White House Eyes Venezuela ‘Mediation’ As Lawmakers Call For Sanctions

WASHINGTON — The White House signaled Friday it would take no decisive action to end clashes in Venezuela between anti-government protesters and security forces that have killed 17 and injured more than 100.

Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters the U.S. is working with Colombia and other countries on a mediation strategy, but stopped short of heeding calls from Congress for targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials.

“It’s obviously already proven very difficult for the two sides to bring themselves together by themselves,” Kerry said at a joint news conference with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin. “They need to sit down and come together and talk about the future of Venezuela and how they can best affect that future in a peaceful and responsible way.”

Kerry’s comments came a day after a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution urging President Barack Obama to use his executive authority “to immediately impose targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against individuals planning, facilitating, or perpetrating gross human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and other members of civil society in Venezuela.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) co-sponsored the resolution, which calls for full accountability for human rights abuses by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration.

“This Resolution urges President Obama to immediately impose targeted sanctions that are already possible under existing law and encourage a process of dialogue between Venezuela’s government and the political opposition,” Rubio said in a statement. “It is time for the United States to support the Venezuelan people’s pursuit of a safe and democratic way of life, as guaranteed under their constitution.”

Kerry acknowledged U.S. lawmakers want a tougher approach, but emphasized the need for “a dialogue,” in line with the Obama administration’s position that the conflict must be resolved between Maduro and the Venezuelan people.

“We will examine every aspect of what is available to us as an option to us, but most importantly we need a dialogue in Venezuela, not arrests and violence in the streets, and persecution against young people who are voicing their hopes for a future,” Kerry said.

A senior administration official would not say if the White House was considering any sanctions. “We’ve had good communication with Congress on recent developments in Venezuela,” said the official, who spoke to The Huffington Post on the condition of anonymity due to the delicate nature of the talks. “Our immediate focus is on encouraging the start of a meaningful dialogue between the Venezuelan government and its people. With our international partners, we continue to look at what more we can do in support of that effort.”

It’s unlikely that Maduro will accept any offer for mediation involving the U.S. The Venezuelan leader has largely blamed the crisis on the U.S. government, even accusing the U.S. of financing the opposition. Maduro has rejected a mediation offer from Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica, regarded as an ally of Venezuela’s socialist government.

The U.S. has little influence in Venezuela, despite the Obama administration’s efforts to improve ties between the two countries, which haven’t exchanged ambassadors since 2010. Tensions have continued amid the political crisis. Maduro expelled three American diplomats from the country last week after accusing them of recruiting students to spread the unrest. The State Department retaliated Tuesday with the expulsion of three Venezuelan diplomats.

Maduro said he wanted to engage in talks with Obama, but blamed the U.S. for his country’s problems and suggested the U.S. is behind the effort to remove him from office. He also singled out Rubio’s criticism last week and called the Florida senator “the craziest of the crazies.”.

Both Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have been pushing the White House to encourage the Organization of American States to investigate Maduro’s government crackdown, but Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua rebuffed the group Friday and expressed a preference for a meeting of the Union of South American Nations.

“How many coup d’etats has the OAS stopped in its years of existence? To the contrary, they’ve legitimized several,” Jaua said, according to Uruguayan daily El Observador.

The student-led protests against Maduro’s government were born out of social and economic frustration over issues that include the country’s high crime rate, shortages of basic goods and runaway inflation. The demonstrations took a deadly turn in recent weeks, with at least 17 dead and about 150 injured. An estimated 500 people have been arrested, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Roque Planas contributed reporting.

Read the Senate Resolution on Venezuela here:

2.27.2014 -

God Loves You as You Are: A Message for All Gay and Transgender Latinos From an American Missionary in Costa Rica

“We must now have the courage to take the final step and call homophobia and heterosexism what they are. They are sin. Homophobia is a sin. Heterosexism is a sin.”

Thus preached the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in an October 2013 sermon. The sermon was part of a special service that the Cathedral offered to honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth who suffer daily from intimidation, discrimination, and violence. Although quotes like that raise eyebrows, another part of the sermon that I consider even more important was when Dean Hall said:

It is not only just OK to be gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender; it is good to be that way, because that is the way God has made you. … Your sexuality is good. The church not only accepts it. The church celebrates it and rejoices in it. God loves you as you are, and the church can do no less.

