Alabama drops lawsuit challenging Census privacy method
The state of Alabama on Thursday asked to dismiss its lawsuit challenging the U.S. Census Bureau’s use of a controversial statistical method aimed at keeping people’s data private in the numbers used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts.
Alabama and three Alabama politicians had sued the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, in an effort to stop the statistical agency from using the method known as “differential privacy.” They also wanted to force the bureau to release the redistricting numbers earlier than planned. Normally, the data is released at the end of March, but the Census Bureau pushed the deadline to August because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Alabama originally claimed the delay was caused by the bureau’s attempt to implement differential privacy, which the state’s attorneys said would result in inaccurate redistricting numbers. A three-judge panel in June refused to stop the Census Bureau from using the statistical method. In July, Alabama and the Commerce Department asked that the lawsuit be put on hold so that the state could decide how to proceed after the redistricting data was released in mid-August.
“While we continue to believe that the Census Bureau’s production of intentionally skewed redistricting data half a year late was unlawful, dismissing the lawsuit now is in the state’s best interest to allow the Legislature to focus on redistricting based on the data it finally received,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Thursday in a statement.
Differential privacy adds intentional errors to the data to obscure the identity of any given participant in the 2020 census while still providing statistically valid information. The Census Bureau says more privacy protections are needed than in past decades as technological innovations magnify the threat of people being identified through their census answers, which are confidential by law.
Two actions by the Census Bureau also alleviated some of the Alabama officials’ concerns. First, the statistical agency released the data in August, instead of September as previously planned. Then, it reduced the amount of error injected into the data, Marshall said.
“Again, while not perfect, the resulting data Alabama received appears to be more accurate than it likely would have been had Alabama not drawn attention to the Bureau’s plans,” Marshall said. “Given these positive developments and the need to timely complete redistricting, dismissing the lawsuit at this stage makes sense.”
Justice Dept. sues Texas over state’s new abortion law
The Justice Department is suing Texas over a new state law that bans most abortions, arguing that it was enacted “in open defiance of the Constitution.”
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Texas, asks a federal judge to declare that the law is invalid, “to enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated.”
The Texas law, known as SB8, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity — usually around six weeks, before some women know they’re pregnant. Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas’ law differs significantly because it leaves enforcement to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.
Pressure had been mounting on the Justice Department not only from the White House – President Joe Biden has said the law is “almost un-American” – but also from Democrats in Congress, who wanted Attorney General Merrick Garland to take action. Earlier this week, Garland vowed the Justice Department would step in to enforce a federal law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
That law, commonly known as the FACE Act, normally prohibits physically obstructing access to abortion clinics by blocking entrances or threatening to use force to intimidate or interfere with someone. It also prohibits damaging property at abortion clinics and other reproductive health centers.
Police: Suspect in killings of Houston family killed himself
HOUSTON — A man suspected of killing a family of four and setting their Houston home on fire fatally shot himself as officers tried to arrest him Thursday, police said.
Firefighters discovered the bodies of a man and woman and two children Sunday morning after extinguishing a blaze at a southwest Houston home.
All four had been shot in the head, according to autopsies conducted by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. Authorities have not released the names of the victims. Police have said the adults were in their 50s and the children were 10 to 13 years old.
The fire might have been an attempt to destroy evidence at the scene, police said.
Investigators identified a 23-year-old man who was the son of the woman who was killed as the only suspect in the killings, said Houston Police Assistant Chief Yasar Bashir. Authorities have not released the suspect’s name.
On Thursday, officers tracked down a truck that had been missing from the family’s home and found the suspect inside. Police believe the man had been sleeping inside the truck but when officers approached him, he was awake, Bashir said.
As officers neared the truck and began to give the man instructions, he shot himself once in the head, Bashir said.
The man was taken to a hospital, where he died.
Police are still trying to determine why the man was parked where they found him, less than four miles from the scene of Sunday’s killings.
Investigators believe a weapon found at the scene on Thursday is similar to the one used to kill the family, but additional testing needs to be done to confirm if it is the same weapon, Bashir said.
A specific motive has not been determined in the shooting of the family.
“We should not take family violence lightly,” Bashir said. “I think it’s really preventable if you reach out, get some additional help.”
Michael Constantine of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ dies at 94
Michael Constantine, an Emmy Award-winning character actor who reached worldwide fame playing the Windex bottle-toting father of the bride in the 2002 film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” has died. He was 94.
