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HEAR THIS HOUR'S UPDATE

Tuesday
Nov252014

'Disappointed' Holder Vows New Federal Action to Build Trust After Ferguson

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday he was “disappointed” by the violence that erupted overnight in Ferguson, Missouri, and he said the federal government would soon announce a series of new programs to help ease tensions between law enforcement and citizens in cities and towns like Ferguson.

“There are other communities around this country that have these same issues that have to be dealt with,” said Holder, reflecting on the deep mistrust embedded into the streets of some communities. “These gaps, these divides exist in other parts of the country beyond Ferguson, and our focus will be national in its scope to try to deal ultimately with these issues.”

At a hastily-arranged meeting with reporters inside the Justice Department, Holder said he was briefed overnight and into Tuesday about the security situation on the ground in Ferguson, and he then briefed President Obama in the Oval Office.

The two talked about “programmatic initiatives that we want to announce relatively soon,” Holder said of the White House meeting, adding that in the weeks ahead the federal government will be bringing together federal and local law enforcement, elected officials and community leaders to take “concrete steps” to address issues of mistrust.

“I think this is an opportunity to find those things that bind us as a nation, to be honest with one another about those things that continue to divide us, and to come up with ways in which we make this union even more perfect,” Holder said.

In his remarks Tuesday, Holder also emphasized that – even though a Missouri grand jury declined to charge officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August – the Justice Department continues to conduct two separate probes -- a criminal investigation into Brown’s killing and a civil probe into practices of the Ferguson police department more broadly.

“They will be conducted rigorously and in a timely manner so that we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members,” Holder said, flanked on either side by the Justice Department officials overseeing the federal probes.

Specifically, federal investigators are looking into whether Wilson used unreasonable force when he killed Brown on Aug. 9. But building a case like that is particularly challenging, especially since prosecutors would need to prove that Wilson intended from the start to violate Brown’s constitutional rights.

Federal investigators are also taking a hard look at the Ferguson police department, trying to determine whether officers routinely engage in a "pattern or practice" of unlawful and discriminatory policing.

Depending on what federal investigators conclude and how city officials respond, a civil lawsuit could be filed by the Justice Department and a federal court could demand Ferguson police make big transformations.

Holder also disclosed that he has asked the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Ron Davis, to conduct an “after-action review” of the law enforcement response to the violence that erupted overnight.

The after-action review will look to “develop strategies for identifying and isolating the criminal elements from peaceful protesters,” Holder said, sitting next to Davis and top Civil Rights Division officials Molly Moran and Mark Kappelhoff.

“I was disappointed that some members of the community resorted to violence rather than respecting what I thought were the really heartfelt words of Michael Brown Sr. and the wishes that he expressed about how he wanted his son’s memory to be honored with non-violence,” Holder said. “It is clear that acts of violence threaten to drown out those who have legitimate voices, legitimate demonstrators, and those acts cannot and will not be condoned.”

At the same time, Holder said, he was “encouraged” by the peaceful demonstrations across the country and “heartened” by those in Ferguson who tried to stop the violence and looting there.

They are “heroes in my mind,” he said.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

Obama on Ferguson: 'I Don't Have Any Sympathy' for Protesters Burning Buildings

Alex Wong/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- With Ferguson, Missouri, bracing for a second night of violence and vandalism in the wake of the grand jury decision, President Obama warned protesters that “nothing of significance, nothing of benefit results from destructive acts.”

“I’ve never seen a civil rights law or a health care bill or an immigration bill result because a car got burned,” Obama said at an afternoon event in Chicago Tuesday originally scheduled to promote his recent immigration action. "It happened because people vote. It happened because people mobilized. It happened because people organized.”

The president, who was briefed earlier Tuesday on the situation in Ferguson by Attorney General Eric Holder, said a grand jury decision not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown should be respected. But he said frustration over real or perceived police injustice was legitimate and needs to be addressed.

