Military

As the Wars End, Changes Come in Training Troops to Notify Families of Military Deaths

Army photo

Battlefield deaths decline, but military still has to bring grim news

The wars are nearly over. So it is time for the U.S. military to reboot for one of its most somber tasks: Telling next-of-kin their loved one has died in the service of his or her country.

Over the past 13 years, casualty-notification officers have had to take that long walk up to a family’s front door, and make that dreaded knock that changes everything, 6,803 times.

But with battlefield deaths down to a trickle, the Marines are seeking a new video to help train its Casualty Assistance Calls Officers (each service has its own title for the job) for a future where more will die in peacetime accidents than combat. “The current scenario is 100% war-related,” the corps says in a notice posted Tuesday. “A more current version is required to meet today’s situations.”

The Marines say they want their new training video to include cases involving:

  • Marine’s death due to a training incident
  • Dual active-duty spouse with complicated marital issues
  • Divorced Parents
  • Dealing with children
  • Updated grief/trauma awareness
  • Self-care for CACOs

That last one is critical. This is a tough mission, where raw human emotions run the gamut.

“I’ve picked family members off the floor,” Army chaplain Captain Gregory Broderick said in an Army News Service story last month. “I’ve sat and held them as they’ve rocked and cried… I did one recently where they kicked us out of the house. They were so mad, not at us but at their son,” he confided. “I’ve been spit on as well.”

“You’ve caught them at their worst day,” added Army Major Mark East, the top chaplain at the service’s Human Resources Command.

With the war in Iraq over for more than two years, and with the shrinking number of U.S. combat troops still in Afghanistan slated to leave by year’s end (a total of 33,000 remain), the number of those killed in battle, thankfully, is way down (17 so far this year). March marked the first month without war casualties in 11 years (unfortunately, April won’t be the second).

When casualties spiked in Iraq in 2006, some families criticized the way the military informed them of their relatives’ deaths. That led Congress to demand additional training for those making the notifications, and detailed Pentagon regulations on how it is to be done.

Army Major Brent Fogleman did casualty notifications around that time, after a stint in Afghanistan. The notification job was “by far, yes” his toughest assignment. “There were some guys that couldn’t do it… if they couldn’t do it we didn’t want them to do it,” he said. “That’s not something you cannot do well.”

Families used to learn of their loved one’s fate in terse “regret to inform you” telegrams. That changed in Vietnam, when the Army began dispatching casualty-notification officers and chaplains to deliver the sad news personally.

The service now gives its casualty-notification teams four hours to get to that front door after the Army’s personnel shop has received word of a death. These days, they’re in a race to that door with Facebook and Twitter. They usually, but not always, win.

Taxes

IRS Gave $1 Million in Bonuses to Employees Who Didn’t Pay Taxes

The IRS paid $1 million in bonuses to employees who owed back taxes and another $1.8 million in bonuses to workers facing disciplinary problems

The federal agency in charge of tax collection has been awarding bonuses to employees who have not been paying their taxes on time, according to a new report by J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

The report reveals that the Internal Revenue Service gave a total of $1 million in bonuses to 1,150 workers who owed back taxes between October 201o and December 2012. The IRS paid out an additional $1.8 million in bonuses to workers facing other kinds of disciplinary problems over the same period, including improper use of government credit cards, drug use, threats of violence and unemployment-benefits fraud, according to the Associated Press.

George said the bonuses don’t violate federal rules but are inconsistent with the agency’s mission to enforce tax regulations. “These awards are designed to recognize and reward IRS employees for a job well done, and that is appropriate, because the IRS should encourage good performance,” George said in a press release. “However, while not prohibited, providing awards to employees who have been disciplined for failing to pay federal taxes appears to create a conflict with the IRS’s charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration.”

Despite the apparent contradiction highlighted by bonus program, the employees of the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, still have better tax compliance than other federal agencies. Just 1.1% of Treasury workers owed back taxes in 2011, compared with 3.2% of federal workers overall, the AP reports. The tax-delinquency rate for the general public was 8.2% that year.

Racism

KKK Forms Neighborhood Watch in Pennsylvania Town

'It’s just like any neighborhood watch program. It’s not targeting any specific ethnicity,' says the Fairview Township chapter president. The group has distributed flyers around the neighborhood that read: 'You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake'

A local chapter of one of the country’s most infamous white supremacist groups has launched a neighborhood watch in a Pennsylvania town.

Frank Ancona, the “imperial wizard” and president of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said leaders of the local chapter in Fairview Township, Penn. got approval from the national organization to form the watch, PennLive reports.