I’ve been visiting Costa Rica and traveling throughout Latin America for many years, but in my most recent visit, I came as a volunteer missionary to work with the Episcopal Church of Costa Rica while on leave from Washington National Cathedral, where I serve as director of communications. During my two months in Costa Rica, I have had the opportunity to get to know the bishop, the Rt. Rev. Héctor Monterroso, better, and we agreed that part of my work could be to look for an opportunity to plant a seed with the creation of an LGBT ministry here. As Bishop Monterroso said in a recent interview with La Prensa Libre last week, “We want to heal the wounds that many [LGBT] people have with religion.”

As it has turned out, my attempt at applying my activist skills in Costa Rica in the same way as in the U.S. has been both an enriching and humbling experience. As a foreigner, I observe the situation and the reality in this country, and I should admit clearly that I cannot fully understand what it means to be an LGBT Costa Rican (or an LGBT Latino, for that matter) because I don’t live here and I’m not Latino. Still, I do believe that there are certain things that we LGBT people around the world who have grown up in a faith community have in common. I’ve seen it time and time again everywhere I’ve traveled, including among the friends I’ve made here in Costa Rica.

Who among my Latino friends has felt hurt by the church at some point? I regret to say that the majority of them have. And I would share that at times I also felt that way when I was young.

But why do we feel that way, and why do countless children suffer every day because they’re LGBT? Like Dean Hall also said, “That prejudice persists because Christian churches continue to promote it.”

So how can we, as LGBT people who also want to follow the Way of Christ, live openly and be part of the change that we hope for?

I believe that part of the solution of changing society’s mindset and obtaining full equality starts with our returning to churches and being who we are. If we return to the Bible, which is the text most used to cause us pain, we can discover that the predominant message in the Scriptures is love. If we learn the perspective and the progressive interpretation that thousands and thousands of Christians have affirmed, we can learn the context in which the verses used to condemn us were written, and we will be able to read them differently. And most importantly, we will also be able to live and share in the great commandment of Jesus — including with those who cause us pain — and “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Mark 12:31).

The Episcopal Church in the U.S. has been studying and discussing the diversity of human sexuality for more than 30 years. This reflection has resulted in the full participation of LGBT members — including laity and the ordained — and in certain dioceses the sacrament of marriage between same-sex couples. The Episcopal Church of Costa Rica is now taking its first steps in reflecting on this same subject.

In collaboration with the Costa Rican LGBT activist organization Movimiento Diversidad (Diversity Movement) and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC), we are hosting a special film screening and forum featuring the the short documentary Before God, We Are All Family, produced by HRC. We hope that through this event, set to take place at the University of Costa Rica Tuesday, March 4, members of the LGBT community become aware that the Episcopal Church here welcomes them, and at the same time we hope that members of the Church become better informed about the experience of the LGBT community.

As a Christian, I see a future in which all my LGBT brothers and sisters will not be condemned for who they are and a future in which our churches love and affirm all their members without conditions. In the case of the Episcopal Church of Costa Rica, I’m proud to have played a small part in planting a seed toward that reality. If you or someone you know would benefit from considering the full diversity of human sexuality through a faith lens and is interested in obtaining tools for biblical study and reflection, I commend to you HRC’s “A la Familia” program, which published a free bilingual study guide downloadable on their website and written especially for Latin American families. You can even request a film screening of Before God in your community and find recommendations for getting involved in the fight for LGBT equality.

Our LGBT youth today and in generations to come need to understand and celebrate that God loves you as you are. I didn’t understand that when I was young. Now, as a more mature, religious, Christian gay man, I am proud to call the Episcopal Church my spiritual home. I feel honored to be part of a Church that proclaims a welcoming version of Christianity, firm in its center and soft around the edges. Regardless of your spiritual home or beliefs, I pray that one day we all can find a place in which all are able to participate, learn, and cultivate a closer relationship with God.

Andrés Bello and Protests: What This Means for Venezuela’s Future

Andrés Bello, eighteenth century Venezuelan philosopher and Simón Bolívar’s teacher, said that “only the unity of the people and the solidarity of its leaders guarantee the greatness of nations.” This is a quote that should be remembered in today’s Venezuela, where the country is divided and on the slow, painful path of irreversible implosion without the implementation of a dramatic reversal in course. A country that used to be an example of democracy and leadership in South America has fallen far. As a Venezuelan living abroad, this process is more painful to watch from afar than to experience first-hand.

