In wake of Trumps withdrawal from Paris climate accord, small-town USA says we are still in

19 0 11 Dec 2019

Jim Brainard is keeping a promise that the United States broke.

Brainard, mayor of Carmel, Indiana, a suburban city just north of Indianapolis, has pushed his town to make a variety of changes to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. City vehicles are now hybrids or run on biofuel. About 800 streetlights have been retrofitted with LED bulbs. Roundabouts in 122 intersections replaced traffic lights, a change that means cars don’t burn gas while idling at a stop.

“Of course, it would be ideal to set some national standards, but a lot of regulation on things that impact the environment is done at the state and local level, so we can have a huge impact,” he said.

Brainard is part of a growing coalition of leaders at the city, state and business levels who have remained committed to reducing carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, despite President Donald Trump’s announcement in 2017 that he plans to quit the climate accord.

Those efforts are making a difference. A new report released Monday by America’s Pledge, a climate-focused research initiative launched in 2017, found that the actions of cities, states and businesses can add up.

The report comes as world leaders gathered in Madrid this week to reassess the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including how to ramp up reduction efforts.

The report found that the We Are Still In coalition, a group of 3,800 mayors (of which Brainard is one), county executives, tribal leaders and businesses that account for more than half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, could reduce emissions 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 with climate policies that are already in place.

While that falls short of the United States’ original Paris pledge, which was calculated in order to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, it represents an encouraging baseline, said Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland in College Park, and one of the authors of the America’s Pledge report.

“It’s still remarkable that we can get to a 25 percent reduction with these policies,” said Hultman, who worked on climate and energy policy as part of the Obama administration from 2014 to 2016. “What this tells us is we need a lot more action and a lot more rapidly than what’s on the books today from cities, states and businesses.”

The roundabout in the Village of West Clay was named ” International Roundabout of the Year” by the U.K. Roundabout Appreciation Society in 2016.City of Carmel

The budding coalition represents a grassroots approach to climate policy that experts say could be crucial to keeping the country’s Paris accord pledges within reach. And it has some bipartisan support.

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Brainard is a Republican, and Carmel lies at the heart of one of the 10 largest coal-producing states in the country. As the mayor of a red city in a red state that has long been a Republican stronghold, he said that climate action is not at odds with his politics.

“The root of the word ‘conservative’ is ‘conserve,’” Brainard said. “Why would you want to recklessly disregard what scientists are saying about the environment if you are a conservative?”

He maintains that climate solutions should transcend party lines. “I’ve yet to meet a Republican or Democrat who wants their family to drink dirty water or breathe dirty air or leave the planet uninhabitable,” he added.

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which has since been ratified by 187 countries, former President Barack Obama pledged that the U.S. would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

But climate researchers say there are some parts of climate policy that need federal support to be most effective.

“If the federal government continues to occupy the posture that it’s in right now, the message to individual households or corporate decision makers is that the choice they are faced with is ambiguous,” said Jonathan Elkind, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University in New York City.

The America’s Pledge report also noted that in the event that the 2020 election results in an administration that supports ambitious climate action, that number could jump to a 49 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.

“We recognize that if we have an administration and a Congress that supports climate action, we could see a comprehensive U.S. climate strategy that layers an ambitious set of federal policies on top of leading state and city policies,” Hultman said.

But even without federal backing, states and cities can make significant progress on their own, particularly if local leaders face pressure from their electorate, according to Pam Kiely, the senior director of regulatory strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group headquartered in New York City.

“There is a real opportunity right now because there has been a phenomenal focus on climate change, driven by youth demanding big changes, but also many other people who are fed up with inaction on this crisis,” Kiely said.

Most states in the country have expansive authority to tackle and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, she said.

In California, for example, a cap-and-trade program introduced in 2013 used a market-based approach to reduce air pollution by limiting the state’s total emissions and allowing industrial companies to purchase pollution “allowances.”

The program aims to reduce the state’s emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels, and last year generated $1.4 billion that was reinvested in green initiatives such as installing solar panels and providing incentives for electric cars. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is looking to implement a similar policy framework, and the California cap-and-trade program has been held up as a model for other states and countries around the world.

