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A L A N A L D A ’ S SCIENCE CONTEST ASKS: WHAT IS COLOR? MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) -- Alan Alda, the actor-turned-part-time professor, has a new question for scientists to consider: How do you explain color to an 11-year-old? The television and film star best known for his role in the 1970s sitcom “MASH” is posing the question as part of the third annual “Flame Challenge.” Alda helped organize the international contest as part of his work at the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science. The university on eastern Long Island named the center in Alda’s honor earlier this year; its goal is to get scientists in various disciplines to explain complex concepts in the simplest of ways. This year’s question was selected by Alda after receiving about 800 suggested questions from children. He explained that many questions focused on issues about light and color, including the childhood classic: “Why is the sky blue?” “I’m in awe of the scientists who can bring clarity to these questions and I’m in awe of the kids who keep the scientists on their toes,” Alda said. Alda, a New York native who has had a lifelong interest in science, started the contest in 2011 by asking scientists: What is a flame? He followed that up last year with: What is time? Now comes color. “We want scientists to think about how they can answer the question from their own field - from biology to physics to anthropology or psychology,” said Elizabeth Bass, director of the Alda Center. Bass said the answer can be explained from a variety of scientific perspectives, including physics, chemistry or psychology. Scientists have a March 1 deadline to submit their responses, which will then be judged by 11-year-olds logging onto the Flame Challenge website. Last year, 20,000 students around the world served as judges. Two winners - one a written entry and the second for a video or graphic entry - will receive a free trip to New York City, where they will meet Alda and be honored at the World Science Festival.
NASA: COOLING PUMP O N S PA C E S TAT I O N S H U T S D O W N
Volume 002 Issue 50
HEALTH CARE SIGN-UPS PICK U P B U T M AY N O T C L O S E G A P
WASHINGTON (AP) -- With time running short, the nation’s health care rolls still aren’t filling up fast enough.
Engineers suspect a valve inside the pump was faulty and ground controllers moved electrical power supplies to the other cooling loop, Jacobs said. These loops circulate ammonia outside the station to keep equipment inside and outside cool. “The station wasn’t ever in any danger,” Jacobs said. Jacobs said the crew of two American astronauts, three Russian cosmonauts and a Japanese astronaut were preparing to go to bed as normal, while engineers on the ground tried to troubleshoot the problem. The faulty pump and cooling loop did start up again, he said. Humphries said it was too early to speculate whether a spacewalk would be needed to fix the problem. The station commander is cosmonaut Oleg Kotov. Americans Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins, Russians Mikhail Tyurin and Sergey Ryazanaskiy, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata are aboard. The orbital outpost, the size of a football field and weighing nearly 1 million pounds, has been in orbit more than 220 miles above Earth since 1998.
“Unless there is a proactive attempt to enroll these groups, you are likely to see a significant number of people whose coverage will lapse in January,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health, a market analysis firm following the rollout. “That might not be a big deal, because they might not get sick, but some of them will.”
That means more trouble Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Capitol for the White House, too, Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, before the House Energy and after months of repairing Commerce Committee hearing on the implementation failures of the Affordable Care Act. Playing catch-up with a long way to go, President Barack Obama’s new a dysfunctional enrollment health insurance markets last month picked up the dismal pace of signups, the website. Next year could administration reported Wednesday. start with a new round of political recriminations over the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare” to its opponents. Democratic lawmakers say they are relieved the website is finally working, but some are not convinced the turnaround is complete. The Health and Human Services Department reported that 364,682 people had signed up for private coverage under the law “How confident I am? I’m hoping that we’re moving in the right dias of Nov. 30. That is more than three times the October figure but rection,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., after Wednesday’s Energy still less than one-third of the 1.2 million that officials had projected and Commerce Committee hearing. “And if we find the day has would enroll nationwide by the end of November. The administracome and we find that it’s not what we had hoped, then I think tion’s overall goal was to sign up 7 million people by next March there should be changes.” The law should be fixed, not repealed, 31, when open enrollment ends. he said. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured Congress on Wednesday that “we are seeing very, very positive trends” now that HealthCare.gov is working reasonably well. She also announced that she’d asked the department’s inspector general for an independent investigation into contracting and management factors that contributed to the technology failure. Yet the revamped federal website serving 36 states continues to have issues, and some states running their own sites also face problems. Oregon had signed up only 44 people as of Nov. 30. That’s created stress and uncertainty not only for the uninsured but also for other people who now have insurance but are seeking to avoid an interruption in coverage in January.
Sebelius said at least 1.9 million people appear to be waiting just offstage to sign up. They’ve been found eligible to enroll but haven’t yet picked a plan. If they’re all procrastinators who rush forward on Dec. 23, the website would be overwhelmed. It can only handle 50,000 people at a time. The administration report found a total of 137,204 people enrolled in the states served by the federal HealthCare.gov by the end of November, up from 26,794 in October. The 14 states running their own websites enrolled 227,478 people, up from 79,391 in October. continued on page 6
C E L E B R I T Y T U TO R S T H R I V E I N G R A D E - F I X AT E D H O N G reading.
Students in East Asian societies have long relied on so-called “cram schools,” but Hong Kong has taken them to a new level in recent years, with the majority of students attending the city’s nearly 1,000 tutorial centers. Academies use brash marketing, dressing their tutors in miniskirts and high heels or leather jackets to make them look like pop stars. Advertisements for these “tutor kings” and “tutor queens,” as they are known in Cantonese, are splashed on giant roadside billboards, on the sides of shopping malls and on newspaper front pages.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- NASA said Wednesday it was looking into a problem with a malfunctioning cooling pump on the International Space Station, but there was no immediate danger to the six crewmen on board.
“It could be a serious problem, but it’s not an emergency,” Johnson Space Center spokesman Kelly Humphries said.
Those who are trying to preserve their coverage include some of the more than 4 million people whose individual plans were canceled because they didn’t measure up under the law - as well as hundreds of thousands who are in federal and state programs for people with serious health problems, from cancer to heart disease to AIDS.
New sign-up numbers Wednesday showed progress for President Barack Obama’s health care law, but not enough to guarantee that Americans who want and need coverage by Jan. 1 will be able to get it. Crunch time is now, as people face a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up if they are to have coverage by New Year’s.
Russian flight engineers perform maintenance on the International Space Station, Monday, June 24, 2013. NASA said Dec. 11, 2013, it is looking into a problem with a malfunctioning cooling pump on the International Space Station, but there is no immediate danger to the six crewmen on board. Agency spokesman Kelly Humphries says the problem may eventually be serious, but is not an emergency at the
A valve on a pump on one of the station’s two external cooling loops shut down because it was too cool Wednesday afternoon, NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said. He said that at no time was the crew at risk. But some non-critical equipment of the massive orbital outpost were powered down.
December 16, 2013
Many promise students they can help them ace the entrance exam. English grammar tutor Tony Chow, shows his advertising plan with a model of a double decker bus having his face plastered on the sides as to raise his profile further in Hong Kong. The 30-year-old teaches English grammar to thousands of secondary school pupils, who attend his after-school lessons or watch video replays of them at Modern Education’s 14 branches. Chow is a celebrity tutor in Hong Kong, where there’s big money to be made offering extracurricular lessons to parents desperately seeking an edge for their children preparing for the city’s intense public entrance exam for university.
HONG KONG (AP) -- When the Hong Kong school year began in September, tutor Tony Chow arranged to have his face plastered on the sides of double decker buses to raise his profile. For many of Chow’s students, the advertisements may be the closest they’ll ever get to him.
