Month: August 2017

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Ex-beauty queen convicted of stealing from Macy's, may be headed to prison


A former Minnesota beauty pageant queen has been convicted for switching the price tags on clothing she bought from Macy’s.

Jennifer Kline, a former Mrs. Minnesota — and later, Mrs. America — was convicted Tuesday of felony theft by swindle for creating an elaborate scheme that included conducting fraudulent returns.

State law allows for Kline’s felony charge to carry up to five years in prison. 

According to court documents cited by the Star Tribune, Kline’s scheme worked like this: She would buy expensive clothing, take it home, then attach the expensive clothing’s price tags onto clothes she already owned. Then, Kline would return her old clothes to a different Macy’s and would get a refund on her credit card.

FLORIDA LANDSCAPER ARRESTED AFTER ALLEGEDLY STEALING EXOTIC CACTUS

Receipts revealed Kline, from Wayzata, spent almost $5,800 on clothing at a Macy’s store in the Southdale Mall in Edina — also a wealthy Minneapolis suburb — as well as the Macy’s at the Mall of America in Bloomington, as part of her swindling scheme.

“There was more than just grabbing merchandise and walking out the door,” Edina Police Sgt. Kevin Rofidal told ABC News. “There was a lot of thought put into this, a lot of effort to conceal it.”

The former beauty queen eventually fessed up to having a supply of plastic tag holders and the equipment to attach them to clothing, the Tribune reported. Kline’s attorney called it a dumb mistake.

Kline was once crowned Mrs. Minnesota, and later won the title of Mrs. America in 1989. She worked as a TV host on the ShopNBC network, now rebranded as Evine.

Her sentencing is set for Oct. 18.



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Life in the Time of Thoughtcrime


Just when I thought I was inured enough to America’s slow degradation, a series of recent events crystallized Alasdair MacIntyre’s observation that barbarians are no longer beyond our borders but “have already been governing us for quite some time.”

The first took place at my local grocery. On a random weekday night, my wife and I stopped in to pick up a few things. As we were checking out, a Hispanic woman scooted past us pushing a cart with her two children in the bed, playing with a small spaniel.

This wasn’t a service dog mind you. The mother wasn’t speaking English, and appeared ignorant of the fact that she was violating store policy.

Our cashier, an elderly black woman with calloused and cracked hands, was none too pleased by the discourteous (and unsanitary) behavior. With tired eyes, she saw the pooch chaperoned like a royal heir, looked down and muttered, “They aren’t supposed to have dogs in here, but they just don’t care.” My wife tried to inject humor into the situation by mentioning our own dog, but it was clear by her knitted brow that incidents like these, the sheer disregard for propriety, has become all too common.

Days before, I observed a similar scoffing at basic decency. While walking home from a seafood restaurant with my father-in-law, we witnessed an Uber backing into another car parked on the street. Living just outside Washington, D.C., in the tony county of Arlington, the ride-sharing service is everywhere, and it attracts a surfeit of drivers, at all degrees of competency.

The collision was followed up by a mad scramble from the driver, whipping his door open, and rushing to the point of impact. After a brief — maybe ten seconds — assessment, he concluded everything was bully by waving at us and shouting “ez OK!” He then promptly took off. That’s when my father-in-law expressed further befuddlement: All along the sidewalk were half-open ketchup packets, splattered in the cracks like an urban Jackson Pollock. “Did he just empty his car right here?” he asked, rightly agitated.

Our offender stopped to discard the fast food condiment contents of his automobile. On a public sidewalk. With no clear compunction.

If the prevailing zeitgeist hadn’t drilled the platitude “diversity is our strength” deep into the recesses of my subconscious, I might have the temerity to question the benefit of having a littering second-rate taxi driver with limited English skills cruise the streets of my neighborhood. But that would be so many charges under the current thoughtcrime regime that I’d spend an eternity-and-a-half in jail.

The final event wasn’t experiential. It was, as most shocking occurrences go, witnessed on social media. A friend sent a video filmed in a Subway restaurant where a woman, young children in tow, berates a clerk for an inaudible comment. What’s appalling isn’t the outburst, but the ease at which she goes from casual, polite language to a flurry of expletives, with no sense of shame. The calumny she dispenses isn’t worth reproducing here (the word choice is as inventive as it is wretched) but it’s yet another sign of our debased times.

