TIME Israel

Michael Bloomberg Blasts FAA for Halting Israel Flights

Bloomberg Flies El Al, Says Travel To Israel "Safe"
Mike Bloomberg, majority shareholder of Bloomberg LP and former New York mayor, second right, and Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem, right, speak with member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Jerusalem, Israel, on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Gilad Mor—Bloomberg/ Getty Images

"It was an overreaction for the FAA to halt U.S. flights here – and a mistake they should correct"

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the Federal Aviation Administration overreacted after it canceled flights to Israel for 24 hours. Bloomberg flew to the country himself Wednesday, to “show solidarity with the Israeli people” and to “show that it’s safe to fly in and out” of the country, despite the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

“Halting flights here – when the airport is safe – hurts Israel and rewards Hamas for attacking Israel. Hamas wants to shut down the airport; we can’t let that happen,” Bloomberg said in a statement posted to his website. “I’m a pilot – and I’ve always believed the FAA does a great job – and still do. But on this issue, I think the agency got it wrong.”

The FAA ordered American carriers to stay put on Wednesday, after a rocket hit a mile away from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. Flight operations were canceled “due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza,” the FAA said.

Bloomberg, who says he has “always been a strong supporter of Israel,” landed in Tel Aviv at 5 a.m. local time on Wednesday via an El Al flight. He applauded Secretary of State John Kerry for also flying into the region on Wednesday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“He was right to fly in, and I hope he will report back that the airport is safe and that the FAA should reverse its decision,” Bloomberg said.

TIME

Kerry on Gaza: ‘This Needs to End for Everybody’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 23, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 23, 2014. AP

“We had a good conversation today about how we can take further steps"

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that there has been some progress made over the past 24 hours in achieving a cease-fire in Gaza. Kerry’s comments came following a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We had a good conversation today about how we can take further steps, and we’re doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence, and this needs to end for everybody,” Kerry said following the meeting in Ramallah.

As of Wednesday, approximately 635 Palestinians, 77 percent of whom were civilians, have reportedly been killed in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, which escalated last week when Israel commenced a major ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. At least 30 Israelis have also been killed, 28 of whom were soldiers, according to the United Nations.

Kerry is traveling to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Tel Aviv Wednesday in an effort to broker a cease-fire deal. Kerry’s presence in the region comes after militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, rejected a deal presented by Egypt and agreed to by Israel. Kerry said Wednesday he was “very grateful to President Abbas for his leadership, for his deep engagement in the effort to try to find a cease-fire.”

“We will continue to push for this cease-fire,” Kerry said. “We will continue to work with President Abbas and others in the region in order to achieve it. And I can tell you that we have, in the last 24 hours, made some progress in moving towards that goal.”

Following his meeting with Abbas, Kerry was set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

TIME White House

Michelle Obama’s Pro-Water (Soda Silent) Campaign Makes Waves

Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama, a longtime supporter of healthier eating and physical fitness, is surrounded by children as she expands her push for America to drink more water, at a "Drink Up" event at the White House. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

“I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water."

First Lady Michelle Obama devoted Tuesday afternoon to telling Americans to drink less sugary soda, without actually saying anything bad about sugary soda.

It’s been nearly a year since the First Lady launched the “Drink Up” campaign, a subset of the signature effort to promote healthy choices for kids that focuses on water. But instead of attacking the sugary, carbonated drinks and juices that contribute to the widening waistlines of our nation’s kids, “Drink Up” attempted to flood the market with positive, pro-water messaging.

At an event in the White House State Dining Room, the first lady said those who have been involved in promoting “Drink Up”—from the American Beverage Association to the Obama’s Portuguese water dog Sunny —have succeeded in making water “cool.” “I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water,” Obama said.

Their efforts have been proof that when you market and promote healthy choices as fervently as junk food, “then kids actually get excited about these products, and families actually buy them and consume them,” Mrs. Obama added. Seven organizations, including Brita, Nalgene, Haws Corporation, and S’well bottle, recently joined the campaign to promote the consumption and accessibility of water. And so far, according to a study conducted by Nielsen Catalina Solutions on the impact of the “Drink Up” campaign, online ads have helped fuel a 3% lift in sales of bottled water, worth about $1 million.

