TIME

Toddler Dies of Measles in Berlin, 1st Death in Outbreak

(BERLIN) — An 18-month-old boy has died of measles amid an outbreak in Berlin, a hospital in the German capital said Tuesday.

An autopsy on the child, who wasn’t inoculated against measles, showed that he had an unspecified other disease as well but that wouldn’t have led to his death without the measles infection, the Charite hospital said.

It is the first known death in an outbreak in which Berlin has recorded more than 570 cases since October.

Officials believe the outbreak began with a child asylum-seeker from Bosnia. They said it spread to the wider population partly because immunization rates among over-45s are low, and younger adults also are at risk because many only received one shot instead of two, as is now recommended.

Although it’s rare for measles to be fatal in developed countries, the measles virus kills up to 10 percent of children infected in developing countries that have high levels of malnutrition and poor health care. Most measles deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease and are most common in children under five.

Measles is highly contagious and health officials say more than 90 percent of a population needs to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks. Vaccination rates across Europe fell after a now-discredited study that suggested a link between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

Health Minister Hermann Groehe called Monday for increased efforts to ensure that children are vaccinated and even suggested if that doesn’t succeed, authorities might consider making it mandatory, though he said that isn’t currently on the agenda.

A Berlin secondary school was closed as a precaution Monday because a student had measles, but reopened Tuesday. Officials checked students’ and teachers’ vaccination records and local health official Sibyll Klotz said five students who couldn’t show that they were properly vaccinated were sent home, news agency dpa reported.

The German measles outbreak coincides with smaller ones in the United States tied to Disneyland in California and an Illinois day care center, which in total make up less than 150 cases. Officials say at least two of the measles cases in Berlin have been linked to the U.S. — one person who developed symptoms there before traveling to Germany, and another who developed the infection after returning from the U.S.

TIME Transportation

California Commuter Train Crash Injures Dozens

A firefighter climbs into the wreck of a Metrolink passenger train that derailed on Feb. 24, 2015, in Oxnard, Calif.
Mark J. Terrill—AP A firefighter climbs into the wreck of a Metrolink passenger train that derailed on Feb. 24, 2015, in Oxnard, Calif.

At least 30 injured, with fatalities feared

(OXNARD, Calif.) — A commuter train bound for Los Angeles derailed before dawn Tuesday in a fiery collision with an abandoned commercial pickup after the truck’s driver took a wrong turn and got stuck on the tracks.

There was a loud boom and the screech of brakes before three of the train’s five cars toppled over, sending 30 people to hospitals. Four were in critical condition, including the engineer.

“It seemed like an eternity while we were flying around the train. Everything was flying,” said passenger Joel Bingham. “A brush of death definitely came over me.”

Lives were likely saved by passenger cars designed to absorb a crash. They were purchased after a deadly collision a decade ago, Metrolink officials said. The four passenger cars remained largely intact, as did the locomotive.

Police found the disoriented driver of the demolished Ford F-450 pickup 1.6 miles from the crossing 45 minutes after the crash, said Jason Benites, an assistant chief of the Oxnard Police Department.

That driver, Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Arizona, was briefly hospitalized then arrested Tuesday afternoon on suspicion of felony hit-and-run, Benites said.

Sanchez-Ramirez, who delivers produce, was driving a pickup with an empty bed pulling a trailer with some welding equipment in it. He told police he tried to turn right at an intersection but turned prematurely and his truck got stuck straddling the rails.

Police said they tested Sanchez-Ramirez for drugs and alcohol but they would not discuss the results.

The crossing where the crash happened has been the scene of many collisions over the years.

The train, the first of the morning on the Ventura route, had just left its second stop of Oxnard on its way to downtown Los Angeles, about 65 miles away, when it struck the truck around 5:45 a.m. There were 48 passengers aboard and three crew members who were all injured.

The engineer saw the abandoned vehicle and hit the brakes but there wasn’t enough time to stop, Oxnard Fire Battalion Chief Sergio Martinez said.

Bingham said the lights went out when the train fell over. He was banged up from head to toe but managed to find an escape for himself and others, many of whom had been asleep when the crash happened.

“I was just shaking,” he said. “I opened the window and told everybody, ‘Come to my voice.'”

Firefighters set up red, yellow and green tarps to categorize people according to their injuries, taking 28 to hospitals by ambulance. Two of the 22 people treated at the scene later showed up at hospitals, but only eight people had been admitted by the end of the day.

“Patients have complained of dizziness, of headaches, of lower back pain, of pains related to being bumped, thrown, hit and so forth,” said Dr. Bryan Wong, chief medical officer at Ventura County Medical Center.

One patient described how he had been working on his laptop and a moment later there was a sudden jerking motion that happened so quickly he wasn’t able to grab hold of anything, Wong said. He was violently tossed against a wall of the train.

