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Wednesday
Apr232014

Erin Brockovich Rallies Outside Supreme Court for Camp Lejeune Victims

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich and dozens of military veterans rallied outside the Supreme Court Wednesday as the justices heard arguments that an electronics company was responsible for polluting drinking water at Camp Lejeune
that sickened thousands of Marines.

The case, CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, claims that CTS Corporation, a global manufacturer of electronics, contaminated the camp’s drinking water with trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen, between 1953 and 1987.

The rally began at the Upper Senate Park, ending outside the Supreme Court. Other speakers included Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Camp Lejeune Marine; Mark Partain, breast cancer survivor and the son of a Camp Lejeune Marine; and Kris Thomas, also a breast cancer survivor and son of a Camp Lejeune Marine.

“It’s probably one of the largest pollution problems we have in the country. We have servicemen and women coming home to their families who had no idea the land they were living on was polluted, that their families have been poisoned, that their children are dying,” Brockovich said at the rally.

According to North Carolina state law, the victims may no longer have the legal recourse to sue. CTS Corporation sold the land and shut down the plant in 1987. The state statute relieves the company from any liability 10 years after its last contaminating act -- making 1997 the deadline to sue, despite the fact that the chemicals weren’t discovered until 1997.

The court heard oral arguments in the case on Wednesday.

“We just want the opportunity to present our cases in court and allow the merits of our cases to be the determining factor,” said Ensminger, who lost his 9-year old daughter to leukemia and is convinced her leukemia was caused by the water contamination.

Tim Templeton from Kansas City, Mo., helps run a Facebook group called “Contaminated Marines of Camp Lejeune.” Templeton was stationed at Camp Lejeune and maintains that he is a poisoned patriot suffering from an immune deficiency. 

“Government can have its cake and eat it too, which they do. I would say it’s awful strange and doesn’t really square with reality for them to be supporting the polluters' side of the argument just merely because of the convenience,” Templeton said.

The Department of Justice has sided with CTS Corporation.

“We are referring to [the DOJ] as the Department of Injustice. How could you possibly side with the contaminator? This is an example of the Department of Justice coming off the tracks. They have lost their way,” said Tate McQueen, one of the litigants.

The court will consider whether a federal environmental law can override state law. The federal law allows victims to move forward with their claims when they first learned they had been sickened by chemicals at Camp Lejeune.

“At the surface to see a brief come out of this current administrations office AG that stands with CTS -- that isn’t going to stand with a soldier at Camp Lejeune. It looks like they are trying to get out of cleaning up their own mess. That’s not fair, that’s hypocritical and I find it really disappointing and very concerning, and it would concern any vet,” said Brockovich.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

New Poll Buoys Southern Dems’ Hope with Tight Senate Races

Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Democrats in the South received some welcome news Wednesday from a New York Times-Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing tight U.S. Senate races in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina. But the poll also highlighted some potential warning signs for Democrats when it comes to health care and President Obama’s sagging approval ratings.

Sen. Mark Pryor, largely considered the most vulnerable Democrat in this year’s election, holds a 10 percentage point lead over his Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Forty-six percent of registered voters in Arkansas said they’d vote for Pryor while 36 percent said they’d vote for Cotton. Pryor, who has served two terms in the Senate, has an approval rating of 47 percent.

The poll found that the two closest races in the Southern states are in Kentucky and North Carolina. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has a 1 point lead over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, with 44 percent of registered voters saying they’d vote for McConnell and 43 percent saying they’d choose Grimes. Forty percent of Kentucky voters said they approved of McConnell’s job performance.

In North Carolina, 42 percent of registered voters said they’d vote for Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., while 40 percent said they’d pick one of her Republican opponents: Thom Thillis, North Carolina’s House speaker.  In another match-up, 41 percent said they’d vote for Hagan while 39 percent said they’d vote for Republican candidate Greg Bannon. Hagan’s approval and disapproval ratings both came in at 44 percent.

In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., holds a wide lead over Republicans trying to unseat her with 42 percent of registered voters saying they’d vote for Landrieu. Her closest competition was Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who came in at 18 percent. Louisiana does not hold primaries, so if a candidate does not receive a majority of the vote on Nov. 4, the election will head into a run-off.

But the poll does contain some red flags signs for Democrats. In Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, a majority of registered voters said they would not vote for a candidate who did not share their views on the Affordable Care Act, which could prove problematic for Democrats if the president’s health care law is unpopular with voters.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted in March found that 49 percent of Americans supported the health care law while 48 percent opposed it.

Another issue that could prove to be a liability is Obama’s approval ratings in these southern states where a majority of voters disapprove of how the president is handling his job. Sixty percent of registered voters in Arkansas and Kentucky said they disapprove of the president’s job performance. In Louisiana, 54 percent disapprove of how the president is handling his job while 51 percent of registered in voters in North Carolina disapprove.

