In October, a Harvard University debate team (three-time recent champions of the American Parliamentary Debate Association) lost a match to a team of prisoners from the maximum-security Eastern New York Correctional Facility. Prison debaters "are held to the exact same standards" as college debate teams, according to the director of Bard College's Prison Initiative, which coaches the inmates. Prisoners took the "pro" side of public schools having the right to turn away students whose parents had entered the U.S. illegally (though team members personally disagreed). The Bard trainers pointed out that the inmates perfected their presentation despite (or perhaps because of) the prison prohibition on Internet access.

Compelling explanations

A 19-year-old black alleged gang member, Taurus Brown, was arrested in Clearwater, Fla., in September for having a marijuana cigarette tucked behind his ear as he talked politely to a white police officer. He tried to flee on foot but was quickly taken down. Asked why he ran, Brown replied (according to the police report): "I don't like white people touching me. White people do weird stuff."

Unclear on the concept

The Merit Systems Protection Board is (wrote the Washington Post) "a personnel court of last resort" for federal employees unfairly punished by demotion or firing — which is just what employee Timothy Korb needed when his federal agency suspended him in 2013, allegedly for revealing at a staff meeting that the agency's actual case backlog was much worse than it was letting on. Korb's employer, ironically, is the Merit Systems Protection Board, and in September 2015, an administrative law judge upheld his claim of unfairness.

Anna Stubblefield, a philosophy professor at Rutgers-Newark University, was convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a severely disabled man she was discovered having sex with on the floor in a locked office, but at trial in September, she testified that the man had "consent(ed)" and that the two were "in love." The victim, 34, has cerebral palsy and other ailments, wears diapers, requires assistance for nearly all activities, is intellectually disabled, and does not speak, "except for making noises," according to a brother. Stubblefield had been working with him on the controversial practice of "facilitated communication," in which a facilitator reads a patient's mind via subtleties such as eye movement and articulates the words for him. A jury failed to appreciate that facilitated "consent" and quickly convicted her.


In rare bipartisan action, the U.S. Senate is preparing a bill to ban taxpayer funds for military salutes at sporting events. Teams (the legislators believe) already benefit from the fan-friendly staging of heartwarming patriotic displays. (The Pentagon had paid $5.4 million just to the National Football League over the past four years.) An NFL spokesman, finally playing catch-up, said in September, "No one should be paid to honor our troops."

Legislators in action

In a recent resolution, Blount County (Tenn.) Commissioner Karen Miller called for her fellow commissioners and state officials all the way up to the governor to prepare for "God's wrath" for recent national policies (same-sex marriage, etc.) she disagrees with. Miller's resolution calls on God to spare Blount County (by the "safety of the Passover lamb"). In October, the commission tabled the resolution, 10-5, but she promised to reintroduce it.


In June, Tennessee's much-publicized program to kick drug users off welfare rolls (and only from welfare rolls, among all people receiving any type of state subsidy) wound up in its first year cutting off fewer than 40 out of 28,559 people on public assistance. Nonetheless, the sponsoring legislators said they were pleased with the program and planned no changes. The state paid a contractor $11,000 to conduct 468 drug tests, but did not disclose staff costs.

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