It’s good news for a campaign that came out the gate to criticism from nearly all sides. Some argued Mrs. Obama’s messaging about the benefits of water, which she called a natural “energy drink,” was inflated. Others said she should be promoting drinking tap water over bottled for the sake of the environment. While many were critical of the fact that instead of vilifying soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi she partnered with them, which seemed contradictory given the direct link from sugary drinks to obesity.

“It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive,” Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, said at the time of the campaign’s launch. “Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “

A year later, however, tensions have cooled. “It’s terrific that the First Lady is working to make water more available, more cool,” said Margot Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Increasing the appeal is one part of what needs to be done to reduce the consumption of other beverages.”

And meanwhile, First Lady Obama has gotten tougher on her efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Though Tuesday was about fun and positivity—a group of local YMCA kids on the South Lawn even “surprised” the First Lady with a 60-by-40 foot water drop made out of 2,000 “Drink Up” branded reusable bottles—the anti-junk undertones didn’t go unnoticed. She even took time to mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s healthy school lunch standards she championed in 2010 and has been fighting since May to protect.

On Tuesday, the general message was, “don’t give up on our kids.”

“We need to keep working together within industries and across industries to help our kids lead healthier lives,” the First Lady said. ” And if we do all that, then I am confident — I continue to be confident that we can give our kids the bright, healthy futures they deserve.”

This story was updated to clarify that the survey on Drink Up was performed by Nielsen Catalina Solutions, a joint venture between The Nielsen Company and Catalina Marketing Corporation.

TIME Education

Obama to Sign Bill Improving Worker Training

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden greets President Barack Obama as he arrives to speak at Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Oakdale, Pa., about the importance of jobs-driven skills training. Carolyn Kaster—AP

On Tuesday, President Obama and Vice President Biden will announce new executive actions on job training at the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed by Congress on July 9 will streamline the federal workforce training system, trimming 15 programs that don’t work, giving schools the opportunity to cater their services to the needs of their region, and empowering businesses to identify what skills workers need for success and help workers acquire them.

The bipartisan, bicameral bill is a response to a projection that by 2022, 11 million workers will lack the education necessary to succeed in a 21st century workplace including bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and vocational certificates.

“Workforce training is critically important to help grow the American economy still recovering from recession and bridge the widening skills gap separating thousands of unemployed workers from promising careers in 21st century workplaces,” said Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) when the bill passed.

The Obama Administration apparently agrees. On Tuesday, when Obama signs the bill into law, he and Vice President Joe Biden will also announce new federal and private sector actions to address the need for an improved job training system, which currently serves about 21 million Americans including veterans, Americans with disabilities, the unemployed, and those who lack skills to climb the career ladder. The Obama administration’s new actions also complement the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by improving federal training programs not included in the bill.

Earlier in 2014, President Obama tasked Biden with reviewing the federal training system to find ways to improve it. As a result of that review, Biden will issue a report Tuesday that outlines “job-driven” strategies that the Administration says will make the federal training system “more effective, more responsive to employers, and more accountable for results” in Tuesday’s report.

Chief among these strategies is a new “job-driven checklist,” a tool that measures how effective programs are in preparing students for careers that will be incorporated into applications for all 25 federal training grants, at a total of about $1.4 billion, starting Oct. 1. The checklist requires programs to engage with local employers in designing programs that cater to their needs, ramp up opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, and keep better data on employment and earning outcomes.

“From now on, federal agencies will use specific, job-driven criteria to ensure that the $17 billion in federal training funds are used more effectively,” a senior White House official said on a Monday evening press call.

The Obama administration will also expand opportunities for apprenticeships, considered a “proven path to employment and the middle class,” according to a White House statement. After completing these programs, 87% of apprentices gain employment at an average starting salary of $50,000.

In addition to using competitions and grants to bolster job training in the U.S., the administration will also use technology. On Tuesday, Obama and Biden will announce $25 million award from the Department of Labor to develop a web-based “skills academy” for adult learners. And the Department of Education will experiment with education models that award skills based on a person’s tangible skills rather than their performance in a classroom setting.