“I have no sympathy at all for destroying your own communities. But for the overwhelming majority of people who just feel frustrated and pain, because they get a sense that maybe some communities aren't treated fairly or some individuals aren't seen as worthy as others, I understand that,” Obama said. “And I want to work with you, and I want to move forward with you. Your president will be right there with you."

Obama said a series of regional meetings between federal, state and local law enforcement officials and community and faith leaders would begin next week. They will be focused on “building trust” between communities and policy, and developing strategies to “make sure that law enforcement is fair.”

Senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett has taken a leading role in the initiative, according to the White House, keeping in regular contact with Missouri state officials and civil rights leaders.

The president is “considering” a trip to Ferguson once the situation there stabilizes, officials said.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

The White House Thanksgiving Turkey: A Pageant for Poultry

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- They're well-bred, blow-dried, and on their best behavior. Thousands of them compete every year. But only one will be pardoned by the president of the United States.

The National Thanksgiving Turkey is chosen "based on looks and behavior, kind of like a beauty pageant," said a spokeswoman for Cooper Farms, where this year's bird was hatched and raised.

One will be pardoned by President Obama and crowned National Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House ceremony on Wednesday. An alternate turkey will serve as runner-up, should the pardoned turkey be unable to fulfill his duties.

It’s been a long journey for the 50-pound birds. On Monday, they embarked on a nine-hour road trip from Fort Recovery, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., gobbling along to Kenny Chesney.

Since their arrival, the turkeys are being pampered at the Willard Hotel, staying in a custom room with tarps and shavings.

“Last night, they were trying to order room service,” National Turkey Federation Chairman Gary Cooper joked.

The chairman is responsible for raising the presidential turkey flock each year. Cooper said he began raising 66 birds in July with his son Cole.

This won’t be the Cooper family's first pardoning ceremony. In 1996, another one of the family’s turkeys was ceremonially spared by President Bill Clinton.

Following Wednesday's ceremony, the two will be taken to the lush, 1,000-acre Morven Park in Virginia to retire.

But not all turkeys get off scot-free.

Despite the pardoning ceremony, turkey is still on the first family’s Thanksgiving menu. The only thing that is clear is that neither of the turkeys from Cooper Farms will be part of the feast.

Where the Obamas get the turkey that ends up on their plates remains a mystery.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

Michael Brown's Family Gets Sympathy from Congress

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Members of Congress from around the country posted messages of sympathy for the family of Michael Brown after a grand jury cleared the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot the teenager on Aug. 9. But the elected officials included in their messages calls for peace and changes in the criminal justice system.

Rep. Lacy Clay, a Democrat who represents the Browns' congressional district, and Missouri's two senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, sent messages meant to soothe their state. 

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.: “My thoughts are with Michael Brown’s family today, as well as those in law enforcement who continue to protect the rights of all they serve, the National Guard members we ask to step forward during difficult times in our state, and all of their family members. Michael’s death was tragic, and the months since this tragedy have marked a challenging time in Ferguson and across Missouri. Together, I know we can move forward and heal as we work to find better job opportunities in and more investment for challenged communities.”

Lawmakers around the country took to Twitter to express their frustration and urge peace.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: “However disappointed we may be in the decision by the grand jury in St. Louis County, we must hold the family of Michael Brown in our hearts...As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.’"

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.: “From Ferguson to Brooklyn, the zip codes may be different but the issue of police officers shooting young, unarmed African-American men without justification is exactly the same. Throughout this country, we need a dramatic change in the manner that law enforcement authorities engage communities of color. The failure of the grand jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson is a miscarriage of justice."

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.: "Once the news trucks have left St. Louis and the city of Ferguson is calm, a family will still be without their son...Michael Brown’s family will always mourn the senseless shooting of their child -- a shooting which should never have taken place."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

Here's What's Next for Ferguson Case

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Within hours of the Missouri prosecutor announcing the grand jury’s decision to clear a Ferguson police officer in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement assuring the public that his department's own investigations into the matter were still underway.