States can also make significant investments in clean energy, electric vehicles and infrastructure, according to Elkind. And at the city level, local leaders can influence building codes, zoning laws and transportation systems, he added.

But other areas, such as the industrial sector, will be much more challenging to decarbonize, Kiely said. What’s more, support from the federal government is integral for sweeping initiatives and investment in research and development for new technologies and innovative approaches to fighting climate change.

“There is a tremendous amount that can be done at the city and state level, but I don’t think there’s a world in which it makes sense for the federal government to continue to sit on the sidelines,” she said. “We absolutely need to get back to a place where the U.S. is leading on climate action and we have a comprehensive federal strategy.”

And federal support will be critical for showing the global community that the U.S., the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is doing its part to combat climate change, Kiely said.

Yet, Elkind said the actions of cities, states and businesses are significant, and the implications should not be discounted.

“We can’t underestimate or trivialize the significance of states and localities saying: ‘we are still in,’” he said. “That alone should give a strong signal to people around the globe that there’s a bitter dispute unfolding in the United States right now over the right way to handle climate change, and that there are still hundreds of thousands — even millions — of people who are dead set on doing the right thing.”

New Zealands volcanic White Island is too dangerous to recover dead bodies

15 0 11 Dec 2019

Grieving relatives of those killed by an eruption at a New Zealand volcano this week will have to wait for the bodies to be recovered because it’s still too dangerous to step foot on the island, officials said Wednesday.

Fourteen people are feared dead on White Island some 30 miles off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island. They were among 47 tourists — nine from the United States — who were visiting the volcanic island when part of it exploded Monday in a hail of burning ash, steam and gas.

Many survivors suffered severe burns and New Zealand officials said they have ordered 1,300 square feet of skin from the U.S. to help treat their wounds.

On Wednesday, officials said they still cannot go near the disaster zone.

“The environment on the island has changed, with increased volcanic activity since early this morning,” said John Tims, deputy commissioner with New Zealand Police. “We are standing by and ready to go as soon as we can be confident that the risks on the island are manageable.”

Mourners place flowers on the waterfront near the base of White Island Tours in the Bay of Plenty on Tuesday.Marty Melville / AFP – Getty Images

The government’s geological research organization has warned that “the chance of a further eruption is significant and it is too dangerous to return to the island,” Tims told reporters.

The military and emergency services are now working on a plan of how to enter the deadly environment. Specialists are standing by to identify bodies if and when that happens.

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“We are confident in our ability to deliver the rescue operation once we can be sure we can manage the very real dangers that anyone going onto the island would face,” Tims added. “Those deploying to the island will likely encounter serious physical and chemical hazards, for which we must be prepared.”

Survivors have begun to recount in detail the horror in which this natural disaster played out. On Monday, pressure that had been building for months suddenly erupted into a powerful spray of 300-degree water.

The blast also contained ash, rocks and a few boulders the size of exercise balls, but it was likely the scalding water that was most deadly, The Associated Press reported.

Many of those on the island had taken a day trip from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas. Those who survived the blast had terrible burns and some ran into the sea screaming.

Lillani Hopkins, 22, had been to the crater and had just departed the island by boat when the eruption happened. Some of the injured were ferried on board by dingy, and Hopkins told the AP how she treated people with welts and burns that covered every inch of exposed skin.

She said other people’s faces were coated in gray paste, their eyes covered so they couldn’t see. Some were still screaming, but she said others had tongues thickened so they couldn’t talk.

“I really struggled to communicate because a lot were tourists and some didn’t speak any English,” she told the news agency. “It was really hard to try and figure out from them what was hurting. If they’re just screaming like it’s really hard to figure out where.”

Steam rises from the White Island volcano Wednesday.Marty Melville / AFP – Getty Images

Among those wounded in the eruption were Matthew and Lauren Urey, of Richmond, Virginia, who were visiting the island while on their honeymoon.

“It’s been a total nightmare,” Lauren Urey’s father, Rick Barham, told NBC News.

