Nation & World News

Ferguson Police Will Be Banned From Wearing ‘I Am Darren Wilson’ Bracelets

By Eyder Peralta on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Police in Ferguson will no longer be allowed to wear bracelets in support of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

The shooting in August unleashed days of unrest on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

In a letter released on Friday, the Justice Department says Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has agreed that his police officers and any other officers brought in to patrol Ferguson will be banned from wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets.

The Justice Department said it received complaints from Ferguson residents who felt offended by the accessory.

The letter, written by Christy E. Lopez, of the department’s Civil Rights Division, goes on:

“We are keenly aware of the importance of individual expression of opinions, even those that some find offensive, insensitive, or harmful. We also acknowledge that the message that many officers intend to convey by wearing these bracelets may be different than the message received by many of those who see these bracelets.

“Nonetheless, there is no question that police departments can and should closely regulate officers’ professional appearance and behavior, particularly where, as here, the expressive accessory itself is exacerbating an already tense atmosphere between law enforcement and residents in Ferguson. These bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.”

In a separate letter, Lopez writes the department has observed officers who were not wearing name plates.

“Officers wearing name plates while in uniform is a basic component of transparency and accountability,” Lopez writes.

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The ‘Bond King’ Leaves His $2 Trillion Kingdom

By Marilyn Geewax on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Heavy drama played out this week — and not just on Shonda Rhimes’ TV shows.

The bond-investing world was roiled by news that Bill Gross — the man known as “The Bond King” — has abruptly left the huge investment firm he founded in 1971. The departure left a lot of people scratching their heads on Wall Street.

“The natural question is: What’s going on at PIMCO?” said David Kotok, chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors. “There’s all kinds of speculation” about why Gross left.

“And the answer is, it’s speculation — and so we don’t know,” Kotok said.

Legendary bond investor Gross built Pacific Investment Management Co., or PIMCO, into a $2 trillion powerhouse. A unit of the German insurer Allianz SE, the company operates the largest bond mutual fund in the world. Over the decades, millions of retirees with pension funds have had some portion of their money under Gross’ care.

For years, Gross has been described by many as a hard-driving boss.

Still, the firm maintained a good image under the leadership of Gross, 70, and his high-profile investing partner Mohamed El-Erian, 56. Earlier this year, El-Erian abruptly left PIMCO.

And earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating a PIMCO fund for allegedly artificially inflating returns.

A number of unnamed sources have told various news outlets that Gross’ behavior had become erratic, leading to clashes with other employees. A source familiar with the situation tells NPR that PIMCO was about to fire Gross if he didn’t step down.

Gross has not yet given his version of events and was not available for interviews.

In a statement, PIMCO CEO Douglas Hodge said he was grateful for Gross’ contributions but added that “over the course of this year, it became increasingly clear that the firm’s leadership and Bill have fundamental differences about how to take PIMCO forward.”

But Gross is not retiring. He will now be managing a bond fund at Janus Capital Group. That company’s CEO, Dick Weil, issued a statement saying: ” We are extremely proud to welcome Bill Gross, an investment industry icon, to Janus.”

Shonda Rhimes has not commented on the intrigue.

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Thai Leader Threatens New Takeover: The TV Soaps

By Scott Neuman on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Thailand’s coup leader turned prime minister is not happy with the daily fare of infidelity and violence that is a staple of the country’s television soap operas — and he’s prepared to write the scripts himself if that’s what it takes.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who staged a coup in May against the elected government, says he wants scripts that encourage harmony in society.

“I have ordered that scripts be written, including plays on reconciliation, on tourism and on Thai culture,” Prayuth told reporters on Friday, according to Voice of America. “They are writing plots at the moment and if they can’t finish it I will write it myself,” he said of a team of government-appointed writers.

Taking a personal interest in the country’s entertainment programming is only the latest in a number of moves by Prayuth since the coup that have struck many as ranging from heavy-handed to downright odd.

It’s not even the first time that Prayuth has sought to put his artistic stamp on the country’s cultural life. Soon after seizing power from the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, he ordered a campaign “to bring happiness to the people,” complete with a patriotic ballad he wrote himself, featuring the reassuring lyrics: “We offer to take care and protect you with our hearts” and “give us a little more time.”

