Nation & World News

As Russia’s Cruise Missiles Strike At Targets In Syria, NATO Stands With Turkey

By Bill Chappell on October 8th, 2015 | Last updated: October 9, 2015 at 6:04 am

A day after the Russian navy fired cruise missiles at targets in Syria — and two days after Russia’s warplanes veered into Turkey’s airspace — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance “is able and ready to defend all allies, including Turkey, against any threat.”

Speaking at nearly the same time, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said, “Russia’s joining the struggle against terrorism on Syria’s territory will lead to changes in the region and the whole world,” in remarks relayed by Russia’s Tass news agency.

At a summit of NATO defense ministers, Stoltenberg said Russia has ratcheted up tensions in the area since its military began carrying out attacks to support Syrian President Bashar Assad. And he dismissed Russia’s explanation that it had been patrolling Turkey’s border as a way to help the country.

“Turkey is a strong ally. Turkey has the second-largest army in the alliance,” Stoltenberg said.

Russia launched a series of cruise missiles from its ships Wednesday, supporting a new push by Syrian government troops. Parts of the offensive were broadcast on TV, showing missiles streaking toward their targets.

Today, Syrian rebels are claiming to have forced down a Russian helicopter.

“An amateur video shows two helicopters descending at low altitude,” NPR’s Alison Meuse reports. “The crafts are close enough to the front lines in central Syria for activists to catch the emergency landing on camera. Activists say the helicopter landed in a regime-held town — miles from the nearest military airport.”

Alison adds that the new ground and air campaign in Hama province has met with strong resistance.

“Rebels claim to have destroyed more than 15 regime tanks in the past day,” she says, “with TOW missiles supplied by the US and its allies. Activists say Russian and Syrian warplanes have retaliated with fierce bombardments.”

Russia says the missile attacks hit nearly a dozen ISIS targets — and the country says the attacks haven’t harmed civilians.

NPR’s Corey Flintoff reports:

“From the very start of this bombing campaign, the Russians have strongly denied causing any civilian casualties. Russian officials are accusing Islamic State fighters of hiding among the civilian population, and they say Russian warplanes have canceled attacks whenever there was a possibility of hurting non-combatants.”

NATO, U.S. officials and others have noted that Russia has targeted U.S.-backed rebels who are fighting Assad, rather than focusing on ISIS strongholds as the country initially declared it would do.

As Defense Secretary Ash Carter traveled to Brussels for Thursday’s session, he “ruled out cooperation with Russia in Syria,” Teri Schultz reports for NPR’s Newscast, with Carter saying Moscow is following the “wrong strategy.”

Carter said he wants the U.S. and Russia to coordinate their operations in the region only to avoid possible collisions in Syria’s airspace.

In his speech kicking off the NATO meeting, Stoltenberg also said the alliance will establish two “small headquarters” in Hungary and Slovakia, two countries that have been caught up in the refugee crisis that has sent thousands of people into Europe this year.

Hungary and Slovakia also had a front-row seat to the recent clash between Russia and Ukraine: They share Ukraine’s westernmost border.

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FIFA Suspends President Sepp Blatter And Other Top Officials

By Bill Chappell on October 8th, 2015 | Last updated: October 9, 2015 at 6:04 am

Updated 6:02 p.m. ET

On Thursday morning, the ethics committee of soccer’s world governing body banned the group’s president and other leaders for 90 days, citing ongoing investigations into allegations against FIFA President Sepp Blatter, UEFA President and FIFA Vice President Michel Platini and FIFA Secretary-General Jérôme Valcke.

The suspensions go into effect immediately and could be extended by 45 days, FIFA says.

When news of the pending suspension emerged Wednesday, Blatter’s adviser said: “He is calm. Remember he is the father of the ethics committee.”

By Thursday evening, Blatter had appealed the decision. The New York Times reports:

“Mr. Blatter’s legal team demands the opportunity to see the case file the ethics committee reviewed during its proceedings — a request that reflects a belief that the ethics committee’s decision was based almost entirely on the fact that the Swiss attorney general’s office has recently opened an investigation into Mr. Blatter.”

FIFA is now being led on an interim basis by Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, a former athlete who ran against Blatter for the presidency in 2002. Hayatou won’t be running in next year’s contest.

