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Friday, July 11, 2014

Texas Shooting Suspect Passes Out in First Court Appearance

Texas Shooting Suspect Passes Out in First Court Appearance


Texas Shooting Suspect Passes Out in First Court Appearance

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 11:12 AM PDT

Ronald Lee Haskell, accused of slaughtering six people in his extended family, collapsed during his first court appearance Friday as the judge read the capital murder charges against him. Court bailiffs in Harris County, Texas, caught the burly suspect in his orange jail uniform before he could fall to the ground, reported NBC affiliate KPRC.

He was wheeled out of the courtroom, but was eventually brought back in to stand before the judge. A court-appointed defense attorney said his team is trying to determine the state of Haskell's mental health as evidence shows a “troubled” history…

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

LeBron’s Decision Sets Off Tweets of Congratulations and Wizard of Oz Puns

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 10:55 AM PDT

Less than an hour after LeBron James announced he would return to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the hashtags #TeamCavs and #TheKingIsBack as well as “Poor Wade” were all trending on Twitter.

The championship-winning player himself chose to announce his decision with an Instagram post, followed by a separate tweet linking to Sports Illustrated’s exclusive on his choice.

Instagram Photo

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert as well as fellow athletes and sports commentators also chimed in on the social media platform to offer words of congratulations or simply a well-timed Wizard of Oz pun.

Miami fans were slightly less enthused.

Tickets to see LeBron back at his home court and the Cavs’ chance at a championship also became topics of Twitter conversation.

Other Internet onlookers were at the ready to remind Cleveland fans of Gilbert’s infamous letter to LeBron (typed in Comic Sans font) after he left the Cavs in 2010, calling him a “coward” and mocking his nickname “King James.”

The letter remained on the Cavs’ website for four year and was only removed earlier this week. No hard feelings, King James.

CDC: Anthrax Scare Caused by Lack of Oversight

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 10:08 AM PDT

Last month’s anthrax accident was caused by scientists’ failure to follow an appropriate study plan, a lack of standard procedures for documenting when biological agents are properly inactivated and a lack of oversight, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

The report, called for by the CDC’s director, reviewed the June incident in which researchers were exposed to potentially viable anthrax. It includes information about what went wrong and details actions the agency is taking to address the incident and prevent similar ones from happening again.

Not only did scientists at the Atlanta lab not follow an approved written study plan when handling the anthrax, but they also used a procedure that may not have adequately inactivated the samples of B. anthracis. The procedure the scientists used inactivates B. anthracis cells after 10 minutes, but the researchers were dealing with spores, which are more resistant to chemical inactivation and so a small percentage remained viable.

While the agency was conducting its internal review, another CDC lab had a separate incident in which a culture of non-pathogenic avian flu was unintentionally cross-contaminated with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. It was then shipped to a Level 3 select-agent United States Department of Agriculture lab. No one was exposed, but the lab is closed pending a review.

Due to the anthrax and the cross-contamination incidents, the CDC has placed a moratorium on the movement of all biological materials, active and inactive, from Biosafety Level 3 and Biosafety Level 4 facilities. These facilities handle microbes that can cause fatal infections that are transmitted easily by inhalation.

The review initiated an investigation in to the H5N1 incident, reported the incident to the proper channels, took personnel action, and established several groups to review CDC lab safety. One review group, which sits under the CDC's Associate Director for Science, will look at the systems, procedures, and personnel issues leading to the anthrax event. A separate working group will report to the CDC director and serve as the point of accountability on lab safety for the time being.

4 Reasons Conservatives Are Embracing Prison Reform

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 10:01 AM PDT

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

There are few social issues over which all within the greater Christian Church can agree, or at least historically have been able to find common ground. From gay marriage to gun control, it seems that religious ideology have gone part and parcel along with the respective political parties that tend to represent our social views.

Criminal sentencing certainly has been one of those divisive social issues among Christians, with many progressives calling for more leniency on nonviolent crimes, and conservatives embracing a "zero tolerance" ethos. If raw numbers are any indication, the right has been "winning" this debate for the past several decades, with prison populations in the United States increasing tenfold in the past forty or so years.

