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Marine One, carrying President Obama, takes an aerial tour of Oso, Wash., on Tuesday. The president made a brief stop in the area devastated by last month's mudslide. (AP)

Obama Tours Mudslide Devastation, Pledges Solidarity With Families

Apr 22, 2014

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Two members of a search crew look for bodies near the scene of last month's mudslide in Washington state.

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President Obama, aboard Marine One, took an aerial tour of devastation caused by a massive mudslide a month ago that left at least 41 people dead near the town of Oso, Wash.

The president, who made a stop in the state on his way to Japan for the start of a four-day visit to Asia, witnessed toppled trees, mud and debris from the March 22 landslide.

"We're going to be strong right alongside you," Obama promised the people of Oso on Tuesday.

Later, at a community church in Oso, Obama promised to stick with the families whose lives were devastated when the rain-soaked hillside gave way.

"The whole country's thinking about you, and we're going to make sure that we're there every step of the way as we go through the grieving, the mourning, the recovery," he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee has asked Obama to declare a major disaster in the state, making it eligible for federal financial aid, including help covering the costs of temporary housing, home repairs and the loss of uninsured property, The Associated Press says.

NPR's Martin Kaste, reporting from the disaster scene, says the site still resembles a muddy bombing range.

"The great mounds of dirt and broken trees are dwarfed by the 600-foot-tall failed hillside where they came from," he reports on Morning Edition. "You see wheels sticking out of the mud, in random spots, detached from their cars. There's a house that looks like it's been through a trash compactor; National Guardsmen gingerly climb over it, probing the gaps with sticks."

Kaste says the stretch of Highway 530 that was inundated by mud and debris will take months to clear, and maybe longer to rebuild, according to the state Department of Transportation.

"Alongside the usual yellow ribbons for the slide's victims, you're starting to see protest signs, calling for speedier action," Kaste says.

As The New York Times points out:

"Anger festers about what might have been done better to warn residents, or protect the community from the slide, which killed 41 people and left two still missing. And fear haunts the voices of many people just miles from the impact zone, who now look up at the steep Cascade mountains with different eyes."

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Marine One, carrying President Obama, takes an aerial tour of Oso, Wash., on Tuesday. The president made a brief stop in the area devastated by last month's mudslide. (AP)

Supreme Court Gives Police New Power To Rely On Anonymous Tips

by Katie Barlow
Apr 22, 2014

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Katie Barlow

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police can stop and search a driver based solely on an anonymous 911 tip.

The 5-4 decision split the court's two most conservative justices, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the majority and Justice Antonin Scalia penning the dissent.

In August 2008, an anonymous 911 caller in California phoned in a report that a pickup truck had run her off the road. The caller gave the location of the incident, plus the make and model of the truck and the license plate number.

Police subsequently pulled over a truck matching that description and smelled marijuana as they were walking toward the vehicle. Officers eventually found 30 pounds of marijuana in the truck and arrested the driver, Jose Prado Navarette.

Navarette challenged the search and arrest as unconstitutional, arguing that officers did not have reasonable suspicion to pull him over in the first place because police knew nothing about the identity or reliability of the tipster.

The five-justice court majority disagreed, and in so doing gave police new authority to rely on anonymous tipsters.

The court has long held that officers can make stops based on anonymous tips, but the information in those tips must provide enough detail to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In this case, Thomas, the author of the majority opinion, concluded that because the 911 tipster said she had been forced off the road, she was an eyewitness, and that police could infer that there was reason to believe the truck driver was drunk.

Relying on 911 tipsters is reasonable, he said, because "a 911 call has some features that allow for identifying and tracking callers," and the calls can be recorded.

In a scathing dissent, fellow conservative Scalia called the Thomas opinion a "freedom-destroying cocktail" that would encourage "malevolent" tipsters to make false reports. It matters not whether the caller gave details about her alleged accident. The issue, said Scalia, is "whether what she claimed to know was true."

As to the inference that the truck's driver was drunk, Scalia pointed out that the police officers here followed the pickup for over five minutes — and "five minutes is a long time" — without any indication of drunken driving or even bad driving.

"After today's opinion," said Scalia, "all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk ... "

Joining Scalia in dissent were three of the court's more liberal members: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Joining Thomas in the majority were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer, who defected from the court's liberal bloc to provide the fifth and decisive vote.

