Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Bucks congressman's bill is in eye of Dodd-Frank storm


U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick
U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick

WASHINGTON - Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) stepped to the center this week of a growing national fight over rolling back parts of the Dodd-Frank banking reforms, passed to curb risky practices in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

A Fitzpatrick-sponsored bill to soften several Dodd-Frank regulations cleared the House on Wednesday, part of an effort, he and fellow Republicans say, to ease rules that have hindered investments in the economy.

"These are smart, technical reforms to an overly burdensome law," Fitzpatrick, a member of the Financial Services Committee, said on the House floor.

Most pieces of the Bucks County Republican's proposal had previously won bipartisan support.

Democrats, though, see the bill as part of an ongoing effort to subtly but substantially chip away at protections meant to shield Americans and the economy from risky banking practices.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) called Fitzpatrick's bill a "gift to a handful of the biggest Wall Street banks" that "masquerades as technical fixes."

The Fitzpatrick push comes after Republicans in recent weeks rolled back two other Dodd-Frank provisions by attaching them to critical bills - one needed to keep the government running, and the other reauthorizing a program that helps businesses obtain insurance against the risk of terrorism.

That left President Obama and Democrats feeling they had no choice but to reluctantly agree to changes, even as the left fumed.

Democrats now fear an ongoing effort to pry apart the financial law.

The fights have centered on arcane banking practices, a factor Democrats say has helped Republicans obscure their intentions.

Their main objection to Fitzpatrick's plan centered on a provision to delay, from 2017 to 2019, a piece of the Volcker rule (named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker) requiring banks to unload complex packages of debt known as collateralized loan obligations. The requirement had already been pushed back from 2015.

The Volcker rule is a critical piece of Dodd-Frank. It is aimed at limiting banks' exposure to risky investments.

Waters said some members of Congress have become too close to Wall Street. Securities and investment and commercial banking interests have been among Fitzpatrick's top campaign donors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, though he has received less from those sectors than many House members.

Major banks have spent heavily to lobby for changes in the Dodd-Frank rules.

The GOP has long objected to the rules, and with control of both houses of Congress, Republicans now have the power to force the issue.

But, unlike their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in full, Republicans have carefully picked at specific pieces of Dodd-Frank, linking the changes to more popular pieces of legislation.

They say the changes are minor, and accused Democrats of reflexively clinging to regulations.

U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) said Dodd-Frank has gone from ideology to "a religion."

Fitzpatrick's bill - the Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act - passed the House, 271-154, Wednesday, largely on party lines. Only 29 Democrats supported it and one Republican voted nay.

The plan has little chance of becoming law on its own: Senate Democrats are opposed and the White House issued a veto threat, saying the proposal would put "working and middle-class families at risk while benefiting Wall Street and other narrow special interests."

But Republicans could revive pieces of the plan by attaching them to a bill that has broader support.
Among the changes that drew the ire of Democrats was one that would shield some private equity companies from added scrutiny by giving them an exemption from registering with regulators.

Another would let some financial firms trade derivatives privately, instead of in more public clearinghouses.

Republicans argued that the changes were targeted at provisions that unfairly hit "Main Street."

"One-size-fits-all regulations hurt the economy by treating small- and medium-size companies as if they are large and multinational corporations," Fitzpatrick said in a floor debate Tuesday night.

Democrats scoffed at his contention, and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.) even took aim at the bill's title.

It "uses the veneer of job creation," he said, "to provide special treatment for well-connected corporations."