The train typically would be accelerating out of the Oxnard station past verdant farm fields at about 55 mph, Metrolink spokesman Scott Johnson said. With braking, he estimated it would have hit the truck at between 40 mph and 55 mph.

The train was pushed by a locomotive in the rear, allowing trains to change direction after their run without having to turn around or swap engines. It’s a configuration that has been criticized for putting passengers in a vulnerable position in a crash.

After such a crash killed 11 people and injured 180 others in Glendale in 2005, Metrolink invested heavily to buy passenger cars with collapsible bumpers and other features to absorb impact.

Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said the Oxnard crash showed the technology worked.

“Safe to say it would have been much worse without it,” he said.

The city of Oxnard has wanted to build a $30 million bridge over the crossing for 10 years, but is only at the environmental review stage, said Darren Kettle, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

There have been six accidents at the crossing in the past seven years, including one in which a driver accidently turned onto the tracks in 2010 and was struck by a Metrolink train and injured, according to federal railroad accident reports. Two people were killed at the crossing last year when a car struck an Amtrak train.

Sanchez-Ramirez, the driver in Tuesday’s crash, told police he turned onto the tracks before the crossing arm came down, which occurs 29 seconds before a train arrives. It wasn’t clear how long his truck was stuck before the train hit it.

His wife, Lucila Sanchez, said he jumped out when he saw the train coming and couldn’t restart his engine.

“It’s not his fault,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

The accident happened on the same line as Metrolink’s worst disaster when 25 people were killed Sept. 12, 2008. A commuter train engineer was texting and ran a red light, striking a Union Pacific freight train head-on in the San Fernando Valley community of Chatsworth. More than 100 people were hurt in what was one of the worst railroad accidents in U.S. history.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration were sending investigators to the Tuesday crash in Oxnard.

Cranes moved the trains at the end of the day, but the tracks, which are also used by Amtrak and freight trains, remained shut down.

TIME czech republic

8 Dead in Czech Restaurant Shooting

Czech Republic Shooting
Dalibor Gluck / AP A police officer patrols near a restaurant where a gunman opened fire injuring at least one person in Uhersky Brod, in the east of the Czech Republic, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015

The shooter, a man about 60, was among the dead

(PRAGUE) — A mayor in the Czech Republic says a local man has opened fire in a restaurant in a clash that has left at least eight people dead.

Patrik Kuncar, mayor of the southeastern town of Uherske Brod, also said the shooter, a man around 60, was among the dead.

Interior Minister Milan Chovanec was also quoted by two Czech media outlets as saying that eight people had been killed. He was heading for the town, located 300 kilometers (185 miles) southeast of Prague.

TIME Crime

States Use Secret Psychological Tests to Predict Future Crimes

States are turning to predictive data to drive down prison populations, reduce recidivism and save billions of dollars

On a hot Friday last July, a parolee was mowing a lawn in a small cul-de-sac on the west side of the city when he stopped to ask for a glass of water.

The 70-year-old widow whose yard he was mowing told him to wait on her porch. Instead, she said, he jerked the storm door open, slammed her against the wall, forced her into the bedroom and raped her. The parolee pushed her with such force, she said, that her front teeth were knocked loose.

Then he went back to mowing the lawn.

Milton Thomas, 58, said he’s not guilty. His trial is set for March.

Thomas has been in and out of Arkansas prisons since 2008 for nonviolent crimes, including check fraud. After he got out in November 2013, the state predicted he was a low risk to commit another crime, Thomas said, and assigned him the least amount of supervision.

His low-risk prediction would have been calculated based on answers to a lengthy questionnaire, the latest tool among the nation’s court systems to try to predict the likelihood that an offender will commit a crime again.

Across the country, states have turned to a data-driven movement to drive down prison populations, reduce recidivism and save billions of dollars. One emerging practice is the use of risk-and-needs assessment tools, which are questionnaires that explore issues beyond criminal history. They are based on surveys of offenders making their way through the justice system.

In a country with the highest incarceration numbers in the world, these questionnaires are a pillar of a new effort to get people out of prison. Repeat offenders are a major driver of bloated prison populations. But an Associated Press examination found significant problems with the surveys, which are used inconsistently across the United States, sometimes within the same jurisdiction.

Supporters cite some research, such as a 1987 Rand Corp. study that said the surveys can be up to 70 percent accurate in predicting the likelihood of repeat offenses, if they are used correctly. Even the Rand study, one of the seminal pieces of research on the subject, was skeptical of the surveys’ effectiveness.

It’s nearly impossible to measure the surveys’ impact on recidivism because they are only part of broader efforts.

These assessment surveys, used for crimes ranging from petty thievery to serial murders, come with their own set of risks.

Many rely on criminals to tell the truth, though jurisdictions do not always check to make sure the answers are accurate.