“Too often job training programs are focused on providing the skills needed for yesterday’s jobs, not the jobs of today and tomorrow,” an administration official said Monday. “And teaching methods are often rooted in outdated, class-based models that haven’t kept pace with technology and new training techniques.”

TIME White House

President Obama Plans to Act as Mentor in ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Initiative

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks at an event at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington to announce additional commitments for "My Brother’s Keeper," Obama's initiative aimed at helping boys and young men of color. Susan Walsh—AP

Said he'd help connect with as many young men of color as he could, in an event to mark a new round of private sector investment in his signature program

President Barack Obama will be spreading himself awfully thin if he takes on a commitment he announced Monday at a town hall for his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. Instead of just taking on one mentee as a part of the effort to connect more young men of color with good role models, Obama said Monday he plans to connect with as many as he can.

“The problem with just taking one is all the other guys would be like, ‘Man, how’d you get the President?’” Obama said.

After applauding a new round of private sector investments in “My Brother’s Keeper,” President Obama got his feet wet in offering advice to young men during a candid question and answer session during the event at the Walker Jones Education Center in Washington, DC.

The questions were wide-ranging—from how he learned to become a good father without having had one around, to his stance on D.C. statehood (to which Obama responded, “I’m for it” )—but the message was clear. President Obama is working hard to be a role model for young men of color in the United States.

When asked about if he set goals for himself as a teen, he said at times his goals were “misplaced;” he was too focused on basketball and having fun to think about the future. When questioned about how he learned to be a good father even though his wasn’t around, he said the fact that he didn’t experience it he wanted to make sure his kids did. And when asked what advice he had for young men, Obama noted three things: working hard, finding your passion, and building your network.

“Everything that’s worthwhile requires work,” Obama said. “For some reason, young men think [that] doesn’t apply to school. No reason why you think you will be a good reader if you don’t read a lot.”

Before taking questions from the gathered crowd, Obama announced more businesses and organizations are jumping on board with the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.” Calling the program a “team effort,” Obama said business leaders, faith leaders, educators and community organizers are “all working together to give boys and young men of color the tools the need to succeed.”

Obama was joined by mayors, business leaders and—to his evident delight—the National Basketball Association, to announce new commitments to the program. The NBA has signed on to a five-year commitment in partnership with the Council for Greater City Schools to recruit 25,000 mentors for at-risk kids.

AT&T is pledging $18 million to support mentorship programs and 60 of the nation’s largest school systems are vowing to better educate young black and brown men from early childhood through high school graduation.

“I want to be able to look back and say we were a part of something that reversed the trends we don’t like to see,” Obama said Monday. “We want everybody to have a chance in America.”

It has been six months since Obama launched the initiative aimed at widening opportunities for young men of color in the U.S., and today’s commitments are another instance of Obama relying on the private sector to boost his second-term agenda while his efforts to work with Congress fail.

Earlier in May, a report released by the My Brother’s Keeper Task force used daunting statistics from minority communities to present targeted suggestions for combating the issue, ranging from poor educational preparedness to high rates of incarceration.

 

TIME Education

School Administrators: Kids Like Healthy Lunches Just Fine

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Female student carrying tray in cafeteria Tetra Images—Getty Images/Brand X

According to a new survey published in the Childhood Obesity journal

As the battle rages on over whether or not to scrap healthier options in public school lunch, a new survey suggests students actually like the nutritional meals they’re being offered. Well, at least they like it enough to keep from complaining to school administrators about it.

Last school year, administrators reported students started off complaining about the healthier take on lunch, after the USDA introduced new standards in 2012 that called for a reduction in sugar, sodium and fat in meals and the addition of more whole grains, vegetables, and fruit in an effort to confront childhood obesity.

But most had come around by the spring, they reported in a new study backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Now, around 70% of elementary school students “generally like the new lunch,” they said. Middle and high school administrators reported similar reactions, with 70% and 63% of students “generally” liking the new lunches, respectively.

Schools also report few drop-offs in school lunch participation with the advent of the new standards. About 64.6% of elementary schools said “about the same” number of students purchased school lunches last school year, compared to the year before.

