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Tricia Williamson (l.) quit her job at a TV station to care for her husband Mike Williamson and their one-year-old son Adam, seen here at their home in Liberty, N.C., in a Dec. 13, 2013 photo released by the family. But the 'opt-out' stay-at-home mom accounts for only about 5 percent of mothers at home, according to a new Pew survey. (Rick Williamson/AP/File)

Stay-at-home moms: a rising trend, fueled by immigration and weak economy

By Staff Writer / 04.09.14

The percentage of moms who are staying home with their children has increased since the millennium, a trend that likely is driven by both an influx of immigrant mothers and the pressures of a still hard-up economy in which many women cannot get jobs, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

The share of moms who do not work outside their homes reached 29 percent in 2012, up from a historic low of 23 percent in 1999, according to a Pew analysis of US government survey data.

The rise in the percentage of mothers who are at home full-time reverses a decades long decline in the share of stay-at-home moms. In 1967, about 49 percent of mothers stayed at home, and that percentage continued to trim over the next 30 years. Only in 2000 did the share of mothers staying home begin to go up, and it has done so almost continuously since then.

What's behind the trend is still up for debate, but chief among the possible reasons are the country's ongoing economic woes, making staying home less a conscious choice for some women than a response to a tight job market, the report found.

Six percent of stay-at-home moms, or about 634,000 people, reported that they were at home in 2012 because they were unable to find a job. That’s an increase from 2000, when just 1 percent of stay-at-home moms said that unemployment was their main reason for staying home, according to Pew.

The rise in the share of stay-at-home moms also parallels a more than decade-long decline in women’s participation in the workforce, the report noted.

In 1999, 60 percent of women had jobs – a historic high – but that share fell to about 58 percent in 2012, according to Labor Bureau statistics. 

The report also suggested that shifting demographics might account for a greater percentage of mothers staying home. About a third of stay-at-home mothers were born outside the US, Pew found. That large share is despite the fact that immigrants account for just 13 percent of Americans, according to the 2010 US census.

About 40 percent of foreign-born mothers are stay-at-home moms, versus just a quarter of mothers who were born in the US, the report found.

The report also highlighted a number of demographic changes among mothers who do not work outside the home, including a rise in the share of stay-at-home moms who are single.

About 20 percent of stay-at-home moms were single in 2012, versus 8 percent in 1970, the report found. While a majority, or about 68 percent, of stay-at-home mothers are still women who are married to employed partners, that’s a decline from 1970, when about 85 percent of stay-at-home moms were married to partners with jobs, Pew reported.

Stay-at-home moms are also more educated as a group than in years past. About a quarter of the nation's 10.4 million stay-at-home mothers had college degrees in 2012, compared with just 7 percent of them in 1970. Plus, just 19 percent of those mothers had less than a high school diploma in 2012, versus about 35 percent in 1970.

Still, the poll also found that stay-at-home moms are often poor, with one-third of stay-at-home mothers living under the poverty line in 2012. By contrast, about 12 percent of working mothers were impoverished in 2012, according to Pew.

Stay-at-home mothers married to partners with jobs were also much more likely than single or cohabiting stay-at-home moms to say their primary reason for staying at home is to raise their families. (Eighty-five percent of married stay-at-home moms said so.) Just 41 percent of single stay-at-home mothers said that caring for their children was their main motivation to stay home, citing other reasons that included unemployment, attending school, and illness.

The poll also found that highly educated, married women are just a rounding-error-sized fraction of the total number of stay-at-home moms, despite significant media attention to those “opt-out” women. About 370,000 stay-at-home mothers married to working partners had at least a master’s degree and family income upwards of $75,000, the poll found.

Meanwhile, a separate Pew survey found that Americans still have mixed feelings about working mothers: About 60 percent of respondents said that children are better off when a parent stays at home. About 35 percent said that a child’s well-being is unaffected if both parents have jobs. 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, writer of the politically-charged film 'Submission,' which portrays the abuse of Muslim women, talks to a reporter in New York Feb. 2007. Brandeis University has canceled plans to present Ms. Ali, the feminist and prominent critic of Islam, with an honorary degree at its commencement ceremonies in May. (Shiho Fukada/AP/File)

Under fire, Brandeis cancels plan to honor anti-Islam feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (+video)

By Staff Writer / 04.09.14

Under fire from students and Muslim activists, Brandeis University has canceled plans to present Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the feminist and prominent critic of Islam, with an honorary degree at its commencement ceremonies in May, saying some of her statements were at odds with the school’s “core values.”

Ms. Ali, a native of Somalia and a former member of the Dutch Parliament, is known for her feminist work but also for her anti-Islam views, including such comments as calling the religion a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

“She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world,” Brandeis said in a statement Tuesday.

“That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values.”

The university said it would welcome Ali “to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.”

