January 17, 2013
By Lee-Anne Goodman Associated Press
The United States has long been a breeding ground for conspiracy theorists, spurred by an often-violent history riddled, in particular, with shadowy political assassinations.
But the latest conspiracy movement seems custom-made to underscore the need for a national debate on mental illness. Some of the Sandy Hook Truthers, as they’ve been dubbed, believe last month's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax.
The Obama administration perpetrated the hoax, the conspiracy theorists claim, in order to ratchet up support for tougher gun control measures.
They call themselves Operation Terror, and many of the movement's adherents appear to have ties to the so-called 9-11 truthers who have long held that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were an inside job by the George W. Bush administration.
Their theories on the Dec. 14 shooting in Sandy Hook appear to lack any basis in fact, reality or common sense. But Google Trends suggests the movement is gaining momentum with both a Florida college professor and a libertarian Fox News anchor in Cincinnati questioning the official narrative on the events.
On various websites and blogs, some Sandy Hook truthers crow about the “smoking gun” they say proves the shooting was a hoax — a photo of President Barack Obama, backstage at a Newtown vigil two days after the shooting, a young blonde girl sitting on his lap.
They insist the girl is six-year-old Emilie Parker, one of the 20 child victims of the shooting. The Sandy Hook truthers claim her parents slipped up in their participation in the hoax, and allowed their eldest daughter to cuddle up to Obama.
“The story that she was killed at Sandy Hook is not possible, because here she is sitting on the president’s lap after the shooting,” intones the narrator of a YouTube video, one of dozens of its kind, this one the recipient of more than 260,000 web hits.
In fact, it’s the dead girl’s little sister.
The child’s father, Robbie Parker, was also faking his profound despair when he tearfully addressed the media shortly after his daughter's murder, the believers claim, and was reading from cue cards.
The family members of the massacre’s tiniest victims aren’t the only ones being accused of such unthinkable fraud as they continue to grieve.
A town resident who sheltered six youngsters after they fled Sandy Hook Elementary School in terror is even facing harassment from some of the conspiracy theorists.
Gene Rosen, a 69-year-old pet-sitter, told Salon.com this week that he’s getting phone calls and emails accusing him of fabricating his story.
One email read: “How are all those little students doing? You know, the ones that showed up at your house after the ‘shooting.’ What is the going rate for getting involved in a government-sponsored hoax anyway?”
Police are investigating the harassment. Rosen, who also comforted a frantic mother who came to his door looking for her deceased child, told Salon he’s furious at anyone who believes in such an outrageous conspiracy theory.
“There must be some way to morally shame these people, because there were 20 dead children lying an eighth of a mile from my window all night long,” he said.
“I am rageful about it, both for the children and for the mother of the child who came to my house looking for her son.”
Other Newtown conspiracy theorists allege there were four perpetrators from Israeli special forces, and that it wasn’t children who died, but a secret United Nations delegation.
Fox News’s Ben Swann is among those doubting Adam Lanza was the only shooter.
A Florida college professor also suggested on his personal blog that the Sandy Hook shooting may not have played out the way many believe it did — if it happened at all.
“I said that there may very well be elements of that event that are synthetic to some degree, that are somewhat contrived,” James Tracy, of Florida Atlantic University, recently told a local TV station in Boca Raton.
“I think that, overall, the media really did drop the ball. I don’t think that the media have gotten to the bottom of some of the things that may have taken place there.”
Conspiracy theories, indeed, are part of the national fabric of the United States.
A veritable cottage industry still surrounds the assassination of John F. Kennedy almost 50 years ago, with alleged culprits ranging from the CIA to the mob, Fidel Castro and Lyndon Johnson, or a combination of them all. One book even alleged a UFO connection.
During the Cold War, some believed Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Communist plant.
The 9-11 truthers assert that the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan were brought down by timed explosions by those working for the Bush administration. And it was a guided missile that hit the Pentagon, not a jetliner, they allege.
More recently, the so-called birther movement advanced the theory that Obama was born in Kenya, not in Hawaii, and is therefore an illegitimate president.
