit organization the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund commissioned a group of history scholars to evaluate proposed social studies textbooks from publishing giants such as Pearson Education and McGraw-Hill Education. The scholars found that several of the textbooks were rife with religious and conservative biases that they said distort history. At the time, the TFN noted that while it was important that inaccuracies be corrected, the root of the problem likely lay with the state's social studies standards, to which the textbooks are expected to cater.

"In all fairness, it's clear that the publishers struggled with these flawed standards and still managed to do a good job in some areas," said Kathy Miller, president of TFN Education Fund, in a September press release. "On the other hand, a number of textbook passages essentially reflect the ideological beliefs of politicians on the state board rather than sound scholarship and factual history."

This week, the TFN Education Fund announced a bit of good news -- that publishers made a number of corrections to the proposed books. While the group said the textbooks, which the Texas State Board of Education will vote whether to adopt in November, were improved, Miller noted, "There remain in the textbooks a number of biases and inaccuracies that should be corrected."

The State Board of Education voted to adopt the current social studies curriculum in 2010. At the time, The New York Times noted that the curriculum "will put a conservative stamp on history and economics." We revisited the Texas state social studies standards to see how they could be influencing publishers to print what has been called a misleading view of American history. Here are some troubling ideas we found in the Texas social studies curriculum standards:

Students Are Told To Question The Legal Doctrine Of The Separation Of Church And State


The Texas high school social studies curriculum standards ask students to compare and contrast the wording of the Constitution's establishment clause, which prohibits state religion, with the phrase "separation of church and state," which was established during later Supreme Court decisions. Don McElroy, a conservative former member of the SBOE, said students should be able to make this comparison because "We need to have students compare and contrast this current view of separation of church and state with the actual language in the First Amendment," according to a 2010 post from The Dallas Morning News.

Another board member, Mavis Knight, who opposed the standard, said she thought the requirement had a more dangerous connotation. "[It] implies there is no such thing as the legal doctrine of separation of church and state," Knight said to the outlet.

Notably, the curriculum standards also say that students should be able to identify Moses as someone who informed America's founding documents, something critics say is an example of the SBOE trying to insert religion into the classroom.

"It is absurd to suggest that Moses was a major influence on the constitution and our constitutional structure of government," Dan Quinn, communications director for the TFN told The Huffington Post over the phone. "Every scholar we have spoke to has said that that's just factually inaccurate."

Slavery And Segregation Are Glossed Over

The curriculum standards seem to minimize some of the darker aspects of American history, such as slavery and segregation. When discussing Civil War history, the elementary school standards list sectionalism and states' rights before slavery as the primary causes for the conflict, notes a 2011 report from the right-leaning Fordham Institute.

"Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan, or sharecropping; the term 'Jim Crow' never appears. Incredibly, racial segregation is only mentioned in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the armed forces," says the report.

Following the adoption of the standards, the Texas branch of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a complaint with the Department of Education, saying the standards downplay the Ku Klux Klan and violence against blacks.

"It is our contention that the SBOE curriculum changes were made with the intention to discriminate, and the SBOE curriculum and other areas raised in this complaint were either the result of unnecessary policies that have a disparate or stigmatizing impact on African Americans and Latinos, or reflect disparate treatment or neglect," said the complaint.

Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, told The Huffington Post that nothing ever came of the complaint.

Capitalism Is Promoted As A Superior System

The standards' authors are clearly fans of the free enterprise system, consistently emphasizing the advantage of American capitalism over other structures.

For example, the high school standards state that students should be able to "understand how the free enterprise system drives technological innovation and its application in the marketplace." The middle school standards clearly promote free enterprise capitalism over other economic systems, saying that students should be able to "compare and contrast free enterprise, socialist, and communist economies in various contemporary societies, including the benefits of the U.S. free enterprise system." Finally, the standards connect capitalism with the conservative ideal of limited government, asking students to be able to "explain why a free enterprise system of economics developed in the new nation, including minimal government intrusion, taxation, and property rights."

The Standards Try To Vindicate McCarthyism


During the 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) and the House Un-American Activities Committee engaged in a witch hunt that was designed to expose supposed communists living in the United States, but ended up smearing many innocent citizens. In 1995, the U.S. National Security Agency released intelligence from a 1940s program called the Venona Project that had gathered Soviet military activity. It implicated several Soviet spies. While the Venona Papers do provide evidence against some communist spies, scholars have said they do not provide justification for the hysteria of McCarthyism or the senator's actions.

But, the Texas social studies standards take a different view. According to the standards, students should know about "McCarthyism, and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the findings of which were confirmed by the Venona Papers."

Categories: Political News and Opinion

'My Wages Are Too High For Help But Too Low To Let Me Get Ahead'

Huffington Post News - 32 min 2 sec ago

Amy Windish, 42, lives in Middletown, Pennsylvania, and works as a consultant for a medical device company. Windish told The Huffington Post she began to slide down the economic ladder, from what she described as a middle-class lifestyle she held while working as a bookkeeper, once she left a relationship and lost a job directly after Sept. 11, 2001.

I fit into the place where my wages are too high for help, but too low to let me get ahead. My income after taxes is roughly $1,000 per two weeks. I've learned to juggle credit card debt around to make ends meet. I was debt-free up until companies learned to reduce staff or freeze wages to increase profits.

After the first job loss, I held another position for a year. But business was not doing well. I started working for a call center. The call center was sold and I started working for a new company. I had been there about four years when that company sold our call center -- it sent the jobs to India. We got no notice at all. They didn’t warn you in advance that something was going down. They just said, "Come on, we’ll all have a meeting."

They said they'd help you look for another job by helping you do resumes. But there wasn’t a lot of work in the area unless you had higher education, like a degree in engineering.

I had an apartment in Mesa, Arizona. But I decided to leave there because at the same exact time that I was laid off, the owners of the complex were changing it to a condominium and you were required to purchase the property or move. I had to make a change and make it quick.

I had grown up in central Pennsylvania. I moved back and stayed with a friend, got a job working in operations at a shipping company. I eventually bought a home close to work.

I worked there for a year when they laid off maybe 80 percent of the staff. That was my first blow here. It took me almost a year to find another job. I worked for another medical company -- got laid off there and was without a job for almost another year. I've been at my current company for about four to five years, but it also has its instabilities. The owners keep changing the way of business and keep laying off people. Businesses now are more impulsive and they really don’t care what happens to the people who work for them.

Winter is coming, and I live in an old house with little to no insulation in the walls. It costs too much to repair. I wear layers of sweatshirts and blankets in the house to stay warm. The oil furnace can't go past 50 degrees or it won't last the winter. It's too expensive to convert to a different type of heating system, so I'm stuck with it.

My pets are given an old sweatshirt to stay warm because their teeth chatter. If I get visitors in the winter no coats are removed and in the summer, we keep the shades pulled to keep out the sun to stay cool.

My car is a 1999 Nissan with high miles and every year during inspection, it fails for some reason and I put another $600 on my credit card. I want a new car, so I work more hours. But I haven't got farther ahead because the more overtime money I make, the more taxes they take. I feel trapped in the situation. I don't have any financial support or anyone to save me when the car breaks down. Last year, my car was in the shop for over a week and it cost me $200 for a rental car and $500 for the repairs.

I would sink pretty quick if I lost my job.

As told to Akbar Shahid Ahmed in phone interviews and email.



Windish's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard, yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.

