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December 23, 2015

Suicide bombing in Afghanistan kills six US NATO members

Suicide bombing in Afghanistan kills six US NATO members

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

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On Monday, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a motorcycle in Bagram District, Afghanistan. The bombing killed six US NATO service members and injured several others.

According to NATO and Afghan officials, the bombing occurred at 1:30pm local time in a village near Bagram Airfield. Bagram Airfield is located about 40 km (25 mi) north of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

The bombing killed six US NATO soldiers. The US Department of Defense delayed officially releasing their names, following policy, but all the victims have been identified.

One of them is Joseph Lemm, aged 45. Lemm served fifteen years as an officer of the New York City Police Department and has a wife and two children.

Another is Adrianna Vorderbruggen, an openly lesbian US Air Force major. Vorderbruggen advocated repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is now married to her same-sex partner. The couple has a son.

The others are Peter Taub from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Michael Anthony Cinco from Rio Grande Valley, Texas, age 28; Chester McBride Jr., Statesboro, Georgia; and Louis Bonacasa, Coram, New York.

The bombing also injured others, including two US military personnel and, according to an Afghan official, three local police officers.

Via email and Twitter, the Taliban, whose regime the US overthrew after invading the country in 2001, claimed responsibility to the bombing.

Currently, about 10,000 US, and less than half as many NATO, military personnel remain in Afghanistan.



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October 31, 2015

Nine arrested for human trafficking in southeastern United States

Nine arrested for human trafficking in southeastern United States

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Crime and law
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Nine people were arrested on Thursday at cities in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi and have been charged as part of a 32-court federal indictment in an interstate human trafficking case. According to William Thornton from AL.com “the indictment was announced by Christopher P. Canova, Acting United States Attorney from the Northern District of Florida.”

According to the indictment, between July 2015 and August of this year, the defendants transported, housed and marketed women for prostitution in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. They took the proceeds and wired them out of the country.

“Jose Juan Ruiz Prudencio, 40, and Emerson Corvera, 30, both of Montgomery, were arrested along with defendants in Florida, Mississippi and Georgia,” William Thornton reported.

The nine arrested were also charged with three counts of enticing individuals to travel to engage in prostitution, seven counts of transporting people to engage in prostitution, four counts of money laundering, six counts of harbouring an alien for the purpose of prostitution and illegal entry by a deported alien.

This case resulted from a 15-month investigation into human trafficking activities in the Northern District of Florida by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) – Panama City Resident Agent in Charge.

According to Kelsey Davis from Montgomery Advertiser, “The indictment also says at least 26 women were involved, who were sold for $30 per session. The price was later raised to $40 because the defendants allegedly stated they weren’t making enough of a profit at the former price.”

According to the FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation, the defendants are:

  • Edegardo Osorno Rodriguez, 37, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida;
  • Antonio Flores-Esparza, 31, Pensacola, Florida;
  • Jose Juan Ruiz Prudencio, 40, Montgomery, Alabama;
  • Jose Alvaro Trujillo-Santiz, 45, Panama City Beach, Florida;
  • Rosa Mirtha Cruz Vidal, 34, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida;
  • Mauro Gonzalez-Lira, 24, McComb, Mississippi;
  • Romon Tobon, 45, Starkville, Mississippi;
  • Lazaro Juarez-Juarez, 33, Atlanta, Georgia; and
  • Emerson Corvera, 30, Montgomery, Alabama.



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March 4, 2015

Beverly Hall, indicted public school superintendent, dies aged 68

Beverly Hall, indicted public school superintendent, dies aged 68

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Education
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Dr. Beverly Hall, a central figure in an Atlanta, Georgia public schools cheating scandal since 2009, died at the age of 68 on Monday. The cause of death was reported as breast cancer, a disease she had been suffering from since 2004. At the time of her death Hall was still facing criminal charges relating to the cheating scandal.