NATIONAL SECURITY: Border Patrol catches once-deported immigrant convicted of kidnapping


A convicted kidnapper is behind bars after he was caught in the Mission area after crossing into the United States.
Border Patrol agents came in contact with Jose Santiago Osegueda-Soriano.
A records check showed that Osegueda-Soriano was convicted of a kidnapping back in June 2007.
He was sentenced to five years in jail.
According to documents, Osegueda-Soriano was deported in March 2012 from Atlanta, Georgia.
Before he was deported, Osegueda-Soriano was told to not come back into the U.S. without permission from the U.S. Attorney General or the Secretary of Homeland Security.
This time around, he told Border Patrol agents that he came back through the city of Hidalgo illegally.
Osegueda-Soriano stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos Wednesday where he was denied bond.
Prosecutors believe Osegueda-Soriano is a “flight-risk” in this case since he has been convicted of kidnapping.


GOP donor Foster Friess launches new effort to boost Rick Santorum


Foster Friess, a wealthy conservative donor whose funds propelled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, will host a private gathering in Scottsdale, Ariz., this weekend to rally support behind Santorum’s potential 2016 bid.
A group of Republican business executives, as well as GOP consultants from South Carolina and Iowa, are scheduled to have conversations with Santorum about his strategy and with Friess about financing a national political operation.
John Brabender, a longtime Santorum adviser, confirmed the meetings Wednesday.
According to Santorum associates familiar with the sessions, both Santorum and Friess will address attendees and make clear they are working together as Santorum moves toward a run.
Santorum - a former Pennsylvania senator who won 11 primaries and caucuses during his insurgent 2012 campaign - will argue that his populist economic pitch and conservative following would make him a formidable contender in the primaries, aides said.
In an e-mail exchange last week with The Washington Post, Friess said that 20 Republican governors invited him to their inaugural celebrations this month, including a potential Santorum rival, Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.).But, he added, “I am clearly in the Santorum camp.”
The associates said Friess would also make an informal presentation this weekend about the need for Santorum to expand his grassroots-heavy financial network in order to compete with possible candidates such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who are both weighing a run and have deep reservoirs of support among top GOP donors.
Bush and his allies have already launched two new political action committees, including the Right to Rise super PAC, to begin fundraising and organizing ahead of his rivals.
Santorum came from behind in the polls to win the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses. That victory catapulted him into the first-tier of the primary race and made him one of Romney’s leading challengers for weeks.
Friess - who made his fortune in mutual funds - gave more than $2 million to a Santorum super PAC in 2012, enabling the candidate to stay on the airwaves across the country as the senator’s tight-knit and little-funded effort struggled to compete. But Friess also caused Santorum headaches with some of his remarks, including a televised joke about women using aspirin as a contraceptive: "The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly."
Since 2012, Santorum has been involved with a conservative advocacy organization he founded, Patriot Voices, and has worked on several Christian-themed film projects. On Tuesday night, he huddled in Washington with 33 friends and advisers, including his former Senate chiefs of staff, to discuss his 2016 plans.
“The Senator talked about his 2012 run, lessons learned from 2012, how he has laid the groundwork for a potential 2016 run,” Matthew Beynon, a Santorum confidant, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.
A Santorum entry would be complicated from the start by the crowded nature of the emerging GOP field, particularly on the conservative side of the party. In addition to Santorum, other tea-party favorites eyeing bids include former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rand Paul (Ky.), and Maryland neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Santorum, who rose to national prominence as an ambitious lawmaker and culture warrior, would aim to carve out his own space as a voice for working-class voters who can speak to the rising gap between the rich and the poor. Last year, he published a book, “Blue Collar Conservatives,” a manifesto for the campaign he envisions.
In February, Santorum will publish “Bella’s Gift,” about his young daughter, Isabella, who has a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18 and was hospitalized during Santorum’s 2012 campaign.


Lawmakers, advocacy groups pushing for civil asset forfeiture reform


By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Lawmakers and advocacy groups are calling for changes to the civil asset forfeiture system to ensure the tenant of innocent until proven guilty applies when taking people’s property.

State Sen. Mike Folmer, a Republican from Lebanon County, is sponsoring legislation that says property owners would have to be found guilty of a crime before prosecutors could take their money, conveyances or real property.

