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ACLU: Oklahoma school's national anthem policy is unconstitutional

The American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that an Oklahoma school's national anthem policy is unconstitutional.

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The statement was released after Stuart Public Schools enacted a policy requiring all students, staff and spectators to stand for the national anthem, prohibiting any form of protest.

The Hughes County school's policy was announced amid a nationwide conversation about kneeling during the national anthem. Professional football players started kneeling in protest of police brutality against minorities. The protests received increased scrutiny after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who chose to join the protests.

While some say the protests are disrespectful to U.S. service members, other say they fall under free speech and raise awareness to an important domestic issue in the country.

The ACLU of Oklahoma's legal director released a statement Wednesday:

“Stuart Public Schools’ new policy is blatantly unconstitutional and unenforceable. The Supreme Court has made clear that students have the right to express themselves. Our Constitution guarantees that public schools can neither mandate forced displays of patriotism and nationalism, nor forbid lawful protests against injustice. Stuart Public Schools has chosen to violate both of these guarantees. This school district’s school’s leaders are in desperate need of a First Amendment lesson, one that they are likely to receive swiftly in the event they actually attempt to enforce this unlawful policy.”

The organization's director of external affairs also released a statement:

“Forcing students to stand for the National Anthem is irresponsible and flies in the face of every conceivable understanding of the First Amendment. If this school district were actually interested in real patriotism, they would do their duty as a government actor to uphold the values of the Constitution rather than waste taxpayers’ time and resources with an unlawful attempt to shut down the expression of their students and staff.”

Fugitive turns himself in, with doughnuts, after issuing challenge to police

A man made good on his promise to turn himself in to police in Michigan this week with a box of doughnuts in-hand after he challenged officers to get a Facebook post shared 1,000 times after taunting the department on social media.

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“You guys suck!” wrote 21-year-old Michael Zaydel, who goes by the name “Champagne Torino” on Facebook, in response to an Oct. 6 post from the Redford Township Police Department.

Zaydel was wanted on multiple misdemeanor warrants and taunted police on social media, writing that he was sure they didn’t know his last name and later messaging officers with a challenge.

“If (your) next post gets a thousand shares I’ll turn myself in along with a dozen doughnuts,” Zaydel wrote, according to a screenshot shared by police. “And that’s a promise. And I’ll pick up every piece of litter around all your public schools.”

The post was subsequently shared more than 4,500 times. Police said they topped the 1,000 share mark in less than an hour.

Zaydel turned himself in to authorities 10 days later, according to authorities.

“He walked in on his own, and not only did he bring the donuts, he brought one bagel!” police said in a Facebook post. “We would again like to express our gratitude for the support of all who followed this, shared it and left us positive feedback.”

Police officer rescues kitten and raccoon found cuddling in dumpster

An animal control officer with the Knoxville Police Department responded to a call that could have been taken out of a Disney movie.

KMBC reported that Officer Nick Powell responded to a call about an animal stuck in a dumpster in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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“When Officer Powell looked inside the dumpster he located two unusual companions -- a kitten and a baby raccoon -- cuddled in the corner keeping each other warm,” a Wednesday post on the department’s Facebook page said.

Commenters expressed concern that the raccoon would be euthanized and the kitten would be quarantined or euthanized, but an update from the department indicates a happier ending.

“The raccoon was relocated and released. The kitten was transported to Young Williams Animal Center,” department officials said. 

According to the Young Williams Animal Center website, the center’s goal is to find a home for all pets.

There’s now a Harry Potter wizarding school in Central Texas

Feeling bummed about never receiving your Hogwarts letter?

Well, you may be able to live out your Harry Potter dreams after all.

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Worthwich School’s annual Worthwich Wizarding Weekend, described as a “3-day magical retreat to Worthwich School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” is taking place in Killeen, Texas, Oct. 27-29.

And yes, it’s eerily similar to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The retreat is for adults 21 and up and lasts three days, with a curriculum of classes including potions, charms, defensive magic, divination, astronomy, herbology, magical creatures and flying lessons. First-year students even get sorted into their houses, just like at Hogwarts (no word on if there’s a magical Sorting Hat, though). 

