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Wednesday
Jun082011

New Jersey, New York Ranked Worst for 'Individual Freedoms'

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Live free or die? New Hampshire may be on to something, according to researchers at George Mason University's Mercatus Center who used a variety of statistics to rank the 50 states for their just-published report on which are the freest -- and least free -- from taxes and government regulation.

Their horserace has ranked New York as the "least free state in the Union" followed by neighboring New Jersey. New Hampshire and South Dakota were in a virtual tie for most "free" state.

The professors who authored the study believe that this freedom as they define it makes a lot of difference to the happiness and well-being of the governed.

Many people "don't want to have their lives dictated by people in their state capital," says William Ruger, political science professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, who co-authored the report with Jason Sorens, political science professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

"As academics, we were first interested in the scientific question of how states differ, why, and with what implications," said Ruger. "It was natural to then compare them in terms of their respect for individual freedom given how important this is to both of us."

Ruger, who is in the reserve component of the Navy, served in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009. He said his project was not related to his time in Afghanistan, though "those who love freedom ought to take it upon themselves to defend and uphold our individual rights."

"Sometimes we do so with the pen, sometimes with the sword," he said.

New York was ranked dead last in part because it has the highest taxes in the country, including those on property, selective sales, individual income, and corporate-income, according to the report. They cited New York's spending on "other and unallocable" expenses, including public welfare, hospitals, electric power, transit, and employee retirement, as another reason for its ranking.

The report created four other lists ranking freedom based on fiscal policy, regulatory policy, economic freedom and personal freedom.

Maryland was ranked last based on personal freedom, though it was #43 in overall freedom. The report cited Maryland's gun laws, which are the second-strictest in the country, as well as "fairly harsh" marijuana laws, extensive auto regulations, harsh gambling laws, "burdensome" homeschooling laws, high drug arrest rates and lack of status for same-sex partnerships.

Beyond making policy recommendations for each state, such as proposing that Maryland legalize same-sex civil unions and strengthen medical-marijuana law while decriminalizing low-level possession, Ruger said there were two critical policy implications from the study.

First, freer states are attracting citizens from other states while less-free states are losing citizens -- and their tax dollars.

"This is true for both economic freedom and personal freedom," Ruger said. "People are voting with their feet and moving to open, tolerant, and economically free states and away from nanny-states."

Second, Ruger said that economic freedom is associated with income growth. The study results showed that a 0.25 unit increase in economic freedom increases the average annual growth rate in personal income by about 0.25 percentage points.

Statistically speaking, South Dakota should have a growing population and increasing incomes because the state ranked first in economic freedom and second in overall freedom. Census Bureau data shows more people at least moved to South Dakota from other states (29,631) than left for another state (25,950) in 2009.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun082011

Texas 'Grave' Mistake: The Psychic Dilemma

Ablestock.com/Thinkstock(LIBERTY, Texas) -- It was a bombshell tip that led to potentially the largest police investigation in the history of Liberty County, Texas: an informant said Tuesday that dozens of bodies, some of them children, were buried in a mass grave outside a rural home. As law enforcement officials -- from local police to federal agents -- swarmed on the home, their every move followed closely by eager reporters, a small problem emerged. The tip had been called in by someone claiming to be a psychic and it turned out to be completely wrong.

"No bodies were found [and] there is nothing to indicate a homicide occurred here," Capt. Rex Evans of the Liberty County Sheriff's Office told the assembled group of reporters outside the home Tuesday night, after hours of waiting and speculation.

While the local and national media may have seized prematurely on the sheriff's office interest in the case, the department is hardly the first law enforcement group to take seriously claims made by people claiming to be psychics and to mobilize significant resources to investigate those claims.

"In 30 years in law enforcement, it happens in every high-profile case," former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said. "The more high-profile, the more the psychics call."

Though the Texas mass grave case was not high-profile until after the so-called psychic's tip started it all, Garrett said that usually even psychic tips out of the blue warrant at least a low-profile follow-up by police.

Stuart Grabois, a former assistant U.S. attorney, said he does not believe psychics are the real deal, but agreed their tips have to be investigated.

Garrett said that across the board, the people calling in to law enforcement claiming to have clairvoyant information are not attempting to mislead investigators, but are well intentioned and strongly "believe they see what they see."

During the massive investigation into Chandra Levy's 2001 disappearance, Garrett said investigators received dozens of tips from psychics from around the world about the Washington, D.C., intern -- some with startlingly specific visions of the location of Levy's body -- but none of them were accurate.