Constantine died Aug. 31 at his home in Reading, Pennsylvania, of natural causes, his family said. The news was confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday by his agent, Julia Buchwald.
Constantine made appearances on such TV shows as “My Favorite Martian,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Bonanza,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Fugitive,” “Quincy, M.E.,” “The Love Boat,” “Remington Steele,” “MacGyver” and “Murder, She Wrote.” His big break came in the role of a principal on “Room 222,” an ABC comedy-drama set in a racially diverse Los Angeles high school, for which he won an Emmy for outstanding performance by an actor in a supporting role in 1970.
But he became best known for his work in the indie comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which centered on a middle-class Greek American woman who falls in love with an upper-middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Constantine reprised his role on the TV series “My Big Fat Greek Life” and in the 2016 film, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.”
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” became the highest-grossing romantic-comedy of all time with a $241.4 million domestic gross. It was based on writer-star Nia Vardalos’ one-woman play and produced by Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson for just $5 million.
“Michael was always the kindest person,” Wilson wrote on Instagram. “He had time for everyone, and when you were with him he made you feel like you were the only person in the room. He will be with us forever in our hearts and for future generations who will watch his work.”
Constantine initially auditioned for the part of Gus and told The Hollywood Reporter that he was anxious to read Vardalos’ script, leery about how it might represent the Greek American experience.
“I was anxious about someone writing some Greek thing. Was it going to be baloney or was it going to be something by somebody who really knows Greeks? So I read the script and I said, ‘Yes, this person obviously knows Greeks,’” he said.
Vardalos paid tribute to Constantine on Twitter, writing: “Acting with him came with a rush of love and fun. I will treasure this man who brought Gus to life. He gave us so much laughter and deserves a rest now.”
Constantine was the son of Greek immigrants. He started his career on stage and was on Broadway in the late 1950s and early ’60s in such shows as “Arturo Ui,” “The Miracle Worker” and “Inherit the Wind.”
He made his big-screen debut alongside Mickey Rooney in “The Last Mile” and had roles in “The Hustler,” “Don’t Drink the Water,” “Prancer,” “The Reivers,” “My Life” and “The Juror.”
Constantine was married and divorced twice. Survivors include his sisters, Patricia Gordon and Chris Dobbs.
House Dems begin moving parts of Biden $3.5T domestic plans
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats began pushing plans for providing paid family and medical leave, easing climate change and bolstering education through House committees Thursday as they battled Republicans and among themselves over President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion vision for reshaping federal priorities.
Five separate panels worked on their slices of the 10-year proposal, early steps in what looms as a fraught autumn for Democrats hoping to enact a remarkable range of major policy changes. They face not only solid GOP opposition but internal divisions among progressives and moderates in a Congress they control so narrowly that they can afford only three House defections, none in the Senate.
“We have a once-in-a-generation chance to make transformative, beneficial change,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., as his tax-writing panel debated its pivotal chunk of the voluminous legislation. “This is our moment to lay a new foundation of opportunity for the American people.”
Republicans cast the still-evolving measure as an economy killer that would raise taxes, cost jobs, worsen federal debt and make people increasingly reliant on government. In a signal of the broad political potency they believe the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan offers, they repeatedly conjured that image to belittle Democrats’ economic plans.
“Following the humiliating Afghanistan surrender, now President Biden is leading America on an economic surrender to China, Russia, Europe and the Middle East,” said the top Republican on Ways and Means, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas.
In an early manifestation of Democratic unrest, one member of the Ways and Means panel said that for now, she planned to vote against that committee’s portion of the bill.
Moderate Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., complained that lawmakers still lacked information on how much it would cost and had not been shown key portions of it dealing with taxes and prescription drug prices. Murphy is co-chair of the House Blue Dog Coalition, whose members include some of Congress’ most conservative Democrats.
“I don’t know how much we’re spending, how much we’re raising, how we’re spending some of the money and how we’re raising any of the money,” Murphy told her colleagues.
Democrats have said they will pay for much of the overall bill by raising taxes on the rich and corporations. They’ve said no one earning under $400,000 annually would face higher levies.
By Thursday afternoon Neal had not released details of any revenue proposals, including the tax boosts or some tax cuts his party wants to use to help ease people’s costs for health care and other needs.
Also not released yet were Neal’s plans to let Medicare save money by negotiating prices they pay for prescription drugs, another way they hope to raise money for the bill’s priorities.
