- Created on 26 December 2012
(AP) — Thousands of previously unpublished Boy Scouts of America files that detail suspected sexual abuse by employees and volunteers have been posted online.
The Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/TiA546 ) published the database containing redacted victims' names on Tuesday, including material that was released earlier by an Oregon Supreme Court judge's ruling. The names of the alleged abusers — including doctors, teachers, priests — are included.
The newspaper's heavily pocked database map depicts alleged incidents of abuse that affected, or in some way connected to, Scouts in every state in the nation, as well as South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
The Boy Scouts kept the files for internal use for nearly a century and have said they've improved youth protection policies. The group has conducted criminal background checks on volunteers since 2008. In 2010, the organization mandated any suspected abuse be reported to police.
In an analysis of the records, the Times found that reports increased over time, which may be the result of greater awareness of child sexual abuse. The reports are not believed to account for all abuse, because the Scouts say an unknown number of files were destroyed over the years and not all victims report crime.
The organization's inaction, and its efforts to keep allegations from police, parents and the public, allowed molesters to continue sexually abusing children, according to The Times.
The newly released files span from 1985 to 1991, and reveal that a Scouts committee chairman of four years, Samuel J. Becker of Canoga Park, had a record of child molestation, had served prison time and was on probation for exposing himself.
In another file, a Scoutmaster said he had reported suspicions of abuse about Scout Leader Gary L. Findlay of Illinois, but he was ignored by a superior. Findlay was later accused of abusing a 15-year-old in 1986, convicted of sexual abuse and expelled from the Scouts.
Most of the files opened after 1991 haven't been released. Various pending lawsuits were seeking those files.
- Created on 24 December 2012
Huffington Post's Janelle Ross documents this disturbing report on the actual number of child gun deaths nationwide, which are not reported.
Police reports about the final moments of Demetrius Cruz's life include the kind of information that is at once difficult to fathom and yet somehow part of the ordinary but tragic tapestry of life in the U.S.
Cruz was riding in a car with his cousin on a Denver street Saturday when the driver of a white car started bumping, following and then chasing the teens' car. Cruz called his aunt. He was scared. Someone in the white car fired several shots, striking and killing Cruz. He was just 15 years old. That same night in Kansas City, Mo., a bullet sliced through the body of 4-year-old Aydan Perea while he was sitting in a car with his dad. Police say Perea was the innocent and unsuspecting victim of a gang drive by. Days later, on Tuesday, Dalton Williams, 16, was killed in Pierre, S.D. with a shotgun wielded by a friend after a dispute over a paintball game.
In each case, local newspapers and television stations captured the shocking and sad details. But no national media camped outside the boys' homes, schools or places of worship. No satellite trucks were driven in to beam the faces of these human sacrifices to America's gun violence problem abroad. The president did not call to offer his condolences. Nor did he come to town to give a speech. And no professional athletes sent their jerseys or spoke publicly about the boys' deaths.
Beyond their families and friends, the deaths of Cruz, Perea and Williams and the hundreds of others like them across the country this year went largely unnoticed. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. a week ago left 20 children and six adults dead, and millions of Americans distraught and, in some cases, interested anew in a conversation about gun control.
Cruz, Perea and Williams are just another string of child shooting victims whose deaths somehow seem not uncommon because they happened one at a time. Together though, child shooting fatalities in the U.S. last year alone amounted to more than two dozen Sandy Hook massacres -- and the country has scarcely reacted.
In 2011, guns were used to murder 8,583 people living in the U.S., according to the most recent FBI data available. Among those murdered by guns, there were 565 young people under the age of 18, and 119 children ages 12 or younger -- the latter number nearly equivalent to six Newtown mass shootings. And these figures include only homicides.
"It's staggering," said Lindsay Nichols, an attorney with the California-based public interest law firm and gun-control advocacy organization the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "We are all shocked by the news in Newtown, Conn., but when you think about it, it is equally tragic and equally horrific every day so many families suffer this loss and that every year there are so many funerals of children that family members have to attend."
Just Tuesday, Paul Sampleton Sr. found the body of his 14-year-old son, Paul Sampleton Jr., bound and shot dead in the family's Grayson, Ga. home. Police suspect the boy may have interrupted a robbery. The Sampleton family will mark a very different kind of Christmas this year, then bury their son next Friday.
