Nation & World News

WATCH: First Guy In Perth To Get Hands On New iPhone Drops It On Live TV

By Eyder Peralta on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 7:38 pm

This morning, tech geeks around the world lined up outside Apple stores to get their hands on the latest iteration of the company’s smartphone.

We’ve seen this scene play out before many times. The customers walk in, drop a few hundred dollars, and walk out to applause with their shiny new iPhone in hand.

This morning in Perth, Australia, however, the script was upended when 18-year-old Jack Cooksey, who was the first to purchase a phone, decided to unpack it on live TV:

The West Australian reports that the phone survived.

“Thankfully the toughened screen lived up to its promise,” the paper writes.

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NFL Commissioner: ‘We Will Get Our House In Order’

By Eyder Peralta on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 4:39 pm

During a news conference on Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell promised that the league “will get our house in order.”

Goodell announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead an investigation of the way the league handled the Ray Rice case, and he said that at the end of the process the league will implement new conduct policies.

“I promise you that any shortcomings he finds will lead to swift action,” Goodell said. “The same mistakes will never be repeated.”

Goodell has faced intense criticism over the league’s handling of off-field violent behavior from some of its players. The issue came to a very public head when a video surfaced showing Rice, a star for the Baltimore Ravens, punching his then-fiancee.

At first, the NFL handed down a two-game suspension, but after mounting pressure and a second video that actually showed the punch, the league suspended him indefinitely.

The questions surrounding Goodell have been over how much he knew about the incident and when he learned it. Goodell has said that when the league decided on the two-game suspension, it had only watched one video, which showed Rice dragging Janay Palmer out of the elevator. Goodell said that the league watched another video showing him punching her inside the elevator only when the gossip site TMZ published it.

Several reports have surfaced questioning that version of events.

Goodell acknowledged that the NFL had done wrong, and that included some of his actions.

“I got it wrong on the handling of Ray Rice,” Goodell said. “I got it wrong on a number of levels. … But now I will get it right.”

Goodell promised to “do whatever is necessary to make it right.”

When asked if he had considered stepping down, Goodell said, “I have not. I am focused on doing my job.”

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White House Announces Campaign Against Campus Sexual Assault

By Scott Neuman on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm

President Obama unveiled a new White House campaign aimed at combating campus sexual assault, saying such violence is “an affront to our basic humanity.”

The “It’s On Us” campaign, which includes several new public service announcements, is backed by the NCAA and promoted by media giant Viacom. It’s built on guidelines introduced by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2011 to help colleges and universities understand federal civil rights laws aimed at preventing and responding to campus sexual assaults, the White House says.

Following a presentation by Lilly Jay, a sexual assault survivor, Obama spoke, saying “as a father of two daughters, I am on the one hand enraged about what has happened and on the other hand am empowered to see such an incredible young woman be so strong and do so well.

“We’re here to say today it’s not on you; it’s not your fight alone. This is on all of us to fight campus sexual assault,” he said.

The White House says the campaign “aims to fundamentally shift the way we think about sexual assault, by inspiring everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it.”

Vice President Biden, who as a senator sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, pushing it through Congress, said although the rates of domestic violence against women have fallen dramatically in the past two decades, “when I asked my staff to dig into the numbers … we learned that one place hadn’t changed much — women the ages 16 to 24, 1 out of every 10 of them was being physically assaulted.”

As part of the new campaign, the NCAA has agreed to promote anti-assault messages on stadium screens at championship games, and Viacom will also promote the message on its websites and the channels MTV, VH1, BET and CMT.

The Associated Press says: “The White House has enlisted Hollywood stars including Jon Hamm of Mad Men and Connie Britton of Nashville to help fight campus sexual assault.”

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Alibaba Shares Surge On First Day Of Trading

By Krishnadev Calamur on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba opened at $92.70 a share on the New York Stock Exchange today, making it the biggest initial public offering in U.S. history.

The offering price for a share of the company was set at $68.

NPR’s Zoe Chace, who is following the story, tells our Newscast unit:

“The nearly $93-a-share initial trading price shows that demand is really high for a piece of this company. It’s that pop that brand-new public companies want. Makes the deal sexy, and more people want to get in on it. Why is it doing well so far? Alibaba is growing quickly. It’s profitable. It’s got the vast majority of online Chinese consumers using its site. And its CEO, Jack Ma, has big plans.”