The problem with each of these occurrences isn’t that they break what were once the norms that dictated public behavior (though that is a worthy concern).

No, the issue is that there’s no recourse. In the instance of the pooch in the grocery store, the underpaid clerks weren’t going to enforce store policy. Their focus is getting to the end of their shift. For the Uber driver, my protest would have been ignored. Had someone attempted to stop the Subway slattern, they were liable to get hit.

Which gets to the real issue at stake: the behavior standards American society. The social capital that formed the baseline for our country’s prosperity didn’t emerge out of primordial goo. It was learned over time, picked and gathered from a variety of traditions, including Protestantism, Puritanism, and the Anglo disposition.

The slow decay of a society’s informal code is no small matter. Incremental annoyances add up to a larger disturbance. The leaving of a grocery cart in the middle of a parking lot, the deliberate dumping of refuse in the street, not holding doors open for others, not silencing or removing loud, crying children in indoor areas, talking loudly on the phone in public–each new offense chips away at the comity felt between citizens.

“The polite Man aims at pleasing others,” Benjamin Franklin wrote. Is the definition of a society not an unspoken agreement of mutual consideration? Without consideration, we’re just an alienated hive of solitary individuals, grinding away at our lonely lives.

Alas, there is some hope. A couple days after my series of vexing events, I witnessed something that suggested manners aren’t all loss. While riding the bus home from work, a young Asian man was watching some dross on his smartphone with the volume turned high enough for everyone around to hear.

For whatever reason, the bus driver wasn’t having it that day. At a stop light, he emerged from his seat and demanded the volume be lowered. The offender, likely bewildered at the request, obeyed.

The driver, being an older black man, he probably clung to some distant sense of decorum. How lonesome he must feel to suffer everyday indignities like that. His feeling, I wager, is mutual with more people than he thinks.

Just when I thought I was inured enough to America’s slow degradation, a series of recent events crystallized Alasdair MacIntyre’s observation that barbarians are no longer beyond our borders but “have already been governing us for quite some time.”

The first took place at my local grocery. On a random weekday night, my wife and I stopped in to pick up a few things. As we were checking out, a Hispanic woman scooted past us pushing a cart with her two children in the bed, playing with a small spaniel.

This wasn’t a service dog mind you. The mother wasn’t speaking English, and appeared ignorant of the fact that she was violating store policy.

Our cashier, an elderly black woman with calloused and cracked hands, was none too pleased by the discourteous (and unsanitary) behavior. With tired eyes, she saw the pooch chaperoned like a royal heir, looked down and muttered, “They aren’t supposed to have dogs in here, but they just don’t care.” My wife tried to inject humor into the situation by mentioning our own dog, but it was clear by her knitted brow that incidents like these, the sheer disregard for propriety, has become all too common.

Days before, I observed a similar scoffing at basic decency. While walking home from a seafood restaurant with my father-in-law, we witnessed an Uber backing into another car parked on the street. Living just outside Washington, D.C., in the tony county of Arlington, the ride-sharing service is everywhere, and it attracts a surfeit of drivers, at all degrees of competency.

The collision was followed up by a mad scramble from the driver, whipping his door open, and rushing to the point of impact. After a brief — maybe ten seconds — assessment, he concluded everything was bully by waving at us and shouting “ez OK!” He then promptly took off. That’s when my father-in-law expressed further befuddlement: All along the sidewalk were half-open ketchup packets, splattered in the cracks like an urban Jackson Pollock. “Did he just empty his car right here?” he asked, rightly agitated.

Our offender stopped to discard the fast food condiment contents of his automobile. On a public sidewalk. With no clear compunction.

If the prevailing zeitgeist hadn’t drilled the platitude “diversity is our strength” deep into the recesses of my subconscious, I might have the temerity to question the benefit of having a littering second-rate taxi driver with limited English skills cruise the streets of my neighborhood. But that would be so many charges under the current thoughtcrime regime that I’d spend an eternity-and-a-half in jail.