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South Korean protesters hold pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally last week in Seoul. Recent satellite imagery indicates the possibility that Pyongyang is readying for a new nuclear test. (AP)

U.S. Says It's Monitoring For Possible North Korea Nuclear Test

Apr 22, 2014

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The United States is urging North Korea to refrain from a new nuclear test amid indications of "heightened activity" at Pyongyang's Punggye-ri test site.

"We have certainly seen the press reports ... regarding possible increased activity in North Korea's nuclear test site," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "We are closely monitoring the situation on the Korean peninsula."

Reuters says:

"South Korean news reports quoted the South Korean government as saying on Tuesday that heightened activity had been detected at North Korea's underground nuclear test site, indicating possible preparations for another atomic test.

"The reports come just before U.S. President Barack Obama is due in Japan and South Korea, where he will discuss ways to deal with North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Obama is due in Tokyo on Wednesday and in Seoul on Friday."

On 38North.org, a blog that monitors North Korea, analyst Jack Liu writes:

"In the six-week period from early March 2014 until April 19, imagery shows an increase in activities at the Main Support Area. This area was used to manage operations and handle personnel and equipment during preparations at the West Portal area for the February 2013 nuclear detonation ...

"Recent press speculation has focused on the possibility of a nuclear detonation during US President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to Seoul on April 24-25. That may be possible but appears unlikely based on the limited commercial satellite imagery available and observations of past North Korean nuclear tests."

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Volunteer Tom Strain carries debris from an empty lot as part of an Earth Day cleanup effort in Camden, N.J. The Earth Day events celebrated on April 22 promote a sustainable and clean environment. (AP)

Green GOP Group Caught Between 'Rock And A Hard Place'

Apr 22, 2014

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On Earth Day 2014, it wasn't easy being green in the Republican Party. Just ask Rob Sisson, president of ConservAmerica.

ConservAmerica is a membership organization created in 1995 to keep the environmental spirit of GOP President Theodore Roosevelt alive in his party. Back then, the group was known as Republicans for Environmental Protection.

The problem for Sisson's group is that the polarization of American politics has largely split environmentalism from its TR Republican roots. Environmentalism is now mostly seen as the province of liberals and Democrats.

Meanwhile, Republican orthodoxy is marked by views that are anti-regulation and skeptical about whether humans contribute to global warming.

ConservAmerica's Republicans, however, believe climate change is happening and that people are adding to the problem. That puts Sisson and his group "between a rock and a hard place," he says.

Asked how much success his organization has had in raising conservation's profile in conservative circles, he acknowledges not much.

"It's actually been minimal. The one thing that keeps me and keeps our board going is hardly a day goes by when someone doesn't join or contact us and say, 'Thank God I found you. I was ready to leave the party,' " Sisson says.

His group has 5,000 members, which he believes is in large part due to not having the money to do more aggressive marketing. And why can't it get the money?

"The big funders on the Republican side that people always think about today, the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, environmental protection is not of interest to them, so they're not writing those checks," Sisson said. "On the left, the big funders are very reluctant to donate money that might help to burnish the Republican image at all."

Three Republicans running for the House in swing districts — Carl DeMaio in San Diego, Bob Dold in Illinois and Nan Hayworth in New York — all believe in global warming and in taking steps to slow it, he said. [Dold and Hayworth are former House members seeking a return to Congress.]

But Democratic environmentalists haven't supported Republicans who are simpatico on conservation — Democrats would prefer one of their own in a seat since that would increase their numbers in Congress and their chances of success on issues beyond the environment.

"We keep saying, 'If you're smart you would help get people like Carl DeMaio elected where he can start exerting a new fresh voice in leadership and prove to the Republicans that, hey, you can get by, running on environmental protection and conservation issues,' " Sisson said.

Another example of how progressive environmentalists failed to "get it," Sisson said, was when his organization suggested to a working group of conservation outfits formed to organize a celebration of the Endangered Species Act's recent 40th anniversary that they find a way to recognize the role of President Richard Nixon, who signed the legislation into law.

"Some of the groups came back and nixed it. They said, 'No, we're not going to honor him.' " So ConserveAmerica presented Nixon's son-in-law Edward Cox with a Theodore Roosevelt Leadership award, to honor the 37th president at its banquet in March. "That was the first time ever Richard Nixon received official recognition for his role in the great environmental laws that he signed back in the 1960s and 1970s," Sisson said.