Orwellian as that may have seemed to some, for good measure, the regime also banned George Orwell’s book 1984.

When anti-coup activists handed out sandwiches at their gatherings (and began using the phrase “sandwich party” as code for their clandestine meetings), state-run newspapers warned people against eating sandwiches. Similarly, the three-fingered salute featured in The Hunger Games movies, which became another covert symbol for opposition to the coup, was also banned.

More recently, Prayuth — who “has taken to giving regular TV appearances in which he bemoans the state of Thai society and outlines his simplistic, homespun solutions,” according to Timeaccused his enemies of using black magic against him.

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Lights, Camera, Drones: Hollywood’s Lens Gets A Little Larger

By David Schaper on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Hollywood is getting the green light to fly its own drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration is giving approval to six movie and TV production companies to use drones for filming. And the move could pave the way for the unmanned aircraft systems to be used in other commercial ventures.

The FAA will permit the six companies to use remote-controlled drones to shoot movies and video for TV shows and commercials, but there will be certain limitations.

“The key thing is that they’re operating on closed sets and they’re maintaining operations within the line of sight of the operator, using certified pilots,” says FAA administrator Michael Huerta, who adds that drones will not be allowed to fly higher than 400 feet.

“This is a big deal for us,” says former Sen. Chris Dodd, who is now chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. “This is an important day for the industry.”

Dodd says filming now done in other countries that allow the use of drones can come back to the U.S., “increasing, I hope, the job opportunities, the revenues, the industries that will gain and benefit as a result of this decision.”

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also says this action is a big step forward for the television and film industry.

“It’s a milestone in the wide effort to allow unmanned aircraft for many different types of commercial use,” Foxx added.

The six companies are: Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision, Snaproll Media and Vortex Aerial. A seventh company, Flying-Cam, also sought an exemption, and the FAA has requested more information.

Up to now, The Associated Press notes, “the Federal Aviation Administration, which is part of the Transportation Department, had banned commercial drone operations with the exception of a lone oil company in Alaska.”

Industries want permission to use drones for everything from surveying crops and pipelines, to real estate and wedding photography, even delivering packages. At least 40 applications seeking drone-use approval are pending before the FAA.

Huerta suggests the permits being granted to the film industry could serve as a guide in terms of what safeguards other industries should be prepared to provide if they want to seek drone approval.

“We can grant them [permits] for tightly controlled, low-risk situations, so in this case, a movie set that is closed to the public,” Huerta said. “What we have to consider, when we look at [other] organizations and activities such as news gathering and photography, is how we address the question of ensuring that it is a low-risk situation.”

Huerta would not say exactly how “low-risk” will be defined, and many drone operators worry that the restrictions on drone use may be too limiting.

According to the AP:

“Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney who represents several drone operators and interest groups that have challenged the FAA’s drone restrictions, said he is concerned that limitations attached to the drone permits may be so onerous that their benefits will be outweighed by the cost and the headache of complying.

” ‘I’m worried that it’s too small a step forward and it’s too narrowly limited,’ he said. …

“Congress and industries that want to use or sell the technology have been pressuring the FAA to relax its ban.

“But the commercial drone ban is being undermined daily. Many operators see no harm in flying small, lightweight drones, often no bigger than a backpack, despite FAA warnings that they could collide with manned aircraft or injure people on the ground. Even a congressman who is a member of the House committee that oversees the FAA, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., hired a photographer to produce a video of his wedding using a camera mounted on a small drone.”

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Fire Grounds Hundreds Of Flights At Chicago Airports

By Scott Neuman on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Updated at 8:08 p.m. ET

Flights in and out of Chicago’s two airports came to a halt Friday morning after a fire at an air traffic control facility.

As of early Friday afternoon at least some of the flights had begun taking off and landing, reports NPR’s David Schaper in Chicago.

The Associated Press says: “The fire started in the basement of the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, about 40 miles west of downtown Chicago, city of Aurora spokesman Dan Ferrelli said in an emailed statement.”

The Chicago Tribune quotes police as saying the fire was deliberately set but “is no terrorist act.”