The final event wasn’t experiential. It was, as most shocking occurrences go, witnessed on social media. A friend sent a video filmed in a Subway restaurant where a woman, young children in tow, berates a clerk for an inaudible comment. What’s appalling isn’t the outburst, but the ease at which she goes from casual, polite language to a flurry of expletives, with no sense of shame. The calumny she dispenses isn’t worth reproducing here (the word choice is as inventive as it is wretched) but it’s yet another sign of our debased times.

The problem with each of these occurrences isn’t that they break what were once the norms that dictated public behavior (though that is a worthy concern).

No, the issue is that there’s no recourse. In the instance of the pooch in the grocery store, the underpaid clerks weren’t going to enforce store policy. Their focus is getting to the end of their shift. For the Uber driver, my protest would have been ignored. Had someone attempted to stop the Subway slattern, they were liable to get hit.

Which gets to the real issue at stake: the behavior standards American society. The social capital that formed the baseline for our country’s prosperity didn’t emerge out of primordial goo. It was learned over time, picked and gathered from a variety of traditions, including Protestantism, Puritanism, and the Anglo disposition.

The slow decay of a society’s informal code is no small matter. Incremental annoyances add up to a larger disturbance. The leaving of a grocery cart in the middle of a parking lot, the deliberate dumping of refuse in the street, not holding doors open for others, not silencing or removing loud, crying children in indoor areas, talking loudly on the phone in public–each new offense chips away at the comity felt between citizens.

“The polite Man aims at pleasing others,” Benjamin Franklin wrote. Is the definition of a society not an unspoken agreement of mutual consideration? Without consideration, we’re just an alienated hive of solitary individuals, grinding away at our lonely lives.

Alas, there is some hope. A couple days after my series of vexing events, I witnessed something that suggested manners aren’t all loss. While riding the bus home from work, a young Asian man was watching some dross on his smartphone with the volume turned high enough for everyone around to hear.

For whatever reason, the bus driver wasn’t having it that day. At a stop light, he emerged from his seat and demanded the volume be lowered. The offender, likely bewildered at the request, obeyed.

The driver, being an older black man, he probably clung to some distant sense of decorum. How lonesome he must feel to suffer everyday indignities like that. His feeling, I wager, is mutual with more people than he thinks.



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Health Care: Is It Time to Replace the Majority Leader?


On July 30 on “Fox News Sunday” (video and transcript), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said this:

[T]he Affordable Care Act is something… that said no free riders. Everybody has to have insurance, so that if your neighbor’s not buying insurance and you are, you are paying more because he or she is not. So, this is about enlarging the pool, making it healthier, younger… you have to have a big pool… the more people who are involved in it, the lower the costs are for everyone.

The Affordable Care Act did in fact increase the number in the pool that is the individual market, the “Non-Group” market, which is the pool Pelosi was talking about. By 2015, the individual market had increased by around 8 million enrollees, an uptick of close to 58 percent. But costs are still going up, and steeply. It would appear that there is something amiss with Pelosi’s pricing theory. 

Pelosi’s position that “you are paying more” because “your neighbor’s not buying insurance” is just wacky. It’s tantamount to forbidding airlines to charge more for obese passengers who require two seats. Pelosi would expect the regular-sized passengers to gladly pay more for their tickets so that lardaceous flyers won’t have pay twice. If you are indeed “paying more” for health insurance, it’s because of the high probability that you’ll be getting more, and costing your insurer more.

Pelosi must be amazed at the high prices for Super Bowl tickets. After all, there are certainly lots of people in that pool; why aren’t their prices lower? Pelosi might deal with the problem of Super Bowl ticket demand with price controls, or maybe by increasing the number of seats in the arena. But, in keeping with the ACA, she’d probably prefer to enact tax penalties for those who buy tickets.

Actually, you were never “paying more.” That’s because you weren’t paying at all. You have “pre-existing conditions” which, in a business that works by assessing risk, made you uninsurable. And now that Nancy Pelosi has mandated that you be insured, you’re still paying precious little because taxpayers are picking up most of your tab. So if the problem was that you’re “paying more,” then the ACA was a solution to a problem that would emerge only after the ACA dumped the expensive, gravely ill, uninsurable patients into the smallest market.