The surveys are clouded in secrecy. Some states never release the evaluations, shielding government officials from being held accountable for decisions that affect public safety.

Some have the potential to punish people for being poor or uneducated by attaching a lower risk to those with steady work and high levels of education.

The surveys can include more than 100 questions and explore a defendant’s education, family, income, job status, history of moving, parents’ arrest history, or whether he or she has a phone. A score is affixed to each answer and the result helps shape how the defendant will be supervised in the system.

“How easy would you say it is to acquire drugs in your neighborhood?” a convicted thief could be asked.

“How many prior sex offense arrests (with force) as an adult?” a sex offender could be asked. A bubbled answer sheet lists options ranging from zero to more than three.

The idea is to use data about past offenders to predict what current defendants with similar backgrounds might do when released from prison. A major push is to free up parole and probation officers to focus on those more likely to reoffend, instead of lower risk inmates.

“It is a vast improvement over the decision-making process of 20, 30 years ago when parole boards and the courts didn’t have any statistical information to base their decisions on,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is working with the U.S. Justice Department on changes to the prison systems nationally.

Cost savings are significant. In Arkansas, a prisoner costs the state $63 a day. A parolee costs $2.

But the sexual assault case in Little Rock also points to shortcomings.

Before Thomas was released, the parole board assessed him as a high risk to commit more crimes. But a second risk assessment, conducted by the state’s community supervision agency, found him to be a low risk, Thomas told the AP. Thomas said he has no recollection of answering questions from the lengthy survey.

Not only were Thomas’s contradictory assessments never explained, but after he was arrested on charges of raping Diana Miller, he was assessed again. The AP doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault, but Miller, now 71, agreed to be identified by her middle and married names because she said it is important for her story to be told.

Stunningly, Thomas’ risk-rating decreased after the rape charge.

The reason for the difference? The state couldn’t figure out how old Thomas was when first arrested, according to Solomon Graves, a member of the state parole board.

In June 2013, Thomas said he wasn’t yet 25 when first arrested, a high-risk factor, Graves said. The following year, Arkansas criminal history reports listed Thomas as having been in his late 30s when first arrested, so Thomas’s risk-rating was lowered. In a letter to the AP, Thomas said he was 19 when he was first arrested.

The calculations for determining probation conditions are often just as bewildering.

In February 2014, an Arkansas consultant said a majority of male parolees and probationers were classified as low risk by the state’s Department of Community Correction but 46 percent were rearrested within 18 months — “creating a potentially dangerous situation for public safety,” consultant JFA Associates LLC concluded.

“Virtually any recidivism reduction plan can be helpful,” said U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who favors changes in prison policies.

Scott co-sponsored legislation in the last Congress that called for using risk assessment surveys for the federal prison population. “I think you ought to have some assessment and do the best you can and keep updating it based on the research. But you ought not be afraid of a system that’s working on average because of one anecdote.”

___

“Garbage in, garbage out”

Jurisdictions use dozens of different surveys that vary in the kinds of questions asked and how they are used. The Justice Department is helping bankroll this movement by providing millions of dollars to help states develop and roll out changes.

“We really consider them to be a cornerstone or a foundational piece of what we can accomplish,” said Ruby Qazilbash, associate deputy director for policy in the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The goal is ultimately to save money, since states and counties spend some $92 billion a year on corrections.

But in most cases, the surveys can only work if the rest of the judicial system is working properly.

In September, that gap played out in a juvenile courtroom in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

There, a teenager faced sentencing for a charge of aggravated battery with bodily harm stemming from an incident one year earlier over a neighbor’s dog. The neighbor let his dog out without a leash, and the barking dog ran toward the teen’s father. The teen’s dad told the dog to go away, upsetting the dog’s owner. Curses and threats followed. The dog owner walked away, then turned back toward the teen’s dad and took his shirt off. When the teen’s father called the police, his son joined the fracas and stabbed the dog owner, police said.

The teen was given a 128-item questionnaire called the Positive Achievement Change Tool, or PACT, standard for juvenile cases in Florida. He was deemed a low risk to commit further crimes. The AP does not generally name juveniles charged with crimes.

The survey asked about his history of school expulsions, views on the value of education, whether his parents had been arrested and whether his friends had committed crimes.

One answer helping earn him the low score: getting credit for having a good group of friends.

But when the prosecutor, Maria Schneider, dug into the defendant’s background, she found that his circle of “friends” had attempted a drive-by shooting of his house because they said he owed them money.

The assessment “is completely flawed,” Schneider said in court. “They were obviously depending just on the information this young man was providing himself,” she said.

She believed the teen was moderate to high-risk, worthy of detaining under a residential program. The judge sentenced him to such a program, where teens are supervised 24 hours a day, but not held behind bars. At low risk, as the survey suggested, he would have received probation.