No official statement was released by Hall’s family or her legal team regarding the circumstances of her death however her lawyers stated that Hall maintained her innocence “to her dying breath.” Should she have been convicted of several offences, including racketeering, Hall could have been sentenced to up to 45 years imprisonment.

Current Atlanta Public School Superintendent, Meria Carstarphen commented on Hall’s death: “We offer our condolences to the family of Dr. Hall. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this difficult time.” Hall became the Atlanta Public School Superintendent in 1999. She previously held the position of Superintendent in Newark, New Jersey. During her time as Newark’s Superintendent test scores only increased mildly and the school had financial problems; Newark’s mayor, Sharpe James, criticised at the time, “[Hall] is getting out of here before you realize she hasn’t done anything.”

She gained critical acclaim during her time in Atlanta and was recognized for innovative urban education. In 2009 she was awarded the title of National Superintendent of the Year. At the time of the award, Atlanta schools had seen a large improvement on test scores. Shortly after, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a report showing problems with test results. The report showed test scores had increased implausibly fast, and alleged the school internally detected problems but didn’t act on the findings. Evidence thereafter indicated test papers were tampered with. Hall, along with 34 other education officials, was indicted in 2013.

In total twenty-one people pleaded guilty to charges relating to the cheating scandal while several others remain on trial. Hall became too ill to stand trail after the cancer spread to other parts of her body.

Hall was born in Jamaica, and later moved to the United States. She is survived by her husband and a son.



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October 3, 2013

Bank of America leads Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints about mortgages

Bank of America leads Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints about mortgages

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

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A review this week by Wikinews of US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) complaints about mortgages in the United States shows Bank of America leads all lending institutions in complaints.

Since mortgages complaints were recorded in December 2011, 77,622 total have been added to CFPB’s database. 29.2% of these complaints involved Bank of America, with the second most received by Wells Fargo, accounting for 15.5% of all complaints. JPMorgan Chase ranked third by volume of complaints with 9.8%. Ocwen was fourth with 8.7% and Citibank was fifth with 4.8%. Nationstar Mortgage; Green Tree Servicing, LLC; HSBC; PNC Bank; U.S. Bancorp; OneWest Bank; SunTrust Bank; Flagstar Bank; and Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. each had between 1.0 and 3.8% of total complaints. The remaining 14.4% of all complaints about consumer mortgages were divided between about 530 other lending institutions.

The Motley Fool reported last month that for the past fiscal quarter, the biggest US based mortgage lenders were from first to fifth Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Quicken Loans and U.S. Bancorp.

According to the US Federal Reserve, debt for family residences stands at US$10.706 trillion for the second quarter of 2013. As of the end of June of this year, Bank of America is the United States’s second largest commercial bank with US$1.343 trillion in domestic assets. Wells Fargo is the fourth largest commercial bank with US$1.251 trillion in domestic assets. JPMorgan Chase is the largest US commercial bank with US$1.329 trillion in domestic assets and US$1.947 trillion in total assets.

The mortgage complaints in the CFPB report include several subproducts. Conventional fixed mortgages account for 27.1% of all complaints. Conventional adjustable mortgages account for 10.0%. FHA mortgages account for 7.7% of all complaints. Home equity loans or lines of credit account for 3.8% of all complaints. VA mortgages are 1.4% of all complaints. Second mortgages and reverse mortgages each account for 0.6% of complaints. The remaining 48.7% of complaints are about other mortgages or other mortgage issues. A few years ago, FHA loans accounted for about 10% of all US mortgages while VA loans accounted for about 3%. Prime loans accounted for over 75% of the market and the rest were subprime mortgages.

Total complaints against mortgage companies by state
Image: Laura Hale.

California leads all states by volume of complaints with 14768. It is followed by Florida, New York, Georgia and Texas. When complaints are divided by a state’s total population, New Hampshire leads. The state is followed by Washington D.C., Maryland, Georgia and Florida. Complaints do not correlate with national rankings for August’s foreclosure rate by state where Nevada topped the list, followed by Florida, Ohio, Maryland and Delaware.