Also, how are people “free riders” if they’re not using healthcare? Healthy people aren’t costing insurance companies anything. A better case for “free ridership” could be made for the sick folks using welfare, like Medicaid, which is “free,” (at least for the users). The real reason Pelosi calls non-buyers of health insurance “free riders” is because they’re not paying into her system.

One does wish that Pelosi could finally get around to reading her bill, because the ACA does not dictate that “everybody has to have insurance.” Rather than a mandate on everybody, the ACA dictates that only those who have a federal individual income tax liability must have health insurance. If one isn’t required to file an income tax return, then one needn’t have health insurance. By 2015, the uninsured still outnumbered those in the Non-Group market, which remained the tiniest cohort other than Veteran’s Affairs.

One of the big problems with the ACA, as we’ve just seen, was the rhetoric used to sell it. But Republicans have created their own rhetorical trap in their efforts to undo the ACA. Mrs. Pelosi even said that the only thing the GOP’s slogan has going for it is alliteration; “repeal and supplant” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as pleasingly as “repeal and replace.” One way out of their rhetorical trap is for repeal holdouts to answer this question: What in the ACA do you want to “retain”?

For conservatives, libertarians, and conservatarians who think that Congress should repeal ObamaCare in its entirety, that is the question: is there anything in the ACA worth keeping? The holdouts don’t want to take away coverage for desperate folks with pre-existing conditions; they “didn’t come to Washington to hurt people.” Fine, let’s accommodate the holdouts by retaining coverage for these folks.

But put them into Medicaid or some special new program, because their presence in the individual market through the subsidy program is what’s causing prices to soar. The subsidy program is one of the features of ObamaCare that should not be retained. Yet, some Republicans want to keep some version of it. If one can’t afford to pay one’s premiums, deductibles, and copays, then one needs to accept charity and accept being on a public program.

What Republicans should avoid at all costs is supplanting ObamaCare with their own version of a “comprehensive” system. There’s not enough time for that, and it’s a bad idea anyway. Republicans should avoid the mistakes of Democrats and aim for a modest bill, to wit: 1.) total repeal of the ACA, 2.) repeal of the parts of the McCarran-Ferguson Act that prevent selling health insurance across state lines, and 3.) federal funding for uninsurable patients with pre-existing conditions, but not in the tiny individual market.

Of course, such a bill would not fix everything in the healthcare system, but it is a necessary first step that makes it possible to address the other problems. So there will need to be additional legislation. But the second item (repeal of McCarran) is a necessary step in creating a free market for health insurance; which would bring the private sector closer to being truly private again.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was terrific when he tabled Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, allowing Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the Supreme Court. conservatives are very thankful to McConnell for exercising such steely resolve. But is McConnell now willing to do what’s necessary to repeal ObamaCare in its entirety: i.e. the “nuclear option” of ignoring the legislative filibuster?

The American people don’t give a fig about the legislative filibuster; they want relief. If McConnell is more interested in Senate rules and traditions than in giving American businesses and individuals some relief from stupid laws, then we need to find a new Majority Leader. I think McConnell’s fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul might fill the bill, or perhaps Mike Lee or Ben Sasse.

The “loyal opposition” is unhinged. Democrats are still unable to get over the 2016 election. Being indignant and angry is going to be their default position until they are taken off the board. If Democrats had any decency they would have repealed the ACA themselves after the ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius. If Democrats retake the Senate in 2018, their first order of business will be to end the filibuster. The GOP needs a Majority Leader less concerned about the institutional niceties of the Senate than about doing the people’s business.

The problem is not Trump; the problem is Congress. One wonders if the swamp denizens that make up much of the congressional Republican majority are more intent on making Trump a “one-term president” than in doing right by the people. The GOP actually seems rather blasé about holding onto power. On July 21 in “The Looming Republican Disgrace,” a must-read column at National Review, Rich Lowry put it succinctly: “A majority is a terrible thing to waste.”

The only way congressional Republicans can redeem themselves is by doing what they promised. The way to keep their promise is with a simple modest repeal bill of the kind just proposed. There’s still enough time for redemption.