About a week earlier, the Waltham, Mass., university had announced that Ali would be among five people to be awarded an honorary degree at its May 18th commencement ceremonies. The blowback to the announcement was almost immediate, as Brandeis students and leaders in the Muslim community called attention to Ali’s record of publically blasting Islam, including in one interview calling for a “war” on the entire religion.

On Wednesday, a student-run petition against Ali’s participation in the ceremonies had reached upwards of 6,000 signatures on

“The selection of Ali to receive an honorary degree is a blatant and callous disregard by the administration of not only the Muslim students, but of any student who has experienced pure hate speech,” the petition read.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim advocacy group, also weighed in, writing a letter to Brandeis president Frederick M. Lawrence that read: "Whatever Ali has done in the area of human rights has been irreparably tarnished by her anti-Muslim and anti-constitutional rhetoric.”

“While Ali is free to spew anti-Muslim hate in any venue she chooses, she does not have a similar right to be honored for that hate by a prestigious university,” the council said.

Ali, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, has written and lectured on her personal experience with Islam as a child in her native Somalia, where she underwent genital cutting, and as a young women in Kenya.

In 1992, she won political asylum to move to the Netherlands and in 2003 was elected to the Dutch Parliament, from which she resigned in 2006 over allegations she had not been wholly truthful about her circumstances in applying for asylum.

In 2004, having renounced Islam for atheism, Ali wrote the screenplay for the fictional, politically-charged film “Submission,” which portrays the abuse of Muslim women. Soon after the release of the film, its director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered in Amsterdam by a radical Islamist, who also threated Ali’s life.

In 2007, Ali established the AHA Foundation, which works to “help protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture,” according to its website. The foundation focuses primarily on combating genital cutting, honor violence, and forced marriage.

That same year, Ali gave an interview to The London Evening Standard in which she told the paper that “violence is inherent in Islam” and went on to call Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” that “legitimates murder.” She also called Islam “the new fascism.”

In another interview with Reason Magazine later that year, she said of Islam: "It's very difficult to even talk about peace now. They're not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there's no middle ground in wars."

Ali went on to clarify to the interviewer that she was talking not just about radical Islam but about the entire religion.

In a statement, Brandeis University officials expressed “regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.”

“Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments,” the statement said, “and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community's focus to be squarely on our students.”

Then-newly-elected Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La. waiting to be sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington in November 2013. McAllister says he's asking his family and constituents for forgiveness after a West Monroe newspaper published a video that shows the congressman kissing a female staffer. McAllister attracted national attention because of his endorsement from the bearded men of the 'Duck Dynasty' reality TV show. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

'Duck Dynasty' congressman says kiss won't drive him out (+video)

By Staff Writer / 04.08.14

Freshman Rep. Vance McAllister (R) told a local newspaper on Monday night that he does not plan to resign from Congress following the release of a video showing the married congressman, who ran for office on a conservative Christian platform, kissing a staffer.

In an interview with The News-Star, the Louisiana lawmaker said that he plans to stand for reelection this fall, “unless there is an outcry for me not to serve.”

“So far there has been an outpouring of support, not for my actions, but for me to continue to represent the people," he told the paper.

Representative McAllister also said that he has asked his wife and five children for forgiveness, telling The News-Star: “I have fallen short as a husband and a father, and I feel more ashamed than you can imagine.”

On Monday, another local news outlet, Ouachita Citizen, had released surveillance footage from outside McAllister’s district office in December that shows the federal lawmaker kissing a paid staffer.

McAllister, a college dropout and Army veteran, was a relative unknown when he won a special election on Nov. 16 in Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District, beating out party officials' preferred candidate, Neil Riser, with 60 percent of the vote. His campaign was in large part self-funded, using millions earned in the oil and gas business.

Though McAllister ran for office on a platform just to the left of Mr. Riser, McAllister told The New York Times in November that “my opponent was so far to the right you couldn’t help but be a little bit left.” On the whole, McAllister styled himself as an upstanding Christian who would go to Washington – to which he had never been, until attending the swearing-in ceremonies – to “do right” and support conservative values.

When he got to Washington, he invited one of the controversial stars of the reality TV show "Duck Dynasty,” which ends each episode with a prayer, as his guest to the State Of the Union address. The star, Willie Robertson, had endorsed McAllister during his election campaign.

Aides to McAllister told The News-Star that the staffer seen on the video has been dropped from the congressman's payroll. CNN reported that the staffer’s husband is asking for a divorce.

The Washington Post reported that the staffer in the video worked part-time for less than $22,000 a year and that she was one of the few members of McAllister’s staff who had been hired under his tenure, not under former Rep. Rodney Alexander (R), who McAllister replaced.