The case is a perfect example of “garbage in, garbage out,” Schneider said in an interview. “I continue to see where the PACT does not reflect the reality.”

Corrections systems always have been plagued by inaccurate information, said Sean Hosman, founder of Assessments.com, the company that, in collaboration with Florida, fashioned the survey.

Even so, he said, the assessments are an improvement over past practices and help defendants get a fair shot.

“Too often,” Hosman said, “we would do a gut check or you’d use intuition … or assess them based on the color of their skin, or the fact that we knew their brother and they went through here before.”

In California, a public defender in San Joaquin County, Christine Kroger, said she is not seeing much improvement. She has had trouble even getting access to the surveys conducted on her juvenile clients.

“You feed all this information into a computer and it spits out what should happen to this child,” Kroger said.

In Kentucky, the surveys have helped decide which defendants should be released before trial, said Ed Monahan, Kentucky’s public advocate.

In his state, Monahan has seen a 3 percent increase in the number of defendants released before trial with “no adverse consequence to appearance or criminal behavior.”

These tools are also used by the parole board, but Monahan said he has been less impressed with the outcomes.

Of inmates who were eligible for parole and assessed to be a low risk of committing future crimes, only 60 percent are being released, Monahan said. “Millions of dollars that could be saved there — that’s not being done,” he said. The state’s parole board did not respond to questions about the discrepancy.

___

Questions of Potential Bias

The surveys have been largely confined to parole and probation decisions, but they increasingly are being used for sentencing.

One 2013 study said at least one court system in 20 states is using these questionnaires at some stage of sentencing. In some states, such as Michigan, the tools are used statewide.

Offenders in Michigan have been assessed since 2007 when they go to prison. Now the risk assessment is incorporated into a report given the judge before sentencing. Among the 135 questions:

—In the last 12 months before this incarceration, how often did you move?

—Was one of your parents (or parent figure who raised you) ever sent to jail or prison?

—In the last couple of years before this incarceration, how many of your friends/acquaintances had ever been arrested?

Sonja B. Starr, a University of Michigan law professor who wrote the 2013 study, said the surveys could punish people for being poor.

“They are about the defendant’s family, the defendant’s demographics, about socio-economic factors the defendant presumably would change if he could: Employment, stability, poverty,” Starr said. “It’s basically an explicit embrace of the state saying we should sentence people differently based on poverty.”

In a sense, the justice system has taken a page from the insurance industry, using data to assess risk.

“This is a way to put a blood pressure cuff on the guy and say, ‘This is what the data show. Now what are we going to do for the patient?'” said Thomas A. Powell, a forensic psychologist in Vermont, which uses an assessment tool called VASOR for sex offenders.

The Justice Department’s position on the tools has been inconsistent. On one hand, it’s funding them, and on the other, the department is putting on the brakes.

“Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant’s history of criminal conduct,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in August. “They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place.”

The Justice Department cautioned the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets national policies, about relying too much on the new surveys. But jurisdictions are sorely tempted to test new systems that could save billions.

For instance, North Carolina could save $560 million by 2017, a Justice Department report concluded. Between 2011 and 2014, the North Carolina prison population decreased by more than 3,000 people, according to the state. Overhauls, including the use of risk assessments, have saved the state nearly $84 million, and it plans to use $32 million of those savings for community treatment programs.

___

A low-risk serial killer

Texas has been widely praised for overhauling its prison system — including use of surveys — in ways that helped drive down prison populations by more than 9 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the Texas state figures.

The case of Darren Vann, however, exposed deadly flaws.

In 2004, Vann, then 33, grabbed an ex-girlfriend in a chokehold, doused her with gasoline, threatened to light her on fire and dragged her through an alley, according to court documents. He spent about one month in jail. His charge was downgraded to a misdemeanor, and he was sentenced to a year in jail, which he served on probation. The original presiding judge in his case was kicked off the bench about six months after Vann’s sentence because of a backlog of cases, the state’s supreme court said.

Vann violated his probation in 2005 and was to spend 12 days in jail. But it was unclear whether he did. Court records show a hearing scheduled for November of that year was canceled.

Four years later, Vann landed in jail again, this time for raping a woman in Austin, Texas.

When he completed his sentence in 2013, Texas performed an assessment on Vann, as it does on all sex offenders. Vann refused to take the three surveys that Texas typically uses. An employee filled out a 10-question survey, called Static-99R, to score Vann’s likelihood that he would commit another sex crime. Vann scored a 1 — the lowest risk — on a scale of 1 to 6. His assessment predicted only a 3.8 percent chance he would commit a future sex crime in the next five years.

But that was only if the answers to the questions were actually true.

