October 03, 2013
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
Lee Thornton, a former CNN and CBS correspondent and the interim dean for the University of Maryland’s journalism school, died Sept. 25 after a brief illness. She was 71.
Thorton had been battling pancreatic cancer, journalism website Mediabistro reported.
Thornton began with CBS in New York in 1974 before moving to Washington, where she worked with esteemed journalists Lesley Stahl and Ed Bradley. As the White House correspondent was the first African-American woman to regularly cover that beat for a major news network.
In 1982, she moved to NPR, becoming the first black woman to host the weekend edition of “All Things Considered.” She later returned to television, joining CNN in 1992.
Thornton joined the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland in 1997. She also produced several programs for the college, including “Front & Center,” an award-winning series of in-depth interviews with fellow journalists.
October 03, 2013
By George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although the shutdown of the federal government that began Tuesday is affecting all Americans, a disproportionate portion of the 800,000 furloughed federal workers are African Americans, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Because government jobs have been more available to Blacks than private sector employment over the years, especially under de jure segregation, Blacks, who comprise 13.6 percent of the U.S. population, make up 17.7 percent of the federal workforce.
Overall, people of color represent 34 percent of the federal workforce. Latinos are 8 percent of government workers, Asians are 5.8 percent, Native Americans are 2.1 percent and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders are .40 percent of federal employees. People of color are 37 percent of the U.S. population, a figure projected to grow to 43.3 percent as soon as 2025 and 57 percent by 2060.
Federal workers considered non-essential to the functioning of government were instructed not to report for work as of Tuesday, the first day of the new fiscal year, because Congress failed to pass a permanent or interim budget in time to prevent a federal shutdown, the first in nearly two decades.
The impasse came as a result of a Republican-controlled House determination to tie any budget measure to defunding the Affordable Care Act, the major provisions of which went into effect Tuesday.
On Monday, President Obama warned about the consequences of a federal shutdown.
“With regard to operations that will continue: If you’re on Social Security, you will keep receiving your checks. If you’re on Medicare, your doctor will still see you. Everyone’s mail will still be delivered. And government operations related to national security or public safety will go on. Our troops will continue to serve with skill, honor, and courage. Air traffic controllers, prison guards, those who are with border control — our Border Patrol will remain on their posts, but their paychecks will be delayed until the government reopens. NASA will shut down almost entirely, but Mission Control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the Space Station.”
Obama added, “I also want to be very clear about what would change. Office buildings would close. Paychecks would be delayed. Vital services that seniors and veterans, women and children, businesses and our economy depend on would be hamstrung. Business owners would see delays in raising capital, seeking infrastructure permits, or rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. Veterans who’ve sacrificed for their country will find their support centers unstaffed. Tourists will find every one of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Smithsonian to the Statue of Liberty, immediately closed. And of course, the communities and small businesses that rely on these national treasures for their livelihoods will be out of customers and out of luck.
“And in keeping with the broad ramifications of a shutdown, I think it’s important that everybody understand the federal government is America’s largest employer. More than 2 million civilian workers and 1.4 million active-duty military serve in all 50 states and all around the world. In the event of a government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of these dedicated public servants who stay on the job will do so without pay — and several hundred thousand more will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay.”
The shutdown could have dire consequences for our national security, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
According to the report, “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects,” published Sept. 23: “A federal government shutdown could have possible negative security implications as some entities wishing to take actions harmful to U.S. interests may see the nation as physically and politically vulnerable,” the report stated.
If the past is any guide, the shutdown might be short-lived. The longest federal shutdown lasted 21 days, from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996. In the past, furloughed federal workers received retroactive pay for the time they were out. But there is no assurance that would happen this time. Members of Congress are exempt from furloughs.
There is also concern that the shutdown will be another setback for the already shaky economy.
Moddy’s Analytics estimates that a three to four week shutdown could cost the economy about $55 billion, about equal the combined economic disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.
When the government was shutdown in fiscal year 1996, according to the Congressional Research Service report:
Health – New patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical center; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ceased disease surveillance; and hotline calls to NIH concerning diseases were not answered.