The staffer and her husband donated $10,400 dollars to McAllister's campaign in October 2013, according to Federal Election Commission records. At the time, the staffer was listed in federal campaign finance records as self-employed in the cosmetology field. 

President Obama signs executive actions, with pending Senate legislation, aimed at closing a compensation gender gap, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, during an event marking Equal Pay Day. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Does White House have a gender pay gap? How the numbers stack up. (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.08.14

In the latest round in a long, bitter duel between Democrats and Republicans over which party is more on the side of women voters, White House press secretary Jay Carney was hit with questions on Monday from reporters about a report finding that the salary for the average median White House female staffer is about 12 percent lower than that for a male staffer.

The median woman working in the White House makes about $65,000, almost $9,000 less than her male counterpart, according to the report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative group. That difference divides out to women in the White House making about 88 cents for each dollar that men in the administration make, the report said.

The report is not new: In fact, it was released in January. But it is back and getting tossed like a hot potato to Democrats – just as President Obama is observing National Equal Pay Day on Tuesday by signing two executive orders that address the gender pay gap.

It is also getting talked about amid a midterm season in which Democrats have sought to peg Republicans as tone-deaf to women’s issues, including equal pay as well as reproductive rights and child care. That has put Republicans on the defensive in courting the women voters who helped put Mr. Obama in office.

At the press conference, Mr. Carney said that men and women who work the same White House jobs make the same salaries. The pay difference results from the fact that women outnumber men in the administration’s lower-level jobs, he said. Some studies have shown that women are more likely than men to take jobs with flexible or part-time hours and with low wages.

Ten of the administration’s 16 department heads, Carney noted, are women, and each of them makes $172,200, the top annual wage at the White House.

Still, the White House has been criticized for not doing more to even out a gender imbalance: A report from the Center for American Women and Politics, cited in The New York Times, found that Obama’s cabinet is 35 percent female, down from 41 percent during the Clinton administration (but up from 24 percent under George W. Bush).

Carney also noted that the 88 cents figure is much better than the national average: Women overall make 77 cents for each dollar that men make, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But that statistic has itself been questioned: Some Republicans have said that the gender pay gap has been exaggerated, characterizing the pay issue as a political rallying cry but not necessarily a real problem.

On Monday, two scholars from AEI published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling the 77 cents statistic “misleading” and “illogical” and arguing that almost the entire pay gap can be attributed to some women entering lower-paying fields or electing to work shorter hours.

Yet even more-cautious statistics support the existence of a gender pay gap. If differences in hours worked are factored into the equation, women make about 86 percent of what men make, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the American Association of University Women has said that the gap between male and female earnings is still about 7 percent even if differences in work hours, experience levels, college majors, occupations, and other factors are considered.

Obama, who carried women voters by about 11 percentage points in the 2012 election, on Tuesday signed an executive order barring federal contractors from "retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation.” The aim is to help workers, especially women, find out what their co-workers are earning and assess if they’re getting the wages to which they’re entitled.

The second order requires federal contractors to file reports with the Department of Labor that break down the wages they pay their employees by both race and sex.

“Unfortunately, pay inequity is a real and persistent problem that continues to shortchange women, their families, and our economy as a whole,” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told reporters.

The administration noted on Tuesday that the first law the president signed after taking office in 2009 was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the length of time that employees have to file claims to recoup wages lost because of discrimination. The bill’s namesake, Ms. Ledbetter, was expected to be present for the signing of the two new executive orders in the White House’s East Room.

Meanwhile, the US Senate is expected this week to consider the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would prohibit all employers, in addition to federal contractors, from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay. The bill is not expected to get past Republican lawmakers.

Kirsten Kukowski, Republican National Committee spokeswoman, said in a statement that while Republicans "support equal pay for equal work," the party does not support the proposed legislation, calling it a “desperate political ploy” from Democrats that would not bring about real change on the issue.

“Real solutions,” she said, would “focus on job creation and opportunity for women."

Entertainment icons Dick Van Patten (l.) and Mel Brooks (r.) flank Mickey Rooney at Santa Anita Park, in Arcadia, Calif. Rooney, a Hollywood legend whose career spanned more than 90 years, has died at his North Hollywood home. (Benoit Photo/AP/File)

Mickey Rooney: remembering 90 years of peerless pluck and outsized talent (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.07.14

Mickey Rooney, the diminutive but bold actor who charmed more than nine decades of audiences with his shameless, energetic hamming and a light-up-the-room presence, died on Sunday, entertainment news media reported.

In a career that spanned some 90 years between his first and last role, Mr. Rooney accumulated more than 200 acting credits, including parts that made him a golden boy to Depression-era audiences badly in need of his characters’ wise-cracking humor and boyish pluck, as well as won him fame that never fully dimmed, even during the low points that pot-holed his long ride at the top.

Born Sept. 23, 1920, in Brooklyn, N.Y., as Joe Yule Jr., Rooney began his acting career before he was 2 years old, appearing in a toddler-sized tuxedo and a camera-mugging grin in his actor parents’ vaudeville acts.

When his parents split, his mother, Nell Yule, took him with her to California and shuttled him into an acting career of his own. Throughout the 1920s, Rooney appeared in a series of silent films, perhaps the most famous of which was “Mickey McGuire,” a 1927-34 low-budget comic serial in which Rooney appeared as an Irish kid with a street-smart frown and oversized clothes that matched his all-grown-up attitude.

He later took his first name from that role, and added Rooney after the vaudeville dancer Pat Rooney, at the suggestion of his mother.

Rooney never got all that much taller than he was as a child star – he reached just 5 feet, 2 inches as an adult – but his talent was big, and his career grew and grew.

In 1937, Rooney was cast as teenager Andy Hardy in a movie series set in the kind of small-town where soda shops and school dances are the backdrops to PG-romance – the kind of town that did not look much like the Depression-era cities in which the movies played.

Rooney's part was “the typical American boy,” as one New York Times critic put it in 1939. Or, at least, the role was a romantic version of what it meant to be young, male, and American: a blond boy who was spunky, scrappy, and often up-to-no-good, but who was boyishly winsome enough to get of out trouble and, of course, get the girl.

In 1938, in recognition of his work in the series, Rooney was awarded a miniature-sized Academy Award for juveniles “for bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth.” More than dozen “Hardy” films, the last of which screened in 1944, would make him a teen girls’ dream prom date, a cute teenager who was just rough enough on the edges to be appealing, but also just sincere and baby-faced enough to be safe to love.

In 1939, Rooney was cast with “Hardy” series co-star Judy Garland, America’s girl-next-door of the moment, in "Babes in Arms," a musical about two plucky youngsters with show business dreams. The part landed Rooney another Academy Award nomination. From 1939 to 1942, he was voted the No. 1 star in the movie business.

Rooney and Ms. Garland appeared again together in a number of musicals, including "Girl Crazy” (1943), and Rooney later called their chemistry “magic” in a stage show he wrote about their long friendship. He also appeared as a horse trainer opposite Elizabeth Taylor, then a violet-eyed up-and-comer, in “National Velvet” in 1944, as well as in numerous other films that earned him a reputation as not just a dreamboat but a true talent.

Rooney’s personal life, as his website puts it, was “just as epic as his on-screen performances.” He was married eight times – first to Ava Gardner, the tall, brunette starlet, and last to singer Jan Chamberlin, from whom he was divorced in June 2012.

Not all of it was epic, though – some of it was just hard. As a young star, Rooney was known as an arrogant, feckless hard-partyer, a tempestuous talent who spent money as fast, or faster, than he made it. He was not as wholesome as Andy Hardy, nor was he the all-American, cute-as-pie image that his management, MGM, sought in vain to market.

After a stint with the Army in 1943, he returned to the US to break ties with MGM and open his own production company. His career stalled. He took smaller roles, including a cringe-worthy turn as Holly Golightly’s cartoonish, no fun Japanese neighbor in "Breakfast at Tiffany’s." He bounced back with an acclaimed role as a boxing trainer in "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1962).

The freewheeling caught up to him. The money ran out, but the court orders for alimony and child support payments did not. He struggled with alcoholism and prescription pill abuse and his career settled into a long slump that marked him a has-been.

But he didn’t remain so.

In 1979, “Sugar Babies,” a wacky, vaudeville-style musical with Ann Miller, another veteran of MGM musicals of the '40s, was a major, if unlikely, hit, winning Rooney a Tony nomination and another shot at the limelight. Yet another acclaimed role as a horse trainer in "The Black Stallion" (1979) won him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Voice parts in animated features, including “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Care Bears Movie,” were lucrative, and his part in the TV movie “Bill” (1981) won him an Emmy and a Golden Globe. In 1983, he was presented with an honorary Academy Award that recognized “his 60 years of versatility in a variety of film performances.”

His lifelong career as a showman stretched well into his later years, with roles in “Night at the Museum” (2006) and “The Muppets” (2011), and he continued to be an exuberant, spirited performer who never missed a chance to please, and often awe, a crowd.

"The American public is my family," Rooney once said. "I've had fun with them all my life."

The afternoon session of the two-day Mormon church conference begins Saturday in Salt Lake City. More than 100,000 Latter-day Saints are expected for the church's biannual general conference. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Mormon Church states opposition to gay marriage but hints at subtler shift (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.06.14

For the second time in two years, a top official of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has explicitly stated the church's opposition to gay marriage. 

At the church's biannual conference in Salt Lake City Saturday, Neil Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve, the church's second-highest governing body, said: "While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not. He designated the purpose of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults to, more importantly, advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared, and nurtured."