Last week marked a new, sad low for the country. Student-led protests in various cities erupted in violence and left three dead, more than seventy people injured, and approximately 200 people detained by police and military forces. Pictures and videos depicting clashes between students and the police are flooding social network sites, the international media, and the mind of every Venezuelan no matter which side they support. Nicolás Maduro’s government — and the opposition, too — shows no clear signs of an amicable end to this violence. A proper investigation into what happened during the protests and the causes for the three deaths will unlikely come to fruition. Whether toilet paper or dollars, answers are a rare elixir to the Venezuelan population these days.

This ominous picture is perhaps more stressful to watch from abroad. To know that friends, family, and peers are the direct casualties of political failure is overwhelming. It is particularly difficult to go from being an active participant in student marches and the national debate to being simply an observer living abroad.

However, to observe does not mean to be passive. From Washington, D.C., to Paris to Sydney, the international Venezuelan community has actively proven its support. Twitter and Facebook are filled with pictures of Venezuelan flags all over the world. Peaceful protests in many cities have paired with Venezuela’s domestic protests. The world is learning about what is happening, and the Venezuelan exiles are the lecturers.

The role of observer has hidden benefits, allowing one to take a step back and think a bit more about the current situation. Here are a few ideas. First, the government needs to quickly find solutions to the increasing insecurity problem that affects everyone. The government also must stop its crusade against national media; no matter how many elections are held, a true democracy guarantees the rights of freedom of expression. The opposition, on the other hand, needs to articulate a clear, unified message to every sector of the society. The most prominent members of the anti-government movement are confined to the upper and middle class. As long as the cries for change do not reach all of society (including the lower classes who are the main supporters of Maduro), change will not happen.

New answers must be found for pulling Venezuela out of its economic, political, and social crises. The economy in this oil-rich country is in a tailspin (inflation closed above fifty percent in 2013), insecurity is rampant, government institutions are run poorly, freedom of expression is non-existent, and the National Assembly is controlled by politicians from the ruling party who refuse to provide any type of check and balance to the executive.

On the other hand, the Venezuelan opposition is making the same mistake it did ten years ago: fragmenting itself. In 2005, some opposition members called upon citizens to not vote during the parliamentary elections, while others urged voters to go to the polls. Widespread confusion in the opposition’s ranks caused the highest levels of abstention in electoral history, and resulted in a National Assembly fully controlled by the government.

History is repeating itself. Leopoldo López, a prominent anti-government figure, has taken matters into his hands to promote peaceful social unrest and protests, while former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has been relegated to the background of the leadership. On February 18, López turned himself in to the Venezuelan authorities after the government accused him of being the reason for the current violence. After an impassioned speech in front of thousands of people, López was taken by military forces to an unknown location. It is safe to say that he has secured his position as the heroic and almost mythical leader of the anti-government movement.

Things must get better, but there will be a price to pay. Remembering Bello’s quote, hopefully Venezuelans of either side will now have more power to dictate the future of the country. For the past fifteen years, the Bolivarian Revolution has created a polarized society. But now, the situation reflects more of a Venn diagram in which common ideas and issues are concentrated in the center, creating more room for agreement. Pervasive challenges like insecurity, inflation, intolerance, and food shortages are affecting every social stratum. This was demonstrated last week when students used a different chant during their protests: “I am not Capriles; I am not Maduro; I am just a student protecting his future.”

Now is the time for all Venezuelans to unite for a democratic society that aims to secure a better, prosperous future for the country.

Quick-Thinking Taco Cook Chases Down Kidnapper, Saves Little Boy

A four-year-old boy is home safe with his family in Los Angeles after a quick-thinking taco cook saved him from the clutches of a kidnapper on Wednesday.

Grady O’Brien was walking home with his six-year-old brother Brendan and their nanny when a man approached them and punched the nanny in the face, reports KTLA. He then grabbed Grady O’Brien and ran away.

Jesus Delgado, a cook at nearby T2 Tacos, heard Brendan’s cries for help and ran to search for him. Upon catching up with the alleged kidnapper, Delgado told NBC LA that the kidnapper tried to convince him to walk away.

“He told me, ‘It’s not your problem, man. It’s not your problem. Leave me alone with the kid,'” said Delgado to NBC LA. “I said, ‘This is my problem. This is my problem, because why you take this boy?'” Delgado was able to hold the attacker in place until the police arrived to arrest him, reports NBC LA.

Delgado is a father to a young girl with special needs, and since the incident, fans of the hero have teamed up to raise money for his daughter, reports LAist. So far, they’ve raised over $5,000 on gofundme.com.