The 30-year-old teaches English grammar to thousands of secondary school pupils, who attend his after-school lessons or watch video replays of them at Modern Education’s 14 branches. Chow is a celebrity tutor in Hong Kong, where there’s big money to be made offering extracurricular lessons to parents desperately seeking an edge for their children preparing for the city’s intense public entrance exam for university. Global student rankings out last week highlighted the city’s cutthroat academic atmosphere. Hong Kong teens, along with Shanghai, Singapore, South Korea and Japan, dominated the list compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. American students showed little improvement and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or
“Basically the examination is just a game. When there’s a game there must be both winners and losers. They have to know the tricks on how to win the game,” said Chow. “We are trying to get them the shortcuts, the fast track to the answers.” Chow and others promise, for example, that they will help students learn keywords that many believe examiners award points for when used in written answers. Hong Kong’s tutorial industry is worth $260 million a year, according to a report by market research firm Synovate commissioned by Modern Education’s parent company, which went public in 2011 and is one of a handful dominating the market. The industry has made some tutors extremely wealthy. One of the best known, Richard Eng, is famous for his love of Lamborghinis and Louis Vuitton. He’s credited with kicking off the transformation of Hong Kong’s tutoring industry starting around 1996 when he had the inspiration to market himself like a performer. While Chow won’t say how much he earns, the top tutors can be paid many times what a public school teacher earns. Modern Education’s highest paid tutor earns at least 16 million Hong Kong dollars ($2 million) a year, according to its parent company’s latest annual report. The second highest earned $1.9 million and third highest made $1 million. Their identities continued on page 1
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to write and pass routine bills covering each agency, rather than lumping them all into one sure-to-be-disputed bill. “The Constitution says that the legislative branch should exercise the power of the purse,” Ryan said Tuesday evening, standing next to Murray, the Democratic negotiator from Washington state. “We want to reclaim that from the administration instead of having all of these” stopgap bills.
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The two parties also share a recognition that a deal needed to come together before the House adjourned for the year this week. That’s because the next round of across-the-board cuts are due to kick in by mid-January.
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House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., center, speaks with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., right, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, as they go before the House Rules Committee to advance the budget compromise struck last night by Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The plan is seen as a way to stabilize Congress’ erratic fiscal efforts, avert another government shutdown and mute some of the partisan rancor that has damaged Americans’ attitudes about their lawmakers.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sit down, gridlock.
After years on the bench, compromise is taking a turn in Congress, however briefly, in the form of a budget deal that is modest in size yet marks a major step away from brinkmanship. It’s a different model for America’s divided government, nothing like the version pressed by the tea party adherents who stormed to power in the House three years ago. They have maneuvered their own Republican Party from showdown to self-defeating shutdown, with dismal approval ratings to show for it “We understand in this divided government we’re not going to get everything we want,” Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said Wednesday. He was referring to himself and rank-and-file Republican lawmakers after pitching the plan to them the day after he’d announced it alongside Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. “By having a budget agreement that does not raise taxes, that does reduce the deficit and produces some certainty and prevents government shutdowns we think is a good agreement.” The mood inside the closed-door meeting was said to be positive - nary a boast about defunding “Obamacare,” the objective that motivated Republicans to send the government into a partial shutdown in October. “Not even mentioned,” said Rep. Howard `Buck” McKeon of California.
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Nor was there talk of any other national cataclysm, real or imagined, hovering in the background. Both Democrats and Republicans in the negotiations shared a goal of easing the across-the-board spending cuts known in Washington-speak as a sequester, and of returning Congress to a state in which the Appropriations Committees would be able
H E A LT H W E B S I T E W O E S F O R C E EXTENSION FOR SICKEST WASHINGTON (AP) -- Technology problems with President Barack Obama’s health care website are forcing the administration to extend a federal insurance plan for some of the sickest patients by a month. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan was supposed to disappear Jan. 1, because insurers will no longer be able to turn away patients with health issues next year.
But the website problems that have kept uninsured people from signing up for new coverage under Obama’s law also created obstacles for patients in the federal high-risk insurance plan and similar programs run by states. Addressing the anxiety, the Health and Human Services Department will keep the plan going through January. The decision was confirmed Thursday by a person who was briefed on it, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement.
Yet there was no threat of a government shutdown or a default, no “fiscal cliff” approaching, and no recession recovery-damaging increase in payroll taxes looming, as was the case two Christmases ago. House Speaker John Boehner was feisty, two months after being steamrolled by outside groups like Heritage Action, Club for Growth and their allies who swore off compromise in the run-up to the fall shutdown. The Ohio Republican was primed to pounce, and surprisingly, neither President Barack Obama nor congressional Democrats were his quarry. “You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?” he asked a reporter inquiring about opposition to the new budget deal. “They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.” The shutdown ended in abject defeat for Republicans, who ultimately voted to reopen the government without getting a single concession in return and agreed in added humiliation to raise the federal debt limit. This time, mindful of his troops’ inclinations, Boehner volunteered that the 10-year deal was modest, and neither he nor Ryan mentioned that it will cause deficits to rise in the current year and each of the next two. Modest, but not one-sided. Across-the-board spending cuts would be eased on both military and domestic programs. “The Democrats wanted the sequester to be completely lifted, completely gone. We didn’t agree with that,” Ryan said, claiming one accomplishment for the GOP. Democrat Murray conceded she was “disappointed that we weren’t able to close even a single corporate tax loophole,” another concession to the GOP. On the other hand, she said, “I know many Republicans had hoped this would be an opportunity to make some of the kinds of changes to Medicare and Social Security they’ve advocated for.” That didn’t happen, either. Republicans didn’t gloat about one accomplishment: They managed to divide Obama from House Democrats with the deal. The White House embraced it, while many lawmakers in his party expressed deep disappointment that it wouldn’t extend a program of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. Still, Murray said she hoped the same bipartisan cooperation might extend to other issues. If so, it’s unlikely to be soon, with Senate Republicans furious that Democrats unilaterally changed procedures to make it easier to confirm presidential nominees. Inside the budget agreement, which is still just a proposal, the savings would come from items that had been under discussion in previous rounds of budget negotiations that never came to fruition. Among them were increases in the security fee paid by airline travelers and the money that corporations pay to the federal agency that guarantees pensions. Military retirees under the age of 62 will pay a price, too, in the form of smaller-than-projected annual cost-of-living increases in pensions. One of the most controversial items wasn’t settled until the very end, according to officials. A requirement for civilian federal workers to pay a greater share for their pensions was limited to future workers, rather than those already on the job as the GOP had hoped. On that point, Democrats prevailed, and the bill’s overall deficit reduction was shaved from $26 billion over a decade to $23 billion.
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K E Y S U P P O R T F O R B U D G E T D E A L ; D E F I C I T S W O U L D R I S E WASHINGTON (AP) -- A newly minted budget deal to avert future government shutdowns gained important ground Wednesday among House Republicans who are more accustomed to brinkmanship than compromise, even though it would nudge federal deficits higher three years in a row.
licans refused to include the extension of unemployment benefits. “Looking at it on its own merits, I think the pros outweigh the cons,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who worked privately to secure a last-minute change that shields current federal workers from higher pension costs.
