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"That Tree Is So Perfect For Lynching": NC State Frat Suspended Over Alleged Link to Outrageously Offensive Pledge Book

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 3:36 PM EDT
The Court of North Carolina, North Carolina State University

Update: The Associated Press reports that North Carolina State University will temporarily ban alcohol from social events at more than 20 fraternities. The ban would not apply to historically black Greek organizations or the Multicultural Greek Council.  

Amid ire over racist activity at the Sigma Alpha Episilon chapter at Oklahoma University that led to its shut down, a pair of fraternities at North Carolina State University are under investigation this month—one for sexual assault and drug allegations, the other for its relationship to a book containing derogatory and racially charged language. 

A student who had reported she was sexually assaulted at the Alpha Tau Omega frat house said she saw at least one of the fraternity's members dealing cocaine, ecstasy and LCD at the house.

On Thursday, according to a search warrant obtained by The News & Observer, campus police seized drug paraphernalia, white powder and an orange liquid at the Alpha Tau Omega house after a student, who had also reported she was sexually assaulted at the house, said she saw at least one of the fraternity's members dealing cocaine, ecstasy and LSD at the house. No arrests or charges have been made in connection to either the drug or sexual assault inquiries.

The fraternity was suspended two days after the student filed the sexual assault complaint with campus police. Alpha Tau Omega CEO Wynn Smily told WTVD the drug paraphernalia belonged to a pledge and that he had been kicked out of the house. "It's devastating for the organization's reputation," Smiley said. "It's very unsettling and it's too bad this has all happened." He went on to accuse the alleged victim in the investigation of lying. 

"What she claims was happening in the chapter house was not happening. This woman's claims to police that she saw all kind of drug activity going on in the house, we believe that to be at best wildly exaggerated and in many cases, fabricated. Her credibility throughout this whole process has been certainly in question."

Meanwhile, the discovery of an apparent pledge book linked to the Pi Kappa Phi chapter at NC State has led to a school probe. WRAL reported that the book, found at a restaurant near campus, contained disturbing racial and sexual commentary. Some of the handwritten comments included: 

"It will be short and painful, just like when I rape you."

"If she's hot enough, she doesn't need a pulse."

"That tree is so perfect for lynching." 

The chapter has been temporarily suspended as a result of the inquiry. In a statement on the fraternity's national website, CEO Mark Timmes said it would cooperate with the school's investigation. "The written comments and quotes reported earlier this evening are offensive and unacceptable. These statements are inconsistent with the values of Pi Kappa Phi and will not be tolerated."

The investigations follow a string of behavioral misconduct at fraternities across the country. The Kappa Delta Rho fraternity at Penn State University was suspended for a year on Tuesday after a former member told police about two private Facebook pages in which members shared photos of nude and partially nude women, drug sales and hazing, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The pages included photos of nude and partially nude women, some of whom appeared asleep or passed out. The fraternity could face criminal charges under the state's "revenge porn" law that went into effect in September. 

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After Mother Jones Report, University of Arkansas Pulls Diary Critical of the Clintons

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 3:19 PM EDT

On Tuesday, I reported on the newly public diary of retired Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), the longtime Clinton ally, which is included in the 89-year-old's personal papers at the University of Arkansas. In entries penned during the 1980s, Bumpers was highly critical of the Clintons, dishing on the future First Couple's "obsessive" qualities and alleged "dirty tricks" by Bill Clinton's gubernatorial campaign. Bumpers, who gave the closing argument for the defense in President Clinton's impeachment trial, became a close friend and confidante of the president later in his career. But the previously unreported entries revealed a more tense relationship in the early going, as Clinton vied for political elbow room with the Democratic icon.

In response to the Mother Jones piece, the University of Arkansas library has pulled the diary from its collection at the request of Bumpers' son, Brent. Per the Arkansas Democrat–Gazette:

Brent Bumpers of Little Rock, son of the former senator, said he was "shocked" by the diary. He has questioned its origin and authenticity, saying nobody in the family had ever heard anything about Dale Bumpers keeping a dairy.

Brent Bumpers said his father, who is 89 years old, doesn't remember keeping a diary. He said Dale Bumpers always admired the Clintons and wouldn't have written the things the diary contains.

Brent Bumpers said he wants to review the diary, but he won't have the opportunity for several days.

Although Dale Bumpers hasn't personally requested that the diary be pulled, Laura Jacobs, UA associate vice chancellor for university relations, said Brent Bumpers is speaking and acting on behalf of his father regarding the Dale Bumpers Papers.

But the Bumpers diary could not have been written by anyone but Dale Bumpers. When not commenting on the various politicians he interacted with, it is filled with personal musings on his wife, Betty, and three kids; the strains of the job; can't-miss events such as the annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival; and the trials of a first-time candidate at an Iowa presidential cattle call—all interspersed with the thoughtful reflections of a lawmaker who was generally regarded as such.