One of the questions asked whether Vann had a previous sex offense. Because Texas had no record of his 2004 crime, a criminal history check noted in the survey indicated he had a clean record.

Had Vann scored higher on the Static-99R, Texas would have sent postcards to the community where he was living — if he was living in Texas. But Vann moved to Indiana after his release.

About one year later, 19-year-old Afrika Hardy was found dead in a Motel 6 bathtub 20 miles southeast of Chicago.

Vann had found her through an online escort ad, calling himself “Big Boy Appetite.”

According to police, Vann said he had sex with Hardy on Oct. 17 then things got rough. Wearing white gloves, he strangled Hardy with his hands and an extension cord, he told investigators. Vann was arrested after police traced him through cellphone records.

In custody, Vann confessed to the killing, and also told police he murdered six other women, directing them to abandoned homes in Gary, Indiana, where the bodies lay. Under a pile of tires and teddy bears at one home was the body of 35-year-old Anith Jones, who had gone missing earlier that month.

It was unclear how many of the women had died after Vann had taken the Static-99R.

Experts say that the risk-and-needs assessment tools should be evaluated every few years. Texas, which started using the instrument that evaluated Vann in 2000, is just now doing this, state spokesman Jason Clark said.

“States and localities and all the jurisdictions that are working on risk assessment right now, they’re in different places with respect to their ability to implement a good risk assessment,” Gelb said. “But it’s absolutely critical that they do.”

___

Crowded prisons

With more than 2.2 million people in jails and prisons across the country, the U.S. leads the world in incarceration, ahead of both China and Russia, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. Successful changes in some states means lawmakers are considering changes for the federal system, too.

“We know that our prisons are overcrowded, and pretty much everyone agrees that recidivism, the percentage in which people repeat crimes, is way too high,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. He cited a national recidivism rate of about 68 percent within three years, a figure from a 2014 Justice Department estimate of prisoners released in 30 states.

Cornyn and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, reintroduced legislation this month that would require the use of a risk assessment tool in the federal prison system.

“We’ can’t simply incarcerate our way to public safety,” Whitehouse said. “We have to be smart.”

There is a separate bill in the House that would also require risk assessments for the federal prison population.

Which risk assessment survey would be used and how it would be applied is a subject of debate.

Despite problems with the tools in Arkansas, the Justice Department in 2013 heralded the changes the state made to its corrections system.

Arkansas state Sen. David Sanders, however, said the changes have made the community less safe because it pushes responsibility to the parole and community supervision systems.

“Our parole system is absolutely dysfunctional,” said Sanders, an outspoken opponent of some of the changes in corrections policies made in Arkansas. He is pushing for more transparency about the use of the survey tools.

Even those who advocate for surveys acknowledged that they are imperfect.

Graves, the Arkansas parole board member, said that over time the tools will become more dependable.

“We’re never going to have a 100 percent predictive tool,” he said. “We’ll never be there.”

___

Associated Press writers Alex Sanz in Atlanta and Tom Coyne in Crown Point, Indiana, contributed to this report.

TIME Environment

UN Climate Panel’s Chief Steps Down Over Sexual Harassment Claims

R.K. Pachauri in 2010.
Manan Vatsyayana—AFP/Getty Images R.K. Pachauri in 2010.

R.K. Pachauri, 75, had chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 2002

The leader of the U.N.’s expert panel on climate change stepped down on Tuesday amid an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment in his native India.

R.K. Pachauri, 75, had chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 2002 and accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on its behalf.

The IPCC “needs strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the chair in the immediate future, which under the current circumstances I may be unable to provide,” Pachauri wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

He did not elaborate but pointed to his withdrawal from a meeting in Nairobi this week to attend to what the IPCC called “issues demanding his attention in India.”

Pachauri is being investigated in India after a 29-year-old woman accused him of sexually harassing her while they worked together at the New Delhi lobbying and research organization he heads, The Energy Resources Institute.

Pachauri denies the allegations and has said he is “committed to provide all assistance and cooperation to the authorities.”

The IPCC said vice chairman Ismail El Gizouli will serve as the panel’s acting chairman, and a vote on a new chairperson was already scheduled for October. Pachauri’s second term as chairman was due to end then, and he had said that he wouldn’t run for a third term.

Pachauri said in his resignation letter that he “would be available for help, support and advice to the entire IPCC in its future work in whatever manner I may be called on to provide.”

TIME politics

Veterans Affairs Secretary Apologizes for Misstating Military Record

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2015, file photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs budget. McDonald apologized Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, for misstating that he served in the military's special forces
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald testifies on Capitol Hill on Feb. 11, 2015

While conversing with a homeless man, McDonald falsely claimed that he served in the special forces

(WASHINGTON) — Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald apologized Monday for misstating that he served in the military’s special forces.

McDonald made the erroneous claim while speaking to a homeless veteran during a segment that aired last month on “CBS Evening News.”

In a statement released Monday by the VA, McDonald said: “While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military. He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.”

The VA website says McDonald is an Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne Division. The Huffington Post website, which first reported on McDonald’s mistake, noted Monday that the 82nd is not considered part of special forces.

McDonald said he remains committed “to the ongoing effort to reform VA.”

The White House issued a statement Monday saying, “We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.”

President Barack Obama chose the former Procter & Gamble CEO to take over the scandal-plagued VA last year, and McDonald took office last July. The questions about McDonald’s service come as TV newsmen Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly have had their claims about covering foreign wars called into question.

TIME Greece

Greece Submits New List of Bailout Reforms

SYRIZA's parliamentary group meeting at the Parliament in Athens
Alexandros Vlachos—EPA Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and head of Syriza party addresses his party lawmakers during a meeting of their parliamentary group at the Parliament in Athens on Feb. 17, 2015

Greece Submits New List of Bailout Reforms

(ATHENS) — Greece’s left-wing government delivered a list of reforms Tuesday to debt inspectors for final approval of extended rescue loans, officials said.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was already facing dissent within his left-wing Syriza party over claims it is backtracking on its recent election-winning promises to ease budget cuts for the recession-battered Greeks.

Greece and bailout creditors have been in a standoff since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza party won general elections last month on a pledge to tear up bailout agreements and seek a massive write off of bailout debts, totaling 240 billion euros ($271 billion).

But they reached a tentative agreement Friday to extend the country’s rescue loan program by four months, avoiding the risk of a Greek default and exit from the euro currency.

The government official said reforms focus on curbing tax evasion, corruption, smuggling and excessive bureaucracy while also addressing poverty caused by a six-year recession.

A Syriza official in Brussels said that “immediate priority” would be given to the settling of overdue debts, the protection of people with mortgage arrears as well as the ending of foreclosures of first residencies.

“Creditors will be skeptical. These are notoriously difficult reforms and, in the case of the latter, usually cost money,” said Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management.

“It will be difficult for the Greek government to provide concrete measures for achieving these goals, and they will almost certainly be unable to achieve much before the next round of negotiations in June.”

Tsipras is also facing pressure within his party.

Several prominent Syriza members have publicly said the party should honor its campaign promises.

Environment Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, an outspoken bailout critic, lashed lead bailout lender Germany for insisting that Athens stick with austerity measures — an effort he insisted would fail.

“Red lines in negotiations cannot be crossed — that’s why they are red,” he told the weekly Real News. “If the Germans choose to push the issue to a rift, they will bring catastrophic consequences on themselves.”

The dissent could complicate approval of the overhauled reforms in parliament, with Syriza lacking a majority and relying on right-wing coalition partner, the Independent Greeks.

Government spokesman Gavrill Sakelaridis argued Greece is still locked in tough negotiations with lenders.

“No one can be expected to change everything in three weeks. We haven’t got a magic wand,” he told private Skai television.

Nikos Chountis, the deputy foreign minister, said the government had not abandoned its main goal of easing the country’s debt burden with a write off. Any talks on lightening Greece’s bailout burden would only come later — after the loan extension is approved this week, guaranteeing both sides have time to discuss the issue in depth.

“The big negotiation will be on whether the national debt is viable or not, and how it will be dealt with,” he told pro-Syriza Sto Kokkino radio.

Monday’s hurried preparations in Athens found Greeks celebrating a public holiday, the start of lent before Orthodox Christian Easter, on a day marked with picnics and kite flying.

Athens resident Christos Kotsabouyoukos took his young son and daughter to fly their kite on a hill facing the ancient Acropolis, and appeared resigned to more bad news.

“The way we’re living now isn’t nice … Greeks are hungry and they are miserable,” he said. “”If Europe now wants to kick us out, they can kick us out — what can we do?”

TIME U.S.

Lawmaker Asks if Gynecological Exams Can Be Done by Swallowing a Camera

In this Jan. 5, 2012 file photo, Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri talks with reporters at the Capitol building in Boise, Idaho
Matt Cilley—AP Idaho Representative Vito Barbieri talks with reporters at the Capitol building in Boise, Idaho, on Jan. 5, 2012

He receives a brief lesson on female anatomy in return

(BOISE, Idaho) — An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.

The question Monday from Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri came as the House State Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.

Dr. Julie Madsen was testifying in opposition to the bill when Barbieri asked the question. Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.

“Fascinating. That makes sense,” Barbieri said, amid the crowd’s laughter.

The committee approved the bill 13-4 on a party-line vote, where it now goes to the House floor for a full vote. Barbieri, who sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center in northern Idaho, voted in favor of the legislation.

Under HB154, abortion-inducing medication could not be administered through telemedicine —which does not currently happen in Idaho— and requires doctors to make “all reasonable efforts” to schedule a follow-up visit. The bill is backed by the anti-abortion group Idaho Choose Life.

Anti-abortion advocates argue that the bill will protect women who may have an adverse reaction to abortion medication. Those opposed counter that the bill is an attempt to restrict abortions, pointing to women living in rural areas where access to clinics is already limited.

The measure is one of several abortion-related bills Idaho lawmakers are considering this legislative session.

This includes a proposed bill seeking to define the scope of telemedicine in Idaho, which somewhat overlaps with HB154, because it specifically bans would ban doctors from prescribing abortion drugs via videoconferencing. Over in the Idaho Senate, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

The House State Affairs Committee is considered one of the most conservative committees in Idaho’s Republican-controlled Statehouse. Already this year, the committee has killed a proposal that would provide legal protections to gay and lesbian Idahoans and halted legislation proposed by a 14-year-old girl to designate the Idaho Giant Salamander as the official state amphibian. It has endorsed, however, a bill that would expand parental rights in Idaho law.

“Children have no way to really challenge the forces that harm them and unborn children are especially susceptible to harm,” said Republican Rep. Linden Bateman. “In my view, this may reduce the number of abortions.”

This isn’t the first time Idaho lawmakers have received attention while debating abortion legislation.

In 2013, Republican Rep. Ron Mendive drew audible gasps in a committee when he asked if the American Civil Liberties Union-Idaho’s pro-abortion stance also meant they supported prostitution. A year prior, Republican Sen. Chuck Winder drew national criticism after he suggested on the Senate floor that a doctor should ask a woman who says she was raped could have been caused by “normal relations in a marriage.”

TIME Congress

Aaron Schock Said to Spend Campaign and Taxpayer Dollars on Concerts and Private Flights

The rising Republican star is already facing an ethics inquiry

(WASHINGTON) — Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, a rising Republican star already facing an ethics inquiry, has spent taxpayer and campaign funds on flights aboard private planes owned by some of his key donors, The Associated Press has found. There also have been other expensive travel and entertainment charges, including for a massage company and music concerts.

The expenses highlight the relationships that lawmakers sometimes have with donors who fund their political ambitions, an unwelcome message for a congressman billed as a fresh face of the GOP. The AP identified at least one dozen flights worth more than $40,000 on donors’ planes since mid-2011.

The AP tracked Schock’s reliance on the aircraft partly through the congressman’s penchant for uploading pictures and videos of himself to his Instagram account. The AP extracted location data associated with each image then correlated it with flight records showing airport stopovers and expenses later billed for air travel against Schock’s office and campaign records.

Asked for comment, Schock responded in an email on Monday that he travels frequently throughout his Peoria-area district “to stay connected with my constituents” and also travels to raise money for his campaign committee and congressional colleagues.

He said he takes compliance with congressional funding rules seriously and has begun a review of his office’s procedures “concerning this issue and others to determine whether they can be improved.” The AP had been seeking comment from Schock’s office since mid-February to explain some of his expenses.

Donors who owned planes on which travel was paid for by Schock’s House and political accounts did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment Monday.

Schock’s high-flying lifestyle, combined with questions about expenses decorating his office after the TV show “Downton Abbey,” add to awkward perceptions on top of allegations he illegally solicited donations in 2012.

The Office of Congressional Ethics said in a 2013 report that there was reason to believe Schock violated House rules by soliciting campaign contributions for a committee that backed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., in a 2012 primary. The House Ethics Committee has said that query remains open.

“Haters are gonna hate,” Schock, 33, told ABC News after the “Downton Abbey” story broke in The Washington Post, brushing off the controversy by invoking a line from one of pop singer Taylor Swift’s songs.

Lawmakers can use office funds for private flights as long as payments cover their share of the costs. But most of the flights Schock covered with office funds occurred before the House changed its rules in January 2013. The earlier rules prohibited lawmakers from using those accounts to pay for flights on private aircraft, allowing payments only for federally licensed charter and commercial flights.

Schock’s House account paid more than $24,000 directly to a Peoria aviation firm for eight flights provided by one of Schock’s donor’s planes in 2011 and 2012. While the aircraft flies as part of an Illinois charter service, the owner of the service told the AP on Monday that any payments made directly to the donor’s aviation company would not have been for charter flights.

Beyond air travel, Schock spent thousands more on tickets for concerts, car mileage reimbursements — among the highest in Congress — and took his interns to a sold-out Katy Perry concert in Washington last June.

The donor planes include an Italian-made Piaggio twin-engine turboprop owned by Todd Green of Springfield, Illinois, who runs car dealerships in Schock’s district with his brother, Jeff. Todd Green told a Springfield newspaper that Jeff — a pilot and campaign contributor — and Schock have been friends for a long time.