The Trib quotes Aurora police Chief Greg Thomas as saying that the incident appears to be “a local issue with a contract employee and nothing else.”

“The employee was found in the basement of the radar facility suffering from self-inflicted wounds, police said. He was taken to a hospital and the radar center was shut down and evacuated.”

Flightaware.com reports that as of 9:20 a.m. CDT (10:20 EDT), more than 800 flights at the two airports had been canceled.

Flightaware.com CEO Daniel Baker says “major airlines, regional flights, foreign air carriers, cargo companies and all flights in and out of these airports” have been affected.

At 6 a.m., the Chicago Department of Aviation issued a statement saying it had been notified that the Federal Aviation Administration tower in Aurora had been evacuated because of fire.

“Both O’Hare and Midway International Airports are in a ground stop, meaning no arrivals or departures,” it said.

At Midway, Southwest Airlines has suspended flights until noon, the statement said.

The AP says that at O’Hare’s Terminal 3, long lines formed at ticket counters.

Update at 8:03 p.m. ET. Cancellations Expected Tomorrow:

Bloomberg reports that airlines have started warning customers to expect cancellations on Saturday.

The news service reports:

“‘We will have cancellations tomorrow,’ American Airlines Group Inc. spokeswoman Leslie Scott said. The airline is working with the FAA to determine which flights will be able to go as scheduled, she said.

“United Continental Holdings Inc. anticipates delays and cancellations through the day Saturday. The airline is operating with a ‘very restricted schedule,’ said a spokeswoman, Megan McCarthy.”

Citing “officials familiar with the matter,” Reuters reports that the damage air traffic control facility was so extensive that it “could take days” to restore “the full function of the center.”

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Hungary Shuts Off Re-Export Of Natural Gas To Ukraine

By Scott Neuman on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Hungary has “indefinitely” cut off its supply of natural gas to Ukraine, a move that Kiev’s state gas firm has described as “unexpected and unexplained.”

Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency cites Hungary’s gas operator, FGSZ Ltd., saying that the pipeline cutoff “was made to meet the growing domestic demand.”

However, The Financial Times notes that the gas was shut off “days after the head of Russia’s Gazprom monopoly visited Budapest.” FGSZ’s move comes three days after Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest.

Natural gas from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia has become crucial to Kiev since Gazprom suspended gas supplies to Ukraine in June, months after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea, due to a payment dispute, officials said. The supply disruption is of particular concern because of Ukraine’s cold winters and its heavy reliance on natural gas for central heating in homes and buildings.

The FT says: “Poland and Slovakia have reported reductions in their supplies from Russia in recent weeks, apparently aimed at limiting their ability to re-export to Ukraine.”

As NPR’s Jackie Northam reported in May, Russia has been more than willing to use the “gas lever” as a weapon in its disputes with Kiev.

The BBC says:

“Earlier this year Gazprom and Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of consequences if EU member states went ahead with deliveries to Ukraine to replace Russian supplies.

“Russia says EU states are contractually forbidden from re-exporting gas to Ukraine while Brussels insists that such ‘reverse flows’ are legal.”

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China: ‘Serious’ Terrorist Attack Kills 50 In Xinjiang

By Scott Neuman on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 10:41 pm

State media in China say that a violent clash in the country’s restive Xinjiang region over the weekend was much more deadly than first reported: At least 50 people died Sunday, including 40 “rioters” with about as many wounded during an “organized and serious” terrorist attack.

Earlier this week, state media had reported two died in the incident that took place at two police stations, as well as a shop and a produce market, in Luntai county. Since the mid-2000s, separatists in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region have stepped up a violent campaign against Beijing.

USA Today, citing the regional government’s news portal, Tianshan, says of Sunday’s attack:

“Six civilians, two police officers and two auxiliary policemen were killed, and two rioters were captured alive, after what Xinjiang police called an “organized and serious” terrorist attack.

“Over 300 people have died in the past year in Xinjiang-related violence, according to Chinese state media. Officials blame overseas terror groups for fanning the frustrations and separatist ambitions of the Uighur minority. A mostly Muslim people, many Uighurs chafe at cultural and religious restrictions set by the ruling Communist Party, and resent the economic dominance of China’s majority Han ethnic group.”

The BBC says:

“Tianshan said that blasts occurred around 17:00 on Sunday at two police stations, an outdoor market and a shop entrance.

“The ‘rioters’ either blew themselves up or were shot dead by police, it said. Fifty-four civilians were injured and two ‘rioters’ were captured, it said.”

Last year, Chinese authorities arrested eight Uighur men in an attack that killed two tourists and wounded 40 others near the entrance to the Forbidden City in Tiananmen Square. And earlier this year, in a mass public trial, authorities convicted and sentenced dozens of Uighurs on charges of terrorism.

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More Protests In Ferguson Follow Police Chief’s Video Apology

By Scott Neuman on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Hours after Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released a video apology to the family of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old fatally shot by a white police officer, clashes erupted briefly amid protests calling for Jackson’s resignation.

They followed an exchange between Jackson and a group of demonstrators outside the Ferguson police station on Thursday. Jackson has said he plans to stay in his job “and see this through. This is mine, and I’m taking ownership of it.”

St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel reports:

“Jackson tried to offer an apology — after having released a video apology earlier in the day — and to answer questions to protesters gathered outside of his headquarters last night. He promised changes — more training, fewer fines: ‘We’ve gotta increase training and awareness. We’ve gotta get out in the community. We’ve gotta change the court system and the ticketing system. No, I’m serious, this is what’s causing the mistrust, right?’

“His words seemed to do nothing to placate the crowd that called for his resignation.”

St. Louis Public Radio has a complete report on the events here.

The Associated Press says:

“The police chief started to march with protesters around 11 p.m. Soon after, a scuffle broke out about 20 feet behind the chief and one protester was arrested. The [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch said at least three other protesters were arrested after another confrontation.

“The Ferguson Police Department spokesman didn’t immediately return a call to The Associated Press early Friday.”

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U.K. Approves Joining Anti-ISIS Airstrikes In Iraq

By Scott Neuman on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Updated at 12:25 p.m. ET

The British Parliament has voted to approve the U.K.’s participation in U.S.-led airstrikes against the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq after Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that the extremists pose a “clear and proven” threat to British lives.

The 524-to-43 vote in Parliament came after a lengthy debate that followed the latest U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on targets of the hard-line Islamist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The strikes hit oil installations for a second consecutive day.

“I believe it is our duty to take part,” Cameron told members of Parliament, ahead of the vote, stressing that no British ground forces would be involved. “This international operation is about protecting our people, too, and protecting the streets of Britain should not be a task that we are prepared to entirely subcontract to other air forces of other countries.”

In the latest action against ISIS, the U.S. Central Command says in a statement that American warplanes and drones conducted five strikes south and southwest of Kirkuk, destroying Islamic State vehicles, including Humvees and an MRAP. Two other strikes in Iraq, one west of Baghdad and another near Al Qaim destroyed various structures, including a command and control node, the statement says.

“In Syria, three airstrikes south and southeast of Dayr Az Zawr destroyed four ISIL tanks and damaged another,” it says.

It wasn’t clear whether any of the five Arab partners that joined in previous airstrikes also participated in the latest round. Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — including that country’s first female pilot — participated in previous attacks.

The Associated Press, citing the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says: “The strikes hit at least two oil-producing areas in Deir el-Zour province overnight. It says air raids also targeted the headquarters of the Islamic State group in the town of Mayadeen early Friday.”

The AP says:

“Another activist collective, the Local Coordination Committees, also reported four strikes on Mayadeen that it says were conducted by the coalition.”

Meanwhile, NPR’s Brian Naylor reports that FBI Director James Comey says the U.S. believes it has identified the man who beheaded two American journalists in videos released by the Islamic State.

But in a briefing with reporters, Comey declined to make the name of the suspect public. A masked executioner with what sounds like a British accent is seen in videos showing the beheading of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“Comey also said that he’s not confident at all that the ability of the terrorist group Khorasan was disrupted by U.S. airstrikes this week, and that the group remains at the top of the FBI’s list of terrorist concerns,” Brian reports.

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Photos: Jeter Leaves Yankee Stadium With One Last Game-Winning Hit

By Chris Hopkins on September 26th, 2014 | Last updated: September 26, 2014 at 8:43 am
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