Two zip codes account for over 1,000 total complaints between them. 565 complaints originated in the 48382 zip code, which is in Commerce Township, Michigan, located in suburban Detroit. 553 complaints originated in the 33071 zip code, in Coral Springs, Florida. According to real estate website Zillow, there are currently 1,033 properties in foreclosure in Coral Springs while Commerce Township only has 131 properties currently in foreclosure. Four other zip codes have 100 plus complaints originating from them. 91730, in Rancho Cucamonga, California, had 158 complaints. 33409, in West Palm Beach, Florida, had 132. 92626, in Costa Mesa, California, had 125 complaints. 92660, in Newport Beach, California, had 122 complaints. Respectively, the towns had 534, 1,068, 153, and 134 properties currently in foreclosure. These numbers are higher than for the cities of a few sampled zip codes where there was only one complaint, such as Gold Hill, Oregon which has 4 properties in foreclosure, and Decatur, Illinois which has 6 properties in foreclosure.

For the top 5 lenders by volume of complaints, the percentage of complaint types against them.
Image: Laura Hale.

The CFPB categorizes complaints into six categories: “Loan modification, collection,foreclosure” or problems when a person is unable to pay; “Loan servicing, payments, escrow account” or problems with making a payment; “Application, originator, mortgage broker”; “Credit decision / Underwriting”; “Settlement process and costs”, and “Other”. The CFPB says the complaint types indicate consumers “appear to be driven by a desire to seek agreement with their companies on foreclosure alternatives. The complaints indicate that consumer confusion persists around the process and requirements for obtaining loan modifications and refinancing, especially regarding document submission timeframes, payment trial periods, allocation of payments, treatment of income in eligibility calculations, and credit bureau reporting during the evaluation period.” Currently, 59.6% of all complaints against lenders deal with being unable to pay. 25.1% deal with problems in making a payment. 7.0% have to do with the application process.

Of the complaint-heavy zip codes, for 48382 in Commerce Township, Michigan, 98.9% of all complaints have to deal with being unable to pay. Accounting for 23.4% of all mortgage complaints in Commerce Township, 132 of the complaints for being unable to pay were made regarding Bank of America, accounting for 97.8% or all but 3 complaints against them from the zip. 121 of the Bank of America responses in Commerce Township were closed with explanation and 12 were closed with non-monetary relief. 33071 in Coral Springs is different, with 537 of the 553 complaints being categorized under other. Only 11 complaints relate to foreclosure and issues with being able to pay. 92626 in Costa Mesa, where 32% of the mortgage complaints were about Bank of America and 26.4% were about Wells Fargo, had 93.6% of its complaints dealing with being unable to pay. 5 total complaints dealt with payment issues and 3 dealt with applications.

Beyond regional variance in complaint types lodged, the top five mortgage lenders by volume of complaints all had being unable to pay as their top complaint category, ranging between 55.8% for Citibank and 69.4% for Bank of America. Problems with payment accounted for the second largest area of complaints, with Ocwen having the largest percentage of complaints at 31.9% and Bank of America having the smallest at 18.8%. Foreclosure was the top area of complaints for a number of other lending institutions including 1st Alliance Lending, OneWest Bank, Ally Bank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Bank of the West, BMO Harris, BOK Financial Corp, Caliber Home Loans, Inc, Capital One, Deutsche Bank and EverBank.

By state complaints against mortgage lenders by month
Image: Laura Hale.

Nationally, complaints reached a high of 5,840 for January 2013, 1,107 more than the next highest month of April 2013. The total emerging for September is the second lowest since records were first kept in December 2011. On a state by state level, this pattern largely repeats with a major exception for Florida which saw a peak of 849 complaints in June 2012. Then, as now, Florida was one of the top five states in the nation in its foreclosure rate. The national January spike came as the Qualified Mortgage standard required by the The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 came into play. It required mortgage lenders to take steps to insure borrowers could repay their mortgages.