“If these guys are using their properties to do illegal activity and they’re convicted of that, rock and roll, seize it,” Folmer said. “That’s not the problem. The problem is due process actually being done.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the libertarian Institute for Justice supports the legislation, also sponsored by state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia.

Photo provided by Institute for Justice
FORFEITURE HORROR STORY: Chris Sourovelis and his family faced the prospect of losing their home through civil asset forfeiture.
Both organizations take issue with current law allowing prosecutors to seek forfeiture of property that might be connected to a crime, even if somebody other than the property owner committed the crime and regardless of whether a property owner is convicted of wrongdoing.

Cash, vehicles and even homes can be stripped away if law enforcement suspects they were used in a crime or were proceeds from an illegal activity, such as a car bought with drug money.

In one high-profile case from Philadelphia, Chris Sourovelis’ family faced the prospect of losing their home after police found heroin in their son’s room. The parents were unaware of their son’s drug habits. The city eventually dropped the case, though a class-action civil lawsuit is ongoing.

Property owners can raise an “innocent owners” defense,  but because they aren’t entitled to a lawyer in civil cases most people don’t even know about it or how to use it, said Scott Kelly, an ACLU of Pennsylvania attorney who is working on forfeiture issues. Most cases in Philadelphia end up in default, he said.

Folmer and Williams’ legislation, plus another proposed bill in the state House, places a bigger onus on law enforcement. The intent is protecting constitutional rights, said Folmer, who noted he doesn’t have a problem with convicted criminals losing property involved with illegal activity.

But prosecutors already object to the idea, saying civil asset forfeiture is an important tool in the fight against the illegal drug trade, and a process is in place that keeps law enforcement from automatically seizing property.

George Mosee, a deputy district attorney in Philadelphia who worked in the narcotics division when most of today’s civil asset forfeiture policies were established, argued the legislation would be impractical.

It can take a long time to prosecute a case to completion, and waiting to take property out of the hands of criminals using it for illegal purposes “would completely water down the effectiveness of forfeiture practices,” Mosee said.

“What forfeiture always did is it stopped the activity, and frankly that’s the primary purpose of seizing property,” he said.

In the instance of the Sourovelis family, he said, it was never prosecutors’ intent “to fight that tooth and nail.” Instead, law enforcement used forfeiture as leverage to ensure problems didn’t arise and then said the family could have its property back.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, a member of the executive committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said despite some “troubling cases” thousands of forfeiture proceedings occur each year without incident.

Plus, Marsico said, proceeds from forfeiture pay for important work, such as overtime for officers working drug investigations,  money for undercover officers and vehicles for investigations.

“If we didn’t have those funds, taxpayers would be hit up heavily, and efforts to stem the tide of drugs like illegal heroin and other drugs, those efforts would really suffer,” Marsico said.

But critics of civil asset forfeiture believe it’s a conflict of interest for law enforcement to use the process to fund itself.

In a memo seeking support for their legislation, Folmer and Williams’ pointed out that more than half of the nearly $17 million that Philadelphia raked in through forfeiture from 2007 to 2010 went toward salaries.

Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice — which is bringing the case against the Philadelphia Police Department and the city’s District Attorney’s Office — said state lawmakers and local elected officials have “abdicated” their responsibility to allocate funding and turned that duty over to law enforcement via civil asset forfeiture.
“It’s like giving the police their own taxing power,” McGrath said.

McGrath thinks the proposed legislation would help stop that and make prosecutors act more carefully when it comes to taking somebody’s property.

“We’re saying if you want to fight criminals, make sure they’re criminals,” Kelly said.




Police say a newborn was found burning on a road in Pemberton Township, New Jersey late Friday night.

Police say a newborn was found burning on a road in Pemberton Township, New Jersey late Friday night.

The incident happened on the unit block of Simontown Road.

Officers were called to the scene after a report of some type of commotion outside a residence.