Moderate Democrats — mostly prominently Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — have said the bill’s proposed $3.5 trillion cost is too high. Congressional Democratic leaders have conceded that the price tag may have to fall to retain moderate votes, causing anger among progressives who want the package to spend as much as possible.
House and Senate Democrats also must still reach agreements on many issues, including key questions about overall spending and revenues.
The Ways and Means portion of the measure is to contain many of Biden’s top priorities. These include creation of up to 12 weeks per year of family and medical leave for all workers beginning in 2023. The benefit would pay the lowest-earning workers up to 85% of their wages, a percentage that would fall for higher earners.
Democrats on the committee batted down Republican amendments. One by Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., would have delayed the paid leave program from taking effect until six months after the Treasury Department would certify that the government had enough expertise to start it.
Separately, the House Education and Labor Committee was working on a proposed $761 billion in spending to create free pre-school and community college and increase funds for job training, nutrition programs and modernizing public school buildings.
The House Natural Resources Committee was working on $30 billion for addressing climate change and other environmental issues. This includes money to protect coastlines from rising seas and create Biden’s proposed Civilian Climate Corps, which would employ hundreds of thousands of people on environmental projects.
Other panels were working on provisions for small business and science programs.
Top Democrats want to quickly assemble the overall bill, which 13 House committees are crafting, by late September in hopes of moving it through the full House and Senate. That may well prove overly ambitious.
That speed is partly designed to satisfy moderates, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has told can expect consideration of a separate $1 trillion infrastructure measure by month’s end. Moderates consider that public works bill their top priority, and leaders will need their backing to pass the larger, $3.5 trillion bill.
Trump endorses GOP challenger to Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump endorsed a Wyoming attorney on Thursday in his campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, one of his most vocal Republican critics.
Trump endorsed Harriet Hageman, who launched a primary campaign Thursday against Cheney, the most prominent member of Congress to vote for Trump’s second impeachment. The endorsement is his most significant to date as he works to maintain his status as GOP kingmaker and tries to exact revenge on those who voted to impeach him or blocked his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“I strongly endorse Republican House of Representatives Candidate Harriet Hageman from Wyoming who is running against warmonger and disloyal Republican, Liz Cheney,” Trump said in a statement. “Harriet has my Complete and Total Endorsement in replacing the Democrats number one provider of sound bites, Liz Cheney.”
Cheney responded in a tweet: “Here’s a sound bite for you: Bring it.”
Trump has already endorsed several Republicans challenging GOP incumbents, including Kelly Tshibaka, who is running against Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska; Michigan State Rep. Steve Carra, who is trying to unseat longtime Rep. Fred Upton; former White House aide Max Miller, who is running against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez in Ohio; and Joe Kent, who is challenging Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington.
All voted in favor of impeaching Trump for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Trump met with Hageman last month as he assessed the potential candidate pool, hoping an early endorsement would help clear the field and prevent a crowded primary that might be advantageous to Cheney’s reelection bid. At least half a dozen other Republicans have announced their intentions to run.
Hageman was an early supporter of Cheney’s unsuccessful attempt in 2013 and 2014 to oust popular U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi. But in a statement from her campaign, she said she is “taking on Cheney, who has angered Wyoming voters and was censured by the Wyoming Republican Party earlier this year, largely for her support of the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump.”
“The people of Wyoming deserve leaders who reflect their views and values, but Liz Cheney betrayed us because of her personal war with President Trump, who won Wyoming by massive majorities twice,” Hageman said. “Cheney has lost the trust of the people of our state, just as she has lost any ability to be a leader for us in Washington, D.C.”
Hageman finished third in a six-way Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018, getting 21% of the vote. She grew up on a ranch near Fort Laramie in southeastern Wyoming. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Wyoming.
She’s listed as a senior attorney with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that aims to protect “constitutional freedoms from violations by the administrative state,” according to its mission statement.
Her Cheyenne law firm touts its ties to Wyoming’s ranching industry and Hageman’s involvement in lawsuits over wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, grazing on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land and water rights, among other issues.
She recently expressed support on Facebook for a new Texas law banning most abortions and has been a longtime cheerleader for the state’s coal mining industry.
Undercutting a common line of attack against Cheney — that she spent most of her life outside Wyoming before moving to Jackson Hole in 2012 — Hageman told The Associated Press in 2013 that Cheney’s family had a long history in Wyoming and that such criticism was a “distraction.”