He said that his daughter is undergoing treatment for severe burns on 25 percent of her body, while her husband was in intensive care as of Monday with burns on 80 percent of his body.

The country’s burn units are full to capacity, according to the country’s Ministry of Health, and it is importing 1,300 square feet of skin from the U.S. “to meet the demand for dressing and temporary skin grafts,” chief medical officer Dr. Peter Watson said.

Questions still remain about why tourists were allowed on to the island just three weeks after New Zealand’s geological hazard agency raised its “volcanic alert level.”

That rating went from 1 to 2, indicating that eruptions of steam, gas, mud and rocks could occur with little or no warning.

Two subsequent updates on the GeoNet website in the following weeks said that the location and level of activity didn’t “pose a direct hazard to visitors.” The current alert level stands at 3.

The chair of the company that ran tours of the volcano said only at level 3 did they start conferring with monitoring agencies, according to a report by New Zealand’s state broadcaster RNZ.

Associated Press contributed.

LGBT indoctrination agenda? Petitions want to keep Hallmark family-friendly

20 0 11 Dec 2019

Two separate petitions are asking Hallmark to keep its content “family-friendly” by keeping the “promotion of homosexuality and transgenderism” out of its movies and advertisements.

One of the petitions was published Monday by One Million Moms, which bills itself as a group of parents who are working to stop the “exploitation of children” by entertainment media. The other petition was published last week by LifeSiteNews, a right-wing Catholic news organization that recently promoted a false story linking trans health care to thousands of deaths. The One Million Moms petition had over 16,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, while the LifeSiteNews petition had nearly 40,000, surpassing its goal of 35,000.

Both petitions are in response to recent comments from company executives who have expressed a desire to expand the diversity of the Hallmark network’s stories.

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In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bill Abbott, CEO of Hallmark’s parent company, Crown Media Family Networks, said the network is open to “any type of movie of any type of relationship in any space.”

Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of Crown Media Family Networks, echoed Abbott’s comments in a statement to The Wrap.

“We are continuing to expand our diversity,” Vicary said. “We are looking at pitches for LGBTQ movies … and we are looking to expand and represent the United States as a whole.”

Though Hallmark is rolling out 40 original holiday-themed movies this season, none of those movies include an LGBTQ main character — and One Million Moms and LifeSiteNews petitioners want to keep it this way.

“This is a good thing because it preserves children’s innocence and it allows parents to be the primary educators where sex and sexual morals are concerned,” the LifeSiteNews petition states. “Hallmark would be offending Christian viewers and Christian parents BIG TIME, by experimenting with homosexual themes, and, or cooperating with the LGBT indoctrination agenda.”

The petitioners also take issue with ads that feature same-sex couples. According to One Million Moms, the organization recently received complaints over an ad aired on the channel that featured a lesbian couple kissing at their wedding ceremony.

“Shame on Hallmark for airing commercials with same-sex couples and even considering movies with LGBT content and lead characters,” the One Millions Moms petition stated, before adding that family entertainment is not the forum to “be politically correct by forcing tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality.”

Neither Hallmark nor its parent company, Crown Media Family Networks, responded to NBC News’ requests for comment.

LGBTQ representation on television hit an all-time high in 2019, with 10.2 percent of series regulars identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, according to advocacy group GLAAD’s annual “Where We Are on TV” report. Though Netflix produces fewer holiday originals than Hallmark, Hallmark has fallen behind Netflix in terms of LGBTQ representation: One of the streaming service’s six holiday movies, “Let It Snow,” features LGBTQ lead characters.

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Nonbinary pronoun they is Merriam-Websters Word of the Year

18 0 11 Dec 2019

Merriam-Webster’s 2019 Word of the Year is “they” — the singular pronoun that has gained popularity as a way to refer to nonbinary people who identify as neither exclusively male nor female.

The decision, which was entirely data-driven and announced Tuesday morning, came after searches of the word trended all year, according to the dictionary’s editors.

“Pronouns are among the language’s most commonly used words, and like other common words (think ‘go,’ ‘do,’ and ‘have’) they tend to be mostly ignored by dictionary users,” Emily Brewster, senior editor at Merriam-Webster, said in a statement. “But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the nonbinary use, we’ve seen searches for ‘they’ grow dramatically.”

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“They” was looked up 313 percent more this year than the last year, Merriam-Webster revealed.

In September, the dictionary added the use of “they” as a singular nonbinary pronoun, citing the pronoun’s established place in language.

“We are always aiming to reflect usage,” Brewster said at the time. “It’s very clear that this is fully established in the language at this point.”

Data show searches for the word spiked during high-profile moments of visibility for nonbinary people throughout 2019, such as when nonbinary model Oslo Grace walked in the Paris Fashion Week in January; when Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., gave a tearful speech about her gender-nonconforming child at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in April; and when singer-songwriter Sam Smith, who had previously come out as nonbinary, announced in September that they would use they/them pronouns, Merriam-Webster said.

“In 2019, the increase in lookups for ‘they’ was so significant and sustained that it stood out from all the other top lookups when we went to analyze the data,” Brewster said, adding people turned to the dictionary to clarify its use and learn more.

Merriam-Webster said politics also sent many readers to its dictionary in 2019, with “quid pro quo” and “impeach” as other top lookups. The dictionary said another popular word was “camp,” the famously hard-to-define word that was the theme of this year’s Met Gala.

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Cuba Gooding Jr. accused by seven more women of sexual misconduct

18 0 11 Dec 2019

Seven more women have accused actor Cuba Gooding Jr. of forcible touching or sexual misconduct, according to a motion filed by prosecutors Monday in New York City.

Gooding, 51, faces three misdemeanor counts of forcible touching and three misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse involving incidents with three women, who allege the actor groped them without their consent. He has pleaded not guilty.

In court documents released in October, a dozen other women also accused Gooding of either inappropriately touching them or kissing them, though those allegations did not form the basis of additional charges against the actor.

In Monday’s filing from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, seen by NBC News, seven more women are telling similar stories. Along with the three women whose allegations form the basis of the criminal charges, this brings the number of alleged victims accusing Gooding of misconduct to 22.

Prosecutors seek to introduce these additional accusers as evidence of Gooding’s alleged “intent to gratify himself sexually” and a “lack of mistake or accident on his part.” The court has not yet decided whether these additional seven women will be permitted to testify.

Gooding’s lawyer, Mark Jay Heller, said the new accusations were “ancient and outdated and lacking in details.”

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“Cuba Gooding, Jr. has and does deny all allegations of criminal conduct — unfortunately, people come out of the woodwork, making false allegations against Cuba,” Heller said in a statement.

One woman said she was at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in 2009 when Gooding kissed her without consent and, after she pushed him away, touched her so forcefully near her crotch that her tights ripped, according to the court documents. She was only able to get away after biting him on the cheek.

Another woman who refused Gooding’s advances said the actor put his hands inside her pants and grabbed her buttocks and told her: “I know you want to be an actress; I can ruin you.”

Many of the seven women from Monday’s motion say Gooding kissed them without their consent, on the mouth or cheek. One woman accuses him of licking her cheek after she tried to avoid his kiss.Another woman says Gooding told her and a friend that they were going to urinate on him. During a future encounter, he told the same woman, “you’re going to sit on my face, pee in my mouth and pee all over me.”

Monday’s court filing sought to use the new allegations to portray a pattern of behavior.

“Similar to the first dozen incidents, these additional incidents each demonstrate that the defendant routinely approaches women while at bars or nightclubs with whom he has limited or no prior interaction, and touched them inappropriately,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors noted in court documents that Gooding’s legal team dismissed his actions as “commonplace gestures” that were “misperceived” because of a “hyper-sensitive” environment.

The district attorney’s office contended: “Touching a woman with the intent to gratify one’s self sexually or to degrade her is not innocent or common place behavior.”

Gloria Allred, who has represented several women in high-profile sexual misconduct cases, said Tuesday that she is representing a number of the new accusers. The attorney said that the women are willing to testify if the court allows them to speak at trial.