Jon N. Hall of Ultracon Opinion is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. 

On July 30 on “Fox News Sunday” (video and transcript), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said this:

[T]he Affordable Care Act is something… that said no free riders. Everybody has to have insurance, so that if your neighbor’s not buying insurance and you are, you are paying more because he or she is not. So, this is about enlarging the pool, making it healthier, younger… you have to have a big pool… the more people who are involved in it, the lower the costs are for everyone.

The Affordable Care Act did in fact increase the number in the pool that is the individual market, the “Non-Group” market, which is the pool Pelosi was talking about. By 2015, the individual market had increased by around 8 million enrollees, an uptick of close to 58 percent. But costs are still going up, and steeply. It would appear that there is something amiss with Pelosi’s pricing theory. 

Pelosi’s position that “you are paying more” because “your neighbor’s not buying insurance” is just wacky. It’s tantamount to forbidding airlines to charge more for obese passengers who require two seats. Pelosi would expect the regular-sized passengers to gladly pay more for their tickets so that lardaceous flyers won’t have pay twice. If you are indeed “paying more” for health insurance, it’s because of the high probability that you’ll be getting more, and costing your insurer more.

Pelosi must be amazed at the high prices for Super Bowl tickets. After all, there are certainly lots of people in that pool; why aren’t their prices lower? Pelosi might deal with the problem of Super Bowl ticket demand with price controls, or maybe by increasing the number of seats in the arena. But, in keeping with the ACA, she’d probably prefer to enact tax penalties for those who buy tickets.

Actually, you were never “paying more.” That’s because you weren’t paying at all. You have “pre-existing conditions” which, in a business that works by assessing risk, made you uninsurable. And now that Nancy Pelosi has mandated that you be insured, you’re still paying precious little because taxpayers are picking up most of your tab. So if the problem was that you’re “paying more,” then the ACA was a solution to a problem that would emerge only after the ACA dumped the expensive, gravely ill, uninsurable patients into the smallest market.

Also, how are people “free riders” if they’re not using healthcare? Healthy people aren’t costing insurance companies anything. A better case for “free ridership” could be made for the sick folks using welfare, like Medicaid, which is “free,” (at least for the users). The real reason Pelosi calls non-buyers of health insurance “free riders” is because they’re not paying into her system.

One does wish that Pelosi could finally get around to reading her bill, because the ACA does not dictate that “everybody has to have insurance.” Rather than a mandate on everybody, the ACA dictates that only those who have a federal individual income tax liability must have health insurance. If one isn’t required to file an income tax return, then one needn’t have health insurance. By 2015, the uninsured still outnumbered those in the Non-Group market, which remained the tiniest cohort other than Veteran’s Affairs.

One of the big problems with the ACA, as we’ve just seen, was the rhetoric used to sell it. But Republicans have created their own rhetorical trap in their efforts to undo the ACA. Mrs. Pelosi even said that the only thing the GOP’s slogan has going for it is alliteration; “repeal and supplant” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as pleasingly as “repeal and replace.” One way out of their rhetorical trap is for repeal holdouts to answer this question: What in the ACA do you want to “retain”?

For conservatives, libertarians, and conservatarians who think that Congress should repeal ObamaCare in its entirety, that is the question: is there anything in the ACA worth keeping? The holdouts don’t want to take away coverage for desperate folks with pre-existing conditions; they “didn’t come to Washington to hurt people.” Fine, let’s accommodate the holdouts by retaining coverage for these folks.

But put them into Medicaid or some special new program, because their presence in the individual market through the subsidy program is what’s causing prices to soar. The subsidy program is one of the features of ObamaCare that should not be retained. Yet, some Republicans want to keep some version of it. If one can’t afford to pay one’s premiums, deductibles, and copays, then one needs to accept charity and accept being on a public program.

What Republicans should avoid at all costs is supplanting ObamaCare with their own version of a “comprehensive” system. There’s not enough time for that, and it’s a bad idea anyway. Republicans should avoid the mistakes of Democrats and aim for a modest bill, to wit: 1.) total repeal of the ACA, 2.) repeal of the parts of the McCarran-Ferguson Act that prevent selling health insurance across state lines, and 3.) federal funding for uninsurable patients with pre-existing conditions, but not in the tiny individual market.