Hageman also donated $1,500 to Cheney for her successful first run for the U.S. House in 2016, and photographs of the pair together were already being used as campaign fodder.
The Justice Dept. Sues Texas Over Abortion Law
The move is the first major step by the Biden administration to confront the new law, the nation’s most restrictive in terms of abortion access.
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we need to talk about the new terror threat taking root in our own backyard
As we reflect this weekend on the 20th anniversary of the horrific 9/11 terror attacks and send a communal prayer of love and healing to the thousands of people who lost a loved one or whose lives were irrevocably altered that day (including the hundreds of first responders exposed to toxic carcinogens at Ground Zero), we cannot forget the growing threat of far-right terrorism that is right here, in our own backyard.
In an analysis of terrorist acts that have occurred in this country in the 20 years since 9/11, it is not Islamist fundamentalists that have posed the biggest threat but, rather, far-right extremists.
“The past few years have witnessed an explosion of far-right violence and the normalization of the extremist ideas that drive it. In the United States in 2019, 48 people were killed in attacks carried out by domestic violent extremists, 39 of which were carried out white supremacists, making it the most lethal year for such terrorism in the country since 1995. In 2020, the number of domestic terrorist plots and attacks in the United States reached its highest level since 1994; two-thirds of those were attributable to white supremacists and other far-right extremists. In March of this year, the FBI had more than 2,000 open investigations into domestic violent extremism, roughly double the number it had open in the summer of 2017,” writes Cynthia Miller-Idriss, the director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab, in an in-depth article, “The War on Terror Supercharged the Far Right,” published in the Aug. 24 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that shows how our nation’s 20-year War on Terror “has supercharged the far right.”
Miller-Idriss is far from alone in her analysis of the growing threat of far-right terrorism in the U.S. On March 1, the Director of National Intelligence Office released a report showing domestic violent extremism (DVE) poses a heightened threat in 2021, stating: “Enduring DVE motivations pertaining to biases against minority populations and perceived government overreach will almost certainly continue to drive DVE radicalization and mobilization to violence.”
Even more relevant to everyone who has been following the local arguments erupting at Camas and Washougal school board meetings, the report warned that “newer sociopolitical developments — such as narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence — will almost certainly spur some DVEs to try to engage in violence this year.”
Two weeks ago, members of the Proud Boys, a group the Canadian government deemed a right-wing “terrorist entity” in February of this year, showed up to a Washougal School Board meeting.
A man who spoke at the Aug. 24 school board meeting sported a #freerufio t-shirt — a reference to the Ethan Nordean, also known as Rufio Panman, a Proud Boys leader charged with conspiracy in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack — and identified himself as a member of the Proud Boys, an all-male group of self-described “Western chauvinists.”
“Every man sitting on this board, every single one of you, is a coward,” he said. “You have the power to stand up to end (critical race theory), end the sex ed, end the masks, end all of this bullshit, but you won’t ‘cause you’re cowards.”
The Proud Boy member, who described himself as a combat veteran, also called out board member Donna Sinclair, telling the history professor: “You know nothing about our brotherhood. In fact you’re scared of it, and all you can do is hide behind your mask, and hide behind your laws, your rules.”
The man then made veiled threats against the board members, telling them “Guess what? One day, all that power’s going to be gone, ‘cause the people gonna take it back. And every single person in this room won’t forget who each and every single one of you are — especially the men.”
Days later, Proud Boys showed up to three Vancouver schools to protest a mask mandate and caused lockdowns during the students’ first week back.
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization founded by a Chicago attorney in 1913 that seeks to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment for all,” describes the Proud Boys as “violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic” with “some members espousing white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies and/or engaging with white supremacist groups.”
In April, National Public Radio published an article about the Proud Boys’ history of violence, and quoted Christian Picciolini, “a former extremist who now helps people disengage from the white supremacist movement” as saying the Proud Boys are “the closest thing” to what he was 30 years ago, when he identified as a “white power skinhead.”
Are these the people we want to represent our communities, shout down our elected school board officials and rally outside our children’s classrooms?
If not, the time has come for our elected city, county and state officials to take action.
Where are the city councilors and state representatives and county councilors and police chiefs when these folks are harassing elected school board officials and members of the public — including one man at the Washougal School Board meeting in August who was trying to maneuver away from the meeting in his electric wheelchair to get to his vehicle — and causing our schools to go into lockdown? Their silence is not helping.