Have a similar story you'd like to share? Email us at workingpoor@huffingtonpost.com or give us a call at 408-508-4833, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Utah State University Defends Response To Vile Threat To Feminist Speaker

Huffington Post News - 35 min 12 sec ago

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Facing faculty concerns about guns on the campus of Utah State University, the school's president is responding to accusations that the institution acted irresponsibly after a threat against feminist speaker Anita Sarkeesian.

President Stan Albrecht said USU immediately started working with police and communicating with Sarkeesian's staff after receiving the email threatening a mass shooting. In a letter to faculty and students, Albrecht said USU had to follow a state law prohibiting universities from taking away concealed weapons from valid permit holders, but he expressed concern about a new push from state lawmakers to allow open carrying of weapons on campus.

The president's statements came in response to a letter signed by about 200 faculty and students saying guns on campus pose a threat to free speech.

"There are a lot of us that aren't happy to teach at a university that allows guns on campus," said English professor Jennifer Sinor, one of two instructors who wrote the letter last week. While Albrecht said he was proud of how the university handled the Sarkeesian threat, Sinor said one other nationally known speaker has expressed security concerns about a speech scheduled for next spring.

Sarkeesian canceled her talk on women and video games last week, calling it mindboggling that guns would be allowed despite the threat. She did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

The university has said it determined the threat wasn't credible and called its security measures adequate, but Albrecht said allowing the open carry of guns on campus would be bad.

"This action would have chilling implications for us, making it more difficult to attract outside speakers to our university, to hire and retain faculty, and to ensure a comfortable academic environment for our students," Albrecht wrote.

Utah is one of seven states that allow concealed carry on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but it is the only state that has a separate law prohibiting universities from not allowing concealed weapons at events. Republican Utah lawmaker Curt Oda of Clearfield said the law also allows people to carry guns openly on campus.

"There is no restriction on open carry," Oda said, though "we encourage people to carry it discreetly as much as possible."

In the wake of other campus shootings in the U.S., Sinor said Utah's existing concealed-weapon rule already has a chilling effect on professors who scale back on challenging topics to avoid controversy, which ultimately limits what students learn.

"They're the ones that lose," she said. Sinor said she's previously had a plainclothes police officer posted outside her classroom after one creative writing student violently threatened another in journal entries.

She argued Wednesday for what she called a middle path, with some prohibitions on guns in residence halls, in classrooms and at large events.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Cyberbullying, Online Abuse or Political Scandal: 41-Year-Old Monica Lewinsky Ought to Know the Difference

Huffington Post News - 39 min 1 sec ago

This past Monday, Monica Lewinsky took center stage at the Forbes Under 30 Summit to speak to Millennials who were at most 14 years old when she made global headlines. She told them that she was the first to have her reputation ruined on the Internet; announced her intention to lead an effort "to end cyberbullying and today's toxic culture of Internet shaming;" and implied that her treatment was comparable to that of Tyler Clementi.

I was shocked--shocked--that she considered the Internet the major contributor to her ruined reputation; shocked that she considered her situation similar to Clementi's; and shocked at her timing, given that Hillary Clinton is the democratic front-runner for the next presidential race. I was stunned. And I lost my ability to communicate anything beyond the fact that "I was shocked."

First, does the 'Internet-as-reputation-shredder' maxim really apply here? At the end of 1997, global Internet penetration was only 1.7 percent. Yet Lewinsky says that when her affair became public in January 1998, "Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one," bested by the brand new newsletter The Drudge Report. Frankly, I would argue that given the circumstances - a sexual harassment lawsuit, a presidential affair, taped personal confessions, a U.S. government investigation and a U.S. Senate impeachment trial against the president of the United States--her private life would have ended, Internet or not.

Similar examples exist that prove the Internet was likely not the source of her ruin. Remember the 1986 disclosure of the Prince Charles and Camilla affair, complete with phone transcripts and intimate details? Or the 1936 abdication of Prince Charles' uncle, King Edward VIII, to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson? Both pre-Internet scandals made global news, proving that power, sex, government and consenting adults are a story that content providers want to print and the world wants to read--Internet or not.





Second, is Lewinsky's situation really comparable to Clementi's? It certainly sounds like she's making the case that the two are inextricably linked when she notes:

"We are all vulnerable to humiliation, private and public figures alike" and "the consequences can be devastating. And anyone can be next. One day in 2010, an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman called Tyler Clementi, was next. After his roommate secretly videotape streamed him via webcam kissing another man, Tyler was derided and ridiculed online. A few days later, submerged in the shame and public humiliation, he jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death."

I don't want to depreciate the deep pain Lewinsky and her parents experienced, but I don't believe their situations are analogous. And to try to link them, as she has, denigrates those living simple lives who are tricked into public disclosures directly online. To compare Clementi's situation to one that involves duplicity and government investigations, regardless of how wronged Lewinsky thinks it is, somehow makes a mockery out of real-life tragedies such as those experienced by Amanda Todd, Rebecca Sedwick and the unsuspecting teens in Hanna Rosin's current expose "Why Kids Sext" in The Atlantic.

Lewinsky belittled the naiveté and innocence that comes with being a cyberbullying victim. What Clementi did with another person in the privacy of his college dorm room has no impact on the federal government, the American people or our nation's credibility. In fact, what Clementi did with another person in the privacy of his college dorm room did not need to be shared with anyone, anywhere, without Clementi's consent because he did not sign up to represent the American populace.

Simply put, cyberbullying and a political scandal are two different animals. Yes, political scandal is wrong but Americans believe, by merit of the trust of public office, they have a right to know and judge their elected officials. It is unfortunate when others get caught in the crossfire, but we must not mistake that for cyberbullying, which is personal, targeted and rarely provoked.

Third, the timing of the message also seems wrong. This is the United States of America, and we are all entitled to express our opinions--particularly when it doesn't hurt others. But somehow this speech, at this time, strikes a false cord. Lewinsky says after 10 years of silence, she's chosen to speak out now. Coincidentally, Hillary Clinton appears to be preparing for a presidential run, and according to the polls, her chances look pretty darn good. So after 10 years of silence, why speak out now? Why so publicly? What is Lewinsky's true motivation? As a marketer, I believe that timing is everything--and everyone thinks about timing when mounting a campaign. So why now?

Cyberbullying is real and incredibly destructive, and it goes on regardless of how many headlines shout out news of teen suicide or self-destruction. Consequences like these make us painfully aware that we, as responsible adults, have to take action and do something about this and not try to manipulate the situation to personal advantage. Those unaware of the Internet's pitfalls can be harmed all too easily.

Good technology use is like good health: We need to know what to do to maintain it. We all know that exercise and eating right maintains health, but we also know that if we exercise in the wrong way, we can get injured. And if we eat the wrong foods, it affects the way the body functions and ages. The same can be said for technology and the Internet.

Politics is public and all actions in the White House are subject to extreme scrutiny. Nixon and many others who crossed the lines of propriety have proven this to be the case. Our form of democracy has shown that politicians and those whom associate with live in a fishbowl, and I am not arguing that this is right. I am just stating that this is the way it appears to novices like myself. The moment Lewinsky stepped into the White House and began her internship, as a 22-year-old adult, she was working on behalf of the American people. I am sure she was briefed and instructed after having accepted such a prestigious assignment.

