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Southfield bus stop stabbing suspect due in court today - WXYZ

Berkley Information from Google News - 10 min 8 sec ago


Southfield bus stop stabbing suspect due in court today
(WXYZ) - A man accused of asking people about their religious beliefs before stabbing them at a bus stop is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday. Investigators are trying to answer the question -- did he do this because of hate? If so-- it could be a ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

Bibi Blusters, Boehner Blunders, Another Day in Republican Fantasyland

Huffington Post News - 4 hours 53 min ago

Today marked a new low in the state of dysfunctional politics spawned by the right-wing Republican take-over that has held our representative democracy hostage. Bowing to the exigencies of a political strategy that is dedicated to the proposition that obstruction is a desired goal rather than a tactic for achieving a greater good Congress entertained a diatribe from a foreign leader designed to embarrass the President. Simultaneously Speaker Boehner bucked his own Party by invoking the type of bipartisan compromise that is an essential building block to our democracy. What a strange day indeed.

By breaching political protocol to allow Netanyahu to plead his case for what can only be characterized as an appeal to reject compromise in favor of conflict with Iran the Speaker revealed the lengths to which he was willing to go to placate the loons within his own caucus. It could represent one of the most egregious precedents in our country's political history. It may also help to salvage a political victory for a polarizing leader.

If it fails to help Bibi secure victory in the next two weeks it will serve to illustrate the incredulously short-sighted nature of the ruling Congressional majority. Yet, regardless of what transpires in the upcoming Israeli election the maneuver orchestrated today by the Republican leaders will serve as an affront to good governance. In a historical sense it will serve as a defining low point for our democratic form of government as it struggles in the grip of systemic dysfunction.

In juxtaposition to the dangerous precedent set today on the foreign affairs/national security front Speaker Boehner's concession to policy sanity and political reality on the domestic front stands in stark and confusing contrast to the awkward maneuvering that preceded it. By allowing for a vote on a clean DHS appropriations bill only days after nearly shutting the agency down the reversal represents a victory for the practical political mechanisms embodied in our governmental structure.

Such mind-numbing flip-flopping brings into serious question the Speaker's ability to lead let alone control his own party. By resorting to the tried and true method of governing by assembling a majority of votes, even when that represents bipartisan cooperation, Boehner was dragged kicking and screaming to the point where there was literally no other option. It remains to be seen if this will actually cost him his Speakership.

The sorry specter of today's events is a clear indication of the degree to which our political system is buckling under the weight of irresponsible leadership. Blustering and blundering under the rigors of effective governance has created avoidable crises, artificial cliffs, unnecessary paralysis, and high-noon dramas where essential building blocks of cooperation and compromise once stood. Meanwhile confidence in our leaders and institutions is further degraded and cynicism intensified to the point where larger and larger numbers of citizens doubt the sincerity or competency of both.

The one thing the Tea Party has resolutely brought to the fore of our political consciousness is that process is more important than product. I rarely offer kudos to the insurgents that have effectively hijacked the Republican Party but here they have done a great service by alerting us to the dangers of an insurgency dedicated to the proposition that procedural terrorism can ultimately render the most virile leaders impotent.

If this were merely an intramural fight among Party ideologues it would not be so dangerous. Such intraparty squabbles require strong dedication and commitment to a larger vision by Party leaders to reach out to the opposition to assemble the required support necessary to achieve that vision. That has been nonexistent in the Republican Party. It has been leaderless and unable to executing anything short of obstruction. Today's resolution of the DHS funding issue only ensued after an absurdly tortuous high-stakes game of chicken which ultimately proved futile.

No matter how much lipstick is applied to the grotesque legislative creature that has been unveiled today it remains an ugly reminder of how broken our system actually is, and the consequences will haunt us for some time.

If we as a society do not reassess our current situation and reach back to the bedrock principles that bolster good governance and good government we will continue to sink deeper into the abyss of rudderless dysfunction. In my book, The Evolution of a Revolution, I outline six conceptual remedies for kick starting such a reassessment: recommitment to the value of public service; valuing statesmanship; restoration in belief that government can work; shifting from short-term to long-term thinking; placing public interests over special interests; and removing the corrupting influence of money in our political system.

Unless we get serious about making our system work by placing trust in our institutions and leaders to do what is in the interest of all, not the least being dedication to the search for peace not war, we will continue to get what we pay for: namely, a corrupt system for the few. Today was a bad day.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

'American Democracy Is Doomed'

Huffington Post News - 5 hours 37 min ago

America’s constitutional democracy is going to collapse.

Some day — not tomorrow, not next year, but probably sometime before runaway climate change forces us to seek a new life in outer-space colonies — there is going to be a collapse of the legal and political order and its replacement by something else. If we’re lucky, it won’t be violent.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

An Interrogation of Our Own Motives: The Terror of Torture

Huffington Post News - 5 hours 44 min ago

Two years into his thirty-month sentence, former CIA agent John Kiriakou was released from prison on Feb. 3, 2015 and remains under house arrest. Kiriakou was the first CIA official to be punished in relation to the Bush administration torture program, but not for having committed acts of torture himself, rather for exposing the government's use of waterboarding as a part of standard interrogation protocol. The irony of this punishment and its underlying message are clear -- according to our government, torture is not a crime, but exposing it is.

Torture is clearly prohibited in Article Eight of the United States Bill of Rights, and abolished under international law in Article Five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; yet it remains in practice. It violates our basic rights as human beings, our morality as a society, and our most fundamental American values; yet somehow, it is still in practice. Domestic and international law are clear -- there are no exceptions about the abolition of torture, yet it is still widely used. To date, 157 nations have ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, yet over 140 nations still practice torture.

Torture is a complicated subject. Is it justified? Is it necessary? Is it relative? Such a complex issue can be simplified when we bring the aspect of humanity of this heinous practice back into the picture. Rather than focus on the wrongdoings of a criminal, we need to focus on the humanity of the situation and the fundamental human rights that the use of torture violates.

Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, supports the view that torture not only should be, but also can be abolished in practice universally, and that it will lead to a better and more productive society. Philosophy scholar Jeff McMahan takes a similar position, but in an interview with The New York Times amends his view that torture is always immoral by claiming that it can be "justified" when it is used to extract information from a criminal. Beyond the large blanket of ambiguity this would cast as a footnote to laws on torture, this belief that torture is an effective and time-efficient interrogation strategy is a misconception held by many. Scholars, former interrogation specialists, and government officials have all proved that this is far from true, rather that torture is an unnecessarily brutal and ineffective method of interrogation.

Even in an era before the establishment of universal human rights, eighteenth century philosopher Cesare Beccaria had the right idea in denouncing the use of torture as an inhumane and ineffective form of interrogation, stating that even the guiltless "will admit guilt" if he or she believes it will make the pain stop. Ali Soufan, former FBI special agent and interrogator of al-Qaeda, denounces the use of torture in agreement with Beccaria's theory, having seen it play out in real life.

In fact, not only will criminals intentionally give misinformation to stop the abuse, but excessive physical and mental torture can cause brain damage that permanently alters the prisoner's memories of the events and information he or she is supposed to recount. Neurobiological evidence shows that tortured prisoners are equally likely to recall false memories as they are to recall true memories when being interrogated with torturous tactics. This form of violence is not only ineffective as a method of interrogation, but also causes such great cognitive and neurological damage that a person subjected to such inhumanity will not only lose their sanity, but can also lose their sense of self.

Soufan is correct: violence and torture are the ways of groups like al-Qaeda, not the ways of the free and democratic nation that is the United States. In light of recent reports, the ongoing daily abuses of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, and the intentionally hushed release of Kiriakou we must question, as a nation founded upon a strong value in human rights, our use of such violence as a tactic for "national security" and "foreign policy."

No crime warrants fighting violence with violence. We cannot lose our sense of humanity, our compassion, or our empathy in an effort to fight crime, especially if we hope to ultimately create a peaceful world free of violence and malice. How can we expect to establish justice and harmony when we constantly fight violence with violence? How can we expect to protect and promote universal human rights if we are not upholding them ourselves? It is time to practice what we preach. Torture is un-American, but more than that, it is simply immoral and inhumane.

The torture and killing of an American soldier is never justified. By the same principle, the torture and killing of any soldier or criminal, whether a wrongly convicted felon or a violent jihadist, is never justified. Everyone has their motives, but whether right or wrong, these motives need to be set aside to make way for our shared humanity to be seen and realized. We need to see criminals as humans before we begin to spill their blood -- the very blood that makes us all human.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Tuesday's roundup: Howard comes off bench to fuel UD - The Detroit News

Berkley Information from Google News - 5 hours 52 min ago

Tuesday's roundup: Howard comes off bench to fuel UD
The Detroit News
Howard didn't start Tuesday night —the first time he hasn't started in two years. Loading… Post to Facebook. Tuesday's roundup: Howard comes off bench to fuel UD Howard didn't start Tuesday night —the first time he hasn't started in two years. Check ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

Hillary Clinton Hints Again At Presidential Run

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 11:48pm

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton teased an enthusiastic audience about a 2016 presidential run several times at a gala for the progressive women's group Emily's List on Tuesday.

"Along life's way, you get a chance to make millions of decisions," the former secretary of state told the crowd. "Some of them are big, like do you run for office?"

