Nation & World News

White House Appoints An Ebola ‘Czar’

By Scott Neuman on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Ron Klain, a former White House adviser, has been appointed to head U.S. efforts to combat Ebola.

A White House official says Klain “will report directly to the president’s Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco and … National Security Adviser Susan Rice as he ensures that efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don’t distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa.”

Klain, a former chief of staff to vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, is currently president of case holdings and general counsel at Revolution LLC, a technology-oriented venture capital firm based in Washington, D.C.

The White House official tells NPR’s Tamara Keith that Klain’s role “is consistent with the view the president articulated in the Oval Office last night that Monaco, Rice and others have done outstanding work in confronting this challenge so far — but given their management of other national and homeland security priorities, additional bandwidth will further enhance the government’s Ebola response.”

Updated at 1:55 p.m. ET: GOP Reaction

Louisiana Republican John Fleming, himself a physician, says Klain appointment “is inserting a highly political figure into this situation that’s not political at all.”

Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), who is chairman of the a subcommittee that heard testimony on Ebola on Thursday, says he’s “shocked” by Klain’s appointment.

“At a three hour hearing yesterday, we had the top names in this country who are dealing with Ebola and not one of them said please appoint a former campaign worker to tell us what to do,” he tells NPR.

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Bermuda Braces For Hurricane Gonzalo

By Scott Neuman on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

Bermudans are boarding up windows and leaving low-lying areas on the British island territory ahead of Hurricane Gonzalo.

A warning issued by the Bermuda Weather Service says residents of the island can expect winds of 74 mph or higher and “dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves, even though winds expected may be less than hurricane force.”

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says conditions in Bermuda will begin deteriorating late Friday morning. At 5 a.m. ET, Gonzalo was centered about 240 miles south-southwest of the island.

USA Today reports:

“Bermudans were still cleaning up from Tropical Storm Fay last weekend, which knocked out power to most of the island.

“People have stripped the island’s hardware stores of generators, batteries, candles and other items and picked up free tarpaulin distributed by the government.

“The island’s L.F. Wade International Airport closed Thursday night and is likely to remain shuttered until at least Saturday.

“Though far offshore, waves from Gonzalo will bring the danger of rough surf and rip currents to beaches along the U.S. East Coast through Saturday.”

The Associated Press says:

“The last major hurricane to strike Bermuda was Fabian in 2003, a Category 3 storm that killed four people. The last major hurricane to cross land in the Atlantic Basin was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which hit Cuba as a Category 3 storm.

“Fox said the government opened a high school as a shelter but noted that Bermuda is known for structures that can withstand heavy storms.

” ‘We build for hurricanes,’ he said. ‘It’s part of the building code.’ ”

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LA Schools Superintendent Steps Down, Defends Tenure

By Scott Neuman on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 10:28 am

Los Angeles schools Superintendent John Deasy has stepped down as head of the nation’s second-largest school system after a controversial tenure that saw him at odds with the teachers union and unable to push through a plan to get an iPad in every student’s hand.

His resignation was announced Thursday in a joint statement by Deasy and the board. It was also announced that former Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines would return to head the district starting Oct. 20 while officials search for a successor.

Although Deasy will say only that his resignation was “by mutual agreement” with the school board, in his first interview since the announcement, he acknowledges on NPR’s Morning Edition that his leadership style could have played a role in the decision.

“I certainly am responsible and consequential for my style of leadership and my agenda, which was students’ rights first,” he tells host Steve Inskeep. That agenda, he says, “definitely made some adults uncomfortable.”

Deasy, 53, nonetheless defends the achievements of his 3-1/2-year tenure.

“It was a historic period of time, unlike any other in the work of LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District], where achievement rates were the highest they had ever been,” he tells Steve. “Graduation rates moved from the upper 50s to 77 percent, a historic high. Every indicator, actually, had never been better.”

He points to his initiative to end what he calls “the criminalization of students” by reducing suspensions from 48,000 a year to fewer than 8,000.

But Deasy rejects charges that he didn’t fully respect teachers: “I think teachers, from day one, have been at the heart of why we saw the improvements,” he tells Steve.

“The board, at the end, was really — did support a lot of the work. Though, I think my pace and the way I went about it is very open to critique.”

Asked whether there’s an implied time limit to make reforms for leaders in big city school systems, such as himself and Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who was forced out as head of Washington, D.C., schools in 2010, Deasy says it’s “a worrisome trend in America.