They arrived to find a newborn baby on fire in the middle of the road and a woman hysterical nearby a vehicle.

The officers douse the flames, but the baby was burned over most of its body.

The baby was flown to Temple University Hospital's burn unit in critical condition.

The baby has since been transferred to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.

The woman was taken to Deborah Hospital in Browns Mills, New Jersey in stable condition.

Police have not said if the woman is the baby's mother.

Officers are still trying to piece together what happened.


McAllen dad upset over son's suspension over alleged drug use


It has been more than a month since Robert Flores and his son Michael lives were turned upside-down.
“I just feel like I have failed my son,” said Flores.
He said it all started with a phone call from his son's school.
"They called my wife and told her that Michael was under the influence of drugs," explained Flores.
Flores told Action 4 News that school officials performed a sobriety test on his son, and that's how they determined Michael was under the influence of drugs.
Flores then drove straight to a drug testing facility where he got his 15-year-old son tested.
"They did the testing on regular drugs. Then I called Mr. Carmona and told him test came back negative and he said that synthetic doesn't come out on that," explained Flores.
Flores went back for a second test but that time for synthetic marijuana.
"It came back negative again," he said.
But still, Flores said that the school did not honor the test and placed Michael on in-school suspension.
A week later, Flores and his son attended a hearing with school officials and at that time school officials placed Michael in an alternative learning school.
Another week later, Flores met with a school official for and appeal.
“He still decided that it would be best for Michael to go to the I and G center," Flores said.
Action 4 News contacted the school for a comment, but because of privacy issues they could not comment on the case. However they issued this statement.
"The district has protocols in place for students who exhibit suspicious behavior. If there is reasonable belief a student is under the influence, they are subject to a mandatory removal from campus pending a hearing. This is a state policy. All students are afforded an appeals process,” said the statement from the McAllen Independent School District.
Even though Michael had a hearing and an appeal, he is still stuck attending a disciplinary alternative education program.
"He's not happy there," said Flores.
The school spokesperson could only tell Action 4 News that once a reasonable belief is established, protocol kicks in.
The school will evaluate Michael after 45-days and Flores said he hopes that evaluation will prove that his son is a good kid and he can return to his regular high school.


Pennsylvania teachers’ union accused of ignoring state law — FOR FOUR DECADES


By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A law firm representing a Pennsylvania college professor has accused the state teachers’ union of ignoring — for more than four decades — a law requiring it to report the use of dues money for political contributions.

It’s the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between Mary Trometter, an assistant professor of culinary arts at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the National Education Association, which in a letter urged her husband to vote for Gov.elect Tom Wolf.

Trometter filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in November. Her attorney, David Osborne of The Fairness Center, argues that the NEA letter and PSEA publications supporting Wolf’s candidacy are illegal under a 1970 state law.

The law says unions cannot use organization funds to make contributions in support of a political candidate, and they must report violations to the state within 90 days, he argued.

An open-records request, “despite PSEA’s enormous levels of candidate support over the decades,” found no instance in the past 45 years in which the PSEA reported such contributions, Osborne said in a written statement.

Photo courtesy of the Commonwealth Foundation
FLOUTING THE LAW?: An attorney for Mary Trometter, shown above, has accused the state teachers’ union of ignoring a state law for more than four decades.
“This is just the latest example of PSEA’s flagrant disregard for state law and abuse of union members’ money, as Mary Trometter’s experience illustrates,” he said.
The PSEA and NEA see the situation differently.

“The Fairness Center’s hyper-charged claims are based on an unfortunate and inaccurate mixture of apples and oranges,” PSEA spokesman David Broderic said, adding that current law allows the union to communicate with members and their immediate family about political issues and candidates.

That filing pointed to the state Elections Code, saying it allows the union to spend treasury funds to communicate with its members and their families on any subjects, including recommending a candidate for public office.

