TIME LGBT

Louisiana Upholds Anti-Sodomy Law

Louisiana voted in favor of preserving an unconstitutional anti-sodomy law, saying it protects minors from assault and upholds morality

The Louisiana State House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to reject a state Democrat’s attempt to repeal an anti-sodomy law, enshrining the anti-gay measure in the state’s books.

State Representative Patricia Smith sought to amend Louisiana’s crimes against nature law by removing a prohibition on consensual relations between people of the same sex, the Associated Press reports. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a similar Texas law unconstitutional a decade ago.

State Representative Valarie Hodges, a Republican, led opponents of Smith’s measure, who said the law protects children and upholds morality. The State House voted 66-27 in favor of rejecting the repeal.

Smith brought the repeal bill after Baton Rouge-area police officers arrested gay men using the law. They were unable to charge the men because the district attorney said the law was not enforceable.

[AP]

TIME Gun Control

Bloomberg Takes Aim at NRA With $50 Million Campaign

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils a Hurricane Sandy Recovery Report at a press conference with U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan (not seen) on Aug. 19, 2013 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils a Hurricane Sandy Recovery Report at a press conference with U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan (not seen) on Aug. 19, 2013 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to challenge the National Rifle Association in a $50 million effort, involving political influence, grass-roots organization and a hard-line stance, to galvanize voters in favor of stricter gun control laws

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to challenge the National Rifle Association in a $50 million effort to galvanize voters in favor of stricter gun control laws.

Bloomberg says he plans to use the tools of the NRA—political influence, organization, and a hard-line stance—in order to build a nationwide grassroots organization and sway voters and lawmakers to support gun control.

“We’ve got to make them afraid of us,” Bloomberg told the New York Times.

The former mayor will spend large sums on the behind-the-scenes style of fieldwork the NRA has used, organizing women and mothers in particular to help drive pro-gun control voters to the polls. He plans to restructure the gun control groups he currently funds into a single group called “Everytown for Gun Safety.”

MORE: Should Michael Bloomberg be on the 2014 Time 100?

The $50 million Bloomberg plans to spend far exceeds the $20 million the NRA has recently spent each year on political activities. The NRA has been focused on signing up 1 million new supporters, particularly in states more hostile to gun control laws such as Texas, Montana and Indiana.

Gun rights activists were skeptical about Bloomberg’s plans. “He’s got the money to waste,” Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America said. “So I guess he’s free to do so. But frankly, I think he’s going to find out why his side keeps losing.”

[NYT]

 

 

TIME Education

This Is How the New SAT Will Test Vocabulary

A redesigned SAT due out in the spring of 2016 will no longer reward students for the rote memorization of semi-obscure word definitions, but instead emphasize “high utility” words they're more likely to encounter in life

Graduating seniors can throw their flash cards on the celebratory bonfire next year. When students sit down to try their pencils at the redesigned SAT in spring 2016, the questions about vocabulary are going to be different — remodeled and revised, and for champions of obscure words, perhaps transmogrified.

Students will no longer be rewarded for the rote memorization of semi-obscure definitions. Instead, the words that the SAT will highlight in vocabulary questions will be “high utility” words that students are likely to encounter in life and reading beyond those four hours in the testing location. Even the most studied students won’t be able to breeze through vocab sections, matching a word with definition B by reflex; they’ll have to read and gather from the passage exactly what a word means.

Here is an example of a old-style SAT question that students will not be seeing on the new exam:

There is no doubt that Larry is a genuine ——- : he excels at telling stories that fascinate his listeners.

(A) braggart

(B) dilettante

(C) pilferer

(D) prevaricator

(E) raconteur

You may have identified that (E) would be the right answer, raconteur coming from the old French word for relate. But answering such a question won’t be expected of aspirational high school students in the future.

One reason is that the one-sentence question provides little context, so it tests knowledge of knowing a word’s definition, not necessarily how to gather meaning from reading something. As Jim Patterson, executive director of assessment, says, “Students might well only know the word’s meaning from studying it in isolation, perhaps from an unofficial SAT preparation word list.” And memorization skills, the kind that would also put students in the position to know the definitions of the wrong answers in the above question, are not the skills the College Board wants to be testing.