“I think we’re watching that happen. It does concern me. I think there’s always the delicate balance of how slow you’re willing to go, and then you have to square that with looking youth in the eye and say, ‘Well, it’s not your turn this year,’ and that’s difficult to do.”

Although his $1 billion iPad initiative floundered partly over problems with vendors, if his departure spells the end of the project, “we’re doomed,” says Deasy.

“If you walk around any Korean school you would realize … [that] we [in the United States] have a long way to go if we’re going to be competitive internationally.”

He said criticism of the iPad plan was baseless and politically motivated.

“I think this is another emblematic issue — when you direct resources solely to students, that means those resources are not available to go to adults. And I believe that that was part of the issue that took place in this case,” he says.

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Book News: John Grisham Backs Down From Comments On Child Pornography

By Colin Dwyer on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 8:28 am

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

John Grisham has backpedaled from his recent comments regarding child pornography, which were made in an interview published Thursday. The best-selling writer apologized in a statement posted on his Facebook and on his personal website, saying he “in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children.”

The apology came less than a day after the interview’s publication in the British newspaper The Telegraph. In the course of that conversation, Grisham touched on the topic of U.S. prison populations.

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age — 60-year-old white men, in prison, who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child. But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”

Grisham added: “I have no sympathy for real pedophiles. God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys don’t deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting.”

The comments sparked a near-immediate firestorm online — which was followed, almost as quickly, with Grisham’s apology: “Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography — online or otherwise — should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

Potter Threepeat: When the world of Harry Potter returns to the big screen, it turns out that it’ll be staying there for quite some time. Warner Bros. has confirmed that the Potter(ish) flick Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them won’t be just one film, but three — the first of which, at least, will be scripted by J.K. Rowling herself. The first installment is slated to hit theaters Nov. 18, 2016.

Will The Real Elena Ferrante Please Stand Up? Italian writer Domenico Starnone would very much like you to note that, at least in this metaphor, he’s still sitting. Despite similarities in their writing and some biographical details, The Guardian reports that Starnone’s fed up with the questions about whether he’s behind Elena Ferrante, the pseudonym adopted by a mysterious, and internationally popular, Italian novelist. “Explain to me one thing,” Starnone said. “Given that it is so rare, in this mud puddle that is Italy, to have international reach, why would we not make the most of it? What would induce us to remain in the shadow?”

Two Peeks At Twin Peaks: One corner of the Internet just about combusted recently with news that the cult TV show Twin Peaks would be revived on Showtime in 2016, some 25 years after its most recent episode aired. Now, Peaks fans, prepare for more: Mark Frost, who created the show with David Lynch, is also writing a book that follows the show’s characters in the decades since last we saw them. The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks will be published shortly before the show returns to the air.

Leaning Ly-ward: In a blog for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Lucy Feriss notes the last bastion of adverbs: the courtroom. And along the way, she offers adverb apologists — myself among them — this word of solace for the unfairly condemned part of speech. “Like everything else in our language (yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Passive Voice; and you, those cuss words I can’t write here), adverbs have great work to do and should be handled responsibly.”

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Hong Kong Police Launch Dawn Raid To Dismantle Protest Site

By Scott Neuman on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 9:28 am

Police in Hong Kong moved aggressively to dismantle a pro-democracy protest site in the city’s congested Mong Kok district, launching a dawn raid to remove metal and bamboo barricades at one of three areas where student activists have staged rallies calling for open elections in the former British colony.

The operation to clear the protest camp after weeks of pro-government demonstrations and sit-ins “came while many protesters were asleep on the asphalt in dozens of tents or beneath giant, blue-striped tarpaulin sheets,” Reuters says.

The news agency says police stormed into the intersection “with helmets, plastic riot shields and batons at the ready from four directions, the deployment of 800 officers caught the protesters by surprise. Many retreated without resisting.”

Police gave a short warning on loud hailers before moving in, although no direct force was used, witnesses said, according to Reuters.

It was the third such raid in recent days by police who have sought to take back the streets from protesters.

As recently as Thursday, the government renewed an offer of talks with student activists who have called for the resignation of the territory’s Beijing-appointed chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, and for open elections in 2017.

With the operation to clear the Mong Kok site coming hours later, Occupy Central, the leading student-led activist group organizing the protests, accused Leung’s administration of insincerity.

The South China Morning Post, the territory’s leading — and largely independent — English-language daily, reports:

“The pro-democracy movement questioned the government’s sincerity in engaging in dialogue following a dawn operation that returned traffic to the streets in one of the busiest areas of the city in a dawn operation.

” ‘Police removed barricades in Mong Kok 15 hours after [chief executive] Leung Chun-ying said engaging in dialogue didn’t mean the government would not clear the protest sites. We think it amounts to an open insult to the intelligence of Hong Kong people,’ Occupy Central said in a statement.

” ‘If [the government] continues to clear protest sites gradually under the disguise of removing barricades, it would only provoke more people to take to streets.’ ”

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Ebola-Stricken Nurse Appears Well In Video

By Doreen McCallister on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

Updated at 10:50 a.m. ET

A smiling nurse Nina Pham, who contracted Ebola after treating an infected patient in Dallas, appears in a video taken before she was transferred to a special isolation unit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. She jokingly urges people to “come to Maryland.”

The 26-year-old critical care nurse is one of two health workers who became infected at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who subsequently died from Ebola. Nurse Amber Vinson also has tested positive for the potentially deadly virus.

A masked and suited person says to Pham: “We’re really proud of you.”

Pham was flown by executive jet to Maryland and then taken to the NIH facility, where specialists in infectious disease will care for her. Vinson was also transferred to Emory University hospital in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, a third health worker, who did not have direct contact with Duncan but who “may have had contact with clinical specimens collected from him,” according to a State Department spokesperson, left the U.S. aboard a cruise ship that departed from Galveston, Texas, on Oct. 12.

The worker had been self-monitoring for an elevated temperature or other Ebola symptoms since Oct. 6 and left on the cruise before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its requirements for active monitoring. The State Department says it has been 19 days since the worker handled the specimens from Duncan and that he or she so far has shown no symptoms of the disease, which has an incubation period of 21 days. The health worker has voluntarily remained confined to a cabin.

The cruise ship was bound for Belize. Belize’s government issued a statement Thursday saying it had been contacted by U.S. officials and made aware that the cruise ship passenger was considered at very low risk for Ebola.

In a news briefing Friday morning in Bethesda, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said Pham was receiving “optimum intensive care.” He described her condition as “fair, stable” and said her condition has not deteriorated.

“We fully intend for her to walk out of this hospital and we are doing everything we can to make that happen,” Fauci said.

On Thursday, Fauci, told a House panel that Pham will be given “state-of-the-art care” in a high-level containment facility.

When Pham left the hospital in Dallas, officials said she was in good condition.

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Biden’s Son, Hunter, Discharged From Navy Over Failed Cocaine Test

By Eyder Peralta on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, has been discharged from the Navy after testing positive for cocaine, a source familiar with the matter tells NPR’s Tom Bowman.

Navy spokesman Cmd. Ryan Perry tells Tom:

“Ensign Hunter Biden was selected for commission through the Direct Commission Officer Program in 2012. In May, 2013 he was assigned to the Navy Public Supports Element East in Norfolk, Virginia. He was discharged from the Navy Reserve in February, 2014. Like other junior officers, the details of Ensign Biden’s discharge are not releasable under the Privacy Act.”

The Wall Street Journal broke the story. Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the newspaper reported on Thursday:

“Hunter Biden, a lawyer by training who is now a managing partner at an investment company, had been commissioned as an ensign in the Navy Reserve, a part-time position. But after failing a drug test last year, his brief military career ended.

“Mr. Biden, 44 years old, decided to pursue military service relatively late, beginning the direct-commission process to become a public-affairs officer in the Navy Reserve in 2012. Because of his age — 43 when he was to be commissioned—he needed a waiver to join the Navy. He received a second Navy waiver because of a drug-related incident when he was a young man, according to people familiar with the matter. Military officials say such drug waivers aren’t uncommon.”

In a statement issued by Hunter Biden in response to the Journal story, he says that serving in the Navy was the honor of his life.

“I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge,” he said. “I respect the Navy’s decision. With the love and support of my family, I’m moving forward.”

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Obama Says It ‘May Be Appropriate’ To Appoint Ebola Czar

By Eyder Peralta on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 8:28 pm

For the second night in a row, President Obama addressed the American public after meeting with his cabinet about Ebola.

Obama assured Americans that their federal government is taking “this very seriously at the highest level, including me.”