The weekend kicks off with wand-making classes, pumpkin carving and magical shopping, followed by a sorting ceremony. There will be screenings each night, magical sporting games and classes throughout the weekend. Tickets, which are $400 per person for the entire weekend, include lodging, food and drinks. 

You can buy tickets and get more information here.

Worthwich also offers regular wand making classes in Austin and across Texas, as well as Harry Potter trivia nights. 

Critics say Museum of Ice Cream’s plastic sprinkles pose environmental risks 

Environmentalists in San Francisco and Los Angeles are concerned about the effects of one feature at local Museum of Ice Cream locations: sprinkles. 

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Critics say the plastic pieces are littering California streets blocks from the pop-up museums as they’re carried out on the clothes of museum visitors. The plastic material becomes litter and has the potential to end up in the water, a danger to marine life, KABC reported. 

“My concern is that they go down the drains and into the bay, where they will be bite-sized for most fish,” San Francisco resident Johanna Sanders told the San Francisco Gate.

The Museum of Ice Cream, which opened in Los Angeles in April and San Francisco in September, is known for its colorful displays, tasty treats and Instagram-worthy photo backdrops. 

According to a Forbes description of the LA location, there’s a “gallery of suspended bananas, ... rooms of giant melted popsicles, big-as-you gummy bears and a swimming pool full of sprinkles.” The San Francisco Gate describes its local pop-up as including “a candy garden, psychedelic rainbow unicorns, a pink rock climbing wall, banana swings, an all-pink diner with a jukebox and a sprinkle pool filled with more than 100 million plastic imitation sprinkles. A circular swimming space even has pink floats and a diving board.”

Both locations feature bright pink walls and interactive exhibits.

“All of the rooms in the museum have things you can eat or smell,” KABC reported.

The museums use plastic for the sprinkles in the pools instead of real, edible ones for sanitary reasons. A spokesperson for the Museum of Ice Cream told the Gate the sprinkles are coated in “antimicrobial germ bloc.”

Museum officials said they’re working to address people’s concerns. They’re working with an environmental specialist and also instructing exiting visitors to shake off excess sprinkles at an “air shower” at the San Francisco location, according to the Gate

But even still, “guests have been putting sprinkles in their pocket(s) as a memento of their experience in the sprinkle pool,” spokeswoman Shelley Reinstein said.

Eva Holman, with the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization, said the plastic sprinkles pose risks that need to be taken more seriously. 

“If it's on the sidewalk it most likely goes into storm drains and then into the ocean,” Holman told the Gate. “(And) my 5-year-old would think it’s candy. Why wouldn’t a bird on the street think it’s something to consume?”

“Most plastic has a purpose, like bottle caps and food wrappers,” Holman said. “What is the purpose of this tiny piece of plastic other than a selfie moment?”

The Museum of Ice Cream’s Los Angeles location, originally slated to close in May, has had its close date pushed back five times due to popularity. It’s scheduled now to close in December. The San Francisco location will be open until Feb. 13, just in time for lovebirds to take their sweet someone before Valentine’s day. The museum was set to close in October, but officials extended the schedule after tickets sold out in just 18 minutes.

Read more at the San Francisco Gate.

Georgia school fires Muslim employee who asked for time to pray, lawsuit says

A Gwinnett County custodian was accused of falsifying her job application and then fired after asking supervisors to accommodate her prayer schedule, a federal lawsuit alleges.

Penny Deams filed the lawsuit against Gwinnett County Public Schools on Monday. She previously worked at Ferguson Elementary School in Duluth, Georgia.

Deams also previously filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint related to her termination, but the commission “found insufficient evidence to support her claim of discrimination,” Sloan Roach, a spokeswoman for Gwinnett County Public Schools said. The district declined to comment on the lawsuit itself, Roach said.

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When she was asked to extend her work schedule from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., she told supervisors that it would interfere with her daily prayer schedule, as her mosque closed before 10 p.m., the lawsuit says. Deams is an observant Muslim, and it is customary for Muslims to pray multiple times each day. 

When Deams objected to the schedule change because of her prayer obligations, Principal Angelique Mitchell asked her about her religious activities, including when she prayed, how many times per day she prayed and what days she prayed, the lawsuit says. After that encounter, Deams says she went to the school’s human resource office to “inquire about her rights.” 