“A new president will be chosen by the Extraordinary Congress on 26 February 2016,” he said Thursday. “I myself will not be a candidate for that position.”

We’ll note that with the 90-day ban and possible 45-day extension, it’s possible that Blatter and the other officials won’t return to office before the February election.

Blatter and Platini have been the subject of allegations of an improper $2 million payment from FIFA’s leader to Platini, who leads Europe’s soccer organization.

The organization that has been wracked by criminal charges of corruption by top officials also says it banned former FIFA Vice President Chung Mong-joon of South Korea for six years, and that it imposed a fine, citing misconduct.

That punishment stems from an inquiry into the bidding process for hosting FIFA’s World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022 — a process that U.S. and Swiss investigators have previously described as including millions of dollars in bribes.

The ban upends Chung’s campaign to replace Blatter as FIFA’s president. As word of a pending ban spread Wednesday, the billionaire businessman said he was the target of a smear campaign orchestrated by Blatter.

At that news conference, Chung also said he’s suing Blatter for $100 million over what he says is embezzlement and irregularities at FIFA.

“Mr. Blatter, in short, is a hypocrite and a liar,” Chung said.

He later added, “The fact that I am the target of Mr. Blatter’s smear campaign is clearly the most powerful endorsement for my candidacy, and the best proof that I am the person to lead FIFA’s reforms.”

Thursday’s punishments come two weeks after Swiss officials announced they had begun criminal proceedings against Blatter.

FIFA says it won’t provide details about the decisions “until they become final,” which is so FIFA.

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Belarusian Journalist Svetlana Alexievich Wins Literature Nobel

By Colin Dwyer on October 8th, 2015 | Last updated: October 8, 2015 at 6:04 pm

Updated at 8:09 a.m. ET

Investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday. Alexievich is the first writer from Belarus to win the prize.

Alexievich won “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time,” according to the citation for the award.

On her personal website, Alexievich explains her pursuit of journalism: “I chose a genre where human voices speak for themselves.” Fittingly, Alexievich prefers to leave the stories to her many interviewees, letting eyewitness accounts shed an unsettling light on tragedies like World War II, the Soviet-Afghan War and the disaster at Chernobyl — an investigation that has been read aloud in excerpts on All Things Considered.

For that work, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people touched by the massive 1986 nuclear meltdown, which spread radioactivity on the wind across much of Eastern Europe.

“All of my books consist of witnesses’ evidence, people’s living voices,” she told the Dalkey Archive Press. “I usually spend three to four years writing a book, but this time it took me more than ten years.”

In an interview following the announcement, the Swedish Academy’s permanent secretary, Sara Danius, elaborated on the decision.

“For the past 30 or 40 years, she has been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual,” Danius said. “But it’s not really about a history of events; it’s about a history of emotions.”

If you’re new to Alexievich’s work, Danius added, she recommends beginning with War’s Unwomanly Face — a history the Soviet women who fought as soldiers in the Second World War.

It has been quite a long time since a nonfiction writer won the Nobel. Not since the heady days of Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill, over half a century ago, has an author won for a career of work primarily in nonfiction. Alexievich’s prize breaks that long dry spell.

The 67-year-old is the 112th writer — and 14th woman — to win the prize. She will receive her medal at a ceremony on Dec. 10.

Read excerpts of Voices from Chernobyl.

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Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 2016 Nominees Include The Cars, Janet Jackson

By Marie Andrusewicz on October 8th, 2015 | Last updated: October 8, 2015 at 1:03 pm

It’s a relatively controversy-free list of potential inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, although die-hards always find a reason for outrage at inclusions or omissions. Sorry again, fans of Bon Jovi, The Cure. And apparently someone was even rooting for Moby.

This year, nods go to eight first-time nominees including new wave band The Cars, soft-rock group Chicago and the Tex-Mex influenced Los Lobos. Cheap Trick and Steve Miller are also under consideration for the first time.

Meanwhile, disco-funk band Chic scores a 10th nod, setting a record for nominations without an induction and making them the Susan Lucci of rock enshrinement.

Solo performers on the list include Funk legend Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson.