Then there are the stories of children killed in gun accidents and suicides. In 2010, the most recent year for which detailed Centers for Disease Control data is available, 129 people between the ages of 1 and 19 died in gun accidents. Another 749 took their own lives using a firearm, most of which were owned by a parent.
This year, in the days leading up to the mass shooting in Newtown, 12-year-old Demetri Phillips was shot and killed by a friend while playing with a gun in their shared home on Dec. 6. Two days later, Craig Allen Loughrey, 7, died in a gun store parking lot. His father's gun went off inside the family truck and struck the boy, strapped into a booster seat, in the chest.
The problem isn't exactly new. In 1997, the Centers for Disease Control found that in the U.S. the rate of death among children 15 and under due to gunshot wounds was nearly 12 times higher than those in 15 other developed countries. Child deaths caused by guns have dropped since that time, along with other types of crime.
But the number of children and teens killed in 2008 and 2009 in the U.S. alone could fill 229 classroom with 25 students, according to a report released by the Children's Defense Fund this year. In 2009, of all the people 18 and under that died due to a firearm injury of any kind, 43 percent were black and 20 percent were Latino, making gun violence a disproportionately common event among teens of color, according to the Children's Defense Fund report.
On Friday, National Rifle Association vice president Wayne LaPierre proposed a program that would put armed guards and perhaps other adults with guns in every school, saying "good guys" with firearms were the surest way to protect the nation's children.
Nichols, of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, described the NRA's proposal as preposterous.
"I think it's an absurd and dangerous idea," Nichols said. "But as with so many of their proposals I think its real aim is to encourage the sale of more firearms. The biggest donors to the NRA are firearms manufacturers. Besides, arming and equipping all these people he wants to put in schools, having guns where kids see them daily is a tool to market weapons to the next generation."
- Created on 20 December 2012
(AP) — Aiming to prevent companies from exploiting online information about children under 13, the Obama administration on Wednesday imposed sweeping changes in regulations designed to protect a young generation with easy access to the Internet.
Two years in the making, the amended rules to the decade-old Children's Online Privacy Protection Act go into effect in July. Privacy advocates said the changes were long overdue in an era of cellphones, tablets, social networking services and online stores with cellphone apps aimed at kids for as little as 99 cents.
Siphoning details of children's personal lives — their physical location, contact information, names of friends and more — from their Internet activities can be highly valuable to advertisers, marketers and data brokers.
The Obama administration has largely refrained from issuing regulations that might stifle growth in the technology industry, one of the U.S. economy's brightest spots. Yet the Federal Trade Commission pressed ahead with the new kids' privacy guidelines despite loud complaints — particularly from small businesses and software apps developers — that the revisions would be too costly to comply with and cause responsible companies to abandon the children's marketplace.
As evidence of online risks, the FTC last week said it was investigating an unspecified number of software developers that may have illegally gathered information without the consent of parents.
Under the changes to the law, known as COPPA, information about children that cannot be collected unless a parent first gives permission now includes the location data that a cellphone generates, as well as photos, videos and audio files containing a human image or voice.
The Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus commended the FTC for writing the new rules. "Keeping kids safe on the Internet is as important as ensuring their safety in schools, in homes, in cars," caucus co-chairman Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Data known as "persistent identifiers," which allow a person to be tracked over time and across websites, are also considered personal data and covered by the rules, the agency said. But parental consent is not required when a website operator collects this data solely to support its internal operations, which can include advertising, site analysis and network communications.
The rules offer several new methods for verifying a parent's consent, including electronically scanned consent forms, video conferencing and email.
The FTC sought to achieve a balance between protecting kids and spurring innovation in the technology industry, said Jon Leibowitz, the agency's chairman.
The final rules expand the definition of a website or online service directed at children to include plug-ins and advertising networks that collect personal information from kids.
But the rules were also tightened in a way favorable to some Internet heavyweights, Google and Apple. Their online apps stores, which dominate the marketplace for mobile applications, won't be held liable for violations because they "merely offer the public access to child-directed apps," the FTC said.