GoFundMe user Anne O’Brien, who donated $100 to Delgado, wrote this note of gratitude in the comments section: “Thank You for saving my nephew! I am forever grateful and will pray for your family and your daughter.”

How One Right-Wing Christian Group Is Leading Arizona’s March Toward Conservative Extremism

On Thursday, a day after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed the state’s highly-criticized SB 1062 — a measure that would have allowed business owners to reject services to any individual on religious grounds, which was widely seen as discriminatory toward the LGBT community — the state House passed another controversial measure: the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” or HB 2884.

Both HB 2884, a bill seeking to permit surprise inspections of abortion clinics without a warrant, and the failed SB 1062 are backed and co-drafted by the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative Christian advocacy organization. A similar piece of “religious freedom” legislation pushed by CAP in 2011 was also vetoed by Brewer.

Since the group’s 1995 establishment, 123 CAP-supported measures have been signed into law, including the state’s 2008 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. That effort was spearheaded by the group’s president, Cathi Herrod. Twenty-nine bills backed by CAP have been vetoed by various Arizona governors after being passed by the state legislature.

Despite the national outcry and bipartisan opposition to the group’s most recent legislative affront on LGBT rights, a number of CAP’s controversial bills continue to make their way through the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature.

Here are four of them:

HB 2565: Criminalizing assisted suicide
Passed the House, referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Although Arizona already has a law banning assisted suicide, HB 2565 seeks to expand the definition of manslaughter to include “offering or providing the physical means that another person uses to commit suicide, with the knowledge” that the individual intends to end his or her life.

HB 2284: “Women’s Health Protection Act”
Passed the House, headed to the Senate.

House Bill 2284 would allow unannounced government inspections of abortion clinics without a warrant. The legislation also seeks to make it a class 1 misdemeanor to help “a minor avoid Arizona’s parental consent requirements” to obtain an abortion. Furthermore, the bill would require abortion clinics to submit an extensive report of each abortion performed at the facility, including “what steps are taken to save that child’s life.”

SB 1048: Corporate scholarship tax credit
Passed the Senate, passed the House Ways & Means Committee. Referred to the House Rules Committee.

By expanding Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, SB 1048 would permit small businesses organized as S corporations to claim tax credits for contributions to “school tuition organizations” — tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations that allocate the majority of their annual revenue to scholarships or grants for private schools. Opponents of the bill argue that it would divert funding from public school districts.

HB 2281: Property tax exemption for religious institutions
Passed the House, transmitted to the Senate.

House Bill 2281 would exempt nonprofit religious assemblies, as well as institutions leasing “property, buildings and fixtures,” from paying property taxes. A similar CAP-backed effort was vetoed by Brewer in 2013.

Here are 13 of the 123 CAP-supported bills that have been signed into Arizona law:

  • Prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, strengthening informed consent requirements and requiring FDA compliance for medication abortions (2012). The 20-week ban was later ruled unconstitutional.
  • Exempting religiously-affiliated employers from being forced to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs or contraception (2012).
  • Ensuring that arts funding is not spent on obscenity or material that disgraces the flags of Arizona or the United States (2012).
  • Requiring an ultrasound before an abortion, banning telemedicine abortions and improving safety standards for abortion clinics (2011).
  • Ending taxpayer-funded insurance coverage for government employees’ abortions (2010).
  • Banning partial-birth abortion (2009).
  • The Abortion Consent Act: requiring informed consent, enhancing parental consent and expanding rights of conscience protections for healthcare workers (2009).
  • Defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the Arizona Constitution (2008). This bill was advanced through a ballot initiative.
  • Funding community-based marriage classes (2007).
  • Funding for abstinence-until-marriage education (2005, 2006 and 2007). In 2008, former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) rejected federal Title V abstinence-until-marriage funding.
  • Banning taxpayer funding of human cloning (2005).
  • Providing equal access for religious groups to rental of school facilities (2003).
  • Prohibiting physicians’ assistants from performing surgical abortions (2002).

Rethinking School Discipline for Better Opportunities

Zero tolerance school discipline policies leave young men of color most vulnerable — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

All young people should have the opportunity to succeed. It’s a fundamentally American argument, and also the core value of the initiative that President Obama launched this week to help expand opportunities for boys and young men of color.