Construing the Public Employe Relations Act enacted in 1970 to extend to the communications at issue, as Trometter has done, would raise “grave concerns about its constitutionality under the First Amendment,” the union argued.

In mounting its argument over what a contribution is, the unions cited the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing outside groups to contribute virtually unlimited amounts of money — including so-called dark money.

The Fairness Center has filed a rebuttal to the PSEA, and Osborne blasted the unions’ use of Citizens United, pointing to the NEA’s past comments the decision was “drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans.”

“Nobody likes hypocrisy,” Osborne said. “Not only are PSEA and NEA using Citizens United to defend their actions after condemning it, but they are citing a court ruling from 2010 to defend actions they’ve engaged in for decades. These unions are arbitrarily assuming the power to pick and choose what laws they will and will not follow.”

The NEA did not immediately respond to a message left with the press office, but Broderic held firm that no law was violated.


He Failed to Inspect Kermit Gosnell’s Abortion Clinic, Pennsylvania’s Gov Names Him to Same Job


Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Wolf is igniting controversy for his decision to appoint a long-time Secretary of State to reassume his post. The reason? The Department of State failed during the secretary’s tenure to take action against now-convicted abortionist Kermit Gosnell, years before he was brought to justice.
Gosnell is now in prison following his conviction in the deaths of three full-term infants and one female patient at his West Philadelphia abortion facility. The abortion center has been called a House of Horrors by prosecutors.
The Gosnell grand jury report shows that the Pennsylvania Department of State had several opportunities to put Gosnell out of business, but failed to do so, under former secretary Pedro Cortes. Cortes served as Secretary of State from April 2003 to June of 2010. He was the longest-serving Secretary of State in the history of the Commonwealth.
Now, Governor-elect Wolf wants to re-appoint Cortes to the post.
But the question is, did Wolf read the Gosnell grand jury report before he made his decision?
“Indeed, in many ways (the Department of) State had more damning information than anyone else,” the grand jury wrote in reference to Gosnell.
Under Cortes, the Department of State closed a complaint without investigation into the death of a 22-year-old woman who died following a botched abortion at Gosnell’s facility. The same day, prosecutors chose to close an investigation brought about by a former Gosnell employee that indicated numerous violations, including using unlicensed workers to administer anesthesia; employing unsterilized instruments; and allowing flea-infested cats to roam the facility.
In 2006, despite the state not having any record of Gosnell being covered by insurance, investigators closed their probe into his insurance situation. And in 2009, another malpractice suit was ignored.
As the grand jury stated, “Pennsylvania’s Department of State neglected its duty to discipline a doctor engaged in unprofessional conduct.”
The grand jury further wrote that the problems with the Department of State went well beyond individual prosecuting attorneys.
“The Grand Jury is convinced – based on the number of state prosecutors who failed to take action against Gosnell, on the fact that the prosecutors’ supervisors uniformly approved recommendations not to take action, and on the testimony of Prosecuting Attorney (Juan) Ruiz – that the problem does not lie just with the individual attorneys. There are clearly problems with procedures, training, management, and motivation” at the Department of State.”
The prospect of Cortes being re-appointed as Secretary of State raises questions about whether Pennsylvania is poised to return to the days of lax regulation and failed enforcement that characterized the years during which Gosnell operated his abortion facility.


SHORT CUTS: Hispanic advocates want U.S. education to be easier


Too Many Tests in Colorado Schools Harm Latino Students

DENVER – The excessive use of academic exams in Colorado’s public schools puts Hispanic students at a disadvantage, because they’re not sufficiently in context for the growing Latino student body, Denver educators told Efe.

“Our kids are not only tested again and again, but are also tested in a way that doesn’t represent them,” said Nita Gonzales, director of the Escuela Tlatelolco school in Denver.

“Colorado’s standardized exams don’t include either the language or culture of a student body that gets more diverse all the time,” she said.

According to the Colorado Education Department, some 877,000 students attend the state’s elementary schools and high schools. Of those, at least 30 percent are Hispanic.