In materials released today, the College Board says they’ll be concentrating on what are known as “Tier Two” words. That terminology comes from academics at the University of Pittsburgh, particularly Professor Margaret G. McKeown and Isabel Beck, who devised a system for classifying words into one of three tiers. Tier One words are those that kids will encounter naturally as they’re beginning to talk, like mother, ball, cup, food, run, walk, sit or bed. Tier Three words usually teach a new concept, are relevant only in a particular discipline and have one meaning, like isotope or asphalt or even piano. The Tier Two words go across domains and might have many meanings in different contexts. They appear more in text than in conversation, and they repackage concepts a child could understand on a basic level with more nuance.

In sample questions released today, the College Board gives this example:

[. . .] The coming decades will likely see more intense clustering of jobs, innovation, and productivity in a smaller number of bigger cities and city-regions. Some regions could end up bloated beyond the capacity of their infrastructure, while others struggle, their promise stymied by inadequate human or other resources.

As used in line 55, “intense” most nearly means

A) emotional.

B) concentrated.

C) brilliant.

D) determined.

The key point, as far as the College Board is concerned, is that intense is not only a word that students will regularly encounter but one that could mean A, B, C or D, depending on the context. A raconteur, by contrast, is a raconteur. The redesigned test will focus on deeply understanding more common words rather than being familiar with linguistic gems. Other Tier Two words, McKeown says, might be alleviate, consistent, coincide, congenial, indelible, discord, occur, mention, emerge, admit, perform, fortunate, require or maintain.

Though not consulted, she applauds the SAT shift. The method of teaching that she has championed for more than 30 years is that students need to go through three stages to learn a word: be taught a definition, be shown how the word is used and then use it themselves. McKeown believes Tier Two words are the ones that kids should be taught in school, given there is no “infinte time or brain space.”

“We don’t need to have a bunch of memorized definitions in our head,” McKeown says. “It’s an integration of the sentence and the word that’s going to help us. The more they have to integrate, the more that reflects what you need to do with a vocabulary as a reader.”

Ben Zimmer, executive producer of Vocabulary.com, a site with the mission of fostering and expanding vocabularies, also sees worth in the SAT changes. He is sympathetic to the College Board’s explanation that they can only test students on so many words and being able to understand the many meanings of intense is more pressing than understanding the single meaning of dilettante. “It’s necessary for them to be a little selective in what they emphasize,” he says. “You really need to appreciate the full range of meanings that a word can have.”

Zimmer, like the College Board, emphasizes that eliminating lachrymose or obsequious or punctilious from the SAT doesn’t denigrate the value of knowing such words. But it does mean that students will have to be inspired to want to know those words without necessarily getting points in return.

This is an edition of Wednesday Words, a weekly feature on language. For the previous post, click here.

TIME cities

Detroit Cuts Deal With Retired Police and Firefighters

A protestor holds a sign outside the federal courthouse in support of Detroit city workers Rebecca Cook—Reuters

The city going through one of the largest bankruptcies in U.S. history has agreed to preserve pension benefits for some retired civil servants even as it announces cuts for other employees

Detroit has reached a deal with some retired workers over pension benefits while cutting monthly payments for other former employees in a move that could give a boost to the city’s plan to exit bankruptcy in October, officials said Tuesday.

According to tentative agreements, retired police officers and firefighters will continue to receive their full pensions while those who do not work in public safety will have some of their benefits curtailed. Those cuts include a 4.5 percent decrease and the elimination of cost-of-living payments for general fund pensioners, said Tina Basset, spokesperson for the fund.

The agreement will cover more than 20,000 retired workers in a city going through one of the largest public bankruptcies in U.S. history. Both the retirees, as well as current workers who qualify for a future pension, will be allowed to vote as creditors in the bankruptcy.

Retired Detroit Police and Fire Fighters Association attorney Ryan Plecha said preserving the pension benefits was the “crown jewel.”

Bill Nowling, a spokesperson for Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who is overseeing the bankruptcy process, said the deal with retired workers had been possible because of an improved financial performance of the pension funds.

However, both deals depend on the $816 million that Detroit is hoping to raise from foundations, philanthropists and the state of Michigan. Lawmakers are yet to approve Michigan’s $350 million contribution.