“The updated meals standards are resulting in healthier meals for tens of millions of kids,” said Lindsey Turner, lead author of the first study, and co-investigator for Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which funded the study in a statement. “Our studies show that kids are okay with these changes, and that there have not been widespread challenges with kids not buying or eating the meals.”

Yet, according to the new survey to be published in an upcoming issue of the Childhood Obesity journal, high school students and students in rural schools have been more reluctant to accept the changes. About 25% of middle and high school administrators reported noticing “a little more” plate waste during the 2012-2013 school year, while 16% of middle schools and 20% of high schools reported noticing “much more” waste.

Administrators at rural schools also reported more plate waste and more complaints than their urban counterparts, which is troubling given the higher rates of obesity among youth in rural areas. But among poor urban youth, the researchers found higher rates of consumption and more meal purchases—suggesting those kids opting out of the school lunch program are those who can afford to eat elsewhere.

“It is possible that widespread implementation of national policy has been effective for improving the diets of socioeconomically disadvantaged children,” said the study’s authors, “but more research is needed to understand the effect of changes in the meal standards on children’s participation and dietary intake.”

There has been much debate over the Department of Agriculture’s updated school nutrition standards this year. In fact, Monday’s survey results stand in contrast to a recent USDA report that showed about 1 million fewer students chose to eat school meals every day during the 2012-2013 school year. The School Nutrition Association, a long time supporter of healthy options for kids, rolled back some of its support earlier this year due to the burden the standards place on already cash-strapped schools.

In May, House Republicans ok’d a spending bill that would allow schools to opt out of following the healthy school rules, which pump up the amount of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains served to kids at school while reducing fat, sugar, and sodium. But champions of the standards, including First Lady Michelle Obama, argue rolling back the standards would be a bad choice for kids.

In a statement Monday, the School Nutrition Association said the survey’s “perceptions about school meals do not reflect reality.”

“More kids aren’t buying lunches,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association, tells TIME.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Ready to Hand MH17 Investigation Over to Dutch

Personnel from the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry load the bodies of victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 into a truck at the crash site on July 21, 2014 in Grabovo, Ukraine.
Personnel from the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry load the bodies of victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 into a truck at the crash site on July 21, 2014 in Grabovo, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman—Getty Images

The Netherlands suffered the most fatalities in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Monday the country is prepared to let Dutch authorities take over the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The deal to let the Dutch continue the investigation is an effort to end the standoff between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatist groups over who can access the crash site.

“We are responding to the request of our Dutch partners. They launched the request. The Dutch people suffered the most,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said Monday, the Wall Street Journal reports. “This is the right thing to do. This is a humanitarian gesture. It will add more independence to the investigation.”

Dutch investigators began arriving in Eastern Ukraine on Monday, USA Today reports, to begin the grim task of inspecting the bodies of victims who have been moved to refrigerated train cars by the separatists.

The crashed flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which the U.S. says was shot down by Ukrainian rebels using weapons provided by Russia, left 298 people dead on Thursday, the majority of whom were from the Netherlands. Since the crash, the rebels who control the area have limited government access to the crash site for an official investigation. Over the weekend, rebel forces moved bodies and other evidence from the crash site.

The Dutch Safety Board told the WSJ Monday they were still in the process of discussing taking over the investigation. Experts from across the globe are also in the country with hopes of investigating the crash.

TIME Crime

Trial Begins in Porch Shooting of Unarmed Detroit Teen

This undated file photo is the cover of a funeral program showing 19-year-old Renisha McBride from a service in Detroit.
This undated file photo is the cover of a funeral program showing 19-year-old Renisha McBride from a service in Detroit. AP

Jury selection in Theodore Wafer's murder trial set to begin Monday

Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the trial of Theodore Wafer, 55, who is charged with shooting and killing an unarmed 19-year-old Detroit woman on his front porch.

Wafer shot Renisha McBride in the head with a shotgun at his suburban Detroit home in November, after the inebriated teenager pounded on his door in the middle of the night.

Prosecutors believe McBride was seeking help from Wafer after crashing into a parked car some blocks away. The defense argues Wafer feared for his life and acted in self-defense when he shot her. Wafer has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. According to the Associated Press, he faces life in prison if convicted.