Despite some public failings of psychics, Grabois said he was personally astounded by one back in the 1980s when he was investigating the disappearance of New York six-year-old Etan Patz -- not because the psychic was able to find the boy who had been missing since 1979, but because most of the other leads she described panned out. The woman, a schoolteacher referred to Grabois by a state official, knew things about locations she could not have seen before and even predicted children's clothes would be found in certain locations, Grabois said. She also gave an accurate description of the prime suspect in Patz's disappearance, a man currently in prison on other charges, he said.

Though the boy was not where the psychic said, she was so specific with other facts that Grabois "took a second look" at her as a possible accomplice in the case before clearing her of any involvement.

Despite his experience, Grabois said he does not believe psychics generally help solve cases. Garrett said other investigators may disagree.

Last year, a psychic appeared to have predicted the location of the victims of what police believed to a serial killer on Long Island, the New York Post said. The psychic said that a body would be found buried in a place looking over the water and there would be a "G" on a sign nearby. In December 2010 investigators uncovered the remains of several victims on Long Island's Giglo Beach -- but none were buried.

Still, in a telephone interview with ABC News, the owners of the Texas property surrounded by police Tuesday appeared amused by the unwarranted spectacle. They had been out of town when the authorities descended on their home. When told a psychic had started it all, they just laughed.

A spokesperson for the Liberty County Sheriff's Office did not return requests for comment on this report.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun082011

Parents of Missing Indiana University Student Plead for Her Return

Courtesy Blair Wallach(NEW YORK) -- The parents of Lauren Spierer, the 20-year-old Indiana University Student missing for five days, are pleading for the safe return of their daughter.

"To the person that has Lauren or that knows where Lauren is, if you have a shred of decency, you have to come forward.  Lauren is a beautiful, wonderful girl," Spierer's mother Charlene said on ABC's Good Morning America Wednesday.

Indiana police believe foul play is involved in the disappearance of the pint-sized student who weighs less than 100 pounds and is 4-foot-11.

Spierer was last seen at about 4:30 a.m. on Friday morning walking to her apartment.  She was last spotted walking barefoot just three blocks from her home.

Surveillance footage from her apartment at Smallwood Plaza shows that she never came home.  Her keys were found a block away from where she was last seen, but there have been no other traces of the missing student.

Since Spierer disappeared, the native New Yorker's family has been in Bloomington, Indiana with hundreds of volunteers combing her college neighborhood.

Bloomington Police served a search warrant at Spierer's apartment complex on Tuesday night.  They seized computers and computer discs that they hope might provide some lead in the student's disappearance.

"We certainly feel like there could be foul play," said Lt. Bill Parker from the Bloomington Police.

Making time even more crucial is Spierer's dangerous heart condition.  She has Long QT Syndrome, an irregular heartbeat.

"What can happen is...your heart doesn't recover quickly enough between beats and you lose oxygen and it can result in your death," said Charlene Spierer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun082011

Psychic Tip Proves False: 'No Bodies Found' at Texas Home

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Thinkstock(HULL, Texas) -- After worldwide media attention on a rural Texas home -- sparked by a tip about dozens of dead bodies possibly hidden there -- investigators announced Tuesday night that no human remains were discovered in an extensive search.

"No bodies were found [and] there is nothing to indicate a homicide occurred here," Capt. Rex Evans of the Liberty County Sheriff's Office told reporters from outside the home.

Earlier on Tuesday, local news outlets reported the sheriff's office said they had discovered 25 to 30 bodies outside the Hull, Texas, home.  Authorities said a pair of tips about the supposed dead bodies came in Monday night and then again Tuesday morning from someone claiming to be a psychic.

Houston law enforcement initially reported that a cadaver dog indicated a spot where a body might be.  Later, law enforcement officials said dogs found no bodies at the location.

Live helicopter images showed dozens of officials at the scene during the search, from local police to Texas Rangers, as well as members of the media.

The owners of the home, Joe and Gena Bankson, told ABC News they had no idea why anyone would tell police there were dead bodies at their house and faxed the FBI permission to search it.  Gena Bankson said it was possible there's blood at the home, but that was likely the result of a recent incident in which her daughter's boyfriend drunkenly attempted suicide by slitting his wrists.

When told a psychic reportedly called in the tip, Bankson laughed.

After Evans' announcement, everyone from law enforcement to members of the media appeared to pack up to leave the area. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun082011

'Doomsday Plane' Can Survive Nuclear Attack

U.S. Air Force(OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb.) -- In the event of nuclear war, a powerful meteor strike or even a zombie apocalypse, the thoroughly protected doomsday plane is ready to keep the president, secretary of defense, joint chiefs of staff and other key personnel in the air and out of danger.

It may not deflect a Twitter photo scandal, but it can outrun a nuclear explosion and stay in the air for days without refueling.

The flight team for the E-4B, its military codename, sleeps nearby and is ready to scramble in five minutes.  It was mobilized in the tumultuous hours after planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and southern Pennsylvania on 9/11/2001.

"If the command centers that are on the ground in the United States have a failure of some sort, or attack, we immediately get airborne.  We're on alert 24/7, 365," Captain W. Scott "Easy" Ryder, Commander, NAOC, told ABC News' Diane Sawyer as she traveled to Afghanistan with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the apocalypse-proof plane.  "Constantly there's at least one alert airplane waiting to get airborne."

All E-4B aircraft are assigned to the 55th Wing, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.  The modified 747s can travel at speeds up to 620 miles per hour, 40 miles per hour faster than their commercial counterparts.

The $223 million aircraft is outfitted with an electromagnetic pulse shield to protect its 165,000 pounds of advanced electronics.  Thermo-radiation shields also protect the plane in the event of a nuclear strike.

A highly-trained security team travels with the plane.

"The first people off of the airplane are these guys, they'll position themselves appropriately around the airplane," Ryder said to ABC News.  "The secretary also has his own small security staff that does similar things.  So these guys are predominately designed to protect our airplane, and the secretary's staff protects him, as an individual."

Even though it carries VIPs, their staff and security personnel, the plane is highly fuel efficient. It can stay in-flight for days without refueling, a necessity if circumstances demanded the plane's use by the nation's top officials.

A precision tech team mans the sensitive onboard electronic technology -- so much of it that a specially upgraded air-conditioning system is necessary to keep it cool and functional.

It can even communicate with submerged submarines by dropping a five-mile-long cable out the back of the plane.  "[We] drop it down and [it] transmits coded message traffic to U.S. submarines," Ryder told ABC News.

Although the extreme amount of survival technology on the plane more than makes up for it, the plane lacks the amenities found in bases on the ground.  The secretary of defense, for example, only gets a tiny bathroom with a sink, but no shower.  A small trade-off for being able to board this plane as the rest of us dive for cover in a worst-case scenario.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun072011

Senate Dems Say Regulations on For-Profit Colleges Don't Go Far Enough

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In a hearing on Tuesday, Senate Democrats criticized new proposed regulations on for-profit colleges for not going far enough to protect college students from taking on crippling debt.

“The answer is that for-profit colleges have distinguished themselves by asking a higher percentage of their students to borrow, more than any other sector of higher education,” Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said.  “The difference between the subprime and the mortgage interest and this is if you got a bad house, you got a bad deal, you could walk away from it.  You can't walk away from these loans.”

At the age of 27, Eric Schmitt, a father of two from Hampton, Iowa, enrolled in Kaplan University, a for-profit college owned by the Washington Post Co., and drew thousands of dollars in loans to obtain an associate’s and bachelor’s degree.  Kaplan University told Schmitt he would be able to find a job paying $30,000 upon completion of his degree, but Schmitt never found work in his chosen field as a paralegal.

Since his graduation, Schmitt has only found temporary work, such as a janitor job which pays $10.50 an hour.  He now owes $45,000 from his education at Kaplan University.

“I feel that returning to school to get my degree has put me further away from my goals than before I started my education,” Schmitt said.  “The lifetime promise of a college degree has become a lifetime burden that I only can hope I bear alone.  The debt and the magnitude of my mistake is with me like a constant weight.  I have lied awake at night dreading what I might to do to save my family from this burden.”

Martha Kanter, undersecretary of the Department of Education, defended the proposed regulations, saying it protects students by establishing criteria for for-profit colleges to meet in order to receive federal aid. These conditions include ensuring loan payments do not exceed 12 percent of a former student’s earnings, and 35 percent of their former students are repaying their loans.

For-profit schools account for 10 percent of all higher-education students but account for 47 percent of loan defaults.  Compared to community colleges and four-year private and public institutions, a much higher proportion of students at for-profit colleges borrow money to pay for their tuition.  Ninety-six percent of students at for-profit colleges obtain loans to pay for their education compared to 13 percent at community colleges, 48 percent at four-year public and 57 percent at four year-private institutions.

No Republican senator attended the hearing, and there was not a representative for the for-profit schools on the panel, a problem lamented by Sen. Al Franken.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun072011

Smithsonian Opening ‘Made in America’ Store This Week

Dynamic Graphics/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- This spring, ABC News kicked off its “Made in America” series with a startling report revealing that it’s almost impossible to buy an American-made souvenir at some of the nation’s highest-profile museums, including those in Washington operated by the Smithsonian Institution.

As part of that series, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., promised to press the Smithsonian to sell American-made products.

This week, he’s getting results: the Smithsonian is opening a new gift shop at the National Museum of American History that will feature exclusively American-made products.

“They are making some progress,” Sanders told ABC’s Top Line webcast Tuesday. “I was very upset in visiting the Smithsonian, and I love the Smithsonians -- they're great museums. Hope everybody visits them. But their gift shops were selling in very strong number products made in China and other countries.

“They are making some progress in getting American vendors to start selling to the Smithsonian. We've got a lot more work ahead of us, but I think we are making progress.”

World News will be with Sanders for the opening of the new “Price of Freedom” gift store Wednesday, as the “Made in America” series continues.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun072011

Storm Brewing in the Pacific, Predicted to Become Hurricane

Hemera Technologies/Ablestock[dot]com(MIAMI) -- The first tropical depression of the season has formed in the Pacific Ocean and is forecast to become a tropical storm by Tuesday night or Wednesday.

"The good news is we expect the storm to move out to sea," said Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center, "and we do not see any landfall from this storm any time in its future."

On Tuesday, the system was 365 miles south of Acapulco, moving northwest and gaining strength.

It was predicted to become a hurricane by Friday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun072011

Abortion Billboard Could Land New Mexico Ex-Boyfriend in Jail

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(ALAMOGORDO, N.M.) -- A New Mexico man said Tuesday he will fight to keep up a controversial billboard that suggested his ex-girlfriend had an abortion.

The billboard has a photo of Greg Fultz holding the outline of a baby with a playground in the background. The large text beside the photo reads, "This Would Have Been a Picture Of My 2-Month Old Baby If The Mother Had Decided To NOT KILL Our Child!"

The sign is on White Sands Boulevard, the main thoroughfare in Alamogordo, N.M., and has been up since mid-May. Fultz's ex-girlfriend Nani Lawrence took him to court with a petition for domestic violence and charges of harassment and invasion of privacy.

Fultz, 35, claims that Lawrence was pregnant with his child during their six-month relationship last year. He admits that when the relationship ended, the baby was lost, but he does not know whether it was due to an abortion or a miscarriage. Fultz says that Lawrence would not tell him what happened.

Fultz maintains that the billboard was part of a greater message and was not aimed at his ex-girlfriend. He does admit, however, that the idea was "inspired" by events in his own life.

"My original intentions when I started this campaign were quite simple," Fultz said. "I just wanted to shed the light on pro-life issues and fathers' rights. I have had no closure over my own personal loss and that's where the billboard came into play."

Last week, Otero County Domestic Violence Court hearing commissioner Darrell Brantley recommended an order of protection for Lawrence and that the billboard be removed by 8:14 a.m. on June 17 on the grounds of harassment.

Judge James W. Counts is expected to approve these recommendations, but his office says they cannot comment on pending cases.

Fultz's attorney Todd Holmes said the court commissioner has stated he will recommend jail time if Fultz does not remove the billboard by June 17. They are planning on objecting to the ruling. Holmes argues that the lawsuit is a violation of his client's right to free speech.

Holmes cites the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for its anti-gay rallies and protesting at military funerals. The court ruled that the activities are protected by the First Amendment's right to free speech.

Lawrence could not be reached for comment, but her lawyer Ellen Jessen told the Alamogordo Daily News, "I think Fultz's right to free speech ends where Nani Lawrence's right to privacy begins....We have to balance one's right to free speech against one's right to free speech."

The original billboard had two endorsements that have since been removed. The first was from N.A.N.I., an organization Fultz created for pro-life issues that stands for National Association for Needed Information. The acronym also happens to be his ex-girlfriend's first name.

After a few weeks, Fultz removed N.A.N.I. due to the controversy distracting people from the intended message, he says.

A pro-life organization called Right to Life New Mexico had also originally endorsed Fultz's billboard and given their permission for him to use their logo. However, they pulled their endorsement when they discovered that Fultz was unsure whether Lawrence had an abortion or miscarriage.

The billboard cost $1,300, paid for by Fultz with the help of donations. Fultz says that the donations came from various individuals who heard about his plan, not from any businesses or other pro-life or organizations. The GEFNET endorsement on the billboard is from Fultz's own business.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun072011

Police Investigating Tip on Dozens of Dead Bodies in Texas

Comstock/Thinkstock

UPDATE: Law enforcement officials Tuesday night left the property after finding no bodies at the scene. 

A spokesman for the Liberty County Sheriff's Department said after Tuesday's search, "No bodies found, nothing to indicate a homicide occurred here."

(HOUSTON) -- Police are investigating a tip that a Texas property may be housing dozens of buried bodies, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

The FBI has been called in to assist the investigation as the Liberty County Sheriff's Department pursues a warrant to search the property. Federal investigators have not been able to confirm that any bodies have been found and local police declined to comment for this report.

Local news outlets initially reported the sheriff's office said they had discovered 25 to 30 bodies outside the home.

The FBI said they will make an evidence response team of forensic experts available if needed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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