Law Enforcement and Public Safety – Delays occurred in the processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases reportedly was suspended; cancellation of the recruitment and testing of federal law enforcement officials reportedly occurred, including the hiring of 400 border patrol agents; and delinquent child-support cases were delayed.
Parks, Museums, and Monuments. Closure of 368 National Park Service sites (loss of 7 million visitors) reportedly occurred, with loss of tourism revenues to local communities; and closure of national museums and monuments (reportedly with an estimated loss of 2 million visitors) occurred.
Visas and Passports – Approximately 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas reportedly went unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports reportedly went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines reportedly sustained millions of dollars in losses.
American Veterans – Multiple services were curtailed, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel.
Federal Contractors – Of $18 billion in Washington, D.C.-area contracts, $3.7 billion (more than 20 percent) reportedly were affected adversely by the funding lapse; the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was unable to issue a new standard for lights and lamps that was scheduled to be effective January 1, 1996, possibly resulting in delayed product delivery and lost sales; and employees of federal contractors reportedly were furloughed without pay.
Speaking in the Rose Garden Tuesday, President Obama said: “I will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay bills it’s already racked up. I’m not going to allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud just to refight a settled election or extract ideological demands. Nobody gets to hurt our economy and millions of hardworking families over a law you don’t like.”
September 26, 2013
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday ordered creation of a statewide earthquake early warning system that could give millions of Californians a few precious seconds of warning before a powerful temblor strikes.
The bill signed into law Tuesday directs the Office of Emergency Services to develop the system and identify sources of funding for it by January 2016. The system is expected to cost about $80 million to build and run for five years. The money cannot come from state general funds and the law doesn't specifically address alternatives, such as federal money or private sector partnerships.
"We need to develop this system without delay," said a statement from Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, who sponsored Senate Bill 135. "California is going to have an earthquake early warning system, the question is whether we have one before or after the next big quake."
Early warning systems are designed to detect the first, fast-moving shock wave from a large earthquake, calculate the strength and alert people before the slower but damaging waves spread. The U.S. has lagged behind Mexico, Japan and other quake-prone countries in developing a system that can detect a rupturing fault and provide enough time for trains to brake, cars to pull off roads, utilities to shut off gas lines and people to dive under tables and desks.
The system can't predict earthquakes and people at the epicenter won't get any warning, but those farther away could benefit.
During the 2011 earthquake-caused tsunami in Japan, millions of people received five to 40 seconds of warning depending on how far they were from the epicenter. The notices were sent to cellphones and broadcast over airwaves.
For several years, the U.S. Geological Survey has been testing a prototype that fires off messages to about two dozen groups in the state, mostly scientists and first responders. In March, it provided up to 30 seconds of warning of a magnitude-4.7 earthquake in Riverside County.
A full-scale system would mean upgrading current earthquake monitoring stations and adding some 440 additional sensors in vulnerable regions, such as the northern tip of the San Andreas near San Francisco and the San Jacinto Fault in Southern California.
September 26, 2013
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Hopeful yet unyielding, President Barack Obama and new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani both spoke up fervently for improved relations and a resumption of stalled nuclear talks Tuesday Sept. 24 at the U.N. — but gave no ground on the long-held positions that have scuttled previous attempts to break the impasse.
The leaders’ separate appearances at the United Nations General Assembly came amid heightened speculation about a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations following the election of Rouhani, a more-moderate sounding cleric. In fact, officials from both countries had quietly negotiated the possibility of a brief meeting between Obama and Rouhani.
But U.S. officials said the Iranians told them Tuesday that an encounter would be “too complicated” given uncertainty about how it would be received in Tehran. Instead, Obama and Rouhani traded their public messages during addresses hours apart at the annual U.N. meetings.
Obama declared that it was worth pursuing diplomacy with Iran even though skepticism persists about Tehran's willingness to back up its recent overtures with concrete actions to answer strong concerns at the U.N. and in many nations that the Iranians are working to develop a nuclear bomb.