Social media is the fishbowl that the new generation of digital natives inhabits. They are young, often naïve, and not privy to briefings or instructions on how to behave online. They venture in, not as adults, but as young unsuspecting minors, often ignorant of the potential for victimization. Their lack of know-how can have consequences that leave lifelong scars. So practicing 'safe technology use' is serious--and should be recognized and positioned accordingly. It can, and should, not be compared to political scandal, which fortunately involves small numbers of people, when cyberbullying and online abuse have the potential to involve millions.

At first, I thought I would ignore Lewinsky's comments. But I care about this issue deeply and don't want to see it confused and diminished. As a company, we have adopted Tech It Off as a corporate responsibility initiative. We support organizations that support Clementi's cause, such as thinkb4youspeak.com, StopBullying.gov and others, under the umbrella of our Tech It Off initiative. Safe technology use is not just cyberbullying but involves a myriad of issues. But all involve the same basic strategy: The key to safety and success is educating youth at an early age and giving them a clear set of values. This technology value system should teach the difference between right and wrong online behavior.

Finally, we do agree with Lewinsky that there needs to be a campaign, but one that involves parents, teen and schools with early intervention. In the coming months, you will be hearing a great deal more about this. In the mean time, #TechItOff, and turn on to a better technology world. There is a difference between cyberbullying and political scandal; please do not confuse the two.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

De-Nationalizing an Election: Political Advertising in the Tillis-Hagan N.C. Senate Race

Huffington Post News - 42 min 47 sec ago

Almost three and a half decades ago a virtual unknown - John East - upended the popular incumbent - Robert Morgan - in the North Carolina senate race; a contest decided largely by one political commercial, the menacing marching of "Marxist Nicaraguans" continually crossing television screens. The 1980 election was one of several North Carolina Senate contests to follow decided by television political advertising.

As part of my academic studies, I have closely monitored the North Carolina Senate television advertising campaigns since 1980, a gamut of styles from the televised revivifications of Jesse Helms in 1984 to the humdrum campaign of Jim Broyhill and Terry Sanford in 1986. Across these decades, senate advertising has become more and more "nationalized" where the dominant issues look like every other senate race in the country.

Part of this nationalization results from themes dictated by Senate Campaign Committees or, more and more often, the expenditures of independent groups, all of whom seem to be singing from the same hymnal, driving wedge issues that brand the Party or mobilize symbols from the right and left. Advertisements from Colorado to New Hampshire are often exact replicas, changing the candidate names but little else.

The 2014 North Carolina Senate race has been largely conducted on the airwaves. Advertisements dominating the news hours - one after the other - and infiltrating cable across the time spectrum; some estimates expect nearly 10,000 ads, perhaps $100 million in spending. While the Kay Hagan-Thom Tillis contest reflects "national matters" it has also interrupted by the unashamed hijacking of external actors. The North Carolina election advertising has centered on a "state/local" issue of education.

By my count, more than 25 education specific ads have been shown in the North Carolina contest, many with sustained buys. The focus on education is so robust that national and state associations, like Progress North Carolina and Carolina Rising PAC, joined the education chorus. Senators pay lip service to education, but state levels of financial support for schools is not typically the nub of an election. The North Carolina race appears to be a de-nationalization of a classic senate race.

A closer reading of the education ads, however, suggests they are not fully about education. Most North Carolina voters favor education to be left in local hands, hardly the ambit of the U.S. Senate. Education commercials are less about education and more a placeholder for larger political narratives.

Hagan's advertisements attack Tillis (and Tillis' rebuttals) and are largely populated by women narrators and narratives. Tillis becomes the embodiment of the Democrat's allegations of a "War on Women." Likewise, pinpointing the nexus locally emphasizes the "failed legislative session" with speaker Tillis wearing that mantel squarely. In Hagan's commercial "Frances," the testimonial avows that "Thom Tillis has cut millions in education in North Carolina. He's passing bills in the middle of the night, which in my estimation is not very ethical."

Last week, the Tillis campaign and outside actors have moved to shift the debate away from education to ISIS and adjoined threats, arguing "the world is a very dangerous place, be scared, very scared." Hagan's missed hearings and aggregation with a "submissive" Obama are offered as a dangerous world against which leadership is measured.

How persuasive the interruption from education becomes, beyond ideological allies already in the fold, will likely not be known until the election. Hagan has fought back with outrage in her recent advertisement "Vain," where she resolutely shares "Speaker Tillis should be ashamed for running an ad that I would let our soldiers die in vain... North Carolina's military family is my family..." Her indignity echoes a 2008 answer to Dole's now famous commercial "Godless Americans," where Hagan decreed in her response commercial "False Witness, "Elizabeth Dole's attacks on my Christian faith are offensive... I believe in God, I taught Sunday School..."

And so the move to re-nationalize the North Carolina Senate advertising campaign.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Hollow Justice and Courts of Order in an Age of Government-Sanctioned Tyranny

Huffington Post News - 48 min 29 sec ago

"The Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of the people." -- Justice William O. Douglas

With every passing day, it becomes more apparent that we live in an age of hollow justice, with government courts, largely lacking in vision and scope, rendering narrow rulings focused on the letter of the law. This is true at all levels of the judiciary, but especially so in the highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, which is seemingly more concerned with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption, the need for a guardian of the people's rights has never been greater.

Yet when presented with an opportunity to weigh in on these issues, what does our current Supreme Court usually do? It ducks. Prevaricates. Remains silent. Speaks to the narrowest possible concern. More often than not, it gives the government and its corporate sponsors the benefit of the doubt. Rarely do the concerns of the populace prevail.

Every so often the justices toss a bone to those who fear they have abdicated their allegiance to the Constitution. Too often, however, as I document in A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the Supreme Court tends to march in lockstep with the police state.

In recent years, for example, the Court has ruled that police officers can use lethal force in car chases without fear of lawsuits; police officers can stop cars based only on "anonymous" tips; Secret Service agents are not accountable for their actions, as long as they're done in the name of security; citizens only have a right to remain silent if they assert it; police have free reign to use drug-sniffing dogs as "search warrants on leashes," justifying any and all police searches of vehicles stopped on the roadside; police can forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you've been convicted of a crime; police can stop, search, question and profile citizens and non-citizens alike; police can subject Americans to virtual strip searches, no matter the "offense"; police can break into homes without a warrant, even if it's the wrong home; and it's a crime to not identify yourself when a policeman asks your name.

What a difference nine people can make.

The Roberts Supreme Court's decisions in recent years, characterized most often by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests, have run the gamut from suppressing free speech activities and justifying suspicionless strip searches and warrantless home invasions to conferring constitutional rights on corporations, while denying them to citizens.

Contrast that with the Warren Court (1953-1969), whose rulings were instrumental in shoring up critical legal safeguards against government abuse and discrimination. Without the Warren Court, there would be no Miranda warnings, no desegregation of the schools and no civil rights protections for indigents. Yet more than any single ruling, what the Warren Court did best was embody what the courts should always be -- institutions established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds.

Justice Douglas, who served on the Warren Court, was particularly vocal in warning against a domineering, suspicious, totalitarian, police-driven surveillance state. His words stand as a potent reminder that while the technology and social concerns of Douglas' day have undergone dramatic transformations in our time, the rights we are struggling to safeguard remain the same, as do the threats posed by the government.