But in Denver – the biggest school district in the state with 87,000 students – 58 percent are Latinos, while in the Adams 14 School District in Commerce City north of Denver, 83 percent of the 7,300 students are Hispanic.

And in elementary schools of the Denver metropolitan area, the number of Hispanics frequently ranges between 60 and 90 percent of the students.

However, Gonzales said, there is still no “educational agenda” that reflects or respects this new demographic reality in Colorado schools, nor a “strategy” to force educational authorities to take responsibility for making the needed changes.

Arturo Jimenez, a member of Denver Public Schools’ board of directors, says the excessive use of tests – “from January to May, 16 hours a week” – is the result of confusing “innovation with blindly following all the trends imposed by Washington, D.C.”

“We’re returning to the past. We’re seeing a new segregation in the schools and the end of bilingualism,” Jimenez said.

According to the Colorado Education Department, 58 percent of Hispanic students who completed the 2014 TCAP achievement test in mathematics got an “adequate” score, compared with 82 percent of whites at the same level, while the scores in reading were similar. In writing, the number of acceptable scores was achieved by 33 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

“In Colorado we have the worst educational disparity in the country,” said Luis Torres, deputy provost for academic and student affairs at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“I don’t see how the situation will change. They’re violating our rights and we’re never there when they take those decisions. They don’t listen to us,” he said.


Google Glass to Be Withdrawn from Sale Starting Jan. 19


WASHINGTON – Tech giant Google has decided to suspend production and sales of its Google Glass virtual reality device from Jan. 19 onwards, but will continue to work on improving the product for a future return to the market, a company spokesman said on Thursday.

Google is likewise cancelling its two-year-old Glass Explorer program, under which the company solicited the opinion of users in order to incorporate changes they suggested.

The team working on the Glass will also cease being a part of Google X laboratory to be spun off and evolve as an independent unit.

“We’re officially ‘graduating’ from Google X to be our own team here at Google. We’re thrilled to be moving even more from concept to reality,” Google said in a statement Thursday.

The Google Glass is worn as a pair of eyeglasses with a small screen on the right side of the frame, on which information, which can be accessed via the Internet, is displayed.

Wearers can surf the internet, record videos and take photos, though the number of applications available for the device is still limited.

The release date for the glass, a product which people began talking about around the end of 2011, had been initially scheduled for the second half of 2014.

Since becoming available in limited quantities, the product has sparked criticism regarding privacy and public safety issues. For example, people are concerned about the possibility of drivers being distracted when they are behind the wheel.

A recent survey revealed that about half of U.S. adults were worried by the impact of Google Glass on their privacy.

Except on April 16, 2014 when Google offered a limited number of its glasses for sale in the United States, the only way to acquire the wearable technology was by means of a special invitation issued by the company. 


Malaysia Contractor Admits to Bribing U.S. Navy Officials for a Decade


WASHINGTON – A Malaysian defense contractor has pleaded guilty to bribing U.S. Navy officials with luxury gifts for a decade as part of a massive corruption scheme, local media reported.

Leonard Glenn Francis, known as “Fat Leonard” for his portly physique, admitted Thursday in federal court in San Diego to bribery and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.

In a plea deal, the 50-year-old businessman agreed to forfeit $35 million in payments received and cooperate with prosecutors to discover all of the Navy officers involved in the scheme, although he still faces a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

Four current and former Navy officials, including Capt. Daniel Dusek, have admitted to accepting gifts from Francis in exchange for helping his company, Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia, overcharge that armed forces branch for fuel, food and other supplies as well as a range of port services.

Francis told the court he bribed the Navy officials with luxury trips, prostitute services, cash totaling as much as $500,000, Cuban cigars, and Spanish suckling pigs.

The defense contractor has provided prosecutors with the names of at least seven Navy officers who accepted the gifts, according to court documents.