“What remains true is this is not an airborne disease,” Obama said. “It is not easy to catch. It’s important to keep perspective in terms of how we handle this.”

Obama spoke hours after lawmakers hammered the chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Capitol Hill over the agency’s handling of the first Ebola case diagnosed in the United States. Lawmakers questioned Dr. Thomas Frieden and other health officials over how and why two nurses caring for index patient Thomas Eric Duncan had contracted the disease.

Daniel Varga, a top official from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Duncan was treated by both nurses, conceded, “We made mistakes.”

Obama, however, said that if the U.S. continues to take the steps it has been taking the disease “will be contained” in the United States.

Some lawmakers called for a travel ban on countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks. Obama dismissed those suggestions, saying they would be counterproductive.

The president did leave room for the appointment of a so-called “Ebola czar,” or a White House official tasked with keeping the response to the disease on track.

Obama said appointing a czar “may be appropriate.”

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WATCH: Florida’s Gubernatorial Debate Gets Off To A Bizarre Start

By Eyder Peralta on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 4:28 pm

“What just happened?”

That’s how NPR member station WLRN in Miami summed up last night’s gubernatorial debate in Florida, which started with a shot of an empty stage. The audience thought it was a joke and then we learned that Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and his challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, had come to an impasse over a fan that Crist had inside the podium.

It’s a train wreck and it’s worth watching:

WLRN explains:

“The former governor avoids visible perspiration by bringing a small fan with him to speaking appearances, even small engagements like a meeting with the Miami Herald’s editorial board this past August.

“Scott’s camp said debate rules forbid electronics. Crist’s camp said the set of rules they signed allowed for the fan.”

So who’s right? According to Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association, which organized the debate, Crist broke the rules, which said that the event venue would be maintained at a comfortable temperature so there would be no fans allowed. The day of the debate the temperature was 67 degrees.

Citing a statement from the organizations, The Miami Herald reports:

” ‘Between 6 and 6:20 p.m., someone from the Crist campaign placed a fan under Charlie Crist’s podium, and they were again told that no fans would be permitted,’ the statement said. ‘Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association did not anticipate or plan for the possibility that a candidate would not honor the Debate rules. In retrospect, the Debate Partners should have been better prepared for this possibility. In addition, we regret that one candidate was allowed to take the stage and allowed to talk before the fan issue was resolved.’

“When Crist’s fan was spotted, it outraged Scott’s team.

“Moments before the show went live, Scott debate coach Brett O’Donnell was visibly upset when he walked up to the debate moderators brandishing a copy of the debate rules.

” ‘The rules say no fans. Are you going to abide by the rules?’ ”

Of course, we know that the fan was all about optics. (Remember Richard Nixon?) So, the question now is which candidate is harmed by the bizarre beginning to this debate?

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6 More Graves Found Near Mexican Town Where 43 Students Vanished

By Carrie Kahn on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Six more clandestine graves have been found in Mexico near the town where 43 students allegedly were abducted by local police working for a drug gang. Relatives and supporters of the students have vowed to hold a week of protests to pressure authorities into finding the disappeared.

According to the newspaper El Universal, community police officers near the town of Iguala, in the southern state of Guerrero, found the additional graves, bringing the total number to 19. At least two of the graves were said to be freshly dug, as if recently prepared, but did not contain bodies.

Protesters say they will take over all 86 city halls in the state of Guerrero to pressure officials to find the missing students.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people protested at universities throughout Mexico. The largest protests were at schools in Mexico City, including the National Autonomous University, which has suspended classes for two days in support of the students. Holding pictures of the missing, demonstrators demanded justice and a quicker and more transparent investigation.

Earlier this week, authorities said DNA tests showed that 28 bodies discovered in five graves were not those of the students. There has been little information given about why the students were kidnapped. Authorities have said only that local police officers, 36 of whom are under arrest, confessed to abducting the students and turning them over to local drug traffickers.

Iguala’s mayor, Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, are wanted for questioning over the missing students and the graves. Dubbed the “imperial couple” by a Mexican newspaper, Abarca and Pineda, who is head of Iguala’s family welfare department, fled soon after the students disappeared.

Both have long-known familial ties to drug traffickers in the region, and the mayor was accused of killing a political rival last year.

Pineda obtained an “amparo,” a Mexican legal document, from a judge in Mexico City that blocks her arrest or imprisonment. But according to El Universal, she must first post a sizable bond and the document is void in cases where the accused is charged with a serious crime.

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