WBEZ | U.S. http://www.wbez.org/tags/us-0 Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Troy Davis Case Renews Death Penalty Debate http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-21/troy-davis-case-renews-death-penalty-debate-92319 <p></p> Wed, 21 Sep 2011 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-21/troy-davis-case-renews-death-penalty-debate-92319 Palestinian Statehood Bid Pits Obama Against Allies http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-17/palestinian-statehood-bid-pits-obama-against-allies-92131 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-18/un-millennium-us_5013635_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>President Obama flies to New York on Monday for an annual presidential tradition that this year could become a diplomatic disaster.</p><p>It's the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, when world leaders gather to address the world's problems. The Palestinians plan to ask the U.N. to recognize them as an independent state this week, which puts President Obama on a collision course with some of America's closest allies.</p><p>Each time Obama has spoken at the United Nations the push for Mideast peace has been one of his key themes. Last year, he told the audience, "When we come back here next year we could have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations: an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."</p><p>That's not exactly how it turned out, and today a peace agreement seems as far off as ever. Negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis are nowhere on the horizon. The Palestinians want the U.N. to recognize them as an independent state anyway.</p><p>"We are going to the Security Council," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promised in a televised speech Friday. "We need to have full membership at the U.N.," he said. "We need a state, a seat at the United Nations and nothing more."</p><p>Even if the Palestinian move succeeds, it would lead to something far short of full statehood. And the Obama administration has promised to exercise the U.S. veto in the Security Council.</p><p>"Our fundamental baseline position is that those actions are not going to lead to a Palestinian state," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said at the White House on Friday. "The way to a Palestinian state is through negotiations between the parties. That's the only way you're going to be able to deal with issues of borders and security and the future of Jerusalem."</p><p>Many of America's closest allies support the Palestinians' bid, making this vote, and the promised veto, a messy diplomatic situation.</p><p>"It's now drama time," says David Makovsky, who directs the Project on the Mideast Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "The brinksmanship of the Mideast is coming to the Northeast as they try to hammer out an alternative resolution that would avoid some of the maximalism and try to find a way to get out of this crisis."</p><p>Administration officials spent the last week in the region trying to head this off at the pass. So far it looks as though they failed.</p><p>Republicans, such as former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, blame President Obama. Bolton says the U.S. could have done far more to avert this crisis months ago.</p><p>"The impression that's left diplomatically by that kind of inaction is that the administration is really not that opposed to what the Palestinians are trying to do," Bolton says.</p><p>The White House says it has been clear and consistent about its opposition to the Palestinian move. But Bolton argues that the administration could have taken a page from his 1989 playbook, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization sought international recognition.</p><p>"We threatened to cut off funding to any U.N. organization that enhanced the status of the PLO. Worked like a charm," he says. "It stopped the PLO dead in its tracks. That was the end of the effort for 20 years, and if the administration were to do the same thing here I think it would have the same effect."</p><p>Some House Republicans are pushing a similar bill. When asked whether the White House would consider an approach that withholds funding for supporters of the Palestinians' push for U.N. recognition, Rhodes was noncommittal. "Until we know what the precise proposal is, we're not capable of speaking about potential consequences," he said.</p><p>Among conservatives, President Obama has often been accused of being less pro-Israel than his predecessors. The White House pushes back against that characterization, but some Democrats fear that it is taking hold. Last week a Republican won a heavily Jewish, heavily Democratic House district in a special election in New York.</p><p>Former Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida believes the accusation that President Obama does not fully support Israel is false and malicious.</p><p>"This is the political season, and there are those in the political community that see an opportunity and seek to exploit it," says Wexler, who now directs the F. Daniel Abraham Center for Mideast Peace.</p><p>Wexler believes that heading into this U.N. meeting, the best thing the U.S. can do is help create a "day-after scenario" to get Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table once this storm subsides.</p><p>"It would be, in essence, making lemonade out of lemons no doubt, but I do foresee a possible scenario in which the American administration can assist the Palestinians and Israelis to mediate their positions and possibly move forward in a constructive fashion," he says.</p><p>Right now, however, the U.S. can be sure only of having the lemons.