September 06, 2012

Associated Press

 

Florida A&M University, still reeling from the hazing-related death of a marching band drum major 10 months ago, suspended its Torque Dance Team on Tuesday September 4 following allegations of an off-campus hazing incident.

 

Interim President Larry Robinson said the university received an anonymous report from a parent Tuesday afternoon about an alleged incident that occurred over the Labor Day weekend.

 

“The University takes very seriously any allegation of hazing and has moved quickly to shut the organization down pending the outcome of an investigation,” Robinson said in a news release. “We have zero tolerance for hazing. It’s deplorable and will not be tolerated. It is unconscionable that a student organization would participate in any hazing activity considering what has transpired in the past year.”

 

The campus police chief, dean of students and director of student activities were all notified of the allegations. Robinson said they’ve launched an investigation, but details about what may have happened weren’t released.

 

According to university records, the dance team had already been inactive since December 2011 because it didn’t have an adviser.

 

FAMU has cracked down on hazing since the death last November of drum major Robert Champion, who died after being beaten by fellow band members during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel following a football game. The Marching 100 was later suspended, meaning the band won’t be playing at this season’s football games.

 

Twelve people face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts. They have pleaded not guilty.

 

Also following Champion’s death, FAMU suspended new membership intake for all clubs and organizations and implemented more strict procedures. That recruitment ban is set to be lifted this month.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

September 06, 2012

By JULIE PACE

Associated Press

 

Michelle Obama rarely mentions Mitt Romney by name. But everything she says during this presidential campaign is meant to draw a contrast between her husband and his Republican challenger.

She implies that Romney, who had a privileged upbringing, can’t relate when she tells middle-class voters that President Barack Obama understands their economic struggles because he has struggled too. And she suggests Romney would have other priorities when she says her husband’s empathy will result in a second-term agenda focused squarely on middle-class economic security.

The first lady made her case to millions of Americans on Tuesday September 4, headlining the first night of the Democratic Party’s national convention, where two days later her husband accepted the party's presidential nomination for a second time. Her high-profile appearance underscores her key role in his re-election bid: chief defender of his character and leader in efforts to validate the direction he is taking the country.

“I am going to remind people about the values that drive my husband to do what he has done and what he is going to do for the next four years,” Mrs. Obama said of her speech during an interview with SiriusXM radio host Joe Madison.

The president said he planned to watch his wife’s speech from the White House with the couple's two daughters.

“I’m going to try to not let them see their daddy cry because when Michelle starts talking, I start getting all misty,” Obama said at rally in Norfolk, Va.

Once the reluctant political spouse, Mrs. Obama has embraced that mission to sell her husband anew throughout the summer while raising money for the campaign and speaking at rallies in battleground states.

These days her speeches are peppered with references to the president’s upbringing in Hawaii, where he was raised by a single mother and his grandparents. She talks about the student loans he took out to pay for college and the years it took to pay them back.

When Romney accused Obama of running a “campaign of hate,” the first lady delivered Obama’s strongest counterpoint — without mentioning the Republican candidate.

“We all know who my husband is, don’t we? And we all know what he stands for,” she said, standing alongside the president at a campaign rally in Iowa.

Key to Mrs. Obama’s campaign strategy is maintaining her own personal appeal.

Anita McBride, who served as first lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff, said that means staying away from the vitriol that has permeated the White House campaign.

“There are plenty of attack dogs in this campaign,” McBride said. “She doesn’t need to be one of them.”

In many ways, the first lady’s challenge Tuesday night was more difficult than it was when she spoke at the 2008 Democratic convention. Back then, her mission was to vouch for her husband’s personal qualities. This time around, she also has to persuade voters to stick with him amid high unemployment and sluggish economic growth.

Many Americans didn’t know Mrs. Obama and some viewed her suspiciously before the 2008 convention. Republicans had questioned her patriotism throughout the campaign because she told voters during the primary that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.”

Her convention speech sought to put those issues to rest. She declared “I love this country” and used personal stories about her marriage to assure voters they had nothing to fear about her and her husband's values.

Since moving into the White House, Mrs. Obama has focused on tackling childhood obesity and assisting military families. She's largely steered clear of her husband's political battles, at least in public.

But behind the scenes, she’s a sounding board for her husband on pressing policy matters. She also has increasingly promoted his health care overhaul after it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

September 06, 2012

By Jon Gabrell

Associated Press

 

Nigeria’s navy retook an oil tanker on Wednesday September 5, hijacked off the country’s largest city, freeing 23 Indian sailors held hostage by pirates who fled as the navy arrived, a spokesman said.

None of the sailors was hurt in the hijacking of the MT Abu Dhabi Star, which happened off the coast of Lagos, said Pat Adamson, a spokesman for Dubai-based Pioneer Ship Management Services LLC. The Nigerian navy was providing an escort for the vessel Wednesday afternoon to make sure it arrived safely at Lagos’ busy port, Commodore Kabir Aliyu said.