There was grumbling from opposite ends of the political spectrum - conservatives complaining about spending levels and liberal Democrats unhappy there would be no extension of an expiring program of benefits for the long-term unemployed. Yet other lawmakers, buffeted by criticism after last October’s partial government shutdown, found plenty to like in the agreement and suggested it could lead to future cooperation. The plan was announced Tuesday evening by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and quickly endorsed by President Barack Obama. A House vote was expected as early as Thursday as lawmaker race to wrap up their work for the year. “A lot of folks will probably vote for it even though they would rather not support this type of legislation, but we have to get the spending issue completed so that there is some consistency in the future,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the agreement “a breath of fresh air” that could lead to further progress. Added House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “If you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.” Boehner also took a swipe at outside groups that helped steer Republicans toward the politically damaging shutdown and opposed the current deal before it was sealed. “They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous,” he said, evidently referring to the Club For Growth, Heritage Action and other organizations. Modest in scope, the deal underscores how much ambitions have shriveled since the summer of 2011, when Obama and Boehner held private but unsuccessful talks on a “grand bargain” to reduce deficits by $4 trillion over a decade. In the current climate, though, it means a return to something approaching a routine, where spending committees will be able to write and pass individual bills each year, removed from the threat of a shutdown. As drafted, the bill would reverse $63 billion in across-theboard spending cuts scheduled to take effect in the current budget year and the next one, easing a crunch on programs as diverse as environmental protection and the Pentagon.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the party’s leader, said she would seek neither to round up support nor scuttle the measure. “Stay tuned,” she told reporters. Later in the day, 165 Democrats signed a letter to Boehner not to let the House adjourn before it votes on extending the program.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, joined by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes reporters’ questions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, as House Republicans signaled support for a budget deal worked out yesterday between Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chair Rep. Patty Murray, D-Wash. The budget deal was one of a few major measures left on Congress’ to-do list near the end of a bruising year that has produced a partial government shutdown, a flirtation with a first-ever federal default and gridlock on President Obama’s agenda.
habits and really, we’re going to continue to have a government that spends more money than it takes in,” he said. Other conservatives made plain their unhappiness. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said spending levels in current law are lower than those in the agreement. “The default, to do nothing, was a win for conservatives,” he said. The Club for Growth said Sen. Ted Cruz was also opposed, although his office declined to issue an official confirmation. Either way, there was no talk of a repeat of last fall’s all-night filibuster in which the Texas Republican demanded the new health care law be defunded in exchange for keeping the government operating. Democrats were less than ecstatic, too, given that Repub-
Red ink would rise by about $23 billion in this 2014 fiscal year, $18 billion in the next year and about $4 billion in the one after that, the CBO said. Ryan briefed members of the Republican rank and file in private on the deal, then emerged to tell reporters it “helps produce more certainty because it stops a potential government shutdown in January and it stops a potential government shutdown in October. “We think that’s good for the country. At the same time, we wanted to make sure that we are taking a step in the right direction for fiscal discipline,” he added. The measure marked a turn in Ryan’s career, thrusting him into the spotlight as a deal-maker, rather than the author of staunchly conservative annual cut-the-deficit budgets that Republicans love and Democrats loathe. As his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee and a potential contender for the White House in 2016, Ryan may well have to defend the agreement against criticism from other presidential hopefuls. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also counted among his party’s presidential contenders, criticized the deal. “`I think to walk away from the already agreed-upon reductions in spending that were so difficult to achieve, I think opens the floodgates that really threaten to put us right back in these spending
The cost, $8 billion, would be offset by savings elsewhere in Medicare and in Medicaid. Among Republicans, House Appropriations Committee members also favored the budget deal, since it increased the likelihood they would be able to pass annual spending bills rather than rely on short-term stopgap bills that reduce their power over the federal purse. So, too defense hawks in both parties, pleased that the agreement would restore some of the across-the-board reductions made in the Pentagon budget. “This is something I can support,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, head of the House Armed Services Committee.
recommended in almost all cases. “Continuing to move makes it very difficult for people to find you,” said Bill Romberg of Alaska Mountain Rescue. If you feel you must venture out, consider whether you’re prepared. Walking even a short distance in temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees below zero can lead to frostbite and amputations.
Nearly a third of the total savings would come almost a decade from now, in 2022 and 2023, partly from extending a current 2 percent cut in payments to Medicare providers.
With the increased spending to begin immediately and much of the savings delayed, Congressional Budget Office estimates showed the deal would push deficits higher than currently projected in the current year and each of the next two.
Republicans were unrelenting on the jobless benefits but not on every issue. Officials said that Boehner and Reid had jointly decided to add a three-month provision to the budget deal that would prevent a 20 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients. Payments would rise by one half of one percent instead.
B I D E N : A S I A’ S G R O W T H ‘A CHANCE TO BEND HISTORY’
It would offset the higher spending with $85 billion in savings over a decade from higher fees and relatively modest curtailments on government benefit programs.
Other changes are scripted to begin earlier. Future federal workers would pay more toward their own retirement, fees would rise on air travelers and corporations would pay more to the government agency that guarantees their pension programs.
Without action by Congress, benefits will end on Dec. 28 for an estimated 1.3 million unemployed workers off the job longer than 26 weeks. An additional 1.9 million would experience the same fate in the early months of 2014, according to administration estimates.
What should I do with my cellphone? If you have service, send text messages to reliable friends to share your plight.
This Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 photo provided by searcher Lucia Gonzalez shows the vehicle belonging to a family who went missing after a trip to play in the snow near Lovelock, Nev. James Glanton, his girlfriend Christina McIntee, their two children and a niece and nephew of Christina McIntee, were missing since Sunday and were found by searchers on Tuesday. Their vehicle had overturned and they were stranded in weather that saw temperatures dip to 16 below zero.
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- More than 200 rescuers feared for the worst when a couple and four children vanished this week in the bitterly cold Nevada wilderness. But two days after their ill-fated trip to play in the snow Sunday, the family was found in good condition. By Wednesday, the mother and a child were released from the hospital. Authorities said the family survived temperatures of 16 degrees below zero with warm clothes and ingenuity - they started a campfire and warmed rocks to capture heat.
Experts offer advice on avoiding similar situations, and how to respond when the unexpected happens. What should I do first if I get stranded? “Food helps, but it’s not the top priority,” said Steve Howe, a wilderness guide based in southern Utah. “In most winter survival situations, clothing and shelter are the most important things.” The lost family hunkered inside their overturned Jeep, even though the heater wasn’t working. If you don’t have a car, huddling near a tree or digging a snow cave can provide a shield from the elements. AAA suggests tying a brightly colored cloth to an antenna to make the vehicle easier to spot.
Rescuers in Nevada were able to use cell tower data from the lost woman’s phone to narrow the search area. But Howe cautions against relying on cellphones in the wilderness. While triangulation can help guide a search, the data probably won’t provide the lost person’s precise location because rural cell towers are so few and far between. “It’s not a five-ounce rescue package at all, period,” Howe said. “You’re better off with a BIC lighter.” What can I do today to avoid the situation? The Nevada family was wearing snow clothes - something that travelers should keep on hand. “It’s a really good idea to keep extra clothing and insulation in your trunk. Even on an interstate drive through the northern Midwest, it’s entirely possible you could be stranded overnight,” Howe said. He recommends bringing a shovel that’s rugged enough to dig out a vehicle, a cigarette lighter and blankets. Pack water, granola bars or other high-protein snacks in the car. A small bottle of lantern fuel also could help start a campfire. Should I even take the trip? AAA recommends delaying trips if bad weather is in the forecast. If that’s not possible, let others know your route, and be cautious about the road less traveled. Even though the family drove a Jeep, it flipped in soft snow and stopped running. “Consider how remote some of these places are - consider the vehicle you’re in and what can happen,” said Howe.
Should I go for help?
If a road looks sketchy, retrace your steps instead of forging onward.
The group in Nevada stayed in place, knowing crews would be looking. Rescuers said that was key to their safety and is
“When things start going sideways, retreat to a position of safety,” Howe said.
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The new federal figures, providing a state-by-state breakdown of enrollment in the new health care program through November, showed that the political differences among leaders over the initiative are turning into differences in participation among the uninsured. Even though many conservative states have higher levels of poverty and more people without health coverage, fewer of them may receive new insurance, said Dylan Roby, an assistant public health professor at the Center for Health Policy Research at the University of California, Los Angeles. With the patchwork implementation of the federal health care law, “the gap will exacerbate,” Roby said
This photo of part of the HealthCare.gov website is photographed in Washington, in this Nov. 29, 2013 file photo. Newly released federal figures, as of Nov. 30, 2013, show more people are picking private insurance plans or being routed to Medicaid programs in states with Democratic leaders who have fully embraced the federal health care law than in states where Republican elected officials have derisively rejected what they call “Obamacare.”
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The slow rollout of a new federal health insurance marketplace may be deepening differences in health coverage among Americans, with residents in some states gaining insurance at a far greater rate than others. The demarcation may be as simple as Democrat and Republican. Newly released federal figures show more people are picking private insurance plans or being routed to Medicaid programs in states with Democratic leaders who have fully embraced the federal health care law than in states where Republican elected officials have derisively rejected what they call “Obamacare.” On one side of the political divide are a dozen mostly Democratic leaning states, including California, Minnesota and New York. They have both expanded Medicaid for lower-income adults and started their own health insurance exchanges for people to shop for federally subsidized private insurance. On the other side are two dozen conservative states, such as Texas, Florida and Missouri. They have both rejected the Medicaid expansion and refused any role in running an online insurance exchange, leaving that entirely to the federal government.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department reported this week that 364,682 people had signed up for private coverage through the new health insurance marketplaces as of Nov. 30 and an additional 803,077 had been determined eligible for Medicaid. But the rate of residents gaining health coverage was more than three times as great in the states embracing the federal health care law than in those whose leaders have resisted it. In the dozen states embracing the overhaul, more than 50 percent of those who applied for coverage picked an insurance plan or were eligible for Medicaid. That rate was barely 15 percent in the two dozen states that aren’t cooperating in the implementation of the federal health care law. “It’s very frustrating,” said U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who voted for the federal law only to see it twice rebuffed in a statewide vote and repeatedly rejected by her home state’s Republican-led state Legislature. “The political point has trumped the services that Missourians need,” McCaskill said. In Texas, which has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the U.S., the GOP-controlled state Legislature opted not to create a state-run insurance marketplace and Republican Gov. Rick Perry also declined to expand Medicaid to cover more of the working poor. As of the end of November, just 14,000 Texans had signed up for insurance through the federally run marketplace and fewer than 17,000 of the nearly 245,000 applicants on the exchange had been determined to be eligible for Medicaid. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat from San Antonio who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he
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nonetheless remains optimistic about the meager numbers. “To know that there are people who, despite those odds, are still enrolling is encouraging,” Fischer said. In California, which also has a high uninsured rate, more than 107,000 people had picked an insurance plan through the staterun marketplace as of the end of November, and nearly 182,000 others had been determined eligible for Medicaid. That means nearly two-thirds of the 448,133 individuals who applied through the insurance exchange could gain some sort of coverage. Federal grants in California have helped finance TV and radio commercials, billboards, bus signs and town hall meetings encouraging people to participate in the new health insurance marketplace. That sort of promotion has been lacking in many of the states that have refused to run their own insurance marketplaces. In Missouri, where a law forbids the government from implementing an insurance exchange, a coalition supporting the marketplace delayed its promotional campaign because of the technical troubles that marred the launch of the federal website. “We didn’t want to drive people to a frustrating experience,” said Thomas McAuliffe, a policy analyst at the nonprofit Missouri Foundation for Health. Now, advocates for the federal law face a steep challenge to implore people to sign up by Dec. 23, which is the deadline to be covered by health insurance policies that take effect in January. “When we look at enrollment numbers, we’re obviously going to lag behind, because in many parts of the state there’s still a sense that Obamacare is not going to help me - even by the people it’s going to help the most,” McAuliffe said. Heather McCabe, an assistant professor of social work at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said the low enrollment numbers in many states raise questions about whether people are turned off by the problematic website, don’t know they’re eligible to use the exchange or have found the policies unaffordable. “If the answer is that people still don’t understand what the exchange is and how to use it, then the answer is we need to do education and help people better access the system,” she said. “But if the answer is that the premiums are too high, then we have an issue that’s a little more difficult to deal with.”
W H I T E H O U S E V O W S T O MICHAEL JORDAN A D D R E S S M E D I A A C C E S S SHOES AUCTIONED dent, as there have been with every one of his 43 predecessors, where there are meetings and events and moments that are not covered by the outside press.” The Associated Press has been among those news outlets complaining about the lack of access. In an opinion piece published in The New York Times, AP’s vice president and director of photography, Santiago Lyon, argued that the photographs taken and released by the White House of intimate presidential moments are “visual news releases” that portray the president in the best possible light.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House said Thursday that President Barack Obama wants to address growing media protests about limited access to his events, including restricted coverage of his trip to South Africa with former President George W. Bush. In recent weeks, dozens of leading news organizations have protested restrictions that sometimes keep journalists from taking pictures and video of Obama performing official duties while the White House releases pictures taken by the president’s staff. The objections dominated Thursday’s White House briefing, after this week’s release of government photos from Obama’s trip to South Africa for former President Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. The package included pictures of Obama and Bush traveling on Air Force One along with their wives and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, when news photographers on board were not allowed to take pictures of the historic flight. While Obama had promised to lead the most transparent administration in history, press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged there have been times when the White House could have provided more access. “From the president on down - and I mean that - there is absolute agreement that there is no substitute for a free and independent press reporting on a presidency, the White House, on Congress, on the government,” Carney said. “It’s essential, essential. And that includes photography. And we will continue to work with photographers to address their concerns. So let me be clear - that is the view from the very top.” Carney said he has been meeting with representatives of the White House Correspondents’ Association on the issue and will continue to do so, but he predicted reporters will never be fully satisfied. “We’re going to work on finding ways to be responsive and provide more access,” Carney said. “What I can promise you, though, is that there will continue to be occasions with this presi-
“By no stretch of the imagination are these images journalism,” he wrote. “Rather, they propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue.” “If you take this practice to its logical conclusion, why have news conferences?” Lyon asked. “Why give reporters any access to the White House? It would be easier to just have a daily statement from the president (like his recorded weekly video address) and call it a day. Repressive governments do this all the time.” Carney argued that the Obama White House’s move toward distributing its own photographs through social media is part of an Internet revolution. “This is part of a bigger transformation that’s happening out there that’s driven by the ability of everyone to post anything on the Internet free of charge so that you don’t have to buy that newspaper or subscribe to that wire service to see that photograph,” he said. Steve Thomma, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said the organization has had two meetings on the matter with Obama’s press staff and is scheduling another hopefully by the end of the year with the broad media consortium that wrote to complain about the situation. He said the organization regrets that the White House kept journalists onboard Air Force One from witnessing and recording the meeting of the presidents and first ladies while releasing photos by Obama’s staff photographer. “We understand that the memorial service in South Africa was not under the control of the White House. We thank the staff for working to get our pool inside the stadium after local officials originally said all pools would be held off site,” Thomma said, who is senior White House correspondent and political editor for McClatchy Newspapers. “But Air Force One is U.S. territory, our pool was aboard, and inviting them in for even a few moments would have been easy and the right thing to do.” A pool consists of a limited number of reporters, photographers and others who cover an event for the entire media.