Bank of America’s complaint volume follows the national trend, with a spike in January 2013 with 1,925 total complaints. Unlike nationally, the next month by volume of complaints was February of this year with 1,598 complaints. Prior to that, the highest month was May 2012 with 1,418 complaints. The lowest volume of complaints is September this year with 334.

Wells Fargo matched national trends for volume of complaints by month, with the exception of the current month being the lowest on record for number of complaints with 197 compared to the next lowest month, December 2011, when they had 221. JPMorgan’s complaint volume by month spiked in January and March of this year with 504 complaints. April of this year was the next highest month with 493 complaints, edging out May of last year with 488 complaints. September this year is on track to be the lowest month by complaint volume.

The federal government shutdown is unlikely to impact the current mortgage situation in the United States directly for most consumers, though mortgage processing by the Federal Housing Administration could be slower, resulting in fewer mortgages processed.



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April 28, 2013

Chicago Bears select Marquess Wilson in seventh round of NFL draft

Chicago Bears select Marquess Wilson in seventh round of NFL draft

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Yesterday, the Chicago Bears selected Washington State University‘s Marquess Wilson as a seventh-round pick in the National Football League (NFL) Draft. Wilson was the 236th pick overall.

Wilson comes to the Bears organization following a tumultuous final season of university football. He quit his team after nine games following abuse accusations he made against Washington State’s head coach Mike Leach. In talking with the Chicago Tribune, he said “I feel like I could have handled it a little better but like I said I am just moving forward […] I am excited about the opportunity I have at hand.”

Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman said regarding Wilson’s selection, “I would consider it a young guy making a very, very small mistake that put him in a position that got him in trouble. […] I think that like any young guy, I am a parent, we’re parents here. Our kids have made mistakes along the way. He’s a good kid with a big upside. He’s come to the right place. He’s come to a locker room where we have players and coaches that will set him straight right from the beginning and get him going the right direction. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to grow a young man, to allow him to mature off the field as well as on it and the upside as a talent, we’re very excited about it.”

The 20-year-old draft pick’s university highlights included playing in 33 games with 27 starts, where he had 189 receptions for 3,207 yards for an average of 17 yards per catch. He also had 23 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he made 82 receptions that he converted into 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The team was able to pick Wilson because they traded their 20th selection pick in the fifth round to the Atlanta Falcons for a 30th round pick in the fifth round and an additional draft pick in the seventh round.



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January 30, 2013

January tornadoes, severe weather in southern, midwestern US cause fatalities

January tornadoes, severe weather in southern, midwestern US cause fatalities

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Disasters and accidents

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Damage to a structure in Galatia, Illinois.
Image: NOAA.

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes affected the midwestern and southern United States yesterday into today with damage reported in several states and at least two people killed.

In Mississippi, at least ten counties suffered power outages, and the National Weather Service reported a tornado struck areas near the town of Sardis. At least 11,900 customers were without power in Indiana, where debris blocked roadways and a tornado reportedly damaged homes in the town of Solsberry. In Tennessee major damage was reported around the Nashville area with widespread tree and some building damage reported. One man was killed in Nashville when a tree fell on a building he was using as shelter, according to police. An EF2 tornado was also confirmed to have touched down in the town of Mount Juliet.

Damage was also reported in Georgia, where a tornado caused extensive damage in Adairsville, and one person was reported killed. Damage and flipped vehicles resulted in the closure of Interstate 75 at Adairsville. The Storm Prediction Center and National Climatic Data Center said the fatality in Adairsville was the first tornado-related fatality in the United States in 220 days, since a deadly tornado in Florida June 24, ending the longest recorded time between tornado fatalities in the United States.

