Law

Georgia Governor to Sign Sweeping Gun Bill

Critics call the far-reaching legislation allowing guns in bars, schools and churches the "Guns Everywhere Act," but supporters say it restores Second Amendment rights

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal will sign into law Wednesday radical new gun legislation that will allow licensed owners to carry firearms into more public places than at any time in the past century, including government buildings, bars, and a wide variety of public places.

The law, called the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” allows churches to “opt-in” to permit weapons, school districts to appoint staff carrying firearms, and requires bars to opt out if they wish to ban firearms, NBC reports. Gun owners caught at airport security checkpoints can pick up their weapons and leave with no criminal penalty.

Critics have called the new legislation the “Guns Everywhere Bill,” and gun control groups including Americans for Responsible Solutions and Mayors Against Illegal Guns have strongly criticized the bill, as has the executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, Frank Rotondo. “Police officers do not want more people carrying guns on the street,” said Rotondo, “particularly police officers in inner city areas.”

Proponents of the law say, however, that it strengthens the Second Amendment and will make people safer. “When we limit a Georgian’s ability to carry a weapon — to defend themselves — we’re empowering the bad guys,” said Georgia state Rep. Rick Jasperse, who introduced the bill.

Eight states have loosened gun regulations since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012, while 10 states have strengthened regulations, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

[NBC]

Education

Obama Thinks He Can Rate Colleges. Can You Do Better? (Interactive)

See how colleges stack up based on what you think is most important in a school

Last year, the Obama Administration announced a plan to assess schools on how well they serve their students, based on metrics like graduation rate, tuition, and the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, the federally funded scholarships for low-income families. For a system that has yet to be put in place, the White House’s college ratings have created a great deal of panic.

To see how those ratings might play out, TIME gathered data for 2,500 college and universities and ranked them according to the proposed metrics. But we’ve left it to you to adjust how important each of those metrics should be. Adjust the sliders, and watch the the schools reshuffle.

As Haley Sweetland Edwards notes in the most recent issue of TIME, many college presidents are convinced that the ratings proposed by the Obama administration would fail to capture the value of their schools. The White House insists that far too many sub-par schools are cashing in on federal student loans and leaving their students in the lurch.

The White House is proposing to take a bunch a date of data about schools and determine a rank for each. This would produce an algorithm that functions in many ways like Google’s ranking of Web pages. In the case of search engines, the exact nature of this algorithm is a secret. The White House’s algorithm will presumably not be secret, meaning it will be quite easy for schools to game the system.

That sounds like a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be. When algorithms work well, they reward good behavior. In the same way that the Google algorithm rewards sites that offer clear descriptions of the content and coherent navigation, a good college ranking algorithm could inspire schools to offer better grants to those who can’t afford the tuition and provide help for those at risk of dropping out. A poorly designed algorithm, meanwhile, could incentivize them to shut out students who have lower statistical odds of graduating.

The interactive at the top of this article presents a simplified rating system based on three qualities the White House has mentioned: Graduation rate, accessibility and affordability. For accessibility, the interactive uses the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants. For affordability, we’ve used the net cost paid by families who makes less than $110,000 a year and receive some form of aid.

By rewarding both accessibility and graduation rate, this system corners one of the trickiest problems facing schools looking to climb the rankings: Students from low-income backgrounds are statistically less likely to graduate. The most expedient way for a school to boost its graduate rate would be not to admit students in this cohort. Doing so, however, would theoretically hurt the school in the accessibility category more than it boosted the school in the graduation category, resulting in a drop in the ratings. At least, this is how a good White House algorithm would work. Fine-tuning the formula to work as advertised would require a sophisticated statistical analysis of the data. In the meantime, you can drag the sliders around to see which schools would rise to the top given existing numbers.

Methodology

All data comes from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Each school is evaluated according to its six-year graduation rate, the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates receiving Pell grants and the net cost for students receiving any form of aid whose families make less than $110,000 a year. That figure is calculated by TIME as the weighted average net cost for students in each of the Department of Education’s reported income brackets. Where that data is not available, overall net cost (tuition and fees minus grants and scholarships) is used.

These three data points are standardized, so that each school’s score is the number of standard deviations above or below the mean. The app then adjusts these values according to the position of the sliders, sums the square roots of those values, and takes the square of the sum. (A detailed discussion of that method is available here.)

The classifications of schools come from the Carnegie classification system. Schools without a Carnegie class are not included.