Minutes later, Clinton added, "Don't you some day want to see a woman president?"

The crowd erupted.

Clinton received the "We Are Emily" award at the gala, where Emily's List celebrated 30 years of helping to elect pro-abortion rights Democratic women to office. She avoided talking about abortion, but emphasized her support for women's economic security and flexibility in the workplace.

"Many parents don't have access to sick days or paid family and medical leave," Clinton said. "It's hard to find quality, affordable child care. Work schedules are far from predictable and simply unfair. And it's still is an outrage that so many women are paid less than men for the same work. These are not just problems for women -- they are problems for families and for our entire economy."

Clinton also emphasized college affordability, raising the minimum wage, and her support for labor unions. She said when Republicans try to talk about income inequality, they sound like "the end of Casablanca."

In addition to laying out her populist priorities, Clinton managed to work in jokes about pantsuits, her evolving hairstyles and the infamous striped dress that captivated social media this week.

"Let's settle this once and for all: Despite what you might think, this outfit is not actually white and gold," Clinton said of her navy and black outfit.

She didn't mention Tuesday's article in The New York Times reporting that she exclusively used a personal email account for government business during her tenure at the State Department.

Women lawmakers at the Emily's List conference and gala spoke of Clinton as if her candidacy is inevitable, using the pronoun "she" to describe the Democratic Party's 2016 nominee. Clinton fueled the fire in her speech.

"Let's go forth and win some elections," Clinton said.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Jesus and the International Currency Exchange Traders in the Temple

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 11:09pm

Midway through Lent, pretty much every year, we clergy types have to look once again at an extremely odd story of Jesus taking a whip to the "Money Changers" in the Temple in Jerusalem. This year it's found in John 2.13-22, and it's just as odd as ever. It isn't easy to get a hold of, given our penchant for meek and mild images of Jesus, and that's probably why most of us (okay, maybe some of us) try to just talk about it's "spiritual" side (purifying the religion of the day) instead of its more gritty, political, and economic underbelly.

Though "cleansing of the temple" is the common title for this story, that really isn't what is going on here. "Cleansing" implies something has been cleaned up or changed or reformed. But, in John's version of the story (and probably in the Synoptics'), Jesus doesn't appear interested in cleaning up the market system that operated at the Temple, but in doing away with its idolatrous economic infrastructure altogether.

The story occurs when Jesus enters Jerusalem for the first time. It is evocative to note that his first (and probably last) visit to the city was to celebrate the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery. As we noted earlier, the "spinal cord" for ethical behavior for Hebrews was that God liberated them from slavery, and now their task was to do the same for others. This was the basis for the Sabbath and Jubilee legislation: God freed us, so we must now free others. So, hundreds of years later, Jews from all over Israel were required to return to Jerusalem on the festival known as "Passover" to be reminded of that covenant promise.

In Jesus' case, he made his trip to Jerusalem after an extensive ministry in Galilee, preaching a spiritual and economic egalitarianism. He appears to have entered Jerusalem expecting (or at least wanting) to see a celebration of the Exodus liberation acts of God and saw instead a corrupted system that maintained the economic caste system. According to all four canonical gospel accounts, he enters the temple, sees the activities being performed there, and is enraged. John Dominic Crossan says that Jesus' message of radical equality and liberation "exploded in indignation at the temple as the seat and symbol of all that was non-egalitarian, patronal, and even oppressive on both the religious and political level."

But what exactly did he find that enraged him so?
According to John, Jesus found two things: those who were "selling" and those who were "changing." The sellers sold things like cattle, sheep, and doves for the offerings, and the changers changed money from international currency to local currency so that it could be used in the Temple. Both were corrupt, and both were central to the economic idolatry that sustained the nation as a whole.

The sellers (tous pōlountas) were those who sold animals for the offerings made at the temple (sorry, but that was the tradition; they would probably think that I-pads and high heels were immoral too). People were required to make sacrifices for a variety of festivals and rites. If you were wealthy you gave a large animal, like a cow or ox. If you were poor you gave doves or pigeons. However, to ensure "unblemished" animals, you were required to purchase your animals at the gate of the temple where the prices were higher than the country-side. And, as with any regressive tax or price system, the costs tended to be felt more by the poor than the wealthy. To purchase one pair of doves at the temple was the equivalent of two days' wages. But the doves had to be inspected for quality control just inside the temple, and if your recently purchased unblemished animals were found to be in fact blemished, then you had to buy two more doves for the equivalent of 40 days' wages!

Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells a story of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel (son of Gamaliel, Paul's personal spiritual trainer), who went on a campaign against price gouging. But unfortunately stories of someone trying to protect the poor from the practice are rare. More common was the reference in the Jewish Mishna that the costs of birds rose so fast in Jesus' time that women began lying or aborting their babies to avoid the required and punitive fees.

The changers (kermatistēs) were needed because neither the animal offerings nor the temple tax could be paid with the Roman currency in use for most of the national commerce, because it had pictures (read "graven images") of the Roman Emperor on them who claimed to be a god. So, the money had to be changed into usable local currency.

The money changers sat outside of the temple proper, in the "court of the gentiles." They bought and sold money as a part of the functioning of the general economy. Jerusalem, in fact, required a money changing industry because it was an international city that dealt in a number of currencies and people had to have a system by which they could buy and sell them. They used the money changers both for basic commerce and also for currency speculation. Insider traders could make fortunes when a new Roman battalion came to town carrying a glut of new coins which depressed the value of the local currencies. Ched Myers calls the money changers "street level representatives of banking interests of considerable power." Indeed, because there was no one else to perform the function, the money changers were the banks in first century Palestine.

However, the Money Changers were also corrupt. They would not only exaggerate the fees they had to charge for the transactions, they would also inflate the exchange rate. The result was that for a poor person, the Money Changer's share of the temple tax was about one day's wages and his share of the transaction from international to local currency was about a half-day's wages. And that was before they purchased their unblemished animals for sacrifice and then had to buy them again (at an enhanced price) because the inspector found a blemish or otherwise inadequate for the offering.

All tolled, a one day stay in Jerusalem during one of the three major festivals could cost between $3,000 and $4,000 dollars in contemporary value, and Jews were required to attend at least one of them each year. Josephus estimated that up to 2.25 million people visited Jerusalem during Passover, which would generate the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars. The money-changers opened their stalls in the country towns a month before the feast and then moved them to the temple by the time of the first arrivals. While all of this may appear immoral, none of it was illegal. They were business men operating within the law. But it took Jesus and a few radical rabbis to point out that the law itself was unjust.

Two last notes on the tables used by the money changers. First, it's interesting to note that the word, "table" trapezes, had just two usages, one was for reclined eating and the other was for conducting financial transactions. It functioned like a loan office where people invested and borrowed money, and was sometimes translated simply as "Bank" (cf. Luke 19:23). The second thing is that in Isaiah 65:11 God condemns those tables. He says that people who forget God and God's holy mountain are like those who set up "tables" to "Gad," the name for the God of wealth.

So, what was Jesus' response to the situation he found in Jerusalem? He made a whip, drove out the money changers, poured out their coins, turned over their tables and demanded that they "Stop making the realm of God into a realm of commerce." It's interesting to note that he doesn't say "stop abusing a good system," but simply "stop the system."

Those who today believe the current global economic system has failed, often fall into three types.

  1. Those who believe that the system itself is wrong (the very fact of markets creates wealth and poverty, and that's wrong);

  2. Those who say that this particular model of economic globalization is wrong (other systems could be designed to be more fair, but this one is not);

  3. And those who say that the system is fine, but there are abusers of it and discontinuities within it (if we could just get markets to work right then eventually all boats will be lifted).

Jesus seemed to be in at least the second camp, and maybe even the first: the very existence of the market at all was what caused evil. According to what we know of him in this text itself, he would most likely be against the marketization of life itself.

To make his point stronger, he followed his actions with the dramatic pronouncement that the temple, which was the national center of worship, trade, and finance, would be destroyed. In Mark's version he even sets up a type of boycott of all goods and commerce coming into the temple, which starved it of the funds it was using to fatten the rich.

So how would you preach on this passage?
First, walk through the story with your congregation, using the background information in this essay. Most people, even if they know of the story, have no idea of the economic ramifications of the "cleansing" story. Given the confrontation at the temple, it is no wonder that the Synoptics believed it to be the key event that turned the authorities against Jesus.

Second, tie this ancient oppressive system to today's global system that continues to keep two-thirds of the world in poverty. Read up on how the austerity programs imposed on poor countries as a requirement of receiving debt relief has in many instances actually caused more poverty, and weakened their ability to pay those debts. The recent revolt in Greece is a good example of that which you can cite.

Another less frequently reported example is the Ebola-hit countries of West Africa. For decades the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral financial agencies, have imposed strict restrictions on these countries' public spending so that they can continue making payments on ancient loans (often taken out by long-dead dictators for personal use). The result has been that these countries have had to make dramatic cuts in spending on infrastructure, education, and health care, which meant that when the crisis hit, their resources with which to address the problem had been seriously diminished.