Ancona said the watch group was formed in response to a series of break-ins. “It’s just like any neighborhood watch program. It’s not targeting any specific ethnicity. We would report anything we see to law enforcement,” he said. “We don’t hate people. We are an organization that looks out for our race. We believe in racial separation. God created each species after its kind and saw that it was good.”

The group has distributed flyers around the neighborhood that read: “Neighborhood Watch. You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.”

The controversial move by the organization comes as white supremacist groups face renewed scrutiny. Frazier Glenn Cross, the founder of the Carolina Knights of the Klu Klux Klan, was charged last week for the shooting murders of three people at Jewish community centers near Kansas City. As the Klan’s membership has dwindled from a high of nearly 4 million members nearly a century ago, many splinter chapters such as the Fairview Township group have been working to increase membership, through efforts ranging from a new radio station sponsored by an Arkansas chapter to flyers distributed in several Southern states that read “The KKK Wants You!”

Fairview Township police are aware of the Traditionalist American Knights’ actions but can’t prevent them from forming a neighborhood watch. “There’s not a whole lot we can do about it,” Lt. Jason Loper told the York Dispatch. “It’s a freedom of speech issue and, while vast majority of most residents don’t agree with their philosophy, we can’t discriminate against them…or we’ll open ourselves to a lawsuit.”

Economy

America’s Middle Class Falls Behind

For the first time in decades, middle-income Americans are no longer the richest middle class in the world

Once the juggernaut of the American economy and the envy of the world, the middle class has finally lost its position as the richest in the world, according to a new report.

The New York Times, citing an analysis of survey data going back 35, reports that the middle class in the United States has fallen behind Canada’s middle class. While economic growth in the U.S. is equal to or stronger than growth in other countries, those gains have gone almost exclusively to the wealthiest Americans. America’s middle class is still wealthier than corresponding demographics in Europe, but the gap has narrowed significantly in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the poor in the U.S. are significantly worse off than their counterparts in Europe and Canada—a total reversal from 35 years ago.

Median income in the U.S., about $74,000 after taxes for a family of four, rose by 20% between 1980 and 2000 but has since remain mostly unchanged, according to the Times analysis. Median income in Canada, in contrast, rose by 20% between 2000 and 2010 alone.

“The idea that the median American has so much more income than the middle class in all other parts of the world is not true these days,” Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist not associated with the study, told the Times. “In 1960, we were massively richer than anyone else. In 1980, we were richer. In the 1990s, we were still richer.”

The analysis blames the struggles of the middle class on stagnating education attainment, higher executive pay, lower minimum wage and weaker unions, among other factors.

[NYT]

nature

President Obama Will Survey Mudslide Damage 1 Month After Tragedy

The visit will be Obama’s only domestic stop on his way to Asia

+ READ ARTICLE

President Barack Obama is en route Tuesday to survey the damage caused by a deadly mudslide that claimed more than 40 lives last month in Oso, Wash.

Obama is due to deliver remarks after meeting with search crews, victims’ families and others involved in the recovery effort before leaving on a four-country tour of Asia.

The disaster has officially claimed 41 lives and more than two dozen homes. Search crews have been digging through 70-foot-deep mud littered with debris in a search for the two people who remain missing.

Law

California Bill Banning ‘Affluenza’ Defense Is Nixed

Ethan Couch
In this image taken from a video by KDFW-FOX 4, Ethan Couch is seen during his court hearing in Dec. 2013. AP

California legislators shot down a bill that would have created the country's first ban on using the "affluenza" (rich kids don't know better) defense. It was introduced after a wealthy Texas teen got probation for killing four people and injuring others in a drunk-driving accident

California lawmakers on Tuesday killed legislation that would ban the use of the “affluenza” defense, stopping what would have been the first such ban in the nation.

State Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced the bill after a wealthy Texas teenager was given only probation last year for killing four people and injuring others in a drunk driving accident. His lawyers successfully argued that he had been so coddled by his affluent parents that he couldn’t be expected to appreciate the rules of law or the consequences of his actions. The sentence sparked outrage, seen by many as an obscene example of privilege begetting privilege and inequity in the justice system.

“In our justice system, people who have means already have advantages,” Gatto said in introducing the bill before a legislative committee. “They have access to the better lawyers, they have access to better relationships and they know how the system works. And the idea of a defendant saying that a life of privilege and an upbringing of means somehow makes that defendant absolve him or herself of personal responsibility for a heinous act really is insulting to the intelligence of just about everybody who interacts with the justice system, and those of use who care about making sure that justice system is blind.”

Gatto’s bill originally defined the notion of “affluenza” as the argument that a “defendant may not have understood the consequences of his or her actions because he or she was raised in an affluent or overly permissive household.” One issue raised by other lawmakers on the committee was the use of the phrase “overly permissive,” which some worried could apply to poor children with absentee parents as much as a rich kid who got to do whatever he wanted.

Opponents of the bill, though sympathetic to its intent, argued that it’s generally not a good idea to put limitations on legal defenses; that the bill presumed a jury couldn’t determine on its own the worth of a defense; and that such restrictions may prevent certain facts from coming forward during a trial.

Gatto also refused to accept an amendment supported by the chair of the committee, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who wanted to build exceptions and affirmations of Constitutional protections into the bill. “We are trying to prohibit the affluenza defense,” Gatto said, adding that he had “real heartburn” about writing “into the statute all the times where the defense could be used.”

Before voting against the bill, Ammiano, a Democrat, said he would have preferred Gatto accept the amendments offered by the committee. The two Republicans on the committee voted to support the bill, and the rest of the members, all Democrats, abstained. Those abstentions essentially counting as nay votes, the measure failed. The ban would have prohibited the use of affluenza as a defense or a mitigating factor in sentencing. Gatto, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, has said that while the high-profile case happened in Texas, he was attempting to be “proactive” in California.

In June 2013, Texas teenager Ethan Couch stole beer from Wal-Mart, drank enough for his blood-alcohol content to be three times the legal limit, got in his pickup truck, lost control and sped it into a group of people who were helping a woman with a stalled car on the side of the road near Fort Worth. Four people died. Others, including many crammed into his vehicle, were injured. Thanks in part to a psychologist who argued that Couch’s wealth was so extreme he couldn’t separate right from wrong, the then-16-year-old was given 10 years probation and ordered to rehab for the intoxication manslaughter and assault charges. In February, Judge Jean Boyd reaffirmed that sentence in a private hearing, denying prosecutors’ second request for 20 years in prison.

At the end of the committee hearing Tuesday, the possibility of “reconsideration” was raised, meaning Gatto might bring his bill before the committee again at another time. But that would likely require a compromise that lawmakers did not appear ready to make on Tuesday.

justice

Bryan Singer’s Accuser Names 3 Other Entertainment Heads in Lawsuit

Michael Egan's latest allegations are similar in nature to the ones filed against Hollywood director Bryan Singer. Egan claims that Singer sexually abused him 15 years ago, while he was an aspiring teen actor

+ READ ARTICLE

What started as a lawsuit against one well-renowned director has turned into allegations against several other top Hollywood figures.

Michael Egan, 31, accused X-Men director Bryan Singer last week of sexually abusing him 15 years ago while Egan was an aspiring teen actor, according to court papers filed in Hawaii.

Egan has since filed new federal lawsuits against former Fox television executive Garth Ancier, theater producer Gary Wayne Goddard and former television executive David A. Neuman. Egan’s lawsuits accuse the three men of engaging in inappropriate behavior with Egan in the 1990s.

Singer has denied Egan’s allegations, while Ancier, Goddard and Neuman have not yet responded to the new suit. None of the men have been criminally charged and the statute of limitations for charges has passed.

 

Courts

Supreme Court Cloudy on Aereo Streaming TV Case

Chet Kanojia, founder and CEO of Aereo, Inc., stands next to a server array of antennas in New York, Dec. 20, 2012.
Chet Kanojia, founder and CEO of Aereo, Inc., stands next to a server array of antennas in New York, Dec. 20, 2012. Bebeto Matthews—AP

The justices considered arguments around a tech startup that is capturing free over-the-air broadcast signals and selling them to consumers on the cheap, without paying networks the hefty retransmission fees they get from cable companies

There was a lot of talk Tuesday at the Supreme Court about the future of television—how we will watch it, how we will pay for it, and whether, crucially, the old broadcast model will be blown up for good. While such rhetoric is usually overwrought, in this particular case—American Broadcasting Companies vs. Aereo—it’s actually justified. If the court decides in favor of Aereo, a small, Brooklyn-based TV-streaming tech startup, it could have the effect of destroying traditional broadcasters’ business model, and fundamentally reshaping the way the TV industry operates.

Aereo captures free, over-the-air TV signals with thousands of small antennas that are rented to individual users, and it transmits that content to customers online for a small monthly fee—without paying broadcasters the so-called retransmission fees cable companies pay them to provide their channels to cable customers. While Aereo founder Chet Kanojia has publicly tussled with the big broadcasters over whether such a disruption is good for consumers—Kanojia says it will free viewers from pricey cable bills but the big broadcasters disagree—the Supreme Court on Tuesday homed in on another question entirely. Namely, this one: If it’s legal for someone to put bunny ear antennae on his roof and watch TV for free, and it’s legal for him to record that free TV onto a DVR (or an old school Sony Betamax VCR, for that matter) so he can watch it again later with friends, then does it matter, from a legal perspective, whether he actually owns that antennae, or that he is in possession of a physical DVR?