Environment

Mudslide Community Praised by Obama During Visit

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the firehouse in Oso, Washington, April 22, 2014, after touring the devastation left by a recent landslide.
President Obama delivers remarks at the firehouse in Oso, Wash., April 22, 2014, after touring the devastation left by a recent landslide. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

President Obama tells residents of Oso, Wash., their response to the disaster that killed at least 41 people was an "inspiration"

President Barack Obama paid a visit to the small community of Oso, Wa., on Tuesday, exactly one month after a massive mudslide there claimed at least 41 lives. He promised survivors that the entire country will be on hand to help for “as long as it takes.”

“While very few Americans had heard of Oso before this disaster struck, we’ve all been inspired by the incredible way the community has come together,” he said, noting how villagers had risked their lives volunteering to find their stricken neighbors, and provided meals, chainsaws and rain jackets to those working on the front line.

Even now the death toll may still rise, as search and clearing operations continue. After weeks of efforts, however, water standing six feet deep has been drained, facilitating the navigation of heavy equipment across the still treacherous terrain.

Obama’s visit came as he prepared a tour of Asian countries, two of which have recently been struck by their own disasters — Malaysia in the case of the missing flight MH 370, and South Korea where more than 150 passengers perished when a ferry sunk last week.

In Oso, the President told residents that their spirited response in the face of adversity was what “America is all about.”

“We recover, and we build, and we come back stronger,” he said.

cities

NYPD Twitter Outreach Backfires Badly

A police lieutenant swings his baton at Occupy Wall Street activists in New York City on May 1, 2012. Mary Altaffer—AP Photo

A call for users to post photos with officers and the hashtag #myNYPD is met with images of police brutality after Occupy Wall Street mocks the request

A New York City Police Department request for Twitter users to share pictures of themselves posing with police officers was met with photos of police brutality.

In a tweet on Tuesday, the NYPD said pictures hashtagged #myNYPD could be featured on their Facebook page, but after Occupy Wall Street tweeted a photo of cops fighting protesters, captioned “changing hearts and minds one baton at a time,” the police-friendly posts were soon swamped by a barrage of negative imagery.

NYPD Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster stated Tuesday evening that the department was engaging in new ways to communicate with the community, and that Twitter provided “an open forum for an uncensored exchange” that is “good for our city,” the New York Times reports.

Military

As the Wars End, Changes Come in Training Troops to Notify Families of Military Deaths

Army photo

Battlefield deaths decline, but military still has to bring grim news

The wars are nearly over. So it is time for the U.S. military to reboot for one of its most somber tasks: Telling next-of-kin their loved one has died in the service of his or her country.

Over the past 13 years, casualty-notification officers have had to take that long walk up to a family’s front door, and make that dreaded knock that changes everything, 6,803 times.

But with battlefield deaths down to a trickle, the Marines are seeking a new video to help train its Casualty Assistance Calls Officers (each service has its own title for the job) for a future where more will die in peacetime accidents than combat. “The current scenario is 100% war-related,” the corps says in a notice posted Tuesday. “A more current version is required to meet today’s situations.”

The Marines say they want their new training video to include cases involving:

  • Marine’s death due to a training incident
  • Dual active-duty spouse with complicated marital issues
  • Divorced Parents
  • Dealing with children
  • Updated grief/trauma awareness
  • Self-care for CACOs

That last one is critical. This is a tough mission, where raw human emotions run the gamut.

“I’ve picked family members off the floor,” Army chaplain Captain Gregory Broderick said in an Army News Service story last month. “I’ve sat and held them as they’ve rocked and cried… I did one recently where they kicked us out of the house. They were so mad, not at us but at their son,” he confided. “I’ve been spit on as well.”

“You’ve caught them at their worst day,” added Army Major Mark East, the top chaplain at the service’s Human Resources Command.

With the war in Iraq over for more than two years, and with the shrinking number of U.S. combat troops still in Afghanistan slated to leave by year’s end (a total of 33,000 remain), the number of those killed in battle, thankfully, is way down (17 so far this year). March marked the first month without war casualties in 11 years (unfortunately, April won’t be the second).

When casualties spiked in Iraq in 2006, some families criticized the way the military informed them of their relatives’ deaths. That led Congress to demand additional training for those making the notifications, and detailed Pentagon regulations on how it is to be done.

Army Major Brent Fogleman did casualty notifications around that time, after a stint in Afghanistan. The notification job was “by far, yes” his toughest assignment. “There were some guys that couldn’t do it… if they couldn’t do it we didn’t want them to do it,” he said. “That’s not something you cannot do well.”