Francis was arrested in September 2013 for overcharging the U.S. Navy by millions of dollars on hundreds of port contracts.

Although he initially denied the charges, he admitted to the scheme on Thursday and now is willing to cooperate with prosecutors.


PEDO HEAVEN: Group of Activists Wish to Open First British Gay School in 2018


LONDON – A UK group defending the rights of homosexuals announced on Friday its intention of opening, in three years’ time, the country’s first school for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.

The organization, LGBT Youth North West, plans on establishing an educational center with 40 permanent seats in Manchester, northern England, by 2018.

“This is about saving lives,” the director of LGBT Youth North West, Amelia Lee, told The Daily Telegraph.

The activist said that current laws do not serve to protect homosexuals from homophobia, while noting that cases of bullying in schools are “incredibly common.”

This “causes young people to feel isolated and alienated, which often leads to truanting and, in the worst cases, suicide,” Lee said.

Speaking to the same paper, the Conservative MP and former Minister of Education Tim Loughton warned that the move could establish segregation in the British educational system.

“We need to do a lot more to combat homophobic bullying and to create a more tolerant society. I cannot see how segregating a group of young people identified by their sexuality can aid better engagement and understanding,” said the politician.

According to Loughton, the way to achieve “more integration, understanding and empathy is not by segregating members of one group;” a move, he said, that would be a “step backwards from a more tolerant society.”

In this regard, LGBT Youth North West argues that the British education system is not prepared to address issues related to students’ sexual identities.

“Teachers in mainstream schools have problems tackling issues like homophobic bullying and coming out,” said Lee, who declared that schools are “the last bastion of homophobia.”

The activist recalled the recent case of 14-year-old Elizabeth Lowe, who committed suicide in a park in Manchester because “she was struggling with coming out and was worried about telling her parents.”


Sony to Shut 14 Canada Outlets in Next Two Months


TORONTO – Sony has announced its decision to shut down all of its 14 stores in Canada in the next two months without giving any reasons for the move.

Sony said in a statement Thursday that Canadians could continue to buy its products through the internet or other means like telephone or third-party retailers.

The company has five stores in Toronto, three in Vancouver, three in Alberta province, and one each in Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec, and employs a total of 90 people.

Though Sony did not give any reasons for the closure, the electronics company is known to be going through a difficult economic situation.

Analysts estimate that Sony is set to register losses amounting to $1.9 billion in the current fiscal year, which ends on March 31.

On the same day that Sony made its announcement, U.S. retail chain Target said that it would close its 133 establishments in Canada after accumulating losses of over $1.5 billion in its first two years of operations in the country.


FULL MELTDOWN MODE: Auto Production Plunges 72% in Venezuela


CARACAS – Venezuela’s auto sector produced 19,759 vehicles last year, a sharp decline of 72.46 percent relative to 2013, the Cavenez industry association said on its Web site.

Cavenez, which represents Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, General Motors and three other automakers, said in a report published Thursday that output in 2013 totaled 71,753 vehicles.

General Motors, which produces 13 models in Brazil, assembled 5,711 vehicles last year, followed by Ford with 4,900 and MMC Automotriz – the local assembler of Mitsubishi – with 3,785, according to the association’s report.

Toyota (3,280) and Chrysler (1,510) were the two other automakers that assembled more than 1,000 vehicles at their plants in Venezuela.

Vehicle production declined in 11 of the 12 months of 2014, the lone exception being December when output surged by 165 percent to 4,747 units, compared to 1,787 in December 2013.

Automakers are still struggling in early 2015 to obtain the dollars they need to import parts into Venezuela, where strict exchange controls established in 2003 after a costly opposition-led general strike remain in place.

Those companies say the crisis affecting the industry, which has an installed annual capacity of 250,000 vehicles, is the worst in the South American country’s history.

Venezuela’s government has sat down on several occasions with auto-sector representatives to try to alleviate the crisis, but the results of those meetings have not been disclosed.