TIME Health Care

Arizona Approves Surprise Inspections of Abortion Clinics

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer makes a statement saying she vetoed the controversial SB1062 bill at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. On Tuesday, she signed a bill allowing snap inspections of the state's abortion clinics Samantha Sais —Reuters

A new piece of legislation signed by Arizona’s Republican Governor will allow health officials to conduct surprise inspections of the state’s nine abortion clinics

Health officials will be able to inspect Arizona’s abortion clinics without warrants after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law Tuesday.

The new law nullifies previous measures that required judges to approve any potential inspection of the state’s nine registered abortion clinics.

“This legislation will ensure that the Arizona Department of Health Services has the authority to appropriately protect the health and safety of all patients,” said the Governor’s spokesman Andrew Wilder, according to Reuters.

Pro-choice advocates said the Republican Governor’s decision as part of her sustained attack on women’s health.

“[Brewer] has been hostile to women’s health care, including abortion and family planning, since the day she took office,” the president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, Bryan Howard, said in a statement following the passage of the bill.

Arizona joins ten other states that allow for similar snap inspections of abortion facilities.

[Reuters]

TIME National Security

Judge Says a Radical Cleric’s 9/11 Comments Can Be Used as Evidence

Muslim cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa prays in a street outside his Mosque in north London, on March 28, 2003.
Muslim cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa prays in a street outside his Mosque in north London, on March 28, 2003. Alastair Grant—AP

A judge has ruled that jurors at the trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, a fundamentalist and former imam who's known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, will be allowed to hear comments he made to praise the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks

Jurors at the trial of radical Islamic cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who is also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, will be privy to comments the suspect made praising the 9/11 terrorists attacks, a judge ruled this week.

Mustafa is accused of trying to establish al Qaeda training camps in Oregon in the late 1990s and of aiding extremists who kidnapped a group of foreigners, including two American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.

According to an undated interview with a British television station, Mustafa stated: “Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center.” And according to U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest, who is presiding over the case, these comments can be presented as evidence in court.

“Expressing clear and unequivocal support for terrorism is no doubt prejudicial. However, the defendant is charged with just those sorts of crimes,” Judge Katherine B. Forrest said in a written decision earlier this week.

Jury selection for the case concludes on Monday, while opening statements for the trial are set to commence on Thursday morning.

[AP]

TIME Transportation

Highway Funding Is About to Run Out

From left: Michael Cahill, President of Siemens Rail Systems in the U.S. listens to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the Siemens Motors Manufacturing Plant in Norwood, Ohio, April 14, 2014.
From left: Michael Cahill, President of Siemens Rail Systems in the U.S. listens to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the Siemens Motors Manufacturing Plant in Norwood, Ohio, April 14, 2014. Tom Uhlman—AP for Siemens

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says the U.S. Highway Trust Fund will run out of cash by the end of September, threatening widespread layoffs and delays of badly needed highway projects, unless long-term action is taken

The U.S. Highway Trust Fund is on the verge of insolvency, threatening widespread layoffs and delays of badly needed highway projects.

President Barack Obama has put forward a $302 billion plan to Congress to boost the fund with savings from proposed changes to corporate tax laws.

If no action is taken, the fund will dry up before the end of September. Officials in some states are already considering a halt to some projects.

“I feel it’s clearly a crisis,” said transportation secretary Anthony Foxx, who is on an eight-state tour to whip up public backing for the Obama plan.

The White House proposal is intended to put the fund on a longer-term footing than the bare minimum top-ups Congress has been voting in the past five years. Such minimum payments discourage states from making long term plans because of fears the fund will run out.

“We have a responsibility to put a proposal out there that casts a longer-term vision,” Foxx said. “Tell Congress we can’t slap a Band-Aid on our transportation system any longer.”

However, a highly partisan election year such as this doesn’t hold much promise for any major reforms.

“There doesn’t seem to be much of an appetite to go after corporate tax reform this year, which is the only long term funding source that has been proposed by both the administration and Congress,” said Joshua Schank, the president of Washington transportation think-tank Eno Center for Transportation.

[AP]

TIME States

The Armed Rebellion on a Nevada Cattle Ranch Could Be Just the Start

Protesters gathered at the Bureau of Land Management's base camp, where cattle that were seized from rancher Cliven Bundy was being held, near Bunkerville, Nevada, April 12, 2014.
Protesters gathered at the Bureau of Land Management's base camp, where cattle seized from rancher Cliven Bundy was being held, near Bunkerville, Nevada, April 12, 2014. Jim Urquhart—Reuters

The Feds may have set a troubling precedent by allowing a Nevada rancher and his band of armed followers to win a standoff with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The rancher refused to pay more than $1 million in fines for letting his cows graze on government land

It could have been a catastrophe. For several days last week, hundreds of angry protesters faced off with federal workers on an arid ranch near Bunkerville, Nev. Militiamen squatted among the sagebrush and crouched on a highway overpass, cradling guns and issuing barely veiled threats at the government officials massed behind makeshift barricades. The specter of a violent standoff hung over the high desert.

The hair-trigger tension seemed at odds with the arcane origins of the dispute. Twenty years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to clear privately owned cattle off this patch of public land to protect the endangered Mojave Desert tortoise. Dozens of ranchers left. Cliven Bundy stayed.

Rancher Cliven Bundy poses at his home in Bunkerville, Nevada, April 11, 2014.
Rancher Cliven Bundy poses at his home in Bunkerville, Nevada, April 11, 2014. Jim Urquhart—Reuters

Bundy, 68, has refused to recognize federal authority over the land, or to pay the feds for allowing his cattle to graze there. Those accumulated fees and fines now total more than $1 million, according to the government. Armed with fresh court orders, the government moved last week to impound a few hundred of the rancher’s cows.

Bundy balked, and the far right-wing media sounded a clarion call for his cause, casting the standoff as a flashpoint in a broader struggle against federal oppression. A cavalry of patriots arrived, bearing weapons and a seemingly bottomless grudge against the government.

On April 12, BLM retreated, abandoning the round-up amid “serious concerns” over the safety of federal employees. The cattle “gather is over,” BLM spokesman Craig Leff says. No shots were fired; no blood was spilled. Bundy declared victory in the Battle of Bunkerville. His supporters festooned a nearby bridge with a hand-lettered sign reading: “The West Has Now Been Won!”

For the government, it is not yet clear what was lost. The decision to de-escalate the situation was a wise one, according to officials familiar with the perils posed by such confrontation. “There was no need to have a Ruby Ridge,” says Patrick Shea, a Utah lawyer and former national director of BLM, invoking the bloody 1992 siege at a remote Idaho cabin, which became a rallying cry for the far right. Shea praises BLM’s new director, Neil Kornze, for defusing the conflict and skirting the specter of violence. There are plenty of ways for the government to recoup the money Bundy owes, Shea says, from placing liens on his property to collecting proceeds when the cattle go to slaughter. When you have been waiting a generation to resolve a dispute, what’s another few weeks?

But prudence may also set a dangerous precedent. Having backed down from one recalcitrant rancher, what does BLM do the next time another refuses to abide by the law? “After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million,” Kornze said in a statement. “The bureau will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially.” A BLM spokesman would not say what those remedies might be, and declined to make officials available to explain how the agency may treat similar situations in the future.

The government’s legal case against Bundy is strong. It has been winning courtroom battles against the rancher since 1998, and over the past two years has obtained court orders requiring Bundy to remove his cattle from public lands. This month’s roundup was a long-threatened last resort, and Bundy’s success in spurning it could spark copycat rebellions.

“I’m very concerned about that, as I’m sure others are,” says Bob Abbey, a former BLM director and state director for Nevada. Nearly all ranchers whose animals graze on public land are in compliance with federal statutes, Abbey says. But “there always is a chance that someone else may look at what happened with Mr. Bundy and decided to take a similar route.”

Especially since Bundy has become something of a folk hero for people who resent federal control of the old American frontier. The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of land, including about 60% of the territory across a swath of 12 Western states. About 85% of the land in Nevada is managed by the feds.