The launch of this effort is a moment to make significant progress on an issue that makes boys and young men of color particularly vulnerable in our country: zero tolerance school discipline policies.

Though these policies aimed to improve student behavior and safety by cracking down on low-level offenses, in practice they have led to skyrocketing rates of suspension, expulsion and arrests in schools. Young men of color have borne the brunt of these extreme reactions to typical student behavior and have subsequently been disproportionately funneled out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

For example, studies show that African-American students were three times more likely to be suspended than white students during the 2009-10 school year, largely for nonviolent offenses including disruptive or disrespectful behavior, tardiness, profanity and dress code violations — behavior that occurs on a daily basis in most schools.

But the suspensions are only the beginning of the problem, and can lead to long term problems not only for these young men, but also for their communities. Recent research found that even one suspension in the 9th grade doubles the risk of becoming a high school dropout, and a statewide study in Texas revealed that suspensions or expulsion tripled the likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system.

Young people have been speaking out against this broken system for decades. Student advocates in groups like Padres & Jovenes Unidos in Denver, Youth United for Change in Philadelphia, VOYCE in Chicago and the Urban Youth Collaborative in New York City have held rallies to protest the destructive impact of zero tolerance policies on their lives and the well-being of their communities, and advocate for investments in counseling, early academic intervention, extracurricular activities and mental health services.

We all should stand with these young people and do what we can to keep every single child in the classroom rather than kicking them out of school with nothing to do, which only makes it more likely they will get into further trouble.

The good news is that there are solutions — and when we use them, more young people graduate.

Already, a number of school districts, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Denver, have taken measures, such as Restorative Practices among others, to shift their focus from punishment to prevention in order to better align school discipline and safety strategies with their educational achievement goals. In Oakland, suspensions were reduced for African American males by 33 percent and for Latino males by 25 percent as a result of a partnership linking the academic, health and family engagement services offered by full-service community schools like Elev8 (an initiative to strengthen community schools by providing, school-based health services and after-school programs and enhancing family engagement) with discipline reform and by initiating a focused effort to improve supports for African American males.

The Obama administration’s new initiative, coming on the heels of federal school discipline guidance released last month, is expected to further accelerate the trend of reforming discipline practices in order to keep students in school and learning.

Knowing that there is a better way, the movement for change is growing. And we need that to keep happening. At the Atlantic Philanthropies, we have invested in this national push for positive discipline alternatives because of the threat that zero tolerance policies pose to our nation’s most vulnerable children.

If we can help more young men graduate, it gives them the opportunity to reach their potential and the opportunity for us as a nation to reach ours.

Here’s Why Those ‘Marijuana Deaths’ Don’t Change The Debate On Weed

Recent news reports describe doctors blaming the deaths of three people in the past few years on marijuana, a drug renowned for its low toxicity and used regularly by millions of people around the world. Those doctors suggested that marijuana can kill in extremely rare circumstances.

The broader scientific community appears split on whether pointing the finger at pot made sense. But whatever led to those three tragic deaths, it doesn’t change two important truths about marijuana.

First, for the vast majority of people, marijuana poses a minimal physiological risk, especially when compared to alcohol and cigarettes, which cause tens of thousands of cardiac deaths each year. According to a 2009 study published in American Scientist on the relative toxicity of recreational drugs, consuming 10 times the “effective” dose of alcohol is potentially fatal, while a user would need to ingest 1,000 times the effective dose of marijuana to risk of death.

Second, there has still never been a documented overdose death due to marijuana. Cannabis may have triggered an underlying heart problem in the three recent cases, but the amount of marijuana those individuals consumed was not the issue.

The initial report of a cannabis death came last month, when 31-year-old Gemma Moss was found by a U.K. medical examiner to have died from cardiac arrest triggered by cannabis. Moss, reportedly a regular marijuana user who had suffered from depression, had smoked only half a joint the night she died. Doctors could find no other cause for her death, so the coroner concluded it was “more likely than not that she died from the effects of cannabis.”

Then this week, German researchers released a study arguing that the unexpected deaths of two men in their twenties had also been triggered by smoking weed. The researchers noted that one of the men had a serious undetected heart problem and the other had a history of drinking and using cocaine and other amphetamines.