Families used to learn of their loved one’s fate in terse “regret to inform you” telegrams. That changed in Vietnam, when the Army began dispatching casualty-notification officers and chaplains to deliver the sad news personally.

The service now gives its casualty-notification teams four hours to get to that front door after the Army’s personnel shop has received word of a death. These days, they’re in a race to that door with Facebook and Twitter. They usually, but not always, win.

Taxes

IRS Gave $1 Million in Bonuses to Employees Who Didn’t Pay Taxes

The IRS paid $1 million in bonuses to employees who owed back taxes and another $1.8 million in bonuses to workers facing disciplinary problems

The federal agency in charge of tax collection has been awarding bonuses to employees who have not been paying their taxes on time, according to a new report by J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

The report reveals that the Internal Revenue Service gave a total of $1 million in bonuses to 1,150 workers who owed back taxes between October 201o and December 2012. The IRS paid out an additional $1.8 million in bonuses to workers facing other kinds of disciplinary problems over the same period, including improper use of government credit cards, drug use, threats of violence and unemployment-benefits fraud, according to the Associated Press.

George said the bonuses don’t violate federal rules but are inconsistent with the agency’s mission to enforce tax regulations. “These awards are designed to recognize and reward IRS employees for a job well done, and that is appropriate, because the IRS should encourage good performance,” George said in a press release. “However, while not prohibited, providing awards to employees who have been disciplined for failing to pay federal taxes appears to create a conflict with the IRS’s charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration.”

Despite the apparent contradiction highlighted by bonus program, the employees of the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, still have better tax compliance than other federal agencies. Just 1.1% of Treasury workers owed back taxes in 2011, compared with 3.2% of federal workers overall, the AP reports. The tax-delinquency rate for the general public was 8.2% that year.

Racism

KKK Forms Neighborhood Watch in Pennsylvania Town

'It’s just like any neighborhood watch program. It’s not targeting any specific ethnicity,' says the Fairview Township chapter president. The group has distributed flyers around the neighborhood that read: 'You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake'

A local chapter of one of the country’s most infamous white supremacist groups has launched a neighborhood watch in a Pennsylvania town.

Frank Ancona, the “imperial wizard” and president of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said leaders of the local chapter in Fairview Township, Penn. got approval from the national organization to form the watch, PennLive reports.

Ancona said the watch group was formed in response to a series of break-ins. “It’s just like any neighborhood watch program. It’s not targeting any specific ethnicity. We would report anything we see to law enforcement,” he said. “We don’t hate people. We are an organization that looks out for our race. We believe in racial separation. God created each species after its kind and saw that it was good.”

The group has distributed flyers around the neighborhood that read: “Neighborhood Watch. You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.”

The controversial move by the organization comes as white supremacist groups face renewed scrutiny. Frazier Glenn Cross, the founder of the Carolina Knights of the Klu Klux Klan, was charged last week for the shooting murders of three people at Jewish community centers near Kansas City. As the Klan’s membership has dwindled from a high of nearly 4 million members nearly a century ago, many splinter chapters such as the Fairview Township group have been working to increase membership, through efforts ranging from a new radio station sponsored by an Arkansas chapter to flyers distributed in several Southern states that read “The KKK Wants You!”

Fairview Township police are aware of the Traditionalist American Knights’ actions but can’t prevent them from forming a neighborhood watch. “There’s not a whole lot we can do about it,” Lt. Jason Loper told the York Dispatch. “It’s a freedom of speech issue and, while vast majority of most residents don’t agree with their philosophy, we can’t discriminate against them…or we’ll open ourselves to a lawsuit.”

Economy

America’s Middle Class Falls Behind

For the first time in decades, middle-income Americans are no longer the richest middle class in the world

Once the juggernaut of the American economy and the envy of the world, the middle class has finally lost its position as the richest in the world, according to a new report.

The New York Times, citing an analysis of survey data going back 35, reports that the middle class in the United States has fallen behind Canada’s middle class. While economic growth in the U.S. is equal to or stronger than growth in other countries, those gains have gone almost exclusively to the wealthiest Americans. America’s middle class is still wealthier than corresponding demographics in Europe, but the gap has narrowed significantly in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the poor in the U.S. are significantly worse off than their counterparts in Europe and Canada—a total reversal from 35 years ago.

Median income in the U.S., about $74,000 after taxes for a family of four, rose by 20% between 1980 and 2000 but has since remain mostly unchanged, according to the Times analysis. Median income in Canada, in contrast, rose by 20% between 2000 and 2010 alone.