Only recently have the number of incarcerated people within our borders begun to decline, and it's in part due to a shift in the way those who have championed a hard-nosed approach to sentencing are reframing their thinking. In some respects, the reasons are logistical and economic; for others, the change of heart is informed particularly by their understanding of scripture and the mandates of the Gospel.

As I discuss in my upcoming book, "postChristian: What's Left? Can We Fix It? Do We Care?" The departure from more rigid institutional identities and values, whether because of inspired reflection or economic necessity, actually give us an opportunity to think in fresh ways about what Jesus calls us to do and be in the world. And not surprising, when we listen to that still small voice, we find some holy, common ground.

In the spirit of seeking such common ground, here are four ideas around which Christians – and non-Christians – from both the left and right are coming together.

Reform makes good financial sense.

Studies have shown that drug treatment and monitored work programs consistently cost less than incarceration, while also proving to be more effective at helping those with substance abuse issues remain sober and stay out of prison in the future. This "bang for your buck" sensibility resonates with many fiscal conservatives concerned with prudence when it comes to tax dollars.

Reform reduces government's role in our lives.

One historical core value of the right is that of limited government. Since the time of Jefferson, stemming the reach of Uncle Sam has been a drumbeat around which most on the right can rally. In the last thirty years, the public dollars funneled into housing prisoners has exploded past $1 trillion annually, while the use of illicit drugs by adults in the United States continues to increase. Suffice it to say that this is one government program that has failed to live up to its promises, and an increasing number of conservatives and libertarians are joining the chorus for reform as a result.

Second Chances are Biblical.

Though some on the right have long embraced the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" attitude, others are finding a basis in scripture for inclining toward mercy, particularly when it comes to nonviolent crimes. Consider the stories of the Prodigal son, Jonah, David or even Adam and Eve who, though they were promised a death sentence for the transgressions they committed, actually benefitted from a reduced sentence.

Thinking on "paying our debt to society" is shifting.

Traditionally, it's been suggested the way lawbreakers pay their debt is to sit in jail, and perhaps pick up some trash or hammer out a few license plates for pennies a day. But rather than developing skills as contributing citizens, most prisoners, after being imprisoned for a few years, simply become habituated to their new environment. In short: they become good convicts. Without proper job training and work placement programs, many prisoners turn to public services, from public shelters to SSI, food stamps, etc., to make ends meet. So we exchange one kind of public support for another, while adding nothing to the tax base. And since a federal law in the nineties was passed barring drug offenders from receiving food stamps or cash assistance, many former inmates turn back to criminal activities such as theft or prostitution, thus starting the cycle of recidivism in motion.

Warehousing nonviolent offenders is still big business in the United States, which means that people with significant influence are intent on keeping things more or less as they already are. And certainly not all on the political and religious right agree with the points above. But enough conservatives are breaking rank to begin to form coalitions with the center and left, so that real reform becomes an increasing possibility.

Meanwhile we're tied with only one other country for having the most prisoners per capita of any nation in the world: nearly as many per capita as Iran and Russia combined. Is this the legacy we want to leave in the annals of history, and the system of democracy we are preserving for our children?

Here's hoping the momentum of this new coalition continues to grow.

Christian Piatt is the author and creator of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS.

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Watch Every World Cup Goal (So Far) in 1 Minute

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 09:58 AM PDT

Dutch Supreme Court Blocks Extradition of Al-Qaeda Suspect to U.S.

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 09:42 AM PDT

In a setback for the Obama administration's use of law enforcement to fight al-Qaeda, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands on Friday blocked the extradition to the U.S. of Sabir Ali Khan, a Dutch-Pakistani man wanted in New York for conspiracy to commit murder and support of al-Qaeda.

The U.S. believes Khan was involved in Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks against Americans in Afghanistan's Kunar Province in 2010, according to U.S. court documents obtained by TIME. Khan was arrested by Pakistani forces in Sept. 2010, allegedly at the request of the U.S., and held at a secret prison where he says he was tortured.

Khan, whose mother was Dutch, has citizenship in the Netherlands and was eventually released to Dutch authorities and flown to Holland, where he was arrested. His Dutch lawyer argued that the government should determine whether Khan was arrested at the U.S. behest, and whether he would face a threat of further torture if he were extradited.