“The federal inquiry has been independent of the local one from the start, and remains so now,” he said in a statement Monday night. “We have avoided prejudging any of the evidence [and]…we have resisted forming premature conclusions.”

But Holder’s statement also acknowledged a reality about federal law in such cases: “[It] imposes a high legal bar.”

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is separately conducting two investigations related to the matter.

First, federal investigators are looking into whether Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson used unreasonable force when he killed Brown on Aug. 9. But building a case like that is particularly challenging, especially since prosecutors would need to prove that Wilson intended from the start to violate Brown’s constitutional rights.

Second, federal investigators are taking a hard look at the Ferguson police department, trying to determine whether officers routinely engage in a "pattern or practice" of unlawful and discriminatory policing.

So the decision on criminal charges “is not the end of this,” said William Yeomans, a former Justice Department official who spent 26 years prosecuting federal civil rights cases.

Officers in Ferguson have allegedly been more likely to stop and arrest a black driver than a white driver. And the police force of nearly 50 has hired only a few black officers.

Depending on what federal investigators conclude and how city officials respond, a civil lawsuit could be filed by the Justice Department and a federal court could demand Ferguson police make big transformations.

“I think there's an opportunity for systemic change here,” Yeomans said. “[It’s] where big change can come.”

Brown’s family could also consider filing a civil lawsuit against Wilson or the Ferguson police department, accusing them of taking part in a wrongful death.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

Sen. Cory Booker to Have a Vegan Thanksgiving

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., won’t be serving up turkey at his Thanksgiving table -- or mac and cheese, or pumpkin pie.

The vegetarian senator announced on Twitter that he’s committing to a vegan diet until the end of the year.

That means he'll have to find vegan recipes for his Thanksgiving menu and find them fast since the holiday is only two days away.

"For my first vegan Thanksgiving," Sen. Booker said in an Instagram video, "I am now going to transition out of some of my old time favorites. ...I don’t know exactly what it's going to be yet."

A video posted by Cory Booker (@corybooker) on Nov 11, 2014 at 11:27am PST

Though the 45-year-old politician has been meat-free since before he was the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, this is the first time he's excluding dairy from his diet and vowing to stick to it. During a question-and-answer session on the site Reddit, Booker admitted going vegan once before, but caving in quickly.

Already three weeks in, the senator, re-elected earlier this month, tweeted that he loves his "vegan experiment" and he's learning a lot. He also has been re-tweeting recipes.

He's even promoting a petition on Change.org to get the Vermont ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s to make a vegan flavor and treating his staff to vegan lunch. The petition for Ben and Jerry's to include non-dairy ice cream options is approaching 10,000 signatures.

For now, Booker joins the ranks of other vegan politicians -- Bill Clinton (though he admits to cheating sometimes), Al Gore, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

Poll: Voters Split on Obama's Executive Order on Immigration, President's Approval Rating Nears All-Time Low

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- While Americans are split on President Obama's immigration action made earlier this week, the Commander in Chief's approval rating is nearing an all-time low, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday.

Asked -- prior to the announced executive order -- whether Obama should use executive order to address the immigration issue should Congress fail to act, 45 percent of respondents said the president should take matters into his own hands, while 48 percent said he should not.

Overall, support for undocumented immigrants has begun to erode, with 48 percent of American voters saying that they should be allowed to stay in the country with a path to citizenship -- the lowest that figure has ever been in a Quinnipiac University poll and down from 57 percent in November 2013. Approximately 11 percent of respondents said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay but should not be allowed to apply for citizenship, while 35 percent believe that they should be forced to leave the U.S. -- the highest that figure has ever been.

Obama's approval rating has also dipped, as American voters gave him a 39-54 percent negative approval rating. His lowest-ever approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll is 38-57 percent negative.

Only Democrats and voters under the age of 30 gave the president a positive approval rating.