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Sun, 18 Sep 2011 02:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-17/palestinian-statehood-bid-pits-obama-against-allies-92131 Do New Voting Laws Suppress Fraud? Or Democrats? http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-17/do-new-voting-laws-suppress-fraud-or-democrats-92127 <p><p>While campaigning to become Kansas' secretary of state, Kris Kobach held a press conference to make the case for a photo ID requirement at the polls. In his argument, he noted that a man named Alfred K. Brewer, who died in 1996, had voted in the 2010 primary.</p><p>There was just one problem with that: Brewer wasn't dead.</p><p>Shortly after the press conference, Brewer's wife received a call regarding her husband's "passing."</p><p>"And she says, 'Well, why do you want to talk to me? He's out raking leaves,'" Brewer says.</p><p><strong>New Crackdowns</strong></p><p>It turned out the voter rolls Kobach referenced had the birth date for Brewer's father, who had the same name.</p><p>Despite the mistake, Kobach was trying to make a serious point. He's part of a growing number of Republican lawmakers trying to crack down on voter fraud.</p><p>Kansas, Alabama and Tennessee mandated that voters show proof of citizenship before registering to vote. Six states now require voters to show a government-issued ID at the polls. Other states, like Florida and Ohio, have cut short their early voting programs.</p><p>Ari Berman, who's reported on these laws for <em>Rolling Stone</em> magazine, says that requirements in the name of protecting against voter fraud actually suppress certain voter demographics.</p><p>"I believe what Republicans are trying to do is make it harder for Democratic candidates to turn out an electorate [like] they turned out in 2008, which is young voters, African-Americans, Hispanics," Berman tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on <em>All Things Considered.</em></p><p>He says those are the people who are disproportionately affected by the new laws.</p><p>"This legislation is written in such a way that it actual prohibits people in certain states from voting who would have the right IDs," he says.</p><p><strong>Barriers Before The Polls</strong></p><p>Most people do have a photo ID of some kind, but there are still some who might not be able to vote because of the new laws. The elderly and disabled might have trouble getting to a DMV to renew their licenses. Others might not be able to afford a passport or lack the proper documentation for an ID, like a birth certificate. In some states, like Texas, student IDs are not acceptable.</p><p>Berman says there are already fines in place to deter voter fraud. He says he thinks the restrictions won't prevent any wrongdoing and that the crime isn't widespread at all.</p><p>"A voter is more likely to be struck by lightening than they are to impersonate another voter at the polls," Berman says, citing a report from the Brennan Center for Justice.</p><p>Berman says the Department of Justice looked into 300 million votes cast between 2002 and 2007 and failed to prosecute a single person for impersonating an eligible voter at the polls.</p><p><strong>In Pursuit Of Protecting Elections</strong></p><p>Kobach says there's no Republican conspiracy. In Kansas, two-thirds of Democrats supported his voter ID bill. In Rhode Island, the Democratic governor supported a photo ID law.</p><p>Kobach says there have been 221 incidents of voter fraud since 1997 in Kansas, evidence that he calls "the tip of the iceberg." About 30 of those cases were investigated and seven people were convicted.</p><p>Seven convictions over 13 years doesn't seem like an indicator of a widespread abuse, but Kobach says those cases can sway elections, especially on the local level.</p><p>"When you have multiple cases of election fraud in an election and the election is a close one, it can ultimately end up throwing the election to the candidate who profits from the voter fraud," he says.</p><p>Kobach says there's no evidence to suggest voter turnout is suppressed by laws like the one in Kansas and that a photo ID is a perfectly acceptable requirement.</p><p>"It does not burden the right to vote in any way that might be seen as a violation of the Constitution," he says.</p><p>Kansas offers free photo IDs and allows senior citizens to use expired IDs.</p><p>"These are reasonable protections we can put into place," he says, "and in doing so, we really protect the integrity of our elections and ensure that in those rare cases, elections are not stolen." <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1316292136?&gn=Do+New+Voting+Laws+Suppress+Fraud%3F+Or+Democrats%3F&ev=event2&ch=1003&h1=Around+the+Nation,Politics,U.S.,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=140539204&c7=1003&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1003&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110917&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Sat, 17 Sep 2011 15:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-17/do-new-voting-laws-suppress-fraud-or-democrats-92127 Texas Wildfire's New Path Helping Firefighters http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-01/texas-wildfires-new-path-helping-firefighters-91382 <p><p>A wind-whipped wildfire that destroyed more than three dozen cliff-top homes in North Texas was expected to burn through most of the tinder-dry trees and shrubs in its path by daybreak Thursday, helping firefighters contain the late-summer blaze during the state's severe and seemingly endless fire season.</p><p>The blaze was threatening as many as 400 homes in the Possum Kingdom Lake area and had scorched about 6,200 acres, fueled by high winds, parched vegetation and unrelenting heat gripping the drought-stricken state. But after the fire moved to flatter ground Wednesday, it was expected to scorch the remaining trees and be easier to contain, Texas Forest Service spokesman John Nichols said.</p><p>"We anticipate the night shift will get a good handle on this fire," Nichols said late Wednesday.