The statement is no surprise. Last year, another member of the Quorum said human laws cannot "make moral what God has declared immoral."

Many churches in the United States are struggling with how to approach gay marriage, but Saturday's declaration comes at a time when the issue has particular resonance for the Mormon church.

On Dec. 20, a federal district judge in Salt Lake City overturned Utah's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Some 60 percent of Utahns identify themselves as Mormons, according to a recent Gallup poll.

But more deeply, the church has been undergoing a profound change in its attitude toward gay members in recent years, say members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

The shift came after the church was exposed as a driving force behind the passage of California's Proposition 8, which in 2008 banned gay marriages before being overturned by the US Supreme Court last year. A New York Times report showed how intimately Mormons were involved in the Prop. 8 campaign:

The canvass work could be exacting and highly detailed. Many Mormon wards in California, not unlike Roman Catholic parishes, were assigned two ZIP codes to cover. Volunteers in one ward, according to training documents written by a Protect Marriage volunteer, obtained by people opposed to Proposition 8 and shown to The New York Times, had tasks ranging from “walkers,” assigned to knock on doors; to “sellers,” who would work with undecided voters later on; and to “closers,” who would get people to the polls on Election Day.

One organizer estimated that Mormons made up 80 to 90 percent of the people who went door-to-door stumping for Prop. 8. In its headline, the Times proclaimed: "Mormons Tipped Scale in Ban on Gay Marriage."

The backlash that ensued was significant: "What the non-Mormon world didn't get to see was how destructive that was inside the faith," Mitch Mayne, an openly gay Mormon in the San Francisco area, told Mother Jones magazine last year.

Since then, the church has made numerous efforts – both publicly and more quietly – to be more compassionate to members of the LGBT community. Mr. Mayne said a top church official, historian Marlin Jensen, met with angry church members and apologized "for the pain that Prop. 8 caused." The church also worked with the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University to make a booklet that encourages Mormon parents to embrace their LGBT children, Mother Jones reported. It created a website with a similar purpose called Love One Another.

Then last May, the church conspicuously supported a Boy Scouts change of policy that allowed gay members. Meanwhile, some gay Mormons say they have felt a dramatic shift at local services.

"Everybody is welcome here. Nobody is under that threat of being excommunicated," said Mayne.

Mr. Anderson's statement Saturday is a further effort to make the church's position on homosexuality plain. It leaves no doubt that the church continues to oppose homosexuality. But it also exhorts followers to show compassion for those who are gay.

Speaking of church members who "struggle with same-sex attraction," he said he admires people who confront this "trial of faith and stay true to the commandments of God." But he added: "Everyone, independent of their decisions and beliefs, deserves our kindness and consideration."

The statements echoed the church's instructions on December's federal court decision. "God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society," it reads. "Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there.... The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility – even when we disagree."

A couple listens to a speaker during a prayer service for those affected by the Oso mudslide, Friday night in Arlington, Wash. at Haller Middle School. The death toll stands at 30 with 13 people missing and presumed killed. (Genna Martin/AP)

Authorities knew of mudslide danger, but didn't tell residents (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.05.14

As searchers look for the last of the missing in Oso, Washington, where a massive landslide virtually wiped out the small community, it’s becoming more obvious that authorities knew about but failed to fully heed the warnings of scientists that such a disaster was a real threat.

Not only that, they even considered – but then rejected – a suggestion that they buy out home and business owners whose properties lay just across the Stillaguamish River from a steep hill that had fallen away several times before.

The Seattle Times newspaper reported this week that Snohomish County officials analyzed the situation, finding that the costs of a buyout “would be significant, but would remove the risk to human life and structures.”

Instead, they decided to build a wall intended to stabilize the slope, leaving existing structures in place and allowing more to be built. Eight people in those newer homes are dead or missing from the landslide, including four children, the newspaper reported.

Experts studying the most recent slide – and the several that preceded it over the years, particularly one in 2001 – say this was a fatal mistake.

“[T]o my mind this was [a] foreseeable event, and as such the disaster represents a failure of hazard management,” writes Dave Petley, a professor of hazard and risk at Durham University in the United Kingdom and author of The Landslide Blog, which is hosted by the American Geophysical Union.

“The 2001 landslide left material high on the hillside that was sitting above a scar that was far too steep,” Dr. Petley writes. “The  LIDAR [Light Detecting and Ranging] data suggests that the runout from such a collapse could be extensive. In that context I find the decision to build new houses at the foot of the landslide to be very surprising.”

In retrospect, some residents in the area are surprised as well … some of them furious that they weren’t warned of the threat.

Davis Hargrave, a retired architect who lost dozens of neighbors and his weekend home, said knowing the county took the threat as seriously as it did would have prompted him to ask many more questions.