“We want to be bigger than Wal-Mart,” Ma told CNBC today. “We hope in 15 years people say this is a company like Microsoft, IBM, Wal-Mart — they changed, shaped the world.”

NPR’s Frank Langfitt recently profiled Ma, who started Alibaba in 1999 after he gathered friends in an apartment in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

NPR’s Chace adds that at $92.70, Alibaba is already worth more than $200 billion, bigger than eBay and Amazon, and more valuable than Facebook.

Unlike companies like Amazon, Alibaba doesn’t directly sell anything. Instead, it connects consumers with small businesses. And one reason investors are so enamored of Alibaba is that it offers a window into China’s large middle class. Here’s The Associated Press:

“Alibaba’s Taobao, TMall and other platforms account for some 80 percent of Chinese online commerce. Most of Alibaba’s 279 million active buyers visit the sites at least once a month on smartphones and other mobile devices, making the company attractive to investors as computing shifts away from laptop and desktop machines.

“And the growth rate is not expected to mature anytime soon. Online spending by Chinese shoppers is forecast to triple from its 2011 size by 2015. Beyond that, Alibaba has said it plans to expand into emerging markets and eventually, Europe and the U.S.”

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Iconic Pabst Beer Brands Sold To Russian Company

By Scott Neuman on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 3:38 pm

The iconic American Pabst Blue Ribbon brand will soon be owned by a Russian company under a deal to sell the Los Angeles-based brewer for an undisclosed sum.

Pabst Brewing Co., with such beer brands as Colt 45, Old Milwaukee and Schlitz, was acquired four years ago by C. Metropoulos & Co. It’s now being sold to Russia’s Oasis Beverages and private-equity firm TSG Consumer Partners LLC. The price tag for Pabst is thought to be between $700 million and $750 million, The Wall Street Journal reports.

WSJ says:

“Oasis has operations in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, according to its website. As well as beer, the company makes soft drinks and juice.

“TSG, which invests in consumer brands, has previously owned stakes in vitamin water and Muscle Milk maker Cytosport Holdings Inc.”

In a statement, Eugene Kashper, the chairman of Oasis, who will become the new CEO of Pabst, called the beer “the quintessential American brand — it represents individualism, egalitarianism, and freedom of expression — all the things that make this country great.”

“The opportunity to work with the company’s treasure trove of iconic brands, some of which I started my career selling, is a dream come true,” he said in the statement. “It will be an honor to work with Pabst’s dedicated employees and partner distributors as we continue to build the business.”

The statement said that the company would remain headquartered in Los Angeles.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says:

“Pabst was founded in Milwaukee in 1844 by Jacob Best and later sold to beer tycoon Paul Kalmanovitz. The company was later left in a charitable foundation after Kalmanovitz’s death until a judge declared that it had to be sold. Metropoulos, who works with his sons Daren and Evan, bought Pabst from Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation in 2010 for $250 million.

“Metropoulos announced in March he was seeking a new owner for Pabst. The brewery was expected to fetch between $500 million and $1 billion, according to some estimates.”

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Iran’s ‘Happy’ Dancers Receive Suspended Sentences

By Scott Neuman on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Seven young Iranians arrested in May on obscenity charges for producing their own video version of Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy” have been sentenced to 91 lashes and up to a year in jail, although the punishment has been suspended providing they don’t re-offend.

The director, plus the video’s six men and women actors, were detained after their video, called “Happy We Are from Tehran” went viral on YouTube, although they were released soon afterward. As NPR’s Greg Myre wrote at the time of the arrests:

“While completely innocuous by Western standards, the video includes three men dancing with three women. The women are wearing pants instead of a loose-fitting robe and do not have the mandatory veil to cover their hair.”

Tehran’s police chief accused the group of making an obscene video that offended public morals.

At the time, singer/songwriter Williams denounced the arrests:

Even Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared to side with the dancers, tweeting that happiness “is our people’s right.

“We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy,” he wrote on Twitter back in May.

The Associated Press quotes the group’s lawyer, Farshid Rofugaran, as saying Friday that the seven had been sentenced to six months in jail for acting in the video and 91 lashes for “ignoring Islamic norms.” Rofugaran says one of the defendants received an additional six months for possession of alcohol, which is illegal in Iran.