When nominations are announced, a common complaint is that the Hall of Fame favors newer acts. As the Plain Dealer reports:

The (2016) list … seems to pay heed in some manner to the hue and cry of fans over the exclusion of vintage bands from what many see as the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll. The groundbreaking prog-rock band Yes, for example, has been eligible for enshrinement since 1994, yet has only one nomination on its resume.

Yes makes this year’s cut, as does Deep Purple, formed in 1968 and perhaps best known for their 1972 garage band staple, “Smoke on the Water.”

Has your favorite act been excluded yet again? See NPR’s guide to The Right Way To Complain About The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

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Fiat Chrysler And United Auto Workers Reach New Tentative Agreement

By Marie Andrusewicz on October 8th, 2015 | Last updated: October 8, 2015 at 5:03 am

Avoiding a possible strike, the United Autoworkers Union and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.

According to a statement from UAW:

After a lengthy bargaining process, your UAW FCA National Bargaining Committee has secured significant gains in a proposed Tentative Agreement with FCA announced today.

The bargaining committee unanimously voted to send the proposed Tentative Agreement to local union leaders who make up the union’s UAW National Chrysler Council.

The statement adds that the UAW Chrysler Council will meet in Detroit at 11 a.m. on Friday to vote on the agreement.

Union members rejected a tentative deal with Fiat Chrysler last week, apparently angered that the company had failed to restore benefits lost in previous contracts. Members objected to a two-tier pay structure that pays senior employees significantly more, and Fiat Chrysler’s failure to offer workers cost-of-living pay increases.

The UAW represents approximately 40,000 Fiat Chrysler workers in the U.S. The UAW has not struck U.S. auto makers since since 2007.

UAW’s contract with Fiat Chrysler expired last month.

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2 Wild Cards, 2 Home Teams Shut Out: Cubs Blank Pirates To Advance

By Christopher Dean Hopkins on October 7th, 2015 | Last updated: October 8, 2015 at 2:04 am

Behind a complete-game shutout thrown by right-hander Jake Arrieta, the Chicago Cubs advanced to the Divisional Series on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, beating the Pirates 4-0.

Kyle Schwarber had a home run and three runs batted in for the Cubs and Dexter Fowler had three hits and scored three times. Chicago will open its series against St. Louis at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday. The Cardinals won 11 of the 19 games the divisional rivals played this season.

The win in the wild card game, a recent addition to the MLB postseason, lets the Cubs advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole gave up all four runs in his five innings for Pittsburgh, and while the bullpen was near perfect, the team’s bats were ice cold. The Pirates, making their third straight appearance in the National League wild card game, struck out 11 times and didn’t draw a single walk off Arrieta.

The loss capped two rough wild card games for home teams: On Tuesday night the Yankees were shut out against the Houston Astros, 3-0, in New York.

The Astros start their series against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET, following the 3:30 p.m. ET start of the Texas Rangers-Toronto Blue Jays series. Both will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

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ACLU Sues Benton County, Wash., For Operating ‘Modern-Day Debtors Prison’

By Joseph Shapiro on October 7th, 2015 | Last updated: October 8, 2015 at 8:04 am

After years of drug addiction, Jayne Fuentes feels she’s close to getting her life back on track, as long as she doesn’t get arrested again — but not for using drugs. She fears it will be because she still owes court fines and fees, including hundreds of dollars for her public defender.

Fuentes hopes to change that. She’s one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, charging that Benton County, Wash., where she lives, “operates a modern-day debtors’ prison.”

Fuentes first told her story to NPR in 2014, in our investigation called Guilty and Charged. That series showed how in all 50 states, defendants are now handed a bill for more and more of the costs of their own trials, sentences and supervision when they leave jail. That can be a hardship for many indigent defendants. And, around the country, when they fall behind on payment, they may end up serving jail time.

That was particularly so in Benton County, where last year, an NPR analysis of jail records found that about 1 out of every 4 people in jail for a misdemeanor offense was there because he failed to pay court fines and fees.

The ACLU lawsuit says people in Benton County who are homeless, unemployed or just out of prison get sent to jail when they can’t pay their court fines, which can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Fuentes says she owes “tens of thousands of dollars” to the county Superior Court, where she faced felony drug charges, and almost $2,000 to the District Court, which handles misdemeanors.

Since leaving prison in 2011, she’s repaired relationships with her family. She has stayed sober, left a treatment house earlier this year and moved into an apartment with a roommate. She also bought an old, used car and, in July, finally found work, a part-time job making sandwiches at a fast-food restaurant. But she lives from one paycheck to the next, and there have been months — especially before she got her job — when she missed or was late on the $65 monthly payment she has to make to the courts.

When that happens, she says she gets a letter stating that the court can issue a warrant for her arrest. She worries about going back to jail.

“I would lose my job, my house, my car, my life and my freedom, for not being able to pay a fine,” Fuentes says.

She says she’s willing to pay what she owes the court, but shouldn’t be penalized for months when she has no income. Her debt grew when she was in prison. Every year, including when she was behind bars, there was a 12 percent annual interest rate added by the state to her debt to Superior Court.

Among her debts, she says, are several hundred dollars to pay for her public defender. The NPR survey found that’s common. In 2014, 43 states allowed indigent defendants to be charged a small fee or even hundreds of dollars for a public defendant.

Benton County, NPR found, collects just a fraction of the fines and fees it’s owed, but it still collected $13 million in 2012. Across the country, municipalities have come under scrutiny for the way they raise revenues through court fines. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report critical of Ferguson, Mo., for arresting people and charging them court fines and fees and then jailing them if they did not pay. There are 90 municipalities in St. Louis County, and some of them were collecting 20 to 60 percent of their municipal budgets in court fines. Since then, state lawmakers have put stricter limits on how much counties can raise, capping the amount at 10 percent as of 2017.

Officials in Benton County did not respond to a request for comment. But in the past, judges have said they give defendants multiple chances to reset the amount they owe, before ordering them to jail.

Vanessa Torres Hernandez, an attorney with the ACLU of Washington, says resetting fines is not enough because a person’s ability to pay can change quickly, if he loses a job or there’s a family emergency.

“There is a growing local and national recognition that debtors-prison systems are unproductive,” says Hernandez, and “as a society we all benefit when we give people who have made mistakes and gone through the criminal justice system real opportunities to pay their debts to society and rebuild their lives.”

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South Carolina Braces As Threat Of New Flooding Looms

By Laura Wagner on October 7th, 2015 | Last updated: October 7, 2015 at 7:04 pm

The rain has stopped in South Carolina, but for people living along the coast, the worst of the flooding could still be ahead.

The floodwaters have not receded and as the water in the swollen rivers flow toward the ocean, more damaging high waters are expected.

As Laura Hunsberger reports for NPR, Gov. Nikki Haley says the state is ready:

” ‘We have been through this entire process, pre-positioning 48 hours in advance, so we are constantly 48 hours ahead of what’s going to happen,’ Haley said. ‘We have done that, so a lot of that positioning of groundsmen and crew workers and first responders are already there, ready. It’s not over yet.’ ”

According to the National Weather Service, a flood advisory issued Wednesday morning is in effect until Friday morning.

Also on Wednesday morning, more than 1,000 residents near the state capital, Columbia, were ordered to evacuate while workers tried to reinforce the Beaver Dam. Crews were able to shore up the dam and the evacuation order was lifted.

But residents remain on edge. Divers are searching for two more people who went missing in the floodwaters after driving a pickup truck around a barricade on a washed-out road, the Associated Press reports. The death toll has reportedly reached 17, including two people in North Carolina.

Andy Shain, who is covering the flooding for The State newspaper in Columbia, told Here & Now that there was as much rain on Sunday as in the previous three months combined.

“At the moment we have 411 roads closed in South Carolina; 129 have been washed out,” he said, adding that the work needed to rebuild infrastructure will be immense, though so far no dollar amount has been estimated for the repairs.

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California City Orders Restaurants To Use Disposable Plates, Cups

By Brakkton Booker on October 7th, 2015 | Last updated: October 8, 2015 at 4:03 am

Paper or plastic? If you’re at a restaurant in the coastal city of Fort Bragg, Calif., that’s what your food is likely to be served on these days.

The drought-stricken city, located about 170 miles north of San Francisco, recently declared a “stage 3″ water emergency, which makes it mandatory for businesses and residents to reduce water usage.

In doing so, Fort Bragg ordered restaurants to use disposable plates, cups and flatware to cut the amount of dishwashing required. Also, restaurants are to serve water to customers only upon request.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

“The order, though, has created such an uproar in restaurants not used to setting tables with plastic spoons and forks that [City Manager Linda] Ruffing said the council may consider loosening the restrictions at its meeting next Tuesday.

” ‘You might be able to cut a filet mignon with a plastic knife, but you are not going to cut a New York,’ declared Jim Hurst, the co-owner of Silvers at the Wharf and Point Noyo Restaurant and Bar, which overlook the river and are often packed with tourists. ‘The expense is going to be horrendous, I would expect. So that’s going to be a major impact. It seems to me there are other ways to save water.’ ”

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports that Fort Bragg had previously been in a stage 1 emergency, which makes conservation measures largely voluntary. But on Sept. 30, the city jumped straight to stage 3, the highest water emergency stage.

The newspaper has more on what spurred the City Council to act:

“The Noyo River, which provides [about 40] percent of the city’s water, has become too salty to drink, a problem brought on by record-low river flows and acutely affected by the highest tide every month, said the city’s public works director, Tom Varga.

” ‘We’re in uncharted territory,’ he said. …

“When the flows are that weak, they cannot adequately push back salty ocean water that flows into the river at high tide, Varga said. Salt readings at the water treatment plant overnight spiked, triggering an emergency meeting of the city council and its subsequent declaration of a stage 3 water emergency, he said.”

The new rules apply to the town’s 7,300 residents, too. According to the City of Fort Bragg’s website, other stage 3 restrictions bar people from using city water to wash vehicles or water lawns. Defective or leaking equipment using the city’s water must be repaired or turned off, and no washing of any paved surfaces or building exteriors is allowed.

It’s not clear what the penalties are for water violators. We’ve reached out to Fort Bragg officials and will update this post later if we hear back.

The emergency order is intended to reduce water use by at least 30 percent compared with last year’s monthly consumption rate.

You can see more of our coverage on the California drought here.

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Ahmed, The Clockmaking U.S. Student, Visits Qatar And Saudi Arabia

By Bill Chappell on October 7th, 2015 | Last updated: October 7, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Life has not quite returned to normal yet for Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas teenager who was arrested after bringing a homemade clock to school. The 14-year-old is now touring parts of the Middle East, along with his father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed.

The two were recently in New York, where they met Turkey’s prime minister and other dignitaries who were in town for the U.N.’s General Assembly. That had been meant to be the end of a national tour, building on the groundswell of support for the teen — and for education in science and technology — that had emerged after his arrest and suspension from MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas.

But after receiving an invitation from the Qatar Foundation, Ahmed and his father decided to visit Doha, to tour the sprawling Education City. Funded by the Qatari government, the campus is home to students from dozens of nations and includes satellite campuses of major U.S. universities, including Northwestern and Texas A&M.

From Qatar, it’s on to Saudi Arabia, where the government is hosting Ahmed and his father for an umrah — a pilgrimage to Mecca. He’ll also visit relatives in Jiddah, according to Arab News.

The newspaper also recounted the incident that made Ahmed Mohamed famous — in which a teacher thought the teen’s homemade digital clock looked like a bomb — reporting:

“His uncle Moussa Al-Hassan did not blame the teacher. ‘The ordinary American citizen lives in a state of fear of Arabs because of the American media’s portrayal of him as an extremist terrorist,’ Moussa was quoted as saying at the time.”

Later this year, Ahmed has said, he still wants to take up President Obama on his offer of a visit to the White House.

Controversy over the case is still bubbling in Irving. The Dallas Morning News reports school district officials say they had requested permission from Ahmed’s family “to release records that might explain why police mistook his clock for a hoax bomb.”

Those officials as well as the town’s mayor say the Mohamed family has ignored the requests.

Discussing that claim — and the skepticism with which some view the case — the Morning News reports that “Ahmed’s family never got the request to release his records, because the school district mailed it to the wrong lawyer.”

Separately, questions have also touched on Irving’s police records in the case — and the police department’s request, made to the state attorney general, to withhold information about the officers who were involved, according to the Morning News.

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