For instance, Douglas had plenty to say about "the privacy of our citizens and the breach of that privacy by government agents":

We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times; where there are no secrets from government. The aggressive breaches of privacy by the Government increase by geometric proportions. Wiretapping and "bugging" run rampant, without effective judicial or legislative control. Secret observation booths in government offices and closed television circuits in industry, extending even to rest rooms, are common. Offices, conference rooms, hotel rooms, and even bedrooms are "bugged" for the convenience of government.

Speaking to the ramifications of indiscriminate government surveillance, Douglas warned:

Once sanctioned, there is every indication that their use will indiscriminately spread. The time may come when no one can be sure whether his words are being recorded for use at some future time; when everyone will fear that his most secret thoughts are no longer his own, but belong to the Government; when the most confidential and intimate conversations are always open to eager, prying ears.

When that time comes, privacy, and with it liberty, will be gone. If a man's privacy can be invaded at will, who can say he is free? If his every word is taken down and evaluated, or if he is afraid every word may be, who can say he enjoys freedom of speech? If his every association is known and recorded, if the conversations with his associates are purloined, who can say he enjoys freedom of association? When such conditions obtain, our citizens will be afraid to utter any but the safest and most orthodox thoughts; afraid to associate with any but the most acceptable people. Freedom as the Constitution envisages it will have vanished.

Perhaps the greatest difference between Justice Douglas and his contemporaries and those who occupy the bench today can be found in his answer to a government that refuses to listen to its citizen or abide by the rule of law. "We must realize that today's Establishment is the New George III," noted Douglas. "Whether it will continue to adhere to his tactics, we do not know. If it does, the redress, honored in tradition, is also revolution."

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Which US States Imprison More People Per Capita Than Russia Or China?

Huffington Post News - 51 min 47 sec ago

Both Russia and China's prisons are frequent targets for bad press in the United States.

But by one important measure, both countries are far less draconian than several states in America.

Russia has 475 inmates per 100,000 residents as of 2013, according to data from the Sentencing Project. China has 121.

Those numbers are much lower than states like Louisiana (893 per 100,000) Mississippi (717) and Alabama (650) based on 2012 statistics from the same report. Oklahoma (648) and Texas (601) are also significantly higher than Russia or China.

The Clarion-Ledger reported this week that Mississippi's number is now much higher. Based on statistics provided by the International Centre for Prison Studies and the Prison Policy Initiative, Mississippi had 1,155 per 100,000 residents in 2013.

"A very significant percentage of the prisoners in Mississippi are locked up as a direct result of untreated serious mental illness, or substance abuse, or both," Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said in an email to the Huffington Post. They are "locked up for many years, some for decades or for life, in hellish conditions, without any meaningful opportunity for treatment or rehabilitation."

Winter added, "That doesn’t make the community one bit safer, it only tears apart families and communities and destroys lives."

Winter said politicians are eager to prove they are tough on crime with little regard for the conditions in which people are locked up.

"There’s a macho thing involved where they’re priding themselves on harsh sentences that make no sense in terms of doing something for the safety of the community or rehabilitation," Winter said. "It’s the same set-up in Alabama."

As the Ledger reports, this year Mississippi passed a bill designed to reduce the prison population. It gives judges more leeway to give offenders sentences like rehabilitation or other punishments that don't involve time behind bars.

Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps told the Ledger he's "happy the Legislature and governor have searched for ways to reduce prison population while being protective of the community."

Gov. Phil Bryant echoed those sentiments when the bill was passed in March.

"We pledged to Mississippians that we would make this the ‘public safety session’, and we have worked hard to develop this ‘Right on Crime’ research-based plan that is tough on crime while using resources wisely where they make the most impact," Bryant said in a press release. "As a former law enforcement officer, I have no tolerance for career criminals or violent offenders, and this legislation will allow Mississippi the resources to hold these offenders accountable."

But Winter said there's "much more to be done" in terms of reforming the prison system in Mississippi.

"Some change is better than nothing," Winter said. "But it was very mild reform."

She points to three examples of what she says are the state's overly harsh policies in action. From her email:

-A seventeen-year-old youth is currently serving 30 years – two 15 year-sentences consecutively-- for sale of two rocks of crack cocaine.

-A man was recently sentenced under the habitual offender law to mandatory life without parole -- for fleeing police, which is an offense that normally carries a five-year sentence. That 5-year sentence became under Mississippi’s habitual offender law because he had two prior offenses --for cocaine possession and a car-jacking that he committed as a teenager.

-The Mississippi Supreme Court recently affirmed a mandatory life-without-parole sentence under the habitual offender statute for possession of two crack rocks (in an amount of more than 0.1 gram, less than 2)


But Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama are not the only states with ballooning inmate populations. Overall, the U.S. incarcerates about 25 percent of the world's prisoners even though the country itself holds only 5 percent of the world's population.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

As For-Profit Colleges Fight for Their Right to Abuse Students, It's Obama's Time to Decide

Huffington Post News - 55 min 21 sec ago



The Obama administration is scheduled to issue, within the next few weeks, a regulation called the gainful employment rule, aimed at cutting off federal student aid to college-level career training programs that consistently leave their students drowning in debt. Lobbyists for the for-profit college industry are pressing the White House hard to weaken the rule or drop it altogether. It's a critical moment for the public, to take another close look at this industry, which now has 13 percent of all U.S. college students and swallows more than a quarter of federal aid -- over $30 billion a year in taxpayer money.  It's also a critical moment for President Obama to stand up for fiscal responsibility -- and for our veterans and others struggling to build a better future through career training.

In 25 years working in Washington as a lawyer, policy advocate, and government official, I've never seen such blatant and reprehensible abuse of taxpayer dollars as I've seen with bad actors -- and there are many of them -- in the for-profit college industry.

The people who have come to the White House again in recent months to lobby on behalf of this industry are pillars of the D.C. establishment, like former representative Steve Gunderson (R-WI), who is the CEO of the industry's trade group, APSCU; former senator John Breaux (D-LA), also representing APSCU; and the D.C. titan who has been the most influential in this debate, Donald Graham, CEO of the company that previously owned the Washington Post newspaper and still operates the Kaplan for-profit college business. (Graham's stature in D.C. networks can come in handy.  He met in June at the White House with Jeffrey Zients, head of the National Economic Council, which has been involved in the gainful employment discussions; Graham is Zients' friend, fellow St. Albans prep school graduate, baseball ally, and charitable donor.)

On top of the lobbyists, the for-profit college industry presents as its face to students and the general public such paid luminaries as Suze Orman, Colin Powell, and Marc Morial.

But behind these trusted faces is something else.  I talk every week with insiders in this industry, and it's clear what the bad actors actually do.

I speak with people, for example, who work at boiler room call centers for for-profit colleges and the lead generation companies that provide the industry with many of its students. Recently I've been learning more about one particularly offensive trick the industry uses.  Multiple companies maintain fake websites promising jobs, food stamps, heating assistance. But these are just fronts to draw in people -- mostly low income people -- so they can be sold for-profit college programs.  Before they can proceed on these sites, people come to a popup window asking for their contact information, and next thing someone is calling and trying to steer them to a for-profit college. According to people who have worked inside the lead generation industry, this particular bait and switch scam steers students to schools operated by Kaplan, ITT, Corinthian, Bridgepoint, the University of Phoenix, Career Education Corp., EDMC, and others.  It's an awful scam, and I plan to report more on it soon.