</p><p>The fire, which has caused no major injuries since it began Tuesday, has destroyed at least 39 homes and possibly more, he said. Although it hasn't reached the destructive heights of an April blaze that destroyed 160 homes here, the fire suggests that Texas is heading toward its third year-long wildfire season since the 2005-2006 season.</p><p>After losing her home during the April fire at Possum Kingdom Lake, Kathy Lanpher was stunned when she heard Tuesday that another wildfire threatened the nearby subdivision where she had relocated in the lakeside community, about 75 miles west of Fort Worth.</p><p>The real estate agent raced to her condo, grabbed a few belongings and — hearing that flames had cut off the road to safety — headed to the marina, where she and dozens of frightened neighbors eventually made it to safety by boat. Although the fire missed her condo, the danger had not passed as the blaze spread Wednesday.</p><p>"Honestly, I was thinking, `I don't think I can go through this again,'" she said, her eyes welling with tears. "I have my moments and then I move forward, but I just can't dwell on it yet."</p><p>Texas is enduring its most severe drought since the 1950s, with bone-dry conditions made worse by weeks of triple-digit temperatures in many cities. Blazes have destroyed more than 5,470 square miles since mid-November, the typical start of the wildfire season.</p><p>Firefighters haven't had much of a break this summer, even after various crews battled what turned out to be seven of the 10 largest wildfires in state history this spring.</p><p>Usually the wildfire season wanes in the spring because of rain, greener vegetation and higher humidity, weather experts said. But the state's normally wettest months — April through June — were anything but this year because of the lingering La Nina weather condition that causes below-normal rainfall.</p><p>The conditions have become so severe that "normal rain events will have little positive impact on the drought and consequently the fire danger," Texas Forest Service specialist Tom Spencer said.</p><p>Spencer said the three year-long wildfire seasons are the only ones the Forest Service has recorded, but there are no records from the droughts of 1918 and the 1950s.</p><p>The subdivision that burned this week was the only one in the Possum Kingdom Lake area left unscathed by the April fire, which lasted two weeks. The latest fire left some streets virtually untouched, with homes fronted by lawns that could double as putting greens, but others were reduced to rows of scorched stone fireplaces and twisted metal frames.</p><p>"It's devastating, of course, and it's going to take a while to get over, but we're going to carry on," Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said.</p><p>Unlike the April blaze, when residents had to be told three or four times before they'd leave the area, those whose homes were threatened Tuesday left as soon as they were warned, Mercer said.</p><p>The evacuation went smoothly as people left in their own boats or law enforcement agencies watercraft, Mercer said.</p><p>"A little old lady was just shaking. These people were leaving with just the clothes on their backs, and they don't know what's going to happen to their homes and their stuff," he said. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1314879433?&gn=Texas+Wildfire%27s+New+Path+Helping+Firefighters&ev=event2&ch=1003&h1=U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=140105671&c7=1003&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1003&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110901&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Thu, 01 Sep 2011 07:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-01/texas-wildfires-new-path-helping-firefighters-91382 Panel Finds Widespread Waste In Wartime Contracts http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-31/panel-finds-widespread-waste-wartime-contracts-91339 <p><p>Waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $60 billion and the tally could grow, according to a government study released Wednesday.</p><p>In its final report to Congress, the nonpartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting said lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and corruption resulted in losses of "at least $31 billion, and possibly as much as $60 billion" out of some $206 billion in total payments to contractors by the end of the current fiscal year.</p><p>"Much of the waste, fraud, and abuse revealed in Iraq and Afghanistan stems from trying to do too much, treating contractors as a free resource, and failing to adapt U.S. plans and U.S. agencies' responsibilities to host-nation cultural, political, and economic settings," the 240-page report read.</p><p>The head of the commission, Robert Henke, said Congress asked the panel to answer two questions: How much does the government rely on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how much money has been wasted?</p><p>"Our conclusion is that there is tremendous over-reliance" on contractors, Henke said.</p><p>Another panel member, former Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim, said the amount of abuse was sizable: "$206 billion is a lot of money on contracting, but so is $60 billion in waste, of which a considerable amount — maybe as much as $18 billion — is pure fraud."</p><p>The commission warned that the waste could grow as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes, leaving Iraq and Afghanistan to bear the long-term costs of sustaining the schools, medical clinics, barracks, roads and power plants already built with American money.</p><p>While previous reports from the commission have cited evidence of contracting waste and fraud, the latest analysis is the most comprehensive cataloging of alleged abuses to date in Iraq and Afghanistan.