The New York Times also said its poll found that support for Republican candidates is higher among likely voters in the four states.

There has already been some conservative push-back to the findings on voting patterns. Kirsten Kukowski, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, blasted a memo to reporters highlighting the poll’s sampling, which found that voters in Arkansas voted for Mitt Romney over Obama by 1 percentage point in 2012, when Romney actually won Arkansas by 24 points. She noted similar issues with the polls in the three other states.

The four polls were conducted from April 8-15 by land-line and cellphone. As for other poll data, 857 registered voters in Arkansas, 891 registered voters in Kentucky, 946 registered voters in Louisiana and 900 registered voters in North Carolina took part. The margin of sampling error was +/- 4 percentage points for registered voters.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Obama Dines on Sushi at Tokyo "Jiro Dreams" Shop

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(TOKYO) -- President Obama stepped off Air Force One in Japan apparently with an appetite for sushi.

After a quick refresh at the Hotel Okura near the U.S. Embassy, Obama joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for dinner at a tiny sushi shop in the city’s Ginza neighborhood. They were joined by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, the White House said.

The restaurant -- Sukiyabashi Jiro -- has earned a rare three-star Michelin rating. Its owner and master chef, 89-year-old Jiro Ono, was featured in the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Many regard him as the world’s best sushi chef.

Details of the president’s dinner were scarce, as it was closed to the press. A special meal of selections by the chef costs close to $300 per person, according to the restaurant’s website.  Reservations are booked through June at its main location.

White House officials say building personal ties between Obama and Abe is a priority on his third trip to Japan as president.

They “have good discussions all the time, whenever they see each other,” a senior Japanese government official said. “But the more frequently they see each other, the better.”




Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

White House Mulls Leaving Less than 10,000 Troops in Afghanistan

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Although the Obama administration is still considering how many U.S. troops to leave in Afghanistan after 2014, there are reports that the residual force could fall well under 10,000.

Some of the factors going into the decision include the failure of the Afghan government to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement and the relatively peaceful election process earlier this month in which the Taliban didn't exercise much muscle.

However, everything is a moot point if the new Afghan president fails to sign a post-war pact.

White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson said in a statement, "The longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any US mission. Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 US mission will be smaller in scale and ambition."

Keeping a residual force in Afghanistan in a training and advisory role would help national forces repel attempts by the Taliban to destabilize the government.

Furthermore, American soldiers are needed to protect CIA bases in Afghanistan where drone strikes are launched against militant targets in neighboring Pakistan.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Democrats Greatly Outnumber Republicans as Commencement Day Speakers

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A conservative watchdog of the nation's higher education system says that Democratic politicians easily outnumber Republicans when it comes to being invited to give college commencement addresses in May.

Campus Reform says Democrats have to a two-to-one advantage with President Obama actually scheduled for two speeches at the University of California, Irvine and West Point while first lady Michelle Obama will address students at Dillard University in New Orleans.

Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore all have invites to college campuses as well. Meanwhile, Campus Reform says Democratic congressmen and governors have also doubled up on their GOP counterparts.

Some potential candidates for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination are scheduled commencement day speakers, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at New Jersey’s public Rowan University, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at Concordia University Wisconsin.

Naturally, wherever commencement speakers go, controversy usually follows. In the latest case, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is facing controversy from not one but two colleges.

Members of the faculties at both the University of Minnesota and Rutgers University have called upon their administrations to rescind their invitations to Rice because of their opposition to the policies of the last Republican president.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Veterans Group Slams Gubernatorial Candidate for Slamming Vet

Hemera/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- Suddenly, the race for the Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland has become a more interesting contest to watch.

It has to do with state Attorney General Douglas Gansler apparently disparaging the military record of Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.  Both are vying for the Democratic nod.

On Monday, Gansler said the following about his rival at a campaign event, "You know, his (campaign) ads are about how he was a lawyer in Iraq, and that’s all fine and good, but this is a real job, and we need to have somebody who actually has leadership experience."

Brown, who is also a reservist, spent five years on active duty in the Army during the 1980s.

The veterans advocacy group VoteVets.org immediately went on the offensive, saying, "Doug Gansler needs to stop smearing those of us who served in Iraq as not having had a 'real job.' It’s a horrible insult to all those men and women who put their lives on the line, and especially those who died, in service to this country."

The group added that being lieutenant governor is a "real job."

Gansler later issued a statement saying that he has “the utmost respect for [Brown’s] military service and for veterans."

The attorney general is no stranger to controversy. Shortly after announcing his candidacy last fall, he wound up apologizing for his appearance at a high school beach party where underage drinking was going on.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

IRS Awards Bonuses to Employees Who Didn't Pay Taxes

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Internal Revenue Service gave out $2.8 million in bonuses to workers with conduct issues, including those who didn't pay their federal taxes, a new report finds.