If people hooked by this scam do then express interest in getting job training, the lead generator representative on the line may well steer the prospective student away from what they really want and toward what the representative is paid to sell. For example, if a single mom on the line says she might be interested in a hands-on auto repair program in her own community, the rep might push her instead to an online business or medical coding degree that offers little useful training.

Or that single mom, or a veteran fresh from the service, might be attracted by the ubiquitous misleading ads that the industry places on television, radio, and city buses, and visit a local campus. There she will meet with representatives who engage in high-pressure recruiting pitches, lying to them about the cost of attending, the selectivity of the program, the value of the degree.  These companies admit students whom they know won't benefit from the program.  They lie to authorities about job placement or about the student's financial aid status. They even lie about whether the student actually graduated from high school, as was charged in a federal criminal indictment brought this month against the CEO of Miami's FastTrain College, which was an APSCU member until its campuses were raided by the FBI and shut down in 2012.

Such for-profit colleges, rooted in deception, often lead students to financial ruin; the 13 percent of students who attend for-profit colleges account for an amazing 46 percent of all student loan defaults.

There is documented proof of abuses of students in the ongoing federal and state law enforcement investigations (which I have compiled here) of all the companies listed above, and more. There is more evidence in congressional investigations and media investigations. It all shows the intensely cynical and abusive nature of many actors in this industry.  People are now going to prison for doing these things -- this month a federal judge in Lubbock, Texas, ordered a two-year sentence for Doyle Brent Sheets, the president of for-profit American Commercial College, for lying to the U.S. Department of Education about matters relating to the company's eligibility for federal aid.

Yet the representatives of these schools keep coming back to the White House and saying, you can't take any federal dollars away from us.  They continue to spend like crazy on lobbying in D.C., according to the latest disclosure forms covering the last three months -- Apollo / University of Phoenix $500,000, Bridgepoint $410,000, Kaplan $180,000, EDMC $130,000, Corinthian $60,000, ITT $50,000. And that's just on formal lobbying, and doesn't cover the millions more spent on non-lobbyist strategic advisors, issue advertising, and other forms of pressure.

These pressure efforts share a key trait with the industry's underlying operations: deception.  One regular aspect of the industry's efforts is the publication of articles by esteemed people, with no disclosure that the writer is paid by the industry. Just for example, a Sept. 22 anti-gainful employment rule op-ed published in The Hill was co-authored by Jorge Klor de Alva, identified as "president of Nexus Research and Policy Center and the former Class of 1940 Professor, University of California, Berkeley." There is no mention of the fact that the Nexus Center was created and is funded with money from the University of Phoenix, just as the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) never admitted, as has now been revealed, that it took the University of Phoenix founder's money as it attacked for-profit college industry critics. Others who recently published similar attacks on the gainful employment rule, all in the same publication, The Hill -- Harry C. Alford, CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce; Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund; and Kevin P. Chavous, a lobbyist and former D.C. Council Member -- did not respond to my inquiries as to whether they have received money from for-profit college interests.

The rumor mill regarding where the administration will come out on a final gainful employment rule is churning fast.  Some of my colleagues are pessimistic.  We certainly have all heard rumblings that the rule might be considerably weakened from the draft proposal that the Department of Education published in March, a proposal that itself was much weaker than it should have been, given the seriousness of the problem.

Pro-industry Wells Fargo market analyst Trace Urdan says in his latest report to investors that "prospects for the rules to be published as we have seen them, or with some modest concessions to industry, are strong."

But we just don't know for sure.  Our coalition of civil rights, veterans, student, educator, and consumer groups have made clear how we think the should be strengthened, and like the industry lobbyists, we (including me) have been back at the White House in recent weeks to press our case.

The industry is arguing that the proposed rule's tests of gainful employment -- (1) student income from first few years after graduation, as compared with their debt; and (2) loan default rates in the years after graduating or dropping out -- are not the best measure of a program's educational quality.  But they are strong measures. This isn't about a criminal defendant's right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  Education providers deserve a fair shake, but so do students and taxpayers. They haven't been prioritized in the past.

The rule does not have to, and should not, bend over backwards to help career colleges. This is not about government overreach that curbs a free market.  This is a government program, where participants can get 90 percent or more of their revenue from taxpayers.  Tobacco and oil companies at least only ask the rest of us to pay for their harmful externalities. Bad for-profit colleges demand that taxpayers actually buy their toxic product.

These companies have no entitlement to the money. The administration does not have to prove that its test is the ultimate way to capture the concept of gainful employment -- just a reasonable way.

The for-profit colleges also continue to claim that low income people and people of color will suffer if programs that repeatedly flunk these gainful employment measures lose federal aid. That's shameful.  A new report from the Center for Responsible Lending confirms that for-profit colleges disproportionately harm students of color, leaving them with poor job prospects and overwhelming debt.  Earlier studies (many cited in this piece) have shown that, even taking into account student characteristics like race, for-profit college students fare worse than students at other institutions.  All of the major civil rights organizations have spoken up against for-profit college abuses and for a strong gainful employment rule.  No matter how you look at it, programs that perform so poorly that they flunk the low standards of the draft gainful employment rule are harming, not helping, an unacceptable percentage of their students.

The predatory for-profit college companies, especially the large publicly-traded ones, are on the ropes now. In addition to the legal jeopardy they face, their enrollments are down, as news of their shoddy practices and programs has at last reached some in their disempowered target audience. Their revenues and share prices are also sharply down. (If the for-profit college industry had made like the tobacco industry and negotiated a rule back in Obama's first term, rather than waging full-scale war on the regulation and on industry critics, it might have avoided the ensuing five years of dirty laundry that has destroyed its reputation.)

But thousands of students still sign up every week for for-profit college programs that will ruin their lives. If the Obama administration retreats on gainful employment, if it issues a rule as weak or even weaker than the one it proposed in March, or delays its implementation, it potentially gives the predatory schools new momentum to return full-speed to their worst practices.

Some worry that certain administration lawyers, cognizant that a federal judge struck down the original 2011 gainful employment regulation because the White House did not offer enough of a rationale for one piece of the rule, are pressing for a particularly weak rule, one that might measure only results related to graduates, and do nothing about programs where the biggest problem is sky-high dropout rates. But all the administration needs to do is offer clear, reasonable rationales for its choices; it doesn't need to make the rule weaker to make it stand up in court.  Worse than a judge striking down the rule would be the White House striking it down preemptively.

President Obama, speaking off the cuff, has made very clear that he understands the nature of the predatory for-profit college scam. A weak gainful employment rule -- one with low standards and / or that doesn't address dropouts -- won't do enough to help students.  It won't meet the President's stated goals of making college affordable, protecting veterans and other against predatory college scams, and protecting the federal investment in student aid.  I doubt the President wants to read in the New York Times again that the rule was gutted in the White House process under lobbyist pressure, as it was in 2011, when there was an opportunity to solve a major problem by taking bold executive action.  Especially because it's even more clear now than it was then that bad for-profit colleges have been engaged in an orgy of fraud and abuses, and that they have crushed the dreams of countless students.  I will remain hopeful that the White House will rise to this challenge -- and implement a rule that channels precious federal aid only to those programs that are truly helping people build careers.

Don't let these students down, Mr. President.

This article also appears on Republic Report.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Americans Are A Little More Worried About The Flu Than Ebola

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 1 min ago

WASHINGTON -- When media outlets aren't hyping the threat of Ebola, they're embracing a much more helpful trend: stories explaining we should really worry about the flu.