“We are not a bunch of stupid people ignoring warnings,” Mr. Hargrave told the Seattle newspaper. “We all make risk assessments every day of our lives. But you cannot make a risk assessment on information you do not have.”

“If I’d known it was that dangerous, I would have moved in a heartbeat,” said Dale Dunshee, who sold his property about three years ago to a couple who were not at home when the slide hit March 22.

As of Friday evening, the number of those killed had risen to 30, with 29 identified. The number of missing has dropped to 13.

The search effort – first for survivors, now for the remains of the missing – has been brutally tough. Searchers fight their way through deep boot-sucking muck, trees, crushed buildings and vehicles, and other debris. After their shifts, they must be decontaminated of the flooded waste from septic tanks, fuel tanks, and other sources.

About an inch of rain is forecast this weekend at the Oso mudslide where a few dry days this week have helped searchers looking for bodies.

The National Weather Service says steady rain could cause the Stillaguamish River to rise by about half a foot by Sunday morning.

The rain and rising river complicate recovery work in the debris field and add to the flooding caused when the landslide partially blocked the river. Melting mountain snow from rising temperatures also may cause the river to rise.

Meanwhile, the debate continues over the effect clear-cut logging in the area might have had on hillside stability.

Landslides have followed logging in that area at least four times, KUOW, the NPR affiliate at the University of Washington in Seattle, reported.

"There was cutting in the 1940s; it failed in the '50s. There was cutting in 1960, then it failed in the mid-'60s. There was cutting in '88; it failed in '91. There was cutting in 2005, and it failed in 2006 and in 2014,” said geomorphologist Paul Kennard, who worked for native American tribes in the 1980s and now works for the National Park Service at Mt. Rainier.

Whether government agencies or landowners can be held liable for damages caused by landslides in Washington state is highly dependent on the facts of each case. Generally, governments are not liable except in narrow circumstances, such as if an agency specifically tells the residents they're safe before a slide, or if an agency takes it upon itself to fix a hazard but actually makes things worse.

"This is a terrible tragedy and still very fresh. But it is nonetheless my concern that people turn to the government as the insurer of last resort," said David Bruce, a Seattle lawyer who represents governments in landslide-liability cases. "The fact of the matter is that in the Puget Sound basin and the foothills of the Cascades, there's a tremendous amount of landslide-prone areas. The government isn't here to prevent people from suffering natural catastrophes."

On Sunday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson are scheduled to visit the site to survey the damage and meet with victims and emergency responders.

Fresh search and rescue teams from FEMA arrived Friday, along with 20 highly trained search dogs.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

A kit with naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is displayed at the South Jersey AIDS Alliance in Atlantic City, N.J. Naloxone is the standard antidote drug for opiate drug overdoses. (Mel Evans/AP)

Helping heroin users: New York police to carry overdose antidote (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.04.14

All local and state police officers in New York are to begin carrying an antidote drug for heroin overdoses, the state’s attorney general announced Thursday. It is the latest effort to address a heroin problem blistering communities across the United States, including New York’s urban juggernauts and tidy hamlets alike.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the state’s law enforcement officers are to be provided with kits containing both a syringe and an inhaler version of naloxone, the standard antidote drug for opiate drug overdoses, including those from heroin. Police officers are often the first responders to an overdose victim, and advocates have urged officials to equip police to act as the lifesavers they are positioned to be in such situations.

The kits, each costing about $60, are to be funded in large part with about $5 million in seizures from drug crimes, the attorney general said.

"Putting this powerful antidote in the hands of every law-enforcement agent in the state will save countless lives," said Mr. Schneiderman in a statement. “It’s particularly fitting that these efforts will be funded by money seized from drug dealers.”

RECOMMENDED: Heroin's long reach

In a separate announcement, also on Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration said it had approved a hand-held device that delivers a single dose of naloxone and can be prescribed for use outside medical settings.

That device, called Evzio, works much like an EpiPen and also gives audio instructions when in use, much as do defibrillators. Federal health officials said that the device was reviewed under the FDA’s “priority review program,” allowing it to get clearance more than two months earlier than expected.

The FDA has already approved naloxone for injection using a syringe, and laypeople often administer the antidote that way. But federal officials said they expect the new device to make it even easier for the public to administer the reversal drug. The administration has not yet vetted naloxone nasal sprays, though the sprays are also widely used, including by laypeople.

The two measures come as communities across the US confront an increasingly acknowledged, but still worsening, heroin problem.

In New York City, heroin-involved deaths jumped by 71 percent from 2010 to 2012, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The illegal drug has also spread outward from its old, urban haunts to upstate New York, known more for its farms and hiking trails than as a burgeoning heroin den.

