Teacher on leave after report of porn past

MALDEN, Mass., Nov. 30 (UPI) — The chairman of the English Department at a Massachusetts charter school is on administrative leave after officials learned he acted in pornographic films.

The move came after Boston’s WFXT-TV reported Kevin Hogan, who was hired in August at the prestigious Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, had appeared in pornographic films.

Asked about having appeared in pornographic films, Hogan told the station, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The school notified parents in an e-mail Tuesday Hogan had been put on leave pending an investigation, The Boston Globe reported.

The e-mail said school staff had followed normal hiring protocol in checking Hogan’s background in California, where he had lived before moving to Massachusetts, the e-mail and school spokesman Martin Gately said.

“What the media outlet has claimed, if true, was not reported by the employee in the application process,” the message to parents said.

The school said background checks turned up no problems and “the references the school received for this employee were superlative.”

Hogan had applied for the position through a third-party recruiter, Carney, Sandoe & Associates, that performed an initial screening, the e-mail said.

“We do wish to confirm the school’s insistence that any applicant for a position here be candid and forthright about disclosing past employment positions,” the e-mail said.

Hogan also was the school’s crew coach this fall.

Texas challenges court’s redistricting map

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Texas’ top lawyer went to the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday to try to head off a court-ordered redistricting map that may help Democrats’ congressional fortunes.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott requested the court prevent the implementation of an interim redistricting plan that would make it easier for Democrats to win three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in next year’s elections, Roll Call reported. Texas picked up four House seats because of its population growth in the past decade.

State Republicans engineered their own plan this past summer only to have it contested in federal courts. After a trial in San Antonio at which plaintiffs argued the Republicans’ version did not adequately reflect minority voting power, the court last week approved an interim map. Another trial is ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Abbot contends the federal court in San Antonio went too far in drawing its own map before the Washington trial wraps up.

“The court’s interim order should be immediately stayed, and the case should be remanded with instructions to withhold interim relief unless some likely violation of law is found and to defer to the legislatively enacted map as required by this Court’s precedents,” Texas officials said in asking the plan be halted.

Another Kennedy may run for Congress

BOSTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Joseph P. Kennedy III, a scion of the leading Massachusetts political dynasty, suggested he might run for Barney Frank’s seat in Congress.

“I just haven’t had the time to give it any thought, the type of careful consideration that it requires,” Kennedy told the Boston Herald Tuesday. “I’ve always thought politics is an honorable profession. It demands that you give it careful thought before you jump into it. When I get the time to do that, I’ll think about it, but we’re not there yet.”

Kennedy, now an assistant Middlesex County district attorney in Massachusetts, is the son of former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. That makes him the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and the great-nephew of Sen. Ted Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy.

Frank announced two days ago he has decided to retire after his current term ends in January 2013. Redistricting after the 2010 Census changed the shape of his district considerably.

Kennedy, 31, recently moved to Cambridge, which is not in Frank’s district.

There’s more than one way Kennedy could wind up in a congressional race. Another scenario would have U.S. Rep. William Keating running for Frank’s open seat with Kennedy moving to Cape Cod to seek election to a newly created district there.

German intel agency destroyed Nazi files

BERLIN, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Germany’s foreign intelligence agency destroyed personnel files for former employees of the Secret Service and the Gestapo in 2007, historians said.

The Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, destroyed the files in 2007, historians studying ties between the Third Reich and the foreign intelligence agency told Spiegel Online.

One week before BND head Ernst Uhrlau is to retire, an independent commission he appointed to research the agency’s Nazi roots uncovered the destruction of documents relating to 250 agency officials who were “in significant intelligence positions in the SS, the SD (the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party) or the Gestapo,” Spiegel reported Wednesday.

Some of those whose files were destroyed were investigated for possible war crimes in the aftermath of World War II.

Commission spokesman and historian Klaus-Dietmar Henke said he was “stunned” by the findings, and the commission has called for a full investigation of the document destruction.