The AP found that Green’s plane traveled to at least eight cities last October in the Midwest and East Coast, cities where Schock met with political candidates ahead of the midterm elections. His Instagram account’s location data and information from the service FlightAware even pinpointed Schock’s location on a stretch of road near one airport before Green’s plane departed.

Campaign records show a $12,560 expense later that month to Jeff Green from a political action committee associated with Schock, called the “GOP Generation Y Fund.” That same month, the PAC paid $1,440 to a massage parlor for a fundraising event.

In November 2013, Schock cast votes in the Capitol just after Green’s plane landed at nearby Reagan National Airport. Shortly after Green’s return to Peoria, Schock posted a photo from his “Schocktoberfest” fundraising event at a brewery in his district. Schock billed his office account $11,433 for commercial transportation during that same, four-day period to a Peoria flight company, Byerly Aviation.

The AP’s review covered Schock’s travel and entertainment expenses in his taxpayer-funded House account, in his campaign committee and the GOP Generation Y Fund. Records show more than $1.5 million in contributions to the Generation Y Fund since he took office in 2009.

Schock used House office expenses to pay more than $24,000 for eight flights between May 2011 and December 2012 on a six-passenger Cessna Golden Eagle owned by D&B Jet Inc., run by Peoria agribusiness consultant and major Schock donor Darren Frye. While D&B is a private corporate aviation firm, it also flies with Jet Air Inc., an Illinois-based aviation firm licensed by the FAA for charter service.

Records show Schock used House funds to directly pay D&B instead of Jet Air for the eight flights. Under the old rules that previously allowed House funds to pay only for charter or commercial aircraft, Schock’s office would likely not have been authorized to pay for private flights unless the House Ethics Committee approved it.

Harrel W. Timmons, Jet Air’s owner, said in a telephone interview that any charter flights D&B flies through his firm are paid directly to Jet Air. “They’ve got their own corporate jet and pilot,” he said.

House records also show that, since 2013, Schock has flown four times on a Cessna owned by Peoria auto dealer Michael J. Miller and businessman Matthew Vonachen, who heads a janitorial firm, Vonachen Services Inc. Schock’s House office account paid nearly $6,000 total for the four flights, according to federal data published online by the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.

Under current House rules, the payments for the private flights would be authorized if they paid for Schock’s portion of each flight. It is not clear from records how many other passengers flew on the same flights. USA Today on Friday first reported potential issues with House ethics rules in revealing some of the flights.

Vonachen and his family donated at least $27,000 to Schock’s campaigns, while Miller contributed $10,000 to the Automotive Free International Trade PAC. Schock has supported recent free trade agreements with South Korea and with several other countries, which the Automotive PAC — a Schock contributor — lauded.

Schock’s reliance on donor-owned planes and on his government allowance to pay for the flights mirrors the use by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., of a private jet owned by a wealthy eye doctor and major donor. Prompted by an ethics investigation, Menendez reimbursed donor Salomon Melgen $58,500 for two flights.

GOP Generation Y paid more than $24,000 for tickets and festivals, including $13,000 to country music events, $4,700 in expenses to Chicago ticket broker SitClose.com, and $3,000 for a “fundraising event” to an organization that runs the Global Citizen Festival in New York.

“You can’t say no when your boss invites you. Danced my butt off,” one former intern posted on his Instagram account with a picture of Perry at her June 2014 show. PAC records show a $1,928 expense for the ticket service StubHub.com two months later, listing it only as a “PAC fundraising event.”

Records show Schock also requested more than $18,000 in mileage reimbursements since 2013, among the highest in Congress. His office has previously said it was reviewing those expenses.

___

Associated Press writers Kerry Lester in Peoria, Illinois, and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Military

Marine Who Vanished in Iraq Gets 2 Years in Prison

Marine-Desertion Trial
John Althouse—The Daily News/AP Cpl. Wassef Hassoun is escorted to the courtroom in Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., on Feb. 9, 2015, for the beginning of his court martial trial.

(RALEIGH, N.C.) — A U.S. Marine who vanished a decade ago in Iraq has been sentenced to two years in prison for leaving his post and then fleeing to Lebanon after a brief return to the U.S.

As part of the sentence handed down Monday, Cpl. Wassef Hassoun will have a reduction in rank, loss of pay and a dishonorable discharge.

He was given two years and five days’ confinement.

Earlier in the day, the judge at Camp Lejeune, Marine Maj. Nicholas Martz, had found Hassoun guilty of desertion for his disappearances in 2004 and 2005. He was also convicted of losing his service pistol.

Prosecutors argued that Hassoun made preparations to flee his base in Fallujah in 2004 and told others that he planned to leave.

The defense, meanwhile, maintained he was kidnapped by insurgents and said the prosecution’s case was circumstantial.

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