Of course, such a bill would not fix everything in the healthcare system, but it is a necessary first step that makes it possible to address the other problems. So there will need to be additional legislation. But the second item (repeal of McCarran) is a necessary step in creating a free market for health insurance; which would bring the private sector closer to being truly private again.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was terrific when he tabled Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, allowing Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the Supreme Court. conservatives are very thankful to McConnell for exercising such steely resolve. But is McConnell now willing to do what’s necessary to repeal ObamaCare in its entirety: i.e. the “nuclear option” of ignoring the legislative filibuster?

The American people don’t give a fig about the legislative filibuster; they want relief. If McConnell is more interested in Senate rules and traditions than in giving American businesses and individuals some relief from stupid laws, then we need to find a new Majority Leader. I think McConnell’s fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul might fill the bill, or perhaps Mike Lee or Ben Sasse.

The “loyal opposition” is unhinged. Democrats are still unable to get over the 2016 election. Being indignant and angry is going to be their default position until they are taken off the board. If Democrats had any decency they would have repealed the ACA themselves after the ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius. If Democrats retake the Senate in 2018, their first order of business will be to end the filibuster. The GOP needs a Majority Leader less concerned about the institutional niceties of the Senate than about doing the people’s business.

The problem is not Trump; the problem is Congress. One wonders if the swamp denizens that make up much of the congressional Republican majority are more intent on making Trump a “one-term president” than in doing right by the people. The GOP actually seems rather blasé about holding onto power. On July 21 in “The Looming Republican Disgrace,” a must-read column at National Review, Rich Lowry put it succinctly: “A majority is a terrible thing to waste.”

The only way congressional Republicans can redeem themselves is by doing what they promised. The way to keep their promise is with a simple modest repeal bill of the kind just proposed. There’s still enough time for redemption.

Jon N. Hall of Ultracon Opinion is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. 



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Natalee Holloway's dad reveals he found human remains in Aruba – California man gets life in prison for USC student's beating death


The father of Natalee Holloway, the American woman who vanished in Aruba 12 years ago, revealed Wednesday that he and an investigator made a shocking discovery behind a house: human remains.

Dave Holloway and investigator T.J. Ward said on NBC’s “Today” that following a renewed 18-month probe, the remains will be DNA-tested to see if they are a match with the Alabama 18-year-old who disappeared while on a graduation trip in 2005.

The DNA test will take several weeks to a month.

No one has ever been charged in her disappearance.

Joran van der Sloot, a Dutch man the teen was last seen with outside a bar, is serving a 28-year sentence in a Peru jail for killing business student Stephany Flores — a murder that came five years to the day after Natalee’s disappearance.

Natalee’s father said an informant who lived with a friend of van der Sloot gave a tip which lead to the remains.

“[He] had information that took us to a spot where remains were found. And we took those remains and had those remains tested,” Holloway said on “Today.” “We’ve chased a lot of leads and this one is by far the most credible lead I’ve seen in the last 12 years.”

Ward and Dave Holloway are taking part in a new TV series, “The Disappearance of Natalee Holloway,” which premieres this weekend on the Oxygen network.



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Ben Carson says his home was vandalized with 'hateful rhetoric about President Trump' – Baltimore mayor says she wanted to remove Confederate statues 'quickly and quietly' – 'Almost all racists are Republicans': Sen. Gardner met with anger at town hall


Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson revealed Wednesday that his Virginia home was recently vandalized with “hateful rhetoric about President Trump.”

“More recently our home in Virginia along with that of a neighbor was vandalized by people who also wrote hateful rhetoric about President Trump,” Carson wrote on his Facebook page. “We were out of town, but other kind, embarrassed neighbors cleaned up most of the mess before we returned.”

Carson posted the anecdote as part of his response to the “racial and political strife emanating from the events in Charlottesville last weekend.”

He also told a story about a time he and his wife purchased a farm in rural Maryland. He said one neighbor put up a Confederate flags. Other neighbors responded by putting up American flags, he said.