For the last two years the faith-based Jubilee USA Network has been lobbying the Obama Administration and the IMF to get them to cancel at least a portion of the debt burden that is crippling these countries. Finally, in February of this year, the IMF announced that it would release $170 million in debt-relief (and more in less restrictive loans) to three Ebola-affected countries--Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. That the relief will be a major contribution in their ability to turn back the epidemic more quickly than experts had predicted. This would be a good story to cite for your congregation, and you can find updates and other stories about Jubilee's work on their web site,

You could then conclude by saying that as people of faith, we cannot ignore the world beyond our doorstep. God stands with the powerless against the powerful. Isaiah attacked those who were rich for their opulence: "Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures" (2:7a). Jeremiah said they "have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness" (2:8). Amos said that unchecked, the wealthy would "trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land" (Amos 8:4, cf. 2:7, 4:1). According to Amos, the special, spiritual sin of the economically powerful was that they could lounge on couches, eat lambs from the flock, drink wine from bowls, but "are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph [their poor neighbors]" (6:4-6).

Jesus railed against the abuses of power by Herod and the religio-political leaders of Jerusalem. Both he and his cousin John demanded great financial sacrifices of those entering and modeling the coming "Realm" of God. I suspect that a number of us, of whatever religious stripe (not all Christian) could see ourselves as their offspring and followers, if we understood this as the path they were leading us in. With a world still wracked in pain today we can do a lot worse than to walk with faith in their footsteps.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Washington Medical Marijuana Trial Ends With Acquittal On All But 1 Charge

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 11:00pm

A family of medical marijuana patients who say they grew cannabis for personal use were acquitted on four of five federal drug charges Tuesday by a jury in Washington state.

Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56; her son, Rolland Gregg, 33; and Gregg's wife, Michelle Gregg, 36, were convicted of illegally growing fewer than 100 marijuana plants following a weeklong trial in U.S. District Court in Spokane. They still may face up to several years in prison when they are sentenced later.

The three were acquitted of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacturing and distribution of the plant, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking -- charges that could have landed them in prison for a decade or more.

Supporters characterized the verdict as a significant victory.

"The Department of Justice didn't get the message from Congress and the president, but today they got the message from the jury -- and the message is that there's not a jury in the state of Washington that will convict people of medical marijuana," Kari Boiter, Washington state coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, told The Huffington Post.

Five people originally were charged after authorities raided the family pot patch in 2012.

Charges were dismissed against Larry Harvey, the husband of Firestack-Harvey and father of Rolland Gregg, due to his recent diagnosis of late-stage cancer.

A family friend, Jason Zucker, 38, last week accepted a deal to plead guilty to conspiracy and testify for the prosecution. He now faces a recommended 16 months in prison.

The defendants maintained that the pot patch complied with state law and the plants were for their own medical use. All were state-licensed medical marijuana patients. Washington state legalized medical marijuana in 1998.

Rhonda, pictured left, with Rolland Gregg and his wife Michelle.

U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice barred the defendants from arguing their cannabis plants were legal under state law. Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, U.S. courts generally don't allow evidence that the drug may have been used for medical purposes.

Still, the U.S. Justice Department has offered guidance to federal prosecutors urging them to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations. To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Four states, as well as D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana.

A federal spending bill signed by President Barack Obama in December prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs. Harvey's attorney argued In a motion to dismiss all charges that the provision protects patients from federal prosecution.

The judge rejected the motion last month.

Jason Zucker playing with his daughter.

Local authorities found 74 plants near the Harvey house during the raid. Officers seized 29 of the plants in order to bring the family into compliance with state law, which limits collective crops to no more than 45 plants.

A week later, federal authorities conducted a more comprehensive search, seizing the family's remaining marijuana plants, along with about five pounds of raw cannabis and some marijuana-infused edibles. Authorities also took a car, several hundred dollars, firearms and some personal belongings.

"This is not the kind of spectacular haul that the DEA is typically called in for," the family's attorneys wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in February 2014, urging him to reconsider the charges. "Just the opposite, the evidence seized is consistent with the type of strict medical dosage that occurs with a doctor's supervision."

Before the raid, Larry Harvey ate marijuana-infused cookies to ease symptoms related to gout, chronic pain and inflammation, defense lawyers said. The lawyers noted that his wife, who has osteoarthritis and has undergone joint and bone surgeries, used medical cannabis to ease her inflammation and pain. Rolland Gregg and Zucker used medical marijuana to treat back injuries, attorneys said. Michelle Gregg used cannabis for appetite stimulation due to wasting brought on by a medical condition she hasn't disclosed.

Larry Harvey and his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

King v. Burwell: What Republicans Are Really Hoping For

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 10:03pm

Some Republicans are gleefully anticipating that the Supreme Court might deal a big blow to the Affordable Care Act when it rules in the King v. Burwell case, which is being argued before the Court Wednesday.

The plaintiffs in this case, and the many Republicans in Congress who are cheering them on, want to eliminate the current tax credits that enable millions of Americans of modest means to buy health insurance.

Let's think about what those rooting for a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court conservatives are actually hoping for.

They're hoping to cost about seven million Americans an average of $3,164 per year.

They're hoping to cause health insurance premiums for those Americans to rise by an average of 322 percent -- in other words, for cost to more than triple.

In short, the outcome they're hoping for means dire financial consequences for millions of middle-class families -- an outcome that, for many, could cause them to lose their health insurance entirely because it simply wouldn't be feasible for them to afford it anymore.

Regardless of one's views on the Affordable Care Act, we should all be able to agree that premium increases of over 300 percent are bad for American middle-class families. After all, Republicans and Democrats alike have spent years railing against big premium hikes, and Republicans in particular have expressed grave concern about potential premium increases in recent years.

Are Republicans now in favor of a tripling of health insurance premiums? Is the ability of families to keep health plans they currently have no longer important?

Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act long ago stopped being a policy position so much as a dogma. It's time for Republicans to own up to what their fixation on destroying the Affordable Care Act will really mean to millions of their constituents.

For people with pre-existing conditions who today have some peace of mind thanks to insurance, for parents of kids with asthma who can have an inhaler on hand thanks to insurance, for all of those who have enough money in their pockets now to save for the future or buy new shoes for school or get the car fixed, the Affordable Care Act is about a lot more than ideology and politics.

And it would be a supremely political decision to strike down the tax credits in states with federally-run health insurance exchanges, as the plaintiffs are asking the Court to do.

To anyone who even remotely followed the debate over the health care law while it was being drafted, debated and passed, their argument is ludicrous.

As a Senator who was a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee at the time the law was debated and passed, I can state unequivocally that our intention was to make tax credits to help buy health insurance available to Americans in all states, regardless of whether the state or federal government operated the exchange. Moreover, the language in the statute, when read in the full context, is crystal clear. If a state chooses not to operate an exchange, the federal government will come in and operate an exchange on behalf of the state.

The non-partisan policy experts at the Congressional Budget Office, who carefully reviewed the bill to provide expert analysis on its cost, never even contemplated the possibility that tax credits might not be available to Americans in all 50 states.

The law is perfectly clear -- to anyone who is not willfully trying to misinterpret it -- that tax credits were intended for anyone who qualified, in all states. It would take politically motivated judicial contortions to conclude otherwise.

Nevertheless, many Republicans are hoping the Supreme Court will embrace this absurd legal position because they see it as a body blow to the Affordable Care Act. In their eyes, it is the chance to finally achieve through the courts what their 56-and-counting votes to repeal Obamacare have not.

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. No law in our nation's history has ever been perfect or beyond scrutiny. But this piece of the law is not in question. We named it the "Affordable Care Act" for a reason -- because we fully intended the law to make health insurance affordable to Americans in all 50 states, and wrote the law as such.

No matter how many repeal votes or legal runarounds are pursued, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and it is improving the lives of millions of Americans who now have affordable access to health insurance.

To those trying to upend the law: real lives are on the line. Enough is enough.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

'Corinthian 15' Student Debt Strike Picks Up Congressional Endorsement

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 10:03pm

Former for-profit college students who publicly announced a "debt strike" have gained a prominent endorsement from an influential member of Congress.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said Tuesday she supports the 15 former students who declared last week they won't make payments on their federal student loans. Waters, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, is the first member of Congress to publicly endorse the actions of the striking debtors, who refuse to repay loans taken out to attend schools owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc., the troubled owner of schools that the U.S. Department of Education recently bailed out.

The so-called Corinthian 15 claim Corinthian's schools lured them into enrolling and taking out loans by advertising false job placement rates. The borrowers are relying in part on the master promissory note, which acts as a contract between student borrowers and the federal government, that they signed when they took out the loans. The note contains a provision that may cancel borrowers' debts if they can show that misrepresentation led them to take out the loans.

Lawsuits by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and state attorneys general in California, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin may help their cause. In separate suits filed in recent years, authorities allege that Corinthian fraudulently induced students to take out loans to attend its schools by misleading them about future job prospects. The company has denied the accusations.

The striking debtors have been in touch with federal officials, but have yet to receive public support. The Education Department, in a statement last week, encouraged them to make good on their debts. Waters is likely the first federal official from any government branch to endorse their strike.

The former Corinthian students "have decided that this is predatory lending and they're not going to repay their debts," Waters said. "They're organizing, and I support them."

The debt strike has brought renewed attention to the Education Department's lackluster efforts at protecting the integrity of the federal student loan system, and its inattention to the plight of borrowers in distress. The Education Department allows schools to generate tens of billions of dollars in annual revenues through taxpayer-backed loans and grants to students. In return, the department is supposed to ensure, for example, that schools aren't misleading students about their graduation or job placement rates.