A sharp drop in global oil prices has battered Venezuela, which relies on crude sales for more than 90 percent of the hard currency it needs to import basic products.

The country has entered into a technical recession, according to the Central Bank, which said on Dec. 30 that the economy contracted by 4.8 percent, 4.9 percent and 2.3 percent in the first, second and third quarters of last year. 


New York Post and UPI Twitter accounts hacked


The Twitter accounts of the New York Post and United Press International (UPI) have been hacked with fake tweets on economic and military news.
In one post, the Pope was quoted on UPI's Twitter feed as saying that "World War III has begun".
Meanwhile, the New York Post's account said that hostilities had broken out between the United States and China.
It is the latest hack of a high-profile social media account, four days after US military command was compromised.
UPI, which is based in Washington, confirmed in a statement that both its Twitter account and news website had been hacked.
Screen grab from 16 January of hacked New York Post Business Twitter account
Six fake headlines were posted on its Twitter account and a breaking news banner was added to a fake story about the Federal Reserve on its homepage, the statement added.
A tweet on the New York Post's account said the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier, was "engaged in active combat" against Chinese warships in the South China Sea.
A Pentagon official said the tweet about hostilities with China was "not true", AFP reports. The tweets have all since been deleted.
The New York Post says it is investigating the hack.
It comes just days after US President Barack Obama unveiled proposals to strengthen cyber security laws after a spate of attacks on high-profile US targets, including the Pentagon Twitter feed and Sony Pictures.
The Twitter account of the US military command was suspended last Monday following an attack by hackers claiming to support Islamic State.
In November hackers also released reams of confidential data stolen from Sony Pictures, and in recent years cyber criminals have attacked other US companies such as Home Depot and Target.
A number of media organisations, including AFP and the BBC, have also been subjected to cyber attacks over the past two years.


MAINSTREAM DISTORTION OF FACTS: A Boyfriend-girlfriend couple ages 18 & 13 is legally impossible...


FACT: An 18 year old male and 13 year old female are not equally capable of making a decision to run away and go on a crime spree. This is by definiton, "kidnap"!

‘Brazen And Dangerous’ Teen Couple Who Stole Ford Pickup, 2006 Toyota Tacoma With Guns Still On The Loose

Police said teen couple Cheyenne Phillips and Dalton Hayes are "increasingly brazen and dangerous."

Police are hunting a teen couple who stole cars with guns inside.

Dalton Hayes, 18, Cheyenne Phillips, 13, are the subjects of a law-enforcement search, which stretches from Kentucky to Georgia and possibly on to Florida.

In a press release, Sheriff Norman Chaffins of Grayson County, Kentucky described the two as "increasingly brazen and dangerous."
Phillips was reported missing by her father on Jan. 3. Chaffins told People, "At that time, we were just searching for her as a missing person. We had no clue that her boyfriend was involved."
More than a week after Phillips was reported missing, police learned that the 13-year-old teenager and her 18-year-old boyfriend had used a stolen Ford pickup to crash through farm gates. 
According to Chaffins, police searched for Phillips and Hayes in the woods and found a piece of clothing that belongs to the boyfriend. He said that the couple had over an hour head start on the police, who called off the search when it got dark.
Shortly after, a homeowner found the teen couple in his garage asking for a cup of water. But as soon as the homeowner turned around to get it, the two ran away with his red 2006 Toyota Tacoma. It was already too late when the police arrived 10 minutes later.  
On Jan. 12 Monday, Phillips and Hayes were spotted at a Walmart store in Manning, South Carolina. 
Through Louisville station WLKY Phillips's father, Shawn Phillips, told his daughter, "We love you. We want you to come home. Please come home."

Hayes' mother Tammy Martin also told another Louisville station WHAS 11 that she the last heard from her son was on Jan. 13, Tuesday. She said her son texted her that he loved her and that he would call her soon.