The announcement from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration explained that though the award program for IRS employees was in line with federal regulations, more than 1,100 people with "tax compliance problems" received more than $1 million in cash bonuses and more than 10,000 hours in time-off awards.

J. Russell George, Treasury inspector general, said the awards are desiged to reward the employees for a "job well done, and that is appropriate, because the IRS should encourage good performance." However, George acknowledged the conflict in giving bonuses to those who failed to pay their dues.

The audit was conducted under new federal guidance issued requiring agencies to reduce spending on their awards programs. It was also found that more than 2,800 employees with conduct issues resulting in disciplinary action received more than $2.8 million in awards and extra time off.

The report recommends that the IRS Human Capital Officer looks toward implementing a policy that requires management to consider such issues before presenting bonuses. As a result, the agency plans to conduct a study by the end of June to put a plan in motion.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Obama Surveys Mudslide Damage, Praises Community of Oso

White House(OSO, Wash.) -- After surveying mudslide damage from Marine One and meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes with victims’ families behind closed doors, President Obama praised the community of Oso, Wash., as it recovers from the March 22 mudslide that so far has claimed 41 lives.

“This is family, and these are folks who love this land, and it’s easy to see why, because it’s gorgeous, and there’s a way of life that’s represented,” Obama said, speaking to first responders at a firehouse on Tuesday. A handmade sign hung above him reading “OSO STRONG.”

“This is also what America’s all about,” Obama said. “When times get tough, we look out for each other, we get each other’s backs, we recover and rebuild and come back stronger.”

Recovery workers are still searching for bodies. On Monday, the death toll rose by two. Obama praised coordination between government and relief workers and local volunteers.

“Some terrific lessons were learned in the midst of very hard times,” Obama said of the efforts.

After speaking at the firehouse, the president was scheduled to depart for a four-country, multi-day trip to Asia, flying from Washington state to Japan.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Chris Christie Bridge Scandal Panel Issues Subpoenas to Four Witnesses 

iStock/Thinkstock(TRENTON, N.J.) -- The New Jersey panel investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal issued subpoenas to four witnesses for testimony in May.

Four current and former officials were subpoenaed, including longtime spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, Michael Drewniak, and Christina Genovese Renna, top aide to Bridget Kelly.

In a statement released Tuesday, co-chairs of the New Jersey Legislative Select Commitee on Investigation said they are moving "to a key stage....into how this abuse of government power and threat to public safety occurred."

"The people of New Jersey continue to deserve clear answers as to how this abuse was allowed to happen, and the four people we've called to testify can begin providing insight into the troubling environment that allowed something as concerning as these lane closings to happen," said Democratic New Jersey Senate Majority leader Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

Drewniak, Renna, former Bergen County Executive William "Pat" Schuber, and Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye are set to testify on May 6 and 13 about the 2013 lane closings on the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. The scandal is said to be organized by Christie's appointees as political retribution.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Rick Perry Wants NY Jobs -- And Debate with Andrew Cuomo

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Gov. Rick Perry has made it clear that he’s not afraid to mess with states outside of Texas to attract businesses, but now the former presidential candidate and potential 2016 contender is looking to brush up on his debate skills with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“A debate between the governors of two of the largest states in the country on policy issues such as taxes, government spending, education, regulations and legal reform would be beneficial to our states and our country as a whole,” the Texas Republican said in an interview Tuesday.

According to a statement from the Americans for Economic Freedom, Perry is in New York City until Thursday on the heels of a new 30-second TV ad now airing from the non-profit organization, which supports low state taxes.

In it, Perry tells New York business leaders: “If you’re tired of New York, there is an option: Texas.”

It’s not the first state Perry has traveled to in an attempt to scoop up businesses.

The Republican governor has made a campaign-style push in states like California, Illinois and Missouri by hosting business meetings and appearing on TV and radio shows to promise low taxes and incentives for any businesses with an itch to relocate.

In January, Perry took a jab at Cuomo, saying that if the New York governor “were truthful” he would admit that he wants to be a Texan.

Just what this debate might look like isn’t clear, but the last time Perry squared off against a fellow governor in a debate was with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley last September on CNN’s Crossfire.

Both Gov. Cuomo and Gov. Perry’s offices didn’t respond to ABC News’ request for comment, but Communications Director for the Democratic Governor’s Association Danny Kanner told ABC News in an email: “A little free advice for Rick Perry: the fewer debates with anyone, the better.”

Kanner then linked to the famous clip from the Republican presidential debate in 2011: Gov. Perry was unable to finish naming three agencies in government he said he would cut upon being elected before saying “Oops.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio