Nation & World News

Obama Declares Emergency As Huge Fires Burn In Washington State

By Bill Chappell on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Fires are still raging in Washington state, where officials hope rain might help them contain the large fires — but there’s also a chance that heavy rainfall could trigger flooding and mudslides.

Fire crews have been battling several major fires in central and eastern Washington for the past two weeks. The blazes have destroyed hundreds of homes and caused wide power outages.

President Obama declared an emergency in the state today, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help local and state agencies with supplies and disaster relief.

From Spokane Public Radio, Steve Jackson reports:

“Several fires continue to ravage the state, with the Carlton Complex, the largest in state history, now at 250,000 acres. But cooler temperatures and increased humidity have helped firefighters achieve 16 percent containment.

“Communications manager for the Department of Natural Resources Janet Piece says rain is actually in the weather prediction for today.

” ‘However there is lightning coming with the scattered thunderstorms,’ she says. ‘So, we’re going to have to keep an eye on that, but we’re hopeful the rain will keep dousing out what the lightning causes.’

The temperatures are expected to get back into the 90s by next week. Good progress has been made on the Mills Canyon fire, near the town of Leavenworth, and the Watermelon Hill fire burning near Spokane. Both are at 90 percent containment Wednesday.”

More than 2,500 people are currently trying to fight the huge Carlton fire, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. The blaze is larger than the Washington portion of the Yacolt Burn, a 1902 fire that killed 65 people and burned more than 1 million acres of land in Washington and Oregon, Northwest Public Radio reports.

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GM Recalls Nearly 718,000 Vehicles For ‘Varying Safety Issues’

By Bill Chappell on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Announcing six different safety recalls Wednesday, GM said it needs to fix problems that range from a turn-signal bug to an unpredictable loss of power steering. The flaws were found in vehicles from model years 2011 to 2015.

GM says no deaths and only two crashes have been linked to the recalls, which come in a year that has already seen the Detroit carmaker recall nearly 30 million vehicles worldwide. The company has “passed the 22 million vehicles recalled by all automakers last year,” the AP says.

More than 400,000 of the recalled vehicles have a potential problem with a bolt in their front-seat height adjustor. Others have more serious risks, such as a possible loss of steering.

“We are bringing greater rigor and discipline to our analysis and decision making,” GM Global Vehicle Safety Vice President Jeff Boyer said. “If we identify an issue — large or small — that might affect the safety of our customers, we will act decisively.”

Here are the models and problems GM outlined today in a news release that blamed “varying safety issues” for the recalls:

414,333 Vehicles: “2011-2012 model year Chevrolet Camaro; 2010-2012 model year Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain; 2011-2012 Buick Regal and LaCrosse; and 2010-2012 Cadillac SRX models in the U.S. equipped with power height adjustable driver or front passenger seat structures. In these vehicles, the bolt that secures the height adjuster actuator may become loose or fall out. If the bolt falls out, the seat will move up and down freely because it is no longer attached at the height adjuster. The vehicles are safe to drive, but customers should not use the power height adjustable feature until dealers can replace the height adjuster bolt. GM is aware of one crash and three injuries but no fatalities related to this condition.”

124,008 Vehicles: “Model year 2014 Chevrolet Caprice, 2014 Chevrolet SS, 2014-2015 Chevrolet Silverado LD and HD, 2013-2014 Cadillac ATS, 2014 Cadillac CTS, 2014 Cadillac ELR; 2013-2014 Buick Encore; and 2014-2015 GMC Sierra LD and HD vehicles because certain vehicles may have an incomplete weld on the seat hook bracket assembly. A loss of power to a laser welding machine may have resulted in an incomplete weld, according to data collected from the machine between July 2013 and January 2014. Dealers will inspect the weld. If it is sufficient, no further action is necessary. If it is insufficient, dealers will replace the lower seat track at no charge. Less than 1 percent of welds are expected to require seat track replacement. GM is unaware of any crashes or injuries as a result of this issue.”

120,426 Vehicles: “2011-2013 model year Buick Regal and 2013 model year Chevrolet Malibus equipped with front turn signals that use two bulbs in each front turn signal. While the driver would get a rapidly flashing turn signal arrow in the instrument cluster if both bulbs in one turn signal were burned out; if only one bulb on either side burns out, there would be no signal to the driver. Dealers will reprogram the body control module to fix the condition. GM knows of no crashes, injuries or complaints related to this issue.”

57,242 Vehicles: “2014 Chevrolet Impalas equipped with belt-drive electric power steering. On certain vehicles, customers may experience reduced or no power steering assist at start-up or while driving due to a poor electrical ground connection to the Power Steering Control Module. If power steering is lost, a warning message is displayed on the Driver Information Center and a chime sounds. Steering control can be maintained because the vehicle will revert to manual steering mode, but would require greater driver effort particularly at low vehicle speeds. Paint may have seeped behind the nut on the power steering control module ground stud. Dealers will inspect and clean paint from behind the ground nut, re-torque the nut and update the power steering control module software at no charge. GM is aware of one crash but no injuries or fatalities related to this condition.”