The threat for severe weather is expected to continue into tonight as the storm system continues to push east, with the possibility of damaging winds, hail, and tornadoes.



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July 9, 2012

Drought conditions hit much of US again in 2012

Drought conditions hit much of US again in 2012

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National Weather Service graphic showing drought outlook for most of the continental United States

Monday, July 9, 2012

Over half of the contiguous United States is experiencing drought conditions, according to a report released Thursday by the National Weather Service. The report, addressing the period through this coming September, predicted many states will see these conditions persist, or worsen.

Further government reports indicate that high temperatures have played a role in the drought. Additionally, food supplies are being negatively impacted. 22 percent of the corn and soybean crop in key states is reported in “poor or very poor condition”; other crops have also been reduced in the wake of the conditions.

Only days ago, over one million residences in the greater Washington D.C. area were without air-conditioning following a rash of storms and high winds. Reports indicate that temperatures reached at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38C) during that period. Overall, 18 deaths were attributed to those conditions which extended to several states. Two Tennessee brothers, ages 3 and 5 died after playing outside, according to one report. When asked about weather conditions, a Texas woman told Wikinews, “This heat has been dreadful. I can hardly stand to be outside for more than 10 minutes.”

The National Weather Service’s report noted that, in the southeastern US, some weather improvements are expected across certain portions of Georgia and South Carolina. An Arkansas woman told Wikinews, “…it’s horrible. We’re not used to these kinds of temperatures. It’s so miserable outside right now. It doesn’t normally get this hot here…this is unbelievable.” Sources are referring to this drought as the worst since 1988.


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March 8, 2012

Super Tuesday 2012: Mitt Romney wins six of ten GOP contests

Super Tuesday 2012: Mitt Romney wins six of ten GOP contests

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won six of the ten U.S. Republican Party (GOP) presidential primary contests as part of Super Tuesday. Of the remaining four, former Senator Rick Santorum won three while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won one. Representative Ron Paul of Texas did not win any contests, but finished second in three.

Mitt Romney stands with his wife Ann before delivering his victory speech.
Image: Ryan Hutton/Boston University News Service.

Romney scored victories in Ohio, Vermont, Massachusetts, Virginia, Idaho, and Alaska. In a victory speech to supporters in his home state of Massachusetts, he remarked, “tonight, we’ve taken one more step towards restoring the promise of tomorrow.” He focused his attacks on President Barack Obama, stating “this president’s run out of ideas. He’s run out of excuses. And in 2012, we’re going to get him out of … the White House.” Romney now has 415 of the 1144 delegates necessary to secure the GOP nomination.

Ohio had the closest margin with Romney defeating the second place Rick Santorum by roughly 10,000 votes or 0.8 percent. While Romney won largely urban and affluent counties, Santorum, of nearby Pennsylvania, won a majority of the counties with rural and blue-collar voters.

Despite the loss, Santorum was able to pull out victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, and now has a total of 176 delegates. He told supporters in Steubenville, Ohio, “We need…someone who learned what America was about by growing up in communities just like this…”. Referencing his opponents, he argued “in this race, there is only one candidate who can go up on the most important issue of the day and make the case, because I’ve never been for an individual mandate at a state or federal level.”

Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia, which had the most delegates available, increasing his total to 105. He vowed to remain in the race and thanked his supporters, proclaiming, “we are not going to allow the elite to decide who we are allowed to nominate…the national elite — especially in the Republican Party — had decided that a Gingrich presidency was so frightening that they had to kill it early. But, you, you wouldn’t let them do it.” He compared the campaign to the The Tortoise and the Hare fable, “There are lots of bunny rabbits that run through. I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time.”

Ron Paul finished second in North Dakota, Virginia, and Vermont, and was a close third in Idaho and Alaska. He now has 47 delegates. In his speech to supporters, he said, “if you look at the candidates today, there is very little difference, except for one. … the rest of the candidates support the status quo.”

1541 delegates remain up for grabs. The next contests will take place on Saturday in Kansas, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands.



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February 11, 2012

US regulators approve new nuclear reactors for first time in 34 years

US regulators approve new nuclear reactors for first time in 34 years

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

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The seal of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Image: NRC.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved Thursday, in a four to one vote, two new nuclear reactors at Southern Company‘s Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Georgia. This is the first time a new reactor has been approved since 1978, the year before the Three Mile Island accident.

The only vote against the plant came from NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko. In a statement, he said “Right now we know there are things that need to be fixed, things that need to be changed, or at least things that need to be analyzed. For us to issue this license, and say ‘we’ll deal with them later,’ to me is kind of putting the cart before the horse.”

The CEO of Southern Company, Thomas Fanning, said the approval was a “monumental accomplishment.” In a conference call after the approval, he told reporters, “Anything that we learn from Fukushima, I assure you we will bring to bear”, referring to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. In an interview, he also said regulatory oversight “has been thorough, it has been thoughtful and it is complete.”

Environmental groups may bring a case to federal court in order to stop the completion of the new reactors. Wikinews contacted two environmental organizations, Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Greenpeace recommended a post about the approval on their staff blog, which said “Rather than expand the use of this dangerous and stupidly expensive technology, our government should stop subsidizing nuclear corporations’ bad investments and instead develop plans to phase out nuclear power and better secure the deadly radioactive wastes.” The Union of Concerned Scientists has yet to comment.

The new units are to be Westinghouse Electric AP1000 reactors. They would each have a net generating capacity of 1117MW. The construction cost is expected to be roughly USD14 billion (EUR10.6b, JPY1.1 trillion), and the reactors may be operational by 2017.



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February 8, 2012

Komen executive resigns and criticizes Planned Parenthood

Komen executive resigns and criticizes Planned Parenthood

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

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Karen Handel, who was vice president of public policy for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, resigned yesterday, one week after the organization took flak for its decision not to fund Planned Parenthood. At her announcement, Handel criticized Planned Parenthood for leading an “orchestrated, clearly pre-meditated attack on Komen.”

Karen Handel in 2010 while she was Secretary of State in Georgia.
Image: MMAFightFan.

The Komen Foundation is known for raising awareness of breast cancer and for its funding of breast cancer screening.

Handel was a former Republican candidate for governor in the state of Georgia where she took a pro-life stance, but she lost the primary race to current Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who took office in 2011. Unlike others at Komen, Handel said the organization faced pressure from groups that were against abortion to do something about its funding to Planned Parenthood.

Cquote1.svg I have known Karen for many years, and we both share a common commitment to our organization’s lifelong mission, which must always remain our sole focus. Cquote2.svg

Nancy Brinker

She said Komen’s process for creating a policy that allowed the foundation to decline funding for any organization that was under investigation, even if it was not a criminal investigation, was a “thoughtful and thoroughly reviewed decision … that has unfortunately been turned into something about politics.” Handel said while the guidelines behind the split were created before she had obtained her position at Komen, she was one person in the group who decided to apply them to Planned Parenthood and halt Komen’s funding.

In her statement, Handel said she was “deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it.”

Handel declined a severance package from Komen.

Nancy Brinker, who is Komen’s chief executive and founder, admitted the foundation made mistakes in handling the Planned Parenthood decision last week. “I accepted the resignation of Karen Handel,” Brinker said. “I have known Karen for many years, and we both share a common commitment to our organization’s lifelong mission, which must always remain our sole focus. I wish her the best in future endeavors.”

While the Komen Foundation has since reinstated its funding of Planned Parenthood, several other board members have also resigned since the controversy began.



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  • “Susan G. Komen Foundation reneges on Planned Parenthood funding cuts” — Wikinews, February 4, 2012
  • “Susan G. Komen Foundation stops funding to Planned Parenthood” — Wikinews, February 2, 2012

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