Google and Apple had warned that if the rule were written to include their stores, they would jettison many apps specifically intended for kids. They said that would hurt the nation's classrooms, where new and interactive apps are used by teachers and students.
A Washington trade group that represents independent apps developers criticized the agency for addressing the concerns of large businesses while doing too little for the startups that make educational apps parents and teachers want. The FTC's belief that the apps industry will figure out how to thrive under the new rules is akin to jumping off a cliff then building a parachute, said Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology.
"While that may work for big companies, small companies lack the silk and line to build that parachute before they hit the ground," Reed said.
Companies are not excluded from advertising on websites directed at children, allowing business models that rely on advertising to continue, Leibowitz said. But behavioral marketing techniques that target children are prohibited unless a parent agrees. "You may not track children to build massive profiles," he said.
The agency included in the rules new methods for securing verifiable consent after the software industry and Internet companies raised concerns over how to confirm that the permission actually came from a parent. Electronic scans of signed consent forms are acceptable, as is video-teleconferencing between the website operator or online service and the parent, according to the agency.
The FTC also said it is encouraging technology companies to recommend additional verification methods. Leibowitz said he expects that this will "unleash innovation around consent mechanisms."
Emailed consent is also acceptable as long as the business confirms it by sending an email back to the parent or calling or sending a letter. In cases of email confirmation, the information collected can only be used for internal use by that company and not shared with third parties, the agency said.
The FTC's investigation of apps developers came after the agency examined 400 kids' apps that it purchased from Apple's iTunes store and Google's apps store, Google Play. It determined that 60 percent of them transmitted the user's unique device identification to the software maker or, more frequently, to advertising networks and companies that compile, analyze and sell consumer information for marketing campaigns.
- Created on 21 December 2012
(AP) — The world's happiest people aren't in Qatar, the richest country by most measures. They aren't in Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy. Canada, with its chart-topping percentage of college graduates, doesn't make the top 10.
A poll released Wednesday of nearly 150,000 people around the world says seven of the world's 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.
Many of the seven do poorly in traditional measures of well-being, like Guatemala, a country torn by decades of civil war followed by waves of gang-driven criminality that give it one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala sits just above Iraq on the United Nations' Human Development Index, a composite of life expectancy, education and per capita income. But it ranks seventh in positive emotions.
"In Guatemala, it's a culture of friendly people who are always smiling," said Luz Castillo, a 30-year-old surfing instructor. "Despite all the problems that we're facing, we're surrounded by natural beauty that lets us get away from it all."
Gallup Inc. asked about 1,000 people in each of 148 countries last year if they were well-rested, had been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting and felt feelings of enjoyment the previous day.
In Panama and Paraguay, 85 percent of those polled said yes to all five, putting those countries at the top of the list. They were followed closely by El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
The people least likely to report positive emotions lived in Singapore, the wealthy and orderly city-state that ranks among the most developed in the world. Other wealthy countries also sat surprisingly low on the list. Germany and France tied with the poor African state of Somaliland for 47th place.
Prosperous nations can be deeply unhappy ones. And poverty-stricken ones are often awash in positivity, or at least a close approximation of it.
It's a paradox with serious implications for a relatively new and controversial field called happiness economics that seeks to improve government performance by adding people's perceptions of their satisfaction to traditional metrics such as life expectancy, per capita income and graduation rates.
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan famously measures policies by their impact on a concept called Gross National Happiness.
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a national well-being program in 2010 as part of a pledge to improve Britons' lives in the wake of the global recession. A household survey sent to 200,000 Britons asks questions like "How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?"
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which unites 34 of the world's most advanced countries, recently created a Better Life Index allowing the public to compare countries based on quality of life in addition to material well-being.
Some experts say that's a dangerous path that could allow governments to use positive public perceptions as an excuse to ignore problems. As an example of the risks, some said, the Gallup poll may have been skewed by a Latin American cultural proclivity to avoid negative statements regardless of how one actually feels.
"My immediate reaction is that this influenced by cultural biases," said Eduardo Lora, who studied the statistical measurement of happiness as the former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank
"What the empirical literature says is that some cultures tend to respond to any type of question in a more positive way," said Lora, a native of Colombia, the 11th most-positive country.