Opioid overdoses, including those from heroin, killed more than 2,000 New Yorkers in 2011, double the number who died in 2004, according to the attorney general’s office. In the past five years, the emergency department at Albany Medical Center has seen an increase of between 80 and 100 percent in treatment for heroin overdoses, says Michael Dailey, an emergency room physician at the medical center and the regional EMS medical director.

Paramount among efforts to curb a heroin crisis have been initiatives to make naloxone more available.

“Each time we save someone from an overdose, it’s a chance to help them get their lives back together,” says Dr. Dailey.

Though the antidote is available in all 50 states to addicts who get a prescription, as well as stocked in ambulances and emergency rooms, efforts are under way to provide access to more people who might reach overdose victims first, including police officers and addicts’ relatives and friends.

So far, 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws that expand access to naloxone, including provisions that allow the antidote to be distributed to members of the public.

Some police departments in those states – including the Suffolk County Police Department in New York, where police and EMTs reversed 563 overdoses last year – have already introduced programs to outfit their police forces with naloxone. Last month, Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, called on more local police departments to do so, and several cities, including Boston, have recently announced such plans.

But New York will be the first state in which all officers – from local police to state troopers – will be provided with the antidote.

“This is such an important step forward,” says Whitney Englander, government relations manager at the Harm Reduction Coalition.

“There are very practical and logistical reasons for police officers to carry naloxone,” she says. “And it can really change the relationship between police officers and communities, when they can be seen as sources of help and as life-savers.”

Ms. Englander also called the FDA’s approval of Evzio a “step in the right direction,” though she cautioned that the cost of the device – expected to be between $200 and $300 – would be a prohibitive factor in making it widely available. A cheaper device would be even better, she says.

Still, the FDA’s announcement did explicitly state that the device is intended not just for medical providers, but for laypeople, says Alex Walley, a faculty member at Boston University School of Medicine and medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Program.

“It’s a big acknowledgment that community bystanders are a big solution to this problem,” he says, adding that such an acknowledgment could portend more action to involve the public in overdose prevention.

Not everyone supports putting naloxone in more hands. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has said he does not support a bill that would expand naloxone distribution, arguing that giving addicts more access to the antidote will reduce the pressure to get off heroin.

Experts say such a concern is scientifically unsubstantiated, with studies showing no change in drug use when barriers to getting naloxone are reduced.

“What this drug does is stop overdoses,” says Dr. Walley, “so that people can live and get treatment.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick last week declared a public health emergency in response to what he called “an epidemic of opiate abuse,” including heroin use. In a speech, he introduced measures to tackle the problem, including easing barriers to distributing naloxone to all first responders, including police, firefighters, and EMTs.

RECOMMENDED: Heroin's long reach

Americans, weary of war on drugs, prefer rehab to jail, poll says (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.03.14

Americans are tired of a war on drugs.

That’s the conclusion of a new Pew Research Center poll finding that two-thirds of Americans prefer drug policies that emphasize rehabilitation, not jail time, for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Most Americans also support proposals to scrap minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses.

The poll is Pew’s first broad look at US opinions on drug policies since 2001, and its results, released Wednesday, signal a seismic shift in American attitudes toward drug laws and addiction.

It also comes as Congress, facing a belt-bursting prison budget as well as mounting evidence that tough prison sentences are not fixing but fueling a national drug problem, is weighing a major recalibration of the US war on drugs. A bill that would cut minimum sentences for a number of nonviolent drug offenses.

The poll found that Americans are no less worried about drug use than in years past – 32 percent of respondents called drug abuse “a crisis” in the US, and more than half called it a “serious problem” – but that attitudes about how to respond have shifted.

Some 67 percent of those questioned said that the government should focus on treatment for illegal drug users, not on punishment; while 26 percent said that the government should focus on prosecution.

About 63 percent of poll-takers said that recent state proposals to set aside minimum sentences for drug crimes are a “good thing." By contrast, 47 percent Americans in 2001 wanted to do away with such minimums versus 45 percent who didn't, according to Pew.

Only Congress has the power to change mandatory minimum sentences, and the Smarter Sentencing Act – put on the Senate calendar in March – would, if passed, reduce many federal mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, as well as make new, lighter sentences for crack-cocaine cases retroactive.

Even ahead of action on the Smarter Sentencing Act, government officials and lawmakers have been pushing hard for reforms to drug crime sentencing, an issue that has culled considerable bipartisan support for its potential to de-bloat an out-sized prison budget.

For the fiscal year 2014, the Obama administration requested $8.5 billion for the federal prison budget, an increase of $236 million from fiscal year 2012 that would allow the Bureau of Prisons “to keep pace with the increased number of inmates.” About half of some 216,000 inmates in US federal prisons are doing time for drug-related crimes.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the US Sentencing Commission’s proposal to adjust downward its recommended sentences for federal nonviolent drug crimes. Long sentences for low-level drug crimes “come with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate," he said in a speech to the American Bar Association.