Also of note, the poll found that Americans are strongly against the U.S. paying ransoms to terrorists holding American hostages -- 70 percent of American voters said the U.S. should never do so, while just 21 percent said the nation should pay the ransoms.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

Why Congress' Only 5-Time "Jeopardy" Champ Chose Science over Lobbying

US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- He has a resume unlike any other elected official: Five-time Jeopardy champ, research physicist, patent holder, arms-control expert.

So when U.S. Rep. Rush Holt announced his retirement from Congress, he might easily have made his next step into the so-called "revolving door" of the lobbying world.

But, according to the New Jersey Democrat, who earned a reputation for being a leading advocate for science in Congress, there’s just better work to be done elsewhere.

Holt, 66, has since announced he will be joining the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as its newest CEO, as well as its executive publisher of scientific journals.

In a recent interview with ABC News, edited for brevity, Holt expressed doubt about the quality of the science debate in 114th Congress, talked about where he hopes his next venture will lead him, and reflected on his decision to leave the Washington political game behind.

When you announced your retirement, many suggested it was further evidence of the “death of science” in the halls of Congress. True?

I’ve been careful not to say that I was leaving because of the atmosphere in Congress or leaving out of disappointment or frustration. But I must say the atmosphere in Congress doesn’t make me want to stay. Part of the problem is that ideology has trumped evidence and trumped science so often here on the Hill. There’s a real frustration when people are much more interested in advancing their ideological positions than they are in making policy on the basis of reliable knowledge.

You were the first physicist to be elected to Congress as a Democrat. How did your passion for science intersect with your duties serving constituents?

Too many people have the idea that a scientist must be otherworldly or academic, in the narrow sense of the world. I think a lot of people have been surprised that I’ve actually had good political instincts and a real ability to interact with people and, I would say, lead people. It shouldn’t be surprising that somebody with a science background could do well in politics. It’s not an obvious overlap, but they’re not incompatible. On some issues, my scientific background has been particularly useful. But what’s always useful is a reverence for evidence, and science brings an analytical ability that helps you understand a situation be it in the physical universe or in politics and human relations.

Does it trouble you then that there aren’t more scientists succeeding as politicians?

It’s a real problem. I think there are more scientists who are or can be adept at politics than there are politicians who are comfortable with science. There should be more people who, while choosing not to be scientists professionally, are comfortable thinking about science and thinking like a scientist. I think Congress suffers and policy-making in government suffers because there are not enough non-scientists who are comfortable thinking about science.

Republicans trounced Democrats in the midterm elections, and many have looked to label the GOP as an anti-science party. Does science have a friend in the 114th Congress?

I think over many years, appreciation of science has slipped and education of science has slipped. I think that it shouldn’t be possible to deny and patently reject the preponderance of scientific understanding. That’s not to say every scientist is always right. But the idea that you can just flat out deny evolution or climate change or any number of things that are so well established in the science community would have been, in past years, unthinkable. Now, it’s really quite common that people will blatantly, even proudly get on the political stump and say they deny what the scientists think is right.

You’re taking a very different path than many retiring members of Congress who become lobbyists. Why?

It was a deliberate move to avoid the revolving door. But I was very much interested in staying engaged in the policy process, to work on something that I think is of great social benefit. I really think if we improve the health of science in America it will be of great benefit to human welfare. Not just because you’ll have more scientists employed, but because with improved science we learn things that are beneficial to all humans.

Do you think that you’ll be able to accomplish more in the name of science than you could have as a congressman?

Maybe not more than what one could do in Congress, but in the current Congress I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of good accomplished. I certainly hope that’s not true but, from my perspective, the signs are not very promising.

You expressed some dismay in a 2008 interview that not more members of Congress were knowledgeable about science. Has that changed during your time on Capitol Hill?