The Dutch Supreme Court Friday ruled that the extradition could not proceed because the Dutch Government had declined to look into the alleged U.S. role in Khan's arrest. The Court, which did not address the threat of torture by the U.S., concluded "the Dutch State should have done some research in this matter," says Dutch Supreme Court Spokeperson Mireille Beentjes. In blocking the extradition, the court stressed "the large interest of combatting torture worldwide," Beentjes said, quoting from the court's opinion.

Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the Eastern District of New York, where Khan was indicted on five counts in 2010, said, "We're going to review the ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court and consider our options."

Khan, who is in his late 20s, declined to comment when reached by telephone Friday. He remains free and living in the Netherlands. In January, he told TIME that while he suspects he is under constant surveillance, "Officially I have no restrictions on me."

The case shows how the U.S. must increasingly rely on other states’ legal systems in countering terrorism as Washington attempts to wind down extraordinary powers granted to the president after 9/11. Those states are sometimes more or less aggressive than the U.S. would like, and counterterrorism officials are having to adjust as a result.

 

Amazon Charges a Penny After France Bans Free Shipping

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 09:40 AM PDT

Amazon thumbed its nose at a French ban on free shipping of book orders, agreeing to raise the shipping price to exactly $0.01 Euros, or a single penny.

France24 reports that Amazon’s move comes one month after the ban sailed through France’s National Assembly. Lawmakers argued that the nation’s roughly 3,500 bookstores needed protection from online competitors, whom they accused of “dumping” books on the market at a loss.

“We are unfortunately no longer allowed to offer free deliveries for book orders,” Amazon explained in an FAQ to shoppers, who might reasonably wonder why the company would bother to charge one cent. “We have therefore fixed delivery costs at one centime per order containing books and dispatched by Amazon to systematically guarantee the lowest price for your book orders.”

The free shipping ban was passed as an amendment to a 1981 law that also attempted to curb competition between booksellers by capping discounts on new books at 5%.

[France24]

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 11

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 09:37 AM PDT

1. Hashtag Activism Aftermath: Three months on, to bring back the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, outside groups must work past news fatigue and push Nigeria to make a deal

By Naunihal Singh in the New Yorker

2. The US shouldn’t let nuclear security cooperation with Russia become a casualty of the conflict over Ukraine.

By Nickolas Roth and Robert Gard in the National Interest

3. Proponents and users of big data have a big responsibility.

By Om Malik at om.co

4. To save the NSA, we need to bring American spying in from the cold.

By Carla Ann Robbins in Bloomberg Businessweek

5. From battling wildfires to delivering humanitarian aid, the good done by drones can temper — but not erase — the ugly reality of remote-controlled warfare.

By Medea Benjamin in TIME

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

Pop Secret Ad Shows What It’s Like When Popcorn Goes to a Rave and Twerks

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 09:35 AM PDT

Pop Secret’s new ad exposes innocents to a popcorn sub-universe in which kernels pop in a pool of buttery-sweat to the tune of Electronic Dance Music in MicorRaves. (Get it? It’s like a microwave but with ecstasy.)

Adweek has a pretty good assessment of what the pitch meeting for this 60-second video — a promotion for Electric Daisy Carnival — sounded like:

“OK, we need to get millennials to like our popcorn. What are they into? What kind of ad would Miley make? You think we can get the popcorn to twerk?”

And after watching, we feel safe saying that the answer to the twerk question is an unfortunate yes. Given enough MDMA, popcorn can do just about anything.

Sorry, Orville Redenbacher. You might look the part, but your co-opt of the popcorn/rave scene has finally come to an end:

Popcorn King Orville Redenbacher Portrait Session
Popcorn King Orville Redenbacher playfully poses during a 1986 Los Angeles, California portrait session. George Rose—Getty Images

 

Teachers Union Pulls Full-Throated Support for Common Core

Posted: 11 Jul 2014 09:33 AM PDT

After years of battling conservative groups opposed to Common Core, supporters of the testing standards discovered Friday morning that one of their most avid allies, the American Federation of Teachers, is bailing on them too. Et tu, Brutus?