</p><p><strong>Contractors Under Scrutiny<br /></strong></p><p>The commission cited numerous examples of waste, including a $360 million U.S.-financed agricultural development program in Afghanistan. The effort began as a $60 million project in 2009 to distribute vouchers for wheat seed and fertilizer in drought-stricken areas of northern Afghanistan. The program expanded into the south and east. Soon the U.S. was spending a $1 million a day on the program, creating an environment ripe for waste and abuse, the commission said.</p><p>"Paying villagers for what they used to do voluntarily destroyed local initiatives and diverted project goods into Pakistan for resale," the commission said.</p><p>Kellogg Brown & Root, the No. 1 supplier of contract services for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, was much scrutinized in the report. The commission highlighted what it said was hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable payments to the Houston-based company, including $221 million in excess fuel charges.</p><p>KBR, which had been a subsidiary of Halliburton until 2007, also was unable to account for about 3 percent of its government-furnished property, which was worth as much as $100 million, the report said, citing the Defense Department's inspector general.</p><p>It also noted alleged kickbacks paid by a Kuwaiti company, Tamimi, to KBR managers. Tamimi subsequently won more than $700 million in contracts from KBR for dinging facility services, the report said.</p><p>In a statement emailed to NPR, Kellogg Brown & Root said it disagreed with some of the findings in the report.</p><p>"When we have identified potential issues, we have reported them to our clients and the appropriate agencies as required, and have fully cooperated with those agencies to investigate and address each issue," the statement read. "While we do not agree with some allegations raised by the Government or the Commission on Wartime Contracting, we have initiated efforts to resolve these issues."</p><p>Another contractor, DynCorp, also came in for criticism in the report. It said the company didn't have enough staff to do its job, which was to make electrical repairs to damaged buildings in Afghanistan.</p><p>"DynCorp categorized repairs as 'complete' when the parts were on order but the repairs had not been made," the report read.</p><p>DynCorp, based in Falls Church, Va., told NPR that it had "hired more than 200 additional employee and subcontract electricians and support personnel" since the concerns were raised, and that it had subsequently made changes to eliminate confusion as to whether work had been completed.</p><p>First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Company, awarded a contract to build a new U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, racked up more than $43 million worth of construction deficiencies due to failure to comply with specifications, improper construction and installation, and use of sub-standard materials and equipment, it said.</p><p><strong>15 Recommendations<br /></strong></p><p>The commission said government agencies should overhaul the way they award and manage contracts in war zones so they don't repeat the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the report's 15 recommendations were the creation of an inspector general to monitor contracting and the appointment of a senior government official to improve planning and coordination.</p><p>"The problem is that military doesn't consider services contracting as a core function," Grant S. Green, a commission member and former undersecretary of state, told NPR. There are mechanisms in place when it comes to procuring hardware, he said, but "we don't have the same systems in place when it comes to procuring services."</p><p>Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said it's important to remember that given the way the military was structured at the start of the war in Afghanistan, "it would have been impossible to fight it without these contractors" because the military lacked the necessary personnel.</p><p>O'Hanlon praised commission's work but said he thought "most of the contractors in theater do a good job."</p><p>Styled after the Truman Committee, which examined World War II spending six decades ago, the panel was created by Congress in 2008 and vested with broad authority to examine military support contracts, reconstruction projects and private security companies. But the law creating the commission also dictated that it would cease operating at the end of September 2011, even as the U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be heavily supported by contractors.</p><p>The Afghan insurgency's second largest funding source after the illegal drug trade is the diversion of money from U.S.-backed construction projects and transportation contracts, according to the commission. But the report does not say how much money has been funneled to the insurgency. The money typically is lost when insurgents and warlords threaten Afghan subcontractors with violence unless they pay for protection, according to the report.</p><p>The Associated Press reported earlier this month that U.S. military authorities in Kabul believe $360 million in American tax dollars has ended up in the hands of people the U.S.-led coalition has spent nearly a decade battling: the Taliban, criminals and power brokers with ties to both. The military said only a small percentage of the $360 million has been garnered by the Taliban and insurgent groups. Most of the money was lost to profiteering, bribery and extortion by criminals and power brokers.</p><p>"A lot of this money in Afghanistan did actually get to the Taliban," O'Hanlon said. "That hurt us in terms of strengthening the enemy."</p><p><em>NPR's Tamara Keith reported from Washington, D.C., for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.</em> <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1314821531?