Drug policy reformers in the U.S., U.K. and Germany have responded that blaming marijuana obscures the real medical problems these people had and worried that these cases are being used to make exaggerated claims about the perils of pot. Others, like British neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt, said that “people with vulnerable hearts should be informed of this risk.” Still, even Nutt argued on his blog Drug Science that it would be an overreaction to paint marijuana as a killer drug based on cases like these:

Taking any amount of cannabis, like all drugs, like so many activities, puts some stresses on the body. Cannabis usually makes the heart work a little harder and subtly affects its rate and rhythm. Any minor stress on the body can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the butterfly’s wingbeat that triggers the storm. Ms. Moss had suffered with depression, which itself increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. It is quite plausible that the additional small stress caused by that cannabis joint triggered a one-in-a-million cardiac event, just as has been more frequently recorded from sport, sex, saunas and even straining on the toilet.

Other studies have shown that smoking pot can increase users’ heart rates, decrease the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and increase the risk of heart attack — as can a variety of other day-to-day activities. As the National Institute for Drug Abuse points out, these risks may be heightened in people with existing cardiac conditions.

So these medical findings suggest a certain caution regarding marijuana use by people with serious heart conditions. But they don’t do anything to trump decades of conclusive scientific research showing that marijuana doesn’t pose a danger to millions of other individuals who use it. As the nation considers broader legalization of marijuana from a medical standpoint, it’s important to weigh the real risks and rewards.

Homeland Security Reviewing Use Of Controversial Force Policies

WASHINGTON (AP) — New Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is reviewing the department’s use of force policies, a Homeland Security official said Friday.

The official said Johnson has been reviewing the rules about when border agents can use their guns since he took office in December. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, has been criticized by civil rights groups and others for allowing border agents to use deadly force against people blamed for throwing rocks at them.

Last year, three separate reviews of CBP’s use-of-force policies were completed, and acting commissioner Thomas Winkowski said the agency agreed with “the spirit and concerns underlying all of the recommendations” in all three reports.

Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher later told The Associated Press that the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that led a government-commissioned review of the agency’s force policy, recommended that CBP prohibit deadly force against rock throwers and assailants in vehicles. CBP rejected the two recommendations, which Fisher called “very restrictive.” Right now, agents are allowed to use deadly force if they have a reasonable belief that their lives or the lives of others are in danger.

The government-funded report has not been publicly released.

Earlier this week The Los Angeles Times reported that it obtained a copy of the report, which it described as critical of the Border Patrol’s “lack of diligence” in investigating agents who fired their guns. The newspaper said the report also concluded that “that some border agents stood in front of moving vehicles as a pretext to open fire and that agents could have moved away from rock throwers instead of shooting at them.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said she read the report and found it “very disturbing.”

“It makes clear that there needs to be very serious reform efforts at the agency,” she said. “You don’t use lethal force against nonlethal force.”

The Homeland Security official said Johnson’s review was not prompted by any additional incidents or new details.

According to a report from the department’s inspector general, agents were attacked with rocks 339 times in the 2011 budget year. Rock-throwing incidents were the most common assault reported. Agents responded with gunfire 33 times and with less-than-lethal force, including the use of pepper spray and batons, 118 times.

The latest incident happened on Feb. 18, when an agent opened fire after being hit in the head with a rock along the border near San Diego. The Border Patrol said in a statement that the agent feared for his life. Neither the agent nor the man killed was immediately identified.


Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

‘Don’t Know Much About Science’

It was difficult to miss all the hype regarding last week’s release of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) 2012 study on public attitudes toward and understanding of science and technology. Most cited the fact that one in four Americans believes that the Sun revolves around the Earth. But then again, our American narcissism may be as much to blame for our scientific illiteracy as our education system is — doesn’t everything revolve around us? What hasn’t been discussed as much are the seemingly positive and actionable outcomes of the study, such as the encouraging way Americans view science, both as a field of study and as a career; the role education plays in fostering scientific interest; and the disconnect between our interest in and our lack of knowledge of science, scientists and what it is that they do.

One aspect of this study is a survey consisting of nine science questions, such as:

“True or false: The center of the Earth is very hot.”


“Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?”

Americans answered 5.8 out of these nine questions correctly, putting the United States on par with other countries, though comparison is limited, as not all questions are asked worldwide. What is noticeable is that other countries are trending upward in the acquisition of scientific knowledge, but the United States has remained more or less at a standstill. And in response to scientific questions that contradict established doctrine, Americans performed markedly worse, unless a qualifying preface such as “according to scientists” was appended to the questions. For example, whereas 48 percent of Americans affirmed that “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” 72 percent answered “true” when the question was prefaced with, “According to the theory of evolution….” Similar results were obtained when surveyed about the veracity of the statement that “the universe began with a big explosion.” As expected, Americans with higher levels of education performed better on these nine questions. And, yet again, men performed better than women on the physical science questions (only).