This week marks 20 years since a group of Islamic extremists terrorized our nation. It is time for our government leaders and law enforcement to help prevent the next wave of extremist terrorism — this time from the far-right — from taking root right here in our own backyard.
Pandemic taking a toll on school staff
Officials in the Washougal School District leaders say they realize the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll not just on students and families, but also on their own teachers and staff.
“There has been a lot of stress for everybody, me included,” Washougal schools superintendent Mary Templeton said during the Washougal School Board’s Aug. 24 meeting. “Our teachers and staff and adults in our system have been under a tremendous amount of strain and stress and pressure in the last year and a half. This has not been an easy task.”
The district hopes to address those concerns through its new workforce secondary traumatic stress policy, which the board adopted during the Aug. 24 meeting.
The policy defines secondary traumatic stress, also known as compassion fatigue, as a “natural but disruptive set of symptoms that may result when one person learns firsthand of the traumatic experiences of another.”
Symptoms of secondary traumatic stress may include feelings of isolation, anxiety, dissociation, physical ailments and sleep disturbances, according to the policy, which also states that those affected by secondary traumatic stress may experience changes in memory and perception, alterations in their sense of self-efficacy, a depletion of personal resources, and disruption in their perceptions of safety, trust, and independence.
“I think the term ‘compassion fatigue’ reflects what teachers do on an everyday basis that goes far beyond reading, writ24 meeting. “That’s a lot of tension and stress that they help to absorb and deflect for those kids. I really appreciate them.”
Board member Angela Hancock said that she’s “so happy” that the district is addressing the mental wellness of its adults.
“A lot of people know that kids go through stress, and we are always focusing on the kids, and we are not focusing on the adults that are teaching the kids,” she said. “The daily things that (teachers) see and hear take an emotional toll on (them).”
‘To support students, we need to be healthy and be our best selves’
“This puts policy and procedure in place for something we believe, which is that in order for us to support our students, we need to be healthy and be our best selves,” the school district’s assistant superintendent, Aaron Hansen, said. “In order to be your best self, you need to be healthy. This commitment to staff wellness just reinforces (our belief) that our staff plays such a vital role in supporting our students.”
The district’s staff wellness committee will expand its work to incorporate mental health by sharing stress management resources available through Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Educational Service District 112, and the Washington State Health Care Authority’s School Employees’ Benefits Board; sharing links to secondary traumatic stress self-assessment tools; and reporting to the school board at least once per year with a summary of its activities.
“Individuals are coping with what they’re dealing with, and they’re doing it in their own way,” said Hansen, who is leading the committee with Jerolyn Friesen, a support coach for the district.
Hansen said the district will try to assess what individual staff members need and find resources for “staff when they are experiencing trauma, whether it’s secondary trauma as the result of supporting their students or their own trauma.
The district is partnering with the Health Care Authority and Kaiser Permanente, which will provide resources for individuals, Hansen added.
“But maybe that doesn’t work for some individuals, so (we want to find) other options. We really want to see what’s available to help us provide support to our staff,” he said.
The wellness committee sent surveys to teachers and staff members twice during the 2020-21 school year to inquire about their mental health.
Hansen said the surveys revealed a “wide range of responses,” but one of the main themes that emerged was that “there’s a reliance on their colleagues, and that their support is very helpful.”
“I think that’s what’s unique about being in Washougal,” Friesen said. “Because Washougal is such a tight-knit community … this community is not going to let a person who doesn’t speak up flounder. They’re going to say, ‘Hey, I see this. How can we help?’ That’s unique to Washougal, both within the school system and in the community at large.”
The policy states that when secondary traumatic stress is left unaddressed, “it may lead to staff turnover, burnout, adult chronic absenteeism and health issues that negatively impact everyone in the school community.”
“That’s where the one-on-one conversations with an administrator or person in the building that you trust come in,” Friesen said. “As a district, we can put scaffolds in place or support our buildings, but really the heart of this comes when you can sit down with a person, either via Zoom or face-to-face, and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How can I help you? What do you need?’ Even if that’s a (school) thing or a personal thing or a mixture of both, we try to assess what we have the capacity to do, and (figure out) how we can help them find the right resource or give them the space to figure it out.”
Say 'hi-diddly-ho' to Portland's newly named bridge