I think I’ve been very well-engaged with members of Congress, but not on science issues. Most Americans say that science is for scientists, and they see themselves not as scientists and therefore they don’t think that science is for them and that’s really unfortunate. They miss a lot of beauty in science and a lot of truth in science.

How did you decide to take the helm of AAAS? What will your role be like there?

When I announced I was leaving I did not know what I was going to do next. I was pretty sure I was not going to go out to pasture and I avoided using the word "retire." But AAAS is an organization that I have known and intersected with time to time over many decades now. To look at it in a general sense, it’s about the health of science and its mission has to do with communication between scientists and the public, promoting integrity in science and strengthening support for science in technology, and making sure science plays a constructive role in the formulation of public policy. It’s a fairly natural step for me, but nobody predicted it. Least of all myself.

You’re one of the few members of Congress to compete on Jeopardy, and you actually beat IBM’s Watson in 2011. Do you ever see yourself returning to that stage?

I think I’m a lot slower now. I did beat Watson, but it was not televised. It was something IBM set up. It was an actual Jeopardy match so it was very life-like, but it was a demonstration that IBM set up a couple of years ago.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

Head of Phoenix VA System Removed from Post

ABC News(PHOENIX) -- Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, was removed from her post on Monday after an investigation into wait times and substandard care.

The decision to remove Helman from her role in command of the Phoenix VA system "underscores VA's commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that Veterans have access to quality and timely care," a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs read.

"Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving Veterans, and VA will not tolerate it," Secretary Robert McDonald said. "We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of Veterans first and honor VA's core values of 'Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence.'"

It is not immediately clear when the VA will name a new director for their Phoenix system. In the interim, longtime administrator Glenn Grippen has been named the director.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov252014

John Hanson: The Forgotten First President

ABC News/Yahoo! News(WASHINGTON) -- Here’s a Thanksgiving pop quiz: Who was the nation’s first president?

If you answered George Washington, pass the gravy and get ready for a history lesson. It was actually John Hanson, a founding father whose name is largely forgotten in the pages of American history -- until now.

“They were both first presidents. We've had two governments,” said Peter Michael, a descendent of Hanson’s who is working to revive his memory as the first president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, the precursor to the Constitution.

“George Washington was very famously the first president of our second government under the Constitution,” Michael told ABC News/Yahoo! News during a recent interview outside a replica of Hanson’s historic home in Frederick, Maryland. “But for eight years before the birth of that second government, we had an original government chartered under the Articles of Confederation. It had its presidents, the first of whom was John Hanson."

Michael, who has authored a biography about his ancestor’s life and also presides over a memorial association in his honor, explained that Hanson played a central role in putting the United States on solid footing in the wake of the Revolutionary War.

“John Hanson and his Congress inherited a blank slate and had to create a government from whole cloth and they did -- and successfully,” Michael said. “If they hadn't, the United States might not have existed."

Under the Articles of the Confederation, the young United States was governed under a single unified government, without separate executive and legislative branches. And Hanson, as an elder statesman at age 66, was nominated by his peers in Congress to lead the fragile new government in 1781.

“The American icons of the Revolutionary period -- Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, [and] others -- looked to John Hanson as the one [who] twice saved the nation and also to Hanson's way with people,” Michael said. “When no one else could do it, he persuaded the six states with the western lands to cede the western lands.”

We also have Hanson to thank for Thanksgiving.

"Thanksgiving, as an observance, had been recognized since the days of the pilgrims,” Michael said. “But it fell to John Hanson to establish Thanksgiving as an official annual observed holiday. It became a paid holiday, and a day off, in the Franklin Roosevelt administration."

Hanson served a one-year term as president and died a year later in 1783.

But in the decades and centuries following his death, Hanson’s memory would be largely forgotten to history. So forgotten, in fact, that his home in Frederick, Maryland, was demolished in the 1980s (a replica has since been built in its place) and his grave, in Prince George’s Country, Maryland, was paved over to make way for a parking lot. The burial site remains unmarked today.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio