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The Seal of the State of Ohio, where a man who may be mentally unfit to stand trial is to be executed soon.

Ohio to Execute Mentally Ill Man

On Wednesday, the State of Ohio is set to execute Abdul Hamin Awkal, despite ample concerns about his mental health. Awekal was convicted of shooting his estranged wife and her brother at a Cleveland area courthouse in 1992.

Though there is no dispute over Awkal’s conviction, his punishment—in particular, his ability, or lack thereof, to understand the reason for it—have been called into question several times as his date of execution has neared. Cleveland-area CBS affiliate WOIO notes that Awkal “suffers schizoaffective disorder and has a well-formed delusional system,” pointing out that:

Due to his mental illness, Mr. Awkal sincerely believes that he has orchestrated the U.S. military’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan from death row, and that he has been in direct communication with the CIA and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  In Mr. Awkal’s mind, he is not being executed for the crimes he committed in 1992, but rather because the CIA wants him dead.

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Hurricane season is almost here- make sure you, your family, and your whole community is prepared.

Hurricane Season Arrives Early

This past week, hurricane season began. No, you don’t have to check your calendar: It’s still May. But regardless of the date, it’s actual, honest-to-goodness hurricane season—and the way we know this is because Tropical Storm Alberto has just finished chugging up the coast of the Carolinas.

Under most circumstances, a storm with maximum wind speeds of 45 miles per hour (winds of 75 miles per hour define a Category 1 hurricane) draws little attention—but Alberto is the first tropical storm to be born before the June 1st start of hurricane season since 2003. That year saw seven hurricanes, including Hurricane Isabel, which did tremendous damage to my home state of North Carolina.

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Thousands of unemployed Americans are now being forced off of the unemployment rolls because of an obscure provision known as the "three year lookback"

An (even rougher) Economy

Amid another lag in the economic recovery, times have become still harder for many Americans these past few weeks. Bloomberg reports that from April 7 through May 12, approximately 370,000 Americans across 23 states stopped receiving unemployment insurance checks. That’s because a little-discussed provision called the “three-year lookback” was left unchanged when the extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut was signed into law in February,. The provision was best summarized by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

 A state may offer additional weeks of [unemployment insurance] benefits through [the federal Extended Benefits program]if its unemployment rate reaches certain thresholds (13 weeks if at least 6.5 percent; 20 weeks if at least 8 percent), and if this rate is at least 10 percent higher than it was in any of the three prior years.

The purpose of the Extended Benefits (EB) program is to provide extra help to individuals who have been out of work for so long that they have exceeded the maximum number of weeks for which they can receive unemployment insurance in their state. As noted above, the EB program kicks in when the economy is struggling, as evidenced by a high unemployment rate, and it ends when the unemployment rate becomes in line with the rate of the previous three years. In normal times, this is not especially unreasonable because a consistent unemployment rate over a period of three years would seem to suggest that the unemployment rate has returned to its pre-economic downturn level. But the economy is far from “normal” today.

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On Shavuot we must remember our obligation to care for all

Shavuot A Reminder of Hunger In America

Shavuot is not the first holiday that comes to mind when someone asks me about Jewish holidays. When I’m asked about my faith, I usually talk about Shabbat services and dinner with my family, regaling them with stories about my family’s obsession with making the utmost of the roast chicken we have every Shabbat (it’s an Olympic sport in my family). Yet as we approach Shavuot, more and more I think it exemplifies much of the best that Judaism has to offer.

On Shavuot we celebrate the handing down of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mt. Sinai with a late night marathon of Torah study while binging on dairy favorites, like blintzes or fruit and cheese. Some offer a more modern twist: cheesecake and The Ten Commandments.

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Interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans are set to double in July, prompting a national discussion over student debt.

Emerging Crisis in Student Debt Rates

On July 1, the interest rates on government-subsidized Stafford loans, which help students pay for college, are set to double, from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Though some calculations note that the cost per month would only increase by around $6, the rate change has triggered a larger national debate about the staggering levels of debt that students are forced to take on to attend college.

There is little doubt that a college degree is—and remains—a valuable investment. The Atlantic recently reported that the typical college graduate earns, on average, $570,000 more in the course of a lifetime than a person with only a high school degree. Financial benefits aside, college provides once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to explore and grow in a safe environment and to meet people from all experiences and walks of life—a journey whose value cannot be underestimated.

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House Budget Reconciliation Brings More Woes For Those In Need

Last week, the House of Representatives doubled down on the Ryan budget by passing the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act. This bill took the framework established by the Ryan budget and proposed still deeper cuts in an effort to avoid the automatic cuts to defense programs that were agreed to in the August debt-ceiling agreement and are set to take effect in January 2013.

The Ryan budget already proposed ending entitlement status for Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and effectively privatizing Medicare, but the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act took the cuts to social safety net programs a step further to avoid the automatic defense-spending cuts prescribed under the August deal.

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It’s Not Too Much to Heat and Eat

Full confession: It took me a while to learn how to tie my shoes. This may have been because I really, really liked those sweet Velcro-enhanced sneakers, or because I didn’t learn how to loop it, swoop it and pull it until fifth grade.

I’ve spent enough time with my shoes, though, to know what a loophole is—and enough time trying to tie my shoes to know what isn’t.

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Economic Recovery, but for Whom?

The economic recovery continues to lurch forward- but ever so slowly. Approximately employers added approximately 115,000 net jobs in April, and the unemployment rate fell again, from 8.2 percent down to 8.1 percent. That drop in the unemployment rate, though, is less the result of sustained positive growth, and more due to a shrinking labor force. Total private-sector additions of 130,000 jobs were countered by a loss of 15,000 government jobs, due largely to budget cuts in state and local government.

Reports about the state of the economy in April remain mixed- a survey of economists showed considerable optimism for a growing economy, while others have seized on the fact that 324,000 workers exited the labor force in April, precipitating the continued drop in the unemployment rate.

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