This is the second time in the last year that the University of Arkansas has made news by restricting access to a political archive in its special collections. Last year, the university's library blocked the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, from accessing its collections because of a dispute over publishing rights. (The library ultimately backed down.)

With Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush both running for president, reporters (and opposition researchers) will have more access to archival records than perhaps ever before. The two candidates have nearly a century of public life between them; that's a heck of a paper trail. This may not be the last time a little-noticed archive makes news.

Friday Cat Blogging - 20 March 2015

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 2:12 PM EDT

Appearances to the contrary, I might be getting better this morning. Cross your fingers, and we'll see how things go tomorrow.

Our hummingbird babies are fully mobile! I took some pictures of them this morning, and when I carefully edged in for a slightly closer angle they took off like a shot. This was plainly not their maiden voyage. They're all grown up now. Sniff.

In other news, longtime readers will remember that I once blogged about Louis the cathedral cat after a visit to Wells Cathedral in 2008. He was very friendly. However, in one of those inevitable town-gown controversies, Louis is now being accused of attacking dogs in the nearby area. But it might just be a case of mistaken identity: "I’ve heard there is another ginger cat around at the moment," said one witness, "and it’s quite possible that it’s him attacking dogs. We don’t know for sure whether or not Louis was involved. Louis had definitely been in the shop just before the incident happened outside, but it could have been a different cat."

Today's Epic Solar Eclipse Captured In Beautiful Photos

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 2:04 PM EDT

This morning, Europe and parts of Africa and Asia experienced a rare solar eclipse. The last time such an event of this significance took place was back in 1999. That this eclipse also happened to fall on the spring equinox was an even more of a unique phenomenon that last occurred in 1662. Despite early reports predicting that heavy clouds would block a proper glimpse, eager residents, tourists, and astronomers gathered across the continent to witness the eclipse. Here are some of the images that were captured:

Sarajevo, Bosnia Amel Emric/AP
 
Svalbard, Norway Haakon Mosvold Larsen/AP
Greenwich Observatory, London Rex Features/AP
Skopje, Macedonia Boris Grdanoski/AP

Those in the higher Arctic regions were lucky enough to experience a total solar eclipse. But residents in the Faroe Islands—previously touted as one of the more impressive locations to view the event—were reportedly disappointed by the thick clouds, according to the Guardian. Berlin, on the other hand, boasted clear skies.

And to complete the occasion, here's British Member of the European Parliament Roger Helmer, who used the event to drop in some apparent climate denial. (Helmer has previously asserted that "the relationship between global temperature and atmospheric Co2 levels is hugely open to question.")

 

This Declassified CIA Report Shows the Shaky Case for the Iraq War

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 1:31 PM EDT

The United States began its invasion of Iraq 12 years ago. Yesterday, a previously classified Central Intelligence Agency report containing supposed proof of the country's weapons of mass destruction was published by Jason Leopold of Vice News. Put together nine months before the start of the war, the National Intelligence Estimate spells out what the CIA knew about Iraq's ability to produce biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. It would become the backbone of the Bush administration's mistaken assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and posed a direct threat to the post-9/11 world.

The report is rife with what now are obvious red flags that the Bush White House oversold the case for war. It asserts that Iraq had an active chemical weapons program at one point, though it admits that the CIA had found no evidence of the program's continuation. It repeatedly includes caveats like "credible evidence is limited." It gives little space to the doubts of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which found the CIA's findings on Iraq's nuclear program unconvincing and "at best ambiguous."

This isn't the first time the report's been released in full: A version was made public in 2004, but nearly all the text was redacted. Last year, transparency advocate John Greenwald successfully petitioned the CIA for a more complete version. Greenwald shared the document with Leopold.

Here's the full report:

 

 

Obama Administration Reveals New Federal Rules on Fracking

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 1:27 PM EDT

On Friday, the Obama administration put forth the first major federal standards regulating hydraulic fracturing—the oil and gas extraction technique commonly referred to as fracking. The regulations will, among other things, require companies working on public lands to reveal which chemicals they used in their drilling processes. But as the New York Times notes, the impact of the new rules will be limited since most fracking in the United States takes place on private land. From the Times story:

The regulations, which are to take effect in 90 days, will allow government workers to inspect and validate the safety and integrity of the cement barriers that line fracking wells. They will require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in the fracturing process within 30 days of completing fracking operations.

The rules will also set safety standards for how companies can store used fracking chemicals around well sites, and will require companies to submit detailed information on well geology to the Bureau of Land Management, a part of the Interior Department.

Environmentalists aren't exactly thrilled with the new regulations; many were instead calling for the government to ban fracking on all public lands.

"This fracking rule is merely a continuation of Obama's harmful all-of-the-above energy policy that emphasizes natural gas development over protection of public health and the environment," said Friends of the Earth's Kate DeAngelis in a press release. "This country needs real climate leadership from President Obama, not weak regulations that do nothing to stop the devastating impacts of climate disruption."

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Facebook Is Being Sued for Gender and Racial Discrimination. Here's Why.

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 3:59 PM EDT

In a lawsuit filed against Facebook on Monday, former employee Chia Hong accused the company of gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and sex harassment.* She is represented by Lawless & Lawless, the same law firm representing Ellen Pao in the high-profile gender discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. (And yes, Lawless really is the last name of the two sisters who head the firm.)

Hong, who worked as a product manager at Facebook until October 2013, alleges that she suffered from discrimination by her boss, Anil Wilson, and dozens of other coworkers during her three years at the company. She also claims that she was wrongfully terminated after complaining about the harassment and discrimination.

The complaint states that Facebook employment policies were "neutral on their face" but "resulted in a disparate impact" on Hong, due to her gender:

The harassment included, but was not limited to, ANIL WILSON regularly ignoring or belittling plaintiff's professional opinions and input at group meetings in which she was the only woman or one of very few; asking plaintiff why she did not just stay home and take care of her child instead of having a career; admonishing plaintiff for taking one personal day per month to volunteer at her child' s school, which was permitted under company policy; ordering plaintiff to organize parties and serve drinks to male colleagues, which was not a part of plaintiff's job description and not something that was requested of males with whom she worked; and telling plaintiff he had heard she was an "order taker," by which he meant that she did not exercise independent discretion in the execution of her job duties.

It also alleges racial discrimination against her:

The discrimination included, but was not limited to, plaintiff having her professional opinions belittled or ignored at group meetings in which she was one of the only employees of Chinese descent; plaintiff being told that she was not integrated into the team because she looks different and talks differently than other team members, and plaintiff being replaced by a less qualified, less experienced Indian male.

This latest case comes as various Silicon Valley companies are struggling to diversify their conspicuously white, male workforces. According to a report issued by Facebook last June, 69 percent of its employees are male—including 77 percent among senior staff and 85 percent among its tech workers. The report also found that Facebook's overall workforce was 57 percent white and 34 percent Asian.

In a statement to TechCrunch on Wednesday about the lawsuit, a Facebook spokesperson refuted Hong's allegations: "We work extremely hard on issues related to diversity, gender and equality, and we believe we’ve made progress. In this case we have substantive disagreements on the facts, and we believe the record shows the employee was treated fairly."

Correction: The initial version of this post misstated the allegation as "sexual harassment."

This Adorable Video of a Baby Frog Squeaking Is the Best Thing You'll See Today

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 3:54 PM EDT

The following is a delightful clip of a baby frog screaming, apparently discovered by BBC in the desert. It's the kind of high-pitched yelling normally expected from a dog's chew toy, not a frog. It's adorable and should be watched on repeat below:

(h/t Gabrielle Canon)

Thursday Hummingbird Blogging - 19 March 2015

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 2:15 PM EDT

Sorry for the lack of blogging yet again. In the meantime, here's the latest pic of our baby hummingbirds. They look perilously close to flapping their wings and leaving the nest.

Obama Is Ordering the Federal Government to Slash Its Greenhouse Emissions

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 11:19 AM EDT

President Barack Obama will once again use his executive authority to mandate action on climate change, the White House announced this morning. Later today, Obama plans to sign an executive order directing the federal government to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 percent below 2008 levels within a decade. The White House announcement also includes carbon-reduction commitments from a number of large government contractors, including GE and IBM.

From the Associated Press:

All told, the government pollution cuts along with industry contributions will have the effect of keeping 26 million metric tons of greenhouse gases out of the air by 2025, or the equivalent of what about 5.5 million cars would pump out through their tailpipes in an average year, the White House said. Yet it was unclear exactly how either the government or private companies planned to meet those targets.

In other words, it will take until 2025 to for the cuts to reach 26 million metric tons per year. And even that is a pretty small fraction of the nation's total carbon footprint, which was nearly 7 billion metric tons in 2013. But the announcement garnered praise from environmental groups as a sign of Obama's leadership on climate. In a statement, Natural Resources Defense Council president Rhea Suh called the announcement "a powerful reminder of how much progress we can make simply through energy efficiency and greater reliance on clean, renewable sources of energy."

The executive order will be the latest step the president has taken to confront climate change that won't require him to push legislation through a recalcitrant, GOP-controlled Congress. In the last couple years his administration has imposed tight limits on vehicle emissions and has put forward a flagship set of new rules under the Clean Air Act to slash carbon pollution from power plants. Obama also negotiated a bilateral deal with China that featured a suite of new climate promises from both countries. And sometime this spring, the president will announce what kind of commitments his administration will bring to the table for a high-stakes round of UN-led negotiations that are meant to produce a new international climate accord.

According to the White House, today's executive order directs federal agencies to:

  • Procure a quarter of their total energy from clean sources by 2025;
  • Cut energy use in federal buildings 2.5 percent per year over the next decade;
  • Purchase more plug-in hybrid vehicles for federal fleets and reduce per-mile greenhouse gas emissions overall by 30 percent by 2025;
  • Reduce water use in federal buildings 2 percent per year through 2025.