One expert on the American conspiracy theory phenomenon points out, however, that throughout the course of U.S. history, there have been no shortage of massive government cover ups — and they’ve only served to encourage skeptics.
“There have been so many well-documented conspiracies in American history,” James Broderick, a professor at New Jersey City University, said in an interview.
Broderick points to everything from weapons of mass destruction to Lance Armstrong’s admission of longtime drug use after years of denials and Robert F. Kennedy’s recent acknowledgement that his family has long believed the official government report on JFK’s assassination was a whitewash.
“It does seem appalling the way conspiracy theorists, and many people in general, try to exploit for their own petty political purposes a national tragedy — it's sickening and disgraceful,” said Broderick, the co-author of the 2008 book “Web of Conspiracy.”
“But what the 9-11 truthers told me is what’s truly sickening and disgraceful is to not look deeper, to just accept pat answers without asking questions.”
Some of the people advancing theories of more than one shooter in Newtown might have their hearts in the right place, Broderick said.
“But of course there’s also a segment who are just angry at the government and at Obama all the time — the people who believe he’s a Muslim and a fascist and everything else — and they have jumped on the bandwagon, posted terrible things on the web and tried to fuel the fires in the most shameful ways.”
January 17, 2013
By FRAZIER MOORE Associated Press
Robin Roberts’ grueling road to recovery will be bringing her back to the “Good Morning America” anchor desk soon.
Appearing from her home on Monday’s show, Roberts wore a broad smile as she announced that her most recent bone marrow test showed no sign of the life-threatening disease that has kept her off the air for months.
That means she can begin the process of returning to the anchor chair, she said, emphasizing she needs to go through a “process of re-entry.”
She said she hopes to be back “in weeks, not months,” perhaps as soon as February.
“I’m coming home,” she declared during a festive appearance complete with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” played as a musical accompaniment.
One of Roberts’ physicians, Dr. Gail Roboz, said the test last week gave them the results “we were looking for: Right now, did we get rid of what we started out trying to get rid of?”
She described Roberts’ recovery process as “no vacation — this has been brutal.”
The good news came 138 days after Roberts’ September bone marrow transplant. The donor for the 52-year-old Roberts was her older sister, Sally-Ann.
“Her cells continue to make themselves at home in my body,” Roberts said.
In June, she disclosed that she had MDS, a blood and bone marrow disease. Her last day on “GMA” was Aug. 30 before she began extended medical leave from the ABC morning show, which last summer overtook longtime ratings leader “Today.”
“I haven’t been live on television since the end of August,” she reminded her colleagues Monday. “My heart is beating so fast right now. But that means I’m alive. I’m alive!”
Roberts hasn’t exactly been absent from “GMA.” Reports on her condition have been faithfully showcased on the show, maybe to excess in the minds of some observers.
Pressed for details by her co-anchor, George Stephanopoulos, Roberts likened her return to an athlete getting back on the field after an injury.
“They don’t go right back into the starting lineup. They go to practice, they throw the ball, and see how their body reacts,” she explained.
One preliminary step: “I got up at 4 a.m. this morning,” she said proudly. “I’ve got to get back on ‘GMA’ time.”
Next week, she will go through a dry run: arriving at the studio and getting into makeup as if she were about to do the show, but stopping short of actually going on camera. It will be a test to see how her body reacts to the stress of being back in the studio environment, she said, adding that she will even need to re-accustom her skin to the studio lights.
After the dry run, Roberts and her doctors will evaluate her status to further pinpoint a return date.
“We’re going to take it step by step,” she said.
January 17, 2013
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says his own Republican Party is having “an identity problem.”
The former Joints Chief of Staff chairman who twice endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president tells NBC’s “Meet the Press” that in recent years there's been “a significant shift to the right,” and that’s produced two losing presidential campaigns.
He says the GOP needs to “take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed” demographically, and that if the party doesn’t change, “they’re going to be in trouble.” He also bemoans what he calls “a dark vein of intolerance” in some elements of the party.