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Michael Jordan’s shoes from the famous flu game of the 1997 NBA finals were sold for more than $100,000 in an online auction Thursday. The Nike Air Jordan XII shoes were owned by a Utah Jazz ball boy who befriended Jordan when the Chicago Bulls visited Salt Lake City. Jordan was playing with what he thought was the flu, but still led the Bulls to a key victory in the NBA Finals. Preston Truman has said he asked for Jordan’s shoes after the game. He kept them locked in a safe-deposit box at a Utah bank for 15 years. He turned down an $11,000 offer for the size-13 shoes from a collector the next season. Thursday’s sale after several weeks of bidding was first reported by ESPN.com. The collector wasn’t identified. Online bidding started at $5,000 before soaring to $104,765 when bidding was closed, said Michael Russek, operations director for Grey Flannel Auctions in Westhampton, N.Y. Truman was “thrilled” and “really happy with the overall number,” Russek said Thursday. “He has no crazy plans other than paying off his college tuition.” Russek called it “the most expensive pair of game-used footwear that anyone has ever sold. It just smashed the record.” Grey Flannel previously sold a pair of game-used rookie Air Jordans for $21,780 that also had been used by Jordan. More recently, another auction house sold a pair of shoes Jordan wore in his rookie season for $31,070, Russek said. A message relayed by the auction house to Truman wasn’t immediately returned Thursday. Truman befriended Jordan by fetching him his favorite pre-game snack, the former ball boy told The Salt Lake Tribune last month. It started with a challenge from Jordan: “`There will be no autographs for ball boys after the game if I don’t get my applesauce.’” With 45 minutes until tipoff in an early-season 1996 game, Truman dashed through the Salt Lake City arena looking for applesauce. He finally secured an industrial-sized container from a commissary. Jordan was grinning: “You came through,” he told Truman. When the Chicago Bulls came back for the finals months later, Truman had more applesauce waiting for Jordan along with a bold request: “Are you doing anything with your shoes after the game?” Jordan looked him in the eye and said, “Why, you want them?” Truman said he would be honored. After leading the Bulls to a critical victory, scoring 38 points despite having to be helped on and off the court by teammates, Jordan gave the red-and-black shoes to Truman.
The Weekley News Digest, December 16, 2013 _________________________________________________________________
P I L O T W H O C R A S H E D A T S F O W O R R I E D A B O U T L A N D I N G had not studied the systems well and thought the plane’s autothrottle was supposed to prevent the jet from flying below minimum speed as it drew near the runway.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The pilot of the jet that crash-landed at San Francisco’s airport last summer worried privately before takeoff about handling the Boeing 777, especially because runway construction meant he would have to land without any help from a common type of guidance system.
NTSB investigators also raised concerns about a safety certification issue involving the design of the 777’s controls, warning that the plane’s protection against stalling does not always automatically engage.
And neither the trainee nor an instructor pilot in the cockpit said anything when the first officer raised concerns four times about the plane’s rapid descent. After the July 6 accident, which killed three people and injured more than 200, Lee Kang Kuk told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that he had been concerned he might “fail his flight and would be embarrassed.” Lee’s backstory emerged Wednesday in documents released at an NTSB hearing called to answer lingering questions about the crash of Asiana Flight 214. Though Lee was an experienced pilot with the Korea-based airline, he was a trainee captain in the 777, with less than 45 hours in the jet. He had not piloted an airliner into San Francisco’s notoriously tricky airport since 2004, according to NTSB investigator Bill English. So far, the investigation has not found any mechanical problems with the 777 prior to impact, although testing is ongoing, English said. That focused attention on Lee, who did not speak at the hearing but whose actions - and failure to act - were a major part of the daylong meeting. The NTSB’s chairman, Deborah Hersman, stressed that the agency has not yet concluded what caused the crash. But she acknowledged that the agency was examining signs of confusion about the 777’s elaborate computer systems and an apparent lack of communication in the cockpit. Documents released Wednesday cataloged a series of problems that, taken together, could have been factors in the crash. The 46-year-old pilot told investigators he had been “very concerned” about attempting a visual approach without instrument landing aids, which were turned off. A visual approach involves lining the jet up for landing by looking through the windshield and using numerous other cues, rather than relying on a radio-based system called a glide-slope that guides aircraft to the runway. Lee said the fact that he would be doing a visual approach in a jet as big as a 777 particularly troubled him. But he didn’t speak up because others had been safely landing at San Francisco under the same conditions. As a result, he told investigators, “he could not say he could not do the visual approach.”
In this Saturday, July 6, 2013 aerial file photo, the wreckage of the Asiana Flight 214 airplane is seen after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. According to an investigative report released Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 the Asiana Airlines captain who crashed the airplane in July told investigators he was “very concerned” about attempting a visual approach because the runway’s automatic landing aids were out of service due to construction. The jet crash landed after approaching low and slow in an accident that left three dead and more than 200 injured, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The investigative report was released at the start of a daylong NTSB hearing into the accident.
Asked whether he wore sunglasses in the cockpit, Lee said he did not “because it would have been considered impolite to wear them when he was flying with his” instructor. The instructor pilot told investigators he never saw a bright light outside the aircraft. Recordings from the cockpit show Lee took the controls about 1,500 feet above San Francisco Bay. The plane’s first officer, Bong Don Won, told NTSB investigators that as the plane started its descent, he noticed its “sink rate” was too rapid. He said that he said nothing at that point, but as the plane’s altitude dropped below 1,000 feet, he advised the crew four times about the rapid descent. The cockpit recorder showed no response from the others, though the first officer said the pilot deployed the plane’s flaps, which appeared to slow the descent. The crew did not comment again on the jet’s low approach until it reached 200 feet above the ground, according to a transcript of the plane’s cockpit voice recording. Lee conceded to investigators that he was worried about his unfamiliarity with the 777’s autoflight systems. He admitted he
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California, which is running its own program, led the nation, with 107,087 sign-ups. New York, also running its own market, had 45,513. Among states with federally run markets, Florida was the leader with 17,908 sign-ups. Texas, which has a bigger share of its population uninsured than any other state, had 14,038.
Another Asiana pilot who recently flew with Lee told investigators that he was not sure if the trainee captain was making normal progress and that he did not perform well during a trip two days before the accident. That captain described Lee as “not well organized or prepared,” according to the investigative report.
Nationally, an additional 803,077 people have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid, the safety-net program shaping up as the health overhaul’s early success story. That’s about double the number for October. Nonetheless, state Medicaid directors are reporting accuracy problems with information on prospective enrollees that the federal government is sending them.
“This pilot should never have taken off,” said attorney Ilyas Akbari, whose firm represents 14 of the passengers. “The fact that the pilot was stressed and nervous is a testament to the inadequate training he received, and those responsible for his training and for certifying his competency bear some of the culpability.”
Obama’s law uses a two-track approach to expand coverage for the uninsured. Middle-class people who don’t have access to jobbased insurance can buy government-subsidized private plans. Low-income people are steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states accepting it, though not all do. The website is supposed to be the portal to both kinds of coverage.
There were other indications that a culture of not acknowledging weakness - and of deferring to a higher-ranking colleague contributed to the crash.
The administration had spent $677 million on website technology through the end of October, aiming for smoother operations, but with results still well short of perfection.
Lee told NTSB investigators that he did not immediately move to abort the landing and perform a “go around” as the plane came in too low and too slow because he felt that only the instructor pilot had the authority to initiate that emergency move.
Republicans have called for Sebelius to resign and some Democrats have urged Obama to fire those responsible for problems, but the White House has given no indication of a house-cleaning. Sebelius’ request for an inspector general probe is a sign that there is more explaining to be done.
A reluctance of junior officers to speak up has been an issue in past accidents, though industry training has tried to emphasize that safety should come first. The case will probably force foreign airlines to examine their cockpit culture, said Tom Anthony, director of the aviation safety program at the University of Southern California. The U.S. went through that process decades ago and shook off a “captain-as-overlord” culture, he said, and now some Asian airlines will have to make sure their training encourages even junior pilots to speak up. Asiana representatives at the hearing did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press. Lee insisted in interviews that he had been blinded during a critical instant before the botched landing by a piercing light from outside the aircraft. NTSB investigators repeatedly asked about the light, but he was unable to pinpoint its origin or how it precisely affected him.