For the nine least positive countries, some were not surprising, like Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti. For others at the bottom, Armenia at the second lowest spot, Georgia and Lithuania, misery is something a little more ephemeral.
"Feeling unhappy is part of the national mentality here," said Agaron Adibekian, a sociologist in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. "Armenians like being mournful; there have been so many upheavals in the nation's history. The Americans keep their smiles on and avoid sharing their problems with others. And the Armenians feel ashamed about being successful."
The United States was No. 33 in positive outlook. Latin America's biggest economies, Mexico and Brazil, sat more than 20 places further down the list.
Jon Clifton, a partner at Gallup, acknowledged the poll partly measured cultures' overall tendency to express emotions, positive or negative. But he said skeptics shouldn't undervalue the expression of positive emotion as an important phenomenon in and of itself.
"Those expressions are a reality, and that's exactly what we're trying to quantify," he said. "I think there is higher positive emotionality in these countries."
Some Latin Americans said the poll hit something fundamental about their countries: a habit of focusing on posivites such as friends, family and religion despite daily lives that can be grindingly difficult.
Carlos Martinez sat around a table with 11 fellow construction workers in a Panama City restaurant sharing a breakfast of corn empanadas, fried chicken and coffee before heading to work on one of the hundreds of new buildings that have sprouted during a yearslong economic boom driven in large part by the success of the Panama Canal. The boom has sent unemployment plunging, but also increased traffic and crime.
Martinez pronounced himself unhappy with rising crime but "happy about my family."
"Overall, I'm happy because this is a country with many natural resources, a country that plays an important role in the world," he said. "We're Caribbean people, we're people who like to celebrate, to eat well and live as well as we can. There are a lot of possibilities here, you just have to sacrifice a little more."
Singapore sits 32 places higher than Panama on the Human Development Index, but at the opposite end of the happiness list. And things weren't looking good Wednesday to Richard Low, a 33-year-old businessman in the prosperous Asian metropolis.
"We work like dogs and get paid peanuts. There's hardly any time for holidays or just to relax in general because you're always thinking ahead: when the next deadline or meeting is. There is hardly a fair sense of work-life balance here," he said.
In Paraguay, tied with Panama as the most-positive country while doing far worse than Panama by objective measures, street vendor Maria Solis said tough economic conditions were no reason to despair.
"Life is short and there are no reasons to be sad because even if we were rich, there would still be problems," she said while selling herbs used for making tea. "We have to laugh at ourselves."
- Created on 19 December 2012
(AP) — President Barack Obama is launching an administration-wide effort to curb gun violence, underscoring the growing political consensus over tightening gun restrictions following the horrific massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.
Obama is tasking Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate, with spearheading the effort. In remarks from the White House on Wednesday, Obama will outline a process for pursuing policy changes following the school shooting, though he is not expected to call for specific measures.
The president has vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to safeguard the nation's children after Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six adults were killed at the school by a gunman carrying an arsenal of ammunition and a high-powered, military-style rifle.
The White House sees some urgency in formulating a policy response to the shooting, even as Obama and his top aides are consumed with averting the "fiscal cliff" before tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January. The incident has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there is some fear that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases.
Many pro-gun lawmakers also have called for a greater focus on mental health issues and the impact of violent entertainment. White House aides say stricter gun laws alone are not the answer.
"It's a complex problem that requires more than one solution," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. "It calls for not only re-examining our gun laws and how well we enforce them, but also for engaging mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities to find those solutions."
Still, much of the immediate focus after the shooting is on gun control, an issue that has been dormant in Washington for years. Obama expended little political capital on gun issues during his first term, despite several mass shootings, including a movie theater attack in Aurora, Colo., in the midst of this year's presidential campaign.
The White House has begun to signal that Obama may be more proactive on gun issues following the murders of the elementary school youngsters, ages 6 and 7.
Carney said Obama was "actively supportive" of legislation to reinstate a ban on assault-style weapons that expired in 2004. The president long has supported a ban, but exerted little effort to get it passed during his first term. Obama also would support closing a gun show loophole allowing people to buy arms from private dealers without background checks and would be interested in legislation limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines, Carney said.
The policy process Obama was announcing Wednesday was expected to include input from the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. The heads of those agencies met with Obama at the White House on Monday.