He describes himself as a moderate but still a Republican.
January 17, 2013
By NEDRA PICKLER
President Barack Obama’s second inauguration is shaping up as a high-energy celebration smaller than his first milestone swearing-in, yet still designed to mark his unprecedented role in American history with plenty of eye-catching glamour.
A long list of celebrity performers will give the once-every-four years right of democratic passage the air of a star-studded concert, from the bunting-draped Capitol’s west front of the Capitol, where Obama takes the oath Jan. 21, to the Washington Convention Center, which is expected to be packed with 40,000 ball-goers that evening.
The first family will lead a parade of clanging bands, elaborate floats and marchers, including costumed dancers, prancing horses and military units, down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president will dance with the first lady, whose dress seems destined to be most anticipated fashion statement of the second Obama administration.
A new element of the inaugural events will be announced next week, with the appointment of around half a dozen “citizen co-chairs,” community leaders from across the country chosen because they represent the president’s accomplishments and commitments. They will take part in inaugural events throughout the weekend.
Estimates of turnout are 600,000 to 800,000, compared with the 1.8 million in the record crowd on the National Mall four years ago to see the first swearing in of a black president. The mood of this 57th inauguration will be tempered by the weak economy, high unemployment, the aftermath of the Connecticut elementary school shooting and the long war in Afghanistan that’s expected to require U.S. combat forces through the end of next year.
Yet developments in the last week have shown that inaugural enthusiasm is high.
A limited offering of $60 inaugural ball tickets for the general public sold out quickly, and inauguration planners have tried to crack down on a scalping business that’s sprung up online. There’s an impressive list of celebrities, including Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Usher, who have signed on to perform.
While organizers said Obama was cutting back the number of balls from 10 last time to just two this year, The Associated Press has learned that they are expecting more than 35,000 to attend the larger of the two and 4,000 to attend a ball in honor of U.S. troops — double the size of four years ago.
Another factor that could increase turnout is the unseasonably warm weather in Washington. Early forecasts indicate that Obama will be taking the oath of office while the temperature is in the 40s, with hardly any chance of precipitation.
Steve Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said that just because the festivities are going to be smaller doesn’t mean they are going to be any less significant.
“What we’ve been seeing from the very beginning is a passion and energy for this inaugural because people want to be a part of history,” Kerrigan said. “This is a moment that’s only happened 56 other times.”
Obama’s speech gives him a moment to command the world's attention on a level that’s rare even for a president.
If history is any guide, Obama will try to put behind the divisive election. He has the State of the Union three weeks later to make his points on taxes, guns, immigration and other issues. It’s a good bet this day will be a patriotic love letter to America.
“Second inaugurals are often a kind of victory lap speech in a lot of ways, that would go back to Thomas Jefferson in 1805,” said presidential historian Leo Ribuffo of George Washington University. “Presidents are often reflecting on accomplishments of the administration and the challenges that will continue into the second term.”
The 2009 inauguration will be remembered as a milestone for a nation built on slavery and blood-stained by the civil rights movement. But Obama clearly has that historical context in mind for his second go-round, as evidenced by the Bibles he chose to place his left hand on while taking the oath of office — one owned by Abraham Lincoln and one by Martin Luther King Jr.
Their selection is especially symbolic because Obama’s second inauguration comes on the federal holiday marking King’s birthday and in a milestone anniversary year involving both men. It was 150 years ago when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery, and 50 years ago when King delivered his “I Had a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — a monument that will be straight ahead in Obama’s sight as he speaks to his country.
“We’ve got the Bible of the great emancipator on top of the Bible of the leader of the civil rights movement for an African- American president to take the oath of office,” Kerrigan said. “It’s an amazing moment that people want to touch and feel and be a part of.”
The inauguration will transform Washington, where most federal offices would be closed for the King holiday, by shutting down streets downtown and bringing regular daily life in the city to a halt. Viewing stands are set up along Pennsylvania Avenue for the parade from the Capitol to the White House. Street lamps will be removed, then replaced at the day’s end.