&gn=Panel+Finds+Widespread+Waste+In+Wartime+Contracts&ev=event2&ch=1003&h1=Afghanistan,U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=140092937&c7=1003&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1003&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110831&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Wed, 31 Aug 2011 15:08:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-31/panel-finds-widespread-waste-wartime-contracts-91339 The Destructive Power Of Water http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-30/destructive-power-water-91289 <p><p>Hurricane Irene flooded or damaged hundreds of roads and scores of bridges as the storm cut a treacherous swath across 11 states in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast during the weekend of Aug. 27-28. Buildings were washed away, and many homes were flooded. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1314792428?&gn=The+Destructive+Power+Of+Water&ev=event2&ch=1003&h1=Around+the+Nation,U.S.&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=140065681&c7=1003&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1003&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110830&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Tue, 30 Aug 2011 13:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-30/destructive-power-water-91289 Irene Disrupts Power, Commutes, Travel Plans http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-29/irene-disrupts-power-commutes-travel-plans-91213 <p><p>Irene knocked out power to millions and threatened transportation systems up and down the east coast. The restoration of most subway and bus lines in New York City helped avoid the commuting nightmare that some had feared, but the storm will leave many without power for days.</p><p>Hurricane Irene caused havoc for many rail lines, forcing crews to face a maze of downed trees and branches on the tracks and restoring power to some lines.</p><p>And New York City took an unprecedented step before Irene hit, shutting down bus and subway lines over the weekend. Tunnels did not flood and the system was able to restore service this morning.</p><p>At Manhattan's Port Authority Bus terminal, commuters like Al Yudes said his bus ride from Weehawken, N.J. was a breeze, in part because many could not make it to work.</p><p>"People are staying home, people a little bit farther out, they do have some flooding, there's trees down, and so they're just not taking the chance — and everybody's got a computer," he says.</p><p><strong>Travel Delays</strong></p><p>But long-distance travelers weren't as lucky and continued to face delays. Airlines had to unsnarl the mess created when they had to reschedule thousands of flights over the weekend: Some offered waivers so passengers would not have to pay re-booking fees.</p><p>Amtrak also temporarily shut down service over the weekend, and riders are still experiencing delays.</p><p>Rail passengers at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, said they could get little information about when Amtrak might return to normal service, which meant Susan Rothschild, who is from New York City, was stuck.</p><p>"I was supposed to be on the 1:02 train, so if that train was going to New York that would have been just fine. But it's only going to Philadelphia, so I'm going to have to find my way home from Philadelphia," she says. "There are people out there with real problems and this to me is not a really huge problem," she says.</p><p>Amtrak had to cancel all train service between Boston and Philadelphia, including all high-speed Acela lines.</p><p><strong>Power Outages </strong></p><p>But the lasting pain from this storm will be felt by the millions of people who are still without power. Dominion Resources says half of its 2.4 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina lost power. David Botkins of Dominion Resources says the map of those outages is a little surprising, adding that some of the worst damage was quite a ways inland where heavy winds brought down trees onto power lines.<br /> <br />"We still had extensive damage in the Outer Banks and in the Hampton Roads tidewater area. But it was equally as bad — when you look at the number of customers without power — in the central part of Virginia," Botkins says.</p><p>He says it's the worst damage since Hurricane Isabel eight years ago, but that storm did much more serious damage — snapping power poles, which took a long time to replace.</p><p>Irene's damage was less severe, and so Dominion Resources says it has already restored power to many of those who lost it.</p><p>Another unexpected center for outages was Baltimore, where the local utility reported nearly half a million people without power. Up in Connecticut, Gov. Dannell Malloy said that 600,000 people in his state were without power.</p><p>"We have never had as many people out of power as we have had as a result of this storm," he says.</p><p>Thousands of utility workers are coming in from out of state, thanks to aid agreements in place for just kind of situation. Still, many utilities say that some customers may have to wait until next weekend for relief.</p><p>Edward Castro lives in Bristol, R.I. and hopes he doesn't have to wait that long.</p><p>"But we've got plenty of candles, and we've got flashlights and batteries so we're OK with that," he says. "As long as the water stays on, and the gas, we're doing OK."</p><p>One bright spot may be the nation's communications systems. The Federal Communications Commission reports that most of them held up well and that all 911 services worked, despite the heavy demand. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1314654143?