“In both instances, less than kind behavior was met by people taking the high road. We could all learn from these examples,” Carson said. “Hatred and bigotry unfortunately still exists in our country and we must all continue to fight it, but let’s use the right tools.”

Last Saturday, a driver rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters decrying what was believed to be the country’s biggest gathering of white nationalists in at least a decade, in Charlottesville. The crash killed Heather Heyer, a legal assistant from Charlottesville, and injured 19 others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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US military says its bands promote patriotism; new government watchdog says prove it


From the Revolutionary War to military parades in small towns and big cities across America today, U.S. military bands have been honoring millions since the nation’s founding. But a new government watchdog is asking the Pentagon to prove how it measures success.

“Military music is dedicated to connecting to people both in the U.S. and around the world with relevant public engagement. It is a very hard thing to put a finger on,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mark Corbliss, commanding officer of the United States Navy Band in Washington, D.C.

A new report by the Government Accountability Office says the roughly 137 U.S. military bands — including some 6,500 musicians — must now justify their $303 million annual dollar budget. “The military services’ approaches do not include measurable objectives or performance measures,” the report states.

But the Pentagon says it’s actually $437 million dollars, meaning it spends more money on its bands than the $407 million that NATO ally Latvia — located on Russia’s border — spends on its entire defense budget.

Cmdr. Patrick Evans, a Pentagon spokesman, says the amount the Defense Department spends on its bands is 0.09 percent of the total defense budget.

Measuring the value of these bands, who play in some 38,000 events a year, is difficult, officials say. Still they stress their importance — including giving veterans a proper tribute as they are laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

“We are out there three times a day and the other services are right next to us, and we are paying final respect,” Corbliss said. “[But] anybody [who has] witnessed this, they would know how important it is for uniformed service members to bid these comrades farewell with appropriate honors.”

The GAO report also found U.S. military bands have become smaller recently, yet the Navy and Air Force are spending more on them.

The size of military bands decreased on average by 7.5 percent between 2012 and 2016. According to the report, the Navy spent $4.1 million and Air Force $1.6 million more on its bands during that time. The Marine Corps reported its costs declined by roughly $800,000. The Army did not provide complete data to include its reserve forces.

“With band reductions, operations costs for current bands may increase since remaining bands have to travel more often to cover the workload of eliminated bands,” Evans added.

Members of the Armed Services Committee in Congress have questioned why spending on military bands has increased in the wake of a pilot shortage and fewer jets flying.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews



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Married teacher and mother, 53, accused of 'trailer park sex' with her teen boy student – Woman sentenced to life in prison for killing 'other' woman in love triangle, stealing identity


A married British teacher on Wednesday denied accusations she had sex at a trailer park with one of her 15-year-old male students.

Deborah Lowe, 53, allegedly had a sexual relationship with the teenage boy while he was enrolled at a high school in Greater Manchester, The Sun reported. Lowe is the head of the school’s pastoral care.

MIDDLE SCHOOL PE TEACHER, 40, ARRESTED FOR SEX ROMP WITH TEEN BOY STUDENT

The former flight attendant reportedly had sex with the unidentified student in her trailer at the Elm Beds Caravan Park in Cheshire, between April 2015 and June 2016. Authorities said the woman became “infatuated” with the boy and “groomed” him for more than a year.

Lowe, who is separated from her husband, was arrested last month by Greater Manchester Police after they received a tip about the teacher.

TEACHER, 36, CHARGED IN ILLICIT, 3-YEAR SEX ROMP WITH TEEN BOY WHICH LED TO HER ‘BEARING HIS CHILD’

The teacher pleaded not guilty in court to “one count of sexual activity with a child and five counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust,” according to The Sun.

The judge awarded Lowe bail before the trial, which is set to begin in April.



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Florida woman faces DUI, child abuse charges after .200 breathalyzer test


A Florida woman faces DUI and child abuse charges after she was caught swerving over the road and failed a breathalyzer test, all with an unbuckled child in the backseat of her car, officials said.

Brandy Lerma, 31, of Boynton Beach, was spotted by a tow truck driver swerving all over the road and almost hit four nearby cars, WPEC reported.