1,919 Vehicles: “2014-2015 Chevrolet Sparks imported from Korea that were assembled with a lower control arm bolt not fastened to specification. The condition could result in noise from the front suspension and separation of the lower control arm from the steering knuckle while driving resulting in loss of steering control. Dealers will inspect the left and right hand lower control arm attaching bolts to assure they are tightened to specification. GM knows of no crashes, injuries or fatalities related to this condition.”

22 Vehicles: “2015 model year Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/Yukon Denali vehicles in the U.S. In these vehicles, the roof carriers may have been attached with the wrong retaining nuts, resulting in holes or tears in the roof rail air bags if they deploy. Eight of these vehicles are in dealer stock and will be repaired before being sold.”

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Plane Crash In Taiwan Kills Dozens, Leaving Some Survivors

By Bill Chappell on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

A domestic flight in Taiwan that was attempting to land in bad weather brought on by a strong typhoon Wednesday night crashed near the runway, killing as many as 47 of the 58 people aboard, according to multiple media outlets.

About a dozen survivors have reportedly been taken to local hospitals; the plane reportedly had 54 passengers and a crew of four.

From Kuala Lumpur, NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reports:

“The Transasia Airways turboprop plane took off from the southern city of Kaohsiung. It was headed for Magong, the only city in the Penghu Islands off Taiwan’s west coast.

“Civil Aviation Director Jean Shen told reporters that the plane crashed in a village just beyond the airport’s runway. Authorities have sealed off the area, where local media report that passengers’ bodies could be seen scattered about.”

“Typhoon Matmo had just blown out to sea after having closed schools and stock markets on Taiwan. It’s not known if the crash was related to this.”

The plane’s departure reportedly had been delayed by about an hour and 45 minutes Wednesday because of bad weather. Before it crashed, the flight’s pilots had requested a second landing attempt, officials told the Taipei Times.

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Nazi War Crimes Suspect Dies In U.S. One Day Before Extradition Order

By Krishnadev Calamur on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 6:40 pm

A judge in Philadelphia issued an order today granting a request for a former Nazi camp guard to be extradited to Germany, but 89-year-old Johann “Hans” Breyer died Tuesday, his lawyer told The Associated Press.

Attorney Dennis Boyle told the news agency that Breyer died Tuesday night at a Philadelphia hospital. According to Boyle, Breyer had heart disease and dementia.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas R. Rice said in his ruling: “There is probable cause to believe that Breyer … is the same person sought for aiding and abetting murder in Germany.”

The extradition request was subject to U.S. government approval.

We told you about Breyer earlier this month when a judge denied him bail. The AP reported at the time:

“German authorities hope to try Breyer on accessory-to-murder charges for his guard service at the Auschwitz death camp in 1944. Breyer told The Associated Press in 2012 that he was forced to work there as an SS guard but never took part in the mass killing of Jews and others.”

Breyer was arrested last month and charged with 158 counts of accessory to murder — one for each trainload of victims brought to Auschwitz between May 1944 and October 1944.

He had immigrated to the U.S. in 1952. An attempt to strip the retired toolmaker of his citizenship in the 1990s failed because he was a natural-born U.S. citizen through his mother, and a judge said that he was coerced into joining the SS while still a minor.

German authorities had hoped to try him on the criminal charges in Weiden, Bavaria.

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FAA Extends Ban On Flights To Tel Aviv For Another 24 Hours

By Eyder Peralta on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 3:40 pm

The Federal Aviation Administration has extended its ban on U.S. flights to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.

As we reported, the agency first issued a ban Tuesday after a rocket landed about a mile from the airport. In a statement today, the FAA said:

“The agency is working closely with the Government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible.”

The ban applies only to U.S. operators, so airlines such as Israel’s El Al can continue flying to the region.

To that end, it’s worth noting that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Israel today to protest the ban.

“This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel,” Bloomberg said in a statement before the flight, according to CNN. “Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely.”

He went on to call the restrictions “a mistake” that hand “Hamas an undeserved victory.”

Many international airlines followed the Americans’ lead yesterday.

Update at 1:19 p.m. ET. European Carriers Follow Suit:

The AP reports:

“Lufthansa and Air Berlin extended their cancellations through Thursday, and Air France said it was suspending its flights ‘until further notice.’

“The European Aviation Safety Agency late Tuesday said it ‘strongly recommends’ that airlines refrain from operating flights to and from Tel Aviv. It said it would ‘monitor the situation and advise on any update as the situation develops.’ ”

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Book News: Booker Prize, Now Open To U.S. Authors, Longlists 5 Americans

By Annalisa Quinn on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • The 13-book longlist for the Man Booker Prize, the U.K.’s most prominent literary award, was announced Wednesday. The prize is traditionally open to writers from countries in the Commonwealth and Ireland, but this year marks the first time the award will “recognise, celebrate and embrace authors of literary fiction writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai.” Five American authors made the cut: Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt, Richard Powers and Irish-American writer Joseph O’Neill, who are all critically well-regarded, if not household names. Opening the longlist to Americans sparked fears that Commonwealth authors would have a harder time making it onto the list, and indeed the list includes only one Commonwealth author — Richard Flanagan of Australia — and no authors from Africa or India. U.K. authors Howard Jacobson (who won the prize in 2010), David Nicholls, David Mitchell, Neel Mukherjee, Paul Kingsnorth and Ali Smith also were nominated. Lastly, Irish writer Niall Williams was longlisted for his novel History of the Rain. Notably, the list includes a crowd-funded novel, Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, which is set after the Battle of Hastings and written in an invented dialect meant to give the feel of Old English. Chair of the judges A.C. Grayling said in his announcement, “This is a diverse list of ambition, experiment, humour and artistry. The novels selected are full of wonderful stories and fascinating characters. The judges were impressed by the high quality of writing and the range of issues tackled — from 1066 to the future, from a PoW camp in Thailand, to a dentist’s chair in Manhattan; from the funny to the deeply serious, sometimes in the same book.” The winner will be announced in October.
  • Zadie Smith has a quietly devastating short story, “Big Week,” in The Paris Review: “He could not know that her mind had drifted strangely: to her stepdaughters, whom she placed now in rooms of her own design — twin aeries either side of a chimney breast — in a shingled house that sat on a bluff, over a wild beach of dunes and sea grass, in America or in Africa — in some dream combination of the two.”
  • Arcadia author Lauren Groff visits the Weeki Wachee mermaids and explores their fishy charms for Oxford American: “I think the widespread ubiquity of these dangerous, capricious female figures has less to do with lust and mistaken sea creatures than with a stunning human capacity for metaphor.”
  • John Cheever’s house is for sale.
  • “I love Dickinson. Her edgy brilliance, the way things implode in her writing, geographies, little longings and big ones, even cosmologies. I loved her writing always, and was scared by it. The whole question of decorum, growing up as a girl, and then finding Emily.” — poet Meena Alexander, in an interview in Poetry magazine.
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WATCH: Wreckage Of Costa Concordia Begins Its Final Voyage

By Eyder Peralta on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

More than two years after the luxury liner Costa Concordia wrecked off the Italian island of Giglio, killing 32 people, its wreckage has finally begun its voyage to a salvage yard in the port of Genoa.

As NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports, the operation is complex, involving a 14-boat convoy. She filed this report for our Newscast unit:

“Boat sirens and fog horns sounded through the tiny Italian port of the island of Giglio when the moorings of the Costa Concordia were finally loosened.

“The 15,000-ton vessel — the size of three football fields — had been flipped upright last September in a complex operation called parbuckling.

“Then, 10 days ago, salvage workers and engineers began to refloat and stabilize the ship.

“This morning, encased in a straightjacket of 30 fotation tanks, and escorted by a 14-vessel convoy, the ship began its journey. At a steady speed of 2 knots an hour, she’s expected to arrive in Genoa on Sunday.

“The convoy includes a marine-mammal spotting boat as it sails through the Tuscan archipelago, Europe’s largest marine sanctuary.”

We’ll leave you with time-lapse video of the first hours of the operation:

Back in September, we posted a time-lapse video of the Costa Concordia being righted.

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White House Adviser: Cease-Fire Should Include Demilitarization Of Gaza

By Eyder Peralta on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 1:40 pm

A top White House adviser says any cease-fire agreement between Israel and Palestinians must include the demilitarization of Gaza.

In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said “that needs to be the end result.”

“There has to be some way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to continue to rain down rockets on Israeli civilians,” Blinken said.

Asked if this means the U.S. has endorsed Israel’s demand that Hamas give up its weapons, Blinken said:

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization, so that again, this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself. This is what we’ve seen happen multiple times over the past few years, which is these rockets coming from Gaza, which Hamas controls, as well as more recently the tunneling to Israel with terrorists trying to infiltrate Israel. And no country can accept that. So that needs to be the end result of this process.”

Of course, Hamas is unlikely to accept that demand and adding it as a condition to a cease-fire agreement may prolong the current conflict.

Aaron David Miller, a well-known Middle East analyst and vice president for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, wrote in Foreign Policy that the demilitarization of Gaza is “on the far end of the outcome spectrum.”

He continues:

“This would mean a cessation of hostilities far different than in previous rounds of fighting. It would require a fundamental change in Gaza’s political situation brought about either by military or diplomatic means. …

“It would also require someone to assume real responsibility for Gaza. A transformed and defanged Hamas is hard to imagine. But if Israel forcibly tried to dismantle Hamas as an organization, there would likely be massive casualties on both sides. And in these circumstances neither Egypt, let alone the Palestinian Authority, could ride into Gaza on the backs of Israeli tanks amid the carnage.

“Demilitarization is impossible without a diplomatic solution by which Hamas agrees to give up its weapons in exchange for a fundamental change in the economic and political conditions in Gaza, perhaps a kind of mini Marshall Plan.”

Update at 1:04 p.m. ET. All Options On Table:

The AP reports that when Kerry was asked about Blinken’s comments, he said, “All of the issues of Gaza would be on the table.”

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Dutch Day Of Mourning, As Remains Of Some MH17 Victims Come Home

By Eyder Peralta on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm
(This post was last updated at 10:37 a.m.)

In its first national day of mourning in more than half a century, the Netherlands came to a standstill Wednesday as the remains of some of the victims who died when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was downed over eastern Ukraine came home.

Two military planes landed in Eindhoven. King Willem Alexander, Queen Maxima and Prime Minister Mark Rutte, along with some family members of the dead, waited on the tarmac on a bright, clear day.

A trumpet salute was played, and the country held a minute of silence. Television images showed buses stopped along the roads, air traffic around the airport was shutdown, and the only sound to be heard was the hum of engines and the flapping of flags at half-staff.

Solemnly, Dutch servicemen entered the aircraft as 40 hearses lined up around them. Slowly, and one at a time, the men transferred the wooden coffins from the planes to the hearses.

It was quiet. It was dignified. And it seemed that a week after the tragedy and after a protracted and dramatic international scramble to remove bodies and evidence from a war-zone in Ukraine, there was some closure today.

Still, this is a long journey. As Bloomberg reports, now begins the grim task of identifying the remains, which Prime Minister Rutte said “may take months.”

Of the 298 people who died when Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky, 193 were Dutch citizens.

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Gaza Conflict Day 16: Here’s What You Need To Know

By Eyder Peralta on July 23rd, 2014 | Last updated: July 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Amid another day of fighting, Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and began a whirlwind session of shuttle diplomacy.

As NPR’s Michele Kelemen, who is traveling with Kerry, tells our Newscast unit, the secretary of state is “trying to talk to everybody” to see if he can broker a cease-fire and perhaps lay the groundwork for longer-term negotiations over the future of Gaza.

The Israeli offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip is now entering its 16th day. Here’s what you need to know:

– Kerry has already met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is also in Jerusalem on a parallel mission for peace.

“Kerry spoke briefly and mentioned that 30,000 people came to Max Steinberg’s funeral,” Michele reports, referring to an Israeli-American who died fighting for the Israel Defense Forces.

Kerry is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Associated Press reports that U.S. officials have already begun to downplay expectations for the diplomatic mission, saying that at the least, Kerry’s mission can “define the limits of what each side would accept in a potential cease-fire.”

– The U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights said Israel’s targeting of civilian installations could amount to war crimes.

“The disregard for international humanitarian law and for the right to life was shockingly evident for all to see in the apparent targeting on 16 July of seven children playing on a Gaza beach,” Navi Pillay said. “Credible reports gathered by my office in Gaza indicate that the children were hit first by an Israeli airstrike, and then by naval shelling. All seven were hit. Four of them — aged between 9 and 11, from the same Bakr family — were killed. These children were clearly civilians taking no part in hostilities.”

NPR’s Emily Harris, who is reporting from Gaza, tells our Newscast unit that Israel has said schools, mosques and private homes can be legitimate targets if militants use them to stash weapons.

She sent this report:

“Yesterday for the second time in this conflict, U.N. staff found a stash of rockets in a school.

“Earlier this week a different U.N. school providing shelter to 300 Gazans was hit with explosives the U.N. believes were fired by Israeli forces. The next day the school was hit again when U.N. staff were there inspecting damage. The main U.N. agency in Gaza did not accuse Israel of deliberately targeting the school, but made it clear in a statement that the Israeli military OK’d the U.N. staff to visit at the time the school was hit. The girls school is in a densely built-up area in Gaza’s east, where fighting has been fierce.”

– As the fighting continues, the death toll keeps rising. Ashraf al-Kidra, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry in Gaza, says 649 Palestinians have been killed and 4,120 have been injured. The New York Times puts the Israeli death toll at 29.

In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said a cease-fire deal should curb the rockets that are coming out of Gaza.

As Steve interpreted Blinken’s answer, the adviser seemed to be endorsing the “demilitarization” of Gaza.

“There has to be some way forward that does not involve Hamas raining down rockets on Israeli civilians,” Blinken said. “One of the results of a cease-fire, one would hope, would be some form of demilitarization … that needs to be the end result.”

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