Bundy, whose ancestors have inhabited the disputed land since the 19th century, rejects this arrangement. The rancher, whose family did not respond to multiple interview requests from TIME, says he does not recognize federal authority over Nevada’s public land. “I abide by all state laws,” he said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “But I abide by almost zero federal laws.” He has warned that the impoundment of his cattle would spark a “range war,” and said in a court deposition that he would attempt to block a federal incursion, using “whatever it takes.”

Likeminded libertarians in the West have resurrected the spirit of the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a 1970s-era movement to transfer control of federal lands to the states. Demar Dahl, an Elko County, Nev., commissioner and longtime friend of Bundy, says the rancher is willing to pay the back fees he owes (though both dispute the amount) to the county or to the state, but not the federal government. “He says the federal government doesn’t have the authority to collect the fees,” Dahl says. “You can call him bullheaded. He’s a strong and moral person. He decides what needs to be done and how, and where he stands.”

To Bundy’s supporters, the legal proceedings are nothing but a land grab. And some of them believe government invoked the protection of the desert tortoise as a pretext. This line of thinking holds that Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader whose former aide, Kornze, now runs the BLM, wants to requisition the land so that his son and Chinese investors can build a lucrative solar farm. At the same time, the left sees in the resistance the ubiquitous hand of the Koch brothers, whose main political outfit, Americans for Prosperity, has rallied support for Bundy.

While the protesters have mostly dispersed, the standoff “isn’t over,” Reid declared Monday. And local officials know just how close they crept to a cataclysmic incident. “That was as close to a catastrophe as I think we’re ever going to see happen,” Dahl says.

The high drama seemed to stoke a sense of theatrics in the protesters. At a press conference on April 14, they invoked battles against the British and shouted quotes from the Scottish revolutionary William Wallace, memorialized in the Hollywood blockbuster Braveheart. The men who rode to Bundy’s defense got to play the hero in the movies of their minds; the threat is that the next climax doesn’t have a peaceful ending.

Bundy “would probably rather be a martyr than a profitable rancher,” says Shea, the former BLM director. “Eventually, you have to draw the line. We go through these sad episodes where fanaticism has to be brought under legal control. And inevitably, somebody is killed.”

TIME Crime

Officials Charge Suspect for Dropping Suspicious Bags Near Boston Marathon Finish Line

A policeman stands guard during a ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, on April 15, 2014.
A policeman stands guard during a ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings in Boston, on April 15, 2014. Xinhua/SIPA USA

Boston authorities charged a man with disturbing the peace, possessing a hoax device and disorderly conduct after he left two unattended backpacks near the Marathon finish line on Tuesday, a year after twin blasts killed 3 people and injured 260 others

Updated 2:40 a.m. E.T. on Wednesday

Authorities have charged a male suspect with disturbing the peace, possessing a hoax device and disorderly conduct after he left two unattended backpacks near the Boston Marathon finish line Tuesday, the Boston Police Department announced:

Police evacuated the area Tuesday evening, and a bomb squad was called to investigate the scene. According to local news reports, one of the backpacks was allegedly left by a barefoot man shouting “Boston strong” before police removed him from the area.

Police spokesman David Estrada said there did not appear to be any evidence that the bags were explosive or dangerous but that police take reports of unattended bags very seriously, the Boston Globe reports. A nearby train station was also shut down.

The discovery of the bags occurred exactly one year after a bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon killed three people and injured 264 others.

TIME National Security

NYPD Nixes Muslim Spy Unit

Authorities have ended a widely criticized surveillance initiative that collected details about Muslim communities after a re-evaluation by the city's new police commissioner. The deacde-long program never produced leads about possible terrorist activity

The New York Police Department has shuttered a program designed to spy on Muslim communities, the department announced on Tuesday.

The surveillance initiative, which began in 2003 and was once known as the Demographics Unit, sent detectives into neighborhoods with Muslim populations to eavesdrop on conversations and record detailed information about where and how Muslims spent their time. The decision to end the program signifies a re-evaluation of the department’s post-9/11 intelligence policies by the city’s new police commissioner, William Bratton, the New York Times reports.

The department’s activities attracted both criticism from the FBI and civil rights organizations as well as multiple federal lawsuits.

“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York, told the Times. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the café where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”

The NYPD has admitted that its tactics never generated a lead about possible terrorist activity.

[NYT]

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