Deams noticed “significant, retaliatory changes” in the way she was treated by school management, the lawsuit says. A supervisor told Deams that Mitchell was upset with her for asking the HR department about her religious rights, according to the lawsuit. A human resources worker asked Deams when, where and how often she prayed, and requested a letter from Deams’s mosque explaining when Deams needed to pray, the lawsuit said. Deams did not objec,t but mentioned she would consult an attorney about her religious rights, according to the suit. 

After Deams said she would speak with an attorney, the human resources worker began questioning Deams’s job application references and accused Deams of falsifying her job application, according to the lawsuit. One of Deams’s listed references had worked with Deams in DeKalb County, but no longer worked for the county at that point.

The lawsuit says Deams was suspended from work for falsifying her application, which she denied doing.

The human resources worker told Deams she would have to provide a document from DeKalb County verifying her previous employment within two days, “knowing full well the process for obtaining the requested form takes at least four to five days,” the lawsuit says. A DeKalb County employee told Deams that it would take “several days” for her to receive the document.

Deams went to work the next day, despite her suspension. When the two-day period was up and she did not have the employment verification letter from DeKalb County, Deams was fired for allegedly falsifying her application and for working while suspended, the lawsuit says. Deams “knew these reasons had a casual connection to her (religion) because they were never raised with her” before she asked for her schedule to accommodate her prayer obligations, the lawsuit says.

Deams is suing the school district for damages, back pay, interest, attorney’s fees, reinstatement or lost potential earnings and “further relief” to be determined at trial. 

Deams and her attorney declined to comment on the suit further at this time. 

Driver killed in freak accident after tire flies off truck, striking car on Georgia freeway

A frightening incident Thursday morning on a metro Atlanta freeway left a driver dead in a freak accident.

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At the height of the Thursday morning rush hour commute, a tire flew off a pickup truck traveling north on Georgia 400, and landed on the windshield of a car in the southbound lanes, killing the driver, according to police in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta.

“A truck traveling north on Ga 400 at Pitts Road lost a wheel and tire” around 8 a.m. police Sgt. Sam Worsham said in a statement.

“The wheel went over the wall and struck a vehicle south on Ga. 400.”

The driver, the only person in the vehicle, died on the scene, according to police. Her name has not been released.

The pickup truck driver was still on the scene at noon. He expressed remorse during an interview with WSB-TV.

“I was on the way to my job,” Jorge Herrera said. “I’m not drunk. I’m not driving fast. It was like a normal (day) trying to get to my job.”

>> Related: Woman killed, 5 hurt in Atlanta valet parking accident

At times, the accident blocked multiple lanes in both directions, causing a massive back-up for morning drivers.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s relationship may have hit another milestone

Prince Harry reportedly took his girlfriend of 15 months to Buckingham Palace for a private tea with Queen Elizabeth II, according to reports.

On Thursday, the Daily Mail reported that Harry and Meghan Markle arrived to the Palace in a Ford Galaxy with blacked-out windows last week. When they arrived, they were “whisked up to the Queen’s private sitting room” for a one hour-long meeting.

Following the meeting, Prince Harry accepted a posthumous award honoring his late mother and her activism with HIV/AIDS.

RELATED: Sources say Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will make a big announcement soon

PEOPLE reports that the rumored meeting is significant since Harry is the fifth in line to the throne (he will be moved to sixth in line once Prince William and Duchess Catherine’s third child is born in April). Since he is still in the succession, he must get permission from the monarch to marry.

>> Read more trending news 

Though, there are rumors that Markle previously met with the queen during a visit to Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

“If Harry asks for something, she would say yes as she adores him,” a source said of the queen’s love for her grandson.

The couple went public with their love when Markle attended Harry’s Invictus Games in Toronto. The lovebirds were spotted holding hands and being affection as they took in some of the sporting events together.

Reps at Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace have not yet commented on the rumor of Markle’s private tea with the queen.

Iditarod first: Sled dogs test positive for opioids 

Sled dogs in the world-famous Iditarod sled dog race tested positive for a banned opioid for the first time since testing of the dogs for banned substances started back in 1994.

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Race officials, however, are not releasing the name of the musher whose dogs tested positive for the painkiller Tramadol, according to CBS News.