According to the AP, Rofugaran said the sentences would be suspended as long as the defendants didn’t commit any more crimes in the future.

[Note: An earlier version of this story omitted the fact that the video's director was also arrested and sentenced.]

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Scotland’s Vote Could Bring Big Changes To England, Wales, N. Ireland

By Krishnadev Calamur on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 11:38 am

British Prime Minister David Cameron says now that voters in Scotland have rejected independence, he is committed to giving more powers not only to Scotland, but also to “everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Cameron announced that Lord Smith of Kelvin, who ran the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, will oversee the process to give Scotland more powers over taxation, spending and welfare. Draft legislation will be ready by January, he said.

“Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs,” Cameron said.

The prime minister said there were proposals in Wales to give the Welsh government and assembly more powers. In Northern Ireland, he said, devolved institutions must function more effectively. And, he added, “the millions of voices of England must also be heard.”

“The question of English votes for English laws — the so-called West Lothian question — requires a decisive answer,” he said.

The West Lothian question refers to the fact that Scottish members of U.K.’s Parliament can vote on English laws, but English MPs cannot vote on Scottish laws.

The BBC says Cameron’s remarks are nothing short of an “extraordinary constitutional revolution.”

But some of these changes are likely to be controversial. For instance, Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, says that allowing only English MPs to vote on English laws will in essence create two tiers of lawmakers in Parliament. He has called for a constitutional convention to discuss the next steps. And some lawmakers want the special formula that guarantees a certain level of funding for Scotland to now be scrapped.

The Guardian has more:

“There are differences between and within the main parties over the extent to which tax-raising powers should be devolved to Holyrood [the informal term for Scotland's Parliament]. The Tories are prepared to devolve all income tax-raising powers to Edinburgh. Labour, in contrast, is prepared to allow Holyrood to increase income tax by 15p but wants to stipulate that it will not be allowed to cut it below the rate for the rest of the UK.

“The new powers for Holyrood are prompting alarm among Tory MPs on two fronts. They are concerned that Edinburgh will be given powers to set taxes while continuing to benefit from the Barnett formula, which guarantees an extra £1,200 per head per year in public spending in Scotland.

“Tory MPs will be assured that a clawback mechanism will ensure that any Scottish tax changes will be offset in the ‘Scottish block grant’ from the Treasury. But Labour, which has 41 of Scotland’s 59 seats, will be wary of any cuts in Scotland’s block grant.”

And though Cameron said today that the question of Scottish independence has been settled for a “generation” — if not a lifetime — experts point out that nearly 46 percent of Scotland’s population voted to leave Britain.

“Both sides played with fire here,” said Michael Desch, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. “Last night’s ‘no’ dampened Scottish nationalism, but it is still smoldering.”

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Fla. Man Kills 6 Grandchildren, Daughter Before Suicide

By Scott Neuman on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Police in Florida say a man who did time in prison a decade ago on firearms violations gunned down his six grandchildren and his daughter before turning a weapon on himself.

Authorities say Don Spirit, 51, called 911 on Thursday to report that he might harm himself or others. When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, Spirit fatally shot himself. The deputy subsequently found the bodies of his seven victims “all over on the property,” at the rural home in the town of Bell, Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz said.

“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions. There’s going to be questions that we’re never going to get answered,” Schultz said, according to The Associated Press.

The sheriff did not say if the 28-year-old victim, identified as Sarah Lorraine Spirit, was the mother of any of the slain children — two boys and four girls.

He declined to say what type of weapon was used in the mass slaying.

Schultz is quoted by Bay News 9 as saying that Spirit had served a minimum prison sentence for a felony firearms violation that resulted from the 2001 shooting death of his 8-year-old son, apparently in a hunting accident.

According to the Tampa news station: “Spirit’s three years in prison came after pleading guilty to accidentally shooting his son Kyle, 8, on Nov. 14, 2001, during a hunting trip to Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area near Kenansville.”

Update at 11:45 a.m. ET: Authorities: Still No Motive

The Sun Sentinel writes:

“[After] investigating through the night, Gilchrist County deputies still don’t know why” Spirit opened fire on his family.

“At a news conference Friday morning, Gilchrist County School District Superintendent Rob Rankin said at least 25 grief counselors were sent to local schools, including the one attended by the victims, Bell Elementary.