Americans have gotten the message -- kind of. They're a little more likely to say the flu is a bigger threat to the nation, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, with 45 percent saying the flu is a greater danger, 40 percent naming Ebola, and the remaining 15 percent undecided.



Experts are far less divided on which poses the bigger risk.

"I don't think there's any question, if you ask 100 infectious disease experts or epidemiologists, what 100 percent of them would say. Influenza is more of a threat to the average American, if by threat you mean 'which is more likely to kill you or make you sick any time in the next year,'" Dr. Art Reingold, the head of epidemiology at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, told HuffPost.

While Ebola has so far affected just three people on U.S. soil, "influenza and pneumonia" regularly kills tens of thousands of people a year, according to the CDC, making it the eighth-leading cause of death as of 2010.

Although Americans' concerns about Ebola have risen since news of this year's outbreak first surfaced, most still believe that the threat will remain manageable, and that they're unlikely to be personally affected.

Fifty-two percent now say they're confident there won't be a large Ebola outbreak in the U.S., down only slightly from the 56 percent who said so in early October. Fifty-five percent say they're not particularly concerned that they or someone in their family will get Ebola.

Yet most don't think news coverage is overhyping Ebola either. Forty-four percent say there's been about the right amount of media attention paid to the disease, while just 26 percent say the media is giving it too much play. Another 17 percent say the disease has actually been undercovered.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll, like other recent surveys, finds something of a partisan divide, with Republicans significantly less confident than Democrats in the ability of the U.S. to avoid an outbreak, and more likely to say that Ebola is more of a threat than the flu.

The results also show another demographic difference: compared with the 45 percent of Americans who plan to get flu shots this year, the 45 percent who don't plan to get the shots are a little more freaked out about Ebola across the board. Those who are getting shots say by a 17-point margin that the flu is more dangerous than Ebola, while those who aren't say by a 6-point margin that Ebola poses a bigger a threat.

Those who aren't getting vaccinated are 7 points more likely to worry that they or someone in their family will contract the virus, although a slim majority still say they're not concerned about being personally affected. They're also 7 points less likely to say they're confident there won't be a large Ebola outbreak and 7 points more likely to say the media isn't paying enough attention to the threat.

The poll didn't ask people to provide their rationale for not getting the shot, but polling during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak found that those who didn't get vaccinated were more likely to have concerns about the vaccine's safety, and to say they didn't trust public health officials -- worries that could also lead people to mistrust the government's ability to keep them safe from Ebola.

Public health experts urge nearly everyone over the age of 6 months who isn't allergic to get the shot, though fewer than half typically do. Because flu and Ebola have similar initial symptoms, like fever, fatigue and aching, some medical professionals expect an increase in ER visits from people who are suffering the former but fearing the latter.

"One of the issues is that if people do get the flu vaccine and reduce their risk of flu, then we'll have fewer people coming to the doctor or the emergency room with a febrile illness, where there might be a suspicion about it being Ebola or something else, " Reingold said. "We would like people to reduce their chances of getting the flu for all kinds of reasons, but that would be one of them."

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Oct. 15-16 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

No Slam Dunk for Billionaires

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 1 min ago

Early in his second term, President Obama briefly put income and wealth inequality on his political agenda. But when the issue didn't poll well, he dropped it. As a former community organizer, he might be interested in how an Alinsky-style, community organization in Milwaukee is changing the political conversation in that economically-struggling city on a hot issue that is essentially about whether the rich will be permitted to get richer at the expense of everybody else.

The savvy grassroots organization, Common Ground, an affiliate of the national Industrial Areas Foundation, is taking on wealthy Wall Street hedge fund owners who want several hundred million dollars of tax money to help pay for a new arena for the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, a franchise they recently purchased for $550 million.

Common Ground, much to the dismay of Milwaukee's old guard downtown business leaders, has caught the attention of local and national media by fashioning a modern morality play, casting in sharp relief the choice between private greed and public need. I witnessed a scene from the evolving play in Milwaukee on Sunday.

On the one side are the hedge fund guys, Wes Edens and Marc Lesry, who want a plush new basketball arena replete with skyboxes and other revenue-enhancing premium seats that the current home of the Bucks, the 26-year-old BMO Harris Bradley Center, does not have. The NBA has threatened to pull the Bucks out of Milwaukee unless a new arena is built by 2017.

On the other side are Milwaukee high school kids like Suzy Scott and Fred Holmes whom I heard speak on Sunday in front of an enthusiastic Common Ground delegates assembly, an interracial gathering of some 700 people representing more than 40 interfaith churches, nonproifts, small businesses and other groups in a four-county area in and around Milwaukee. Ms. Scott, a junior at Rufus King and a member of the school's soccer team, vividly described the inevitable swamp-like conditions of the school's old athletic field after rainy nights that make games the next day hazardous or impossible to play. Mr. Holmes, a two-sport athlete and president of the student government at Washington High, said his school's rutted athletic field turned ankles and that the ancient, crumbling concrete track surrounding the field necessitated hour-long trips by the track team to other facilities for practices.

Earlier this year, scores of Common Ground volunteers inspected and evaluated the condition of 268 athletic and recreational sites throughout Milwaukee County where children play and found that 65 percent needed significant repairs and upgrading. That research, amidst talk by Milwaukee business leaders about finding tax money to build a new arena for the Bucks, prompted Common Ground to launch its "Fair Play" campaign: If tax dollars were used to build a new arena where the Milwaukee Bucks play, the organization said, then at least $150 million should be appropriated to fix up athletic fields where Milwaukee kids play.

But on Sunday afternoon, Common Ground toughened its stance. After being ignored by the Bucks' new owners who months ago promised to meet with them, the Common Ground delegates voted to fight against any public funding for a new arena.

Most economists say that using public funds to build professional sports facilities is an ineffective, inefficient strategy for promoting economic development -- and, one might infer, an especially unseemly use of scare resources in a city like Milwaukee where 29 percent of its nearly 600,000 residents live in poverty. But in our new Gilded Age, big money has no shame.

In Milwaukee, it wasn't always this way. In 1986, the local philanthropist Jane Pettit and her husband donated $90 million to cover the entire cost of building the Bradley Center, the now supposedly-antiquated facility where the Buck's still play. The Bucks new owners have said they will donate only $100 million toward the cost of a new facility that may be as much as $500 million. And Herb Kohl, the previous owner who bought the team in 1985 for a mere $18 million and was often cited as the richest member of the U.S. Senate where he served four terms, has also pledged to give only $100 million. Adjusted for inflation, neither "contribution" comes close to being as generous as Ms. Pettit's.

In Milwaukee, elected officials have been reticent about opposing the use of public funds for a new basketball arena. Nobody wants to be accused of losing the Bucks if it comes to that. Neither do most elected officials want to be on the wrong side of the wealthy leaders of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. So almost single-handedly, the tenacious Common Ground organization is changing the local conversation by forcing the community to consider that maybe its values and priorities are not the same as the values of a couple of Wall Street hedge fund owners and their local counterparts. Common Ground's leaders know what they're up against, but they're hopeful realists. One might say they're practicing the audacity of hope.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Lessons from Ebola - Trust: the Necessary Public Health Tool

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 2 min ago

It is perhaps too soon to draw lessons from the Ebola epidemic. After all, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued projections that suggest the number of Ebola cases will rise precipitously over the next few months. If the CDC's worst-case scenario occurs, more than one million people could be infected with Ebola. While future public health responses will be informed by what happens over the next few months, to me, one of the overwhelming lessons to be learned from the Ebola epidemic is how essential trust is to effective public health action.