She seemed to be pointing a finger at the Medicare agency, which is part of her department and oversees Obama’s coverage expansion. In addition to the inspector general review, Sebelius said she has ordered the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to hire a new “chief risk officer” to make sure technology programs work as advertised. Like other major federal operations, the Medicare agency already has several senior tech executives. HealthCare.gov went live Oct. 1, and consumers immediately got bogged down. A two-month program of fixes directed by White House troubleshooter Jeffrey Zients made the site more workable, resolving hundreds of software glitches and adding computer equipment to handle peak demand. Zients also concluded that the technical problems were compounded by inadequate oversight and coordination.
When the plane’s autothrottle is placed in a “hold” mode, as it was during the Asiana flight, it is supposed to re-engage or “wake up” when the plane slows to its minimum airspeed. Boeing’s chief of flight deck engineering, Bob Myers, testified that the company designed the automated system to aid - not replace - the pilot. If there’s a surprise, he said, “we expect them to back off on the automation” and rely on their basic skills. Boeing evacuation engineer Bruce Wallace testified that at least one, if not two, of the passengers who died did not have seat belts on. Wallace also said inflatable rafts deployed inside the jet, pinning at least one flight attendant in the wreckage. Engineers had never seen that happen before and were looking at safety improvements. One of the three fatalities was a teenage girl from China who survived the crash but become covered in firefighting foam and got hit by an emergency vehicle on the runway. Documents released Wednesday revealed that Ye Meng Yuan was struck twice - once by a fire rig spraying foam and again 11 minutes later by a second truck that was turning around to fetch water.
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were not disclosed. The salary figures may not include marketing costs, which the schools share with the tutors, who work as contractors. Chow says he spends thousands of dollars printing glossy exercise books he gives free to students. He split the cost of the bus ads, which cost HK$15,000 per bus, with Modern Education. Another tutor, Karson Oten Fan Karno, moonlights as a rapper and is popularly known by the name K. Oten. Lung Siu Kwan was a public school teacher who released an album of pop songs and was then recruited as a Chinese tutor by the King’s Glory Education chain. Facebook profiles, YouTube videos and other social media are also part of the aggressive marketing tactics. “Every night after they finish their classes I will send them messages through WeChat,” a popular smartphone app, said Chow. After all, he said, “the most powerful tool is word of mouth within students.” To many students, the glamorized images of Hong Kong’s celebrity tutors has also, paradoxically, made their regular teachers appear less credible. “It’s like he has the teaching skills whereas I don’t know if my teachers have the same qualification,” said Amy Wong, a 16-year-old who was one of about 60 pupils taking Chow’s weekly class on a recent night at branch in a suburban shopping mall. Some students watched the lesson through a glass wall regulations limit classrooms to 45 pupils so cram schools get around this by subdividing the room. Others who couldn’t make his live lesson watched a replay at other branches around the city. But the most they saw of Chow was a close-up of his hand using a pen to complete English idioms in a workbook while explaining almost exclusively in Cantonese. Questions from students are discouraged. Modern Education, which has 428,000 course enrollments, charges up to $74 for four of Chow’s one-hour classes each month. Nearly three quarters of Hong Kong students attend tutorial classes, according to a survey by Mark Bray, director of Hong Kong University’s Comparative Education Research Center. With the rate so high, others “that don’t go to tutoring begin to feel nervous,” Bray said. “The companies like that, the companies like nervous people and they trade on anxiety.” Pressure is also rising after Hong Kong’s education authorities in 2012 reduced the number of university entrance exams to one from two. The move was designed to reduce student anxiety but Bray said it had the opposite effect, turning it into a “make or break” test. He said Hong Kong’s tutoring companies are using technology to lower costs to students, but that doesn’t necessarily mean students are learning as much as they would if they had oneon-one tutoring. “It’s a bit like the fast food Industry. You can go to a fancy restaurant and have white table cloth and beautiful music in the background or you can go to fast food,” Bray said. “You can still fill your stomach but maybe the quality is different.”
__________________________________________________________________The Weekley News Digest, December 16, 2013
AV I A T I O N S C H O O L S P R E P A R E F O R B O O M I N D R O N E J O B S The Boeing ScanEagle, which can fly for 20 hours on a couple of gallons of fuel, was originally developed to help commercial fishermen find and track schools of tuna. The Navy has used the plane to watch pirates. In recent years, North Dakota law enforcement and the university have used the drone to monitor rivers during flood threats in the Red River Valley.
GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) -- Two student pilots are seated shoulder to shoulder before a bank of video monitors, maneuvering an unmanned aircraft by keyboard and mouse as the drone descends toward a virtual runway in a suburban landscape. Aaron Gabrielson and Andrew Regenhard, aviation students at the University of North Dakota and self-proclaimed video-game junkies, could just as well be sitting on a couch playing Xbox. But instead of tapping their fingers on a controller, they’re learning to fly the plane and use onboard equipment that includes a camera with a zoom lens.
For students, it all adds up to strong job prospects after graduation. “Whether it’s designing a vehicle to go into forest fires or catch poachers in the Galapagos, they’re getting opportunities to be part of the next generation of aerospace like no one else is,” said Melanie Hanns, Embry-Riddle spokeswoman.
“Some people argue that nothing is going to be like flying an actual airplane. Granted, looking down and seeing you’re 5,000 feet above the ground is pretty exciting, but I’ve always been addicted to video games, and this is awesome,” Regenhard said. Mastering the Corsair simulator is the first practice course for the two trainees, who are among hundreds of student pilots nationwide preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet. They and their classmates are eager to cash in on the booming market for drone operators that’s expected to develop after more unmanned aircraft become legal to fly in U.S. airspace, which could happen in the next few years. The university’s unmanned aircraft degree program, the nation’s first, exploded from five students in 2009 to 120 students last year. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Kansas State have since added similar programs. Dozens of other schools offer some courses in what’s known as UAS - unmanned aircraft systems - which range from drones as big as small planes to 2-foot-wide mini-helicopters. The first UAS master’s degree program, focused on engineering, was launched at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus this fall. “This pie is pretty big,” said Al Palmer, director of UND’s unmanned aircraft program. “Everyone can get their little slice of the pie, because we can’t do all the training in North Dakota.” The skills needed to fly larger unmanned planes are not unlike those required to fly modern aircraft with computer-based flight controls, professors say. The toughest part of unmanned flying
Many students who grew up wanting to be commercial airline pilots are changing their major to unmanned systems. Among them are self-proclaimed computer geeks who don’t mind staying in one place. This undated photo released Thursday, May 30, 2013 by aerospace technology company Northrop Grumman shows the RQ-4 Block 20 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft that students in the University of North Dakota aviation program will learn to fly.
comes with doing it from the ground: You can’t feel what’s going on. “You don’t have feedback,” Regenhard said. “When you push the yoke forward in the aircraft, you feel yourself and everything going down. With this, you just see it.” Drones are best known for their use by the U.S. military, but other markets beckon. Amazon made a splash earlier this month by unveiling an embryonic effort that might someday deliver packages by drone, though the company acknowledged practical use is years away. Most of the potential civilian drone market is in precision agriculture. Unmanned aircraft are already used for seeding and spraying in Japan. Drones may be used someday to detect disease in crops, depending on the development of sensors. The potential applications for other unmanned aircraft are endless, said Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
OFFICIALS: US DRONE STRIKE KILLS 13 IN YEMEN The missile attacks in Yemen are part of a joint U.S.-Yemeni campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington has called the most dangerous branch of the global terrorist network. Thursday’s drone strike is the second since a massive car bombing and coordinated assault on Yemen’s military headquarters killed 56 people, including foreigners. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retaliation for U.S. drone strikes that have killed dozens of the group’s leaders.
SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Missiles fired by a U.S. drone slammed into a convoy of vehicles traveling to a wedding party in central Yemen on Thursday, killing at least 13 people, Yemeni security officials said. The officials said the attack took place in the city of Radda, the capital of Bayda province, and left charred bodies and burnt out cars on the road. The city, a stronghold of al-Qaida militants, witnessed deadly clashes early last year between armed tribesmen backed by the military and al-Qaida gunmen in an attempt to drive them out of the city. There were no immediate details on who was killed in the strike, and there were conflicting reports about whether there were militants traveling with the wedding convoy. A military official said initial information indicated the drone mistook the wedding party for an al-Qaida convoy. He said tribesmen known to the villagers were among the dead. One of the three security officials, however, said al-Qaida militants were suspected to have been traveling with the wedding convoy.
Security forces in the Yemeni capital boosted their presence Thursday, setting up checkpoints across the city and sealing off the road to the president’s residence, in response to what the Interior Ministry called threats of “terrorist plots” targeting vital institutions and government buildings. Meanwhile, in the Yemen’s restive northern, ultraconservative Sunni Muslim militants and rebels belonging to a branch of Shiite Islam battled each other with artillery and machine guns in clashes that killed more than 40 people, security officials said. The violence between Islamic Salafi fighters and Hawthi rebels has raged for weeks in Yemen’s northern province of Saada, but the latest sectarian clashes marked an expansion of the fighting to the neighboring province of Hagga. The government brokered a cease-fire last month to try to end the violence, but both sides have repeatedly broken the truce. Officials said clashes began when ultraconservative Salafis took over a Hawthi stronghold in a mountainous area near the border with Saudi Arabia. The officials say that most of the casualties were on the Hawthi side. The officials said that Salafis, however, accused Hawthis of trying to infiltrate their strongholds in the town of Fagga.
The CIA declined to comment on the reported drone strike. While the U.S. acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not usually talk about individual strikes.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the fighting publicly.
If further investigations determine that the victims were all civilians, the attack could fuel an outburst of anger against the United States and the government in Sanaa among a Yemeni public already opposed to the U.S. drone strikes.
Hawthi launched in insurgency in 2004 against autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 after a popular uprising against his rule. Over the course of the Hawthi rebellion, hundreds of people were killed and an estimated 125,000 people uprooted until the rebels and the government struck a fragile cease-fire in 2010.
Civilian deaths have bred resentments on a local level, sometimes undermining U.S. efforts to turn the public against the militants. The backlash in Yemen is still not as large as in Pakistan, where there is heavy pressure on the government to force limits on strikes - but public calls for a halt to strikes are starting to emerge. In October, two U.N. human rights investigators called for more transparency from the United States and other countries about their drone programs, saying their secrecy is the biggest obstacle to determining the civilian toll of such striks.
But the north remained restive despite the truce, and fighting flared along another fault line in November after Hawthis accused the Salafis of trying to gain a foothold in their territory by spreading their brand of Islam. The rebels say their community of Shiite Muslims suffers discrimination and neglect and that the government has allowed ultraconservative Sunni extremists too strong a voice in the country. Hard-line Sunnis consider Shiites heretics.
“Airplanes are cool and fun and all that stuff,” said Logan Lass, a student at North Dakota. “But it’s my particular personality that I don’t really want to fly big jets. Growing up around computers and having a love for aviation, I figured the best option was to combine the two of them.” Over the last decade, it’s gotten much tougher to get a job as an airline pilot. Many pilots started out at smaller regional airlines, but pay there is poor, and airlines are shifting away from smaller planes. Meanwhile, growth has been minimal at major U.S. airlines, cutting the number of new jobs for pilots, and bankruptcies have reduced pay. Compare that to the outlook for drones. The Federal Aviation Administration projects some 7,500 commercial drones could be aloft within five years of getting widespread access to American airspace. An industry commissioned study last spring predicted more than 70,000 jobs would develop in the first three years after Congress loosens restrictions on U.S. skies. The same study projects an average salary range for a drone pilot between $85,000 and $115,000. Palmer, the UND instructor, said one of the first graduates in the school’s UAS program took a job with a California aeronautics company for $50 an hour. “That’s probably not bad for a kid out of college,” Palmer said. The hopes for civilian drones might not be realized as quickly as many people in the business had hoped. Concerns about security, privacy and whether drones will be able to detect and avoid other aircraft could push the grand opening beyond a 2015 deadline set by Congress. In the meantime, North Dakota’s unmanned aircraft students are looking to master the Corsair simulator. Then they advance in January to train for the larger MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. “That is what a lot of employers are looking for,” aviation student Spencer Wheeler said. “That’s why I came to school here. This is the Harvard of aviation.”
F E D S T R Y T O S M O O T H B U M P Y H E A L T H C A R E T R A N S I T I O N WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is strongly encouraging health insurance companies to cut consumers some slack in January when new coverage takes effect under the president’s overhaul. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (seh-BEEL’-yuhs) announced a batch of measures Thursday to minimize disruptions during the transition. Some are recommendations, such as asking insurers to allow customers to temporarily keep filling prescriptions covered by a previous plan. Others are binding, such as requiring the companies to accept anyone who pays his or her premium by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31. The administration also extended by one month a special insurance program for patients with serious health problems. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan was scheduled to expire Jan. 1. Though intended to help, the new measures also make things more complicated.
A P N E W S B R E A K : F E D S J O I N S B A T T L E O N C I T R U S D I S E A S E ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The federal government is getting involved in the fight against citrus greening disease, in hopes of saving Florida’s - and possibly the entire nation’s - citrus crop.
The disease is transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid. It’s also known as HLB, or, in Chinese, Huanglongbing. The disease was first spotted in 2005 in South Florida and quickly spread throughout the citrus growing region.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will announce Thursday that it’s creating an “emergency response framework” to battle citrus greening. It will gather various groups, agencies and experts to coordinate and focus federal research on fighting the disease.
Greening isn’t just an issue in Florida. California is the country’s biggest supplier of fresh-market oranges, and its 285,000 acre-citrus industry is second only to Florida, according to California Citrus Mutual. California has seen one affected orange tree, in a Los Angeles County backyard.
“We really need to be coordinating more effectively within the USDA and more importantly, with the citrus industry and state and local officials,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He added that since he came into office in 2009, the agency has spent nearly $250 million on researching and tracking the disease. The citrus greening bacteria, which is spread by an insect, causes trees to produce green, disfigured and bitter fruits by altering nutrient flow to the tree, eventually killing it. It threatens Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry. Growers and scientists suspect that many of Florida’s 69 million citrus trees are infected, with some estimates as high as 75 percent. This year’s orange crop is expected to be the smallest in 24 years, largely due to greening. The new USDA group will help coordinate and prioritize federal research with the industry’s efforts to combat the disease. The USDA will also provide $1 million to support research projects and will launch a new section on its website about greening that will serve as an information clearinghouse. It’s especially important in Florida, where the state’s famous orange crop is a big part of the economy, culture and history. “We’re treating this almost like a hurricane response,” said Kevin Shea, the administrator for the USDA’s animal and plant health
Citrus experts on the West Coast said they are thankful that the federal government is devoting time and money to the problem. An orange blossom grows alongside some ripening fruit in a grove in Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, in Plant City, Fla. The citrus industry in 2012 contributed $1.5 billion to the Florida economy. Growers are worried about citrus greening, a condition where an insect causes bacteria to grow on the leaf and fruit, eventually killing the tree.
inspection service. “The future of the citrus industry is at stake.” Florida’s orange crop had $1.5 billion in sales in 2012, up from $1.3 billion the previous year. Citrus growers gave Florida 66 percent of the total U.S. market share. About 95 percent of the state’s orange crop is used for juice.
