Friday, March 9, 2012

Children Found Living In Abandoned School Bus While Parents Serve Time In Prison

The imprisoned father of two Texas children found living in an abandoned school bus is claiming the home was only meant to be temporary.

Mark Shorten said he planned to build a house on a wooded lot near Houston before he and his wife were arrested for embezzlement in 2010. Child welfare officials took custody of his children earlier this week after the siblings -- a 5-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl -- were found living in the dilapidated bus at the end of a muddy, one-lane road in Splendora, home to one of the poorest school districts in the state.

Fox affiliate KRIV-TV reported Thursday that no charges have been filed yet in the case. The children's parents are in federal prison for stealing money from victims of Hurricane Ike, which struck in 2008, according to the station.

The postal carrier saw the kids Wednesday near Houston, and the two were swiftly placed in foster care while authorities investigate.

"The little girl's hair was just matted, like a stray dog's," Vanessa Picazo said.

The father of the pair said he never intended for the bus to be a permanent home. He said the family had planned to build a house at the site, which was now strewn with reeking trash.

"The house is normally clean. If me or my wife were there, it would not be in that shape, I assure you," Shorten said. "Our house would be completed or almost completed."

Randal McCann, a Louisiana attorney who represented the children's mother prior to her imprisonment, said an aunt had been taking care of the kids since the case against the parents was launched more than a year ago. The kids were not enrolled in school.

"It was believed by everybody involved in this case that (the aunt) was properly tending to those children. What I saw in the newspaper this morning was shocking," McCann said, referring to a report in the Houston Chronicle.

McCann said the aunt would often contact him but only to discuss the criminal case and not the children.

"But there was no indication that the living conditions were as bad as those photographs," McCann said.

It was not clear how long the children had been living in the bus and whether the aunt lived with them or simply made visits. KRIV reported that the woman lived on the bus but held a full-time job, often leaving the children alone for 12 hours a day.

A spokesman for Child Protective Services said authorities were less concerned about the bus itself than with children's overall well-being.

Shorten and his wife, Sherrie, were convicted of embezzling money from victims of Hurricane Ike. The mother was arrested in December 2010, the father in March 2011.

In a phone interview with The Associated Press from an Oklahoma City federal prison, Mark Shorten said he had not slept since his children were taken Wednesday.

Shorten said an aunt who was asked to watch the kids couldn't keep up, and he blamed the garbage blanketing his property on neighbors dumping their trash there.

Sherrie Shorten is scheduled to be released next month.

"I'm coming home in 30 days to be able to take care of my kids," she said from a separate federal prison in Lake Charles, La.

An Associated Press reporter visited the site Thursday. The bus appeared to have electricity, and outside there was a small propane tank and homemade grill.

A woman who was in the bus declined to identify herself and told the reporter to leave.

The Shortens said the bus also has hot and cold running water, including a shower and flush toilets, as well as heat and closets.

Picazo said her latest visit to the bus was not the first time she was worried about the children. Once when she needed a signature for a package, the 11-year-old girl volunteered. But when Picazo handed her the signature slip, the girl confessed she didn't know how to sign her name.

That was a "red flag that she wasn't being schooled. But she was a bright child," Picazo said.

New Study Shows Alcohol Depiction In Movies Influences Teens To Binge Drink

Christian Post--Alcohol depiction in movies directly influences actual alcohol intake and binge drinking in teens, a new study reveals.

Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently published the report investigating alcohol consumption in movies and adolescent binge drinking in six European countries, discovering a significant correlation between movie alcohol use exposure and lifetime binge drinking.

European adolescents who were exposed to the most images of alcohol through popular movies were most likely to have engaged in at least one episode of binge drinking – consuming more than five drinks on one occasion.

"Our findings raise concern about the role popular movies may play in Europe and beyond in the early experimentation patterns of alcohol consumption in adolescents," the authors shared. "These patterns have the potential to have a detrimental influence on individual health and future drinking trajectories and to be costly at a societal level."

Six research centers in Germany, Iceland, Italy, Poland, Netherlands, and Scotland conducted the study, surveying 16,551 students in total from 114 state-funded public schools. The participants were between the ages of 10 to 19.

Students in each country received a random selection of 50 movies from a country-specific list of 250 box-office hits, and were asked to indicate how often they had seen each movie. Researchers reviewed each of the movies and counted the number of times alcohol appeared on the screen, i.e. whenever a major or minor character handled or used alcohol in a scene or when alcohol use was shown in the background. Eighty-six percent of the total 655 movies included at least one alcohol scene.

Using their tallies, the total number of drinking scenes viewed by each student was calculated. Participants were also asked how often they had five or more drinks of alcohol on one occasion.

A number of covariates that could affect the relationship between exposure to alcohol consumption in movies and binge drinking were also included, i.e. sociodemographic circumstances, behavioral and personality traits, television viewing, and drinking of peers, parents and siblings.

The results showed the lowest exposures occurred among Dutch and German students, and the highest from Italy and Iceland.

In each of the countries, the most highly exposed teens had seen an overwhelming 10,000 alcohol depictions from his or her country-specific sample of popular movies.

Overall, the study noted that in all countries youth who were exposed to alcohol use in movies were significantly more likely to have engaged in binge drinking even after controlling for age, gender, family affluence, school performance, television screen time, sensation seeking and rebelliousness, and frequency of drinking of peers, parents, and siblings.

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Police Officers Forced To Take Constitution 101 Class After Wrongfully Arresting Pro-Life Group

State police will no longer illegally arrest and silence pro-life advocates in Maryland. What's more, police will participate in training on constitutionally protected rights. It's all part of a settlement the state has reached with with a group of pro-life advocates.

The Maryland Board of Public Works voted Wednesday to settle a lawsuit filed by Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) attorneys on behalf of pro-life advocates who had been censored and arrested for peacefully sharing their message on public property in Harford County in 2008.

“Pro-life advocates shouldn’t be silenced and arrested for peacefully speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves,” says ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “The state is doing the right thing in agreeing to respect their constitutionally protected rights and to make sure officers fully understand these important freedoms. Pro-life speech cannot be censored through unwarranted arrests and illegal orders to disperse.”

Most of the 18 people arrested were jailed overnight, and several teenage girls in the group were strip-searched by county detention officers. Harford County settled its part of the lawsuit in March of last year, agreeing to a policy change to ensure that peaceful protesters will be protected from undergoing such searches at the county detention center.

Under the terms of the settlement, Maryland State Police cannot issue countywide dispersal orders against peaceful pro-life speakers, cannot illegally arrest pro-life speakers who are exercising their constitutionally protected free speech and assembly rights, must provide acceptable reasons for asking any speakers to move, must provide speakers with the opportunity to move before threatening anyone with arrest, cannot censor constitutionally protected messages and images on signs, and must participate in training on rights protected by the First and Fourth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The settlement also requires the state to pay for the pro-life advocates’ attorneys’ fees.

The case began in 2008 when at least 12 state and municipal police officers handcuffed 18 participants in Defend Life’s annual “Face the Truth” Pro-Life Tour. The participants started their peaceful event along a public road in Harford County. Later, however, the group relocated several miles away to public property in the town of Bel Air, near where they had been several times in past tours. They moved because state troopers ordered them to leave the county for not having a county permit to engage in free speech activities, even though the county does not have any such permit requirement. Despite that, the officers later arrested the participants in Bel Air for failing to obey the countywide order to disperse.

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Chick-Fil-A Restaurant Barred From College Campus After Protests

BOSTON (BP) -- Last week, the student senate at Northeastern University, in Boston, voted to end negotiations to bring fast-food chain Chick-fil-A to campus after students protested over the company's affiliation with several Christian organizations the students say have an "anti-gay" agenda.

The Atlanta-based company, dogged for months by accusations of homophobia, insists it is "not anti-anybody" but instead simply wants to "graciously serve great food and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."

But students from at least 10 campuses aren't buying it. Incensed over the company's Christian values, they opposed new franchises and lobbied for the removal of existing restaurants on campuses across the country. Although the furor has generated a lot of media attention, prompting the company's president to publicly defend its philanthropic affiliations, it's not likely to hurt Chick-fil-A's bottom line. With about 1,540 restaurants in 38 states and annual sales figures topping $3 billion, the company still has plenty of fans.

At Northeastern, the student body eagerly embraced Chick-fil-A's proposal to become a vendor in the student center, until a small group of students complained about the organizations to which the company contributes through its WinShape Foundation. Led by Senior Taylor Cotter, a member of the school's' student senate who spent almost a year opposing the company's interest in coming to campus, the students circulated a petition and gathered 300 signatures -- about 1.5 percent of the student body. Despite the relatively small opposition, the school's student government quickly voted to end negotiations with the company.

School administrators supported the decision, saying the company's principles contradicted Northeastern's respect for diversity and support for the gay community: "We are proud of the decision that affirms our university's commitment to be an inclusive, diverse community that is respectful of all," college spokeswoman Renata Nyul said in a prepared statement.

Responding with their own written statement, company representatives said they were disappointed over the school's "hasty" decision: "We are not anti-anybody and Chick-fil-A [has] no agenda, policy or position against anyone as some reports continue to represent."

Company president Dan Cathy insists Chick-fil-A is not a Christian company, just one founded on biblical principles. But thanks in part to the company's affiliation with pro-family groups, its frequent presence at large religious rallies and the praise music reverberating from speakers in its restaurants, both fans and detractors often refer to it as one of the country's most overtly Christian businesses.

Through the WinShape Foundation, started by company founders Truett and Jeannette Cathy, Chick-fil-A donates to several Christian organizations, including The Marriage & Family Legacy Fund, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the National Christian Foundation. According to its statement, Chick-fil-A has given the groups $1,714,199. None of the organizations the company supports has an "anti-gay" agenda, although as Christian groups, they do uphold and support heterosexual marriage, Donald A. Perry, the company's vice president of corporate public relations, said in his statement.

"I want to assure you that the historical intent of our Foundation and corporate giving have been toward compassion, principally by serving youth and families," he said. The company gives millions of dollars every year toward education.

Chick-fil-A also has faced opposition at Duke University, Bowling Green University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Gainesville State College, Indiana University South Bend, Mississippi State University, Texas Tech University, the University of North Texas and New York University.

NYU freshman Hillary Dwarkoski, of Santa Monica, Calif., started an online petition asking school officials to close the existing Chick-fil-A location on campus. The petition now includes almost 11,000 signatures.

But not all students oppose the restaurant. In an opinion piece published in The BG News, the Bowling Green University newspaper, student Rob Furia chided school officials over their decision to remove Chick-fil-A from the list of possible replacements for Wendy's, which previously held a spot in the school's cafeteria: "It seems the decision was made based largely on faulty assumptions about Chick-fil-A's charitable work, meaning a hasty conclusion was drawn to avoid association with a company that was unfairly labeled."
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