The antennae farm across town and a “DVR” based in the cloud, Aereo argues, are legally no different from the old antenna and VCR.

ABC, backed by CBS, NBC, FOX, and the U.S. Justice Department, says: not so fast. They argue that by capturing copyrighted television programming and then transmitting it back to thousands, or tens of thousands, of users, Aereo is acting exactly like a cable company and should pay retransmission fees.

The justices didn’t offer much in the way of clues as to how they might rule during hour-long oral arguments Tuesday. A ruling is expected in the summer.

Aereo’s lawyer David C. Frederick insisted repeatedly Tuesday that the company does not “perform” anything; it is nothing more than an “equipment provider.” ABC’s lawyer, Paul D. Clement, scoffed at the idea. Of course Aereo is “performing,” he said; to suggest otherwise “is just crazy.” Clement argued that Aereo—by essentially plucking copyrighted material out of the sky, selling access to that copyrighted material back to subscribers, and refusing to pay copyright royalties—is attempting to “get something for nothing. … It’s like magic.”

The justices’ questioning returned repeatedly to the implications that any decision on this case will have for cloud computing as a whole. If an individual downloads a video onto the cloud using a popular application, like Dropbox or iCloud, and then accesses it later and watches it on his computer, then does that also amount to, as Justice Elena Kagan asked, “public performance?” Both Aereo and ABC appeared to agree that an individual user of the cloud should not be required to pay royalties when he watches, say, an episode of The Sopranos that he has already purchased.

Clement urged the justices not to try not to “solve the problem of the cloud once and for all” in this one case. He instead attempted to steer the discussion toward what he characterized as a common sense interpretation of copyright law.

Frederick, by contrast, relished the cloud debate, warning the justices that if they decide in favor of the big broadcasters, they run the risk of fundamentally undermining the business model of the cloud. “If you turn every playback into a ‘public performance,’” he said, that will have “huge implications” for cloud-based businesses.

“The court’s decision today will have significant consequences for cloud computing,” Frederick said in a statement following oral arguments. “We’re confident, cautiously optimistic, based on the way the hearing went today that the Court understood that a person watching over-the-air broadcast television in his or her home is engaging in a private performance and not a public performance that would implicate the Copyright Act.”

Smartphones

Older Americans Are Buying Smartphones

Grandma is no longer cell phone illiterate, according to a new poll

America’s elders are getting in on the smartphone craze.

Fifty-one percent of Americans 55 and older own a smartphone, according to a new poll. That’s a 10% increase from early 2013 and marks the first time that a majority of all age groups have owned smartphones, according to the the Nielsen survey.

Seven out of 10 Americans now own smartphones, and 85% opt for them when shopping for a new phone.

Apple continues to reign as the largest smartphone manufacturer, with 42% of smartphone owners opting for Apple products, according to the survey. Most smartphones in the U.S. run on Google’s Android operating system (which works across devices made by a variety of manufacturers), and 19% are made by Samsung. BlackBerry devices are continuing to fall out of favor, and Windows Phone handsets only make up 3% of all American smartphones.

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TIME 100

Indian Politicians Continue to Rule TIME 100 Readers’ Poll in Final Voting Day

Leader of the AAP and anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal waves to supporters while campaigning on April 8, 2014 in New Delhi.
Leader of the AAP and anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal waves to supporters while campaigning on April 8, 2014 in New Delhi. Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal leads Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for Prime Minister, but entertainment figures like Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Laverne Cox are jostling for top spots before voting closes at 11:59 p.m. ET

As the TIME 100 readers’ poll nears its close, Indian politicians Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi have maintained their lead in a heated race for the winner.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Aam Aadmi Party leader Kejriwal led Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for prime minister Modi in terms of percentage of “yes” votes, while Modi also had a significantly higher share of “no” votes against him. Singer Katy Perry sits in third, followed by Justin Bieber, who has managed to edge out transgender actress Laverne Cox for fourth.

Following close behind Cox are Benedict Cumberbatch, Beyonce Knowles, and Rihanna. Aside from the Indian political race at the top, which mirrors the actual elections taking place currently in the country, entertainment figures appear to be dominating the top spots. TIME’s Person of the Year, Pope Francis is currently sitting in the 25th spot.

Though the final TIME 100 list of the most influential people of the year worldwide is ultimately chosen by the editors, TIME seeks the input of readers in an online poll.

Don’t like what you see? Voting’s still open–if not for long. Polls close at 11:59 p.m. on April 22. The final winner will be announced on April 23. We’ll announce our official TIME 100 list on April 24.

Cast your vote in these categories: World, U.S. Politics, Business & Tech, Culture & Fashion, Movies & TV, Music, Media, and Sports.

See the results below.

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