“The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” Obama said. He added that he while he was “encouraged” by Rouhani’s election, the new president’s “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”
Rouhani, making his international debut, said Iran was ready to enter talks “without delay” and insisted his country was not interested in escalating tensions with the U.S. He said Iran must retain the right to enrich uranium, but he vigorously denied that his country was seeking to build a nuclear weapon.
“Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethnical convictions,” Rouhani declared. “Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”
He strongly criticized the economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran as part of the effort to persuade its leaders to open its nuclear programs to international inspection. The sanctions have badly hurt Iran’s economy, and Rouhani called them “violent” in their impact. He also said that U.S. drone strikes that kill civilians in the name of fighting terrorism should be condemned.
U.S. officials said they were not surprised to see Rouhani publicly stake out those positions on the international stage. Still, they say they see him as a more moderate leader elected by an Iranian public frustrated by international isolation and the crippling sanctions.
In another sign Rouhani was seeking a more conciliatory tone, he switched briefly from Farsi to English in a CNN interview aired Tuesday night — a gesture that would have been difficult to imagine under Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“I would like to say to American people: I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans,” Rouhani said.
Still, the Obama administration is unclear whether Rouhani is willing to take the steps the U.S. is seeking in order to ease the sanctions, including curbing uranium enrichment and closing the underground Fordo nuclear facility.
The U.S. and its allies have long suspected that Iran is trying to produce a nuclear weapon, though Tehran insists its nuclear activities are only for producing energy and for medical research.
Even without a meeting between Obama and Rouhani, it was clear that the U.S. and Iran were edging close to direct talks. Obama said he was tasking Secretary of State John Kerry with pursuing the prospect of a nuclear agreement with Iran. Kerry, along with representatives from five other world powers, is to meet Thursday with Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
If Kerry and Zarif hold one-on-one talks on the sidelines of that meeting, it would mark the first direct engagement in six years between a U.S. secretary of state and an Iranian foreign minister. A spokeswoman for Zarif said Thursday's meeting indeed would mark the beginning of a “new era” in relations with the West.
Rouhani did hold a formal bilateral meeting Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande, whose country is among the Western nations that have been seeking a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear dispute. It was the first meeting of French and Iranian presidents since 2005, when Jacques Chirac hosted Mohammad Khatami in Paris.
The potential for direct engagement between the U.S. and Iran was being closely watched by Israel, which has long sought tough punishments against Tehran in retaliation for its nuclear program. Following Rouhani's speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused him of “hypocrisy” and said the new Iranian leader showed no sign of halting his nuclear program.
“This is precisely the Iranian intention, to talk and buy time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.
Obama will seek to allay Netanyahu’s concerns next week, when the Israeli leader visits the White House. Ahead of that visit, Obama signaled that any transformation in the American relationship with Iran would take time.
“The suspicion runs too deep,” he said. “But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road toward a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Obama first reached out to Rouhani this summer, with a letter congratulating him on his election and expressing urgency in resolving their nuclear disagreement before a diplomatic window closes. Rouhani responded with a letter of his own, thanking Obama for his outreach. In subsequent interviews, Rouhani also has suggested an interest in a new start between the U.S. and Iran.
In the days leading up to Obama’s and Rouhani’s appearances at the U.N., American and Iranian officials were negotiating the possibility of a brief encounter between the leaders, Obama administration officials said. The last time an American and Iranian leader met was in 1977, before the U.S. cut off diplomatic ties with Tehran following the Islamic revolution and the siege of the American Embassy.
The officials said the White House was open to the exchange, but the Iranians told them Tuesday that they couldn’t have a leadership-level meeting at this point.
“The Iranians have an internal dynamic that they have to manage and the relationship with the United States is clearly quite different than the relationship that Iran has with other
September 26, 2013
BY LOLITA C. BALDOR
WASHINGTON — The Washington Navy Yard shooter lied about a previous arrest and failed to disclose thousands of dollars in debts when he applied for a security clearance in the Navy.
Then federal investigators dismissed the omissions, and made one of their own — deleting any reference to Aaron Alexis' use of a gun in that arrest.
The gaps in his record eventually allowed him to work in the secure Navy building where he gunned down 12 workers last week, underscoring weaknesses with the clearance process that Navy officials are targeting for change.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus recommended Monday that all police reports — not just arrests or convictions — involving an individual must be included when a background check is done. He also recommended that the Navy enhance its management of sailor evaluations and fitness reports by assigning more senior officers to oversee them.
The Navy, in a report released Monday, revealed new details about Alexis' Navy service, including his failure to reveal the 2004 arrest over a parking disagreement in Seattle. And officials said the background report given to the Navy omitted the fact that he shot out the tires of another person's car during that dispute.
Instead, the report from the Office of Personnel Management said Alexis "deflated" the tires.
Defense officials have acknowledged that a lot of red flags were missed in Alexis' background, allowing him to maintain a secret-level security clearance and have access to a secure Navy facility despite a string of behavioral problems and brushes with the law. Over the past week, they have been struggling to determine what might have been missed, and what changes could be made in order to try and prevent similar violence in the future.
So far, however, the detailed reviews only underscore how subjective the security checks can be and how difficult it is to predict violent behavior based only on minor conduct issues that could easily be overlooked.
A review of Alexis' nearly four-year Navy career was ordered last week by Mabus.
According to a senior Navy official, the police report included information about the gun and said Alexis was arrested, charged with malicious mischief and fingerprinted and spent the night in jail. But when he appeared in court the charges were dismissed and he believed the incident was erased from his record.
The OPM report, provided to the Navy, left out the gun in its description of the incident, saying Alexis deflated the man's tires in retaliation for the man putting an unknown substance in Alexis' gas tank. It was not clear Monday who was at fault for the omission. Officials said they didn't know whether the summary provided to the Navy was compiled by OPM, or if it was put together by the company that investigated Alexis for his clearance — U.S. Investigations Services, or USIS — and passed on to OPM.
The discrepancy, however, prompted Mabus to recommend changes in the process to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Hagel has ordered two sweeping reviews of military security and employee screening programs, and Mabus' recommendation will be considered as part of those studies.
A senior Navy official said military officials only became aware that a gun was used in the tire incident when they went back through all the records last week, after the Navy Yard shooting. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly by name, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The tragedy has revealed a number of problems with the security clearance system, including its focus on whether someone is a treason threat rather than a potential killer.
When a check of Alexis' fingerprints disclosed the Seattle police incident, it triggered a follow-up interview for the security clearance. An OPM memo about the interview included multiple questions about debts he failed to pay and problems with collection agencies. In each case, the memo noted that Alexis was having financial troubles, was arranging repayment plans and only he and his mother knew of the debts.
"The subject does not feel that knowledge of any of his financial issues could be used against him for blackmail or coercion," the memo said.
The fact that Alexis did not disclose the debts on his security form was dismissed in the memo, which noted that he answered "no" to the questions because he was working on payment plans and thought the issues would be resolved. He also answered "no" to questions about his police record, including whether he had been arrested, charged, convicted or issued a summons, citation or ticket to appear in court in a criminal proceeding.
The OPM memo said Alexis told the investigator he answered "no" to those questions "because the charge was dismissed and he was told by Connell (his attorney) that the charge would be removed from his record."
The Navy also released other details about Alexis' troubled service record, including two efforts by his commander to impose non-judicial punishments for various infractions.
The Navy said Alexis failed to report to work because he was in jail for a disorderly conduct arrest outside a nightclub in Georgia in September 2008. His commander ordered the loss of a half-month's pay for two months and a one-rank demotion, but suspended both punishments because it was Alexis' first offense.
About a year later, he jumped off some stairs at another nightclub and broke his ankle. His commander demoted him, but Alexis appealed. Another commander later concluded there wasn't enough evidence that Alexis was drunk, so the punishment was dismissed.
He was arrested again a year later, for discharging a firearm in his apartment. Navy officials began preparing a less-than-honorable discharge, but it was never completed because he said the incident was an accident, and no charges were filed. Several months later he received an honorable discharge from the Navy.
While in hindsight, the string of events could have set off alarm bells within the Navy, officials said Monday that it's difficult even now to see them as glaring indicators of last week's shooting rampage.