At its annual convention Friday in Los Angeles, AFT president Randi Weingarten is expected to announce that the union will underwrite $20,000 to $30,000 grants for teachers' projects designed to rewrite and improve the Common Core standards, according to a press release.

While AFT stops short of outright opposing the Common Core, Weingarten has said that that option is not off the table. An hour-long open debate on Common Core is planned for the last day of the convention on Sunday, which could lead to a vote condemning the Common Core in its entirety. Some of AFT's local chapters, including Chicago, have called for the union to end its support for Common Core entirely.

The AFT's decision to distance itself from its once-avid support for the Common Core marks a major—and, some say, even potentially lethal—blow to the standards, which the White House has emphasized as its key priority in education.

The real danger is not that the Common Core will be thrown out entirely, but that state policy directors in charge of implementing the standards will be cowed by what they see as a groundswell of anger from teachers, said Michael Brickman, the national policy director at Fordham Institute, which supports the standards. If states choose not to tie the Common Core to teacher and students evaluations, all is lost, he said.

"It's one thing to have really great standards on paper, but if they're not tied to anything meaningful in terms of accountability, not a lot is going to improve," he said.

Backers of Common Core at both the state and federal level have pointed at union support for the standards as validation for the policy. It's too early to tell whether state policy makers will see the AFT's withdrawal of support as a reflection of most teachers' opinions, or of public opinion writ large.

"We do know that it's a significant shift," said Amy Hyslop, a policy analyst at New America Foundation who works on Common Core. "The AFT has objected to using the tests for evaluations, but this is first time they've been critical of the standards themselves."

The AFT's move comes less than two months after the National Education Association, the nation's biggest teachers union, voted to demand the resignation of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. AFT has not yet considered joining NEA's call for Duncan's ouster, but say it's not out of the cards.

The teachers unions, which strongly supported Obama's election and once avidly backed the Common Core standards, have been increasingly disillusioned with the administration for years.

Their discontent is fueled in part by what many see as the herky-jerky implementation of Common Core so far. In some schools, teachers were asked to administer Common Core exams before they'd been given textbooks indicating what would be tested.

The unions have also criticized the standards for being too hard, rewarding a small number of "profiteering" companies that make the tests and books, and bringing punitive repercussions for both teachers and students. In many states, teachers' performance evaluations and whether students are allowed to advance to the next grade level are tied to Common Core test scores.

In some ways, AFT's announcement seems a long time coming. In April last year, AFT called for a moratorium on using Common Core test scores to judge teachers' performances and determine whether students should be held back a grade level. In January, the New York state teachers union withdrew its support for the standards, citing major problems with implementation.

Weingarten, who has been a long-time public supporter the Common Core, has made a point in recent months of actively publicizing her members' discontent over the program.

Brickman, and other education analysts, say the unions’ waning support is probably tied to the fact that they have faced several significant political blows this year. Last month, a California court ruled against tenure and other job protections. Two former Obama spokesmen have also launched a public relations campaign linking tenure with a failure of school reform. Under fire from both conservatives and Democrats, unions may be taking a defensive stance. "I think what they're doing here is circling the wagons, going back to their bread and butter,” said Brickman.

Other analysts think AFT's withdrawal of support is a calculated move designed to telegraph to the Obama administration that AFT's backing is contingent on whether the administration pays attention to its other demands. For example, AFT has long called for the repeal of another federal law, No Child Left Behind, passed by the Bush administration, which mandates annual, multiple-choice tests for most elementary and middle school students.

The Common Core standards were designed in part as a response to unions' discontent over what they called the "toxic testing" required by No Child Left Behind. The Common Core standards do not require rote, fill-in-the-bubble tests, as NCLB does, but instead involves more rigorous, hands-on problem solving, which is what the unions had demanded originally.

The Common Core standards describe what every student, kindergarten through high school, is expected to know. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia originally adopted the standards, but several conservative states have since dropped them. The Common Core will be implemented for the first time next school year, with teacher evaluations and student progress linked to the tests in 2015-16–which leaves plenty of time for in-fighting until then.

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