Dog teams were tested after the 1,000 mile trek ended in Nome, Alaska back in March.

It’s unknown when the drugs were administered or the exact number of dogs from the team that tested positive, CBS News reported, but the drugs could have been administered any time right before the end of the race or as long as 15 hours beforehand.

Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George told CBS News in an email that there are several reasons the organization is not releasing the musher's name. An attorney advised against it and race officials said they most likely can’t prove the musher gave the dogs drugs on purpose.

>> Related: Iditarod musher falls asleep at the reins

The Iditarod also won’t ban the musher from next year’s race.

Only dog teams from the top 20 race finalists are tested.

George W. Bush warns 'bigotry seems emboldened' in America: Read his full remarks

Former President George W. Bush warned Americans to be wary of growing trends toward nativism and isolationism on Thursday during a speech at the Bush Institute’s national forum.

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“Bigotry seems emboldened,” Bush said. “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.”

The speech was widely interpreted as a veiled message aimed at the politics of President Donald Trump, who has often touted an “America first” view of world politics. However, Trump was not named in the speech.

Read Bush’s full remarks from the forum, “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, in the World”:

Thank you all. Thank you. Ok, Padilla gracias. So, I painted Ramon. I wish you were still standing here. It’s a face only a mother could love – no, it’s a fabulous face. (Laughter.) I love you Ramon, thank you very much for being here.

And, Grace Jo thank you for your testimony. And, big Tim. I got to know Tim as a result of Presidential Leadership Scholars at the Bush Center along with the Clinton Foundation, with help from 41 and LBJ’s libraries.

I am thrilled that friends of ours from Afghanistan, China, North Korea, and Venezuela are here as well. These are people who have experienced the absence of freedom and they know what it’s like and they know there is a better alternative to tyranny.

Laura and I are thrilled that the Bush Center supporters are here. Bernie (Tom Bernstein), I want to thank you and your committee. I call him Bernie. (Laughter.)

It’s amazing to have Secretary Albright share the stage with Condi and Ambassador Haley. For those of you that kind of take things for granted, that’s a big deal. (Laughter and applause) Thank you.

We are gathered in the cause of liberty this is a unique moment. The great democracies face new and serious threats – yet seem to be losing confidence in their own calling and competence. Economic, political and national security challenges proliferate, and they are made worse by the tendency to turn inward. The health of the democratic spirit itself is at issue. And the renewal of that spirit is the urgent task at hand.

Since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of free markets, from the strength of democratic alliances, and from the advance of free societies. At one level, this has been a raw calculation of interest. The 20th century featured some of the worst horrors of history because dictators committed them. Free nations are less likely to threaten and fight each other.

And free trade helped make America into a global economic power.

For more than 70 years, the presidents of both parties believed that American security and prosperity were directly tied to the success of freedom in the world. And they knew that the success depended, in large part, on U.S. leadership. This mission came naturally, because it expressed the DNA of American idealism.

We know, deep down, that repression is not the wave of the future. We know that the desire for freedom is not confined to, or owned by, any culture; it is the inborn hope of our humanity. We know that free governments are the only way to ensure that the strong are just and the weak are valued. And we know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.

This is not to underestimate the historical obstacles to the development of democratic institutions and a democratic culture. Such problems nearly destroyed our country – and that should encourage a spirit of humility and a patience with others. Freedom is not merely a political menu option, or a foreign policy fad; it should be the defining commitment of our country, and the hope of the world.

That appeal is proved not just by the content of people’s hopes, but a noteworthy hypocrisy: No democracy pretends to be a tyranny. Most tyrannies pretend they are democracies. Democracy remains the definition of political legitimacy. That has not changed, and that will not change.

Yet for years, challenges have been gathering to the principles we hold dear. And, we must take them seriously. Some of these problems are external and obvious. Here in New York City, you know the threat of terrorism all too well. It is being fought even now on distant frontiers and in the hidden world of intelligence and surveillance. There is the frightening, evolving threat of nuclear proliferation and outlaw regimes. And there is an aggressive challenge by Russia and China to the norms and rules of the global order – proposed revisions that always seem to involve less respect for the rights of free nations and less freedom for the individual.