The measure, expected to apply to almost 70 percent of defendants convicted of federal drug offenses, would reduce the average prison sentence for a defendant by about 11 months and cut about 6,550 inmates from the prison system over five years, according to the Department of Justice.

The commission is not expected to vote on the proposal until late April, but Mr. Holder has asked prosecutors not to object if, in the meantime, defense counsels propose sentences along the lines of the prospective guidelines.

The Pew report also found that more than 60 percent of Americans believe that alcohol is a more significant danger to health or to society than is marijuana. Less than a quarter of respondents called marijuana the bigger danger, while 1 in 10 said that both were equally destructive.

About 44 percent of respondents said they backed legalization of marijuana for medical use, and just under 40 percent said they supported legalization for recreational use. About 54 percent of poll takers favor legalization in general and around 42 percent are opposed. In a poll four years ago, those numbers were essentially reversed, Pew said.

A full three-quarters of respondents also said they believe that the legalization of marijuana is inevitable, regardless of their personal beliefs on the subject. 

The Pew poll, conducted from Feb. 14-23, is based on telephone interviews conducted among a national sample of 1,821 adults, 18 years of age or older. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, here meeting with reporters on March 31, called on the US Department of Justice to quickly release findings from its investigation of fatal police shootings there and to help monitor department reforms. (Susan Montoya Bryan/AP)

Albuquerque mayor says fatal police shootings 'a game changer' (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.03.14

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry called on the US Department of Justice to step in to monitor the New Mexican city’s police force after hundreds of protesters over the weekend decried a spate of fatal police shootings, two of them of mentally ill people, in the last month.

The mayor called the death of James Boyd, a mentally ill homeless man killed by police in March, a “game changer” for the Albuquerque Police Department. He announced Wednesday that he had asked the Justice Department to quickly work out  a "cooperative monitoring partnership agreement" with the APD to help restore community confidence. 

The Justice Department has already spent the last year investigating allegations that the APD had been too quick to fire live ammunition, especially when working with mentally ill civilians.

“Prior to the completion of the DOJ [Department of Justice] investigation and the publication of findings, I would like to immediately begin to the process of negotiating a cooperative agreement between the DOJ and the City of Albuquerque to implement a DOJ monitoring plan,” wrote Mayor Berry in a letter to the Justice Department released Wednesday.

Berry asked federal officials to step up the investigation and release findings as soon as possible. The Justice Department investigation reportedly concluded this week, with findings expected in days, according to local television station KQRE. 

Berry also announced plans to train all field officers in crisis intervention, as well as 60 other new measures that he described as “sweeping changes.” The revisions are contingent on about $1 million in extra funding for the police force.

Over the weekend, demonstrators marched through downtown Albuquerque. They were protesting not just the two most recent police shootings, but also what they said was a broader, unaddressed problem of police acting with impunity, which puts people with mental illness at risk.

Since 2010, Albuquerque officers have shot and killed 23 people, most of whom had documented mental illnesses, according to KQRE. The station posted a video of the Boyd shooting on YouTube last week.

Police have considerable prerogative to use lethal force when an officer believes that his or her life is being threatened. But numerous shootings, including high-profile killings in California and Texas, have spotlighted the tragic results that can occur when the mentally ill collide with police use of force.

Most police departments, including the APD, have some kind of special protocol for dealing with mentally ill populations, who are less likely to understand the stakes of an escalating situation or to be able to follow an officer’s orders. The mentally ill can also be more likely to alarm an officer, such protocols caution.

The APD, like most (but not all) police departments, also has a Crisis Intervention Training Program to prepare officers to work with mentally ill populations. But just 25 percent of its officers have been through the program. Experts told The New York Times that the guidelines are only as good as they are actually practiced.

The FBI has launched a criminal inquiry into Mr. Boyd’s death on March 16, when police fired six live rounds at the end of a standoff in which they were trying to remove him from an illegal camp in the Sandia Mountains. In a video recorded on one officer’s helmet-camera, police appear to shoot Boyd – who was telling officers he was a government agent and would kill them with a knife – after he had calmed down and was packing up his things to come with the officers.

In a second incident about a week later, officers shot and killed a homeless man who they say shot at them first. But witnesses said that the man pointed the gun at his own head and did not shoot at police

Civil liberties activists welcomed Berry’s proposed reforms but also expressed concern that it had taken dozens of deaths – and civil lawsuits that have cost the city some $24 million – to get any traction.

“It is a shame that the city’s leadership took so long to respond with aggressive action,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU New Mexico, in a statement.

On Wednesday night, more than 100 people gathered for a vigil on the hillside where Boyd was killed, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported. “Your death is changing our system,” read a sign placed at the site. 

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