&gn=Irene+Disrupts+Power%2C+Commutes%2C+Travel+Plans&ev=event2&ch=1003&h1=Around+the+Nation,U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=140041910&c7=1003&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1003&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110829&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=2&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Mon, 29 Aug 2011 15:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-29/irene-disrupts-power-commutes-travel-plans-91213 Families Skeptical As Arlington Tries To Repair Trust http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-29/families-skeptical-arlington-tries-repair-trust-91206 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-29/120765855_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>For years, Arlington National Cemetery has been defined by honor. Presidents are buried there. The crew of the space shuttle Challenger. And thousands of men and women who served in the military.</p><p>But Barbara Tye doesn't have the same sense of honor she once had. She found out her little brother, Army Staff Sgt. Michael Somers, was buried in the wrong place after the family had him disinterred.</p><p>After reports last year revealed mishandling of remains at the cemetery, military officials are now working to reconcile the burial records of the 330,000 people laid to rest there. The cemetery faces a joint criminal probe by the Army and the FBI. Congress has also ordered an accounting by the end of the year.</p><p>Cemetery officials recently unveiled changes they have made so far — ones they hope will help regain some of the trust they lost. But two families who questioned the burial of their loved ones say they aren't sure that's possible.</p><p>Somers' family hadn't spoken out until now, so as not to disgrace the Army he loved.</p><p>"They dug one grave to the left of him and that was an empty gravesite," says Tye, his sister. "Because when they dug up his gravesite, it was the wife of a colonel. So then they dug one grave to the right of him and discovered his casket and the body of another wife of an unknown service member."</p><p>Tye says she'll never look at the graves at Arlington the same way.</p><p><strong>Reconciling Records</strong></p><p>The cemetery's staff is working hard to restore the trust of the families — and the nation.</p><p>An accountability task force is locating graves, documenting the information on the grave markers, then matching it with digitized paper records and computer databases to get an accurate accounting.</p><p>"There's almost 220,000 markers and another 43,000-some columbarium niches we had to go out and physically count," says Army Col. John Schrader, co-chairman of the task force.</p><p>Army troops armed with iPhones have been out taking pictures of the graves.</p><p>Army Lt. Col. Jamie Wilmeth explains that the pictures are then fed into a system that helps check if the information on the headstones is correct.</p><p>"We're going to take all of these that have the mistakes on them and we're going to go through the files — whether they're hard files here at the cemetery ... different databases, VA databases, personnel databases — and we will determine what the truth is," he says.</p><p><strong>Finding 'Closure'<br /></strong></p><p>Kathryn Condon, executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program, took over at Arlington after the previous administrators were forced out in the wake of the 2010 Army inspector general report.</p><p>"If we find a discrepancy, we will immediately work with the next of kin," she says.</p><p>Condon and her staff dealt with Somers' case, but she says errors like this are rare because most of the time families are present when their loved ones are buried. Inclement weather prevented that for the Somers family.</p><p>"Hopefully ... we don't have many of those discrepancies left, but you have my promise that if we do we will do everything to bring the veteran and their loved ones to closure," she says.</p><p>NPR asked repeatedly how the cemetery can be sure the original paperwork isn't wrong. Condon says if all the records check out — and match the headstone — the cemetery presumes the right person is under that headstone.</p><p>But Tye, Somers' sister, says that presumption is a slap in the face. "They told us my brother's paperwork was in order [and] he was where he was supposed to be," she says. "But he wasn't."</p><p><strong>Broken Trust</strong></p><p>Condon says the cemetery won't know how many discrepancies there are until the task force finishes its work.</p><p>But Scott Warner says he doesn't think Arlington can ever restore his trust. Warner had his son, Marine Pvt. Heath Warner, disinterred to confirm that he was buried in the right place. He was.</p><p>"I don't think ... there's anything they'll ever be able to do for us to take that pain and that suffering that we went through going through this process," he says.</p><p>Condon says the cemetery will be ready to make its mandated report to Congress — accounting for every single person buried there — in December. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1314651432?&gn=Families+Skeptical+As+Arlington+Tries+To+Repair+Trust&ev=event2&ch=1003&h1=Around+the+Nation,U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=140037988&c7=1003&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1003&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110829&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=2&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Mon, 29 Aug 2011 12:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-29/families-skeptical-arlington-tries-repair-trust-91206 Hurricane Irene Cuts Short Jersey Shore Summer http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-26/hurricane-irene-cuts-short-jersey-shore-summer-91124 <p><p>Rain from Hurricane Irene has started falling off the coast of the Carolinas. All the way up to Maine, residents are preparing for the storm, which is expected to pound much of the East Coast this weekend.</p><p>On the Jersey Shore, Cape May County officials have ordered a mandatory evacuation.