“I can assure Mr. Gooding’s defense lawyers that my clients will not be intimidated or deterred by unfair and untrue attacks upon them,” Allred said.

Diana Dasrath contributed.

Trump slams flimsy, pathetic, ridiculous articles of impeachment

14 0 11 Dec 2019

HERSHEY, Pa. — President Donald Trump bashed the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday just hours after House Democrats introduced two articles of impeachment, calling them “flimsy, pathetic, ridiculous articles of impeachment.”

“They are now admitting that there was no collusion, no obstruction of justice, there are no crimes,” Trump told a crowd of thousands of supporters at the Giant Center. “They are impeaching me and there are no crimes, this has to be a first.”

The two articles of impeachment announced on Tuesday charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote to pass the articles before leaving for the holiday recess, which would make Trump the third president in American history to be impeached.

“People are saying ‘there’s not even a crime, what happened?'” Trump said. “This is the lightest, weakest impeachment.”

Less than an hour after Democrats unveiled the articles of impeachment Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that the party was ready to move forward with the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), an updated version of the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

For months, Trump has criticized Pelosi and Democrats, saying they had allowed their interest in impeachment to distract from important legislative issues such as passing the updated trade deal.

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“I am thrilled to report that we are on the verge of ending the NAFTA catastrophe once and for all,” Trump said here Tuesday night, arguing that the timing of Pelosi’s announcement was not a coincidence.

“It [the USMCA announcement] plays down the impeachment because they are embarrassed about impeachment. And our poll numbers have gone through the roof because of her stupid impeachment,” Trump said, calling the USMCA deal the “silver lining” of the “witch hunt.”

Trump also addressed the long-awaited report by the Justice Department Inspector General released on Monday that said the decision to launch an FBI investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election was justified, though the bureau mishandled parts of its application to monitor a Trump campaign aide as part of the probe.

The overall finding did not alter the president’s usual tone on the investigation, which he painted as as politically biased plot against him as he said the report detailed “abuses of power” by “anti-Trump” individuals, saying it included evidence that the lives of “great people” were “destroyed by scum.”

Trump also mocked former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, frequent targets of the president’s, baselessly claiming that Page filed a restraining order against Strzok.

“Did I hear they needed a restraining order after this whole thing to keep him away from Lisa?,” Trump said, adding “I don’t know if it’s true.”

Earlier Tuesday, Page announced that she was suing the Justice Department and FBI for allegedly illegally leaking her personal messages with Strzok in violation of her privacy and making her a public target of the president’s.

Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point, or 44,292 votes. The state will be critical to his re-election in 2020, but recreating his 2016 success will not be easy. Recent Pennsylvania polls of registered voters in the state suggest Trump is trailing leading 2020 Democratic candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Trump’s campaign and his allies have insisted that impeachment will not jeopardize his re-election chances, but help solidify his base and motivate them to turn out.

Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, said that Trump’s supporters in the state agree with his take on the impeachment process, and that Trump’s job will be to get them excited to show up to vote for him again.

“Trump’s hope is to generate more enthusiasm among his core supporters. I think they will hang in with him, as they have nationally. It’s not about holding their support, but about generating excitement and enthusiasm,” Madonna said in an email to NBC News.

For some of Trump’s supporters here Tuesday night, the impeachment inquiry was doing the trick.

“The Democratic Party, in my opinion, is anti-American. I’m sorry, but it is true when all they want to do is impeach him,” said Kevin Andrews, a retired health care worker from the area.

“I think the Democrats need to do their job and leave him alone,” said Patricia Wolfe of Pennsylvania. “The way they don’t respect the president is unpatriotic.”

California lawsuit blasts SAT, ACT exams as discriminatory

19 0 11 Dec 2019

Students, educators and advocates are suing the University of California over its use of the SAT and ACT in college admissions decisions, accusing the 10-campus system of discriminating against applicants of color from low-income families by requiring standardized tests.

Supporters of the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in California Superior Court in Alameda County, say it’s the first of its kind and could have a far-reaching impact. While the SAT and ACT have been a standard admission tool in the United States for decades, aiming to offer objective criteria to compare students from different high schools, dozens of higher education institutions have dropped the tests from their admissions criteria amid a growing backlash.

“The results in California will be closely observed in the admissions world,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, an organization critical of standardized testing.

The SAT and ACT have been blasted by critics who cite research showing that scores are strongly associated with race, family income and student background. One 2015 analysis found that the lowest average SAT scores were among students from families who made less than $20,000 a year, while the highest were among students from families who made more than $200,000. The disparities are driven in part by expensive test prep programs that aren’t available to many students.

The tests’ defenders say they are not discriminatory but rather capture existing disparities in America’s education system.

Critics, though, say it would be fairer for colleges to consider high school grades, letters of recommendations and application essays instead. The California lawsuit argues that using the tests violates the state’s anti-discrimination statute because it puts children of color, children from low-income families and children with disabilities at a disadvantage.

The tests are “flawed,” said Kawika Smith, a Los Angeles high school senior who is the lead plaintiff in the California suit, which includes three other students, six advocacy groups and the Compton school district. “It does not account for my experiences, good and bad.”

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Smith, who took the SAT recently and has not received his score yet, said he expected to do poorly based on his low scores on the PSAT and practice tests. He said the numbers do not reflect his ability and the effort he has put into maintaining good grades, as he dealt with hunger, homelessness and the death of his brother earlier this year. Unlike his friends from more affluent families, he could not afford test prep courses that cost thousands of dollars per month.

A test score “doesn’t report on how I am working on healing the trauma,” he said.

Without a strong SAT score, Smith thinks he’ll have no chance of gaining admission to coveted schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley, his top choices.

The University of California has been reviewing its use of the SAT and ACT and last year asked a faculty task force to assess the exams’ impact. A spokeswoman said the university is “disappointed” that the students filed suit before the task force could finish its work early next year.

“The University of California has already devoted substantial resources to studying this complex issue,” the spokeswoman, Claire Doan, said in a statement.

Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm leading the legal effort, said the suit was too urgent to wait.

The SAT and ACT are a “useless metric,” he said. “It is that garbage that is determining the fate of these students.”

“It is known that these tests discriminate based on race,” Rosenbaum added, “and the failure to do anything about it, the stubborn insistence that discriminatory metrics must be part of the college admissions process, that is a smoking gun. It is a smoking gun telling us how deliberate racial discrimination works in the year 2019.”

The College Board, the company that makes that SAT, pushed back strongly against the claim that its test is discriminatory, calling that suggestion “false.”

“Any objective measure of student achievement will shine a light on inequalities in our education system,” Jerome White, a spokesman, said in a statement. The company said it has recently redesigned the exam to “improve college readiness and break down barriers to college” and it makes free personalized practice materials available to all students.

The nonprofit that makes the ACT said it was “committed to expanding access and ensuring fair testing for all students.”

“It is inappropriate to blame admissions testing for inequities in society,” the ACT organization said in a statement. “Differences in test scores expose issues that need to be fixed in our educational system.”

If successful, the suit would only affect admissions at the University of California. But its impact could reach beyond the state’s borders.

“Once the SAT and ACT fall in California,” Rosenbaum said, “I think the rest of the country won’t be far behind.”

Kentucky Gov. Beshear to restore voting rights to over 100,000 former felons

25 0 11 Dec 2019

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced in his inaugural address Tuesday that he’ll sign an executive order this week restoring voting rights to more than 100,000 people who’ve been convicted of felonies.

“My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches me forgiveness,” Beshear said in a speech outside the state Capitol in Frankfort.

“That’s why on Thursday I will sign an executive order restoring voting rights to over a hundred thousand men and women who have done wrong in the past but are doing right now. They deserve to participate in our great democracy,” the Democrat declared.

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“By taking this step, by restoring these voting rights, we declare that everyone counts in Kentucky. We all matter.”

No other details were immediately available, but it appears Beshear is essentially reinstating an executive order signed in 2015 by his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, that was suspended by his father’s successor, Republican Matt Bevin.