The defense is reportedly working to paint McBride as aggressive and violent. According to the Detroit Free Press, the judge has ruled against allowing the jury to see McBride’s cellphone photos or text messages at the time of trial, which the defense wanted to support their claims. The jury will likely hear testimony about crime in Detroit, and the Dearborn Heights suburb where McBride was shot.

“If Ms. McBride had stayed at the scene of her car crash, where help was on the way, Mr. Wafer would never have been put in the situation … to use deadly force to protect himself,” defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter said, the Associated Press reports.

The prosecution plans to argue that the use of deadly force was unnecessary. “Someone who claims lawful self-defense must have an honest and reasonable — not honest or reasonable — belief of imminent death or imminent great bodily harm,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said, when she filed charges.

TIME animals

Ohio Man’s Therapy Ducks Fall Foul of Local Ordinances

Iraq war veteran Darin Welker holds one of his ducks at his home in West Lafayette, Ohio on July 10, 2014.
Iraq war veteran Darin Welker holds one of his ducks at his home in West Lafayette, Ohio on July 10, 2014. Trevor Jones—AP

Veteran Darin Welker says raising the birds helps him overcome PTSD from the Iraq War

Darin Welker loves his ducks. He feeds them, looks after them, and sometimes the Iraq War veteran from West Lafayette, Ohio just watches them interact. But Welker’s community doesn’t share the same affection for his feathered friends.

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reports, Welker will appear in a local municipal court facing a minor misdemeanor charge for raising 14 ducks in violation of local village rules. He could face a fine of up to $150.

Welker, an Iraq War veteran, says he’s been raising the ducks as a form of therapy for a back injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Welker told the AP that although the Department of Veterans Affairs paid for his back surgery in 2012, they did not provide mental or physical therapy.

In March, he got the ducks to help fill that void, after hearing raising them could be therapeutic.

“Taking care of them is both mental and physical therapy,” Welker told the AP. “[Watching them] keeps you entertained for hours at a time.”

In West Lafayette, however, raising ducks or any farm animal violates a 2010 ban on housing “chickens, turkeys, ducks, live poultry or fowl of any kind, horses, ponies, cows, calves, goats, sheep, or live animals of any kind except dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds or mice.”

But there is hope for Welker and his ducks. A local woman fought to keep the pot-bellied pig she and her daughter use for therapy in 2013. Mary Smith, the pig’s owner, told the Coshocton Tribune at the time that she would rather move than give up her pig. “He’s part of our family,” Smith said.

Smith obtained a letter from her doctor confirming her pig was for therapy. According to the AP, Welker has already gotten a letter from the mental health department of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recommending he keep the ducks.

[AP]

TIME justice

Reduced Drug Sentences Could Affect 46,000 Prisoners

Those already behind bars could have their sentences reduced by more than two years

The U.S. Sentencing Commission on Friday unanimously voted to retroactively reduce prison sentences for drug offenders who are currently serving their terms. The move follows a decision in April to reduce future sentences by about two years, but will soon apply to those already behind bars so long as Congress does not overrule the vote.

Around 46,000 inmates sentenced before Nov. 1,2014 and locked up for nonviolent drug offenses could be eligible for reduced sentences, with releases beginning Nov. 1, 2015. The commission estimates that under the new rules the average prisoner could have his or her sentenced reduced by about 25 months, though they’d likely still serve about 108 months, or nine years.

The move “reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety,” Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the Commission in a statement.

The new guidelines have been widely praised by advocacy groups, and the Commission says that the majority of the 60,000 letters it received on the matter during the public comment period were positive.

The Department of Justice had formally supported a more limited version of the guidelines, which would only apply if offenders were not guilty of violent crimes, did not have significant criminal histories and if their cases did not involve the use of weapons back in June. However, on Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that he looks forward to working with the commission on implementing the new guidelines. “This is a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden on our overcrowded prison system,” Holder said.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a D.C.-based organization that advocates for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences praised the Commission’s decision on Friday, exclaiming triumphantly, “We did it!”

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