These matters would be difficult under any circumstances. They are further complicated by a trend in western countries away from global engagement and democratic confidence. Parts of Europe have developed an identity crisis. We have seen insolvency, economic stagnation, youth unemployment, anger about immigration, resurgent ethno-nationalism, and deep questions about the meaning and durability of the European Union.

America is not immune from these trends. In recent decades, public confidence in our institutions has declined. Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.

There are some signs that the intensity of support for democracy itself has waned, especially among the young, who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War, or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by socialist central planning. Some have called this “democratic deconsolidation.” Really, it seems to be a combination of weariness, frayed tempers, and forgetfulness.

We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.

In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.

This is part of the reason we meet here today. How do we begin to encourage a new, 21st century American consensus on behalf of democratic freedom and free markets? That’s the question I posed to scholars at the Bush Institute. That is what Pete Wehner and Tom Melia, who are with us today, have answered with “The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World,” a Call to Action paper.

The recommendations come in broad categories. Here they are: First, America must harden its own defenses. Our country must show resolve and resilience in the face of external attacks on our democracy. And that begins with confronting a new era of cyber threats.

America is experiencing the sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions. According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy, it’s conducted across a range of social media platforms. Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed. But foreign aggressions – including cyber-attacks, disinformation and financial influence – should not be downplayed or tolerated. This is a clear case where the strength of our democracy begins at home. We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion.

The second category of recommendations concerns the projection of American leadership – maintaining America’s role in sustaining and defending an international order rooted in freedom and free markets. 

Our security and prosperity are only found in wise, sustained, global engagement: In the cultivation of new markets for American goods. In the confrontation of security challenges before they fully materialize and arrive on our shores. In the fostering of global health and development as alternatives to suffering and resentment. In the attraction of talent, energy and enterprise from all over the world. In serving as a shining hope for refugees and a voice for dissidents, human rights defenders, and the oppressed.

We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization. People are hurting. They are angry. And, they are frustrated. We must hear them and help them. But we can’t wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution. One strength of free societies is their ability to adapt to economic and social disruptions.

And that should be our goal: to prepare American workers for new opportunities, to care in practical, empowering ways for those who may feel left behind. The first step should be to enact policies that encourage robust economic growth by unlocking the potential of the private sector, and for unleashing the creativity and compassion of this country.

A third focus of this document is strengthening democratic citizenship. And here we must put particular emphasis on the values and views of the young.

Our identity as a nation – unlike many other nations – is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility. We become the heirs of Thomas Jefferson by accepting the ideal of human dignity found in the Declaration of Independence. We become the heirs of James Madison by understanding the genius and values of the U.S. Constitution. We become the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., by recognizing one another not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed. (Applause.)

And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.

We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

Finally, the Call to Action calls on the major institutions of our democracy, public and private, to consciously and urgently attend to the problem of declining trust.

For example, our democracy needs a media that is transparent, accurate and fair. Our democracy needs religious institutions that demonstrate integrity and champion civil discourse. Our democracy needs institutions of higher learning that are examples of truth and free expression.

In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation.

Ten years ago, I attended a Conference on Democracy and Security in Prague. The goal was to put human rights and human freedom at the center of our relationships with repressive governments. The Prague Charter, signed by champions of liberty Vaclav Havel, Natan Sharansky, Jose Maria Aznar, called for the isolation and ostracism of regimes that suppress peaceful opponents by threats or violence.

Little did we know that, a decade later, a crisis of confidence would be developing within the core democracies, making the message of freedom more inhibited and wavering. Little did we know that repressive governments would be undertaking a major effort to encourage division in western societies and to undermine the legitimacy of elections.

Repressive rivals, along with skeptics here at home, misunderstand something important. It is the great advantage of free societies that we creatively adapt to challenges, without the direction of some central authority. Self-correction is the secret strength of freedom. We are a nation with a history of resilience and a genius for renewal.

Right now, one of our worst national problems is a deficit of confidence. But the cause of freedom justifies all our faith and effort. It still inspires men and women in the darkest corners of the world, and it will inspire a rising generation. The American spirit does not say, “We shall manage,” or “We shall make the best of it.” It says, “We shall overcome.” And that is exactly what we will do, with the help of God and one another.

Thank you.

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