And even though we “don’t know much about a science book,” the study suggests that Americans value science as a career and the scientific community very highly. We don’t know what scientists do — 65 percent claimed they didn’t know — but 80 percent of parents surveyed would be “happy” if their child pursued a career in science. Furthermore, according to the 2009 Harris Poll quoted in this study, being a scientist was ranked as the second most prestigious occupation, second only to firefighters, and ahead of doctors, nurses and teachers.

“Though we don’t know what they do, we’d sure love to have one in the family!”

In short, though we don’t possess a lot of scientific knowledge, and though few of us know what scientists do, we think very highly of them and want our children to become scientists. This is great news for a country that seemingly wants to continue being the world leader in scientific and technological advancement. We must bridge the gap between the science we value and where we are now. But we still don’t know how to get from here to there. We know that education is the starting place — improving science education in the schools, and improving access to higher education for all. It’s not enough, however.

In the underserved, overwhelmingly Hispanic high school in which I teach chemistry and physics, I reach two to three students a year who have what it takes to become great scientists — the appropriate combination of desire and capacity — but I know they will not all maneuver the roadblocks.

The NSF study confirms that the media’s coverage and portrayal of science does not mirror the value we place on it. Less than 2 percent of traditional news coverage is related to science and technology, with coverage of Steve Jobs’ passing, the end of the Space Shuttle program, Facebook’s IPO and the Mars Curiosity rover taking the lion’s share.

As far as entertainment television is concerned, between 2000 and 2008, only 1 percent of characters on primetime television were scientists. Of these, 70 percent were men, and almost 90 percent were Caucasian. Just watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory confirms this — scientists are portrayed as white, male, “smart-as-heck” geeks, and we root for them in spite of their idiosyncrasies, if not because of them.

Young women scientists are still underrepresented in the workforce and the media. I remember how easy it was as a freshman at Cornell to walk away from the all-male physics honors class in which I was enrolled. No one told me I could do it — definitely not the professor — and there was no female role model to show me it was possible. It is exponentially more challenging for our Hispanic youngsters to envision such a future for themselves. It’s not so much that we don’t have youngsters in our schools who are are making the grade, but without role models in which to see themselves, how are they going to navigate the difficult academic and financial terrain of a science degree when the going gets tough?

Until we are willing to promote and portray non-male and non-white scientists, the scientific field will continue to appeal to a diminishing fraction of our demographic. At least two or three students a year have what it takes — in every public high school in America. If we want to raise a nation of scientists and the scientifically literate, the least we could do is make sure those two or three get to the finish line.

Rio De Janeiro Carnival’s Opening Ceremony Kicks Off Party Season (PHOTOS)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro’s mayor has opened the seaside city’s raucous Carnival, the self-billed biggest party on the planet and Brazil’s last big bash before it hosts this year’s World Cup football tournament.

Amid pounding drums and sequined-laden dancers, Mayor Eduardo Paes handed the keys to the city to King Momo, the mythical jester who reigns over the extravaganza. Through Ash Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of merrymakers will take to Rio’s streets in the nearly 500 open-air “bloco” parties. The most traditional of these bashes is expected to attract more than 1 million people to Rio’s center area on Saturday.

Rio’s tourism officials project that 918,000 tourists will descend on the city for Carnival. That’s expected to inject more than $730 million into the local economy.

Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes (C) celebrates with the Queen (L) and the Princess of Carnival the Official Opening Ceremony of Rio de Janeiro’s 2014 Carnival at Cidade Palace on February 28, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Carnival King Wilson Neto poses with the key to the city during the handing over of the ceremonial key to the city at Cidade Palace on February 28, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes (3R) hands over the ceremonial key to the city to the Rei Momo Wilson Neto (C) during the Official Opening Ceremony of Rio de Janeiro’s 2014 Carnival at Cidade Palace on February 28, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Dancers from last year’s winner Unidos de Vila Isabel samba school perform during the official opening of the world famous Rio’s carnival, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on February 28, 2014, kicking off five days of nonstop partying in the so-called Marvelous City. (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes (C) celebrates with the the Princess of Carnival the Official Opening Ceremony of Rio de Janeiro’s 2014 Carnival at Cidade Palace on February 28, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)