“The idea that the median American has so much more income than the middle class in all other parts of the world is not true these days,” Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist not associated with the study, told the Times. “In 1960, we were massively richer than anyone else. In 1980, we were richer. In the 1990s, we were still richer.”

The analysis blames the struggles of the middle class on stagnating education attainment, higher executive pay, lower minimum wage and weaker unions, among other factors.

[NYT]

nature

President Obama Will Survey Mudslide Damage 1 Month After Tragedy

The visit will be Obama’s only domestic stop on his way to Asia

+ READ ARTICLE

President Barack Obama is en route Tuesday to survey the damage caused by a deadly mudslide that claimed more than 40 lives last month in Oso, Wash.

Obama is due to deliver remarks after meeting with search crews, victims’ families and others involved in the recovery effort before leaving on a four-country tour of Asia.

The disaster has officially claimed 41 lives and more than two dozen homes. Search crews have been digging through 70-foot-deep mud littered with debris in a search for the two people who remain missing.

Law

California Bill Banning ‘Affluenza’ Defense Is Nixed

Ethan Couch
In this image taken from a video by KDFW-FOX 4, Ethan Couch is seen during his court hearing in December 2013 AP

California legislators shot down a bill that would have created the country's first ban on using the "affluenza" (rich kids don't know better) defense. It was introduced after a wealthy Texas teen got probation for killing four people and injuring others in a drunk-driving accident

California lawmakers on Tuesday killed legislation that would ban the use of the “affluenza” defense, stopping what would have been the first such ban in the nation.

State assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced the bill after a wealthy Texas teenager was given only probation last year for killing four people and injuring others in a drunk-driving accident. His lawyers successfully argued that he had been so coddled by his affluent parents that he couldn’t be expected to appreciate the rules of law or the consequences of his actions. The sentence sparked outrage, seen by many as an obscene example of privilege begetting privilege and inequity in the justice system.

“In our justice system, people who have means already have advantages,” Gatto said in introducing the bill before a legislative committee. “They have access to the better lawyers, they have access to better relationships and they know how the system works. And the idea of a defendant saying that a life of privilege and an upbringing of means somehow makes that defendant absolve him or herself of personal responsibility for a heinous act really is insulting to the intelligence of just about everybody who interacts with the justice system, and those of us who care about making sure that the justice system is blind.”

Gatto’s bill originally defined the notion of affluenza as the argument that a “defendant may not have understood the consequences of his or her actions because he or she was raised in an affluent or overly permissive household.” One issue raised by other lawmakers on the committee was the use of the phrase overly permissive, which some worried could apply to poor children with absentee parents as much as a rich kid who got to do whatever he wanted.

Opponents of the bill, though sympathetic to its intent, argued that it’s generally not a good idea to put limitations on legal defenses, that the bill presumed a jury couldn’t determine on its own the worth of a defense, and that such restrictions may prevent certain facts from coming forward during a trial.

Gatto also refused to accept an amendment supported by the chair of the committee, assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who wanted to build exceptions and affirmations of constitutional protections into the bill. “We are trying to prohibit the affluenza defense,” Gatto said, adding that he had “real heartburn” about writing “into the statute all the times where the defense could be used.”

Before voting against the bill, Ammiano, a Democrat, said he would have preferred Gatto accept the amendments offered by the committee. The two Republicans on the committee voted to support the bill, and the rest of the members, all Democrats, abstained. Those abstentions essentially counting as nay votes, the measure failed. The ban would have prohibited the use of affluenza as a defense or a mitigating factor in sentencing. Gatto, a Los Angeles–area Democrat, has said that while the high-profile case happened in Texas, he was attempting to be “proactive” in California.

In June 2013, Texas teenager Ethan Couch stole beer from a Walmart, drank enough for his blood-alcohol content to be three times the legal limit, got in his pickup truck, lost control and sped it into a group of people who were helping a woman with a stalled car on the side of the road near Fort Worth. Four people died. Others, including many crammed into his vehicle, were injured. Thanks in part to a psychologist who argued that Couch’s wealth was so extreme he couldn’t separate right from wrong, the then 16-year-old was given 10 years’ probation and ordered to attend rehab for the intoxication manslaughter and assault charges. In February, Judge Jean Boyd reaffirmed that sentence in a private hearing, denying prosecutors’ second request for 20 years in prison.

At the end of the committee hearing on Tuesday, the possibility of “reconsideration” was raised, meaning Gatto might bring his bill before the committee again at another time. But that would likely require a compromise that lawmakers did not appear ready to make on Tuesday.

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