That order restored the right to vote and hold public office to more than 140,000 nonviolent felons who completed their sentences.

Andy Beshear, who had been the state’s attorney general, defeated Bevin in an upset win last month.

Of the 50 states, only Kentucky and Iowa still deny the right to vote to anyone convicted of a felony, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has been advocating a constitutional amendment to restore those rights.

The Beshears are the first father and son duo to serve as governors in Kentucky history.

His inauguration ushers in an era of divided government. Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in the state Legislature. But in remarks after taking the oath, Beshear urged the state’s leaders to resist the trend of political rancor and to reach across party lines.

“We also have the opportunity, no, I think it’s the duty, to prove to this commonwealth and this country that we can still govern,” he said. “Anger, insults, even hatred, have infiltrated the very sacred institutions of our government. And we see our neighbors viewing neighbors as the enemy … But right here and right now, we have a moment in time, maybe a moment in history, to get this right.”

Associated Press contributed.

Missouri teacher on leave after asking kids to set your price for a slave

22 0 11 Dec 2019

A Missouri elementary school teacher has been placed on administrative leave for giving students an assignment that asked them to “set your price for a slave.”

The in-class work was given to a 5th grade Social Studies class last week at Blades Elementary School in St. Louis. School administrators became aware of it over the weekend after a photo of the assignment was posted on social media.

“It is so wrong on so many levels,” Lee Hart wrote on Facebook. Hart said her friend’s child attends the school and was given the assignment.

“This was supposedly a westward expansion lesson,” Hart posted. “Some were given food, wood, water, and slaves!!!!!”

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The assignment, a copy of which was provided to NBC News by the Mehlville School District, instructs students to set a price for a number of items such as grain, fruit, fish, a container of oil and a cow. The last question asks the children to pick a price for a slave.

“You own a plantation or farm and therefore need more workers,” the lesson states. “You begin to get involved in the slave trade industry and have slaves work on your farm. Your product to trade is slaves.”

Blades Elementary School principal Jeremy Booker said the educator, who has not been identified, was attempting to teach students about “market practices” and the class was “learning about having goods, needing goods and obtaining goods and how that influenced early settlement in America.”

“Some students who participated in this assignment were prompted to consider how plantation owners traded for goods and slaves,” he said in a letter to the school community.

“The assignment was culturally insensitive,” he said, adding that the teacher “has expressed significant remorse.”

Chris Gaines, Superintendent for Mehlville School District, said that asking students to participate in an activity where they have to put a price tag on another person is unacceptable.

“Racism of any kind, even inadvertently stemming from cultural bias, is wrong and is not who we aspire to be as a school district,” he said in a letter addressed to the staff and district family members. “I am sorry and disappointed that this happened in our school.”

A spokesman for the district told NBC News that the teacher has been placed on administrative leave.

Booker said all teachers and staff will be provided “professional development on cultural bias.”

Federal judge blocks $3.6 billion transfer to fund border wall

18 0 11 Dec 2019

WASHINGTON — A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday ruled against President Donald Trump’s attempt to transfer $3.6 billion in military construction funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a 21-page opinion, El Paso, Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge David Briones issued a permanent injunction that prohibited the Trump administration from using the funds for border barriers.

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The ruling is a legal setback for Trump, whose administration has vowed to build at least 450 miles of wall along the border by November 2020, when the U.S. presidential election will take place. Trump has argued the wall will deter illegal border crossings, a major focus of his presidency.

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Top Democrats in Congress have criticized the project as wasteful and ineffective. They’ve also ripped Trump for using billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars for the wall after he promised during his presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for it.

The Supreme Court ruled in July that the Trump administration could access a separate pot of $2.5 billion from a Pentagon counter-narcotics fund to pay for wall construction pending a related appeal – a major victory for Trump.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said during a Nov. 20 press conference in El Paso, Texas, that 83 miles of border wall had been built under Trump. He said another 153 miles of border wall are currently under construction.

“President Trump has been clear,” Wolf said during the press conference. “We will build the wall, and he is following through on his promise.”