“This announcement really addresses the urgency of the current problem of greening,” said Mike Sparks, CEO of the Lakeland, Fla.-based Florida Citrus Mutual. “This new initiative announced by Secretary Vilsack could not have come at a better time.”
its two-day, annual gathering in Las Vegas. “If I’m a transportation planner working in Walla Walla, Wash., and I want to modify a highway for safety concerns along the Washington-Oregon border, I can look at different routes and draw different lines to see what kind of crucial habitat I run into, and where it ranks on the scale of one to six,” Brown said. The Energy Department provided a $3 million grant and individual states contributed the time of mapping specialists the past three years to help gather, organize and input the information, WGA spokesman Joe Rassenfoss said. It’s expected to be especially helpful for projects that may encounter species in multiple states, like the northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest, the sage grouse in the Great Basin or the prairie chicken in the Southwest.
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Snow-white owls with luminous yellow eyes are thrilling bird-watchers as the magnificent birds set up winter residence at airports, fields and beaches far south of their normal Arctic range. RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Governors in 16 states are unveiling a high-tech wildlife habitat mapping project they hope will encourage economic development across the West while protecting the region’s environmental treasures from Puget Sound to the Rocky Mountains. The Western Governors’ Association wants to make it easier to chart paths across large landscapes where developers can expect the least regulatory resistance and threat of litigation as they draft plans to build highways, dig gold mines and erect power lines, pipelines or wind farms.
Five years in the making, the database will connect 16 western states from California and Alaska to Montana and Oklahoma with a first-of-its-kind online system of colorful GIS maps displaying wildlife habitat, wetlands and other valuable natural resources - much of it detailed down to square-mile increments. The Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool, or CHAT, provides layers of data that rate the resources on a scale of one to six, from most to least “crucial.” Individual states determine those priorities based on their information about such things as the condition of the habitat and the individual species’ economic and recreational importance. “The governors intent back in 2008 really was to cater to industries within their states who need data while at the same time conserving the resources the states are blessed with and the governors are charged with preserving,” said Carly Brown, policy manager for the Western Governors Association. “It’s going to provide that first look - a 30,000-foot view of the situation on the ground. It’s meant to be a starting point for states with different priorities and different resource needs to bring all their information together,” she told The Associated Press before the WGA planned to announce details of the effort on Thursday at
GEMINID METEOR SHOWER RAMPS U P F R I D AY N I G H T
Total citrus acreage is down 2 percent from the previous survey and the lowest since 1966.
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A sample of a new, high-tech wildlife habitat mapping project the Western Governors Association plans to unveil in Las Vegas on Thursday Dec. 12, 2013 is pictured in this photo taken on a computer at the Nevada Department of Wildlife in Reno on Nov. 21, 2013. The Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool _ or CHAT _ will pull together in one place maps for 16 western states in the hope of encouraging economic development while protecting the region’s environmental treasures, from Puget Sound to the Rocky Mountains.
“Our objective is to make sure USDA looks at this situation with the urgency we think this deserves,” said Joel Nelson, president of California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, Calif. “This is a very good move on their part.”
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- It’s time for the December sky show. The annual Geminids (JEM’-i-nids) meteor shower - the most intense of the year - will peak Friday night. But the best viewing may be early Saturday, once the moon sets. Between 100 and 120 meteors are expected every hour at peak time. But scientists say the bright moon will interfere and reduce the number of visible meteors by half. That’s why the best shot for viewing will be closer to dawn on Saturday. The Geminids come from a small asteroid named 3200 Phaethon, which passes quite close to the sun. Its trail of dust and debris is what makes up the Geminids. Earth passes through this stream of debris every December. The meteor shower extends from Thursday through Monday. Snowy owls, familiar to children as Harry Potter’s pet, made a noticeable appearance in the northern half of the U.S. in 2011. Bird-watchers recently report on eBird.org snowy owl sightings in dozens of locations across the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states as far south as Cape Hatteras, N.C.
“It’s the one-stop shopping feature that is so powerful about CHAT,” he said.
The owls live in the Arctic, but when their population spikes or lemmings are scarce, young ones fly south.
Energy industry leaders agree.
“Snowy owl populations are synchronized with their food source, lemmings,” wildlife photographer Lillian Stokes, who co-authors the Stokes bird guides, said Thursday. “If the lemming population crashes, the owls have to go south in search of food.”
“That did not previously exist,” said Robert Veldman, senior environmental adviser for the Houston-based Noble Energy, which does oil and gas drilling in the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico and recently starting exploration in Nevada. “It will be instrumental in supporting Noble Energy’s commitment to protecting wildlife and their habitats, particularly during project planning, infrastructure route selection and in doing due diligence for acquisitions and divestitures,” Veldman said. Brown said conservation groups and land trusts have expressed interest in the data to help make decisions about prioritizing protection of wildlife or purchasing property most valuable to their preservation mission. California, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and Kansas already are utilizing their own state databases. Nevada plans to roll out its new maps Thursday in concert with the regional package, with New Mexico and Oregon to follow later this month. The other states hope to complete theirs in the months ahead Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah. “Mining companies like to say, `The gold is where the gold is, that’s where we need to go,’” said Chet Van Dellen, GIS coordinator for Nevada’s Department of Wildlife. “We like to say the animals are where the animals are.” The “crucial habitat” is not to be confused with critical habitat, a legal term when it comes to protecting wildlife under the Endangered Species Act. Developers and U.S. regulators still must complete environmental assessments as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. But the habitat maps themselves carry no regulatory authority, and developers will be free to pursue projects regardless of what shows up in the path of their projects, although sometimes with a healthy price tag. “It really is a pro-development tool,” Van Dellen said. “We’re just letting you know if that’s the piece of ground you are going to commit to, you might expect a bumpier ride than a smoother ride. If you go this way, you are going to cross all this important stuff, but if you go this way, you are not.”
A few snowy owls are seen in the U.S. every year, Stokes said. “But this year is phenomenal. People believe this could be historic numbers.” It’s too early to say how large this year’s snowy owl invasion will be, said Denver Holt, a researcher in Charlo, Mont., who has been studying the owls in Alaska for 22 years. “In 2011, it was enormous, nationwide, with sightings in 35 states,” Holt said. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website says that winter irruptions, or large numbers appearing outside their normal range, occur in snowy owls about every four years. During irruptive years, snowy owls may winter as far south as California, Texas and Florida. They’re easy to see because they’re big and white, are active during the day, and hang out in flat, open areas such as airports, farm fields and coastal dunes and marshes, where they hunt for mice, rabbits, waterfowl and other prey. Jessie Barrie, a scientist at the Cornell lab in Ithaca, agrees it’s too early to say how this year’s irruption compares to the one in 2011. “We’re just at the beginning of the invasion,” Barrie said. “It certainly is at a level that is pretty intense and exciting for bird-watchers, though. There are multiple birds in many locations, an indication of a strong irruption.” Six snowy owls have been hanging out on one dock at Braddock Bay on Lake Ontario near Rochester. Stokes said she and her husband spotted nine on the New Hampshire coast last weekend. At least 20 have been reported around New Jersey, and birders flocked to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in that state on Wednesday to peer at a snowy owl there. Barrie said reporting by spotters in the eBird database provides researchers with valuable information that will help them better understand the movements of snowy owls and other species. Because the snowy owl, with a wingspan of 5 feet, is so impressive, its appearance in an area can inspire people to get involved in bird-watching and citizen-science projects, she said. “It’s a magical bird that gets people really excited about seeing birds and engaging with the natural world,” Barrie said.