Nation & World News

Chinese High-Rise Worker Left Dangling After Annoyed Boy Cuts Rope

By Scott Neuman on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

A worker in southern China was left hanging from 100 feet up the side of a high-rise apartment building when a 10-year-old boy, apparently annoyed at the construction racket outside his window, decided to cut the safety line on the man’s rappelling apparatus.

Xinhua says the boy was watching cartoons in his eighth-floor apartment in Guizhou province as the worker was outside installing lighting. So, the boy took a knife and sliced through the rope that allows the worker to move up and down.

According to an English translation of the Xinhua article on the Shanghaiist website, the worker was left dangling midair. He yelled down to a co-worker, who called firemen; he was rescued about 40 minutes later. You can view photos here.

Xinhua quotes the worker, surnamed Liu, as saying:

” ‘When I was using the electric drill, I felt my lower rope shaking. Then I saw the boy cutting the rope with a knife.’

” ‘I shouted at him to stop but he didn’t listen and soon after, the rope was broken. That’s when I called to my workmate for help,’ Liu said.”

Shanghaiist says that after speaking with police, “the boy finally admitted to what he did”:

“His father, surnamed Tang, was called to come back home from work. He gave Liu a sincere apology on behalf of his son and compensated him with … a new safety rope.”

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Holiday Gas Prices Lowest In Four Years

By Scott Neuman on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Some good news heading into the long weekend: Labor Day gas prices are at their lowest level in four years.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says the nationwide average for retail regular was $3.45 per gallon on Aug. 25 — that’s the lowest average price for a Monday ahead of Labor Day since 2010, and it’s about $0.25 per gallon less than at the end of June this year. The current price is down from the record average of $3.83 for the 2012 holiday.

EIA says the recent decline in prices is mainly due to changes in the price of crude: “In June of this year, the Brent spot price reached its year-to-date high of $115/barrel (bbl), then fell to $102/bbl on August 22. Current Brent prices are below their August average level over the past three years, which ranged between $110/bbl and $113/bbl. Crude oil prices were lower in 2010, as the global economy was just beginning to recover from the 2008-09 recession that reduced oil demand.”

USA Today writes:

“The energy markets have shrugged off tensions in the Middle East, the Ukraine-Russia conflict and minor supply disruptions during normal peak summer driving season.

“But with demand now at seven-year lows and daily North American oil production at five-decade highs, geopolitical risks are having less impact on oil prices.

“Even news of a larger-than-expected drop in oil supplies is having little impact.”

But as EIA reports, regional prices vary significantly:

“Prices are lowest on the Gulf Coast ($3.24/gal) and highest on the West Coast ($3.83/gal) as of August 25. Gulf Coast prices are often low compared with prices in other regions because of the Gulf Coast’s proximity to half the nation’s refining capacity — its gasoline production is greater than the region’s consumption — and because it does not rely on supply transferred from other U.S. regions or imported from the global market. West Coast prices are often higher than those in other areas of the country because of the more restrictive gasoline specifications in California, the region’s dominant market. As of August 25, prices in the Rocky Mountains region and East Coast averaged $3.65/gal and $3.40/gal, respectively.”

Earlier this month, an Edmunds survey noted that nearly three-quarters of all Americans were either definitely planning a road trip for the holiday or considering it.

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The Most Bizarre Bits To Come Out Of The Trial Of Virginia’s Ex-Governor

By Eyder Peralta on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

The trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife went into closing arguments today. At issue are serious allegations of corruption, but the trial has also unveiled seriously strange details about the McDonnells’ personal life.

We haven’t given the trial much coverage around here. So, before the jury hands down its verdict, we wanted to catch you up on some of the oddest moments to emerge from the testimony.

– First Lady Was A ‘Nutbag’:

One of the recurring themes of the trial has been how Maureen McDonnell — the state’s former first lady — was a screamer who terrorized her staff.

On day eight of the trial, McDonnell’s chief of staff described her as a “nutbag.”

Here’s how the Richmond Times-Dispatch recapped that testimony:

“Mary-Shea Sutherland’s testimony on day eight of the McDonnells’ federal corruption trial portrayed a frustrated first lady placated by Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a free-spending dietary-supplement impresario, then CEO of Star Scientific.

“Sutherland depicted Maureen McDonnell as so undone by her privileged surroundings and financial limitations that the first lady grabbed at gifts, raged at staff, and even falsely accused the Executive Mansion chef of trying to ruin her Christmas by serving ‘bad shrimp.’

“The tawdry testimony led some courtroom spectators to roll their eyes, shake their heads and snicker in disbelief.”

– The Letter:

The big strategy in this trial for the defense has been to paint the couple as so dysfunctional and uncommunicative that they could not have possibly formed a conspiracy. Remember, they are accused of taking gifts from the CEO of a pharmaceutical company in exchange for the “prestige of the governorship.”

In any case, late in the trial, a letter from McDonnell to his wife was entered into evidence. It is cringe-inducing.

The Associated Press has the whole text. We’ll leave you with only one small portion:

“I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better. But I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent. You told me again yesterday that you would wreck my things and how bad I am. It hurt me to my core. I have asked and prayed to God so many times to take this anger away from you and heal whatever hurt is causing it … some going back years and years. He has not yet answered those prayers.”

– ‘Tic Tac Man’

Speaking of the CEO of Star Scientific. Testimony from McDonnell’s eldest daughter suggested that Mrs. McDonnell had a “mild obsession” with Jonnie Williams.

The AP wrote at the time of the testimony:

“Jeanine McDonnell said her parents rarely spoke to each other in private, going back decades. She also said her mother developed an unusually close friendship with Williams.

“Bob McDonnell testified that he viewed Williams as a personal friend and was comfortable accepting his gifts because he never sought any favors from him.

“Jeanine McDonnell made clear she no longer thinks highly of Williams, who earlier testified under immunity that he was not friends with the McDonnells and he spent lavishly on them only to gain acceptance for Anatabloc. The immunity agreement bars Williams’ prosecution not only for his dealings with the McDonnells, but also for potential securities violations.

“The judge mildly rebuked Jeanine McDonnell when she said she returned a $10,000 check from Williams, intended as a housewarming present, ‘once we learned that Jonnie himself was a criminal.’ ”

Anatabloc, by the way, is the supplement that prosecutors allege the defendants conspired to promote illegally in exchange for money from Williams.

Earlier in the trial, it was revealed that health policy aide Molly Huffstetler referred to Williams mockingly as the “Tic Tac man.” According to the Washington Post, Huffstetler also said she would have never met with Williams had the governor not asked her to do so.

– The Reality Circus:

Perhaps the development that best shows what a circus this trial has been is the names of two big reality TV stars coming into the official court record.

WVEC-TV takes us there:

“Williams has testified that, on at least two occasions, he purchased a $5,000 bottle of cognac while entertaining a group that included the McDonnells.

“One of those occasions — at a restaurant in the lobby of the Four Seasons in New York City — defense attorneys claim Williams also broke out his cellphone and bragged about having the cellphone numbers of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.”

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Malaysia Airlines Cuts A Third Of Its Workforce After Steep Losses

By Scott Neuman on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

For Malaysia Airlines, the tragic loss of two of its aircraft with all passengers and crew in recent months has hardly been the extent of its problems: On Thursday, the carrier announced a steep quarterly loss, and today came word that it is cutting nearly a third of its workforce.

The airline said it would lay off 6,000 employees, or about 30 percent of its 20,000-strong workforce a day after it reported a loss in the quarter ending June of $97.6 million, on top of a first-quarter loss of $140.8 million.

In the wake of the mysterious disappearance of MH370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March and the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine, the airline has faced a public-relations disaster that has translated into empty cabins despite heavily discounted tickets. The airline said its weekly bookings had dropped by a third. It’s worth noting, however, that its financial losses predate the losses of its aircraft; in the same quarter a year ago, the carrier showed a $55.9 million loss.

The layoffs announced today are part of a recovery plan led by the state investment company Khazanah Nasional, the airline’s largest shareholder.

“The combination of measures announced today will enable our national airline to be revived,” said Khazanah’s managing director Azman Mokhtar. “Success is by no means guaranteed. While it is imperative that [Malaysia Airlines] … is revived, public accountability for the use of the funds mean that it cannot be renewed at any cost.”

The BBC says of the revitalization plan:

“Long-haul routes will be slashed, and the airline aims to return to profitability by 2018.

“The firm will be completely delisted from the Bursa Malaysia stock exchange by the end of 2014.

“Relevant assets, operations and liabilities of Malaysia Airlines will be transferred to a new company by 1 July 2015.

“The current chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, will continue to lead the firm until the new company is formed next year.”

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Britain Raises Terror Alert Level, But Cites No Specific Threat

By Scott Neuman on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

British Prime Minister David Cameron is warning that the threat to the U.K. from international terrorism is “greater and deeper” than ever before, as London raised its terror warning level in response to what it said were plans by the Islamic State and other extremist groups to attack the West.

The U.K. ratcheted up the alert to “severe,” which is the second-highest of five levels and indicates the risk of an attack is considered “highly likely.” However, it’s important to note that authorities have not offered evidence of a specific or immediate plot. The level has been higher in the past — at “critical” in 2006 and again in 2007.

Ahead of Cameron’s remarks, Theresa May of the U.K.’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Center said some plots “are likely to involve foreign fighters who have traveled there from the U.K. and Europe to take part in those conflicts.”

The prime minister expressed particular concern about what he said were at least 500 people who had traveled from the U.K. “to fight in Syria and potentially Iraq.” British authorities have been trying to track down the assassin of American journalist James Foley, who spoke with a British accent on the videotape released by his Islamic State captors.

Professor Andrew Silke of the University of East London told the BBC that he believes today’s announcement is a reaction to the killing of Foley.

Cameron said the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, poses a “greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.”

“We are in the middle of a generational struggle,” Cameron said, adding that it could take years. “The scale of this threat is growing.”

He said there is “no doubt” that the Islamic State is targeting “all of us in Western Europe.”

“Britain is an open, tolerant and free nation,” but it will take steps to stop people traveling by seizing their passports if they’re deemed a threat, Cameron said.

The prime minister added that it is important to make a distinction between religion and political ideology. The religion of Islam, he said, “inspires millions to countless acts of kindness,” but Islamic extremism is a political ideology that “is in the minority.

“We cannot appease this ideology,” Cameron said.

The BBC says the threat level went to “critical” in August 2006, after police uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes, and again in June 2007 after an attack at Glasgow airport. The last time it was changed was in 2011, when it was lowered to “substantial.”

Update at 1:00 p.m. ET. Homeland Security: No ‘Specific, Credible’ Threat To U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement after the British announcement:

“At present, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are unaware of any specific, credible threat to the U.S. homeland from ISIL [Islamic State]. Plainly, however, violent extremists who support ISIL have demonstrated the intent and capability to target American citizens overseas, and ISIL constitutes an active and serious threat within the region.”

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California Lawmakers Pass ‘Affirmative Consent’ Sexual Assault Bill

By Eyder Peralta on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

California is one step closer to becoming the first state to require colleges and universities “to adopt a standard of unambiguous consent among students engaging in sexual activity,” The Los Angeles Times reports.

The California Senate gave the bill unanimous approval on Thursday, and it is now headed to the governor’s office.

The Times adds:

“Along with a comprehensive prevention program, colleges would be required to help victims of sexual assault seek medical care, counseling, legal assistance and other services.

“Students engaging in sexual activity would first need ‘affirmative consent’ from both parties — a clear threshold that specifically could not include a person’s silence, a lack of resistance or consent given while intoxicated.”

As Reuters reports, the bill comes amid increasing national pressure for universities and colleges to curb sexual assault on campus.

As we’ve reported, the Department of Education said in May that 55 colleges and universities nationwide were under investigation over their handling of sexual abuse claims.

Reuters adds:

“The White House has declared sex crimes to be ‘epidemic’ on U.S. college campuses, with one in five students falling victim to sex assault during their college years.

“Universities in California and beyond have already taken steps, including seeking to delineate whether consent has been given beyond ‘no means no.’

“Harvard University said last month it had created an office to investigate all claims of sexual harassment or sex assault, and that it would lower its evidentiary standard of proof in weighing the cases.”

The California bill has been dubbed “yes means yes,” which means the burden is on both people to seek consent, not for one party to expect a no. The bill also calls for affirmative consent to be ongoing throughout the sexual activity.

Some critics have said the bill goes too far or that it’s confusing. The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports:

“A pair of friends at Cal State Long Beach said the bill seemed well-intentioned, but questioned how practical it is when it comes to ensuring consent throughout sex with their partners.

” ‘I feel like their hearts are in the right place, but the implementation is a little too excessive,’ said Henry Mu, a 24-year-old biology major. ‘Are there guidelines? Are we supposed to check every five minutes?’ ”

Insider Higher Ed adds:

“[The bill] is a good thing, say victims’ rights advocates. Female college students who make allegations are too often asked by college officials to account for their own actions, including what they were wearing and whether they tried hard enough to stop a sexual encounter.

“Others question whether the policy is an unworkable attempt at government overreach.

“How does a person prove they receive consent ‘shy of having it videotaped,’ said Joe Cohn, the legislative policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.”

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Volcanoes In Iceland, Papua New Guinea Keep Residents On Edge

By Scott Neuman on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Two volcanoes half a world apart are causing havoc today: Several flights have been diverted around an eruption in Papua New Guinea, and authorities in Iceland briefly put aviation on highest alert (again) owing to a temperamental Mount Bardarbunga, which has been rumbling for the past week.

Mount Tavurvur on Papua New Guinea’s East New Britain island erupted Friday, sending smoke and ash skyward. There have been no reports of injuries, but some residents in nearby Rabaul town were evacuated and others were told to stay indoors after the eruption, which occurred about 3:30 a.m. local time. Qantas, Australia’s flag carrier, says it is rerouting two flights from Sydney, one to Tokyo and the other to Shanghai that would otherwise have passed close to the erupting mountain.

David Flinn, a resident of Papua New Guinea, tells Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the volcano was emitting steam and occasionally boomed. Flinn said about half an inch of ash covered surrounding areas, according to The Associated Press.

The Rabaul Volcanological Observatory says: “The eruption started slow and slowly developed in a Strombolian [low level] eruption with incandescent projections, accompanied by explosion noises and ongoing loud roaring and rumbling noises.”

Australia’s International Business Times writes: “The volcano has a record of regular low-level eruptions, but some residents fear that the Friday morning’s eruption could be the worst eruption since 1994.”

Meanwhile, Iceland briefly raised its aviation alert from orange to red, its highest level, after a fissure eruption at Bardarbunga overnight. The level is now back down to orange. The BBC explains:

“The new alert, the second-highest, means that aviation authorities can now decide if planes may travel over the volcano’s airspace.

“Scientists said a fissure eruption 1km (0.6 miles) long started in a lava field north of the Vatnajokull glacier.

“The volcano has been hit by several recent tremors.”

Iceland Met Office seismologist Martin Hensch said it’s impossible to predict how the eruption might develop, and that “one of the concerns is that the fissure opens into the glacier, but presently there is no sign of that happening,” according to Reuters. He said the current eruption is 4 to 5 miles from the glacier.

As we reported earlier, the on again, off again concern about Bardarbunga started last week.

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Book News: Born to Write? Bruce Springsteen To Publish A Children’s Book

By Annalisa Quinn on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:13 pm

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

  • Bruce Springsteen is writing a children’s book about a bank-robbing baby called Outlaw Pete, based on his song of the same name. “Outlaw Pete is essentially the story of a man trying to outlive and outrun his sins,” Springsteen said in a statement. The song “Outlaw Pete” was inspired by the 1950 children’s book Brave Cowboy Bill. “When Bruce wrote ‘Outlaw Pete’ he didn’t just write a great song, he created a great character,” his co-author, cartoonist Frank Caruso, said in a statement. The book will come out from Simon & Schuster on Nov. 4.
  • For the Boston Review, Quyen Nguyen has an interview with Tobias Wolff. Asked about the relationship between literature and politics, Wolff said: “I think it is a political act to force someone to enter the mind, the spirit, the perspective of another human being. We are often resistant to this experience because it forces us to give up all our ideas about other people and actually enter their lives and see through their eyes. That’s a radically political act to me.”
  • Ivan Kreilkamp considers the “Against [X]” essay in The New Yorker: ” ‘Against [X]‘ is a symptom of a liberal culture’s longing to escape its own strictures; it’s the desire of thoughtful and nuanced people to shed their inhibitions and issue fearsome dicta. We feel that we must be fair and evenhanded in our prose, but in our titles we can fly a pirate’s flag.”
  • The D.C. Public Library has hired a social worker to work with homeless patrons. Mark Jenkins reports in The Washington Post: “Libraries in other cities have addressed homelessness in various ways. Philadelphia has a cafe and Seattle a coffee cart run by workers who were previously homeless; Dallas produces podcasts of interviews with its homeless regulars. But as far as [social worker Jean] Badalamenti knows, D.C. is only the second U.S. city to hire a library social worker, following San Francisco.” Badalamenti told the Post, “Because the libraries tend to be gathering places for people without homes, it’s important to be part of the citywide conversation about how we’re going to address homelessness, health services and moving people out of homelessness.”
  • At Flavorwire, Elisabeth Donnelly makes the case for a more inclusive literary culture: “Lots of people who are professionally writing about books are also snobs, and snobs to the point that they won’t even consider what the specific alchemy and magic is that makes something like 50 Shades of Grey save the book industry for a year. … Ignoring the biggest literary phenomenon of the decade is not good criticism.”
  • For NPR, 2012 National Book Award Finalist Domingo Martinez describes his struggles with getting health care: “Last year, as I sat in a community health clinic, I wondered if I was the only New York Times best-seller who was waiting to get sliding scale treatment from an underfunded community project, so I wouldn’t die from an asthma attack or have a stroke.”
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Ukrainian Prime Minister Says Government Will Seek NATO Membership

By Eyder Peralta on August 29th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says his government has sent parliament a bill that allows Ukraine to open a path toward membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“The main and only goal of Ukraine’s foreign policy is to join the European Union,” Yatsenyuk said in a statement.

Remember, it was the rejection of a trade deal with the European Union that sparked the protests that ultimately led to unrest and a new government in Ukraine. It’s also important to note that membership in NATO means that a member can invoke Article 5, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all members.

Also, this is all happening just as NATO announced that about 1,000 highly trained Russian troops had been deployed in eastern Ukraine. The Russian army, NATO said, is fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists.

NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow told Morning Edition that the thinking is that Russia is trying to create a land passage along the southern part of Ukraine into Crimea, which it annexed earlier this year.

Russia has denied that it is taking any direct involvement in Ukraine.

Vershbow said NATO would continue to support Ukraine with its defense reforms and its pursuit to professionalize its military.

Morning Edition‘s David Greene asked Vershbow if there were more options for NATO.

Vershbow said that at this point, it will be up to individual members of NATO to decide how they want to help Ukraine. The new appeals for help from Kiev, he said, “will require some serious decision-making in NATO capitals.”

David asked him if that included military action.

Vershbow said President Obama had ruled out “direct NATO military involvement.”

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‘We Don’t Have A Strategy Yet’ On Islamic State, Obama Says

By Krishnadev Calamur on August 28th, 2014 | Last updated: August 29, 2014 at 7:13 pm

President Obama says the U.S. doesn’t “have a strategy yet” on how to deal with Islamic State militants who now control vast swaths of territory across Iraq and Syria, but he added that the militant group was continuing to lose arms and equipment because of targeted U.S. strikes against its members in Iraq.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Obama said at a White House news conference Thursday. “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

He was responding to a question on whether he needed congressional approval to attack Islamic State targets in Syria.

The president noted that the U.S. is continuing to carry out targeted strikes over Iraq to protect Americans there and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground. The Sunni militant group, in its brutal campaign, has carried out mass executions and targeted non-Muslims, including Christians and members of the tiny Yazidi community. Obama noted that in some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push the militants back.

“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can and we will, working with our allies and partners,” Obama said.

ISIL refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the former name of the Islamic State, which is also sometimes called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Obama said he had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to travel to the region to build a coalition against the militants and that he had asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “prepare a range of options.”

He later added: “The options that I’m asking for from the Joint Chiefs focuses primarily on making sure that ISIL is not overrunning Iraq.”

“Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq, to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected,” Obama said in his opening statement.

The administration’s options against the Islamic State are complicated by the fact the militant group is one of many fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. The U.S. and its allies also want Assad gone. Indeed, Obama said Thursday that “Assad has lost legitimacy.”

Obama’s news conference also dealt with the situation in Ukraine.

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