The current Ebola epidemic has already killed more people than all previous Ebola outbreaks combined. In a September New England Journal of Medicine perspective, CDC Director Thomas Frieden and co-authors indicate that "[t]hree core interventions have stopped every previous outbreak and can stop this one as well: exhaustive case and contact finding, effective response to patients and the community, and preventive interventions." However, each of these requires the trust of the population to be completed successfully.

There are reasons to be concerned about the success of these efforts. Public health experts have already attributed to people's unwillingness to seek medical care. As WHO Director-General Margaret Chan explains in her September New England Journal of Medicine perspective, "Fear causes people who have had contact with infected persons to escape from the surveillance system, relatives to hide symptomatic family members or take them to traditional healers, and patients to flee treatment centers." Of course, public health officials can actively seek out cases and contacts, and some of the affected countries have done just that with mixed success. In September, Sierra Leone concluded a country-wide quarantine on its entire population to identify Ebola cases and educate its public about the disease. Despite the daunting nature of its efforts, Sierra Leone completed its house-to-house search without major incidents. In contrast, a more limited quarantine in Liberia in August was met with resistance and ultimately resulted in riots. Those who are carrying out the surveillance may be subject to threats or worse, as evidence by the deaths of eight health care workers conducting Ebola education in Guinea, apparently fuelled by fear that the health care workers were spreading Ebola, a relatively common fear.

The distribution of the experimental treatment ZMapp did little to engender trust. Two American volunteers with Ebola were offered ZMapp on a compassionate use basis - that is, as a potentially life-saving therapy when no other option existed. The Americans also received supportive therapy and were transferred back to the United States for care. Both survived. However, none of the hundreds of African health care workers who have been infected since the epidemic began had been offered such an option. The difference in treatment is viewed against a backdrop of historic exploitation in the region. While ZMapp, which is in limited supply and has not been tested in humans, has since been offered to Africans, there remain concerns about who will get access to successful treatments and vaccines.

Of course, trust alone is not sufficient to address Ebola. Lack of basic prevention resources, such as gloves, masks, and other protective gear, has been an important factor in the spread of the disease. A shortage of trained health care workers and lack of health care infrastructure has also impeded efforts to contain the epidemic. The United States and others have now committed substantial resources to provide this support. For example, the United States is sending its military to West Africa to help establish additional hospitals to treat Ebola patients and to train health care workers.

Nevertheless, without trust, public health efforts will fall short. Building trust during on on-going epidemic response is challenging, especially when mistakes may be made. The news that a nurse who cared for an Ebola patient in Dallas became infected caused health care providers and the public to question the CDC's reassurances, including that American hospitals were prepared to treat Ebola. But the CDC worked to rebuild the public's trust - publicly admitting its mistakes, responding to nurses' concerns, and revising its policies. Such steps to build and maintain trust are essential. And once the epidemic is over, we must not forget the lesson. Indeed, we should redouble our efforts to build trust in the public health system so that we are better prepared for the next epidemic.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Supreme Court Should Be More Transparent With Financial Disclosures

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 6 min ago

As a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts famously wrote about the peculiarity that, in America, "only Supreme Court justices and schoolchildren take the entire summer off."

When their annual vacation ended last month, the nine justices -- including the Chief -- returned from three months of travel and teaching, often in exotic locations and with little ethical oversight. While everyone is entitled to a little vacation now and then, America's top legal officers should adhere to basic measures to increase accountability and restore the public's trust in government.

Any time a member of Congress wants to travel abroad -- which we do from time to time as part of our official duties -- we are required to check with the House Committee on Ethics as to whether the trip follows the ethics rules by which federally elected officials are bound.

Not so with Supreme Court justices. When they travel the globe to lecture or meet with foreign judges or visit their properties from Ireland to the West Indies, there is no similarly situated authority that guides the justices on the ethical implications of their travel and outside income from teaching and lecturing.

What's more, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which performs managerial functions for the judicial branch and is overseen by Chief Justice Roberts, makes the press and public jump through unnecessary hoops to obtain legally required financial disclosure reports. Each year members of Congress, high-ranking Executive Branch officials and Supreme Court justices must disclose their and their spouses' personal financial interests in order to identify and prevent conflicts of interest as they perform the people's work.

That the justices release these reports to the public solely by paper -- not to mention much later than the other branches and full of inconsistencies -- does not comport with expectations of transparency from government officials in 2014.

As chair of the Congressional Transparency Caucus, I urge the justices and their colleagues in the federal judiciary to take a few steps to improve the process. Issues of transparency like these do not require any additional laws, are non-partisan and enjoy broad support from the American people, who in poll after poll say they support various measures to increase transparency at the nation's highest court.

First, the Judicial Conference of the United States -- the principal policymaking arm of the U.S. Courts that's also led by Chief Justice Roberts -- should take the initiative to put the disclosure reports online. Its Committee on Financial Disclosures could easily post them on the U.S. Courts website, saving journalists and interested citizens the headache of having to fax or mail in their requests, prepare a check (they charge $0.20 per page) and then visit the U.S. Courts office to pick them up.

Second, the Judicial Conference should consider working with the justices and their staffs to encourage uniformity. Based on this year's disclosure reports, viewable at www.Scribd.com/OpenSCOTUS, we get the sense that each justice filled out his or her form in private without input or involvement of any other justice. How else would we have a situation in which Justice Kennedy lists no money in the stock market while Justice Alito spends 10 pages detailing every three-figure dividend he received from owning common stock? These reports should all contain the same basic financial and travel information in order to prevent conflicts of interest and give the public a more complete picture of the justices' lives beyond the courtroom.

Third, the Court should work to improve disclosure timing. While all public officials are required by the Ethics in Government Act to submit financial disclosure reports by May 15, the justices this year took until June 20 -- more than five weeks later -- to release them to the public. There just isn't that much information to redact. If members of Congress, the president and vice president can release their reports just a few days after the submission deadline, there's no reason the justices should delay. Cynics have said that the justices purposely wait until the end of the term to release the reports so the most important decisions of the year, often announced in June, would overshadow the release.

In the end, the public has the right to know about any undertakings top public officials engage in that may influence how they conduct the people's business. Next year, I would encourage the Supreme Court to file their annual financial disclosure reports in a more open, consistent and timely manner.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Briefs: Craft Show; Resources for seniors; 18 Reasons for Hope - The Oakland Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 1 hour 7 min ago


Briefs: Craft Show; Resources for seniors; 18 Reasons for Hope
The Oakland Press
File - The Berkley Craft Show will be held from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at the Berkley Community Center. Joe Ballor - Daily Tribune. Posted: 10/22/14, 11:52 AM EDT |. # Comments. BERKLEY. Craft Show on Saturday. The Berkley Craft Show will be held from ...

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Categories: Berkley Area News

Towar: Royal Oak Historical Society celebrates 75 years - The Oakland Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 1 hour 7 min ago


Towar: Royal Oak Historical Society celebrates 75 years
The Oakland Press
Royal Oak Historical Society award winner Rob Duchene, from left, Historical Society President Deb Anderson, award winner Grace Perkins and dinner emcee Stan Sherman. Jeanne Towar - For the Daily Tribune. By Jeanne Towar, The Oakland Press.