A responding deputy smelled alcohol coming from the car and saw an unrestrained 3-year-old in the backseat when he pulled Lerma over, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

EX-BEAUTY QUEEN CONVICTED OF STEALING FROM MACY’S, MAY BE HEADED TO PRISON

The driver’s speech was slurred and she couldn’t find her driver’s license, despite it being in plain view of the officer.

Lerma reportedly fell twice during a DUI roadside test, and took two breathalyzers tests in which she blew a .200 and a .187. She reportedly told police she took Percocet, Xanax, and drank two fireballs.

The legal blood alcohol level limit in Florida is .08.



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36 killed in Venezuela prison riot, governor says


At least 37 people in a southern Venezuela prison died Tuesday night after a massive fight broke out between inmates and security officials, a governor in the South American country said.

The violence started around midnight on Tuesday at the prison in Puerto Ayacucho, according to Gov. Liborio Guarulla of Amazonas state.

Guarulla said security forces entered the grounds in an attempt to restore order in the prison, where the inmates had seized control several weeks ago.

“At midnight special forces showed up and through the night we heard gunfire and explosions,” Guaralla said.

The governor referred to the fighting as a “massacre” on Twitter. The bloodshed was believed to be the worst in Venezuela since a prison riot in 2013 that left 61 people dead.

The office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said on social media that 14 prison guards were injured in the fight, and that it was investigating the incident.

Venezuela has around 30 prisons, many of which suffer from overcrowding and are dominated by criminal gangs that traffic in weapons and narcotics.

The prison system, built to hold about 16,000 inmates, is currently estimated to house some 50,000 prisoners, according to the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, which monitors prison conditions.

But Guarulla said the facility in Puerto Ayacucho housed only about 110 inmates, all of them awaiting trial, and unlikely suffered from the same volatile conditions seen elsewhere in the country’s prisons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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National Park Service ends ban on disposable water bottles


The federal government announced Wednesday it will eliminate a policy that allowed national parks like the Grand Canyon to ban the sale of bottled water in an effort to curb litter.

The National Park Service said in a statement it made the decision to “expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks.”

The rules were first put in place in 2011 after it became clear discarded water bottles were becoming a big litter problem in national parks. The policy did not stop the sale of bottled sweetened drinks.

Officials say 23 of the 417 National Park Service sites have implemented the policy since it was enacted. Those include some the nation’s most popular destinations like the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Mount Rushmore.

The bottled water and beverage industry have previously lobbied aggressively to keep bottled water at U.S. national parks.

International Bottled Water Association spokeswoman Jill Culora praised the Park Service’s decision in a statement, calling the policy “seriously flawed” and noted it still allowed other less healthy beverages that are packaged in heavier types of containers.

The parks system has done studies that show plastic bottles are among the biggest source of pollution in places like the Grand Canyon. In a 2012 report, the Grand Canyon found large decreases in bottles found on trails, for example. The study also cited birds and other animals getting plastic chunks of bottle lodged in their throats.

Grand Canyon National Park did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It is unclear if it will allow retailers to start selling disposable water bottles again.

“It’s a really bad message for the parks to be sending and inconsistent with their mission which is … to protect the resources, and so having plastic water bottles littering the landscape is certainly not consistent with that,” said Sandy Bahr of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club. “The National Park Service should be showing leadership and setting examples and not taking steps backward — and that’s what this is.”

The National Park Service believes visitors can best choose the right beverages for themselves and their families when visiting the agency’s parks across the United States, spokesman Jeremy Barnum said.

“Specifically (parks like) Grand Canyon where there’s great options for bringing your own bottle — which is a pretty common phenomenon for a lot of folks, but not everyone shows up to a national park with their own water bottle — and so we’re just expanding those options for those folks,” Barnum said.

Officials from the Parks Service heard from members of Congress regarding the ban, and the House Appropriations Committee asked them to review the policy, Barnum said.

The rollback of the policy would become effective immediately, officials said. Parks will still promote recycling of plastic water bottles, and many have worked with partners to provide free water in bottle-filling stations, they said.



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