Vienna tops quality of life list

NEW YORK, Nov. 30 (UPI) — European cities rank high in both quality of life and safety, the Mercer Consulting Group said Wednesday in its annual survey.

Vienna is the pleasantest place to live, the group said, while Luxembourg is the safest. Zurich, Switzerland, was second in quality of life and Auckland, New Zealand, third, while Bern, Switzerland, Helsinki, Finland, and Zurich are tied for second with Vienna fifth.

Mercer issues its annual Quality of Life Survey, which this year includes 221 cities, to help companies put together compensation packages for expatriate employees. This year, because of the turmoil around the world, the company decided to create a second ranking for safety.

Generally, cities that are high on one index are high on the other and vice versa. Baghdad is in the 221st spot on both.

“The top-ranking cities for personal safety and security are in politically stable countries with good international relations and relatively sustainable economic growth. Most of the low-scoring cities are in countries with, civil unrest, high crime levels and little law enforcement,” said Slagin Parakatil, a senior researcher.

Suit links suicide to school bullying

FISHERS, Ind., Nov. 30 (UPI) — The mother of a 14-year-old Indiana high school student who committed suicide has sued the school district, claiming it failed to prevent bullying.

The suit alleges repeated bullying and harassment led Jamarcus Bell, a freshman at Hamilton Southeastern High School in suburban Indianapolis, to hang himself Oct. 20, 2010, at his home in Fishers, Ind., The Indianapolis Star reported Tuesday.

The suit, which seeks unspecified punitive damages, also alleges Hamilton Southeastern Schools deprived Jamarcus of his rights under federal non-discrimination laws. The suit says he was singled out

because of “his race, perceived homosexuality and emotional disability.”

Jamarcus had been targeted for years, and students threw pieces of metal at him in welding class and uttered anti-gay slurs, the suit said.

Jason Delk, an attorney for Jamarcus’ mother, Natalie Moore, said the district should have done more to stop the bullying.

“Jamarcus was a child in need of educational services, certain protections,” Delk said. “They failed him in that regard. They continued to throw him amongst the wolves, the student population.”

The law, filed Nov. 21 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, says school officials knew or should have known what the boy endured but took no action.

He had attempted suicide before, in the seventh grade, when he was found hanging from a noose in a janitor’s closet, which should have been a clear sign he was having trouble, the suit said.

The Star said Hamilton Southeastern officials declined to comment on the suit, and spokeswoman Marianna Richards said the district would “present its position in court.”

Harkin threatens Congress holiday delay

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Wednesday he will try to hold Congress hostage for Christmas if jobless benefits are not extended for out-of-work Americans.

“Let me just put it this way: There will be no Christmas for Congress unless there is an extension of the unemployment insurance benefits,” Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said at a news conference attended by other House and Senate Democrats, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and numerous unemployed workers.

“Believe me, we have a number of us on the Senate side. We’re not going home. We’re not going to have Christmas for Congress until you get an extension of unemployment benefits.”

Roll Call reported Republican leaders have said they favor an extension as long as the cost is offset by cuts elsewhere. But there has been no bipartisan solution found to accomplish that, the Washington publication said.

“We Republicans do care about people that are out of work,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters Wednesday.

Harkin could keep the Democrat-controlled Senate in Washington by demanding a vote on adjournment. It would take a majority vote to get the senators out the Capitol doors and on their way to their holiday vacation.

Usually when Congress adjourns or goes into recess it is by unanimous consent without a vote.

Gingrich: Cain must decide what’s right

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says his presidential rival, Herman Cain, must decide how to deal with charges of sexual misconduct.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, on the other hand, said Cain has to address them.

Gingrich, speaking Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Greenville, S.C., said he has been in Cain’s situation, with a campaign apparently crumbling, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. He said he would not be ahead in the polls now if he had listened to those telling him to give up.