The pirates who took over the vessel fled when they saw the Nigerian naval ship on the horizon, Adamson said. It was unclear whether they stole any of the ship's cargo, though the crew had begun an inspection of the ship, the spokesman said.

The pirates targeted the ship as it was anchored off the coast Tuesday night, Aliyu said. The sailors onboard sent distress signals as the pirates boarded the Singapore-flagged ship, with their last message indicating they had locked themselves inside a panic room on the vessel, Aliyu said.

During the short hijacking, the ship's management received no ransom demands for the crew, Pioneer Ship Management Services said. That's not unusual, as pirates in the region increasingly target oil tankers for their cargos, holding control of the vessels only long enough to offload the fuel before escaping. That’s in contrast to pirates off the Somali coast, who typically hold sailors for months for ransom.

Pirate attacks are on the rise in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent's southward curve from Liberia to Gabon. Over the last year and a half, piracy there has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts. Last year, London-based Lloyd's Market Association — an umbrella group of insurers — listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.

Pirates in West Africa have been more willing to use violence in their robberies, as they target the cargo, not the crew for ransom as is the case off Somalia. Experts say many of the pirates come from Nigeria, where corrupt law enforcement allows criminality to thrive.

Analysts believe the recent hijackings of tanker ships may well be the work of a single, sophisticated criminal gang with knowledge of the oil industry and oil tankers. Those involved in the hijackings may have gotten that experience in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta, where thieves tap pipelines running through the swamps to steal hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

September 06, 2012

By MATTHEW DALY

Associated Press

 

In an election-year reminder that he ended the war in Iraq, President Barack Obama vowed last Friday to help soldiers, veterans and their families overcome economic and health care struggles as they return to the nation they have served.

Surrounded by a sea of men and women in fatigues, Obama saluted their service, but cautioned that a “tough fight” remains in Afghanistan even as the U.S. works to transfer security control to Afghan forces. He said the troops’ return home now presents different challenges.

“After fighting for America you shouldn’t have to fight for a job in America,” Obama said. “To you and all you serve, we need to be there for you just like you were there for us.”

Obama’s visit to the vast Fort Bliss Army post in El Paso came on the second anniversary of the end of combat operations in Iraq. While officially not a presidential campaign trip, the visit also served clear political aims by highlighting the end of one unpopular war and the wind-down of another and drawing attention to Obama's role as commander in chief.

Obama also visited Fort Bliss on Aug. 31, 2010, the day he announced the end of the U.S. combat role in Iraq.

“You left Iraq with honor, your heads held high,” Obama said. “And today Iraq has a chance to forge its own destiny, and there are no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq.”

Fort Bliss soldiers participated in the Iraqi invasion in 2003 and were among the last to serve in combat roles there. The post endured significant losses during the Iraq war and its troops are now being deployed in Afghanistan.

Before his remarks, Obama held a private roundtable meeting with service members and military families, including “Gold Star” families who lost relatives overseas.

His message to them, Obama said: “Your loved ones live on in the soul of our nation.”

Obama acknowledged that for those who return, “coming home can be its own struggle.” He cited the effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury.

He announced that he had, earlier, signed an executive order directing federal agencies to expand their efforts at addressing the mental health needs of veterans, service members and their families and to increase measures aimed at preventing suicide.

“I know that you join me in saying to everyone who’s ever worn the uniform, if you’re hurting it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help, it’s a sign of strength,” he said. “We are here to help you stay strong — Army strong.”

Among the steps spelled out in the order is an increase in the number of Department of Veterans Affairs’ counselors. It also orders the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services to undertake a mental health study aimed at improving prevention, diagnoses and treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury.

Obama also renewed a call on Congress to pass measures in Obama’s economic proposals specifically aimed at veterans, including one that provides tax credits to businesses that hire vets.

Veterans are a key voting bloc in the closely fought presidential race.

A Gallup tracking poll in August shows Republican Mitt Romney leads Obama, 55 percent to 38 percent among veterans. Exit polls conducted in 2008 showed voters who had served in the military preferred Republican John McCain over Obama by 10 percentage points.

At their party’s convention in Tampa, Fla., Romney and other Republicans made repeated references to veterans. Romney broke away from the convention to speak to the American Legion in Indianapolis.

Romney has attempted to blame Obama for threatened spending cuts in defense that will kick in if Congress doesn’t come up with a deficit reduction plan by year's end. The sharp reductions in Pentagon spending and in other domestic programs were part of a deal Obama struck with Republican leaders last year and was designed to force Congress to find other means of reducing the deficit.

Obama reiterated his demands for Congress to act.

“Here’s the thing, there’s no reason those cuts should happen because folks in Congress ought to come together and agree on a responsible plan that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong,” he said.

Romney’s campaign, however, said Obama’s economic policies had made it more difficult for veterans and said more veterans would face unemployment if the defense cuts are enacted.

“As president, Mitt Romney will never play politics with our military’s strength and will enact pro-growth policies to get veterans — and all Americans — back to work,” said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

August 30, 2012

By CAIN BURDEAU |

Associated Press

 

With Isaac bearing down on New Orleans, the city finds itself at a delicate moment in its rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina struck seven years ago.

Private and government investment is fueling the push to overhaul some of the city’s troubled but culturally rich neighborhoods near the French Quarter, where poor families are being replaced as wealthier ones move in. While the city’s in a boom and even gentrifying, some question whether it will wither the roots that grew the city’s distinctive identity.

“New Orleans is becoming a boutique city like San Francisco,” said Gary Clark, a politics professor at Dillard University. “You may see Black middle class moving in, but with gentrification there’s overwhelmingly White individuals of means who become the new urban pioneers.”

The number of Whites, although smaller than before Katrina, has grown as an overall percentage from 28 percent to 33 percent of the city’s population. The city has its first white mayor since the 1970s, while the City Council now has a majority of white members.

On the flip side, Blacks say there’s danger that their community will be diminished in a city that owes deep cultural and economic debts to its Afro-Caribbean roots. Since the storm the African-American community has shrunk by about 118,500 people, dropping from about 68 percent of the population to about 60 percent.

“(Blacks) don’t see themselves as being a part of the recovery economy and getting real opportunity,” said Nolan V. Rollins, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans president.

It’s not clear what effect Isaac could have on the city. On Tuesday afternoon, the storm had become a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 75 mph.

This winter the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to demolish the last of the New Deal-era public housing still standing in New Orleans — the 850-unit Iberville complex. It was erected over the slums of what was for a time the nation’s only legal red-light district, Storyville.

The demolition is part of a $31 million HUD “choice neighborhoods” project, a concept pushed by the Obama administration across the nation. HUD hopes that by starting the process of gentrification, private investment will follow and the communities will become desirable places for all races and classes to live in.

Linda Couch, a public housing expert at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, said the new approach “has the elements of success.”

Meanwhile, another $4 billion in private and government investment has been pouring into the historic neighborhoods of Iberville and Treme, the hearth of the city’s African-American culture.

The 1.4 square miles where much of the redevelopment is occurring has long been known for gumbo, jazz, voodoo and civil rights pioneers. Immigrants from around the world lived side by side with Blacks in Treme and Iberville, where Louis Armstrong once walked the streets and delivered coal as a boy.

But the entire area fell on hard times after the 1960s, as Whites moved to the suburbs and bad urban planning took its toll. By the time Katrina hit, it was struggling and looked like an urban desert of blight, drugs and abandonment in many areas.

The plan for redeveloping the area could include the removal of a noisy concrete interstate expressway that runs through Treme with the hope of restoring what was one of the city’s main streets for Black commerce. Work is already underway to turn an unused rail corridor into a miles-long walking and bike path called the Lafitte Greenway, turning old schools into new charters and opening “fresh-food” supermarkets.

Taking down the Iberville housing complex is crucial, planners say, to connect Treme with the downtown’s theater and business district on Canal Street.

“I think we can retain the soul of New Orleans and in fact enhance it by going through this process,” said David Gilmore, a HUD housing expert leading the planning effort.

Many residents see a chance to save neighborhoods that have fallen prey to drugs, poverty and blight.

“We’re happy if someone moves down the street into a blighted property,” said Jennifer Jones, the self-styled “queen of the second-line” and member of a Treme family of musicians. “No one’s angry about Whites moving in. When we grew up, there was a lot of mixing going on,” Jones said.

But others are apprehensive.

“Maybe they’ve got their reason,” said Lionel Glenn, a 69-year-old retired laborer who ended up at Iberville after another project he was in was torn down after Katrina. “I’d like to stay, but I’ve got to move.”

A recent article in a Black ­community newspaper, The New Orleans Tribune, blared: “They’re here” in referring to Whites looking to buy up inner-city property. The headline read: “Gentrification: The New Segrega­tion.”

Unlike the other redevelopments after Katrina, HUD promises to find housing for all the 440 families at Iber­ville within about 1 mile of the project.

After Katrina, most of the city’s projects were torn down quickly and families were dispersed across the nation. Advocates charged that policy forced poor families out of New Orleans. Public housing units were cut in half at those complexes.

“What has happened is exactly what many people predicted would happen,” said Lance Hill, who runs the Southern Institute for Education and Research, a race relations center at Tulane University. “Blacks have ended up in apartments ringing the city.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu says there is no reason to fear the redevelopment.

“We’re building it back better than it ever was before and the way it always should have been.”

In Treme, there are about 200 more white households than before Katrina, Census data shows. Newcomers and old-timers have clashed, even at times over the noise from the impromptu second-lines, the cherished musical parades, which routinely break out. Also, longtime residents worry about the closing of neighborhood bars.

“They are looking for a French Quarter look-a-alike but with a bedroom community feel,” said Al Jackson, a Treme resident and historian.

One newcomer is David Williams, a 49-year-old school administrator. He bought an historic home that for now he rents out. The last batch he rented to was a group of young people with Americorps.

Once their son leaves home, he and his wife have talked about moving into the city and living in the house they’ve bought.

“In 10 years (this neighborhood) is going to look like Treme does a block away from the French Quarter,” he said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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