</p><p>The small community of Stone Harbor sits on a barrier island and early Friday morning, the sounds of tourists were replaced by drills as business owners covered windows with plywood.</p><p>Joan Neumann was here visiting her sister, but she'll wait out the storm back home in Flemington, N.J. However, first she stopped to look at the main street in town.</p><p>"The t-shirt shops, the fudge shops, the cheese shop, the movie theater, the bars — they're all boarded up," said Neumann as workers in the background lowered hanging baskets of flowers and placed them on a truck bed.</p><p>Police drove through the streets with loudspeakers announcing a mandatory evacuation that became effective at 8 a.m. on Friday.</p><p>Stone Harbor resident Cynthia Sosnowski spent Friday morning preparing her house, which included pulling magnets and photos off the refrigerator.</p><p>"We've got all our precious things — family photos and important papers with us and we're taking our dog," says Sosnowski.</p><p>Heading out of Cape May County, there was a steady stream of cars all day Friday.</p><p>"We have a year-round population of 96,000," says Lenora Boninfante, communications director for Cape May County. "In the summertime at the height of our season — and we're right in the middle of our summertime here in Cape Mae County — there can be anywhere up to 750,000 people."</p><p>All along the East Coast, governors have declared emergencies and ordered evacuations. In Washington, D.C. Sunday's dedication of the Martin Luther King Junior memorial has been postponed.</p><p>In Philadelphia, the mayor advised those in flood prone areas to stay with friends and family. And in New York city the public transportation system will shut down at noon on Saturday.The storm already is disrupting flights.</p><p>"The airlines have already — two days ago — started giving us permission to redo flights with no cost to the client ," says Syracuse travel agent Lou Lemos.</p><p>Back in Stone Harbor, N.J., authorities are doing everything they can to encourage people to evacuate. To those who refuse, one official suggested they write their name, address, social security number and next of kin on a 3" x 5" card and then place it in their left shoe. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1314392398?&gn=Hurricane+Irene+Cuts+Short+Jersey+Shore+Summer&ev=event2&ch=1003&h1=News+iPad,Around+the+Nation,U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=139975907&c7=1003&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1003&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110826&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=2&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Fri, 26 Aug 2011 15:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-26/hurricane-irene-cuts-short-jersey-shore-summer-91124 Puerto Rican Governor Faces Opposition To Pipeline http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-24/puerto-rican-governor-faces-opposition-pipeline-91011 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-25/puertorico_pipeline2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>If you think your monthly electric bills are high, be thankful you don't live in Puerto Rico. An island where nearly all energy sources must be imported, the U.S. territory has residential power costs that are double those on the mainland.</p><p>To help bring down the cost of energy, Puerto Rico's governor is pushing an ambitious plan to build a 92-mile-long natural gas pipeline.</p><p>But that plan has run into significant opposition in Puerto Rico and in Congress.</p><p><strong>Homes In The Pipeline's Path<br /></strong></p><p>Puerto Rico isn't a large island — it's just 110 miles long and 40 miles wide. But it can be noisy. Wherever you go, tree frogs — or <em>coqui</em> — provide the soundtrack, from the capital of San Juan to the island's subtropical rainforests.</p><p>At Danny Rodriguez's house in the Cordillera Mountains near the town of Adjuntas, he says the sounds are intense after a rainstorm.</p><p>"You're going to hear like an orchestra of wildlife at night, even birds, little frogs," he says. "And if you're like in a spiritual state of mind, you can relax and you can forget about everything that's bothering you."</p><p>What's bothering Rodriguez now is the government's plan to bring a natural gas pipeline right through his property. He lives there with his wife and children in a house he built himself.</p><p>"No machinery. It was all hand-done," he says. "The reason why I didn't want to do machinery is, first, I couldn't afford it. Second, I wanted to keep the land as virgin as possible because, as you see, bananas grow wild here."</p><p>Representatives of the government-owned energy company Prepa have been by several times recently, offering to buy Rodriguez's house. It's on land owned by his father, Luis Rodriguez, who lives just next-door.</p><p>Both father and son worry that the pipeline will ruin the rainforest. They're also concerned about safety — the risk of living next to a pipeline in a seismically active area.</p><p>They've told Prepa they won't sell. But the elder Rodriguez says what they want doesn't seem to matter.</p><p>"They don't care," he says. "They say they need to through the pipeline, and the pipeline going to go ahead. And they don't care what the people say. They don't care all the neighborhood. So they only care is the big money."</p><p><strong>Opposing The 'Green Way'<br /></strong></p><p>Big money is right. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake — both in energy savings the government says it would bring to the island, and in the contracts that are already being awarded for the pipeline's design and construction.</p><p>The government has dubbed the pipeline <em>Via Verde</em>, or "Green Way," and for months has been running TV and radio ads to build support for the project. But that public relations campaign has been less than successful. A poll conducted earlier this year by a Puerto Rican newspaper found more than two-thirds on the island oppose its construction and a majority don't believe it will lower their electric bills.