“First of all, as somebody that most of you said was dead in June, I am not in a position where I am going to say to any candidate that they don’t have the right to compete,” Gingrich, who has called Cain a good friend, told reporters. “Herman Cain has to do what he thinks is best and what he thinks is best for his family.”

Gingrich is the candidate currently vying with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the top spot in the polls, a position formerly held by Cain and before that by Perry. He would not speculate on whether Cain’s supporters might turn to him.

Perry took a harder line in an appearance Wednesday on Fox News.

“He needs to address the allegations and if they’re true he has to address that with the people of this country,” Perry said.

Four women have accused Cain of past sexual harassment and a Georgia woman says she and Cain had a 13-year sexual relationship.

Obama to Congress: ‘Don’t be a Grinch’

SCRANTON, Pa., Nov. 30 (UPI) — President Obama, speaking in Scranton, Pa., asked supporters to tell Congress to pass the American Jobs Act and “don’t be a Grinch.”

“Two months ago, I sent a particular piece of legislation to Congress called the American Jobs Act. This is a jobs bill that will put more Americans to work, put more money back in the pockets of working families,” Obama said at Scranton High School.

“When this jobs bill came to a vote, Republicans in the Senate got together and they blocked it. They refused to even debate it. Even though polls showed that two-thirds of Americans of all political stripes supported the ideas in this bill, not one single Republican stepped up to say, this is the right thing to do,” Obama said.

“But here’s the good news, Scranton. Just like you don’t quit, I don’t quit. I don’t quit. So I said, look, I’m going to do everything that I can do without Congress to get things done.”

Obama touted new policies reforming student loan programs and helping families refinance their mortgages, as well as helping returning veterans find jobs.

“There’s a lot more to do, though, if we’re going to get every American back to work who wants to work, and to rebuild an economy that works for every American, which is why we’re going to give Congress another chance to do the right thing with the American Job Act. We’re going to give them another chance to help working families like yours,” Obama said.

“Your taxes today — the average middle-class family, your taxes today are lower than when I took office, just remember that. We have cut taxes for small businesses not once, not twice, but 17 times. The average family’s tax burden is among the lowest it’s been in the last 60 years,” Obama said, adding if Republicans vote against the latest version of the jobs act, they will be voting to raise taxes on the middle class.

If, for example, Congress does not pass the payroll tax cut extension, it would be “a massive blow for the economy, because we’re not fully out of the recession yet. Don’t take my word for it; this is what every independent economist says. We can’t let this tax cut lapse right now,” he said.

“I hope that they [Congress] don’t want to just score political points. I hope that they want to help the economy.”

Obama said the richest Americans need to pay more in taxes to pay for middle-class tax cuts.

“Let’s ask the folks who’ve seen their incomes rise fastest, who’ve gotten bigger tax breaks under Bush, let’s ask them to help out a little bit, because they made it better through the recession than most of us. Let’s ask them to contribute a little bit more to get the economy going again. …

“To everybody who is here, everybody who is watching, send your Senate a message — send your senators a message. Tell them, ‘Don’t be a Grinch.’ Don’t vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.”

Govs ask for marijuana reclassification

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — The governors of Rhode Island and Washington state asked the federal government Wednesday to reclassify marijuana as a drug with medical uses.

Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, and Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island, an independent who used to be a Republican, said the change is needed so states like theirs can regulate the safe distribution of the drug without risking federal prosecution, The New York Times reported.

Rhode Island and Washington are among the 16 states that allow medical marijuana.

Marijuana is classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance. Schedule I also includes heroin and LSD, and the U.S. government says they have a high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” the Times said.

The governors said they want marijuana reclassified as a Schedule II controlled substance. That would put it in the same category as cocaine, opium and morphine, which the government says have “some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use.”

The Times said a change in classification would allow pharmacies to dispense marijuana, in addition to the marijuana dispensaries in many states.