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Categories: Berkley Area News

Royal Oak voters asked to approve changing golf course to park - The Oakland Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 1 hour 7 min ago


Royal Oak voters asked to approve changing golf course to park
The Oakland Press
FILE — Ducks swim in a pond in front of the green on the par 4 No. 4 hole at Normandy Oaks Golf Club in Royal Oak. Joe Ballor - Daily Tribune. By Michael P. McConnell, mike.mcconnell@dailytribune.com, @MMcconnell01 on Twitter. Posted: 10/22/14, 12:20 ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

Versicor of Royal Oak announces winners of Ideas to Action awards - The Oakland Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 1 hour 7 min ago


Versicor of Royal Oak announces winners of Ideas to Action awards
The Oakland Press
Royal Oak-based Versicor, an electronics, software and controls development company recently announced the winner of its inaugural Ideas to Action (I2A) awards contest. Versicor judges selected Finding a New Normal (FANN), a nonprofit working to ...

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Categories: Berkley Area News

Chicago Sun-Times Reporter Resigns, Says Paper 'No Longer Has The Backs Of Reporters'

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 18 min ago

A veteran Chicago Sun-Times reporter has resigned from his job amid speculation that the newspaper bowed to pressure from the campaign of Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner (R), an ex-stakeholder in the paper, to punish the reporter for writing a story the campaign was not happy with.

Dave McKinney, who had served as the paper's Springfield bureau chief and led its Illinois political coverage since 1995, announced his resignation Wednesday via an open letter addressed to Sun-Times chairman Michael Ferro Jr.

Earlier this month, McKinney co-authored a story centered on allegations that Rauner verbally threatened an executive of LeapSource, a company owned by GTCR, Rauner's investment firm. The Rauner campaign has denied the allegations, pointing out that the complaint was dismissed in summary judgement, though the campaign for incumbent Governor Pat Quinn (D) has been using the story in its advertising.

McKinney in his open letter writes that the Rauner campaign tried to block the LeapSource story by suggesting a conflict of interest between the reporter and his wife, Ann Liston, who works as a political consultant. According to McKinney, Sun-Times publisher Jim Kirk responded by defending McKinney and the story, but the reporter was nonetheless pulled from his beat and told to go on leave. McKinney also says Kirk offered up other jobs at the paper that McKinney "considered demotions."

McKinney eventually returned to his position. Soon after, the Sun-Times, which had instituted a policy of no political endorsements in 2012, endorsed Rauner, who was a 10-percent owner of Sun-Times parent company Wrapports LLC until shortly before he launched his gubernatorial campaign.

Though Kirk has publicly defended McKinney and his story -- as well as the paper's endorsement of Rauner -- the reporter writes that the controversy has "had a chilling effect in the newsroom."

"Readers of the Sun-Times need to be able to trust the paper. They need to know a wall exists between owners and the newsroom to preserve the integrity of what is published. A breach in that wall exists at the Sun-Times," McKinney writes. "While I don’t speak for my colleagues, I’m aware that many share my concern. I’m convinced this newspaper no longer has the backs of reporters like me."

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. -- In response to McKinney's resignation, Kirk said in a statement to Crain's Chicago Business that he "disagree[s] with Dave's questioning the integrity of this newspaper and my role as editor and publisher. I call the shots. While I've been here, our ownership and management have never quashed a story and they have always respected the journalistic integrity of this paper." He also described McKinney as "among the best in our profession" and said he still stands behind the LeapSource story.

Rauner is challenging Gov. Quinn in what has been called one of the nation's most expensive governor races this year.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Watch The Harrowing Story Of A Yazidi Woman Fighting Back Against ISIS

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 19 min ago

As Islamic State militants led a brutal attack on the Yazidi minority in Iraq's north this past August, tens of thousands of villagers fled into the Sinjar mountains, hoping to escape the extremist fighters.

Rojbin was one of the refugees who climbed the mountain to seek safety. While she managed to escape the militants, many others were rounded up. In the massacre that followed, IS fighters reportedly murdered hundreds of Yazidis. Rojbin believes her family was among those killed.

Now, in a harrowing video by Kurdish journalist Khazar Fatemi, Rojbin explains how she has taken up arms with Syria's Kurdish YPG militia and is determined to fight back against the Islamic State. "I have promised myself I will return to Shengal!" Rojbin says, referring to her former city, "I will stay there, take it back, or get killed."

Watch Fatemi's report in the video above.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Why Canada Is Under Attack by Terrorists

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 29 min ago

Most people probably reacted in shock to learn that Canada has now been hit twice by terror attacks against soldiers in three days. Many Americans probably think of it as our sleepy socialist neighbor to the north. But Canada is a key ally in the war against terrorism in general, and ISIS in particular. And today's attack is a harbinger of things to come in America.

The notion of a war against Canada can seem a little far-fetched. I show the film "Canadian Bacon" as a humorous way to my class to teach about the diversionary theory of war, where America launches an attack on Canada to distract the U.S. people from a recession.

But it's very clear why terrorists wanted to strike against Canada.

Canada was a key part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations in Afghanistan. Though that participation ended earlier this year, America's neighbor to the North was a key player there, providing a great deal of assistance.

Canada is also hardly some socialist, anti-American critic. Since 2004, it's been led by Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. It's policies on the Keystone pipeline and taxes (leading to the Burger King "inversion") are more in-step with America's Republican Party moderates.

And most importantly, Canada has been a strong ally in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

According to University of British Columbia Professor Allen Sens, the operation against ISIS has involved fighter jets, reconnaissance aircraft, and hundreds of soldiers.

"Canada's contribution is a political signal, first and foremost -- not a military one. It's a signal of commitment to our allies, of our willingness to be involved in the fight against ISIS," Sens said in an interview. "The total commitment, personnel-wise, will be about 600. It's fairly modest by the standards of the British, French or Americans -- but nevertheless it is a significant commitment with respect to the coalition."

The interview with Sens was published yesterday, just as news about the terror attacks against the Canadians was beginning to hit the airwaves. But even then, Sens explain that the entire Canadian commitment would not be risk-free.

"The only way that Canada's involvement is going to have an electoral impact is if there is a major event of some kind, where the government is shown to be negligent, or made a serious error or miscalculation," Sens said in the interview, published by the UBC. "I think this issue will be most significant in Quebec. Traditionally, public opinion in Quebec has been much more reluctant than the rest of the country with respect to Canadian foreign military engagement."

The attack bears the hallmarks of earlier attacks against NATO countries, like Spain and France (though a smaller scale than the Madrid Train Bombing), which tested the anti-terrorism commitment of the West European and North American alliance.

Whether it was done by a lone wolf, small unaffiliated group, or ISIS itself, the operation is designed to weaken ties within Canada, between Canada and America, and serve the United States with a warning that it will strike back.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Readout of the Vice President’s Meeting with German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel

News from the White House - 1 hour 33 min ago

Vice President Joe Biden met with German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel today at the White House to discuss bilateral relations and common challenges such as ISIL, Ebola, and Russia’s continued efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine. The Vice President and Vice Chancellor agreed on the strategic importance of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) for supporting economic opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic, and on the importance of sustaining growth in the Eurozone and the wider global economy. The Vice President thanked the Vice Chancellor for Germany’s leadership and strong support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, for its support in the fight against ISIL, and for its contributions to fighting Ebola in West Africa.

Categories: White House News