“‘It hurt me to be on campus and see the kids feeling the way they did this morning,’ Rankin said. ‘It’s devastating to our school.’”

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French Jets Conduct First Airstrikes Against ISIS In Iraq

By Scott Neuman on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 9:38 am

French warplanes conducted their first airstrikes against targets in northern Iraq just hours after the U.S. Senate approved arming and training Syrian rebels to enter the fight against Islamic State militants.

Rafale fighters struck a logistics depot, which French President Francois Hollande declared “entirely destroyed.”

Hollande, speaking to reporters in Paris, congratulated the pilots “who successfully fulfilled this mission.”

A statement released earlier by the Elysée presidential palace promised “other operations will follow in coming days.”

The New York Times writes: “Remarking on the violent tactics employed by the Sunni militants, who have conquered wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Hollande said Thursday at a news conference in Paris that the group had been able to grow partly because the international community had failed to intervene. But he emphasized that France’s role would be limited to providing air support, including strikes, in Iraq.”

The Associated Press says: “U.S. Central Command said Thursday the U.S. military has conducted 176 airstrikes in Iraq since Aug. 8. On Wednesday, it hit a militant training camp southeast of Mosul and an ammunition stockpile southeast of Baghdad. It has also conducted a number of strikes this week in Iraq’s Anbar province, near the strategic Haditha Dam.”

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As Scotland Rejects Independence, Cameron Promises More Autonomy

By Scott Neuman on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 11:38 am

Updated at 11:27 a.m. ET

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Scottish vote to remain in the United Kingdom has put the question of independence to rest “for a generation,” but he pledged constitutional reforms to give Edinburgh greater control over its own affairs.

“There can be no disputes, no reruns — we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people,” Cameron said in a statement outside No. 10 Downing Street, his official residence, shortly after the results of the vote.

The final count of the referendum was 2,001,926 “no” votes (55.3 percent) to 1,617,989 for “yes” (44.7 percent). More than 85 percent of eligible voters turned out.

“We have chosen unity over division,” Alistair Darling, head of the anti-independence campaign, said in Glasgow, one of the few areas of Scotland where the majority cast yes votes. “Today is a momentous day for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.”

Meanwhile, Alex Salmond, the impassioned leader of the “yes” campaign, struck an upbeat tone amid defeat. To cheering supporters, he pronounced: “This has been a triumph for the democratic process and for participation in politics.”

Salmond resigned later Friday as both Scottish first minister as well as leader of the Scottish National Party. He said “others are best placed to take this period of opportunity forward” to hold British Parliament’s “feet to the fire”.

NPR’s Ari Shapiro, reporting from Edinburgh, tells NPR’s Morning Edition that “there was a potency to the moment” when Scots went to the polls to choose their future: “People walked around Edinburgh proudly wearing kilts, waving the saltire — the blue and white Scottish flag — and, cliche though it may be, they actually did play bagpipes in the streets.”

The vote against independence preserves an often uneasy union that has nonetheless endured for 307 years. Even so, it is being viewed as a wake-up, and Cameron signaled a shift in the political balance between London and Edinburgh.

“Scotland voted for a stronger Scottish Parliament backed by the strength and security of the United Kingdom, and I want to congratulate the ‘no’ campaign for that — for showing people that our nations really are better together,” he said.

Cameron says he’s committed to giving Scotland new power over taxes, spending and welfare. He said he wants draft legislation by January, and that it should encompass other parts of the U.K. — not just Scotland but also Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We now have a chance — a great opportunity — to change the way the British people are governed, and change it for the better,” the prime minister said.

In the final run-up to the vote, which looked likely to be a tight contest, Cameron said a split would leave him personally “heartbroken” and warned that independence for Scotland would precipitate a “painful divorce” with London. Acknowledging the unpopularity of his conservative government among more liberal-minded Scots, Cameron said bluntly: “If you don’t like me — I won’t be here forever. But if you leave the U.K., that will be forever.”

The vote means that the U.K. will not lose the oil revenues that Scotland generates and will not need to find a new location to base its nuclear arsenal. The vote has also encouraged markets, which were concerned about financial instability that would have come with a split.

“This has been a long, hard fight and both sides have campaigned fiercely,” Norma Austin Hart, a Labour Party member of Edinburgh City Council, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

“It’s been so intense,” she said. “But the people of Scotland have decided.”

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