</p><p>To the man behind the project, Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno, all of this opposition to a pipeline is a bit baffling.</p><p>"This happens in the 50 states," he says. "I simply don't get it."</p><p>Some of the opposition has to do with politics.</p><p>Shortly after taking office, Fortuno canceled another natural gas pipeline along Puerto Rico's southern coast proposed by the previous administration. Several months later, he unveiled his own, more ambitious pipeline project that — as with the earlier one — would shift the island's power plants away from oil to natural gas.</p><p>Fortuno says that could save Puerto Rico's residents and businesses a billion dollars a year.</p><p>"It's cleaner. Carbon emissions will go down by 64 percent. It's safer than oil. And I believe that we need to diversify our energy resources and this is a way of doing it," he says.</p><p><strong>A Threat To Ecology?</strong></p><p>Back in the Cordillera Mountains in the town of Adjuntas, Arturo Massol has emerged as one of the pipeline's leading opponents. Massol is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico and a leader of Casa Pueblo, an activist group founded more than 30 years ago to fight plans for silver and copper mining in the area.</p><p>Massol says the pipeline poses a similar threat to the area's forests and rivers.</p><p>"It will run through at least 235 rivers. It will go through 30 habitats of endangered species. We're talking about major deforestation in the most important watershed of the island. Damages — we're talking about permanent damages to critical ecological services," he says.</p><p>Plans call for a 150-foot right of way to be cleared through the forests that cover Puerto Rico's mountainous interior. In some areas, helicopters would be used to fly in pipeline segments and other equipment.</p><p>Gov. Fortuno says he expects the impact on the environment to be minimal. Of all the possible routes, he believes this is the best one available.</p><p>"What's the alternative — to run the pipeline through the towns and communities? I don't think that's the safest way to do this," he says. "I believe the safest way to do this is to run the pipeline away from the communities and away from the town."</p><p>For Fortuno, there's a lot riding on this pipeline. It's the centerpiece of his administration's efforts to kick-start Puerto Rico's dormant economy.</p><p>When he announced the nearly half-billion project, Fortuno also declared an "energy emergency." The high cost of energy, he said, had made immediate action necessary. He attempted to put the project on a fast track that could have it in operation by September 2012 — perhaps not coincidentally, just before he runs for re-election.</p><p><strong>'There Is No Transparency'</strong></p><p>But the project has become a lightning rod, attracting criticism from political opponents, Puerto Rican media and in Congress.</p><p>Building public skepticism of the project, one of the first multimillion-dollar design contracts was awarded to a close Fortuno friend — a contractor with no pipeline experience.</p><p>"This is the problem. There is no transparency," says U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). He's the son of Puerto Rican parents and has a home on the island and visits often. He has taken a personal interest in the Puerto Rican pipeline.</p><p>"The governor of Puerto Rico simply decided that he would declare an energy emergency. So, since he controls the Senate and he controls the House — his party controls the Senate and the House — he controls every level of government in Puerto Rico," Gutierrez says.</p><p>Fortuno also has linked his New Progressive Party closely with the Republican Party on the mainland, adopting tough policies on labor unions and government spending that have made him something of a rising star in the GOP.</p><p>Gutierrez, a Democrat, has pressured officials with the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to closely scrutinize Fortuno's pipeline project, and his efforts appear to have borne fruit.</p><p>Corps approval is necessary before construction can begin. The Corps is now working with other federal agencies to conduct its own assessment of the pipeline's environmental impact.</p><p>In Puerto Rico, officials with the government power company remain hopeful they can still meet the original timeline and begin construction next month. The project manager for the pipeline, Francisco Lopez, says his staff has met repeatedly with the Corps and answered all of their questions.</p><p>"My opinion is that they have all the information they need to make a determination this month," Lopez says. "And we are waiting for that."</p><p>An official with the Corps says Lopez is overly optimistic. A report won't be done this month, and when the draft environmental assessment is released, there will be a 30-day comment period and possibly public hearings before it becomes final.</p><p>For the governor, the delay is not good news. The pipeline has become a campaign issue — and increasingly it appears to be one that is not likely to help him win re-election. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1314257237?&gn=Puerto+Rican+Governor+Faces+Opposition+To+Pipeline&ev=event2&ch=1003&h1=News+iPad,Politics,U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=139801215&c7=1003&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1003&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110825&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=3&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Wed, 24 Aug 2011 23:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-24/puerto-rican-governor-faces-opposition-pipeline-91011