But in the case of Corinthian, which is slowly dismantling itself as a result of numerous federal and state investigations into alleged wrongdoing, student advocates claim the Education Department effectively turned a blind eye to mounting evidence that students were being misled into taking out federal student loans.

For example, in a January 2014 letter to Corinthian, Robin Minor, the Education Department's chief compliance officer, said the company had “admitted to falsifying placement rates” at many of its campuses, which along with other concerns, “suggest systemic deficiencies” throughout the company's several dozen campuses. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has repeated those claims in letters to federal lawmakers.

The Education Department has since helped keep the company afloat while it finds buyers for its various schools, which operate under the Everest, Heald and Wyotech brands. Meanwhile, former students are left to fend for themselves.

A group of Senate Democrats has called on the department to forgive debts owed by current and former Corinthian students. The Education Department has yet to respond to their demand.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Ferguson Police Department May Fold Due To DOJ Probe

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 9:41pm

FERGUSON, Mo. -- U.S. Justice Department investigations of police departments in the past have led to reforms or lengthy litigation. But the DOJ probe of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department, to be announced on Wednesday, may lead to a possible outcome that would set the St. Louis suburb apart: eliminating the police department.

The investigation, begun after a Ferguson officer shot to death unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August, alleges that town authorities routinely violated the constitutional rights of residents with unreasonable searches and force, and that the city budget was largely funded by tickets and fines.

Once Ferguson tallies the costs of either fighting the DOJ allegations or adopting reforms the department will require, it may decide the best choice would be to get rid of the police department and hire another agency to police the town.

"My guess is it's going to be so expensive to the city of Ferguson, they're going to have to make a survival decision,” Tim Fitch, the former head of the St. Louis County Police Department, said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post. "Financially, I don't believe they're going to be able to do one of two things: Either they're going to fight it, and not be able to afford that, or to implement all of the changes that DOJ is going to require is going to be so expensive, they're not going to be able to do it."

Fitch and some other county law enforcement officials have criticized some small police departments in the county for aggressive ticket-writing and law enforcement. Jon Belmar, the current St. Louis County police chief, called the ticketing practices of some departments “immoral.” St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch has said there are police departments in the area that shouldn't exist. St. Louis County may stand to benefit by taking over Ferguson policing if such a decision is reached.

Ferguson officials have given no indication they are considering handing the town's law enforcement to another agency. They said they won't comment on the DOJ investigation until it is formally released.

“I can tell you that the citizens I hear from by and large –- and this is even from citizens who’ve been involved in protests -– want nothing to do with St. Louis County Police,” Mayor James Knowles III recently told St. Louis Public Radio. "Many people, for whatever they feel is wrong with a local municipal police department, feel that they have the most influence over a local municipal police department.”

But the costs of reform, including paying for a court-ordered monitor, along with a likely decrease in revenue generated by Ferguson’s municipal court, may force consideration. Only a few cities as small as Ferguson have worked with the DOJ on police reforms. The process may cost millions over several years.

The DOJ's so-called pattern or practice investigation of Ferguson police was announced in September, weeks after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson. Police Chief Tom Jackson said at the time that his department would “fully cooperate,” with what he saw as an opportunity to “get better.”

Merrick Bobb, executive director of the nonprofit Police Assessment Resource Center who has worked with the Justice Department as a court monitor, said he doesn’t believe eliminating Ferguson's police department will solve the problems.

“I happen to believe that a consent decree and a monitor are going to be required in the Ferguson situation, and I find it hard to believe that if the department just folded up and flew away, that would end the problem,” Bobb said in a recent interview.

As news of the DOJ investigation leaked out Tuesday, some Ferguson-area activists and politicians renewed their calls for the city police department to be shut down.

Tony Rice, a protest organizer and Ferguson resident, said he hopes the Ferguson department dissolves, but he is unsure about the idea of St. Louis County Police Department taking over.

“At this point, yes they should fold,” Rice said in an interview, adding that he thinks Ferguson Chief Jackson could be part of the solution.

“St. Louis County approved of the militarization of the officers,” Rice said. “I am not fond of them.”

Mariah Stewart reported from Ferguson. Ryan J. Reilly reported from Washington.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Benjamin Netanyahu Misrepresents Kerry On Iran

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 9:38pm

The following post first appeared on

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly anticipated speech to Congress contained a curious statement. He claimed Secretary of State John Kerry “confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium by the end of a long-term nuclear agreement that the U.S. is negotiating with Iran. That, Netanyahu warned, could put Iran “weeks away” from an “arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

But that’s not what Kerry said.

In House testimony on Feb. 25, Kerry was asked about reports that the U.S. is seeking a deal that would reduce Iran’s centrifuges from 19,000 to between 6,000 and 7,000. Kerry responded by saying a “peaceful program” can have a lot of centrifuges, and the purpose of the negotiations is to make sure Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

“[I]f you have a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately and not a threat to proliferation, you could have as many as 190,000 or more centrifuges,” Kerry told the committee.

Netanyahu addressed Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner at a time when the U.S. is leading negotiations on a new nuclear agreement with Iran. The U.S. and five other countries in November 2013 reached an accord with Iran called the Joint Plan of Action, or JPA, that was designed to temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program to give negotiators time to work out a long-term agreement on an inspection and verification plan that would allow Iran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program and prevent it from building nuclear weapons. In exchange, the U.S. and its allies have agreed to ease sanctions imposed on Iran’s assets.

The U.S. and Iran have been operating under a March 31 deadline for a long-term pact, and Israel has been highly critical of details of the plan that have emerged so far.

In his speech, Netanyahu warned that Iran could not be trusted and its “quest for nuclear weapons” threatened his country’s survival.

At one point, the Israeli prime minister spoke about Iran’s centrifuges, which are the machines used to enrich uranium. Iran currently has “9,400 operating centrifuges and another 10,000 that are installed but not in operation,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The existing JPA allows Iran only to replace failed centrifuges, and the U.S. has been negotiating a reduction. During negotiations, the target number of proposed centrifuges has changed from 1,300 to 4,000 and most recently to 6,500 or more.

Netanyahu recalled that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in 2014 that Iran needed 190,000 centrifuges. But in doing so Netanyahu misrepresented what Kerry had said about Iran’s centrifuges.

Netanyahu, March 3: Iran’s supreme leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 [discussed in negotiations] or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision. My longtime friend, John Kerry, secretary of state, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires. Now I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy.

Kerry did not confirm “that Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges.

At a Feb. 25 hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida asked Kerry about reports that the deal being negotiated would allow Iran to have 6,000 or 7,000 centrifuges. Deutch asked “why Iran would need that many since currently there is one reactor.”

Kerry, Feb. 25: [T]he purpose of the negotiations we’re in now with Iran is to ensure that their nuclear program is exclusively for civilian purposes. That’s the key here. They can have a civilian peaceful program. So when you get into the number of centrifuges and this and that, if — if you have a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately and not a threat to proliferation, you could have as many as 190,000 or more centrifuges. And there are millions of centrifuges involved, ultimately, power plants that are producing power. So the key here is, is this a peaceful program, and are the measures in place capable of making sure you know it’s peaceful? That’s the standard we’re trying to apply.

Kerry wasn’t saying that “Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges. He was saying that “a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately” could have 190,000 or more centrifuges.

In fact, when Khamenei said Iran needed 190,000 centrifuges, Kerry at that time said that even 19,000 was too many.

“We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their program is too many, and that we need to deal with the question of enrichment,” Kerry told reporters at a July 15, 2014, press availability. “And so all I will say to you is that we will continue to press.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told us in an email that Kerry’s reference to 190,000 centrifuges at the House hearing wasn’t about Iran or the number of centrifuges that it could possess “under or after a deal.”

“Secretary Kerry was not speaking to what Iran could or would have under or after a deal — he wasn’t talking specifically about Iran at all,” Harf said. “He was arguing that ensuring the nuclear program is peaceful through measures like transparency and monitoring can be as important [as] the number of centrifuges, which can get quite high even in countries that peacefully enrich uranium only to produce electrical power.”

– Eugene Kiely

Categories: Political News and Opinion

This Year's CPAC Speakers: Three Generations of Stupid

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 9:23pm

Sadly, the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference is over. And while none of the speakers used Super Big Gulps as props this year, the level of stupid reached all new depths. One speaker after another proved that far-right conservatives are more interested in thoughtless applause and bumper-sticker slogans than serious policymaking. For example, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson delivered a speech in which he talked about sexually transmitted diseases. I give you CPAC science, by Phil Robertson:
I mean, I'm reading this stuff from the CDC and it says, 'how many sexual encounters does one have to have to catch a sexually transmitted illness?' It said one. I'm figuring the out the odds on that one. How many seconds does it take to get genital herpes? It said 30 seconds. I'm like, whoa, that's pretty quick.
"Which is awesome for me, because I usually finish in less than 20!"

He didn't really say that last thing.

The only speaker who wasn't as well received was the would-be 2016 Republican nominee Jeb Bush, who was booed on several occasions. A gaggle of attendees went so far as to march out of the auditorium -- one of whom was "a man in Colonial garb who was carrying a yellow 'Don't Tread on Me' flag." Shocker.

This year, whether by design or coincidence, CPAC successfully covered all its bases by featuring dumbstupids spanning three generations. Who were these multi-generational representatives of the increasingly marginalized far-right brand?

Generation X'er Sarah Palin

Just off the heels of her bizarre speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, leading many of us to question whether she was in the last throes of Syphilitic dementia, Palin was invited to deliver the opening night address. Her remarks centered around the troops and war (what else?), but after some predictable yankee-doodle-doofery she segued into a section about the brutal length of a typical Iraq or Afghanistan deployment -- 45 months, compared with a 13-month deployment for Vietnam -- and the toll that such deployments have taken on the troops.

The longer someone's deployed, and then redeployed, well, the more likely they'll suffer PTSD. And about half a million of our returning vets, they suffer some form of it. They suffer disproportionate unemployment numbers. And the average divorce rate, it's around 80 percent. And worse, aw friends, worse, the suicide rate -- the suicide rate among our best and our brightest is 23 a day.

Naturally, she went on to blame Obama and the Veterans Administration for this, when the common denominator here isn't either one. It's two wars and the administration that established those outrageously long deployments. By the way, given the divorce rate, shouldn't the pro-marriage people be a little less gung-ho about rushing to war? It's also worth noting that the Senate Republicans filibustered numerous bills designed to help veterans returning from war. To name a few:

H.R. 466 - Wounded Veteran Job Security Act
H.R. 1168 -- Veterans Retraining Act
H.R. 1171 - Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization
H.R. 1293 -- Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act
S.3457 -- Veterans Jobs Corps Act

Your "support the troops" party, ladies and gentlemen. Later, Palin was treated to a standing ovation when she said, "The only thing standing between the savages and us is the red, white and blue -- the United States military." So, just after blasting the terrible cost and consequences of war (PTSD, divorce rates, suicides) she announced that we ought to send our clearly exhausted military back to war against ISIS (which it is already), and even Boko Haram in Africa. What could possibly go wrong?

Palin continued:
It's said that old men declare wars, and then they send the young ones to fight 'em. So, it's the duty of he who sends them to actually make sure that we can win those wars. And it's our duty to elect an honorable commander-in-chief who is willing to make the same sacrifices he sends others away to make.
I'm pretty sure it was she who just said "honorable" presidents ought to have military or even war-zone experience. This is weird, of course, because none of the early contenders for the GOP presidential nomination have military experience. In addition, Ted Nugent, who's Palin's best friend right now, reportedly smeared feces all over his body in order to get a draft deferment.

Palin went on to note that in the past, our leaders stood up to Nazis and fascists with "moral clarity." You know what those leaders also had at their disposal? Every able-bodied man, 18 years or older. One way to ease the number and length of existing tours would be to reinstitute the draft. Someone should ask Palin if, considering the rate of suicides and divorce, whether she'd be up for supporting it. I think we can predict her response.

Millennial TV host Tomi Lahren

In what was clearly an audition to be the next blonde bobblehead on Fox News Channel, Tomi Lehren (who?) successfully made Palin look like an elder statesman, and I wouldn't be shocked if that was the goal. At 22 years old, Tomi, who until a few months ago probably dotted the "i" in her name with a tiny heart, appeared as a token GOP Millennial. And frankly, if I was a Millennial, I'd be personally offended that CPAC considered her to be explicitly representative of my generation.

Regardless, Tomi's job was to debunk the stereotype that all conservatives are old, rich, white men. So she pointed out that she's none of those things -- except white, of course, and she insisted she had no intention of apologizing for her whiteness (for more remarks like this, check out the Stormfront website).

She wrapped up her speech with a zinger:
So, I think we've gone through this: Old, rich, white males. I want to remind you, let's look at the top three Democrats for 2016. You've got Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden? Old, rich, white, and if the pantsuit fits, male too?
I don't -- huh? Are pantsuits masculine? I think Tomi was going for a "look at how manly those old ladies are" joke, but again, show me a male politician who wears pantsuits. Doy.

Baby Boomer Donald Trump

Proving Tomi's point that conservatives aren't just old, white, rich guys, Trump -- the whitest, old rich guy ever -- was a featured guest over the weekend. Even though Trump has zero political aspirations -- or, at least, zero serious political aspiration -- he somehow keeps getting invited back to CPAC. This time, in addition to delivering a speech, Trump was the subject of a Q&A moderated by Sean Hannity.

At one point, Hannity asked Trump what he would do about Iran's nuclear program and what actions he'd take "to defeat ISIS because I don't hear you saying 'degrade them' (like President you-know-who). I hear you saying 'defeat them.'" His answer might surprise you:
Part of the problem we have, Sean, we have people that are diplomats doing our (negotiating). They know nothing about negotiating. All they know how to do is keep their job. They know nothing about negotiating. If we had the right people, we could solve the ISIS problem and we could solve the Iran problem and a lot more quickly than you'd think.
Did you catch that? President Donald Trump suggested he'd negotiate with ISIS. He'd negotiate with terrorists. And what exactly would Trump offer ISIS in return for ending its crusade? What concessions would he make? Let's hear it. If ISIS is such an existential threat -- worse than the Nazis according to Sarah Palin -- shouldn't Trump tell us more about this magical negotiation tactic that he'd use to end the war with ISIS "more quickly than you'd think?" Of course he won't tell us because it doesn't exist. But it's hilarious that during a convention of far-right conservatives, one of their top-shelf celebrities said we should negotiate with ISIS.

Worse, he also suggested we negotiate with Iran -- the very trespass the congressional Republicans are crapping their cages about, so much so they've invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session where it's assumed he'll scold Obama for, yes, negotiating with Iran.

All told, this is supposed to boost the conservative brand. And it probably did, but only with the far-right choir. I refuse to believe that such nincompoopery works on anyone outside of the CPAC epistemic bubble. So far.

Cross-posted at The Daily Banter.

Click here to listen to the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast. Blog with special thanks to Patrick Rooney.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Huge Stakes As Supreme Court Takes Third Crack At Obamacare

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 9:00pm

WASHINGTON -- Obamacare faces its strangest challenge yet when the Supreme Court takes up the law for the third time Wednesday, but the oddity of the lawsuit shouldn’t obscure the cataclysm that a loss for President Barack Obama would provoke.

The Supreme Court case is the latest legal effort by political opponents of the Affordable Care Act to ruin Obama’s signature domestic achievement. If successful, the suit would tarnish Obama’s legacy, foment infighting among Republicans, aggravate bitter partisanship between the GOP Congress and the White House, and threaten chaos in the health insurance market. But the worst consequences would fall on the estimated 9.6 million people who would lose their health insurance.

The lawsuit, King v. Burwell, isn’t like the previous two Obamacare cases that came before the Supreme Court. Three years ago, in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate that most Americans obtain health insurance. The Supreme Court last year weakened Obamacare’s birth-control coverage rule in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, a case with religious-freedom implications.

This time, the high court will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit engineered by conservative and libertarian think tanks that claims a handful of words deep within the Affordable Care Act -- “an exchange established by the state” -- makes it illegal for the government to issue tax credits for health insurance in more than 30 states with federal health insurance exchanges.

The plaintiffs’ picayune contention has dire implications for low- and moderate-income people receiving those subsidies in states where the federal government, not the state, created a health insurance exchange under Obamacare. Just 13 states and the District of Columbia are fully operating these marketplaces. The federal government controls 34, and three states that established exchanges later turned over enrollment to federal authorities.

As of last month, 8.8 million people had private health insurance policies obtained via the exchanges in the 37 states using the federal system, not counting millions more who used state-based marketplaces. Since sign-ups began in October 2013, the share of customers on federal exchanges receiving tax credits for their coverage has been above 85 percent. The average value of those subsidies is $268 a month, and brings down the average price to $105 for subsidized enrollees, data from the Department of Health and Human Services show.

If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs when justices issue their ruling, expected in June, a majority of the public wants the subsidies restored, one way or another, according to a survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The poll revealed that 64 percent of Americans believe Congress should enact a fix, and 59 percent think their own states should set up health insurance exchanges.

But a fix very well may never come. Congress could have made the Supreme Court hearing unnecessary by passing a simple amendment clarifying the intent of the Affordable Care Act, but has refused to consider one. And the Obama administration maintains there’s nothing it can do on its own to mitigate the disappearance of subsidies.

States could evade the consequences of a high court ruling against the subsidies by establishing health insurance exchanges, but Republicans control at least one branch of government in nearly all of the states that would be affected by this case, and none has taken steps to begin the contentious, time-consuming and costly effort to do so.

In Congress, a viable path for a legislative solution is difficult to envision. Recently, Republicans expressed openness to providing unspecified temporary assistance to those who lose their tax credits. Even that vague promise is couched in a plan to scrap Obamacare and reduce or undo health insurance subsidies down the line, which would jeopardize coverage for more people.

But in the five years since the Affordable Care Act became law, the GOP has failed to agree on any “replacement plan,” and it's highly uncertain leadership would even have the votes to protect the subsidies until Republicans find that consensus, if they ever can. Pressure could build once millions of their constituents find themselves in the lurch, but it will be countered by conservatives satisfied with nothing less than full repeal of Obamacare. And this internal argument would take place while Republicans are in the midst of a hotly contested presidential primary.

Wiping out the subsidies in more than 30 states would deepen the divide between the haves and have nots in the American health care system, and residents in red states, and in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, would bear the brunt.

Regions of America with smaller and shrinking shares of uninsured residents, mostly in the Northeast and on the West Coast, would sustain their progress, while those in mostly Southern states, where fewer people had health insurance before Obamacare, would regress. What’s more, federal taxpayers in generally poorer states without subsidies would underwrite health care for people in mostly richer states and get nothing in return.

Among those who would lose coverage, 62 percent live in Southern states -- mostly governed by Republicans -- 81 percent are employed and 61 percent are white, according to the Urban Institute.

The disruption wouldn’t be limited to people who qualify for health insurance subsidies. It would have profound effects on health insurance markets in the affected states. The Rand Corp. predicts 1.2 million of the 9.6 million who would become uninsured after a Supreme Court ruling against Obamacare aren’t even receiving subsidies.

That's because the parts of the Affordable Care Act requiring health insurance companies to accept customers with pre-existing conditions and the law’s mandates for basic benefits would remain, but the coverage would be unaffordable for a growing number of people over time, forcing them to drop their coverage.

Industry jargon describes the worst-case scenario as a “death spiral.” Those who can afford to pay full price would remain, but sicker people with higher health care costs would be the most likely to do so. Their medical expenses would force insurers to raise rates, making coverage too costly for even more people.

This cycle could continue until the health insurers’ customers are so unhealthy, some companies can’t afford to do business in those states anymore, and pull out, further limiting access to insurance.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Scott Walker Pumps Up Anti-Abortion Cred By Backing 20-Week Ban

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 8:48pm

Days after coming under conservative fire for making vaguely pro-choice comments, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) released a letter reaffirming his anti-abortion bona fides and endorsing a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

"In my past four years as governor, we have made substantial progress in the fight for our pro-life values in Wisconsin," the potential GOP presidential candidate wrote Tuesday. "We defunded Planned Parenthood. We prohibited abortion from being covered by health plans in a health exchange. ... As the Wisconsin legislature moves forward in the coming session, further protections for mother and child are likely to come to my desk in the form of a bill to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks. I will sign that bill when it gets to my desk and support similar legislation on the federal level."

The letter takes a much more vigorously conservative tone than Walker did on “Fox News Sunday” this past weekend.

When host Chris Wallace asked if he believed that abortion is ultimately a woman's choice, Walker had responded, "Well, legally that’s what it is under the guidelines that were provided from the Supreme Court."

When asked if he would change the law, he said, “Well, that’s not a change you can make. The Supreme Court ultimately made that.”

Conservative groups jumped in with sharp criticism of Walker's mild answers.

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker just gave what I can safely call the very worst interview on the life issue I have seen from a Republican in recent memory,” Frank Cannon, president of American Principles in Action, said in a press release Monday. “Claiming you are impotent to act on your core principles is neither true nor wise. What about advocating for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks? That’s a law that has already been passed in 12 states, which the Republican National Committee endorses, and which most of Walker’s fellow Republican presidential candidates also support, Jeb Bush included."

Last Sunday wasn't the first time Walker has shied away from taking a firm stance against abortion. During his 2014 re-election campaign, Bloomberg noted, he would not directly answer the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's question about whether he would sign legislation restricting abortion access.

With another hot topic, Walker did a much better job of toeing the Republican line on Sunday. He told Wallace that he has completely changed his views on immigration and now takes a hardline stance against amnesty.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Congrats Young Scientists, You Face The Worst Research Funding In 50 Years

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 8:38pm

WASHINGTON -- Young scientists entering biomedical research find themselves in the worst financial environment in a half a century, the head of the National Institutes of Health said Tuesday.

In an appearance before the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Dr. Francis Collins offered a familiar warning to lawmakers considering future appropriations for scientific research. Investments are falling relative to inflation, he said, forcing changes likely to snowball into the future.

“Given international trends,” Collins said, citing a recent article in the medical journal JAMA, “the United States will relinquish its historical international lead in biomedical research in the next decade unless certain measures are undertaken.”

Collins warned that these trends would convince a future generation of researchers that their field was inhospitable. Fewer young scientists would mean fewer scientific discoveries, making it more difficult for companies to profit and for public health authorities to guard against diseases.

“This is the issue that wakes me up at night when I try to contemplate the future of where biomedical research can go in the United States,” Collins said. “They are finding themselves in a situation that is the least supportive of that vision in 50 years. They look ahead of them and see the more senior scientists struggling to keep their labs going and suffering rejection after rejection of grants that previously would have been supportive. And they wonder, 'Do we really want to sign up for that?' And many of them, regrettably, are making the decision to walk away.”

Sobering budgetary assessments are nothing new from Collins, who heads the federal government's main funder of biomedical research. He has been preaching the need for stable NIH budgeting for years, and has amplified those warnings since the spending cuts brought about by sequestration went into effect in 2013. NIH has lost about 22 percent of its purchasing power since 2003. In fiscal 2014, it was appropriated $30.1 billion.

A two-year bipartisan budget agreement brought a temporary reprieve. But that agreement runs out in September.

Collins’ appearance in the House on Tuesday is likely the first prong in a months-long campaign arguing that the days of sequestration shouldn't return. The budget situation for NIH, like every other federal agency, is uncertain come September. Under current law, non-defense discretionary spending would be $493 billion in fiscal 2016, up just $1 billion from fiscal 2015., according to a document put together by House Democrats. Without a change, appropriators will have little discretion to provide more funding. If they did increase the NIH budget, it would come at the harm of other domestic programs.

A recent report by the group United for Medical Research made clear the high stakes of stagnant scientific research funding. Compared with countries that have “made long-term commitments to increase their support of biomedical sciences,” the report said, federal funding cuts are leading to “an erosion of America’s preeminence in biomedicine.”

“China is filing more patents in biomedicine than the U.S. -- not just as a portion of GDP, but absolutely more patents," Collins said. "And the consequences, I think you can imagine, are going to be significant.”

Members of Congress from both parties have tried innovations to funnel funds to NIH. Proposals have included creating an incentive fund to encourage appropriators to make steady financial commitments; a biomedical research private-public bank; to remove the NIH from the discretionary budget; to generate money by penalizing big pharmaceutical companies that break the law; and to certify that the sequester no longer applies to NIH.

None of these have gained significant traction in the new Congress, where some conservative members have criticized NIH for funding quixotic-sounding projects at the expense of critical short-term needs.

Collins wasn’t asked about this critique (though in the past, he has argued that science funding decisions are best made through peer review and that even funny-sounding ideas may bear great fruit). He also didn’t address any new funding proposals during his two-hour appearance on Tuesday morning. Instead, he offered a broad pitch for lawmakers to fund NIH in a way that “that keeps up with inflation, plus a little bit.”

The reception he received underscores the difficulty and frustration of his objective.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) called the hearing “the most popular panel we will see all session long.” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called for a “group hug” among attendees. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said the discussion was “so very exciting” and happily offered enthusiasm for doubling NIH funding, which happened during the Clinton and Bush administrations. And Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) noted that, “the bipartisan nature of this subject with this committee is pretty obvious.”

Then Simpson delivered a bitter pill. Everyone on the committee would like to “substantially increase the research we’re doing,” he said, “if we didn’t have an $18 trillion debt and $500 billion deficit that we are having to deal with at the same time, which makes it more difficult.”

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Alabama Supreme Court Blocks Same-Sex Marriage

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 8:13pm

The Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered probate judges in the state to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

The ruling adds to the confusion surrounding gay marriage in the state. A federal judge found that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional in January. Some probate judges refused to comply with that ruling and Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore said that probate judges didn't have to follow it.

The conflicting orders prompted Elmore County Probate Judge John E. Enslen to ask for clarification from the Alabama Supreme Court, according to WBRC.

Read the Alabama Supreme Court's full decision here.

Below, more from The Associated Press:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court is ordering the state's probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

The all-Republican court sided with a pair of conservative organizations Tuesday in ruling that the U.S. Constitution doesn't alter the judges' duty to administer state law.

The court says Alabama has defined marriage as between only one man and one woman for about 200 years. And it says a federal court used "sleight of hand" in a case that resulted in most of Alabama allowing gay marriage last month.

The Alabama Policy Institute and the Baptist-run Alabama Citizens Action Program asked the court to halt same-sex unions after a federal judge in Mobile said Alabama laws banning them were unconstitutional.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

New tech company moves to Southfield - Detroit Free Press

Berkley Information from Google News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 8:01pm

Detroit Free Press

New tech company moves to Southfield
Detroit Free Press
Michigan has a new 35-employee technology company called PeachWorks, which has moved to Southfield from Connecticut after raising $4 million in growth capital and adding a new CEO. The company, formerly known as WhenToManage, provides ...

and more »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Bill That Would Legalize Nitrogen Gas Executions Overwhelmingly Approved By Oklahoma House

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 7:48pm

Oklahoma would become the first state in the nation to allow execution by nitrogen gas under a bill that overwhelmingly passed the state House with no debate Tuesday.

Members of the Oklahoma House voted 85-10 in favor of legalizing “nitrogen hypoxia" -- which causes death by depleting the oxygen supply in the blood -- as a gas chamber alternative to poisonous hydrogen cyanide gas. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

"It's revolutionary," Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) who sponsored HB 1879, said of the nitrogen hypoxia method when speaking to The Huffington Post by phone Tuesday. "If Oklahoma is a state that does executions, we can find a better, humane way to carry them out."

He told HuffPost he got the idea from a 2014 Slate article. Execution by nitrogen gas currently is not a state-sanctioned method anywhere in the world, the piece notes.

Dr. Joel Zivot, assistant professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University School of Medicine, previously told HuffPost that it's ethically impossible for a doctor to conduct tests -- and therefore reach conclusions -- on execution procedures.

"No physician is an expert in killing, and medicine doesn’t position itself intentionally in taking a life," Zivot said. "There’s no therapeutic use of nitrogen gas, and there’s no way to ethically or practically test if nitrogen gas is a humane alternative."

Christian said he and the bill's supporters are optimistic about the future of nitrogen hypoxia -- especially as the state's current lethal injection protocol faces scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I think most of people I’ve talked to across the country think that lethal injection is probably on the way out," Christian added.

Lethal injection is currently the state's primary execution method, though legal challenges to the constitutionality of the drug have cropped up in the wake of botched executions, like that of inmate Clayton Lockett in 2014. On Jan. 28, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the executions of three Oklahoma death row inmates until it can evaluate the state's lethal injection protocol.

The proposed nitrogen gas method would be a backup method should Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol be declared unconstitutional or if the department of corrections is unable to maintain the drug supply.

Electrocution is currently Oklahoma's second alternative method -- one Christian said he'd be interested in striking out altogether.

"I don’t see why there’s any need to have the electric chair in the 21st century," Christian said.

The Oklahoma Senate has a companion bill that has already cleared the judiciary committee.

"They have the same language," Christian said. "We'll see which one crosses the finish line first."

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Why Even Small, Progressive Grinnell College Has Trouble Dealing With Sexual Assault On Campus

Huffington Post News - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 7:48pm

On April 10, 2012, Emily Bartlett received a few text messages from a guy who had left her Grinnell College dorm room about 10 minutes earlier. "If you ever tell anyone God help you," one read.

Bartlett did tell someone: That night she told a confidential advocate on the Iowa campus that the male student had sexually assaulted her. A few days later she went to campus security and filed an official report, but she was unsure whether she wanted to see her alleged attacker punished. She said college administrators suggested she request a mediation session with him, a practice the U.S. Department of Education had explicitly prohibited one year earlier in a letter to all colleges.

The male student "took responsibility for what he did and regretted it" during the mediation, according to a school document shared with The Huffington Post. But the mediation proved to be a failure, Bartlett said, because it retraumatized her and didn't bring a resolution to their case. She moved forward with a hearing process.

Despite what Bartlett considered a confession made during the mediation, text message evidence and photos of deep bruising on her body, the college hearing found the accused not responsible for sexual misconduct. He was instead deemed responsible for "disorderly conduct" and "psychological harm" and punished with a year of probation. Campus officials issued the two students a no-contact order. The accused would still be allowed to play baseball and take the same courses as her.

"The no-contact order was a joke," Bartlett said. "I had a class with him through all of this."

On paper, Grinnell was doing everything right: It received praise for putting an affirmative consent standard in place in 2012, and its annual stats for sex offenses were among the highest per capita for colleges -- suggesting students there were comfortable coming forward to report their assaults. The school even includes gender-neutral pronouns in its student handbook. There are no rowdy frats or big-time Division I sports stars to blame for rape culture, as has happened elsewhere.

But in some cases, Grinnell forced students to attend class with men the school acknowledged to have sexually assaulted them. The college made offenders write short apology letters to victims as their punishment. When some women struggled in classes due to stress related to their assaults, they say, the college pushed them off campus. And when students confronted Grinnell over its failings, student magazine editors lost their jobs and administrators told activists they were being intimidating.

One student, India Vannoy, was placed on academic suspension from the college while her offender was allowed to return to campus. Another woman, a senior who asked to be identified by only her first name, Anna, saw her attacker punished with “conduct probation.” He was also ordered to write an apology letter, but allowed to stay in her classes. He later landed an on-campus job -- as head of student security.

While these three cases might not represent the way Grinnell has handled the majority of reported sexual assaults, their consequences have driven two victims away from their dream school and caused daily anxiety for the third, who stayed on campus. The women filed a federal complaint against Grinnell in February due to their concerns the college's handling of their cases violated Title IX, the gender equity law requiring colleges to address to sexual misconduct on their campus.

Grinnell, with its relatively progressive policies surrounding consent, a student body that’s buying into rape-prevention efforts and an administration actively working to address sexual violence, may be a bellwether for how difficult it will prove for any college to fully address the needs of assault victims. If a prestigious, close-knit college like Grinnell cannot avoid letting down students who report rape, it raises the question of whether any school truly can.

Grinnell said federal privacy law limited how much they could comment on sexual assault cases. However, in anticipation of this article's publication, the school announced Monday it had requested that the Education Department launch a federal investigation of how it responded to reports of sexual violence.

"Grinnell has a longstanding commitment to creating and fostering an environment free from discrimination and harassment," Grinnell President Raynard Kington told The Huffington Post. "Despite its small size, Grinnell has embraced its Title IX obligations and in recent years taken significant and expansive steps to assure that our policies, procedures, and practices are legally compliant, trauma-informed, and consistent with promising practices across the country."

Frustrations over how the college handles sexual assault have enveloped the tiny Iowa campus, creating a face-off between the administration and an activist group of survivors and allies called Dissenting Voices. A progressive student body that views the "only yes means yes" consent standard as a settled discussion -- and is proud of its school for having it -- is caught in the middle.

"People want to see change happen now and it's frustrating to know this is a system that goes so deep it's going to take time," said Joyce Bartlett, a senior who works as a peer advocate, meaning she's trained to provide help to victims of sexual violence on campus.

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One of the residence hall buildings at Grinnell College that are located in three areas of the campus. Students who reported being sexually assaulted say they struggled with seeing the accused students in the lounges of their buildings.

The liberal arts college dominates the isolated town of Grinnell, Iowa. Fewer than 10,000 people live here, and 1,600 of those are undergraduates at the private school. The student nightlife largely takes place on campus, and it's roughly an hourlong drive on the highway to the nearest metropolitan city.

"The campus is so tiny, everyone's lives are all wrapped up in each other," said Lisa Stern, a junior who works with victims through a hotline run by Grinnell's Domestic Violence Alternatives Student Assault Center. "It's really challenging to navigate how to be in different social situations around people's assaulters."

The way no-contact orders are enforced on such a small campus is key to how some students say Grinnell failed them, but also shows the challenges for administrators in a tight-knit community.

When a professor told the administration Anna's offender was sitting next to her in class, for example, the college said there was nothing they would do.

"The burden is placed equally on both of us to not communicate, so if I would say, 'Get the fuck away from me, don't sit here,' like I wanted to, I would be in just as much trouble," Anna said.

Andrea Conner, the current dean of students, points to several features that limit school administrators' ability to enforce no-contact orders: "We have one dining hall, the campus is roughly a four-block radius, there are not multiple sections of every course."

"We work with our students to understand the challenges of navigating a no-contact order in the context of a small geographical area with shared common facilities," Kington added in a statement. "We also take strong action when the terms of a no-contact order are violated. We recognize the tension inherent in meeting the needs of a complainant and a respondent when both co-exist on the campus and -- where possible, based on the facts and circumstances -- separate the parties’ housing and class schedules."

But even experts who acknowledge those hurdles criticized Grinnell's approach.

"I have trouble understanding what an institution could call a no-contact order that allows a respondent to regularly come in close proximity and not violate the no-contact order," said John Wesley Lowery, chair of the student affairs of higher education department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

"The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has never said that expulsion or suspension is required to remedy a hostile environment. But they have said sufficient steps must be taken to remedy that hostile environment," said longtime campus safety advocate S. Daniel Carter of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, a nonprofit born out of the Virginia Tech massacre. "No-contact orders can be part of that, but they must be effective at separating the victim and the assailant."

Seeing her alleged attacker around Grinnell’s campus became too much for Bartlett, who transferred to the University of Missouri in 2013. As recently as December 2014, Grinnell sent Bartlett a letter asking if she would consider returning to the college, and asked her why she "chose to leave."

"I loved Grinnell, or I loved what I thought Grinnell was," Bartlett said. "But after all that there was just no way."

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Clockwise: Text messages Emily Bartlett said a male student sent her just after he sexually assaulted her; An apology letter from the student after a hearing into the alleged assault; A portion of the letter describing the punishment the student received for disorderly conduct and "psychological harm."

India Vannoy left the campus after reporting a sexual assault too, but she didn't leave by choice.

Vannoy said a classmate in her scholarship program sexually assaulted her in April 2012 during a prospective students' weekend before she ever started classes.

"The day I was raped I was at the [college] president's house -- literally five hours before I got raped I was with the president," Vannoy said.

Vannoy filed school conduct charges against the male student in September 2012, as did another woman who said she was assaulted by the same man.

During a January 2013 hearing, Grinnell found him responsible for psychological trauma in Vannoy's case; psychological trauma and sexual misconduct in the case of the other female student; and selling or distributing illegal drugs, according to college documents. He was suspended for three semesters and eligible to petition to return to school in spring 2014.

After the hearing, Vannoy was clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and took the rest of the spring 2013 semester off to recover. She returned in the fall, but landed on academic probation due to her declining grades, and had to appear before the Committee on Academic Standing.

Grinnell Title IX Coordinator Angela Voos said the college typically would do "anything we can think of to help people navigate this difficult thing," which may include reaching out to professors on a victim's behalf.

But Vannoy said she did not receive the assistance she needed. An administrator told her she was "mentally unstable" and suggested she "should really take some time to get yourself together and get over this," Vannoy claimed. She was placed on academic suspension, and her petitions to return have so far been denied by Grinnell -- meaning the attacker is allowed back on campus, but Vannoy is not.

"That's where I started my education; that's where I'd like to finish," Vannoy said. "I worked very, very hard to get into a school as rigorous as Grinnell."

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Grinnell College has a small campus, located in a rural part of Iowa near Interstate 80. It's an hourlong drive to Des Moines, the state's capital, or to Iowa City, where the University of Iowa is located.

Grinnell's hearing panel for rape cases is like that of many colleges: It includes a student, a professor and a staff member who received special training about sexual violence and Title IX. Yet like many colleges, it's moving toward a single-investigator model. The school is hiring former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus to handle future assault cases.

Most of the student victims Voos speaks with don't want to engage in an adjudication process, according to numbers that she tracks. Anna's frustrating experience may provide clues as to why.

When a hearing panel took up her case in May 2012, they asked her what kind of bra she was wearing the night of the incident, Anna said, and allowed the accused student to directly question her, a practice "strongly discouraged" by the Department of Education. Anna said the accused asked her, "Why are you doing this to me? Why couldn't we have just talked about this?"

When Anna got to speak, she described explicitly saying "no" and crying during the assault.

"He said he was essentially teaching me about sex and he had a better idea about what I wanted than I did," Anna said.

Anna's offender was found responsible for "disorderly and disruptive behavior," "psychological damage" and "sexual misconduct," according to documents obtained by HuffPost. The school didn't find him guilty of rape -- a criminal term -- but did find him accountable for "nonconsensual penetrative intercourse." Conduct probation would serve as his punishment.

He also had to write a letter of apology, which the college delivered to Anna in July 2012. In the letter, which is five sentences long, he admits his "actions on the night of February 9th did not meet the definition of effective consent," and says he hopes he will "never commit such a heinous offense ever again."

When a student is found responsible in sexual misconduct cases, the college's first consideration as a sanction is always dismissal, said Conner, the dean. Grinnell then works backward from there depending on "mitigating or aggravating factors," she added.

"We do our best for our sense of ethics and appropriateness," Conner said.

Anna stayed on campus, but in September 2014 gave up on trying to get the college to hold her offender accountable for the alleged violations of the no-contact order, or for harassment she reported by his friends. Adding salt to her wounds, he was hired by the college this academic year for a student security job that gave him oversight of campus events, essentially to make sure students are being safe at parties. The college recently said any student still on probation would not be eligible for this position in the future, and he resigned his position as Anna raised concern on campus about his role.

The accused student in Anna's case told HuffPost he realizes he did violate the school's consent policy at the time, but chalks it up to "mixed signals" and doesn't consider it rape. At the time, Grinnell used an "effective consent" policy that stipulated consent must be "informed, freely and actively given," and could not come from the use of "intimidation, or coercion." The school switched to "affirmative consent" in fall 2012, which states that consent must be given for "each act of sexual activity," and can be withdrawn at any time.

The accused student said he's "pissed" with how Grinnell handled the case as well: The no-contact order meant he could stay in school but couldn't take certain classes, and to avoid violating his probation he had to take routes far out of his way at a time when he was on crutches due to an athletic injury.

"If the school really thought that I was guilty of this, I shouldn't be here; if my case was as serious as Anna made it out to be, I shouldn't be here right now," he said, adding, "I'm grateful it hasn't changed my views on how I saw rape -- I'm not questioning every single woman that said that it happens to them."

Vannoy's alleged assailant maintains it was consensual intercourse, and his attorney sent a statement suggesting colleges are elevating regretted sex to sexual misconduct. Bartlett's alleged assailant could not be reached for comment. The accused men are not being named because they have not been charged with a crime in connection with these cases.

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The anger may never have become so public had an editor for a student magazine not been fired for running an op-ed by Anna criticizing how the college punishes sexual assault.

Frustrated with portrayals in various news outlets of Grinnell as a shining example of a college handling sexual assault responsibly, Anna wrote an op-ed in October 2014 for the Grinnell Underground Magazine, or GUM. In it, she criticized how the school punished her attacker, and Grinnell's administration was outraged she used the phrase, "The student was found responsible for raping me."

After meeting with Grinnell administrators, the head of student media fired Linnea Hurst, the editor who published the op-ed, for allegedly barely skirting "libel and slander" by allowing a phrase she knew to be "factually inaccurate" to be published. The student media leaders feared a lawsuit, though they had no idea if anyone planned to file one. Another sin the student media leaders said Hurst committed: She didn't give as much Facebook promotion to the administration's response op-ed as she had to Anna's piece.

Hurst said she couldn't understand why the school was so upset by the phrase, since, after all, "You can't say she was 'sexually misconducted.'"

"I thought Grinnell was a pretty good place for women," Hurst said. "I thought it was fine, then everything was exposed to me. That got me very aware very quickly it was a huge fight."

Students formed the group Dissenting Voices and began demonstrating on campus after the flap at the GUM. When administrators would speak about sexual assault, the protesters would show up with red tape over their mouths to symbolize what they felt as their freedom to use the word "rape" being silenced. After one forum, administrators called the protesters "intimidating," student activists said.

Grinnell officials said they have tried to explain to student activists the school can't use "rape" because it's a legal term. Voos also suggested it's "heteronormative."

"Schools have no legal authority to determine a crime has taken place," explained higher education consultant Brett Sokolow, president and CEO of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management. When a school requests a student avoid using the term, "it's not meant as a gag order, it's just that most victims don't understand how litigious these things can be."

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Grinnell students organized a protest in fall 2014 after a student was reprimanded for an article criticizing the school's response to rape.

Grinnell is not under federal investigation yet, but has acted similarly to colleges that are. It hired well-known campus sexual assault consultants Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez to review its policies. It has an ongoing task force on the issue. Voos said she informally provided guidance on the sexual violence policies at Occidental College, another small liberal arts school accused of handing out lax punishments for rape.

"We're a small community. I think we're doing pretty well so far; not everybody's happy and we know that," said Jim Reische, Grinnell's vice president for communication.

The college declined to speak on specific cases, citing federal privacy law. But Kington, the school's president, did note Grinnell no longer uses mediation in sexual assault cases, and it stopped allowing accused students to directly question complainants in 2013. Kington, who took charge of Grinnell in 2010, said the school "proactively initiated a number of changes after commissioning a thorough external review" two years into his tenure.

"Our changes took into account the actions OCR was requiring of other institutions," Kington said. "Our external review also included seeking feedback from complainants and respondents about their experiences with the College’s processes. That feedback was instrumental in guiding our actions."

Some students, like Grinnell soccer player Michael Hurley, feel like the college is "really ahead of the curve" with its policies. But as Dan Davis, a Grinnell junior, pointed out, "We're doing better than 95 percent of colleges, but 100 percent of colleges are doing terrible.”

Many students who spoke with HuffPost felt the affirmative consent standard was widely accepted among students. But they acknowledged there was tension on campus between activists and the administration over its handling of cases.

Opeyemi Awe, president of the student government, said she doesn't feel like students are constrained by administration policies at all. She and others proudly noted the affirmative consent policy came at the request of students three years ago.

"I would say we have primary control -- we very rarely have members of the administration stepping in and saying, 'You can't do this, and you can't do this.’ So Grinnell is different in that way,” Awe said. "We are so involved in how we create the culture that we also have a responsibility to change that culture."

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Student leaders are exploring changes they can push for beyond the investigation process and consent policy. The Grinnell Student Government Association is currently leading a working group on the conduct process, soliciting input from students for further reform proposals.

It's hard to ignore Dissenting Voices' opinion at this point, which Awe described as "one extreme.” She said she feels like "other students are put off by their tactics."

Activists with the group said in response that they spent three years holding quiet meetings with college administrators, to no avail. They also pointed out that some of their actions have come in the form of documentary screenings and a bake sale to raise money for victim services.

"Yes, sometimes action looks scary and confrontational … when such action is motivated by deep sympathy and compassion," members of the group said in a statement. They said they think all administrators and students want the campus to be as safe as can be, and that their protest "should be a cause for concern and an opportunity for engagement and empathy from the rest of the community."

College officials acknowledge they'll have to continually adapt to federal guidance and concerns brought forward by community members. Yet they are also clearly concerned by how complicated these cases are, and how difficult it can be to assist students going through traumatic experiences. Additionally, due to confidentiality issues, it’s not always possible to discuss every critique.

"You are never going to hear about the cases that students are satisfied with the outcome," Voos notes. "That's really OK, but it's unfortunate, because it's a very lost conversation."

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Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.

Categories: Political News and Opinion