ConservAmerica accepts climate change as a fact, though it doesn't throw that term around a lot — it's too polarizing. Sisson prefers to talk about clean air and water, figuring that if you make progress on those, you also fight climate change.

But ConservAmerica doesn't line up with environmental groups across the board. For instance, the group supports the Keystone XL pipeline. Its reasoning: The pipeline is the safest way to transport the oil from the tar sands. If the pipeline isn't built, the Canadian oil will still be extracted and transported some other way.

And while the group supports expanding renewable sources of energy, it takes the conservative position of opposing subsidies for them. It also opposes subsidies to the oil industry in the form of existing tax breaks.

It has ditched some past practices, like scoring lawmakers' environmental votes. The group stopped after Republican lawmakers accused them of being "wolves in sheep clothing" and being linked to George Soros — which Sisson says isn't true.

While it's too soon to know if it's a lasting trend, Sisson said a number of GOP candidates for federal and state office have approached ConservAmerica this cycle to say they want to run as "Teddy Roosevelt Republicans" and ask for advice.

"I gave this speech to the largest conservation group in South Carolina two weeks ago. And I had three or four state representatives and a couple of county commissioners come up to me and say, 'We need your help. Why aren't other Republicans talking about this?' Because they're trying to do things like just water conservation. And they're getting beat up because every time they bring it up, they're told 'That's a Sierra Club thing, it's not a Republican thing.' So it really resonates. It's a matter of getting the message out there."

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Pat Tillman, in a 2003 photo provided by Photography Plus. Tillman was killed in a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. (AP)

Soldier Speaks Up A Decade After Pat Tillman's Friendly-Fire Death

Apr 22, 2014

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Ten years after the friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan that killed U.S. Army Ranger and former NFL star Pat Tillman, one of the soldiers who mistakenly pulled the trigger says he's still haunted by demons from the night of April 22, 2004.

Steven Elliott tells NPR's All Things Considered that on the night of the incident, he could see only "shadowy figures" and had every reason to believe that when his squad leader, Sgt. Greg Baker, opened fire on what turned out to be Tillman's position, there were no "friendlies" in the area.

"We'd all been firing our weapons at various positions, up to that point, effectively enemy positions," Elliot tells host Melissa Block. "The sun had been set for roughly 20 minutes, so the lighting conditions were poor to say the least."

Elliott, an ex-Army Ranger who carried an M240 Bravo machine gunner and was in his first-ever firefight on the night Tillman was killed, spoke publicly for the first time to ESPN recently. By way of background, ESPN writes:

"The events leading up to one of the most infamous friendly-fire deaths in U.S. military history were rife for second-guessing from the start: After an Army Humvee broke down in the mountains, Tillman's platoon was ordered divided by superiors so that the Humvee could be removed; a local truck driver was hired as the hauler. But the two groups struggled to communicate with each other as they traversed the steep terrain. And the second group soon became caught in a deafening ambush, receiving fire as it maneuvered down a narrow, rocky canyon trail.

"Tillman's group, which had traveled ahead, scaled a ridgeline to provide assistance to fellow Rangers under attack. But a squad leader, Sgt. Greg Baker, in Elliott's armored vehicle misidentified an allied Afghan soldier positioned next to Tillman as the enemy and opened fire, killing the Afghan and prompting Elliott and two other Rangers to fire upon what Elliott called shadowy images, later learned to have been Tillman and then-19-year-old Bryan O'Neal."

Forensic experts have determined that rounds from Elliott's weapon were probably not the ones that killed Tillman. But that doesn't change anything, he tells NPR.

He says that on the evening of the incident, he saw his squad leader engage Tillman's position and followed suit.

"I remember thinking for just a second or two, but what felt like longer — your perception of time in the midst of a firefight can be distorted — that if he'd fired, and without any other information to indicate a friendly position, that I should also fire," he says.

Tillman's family was initially told that their son was killed by enemy fire. It was not until more than a month later that they learned the actual details of his death.

Among those who were kept in the dark were Spc. Tillman's own brother, Kevin, a fellow Ranger in Elliott's platoon.

Elliott says he and others were instructed by their unit leaders "not to discuss [the incident] with folks outside the unit, and that was mainly because it was still under investigation.

"I was operating on a certain level of naiveté, I believe," he says. "[I thought] senior leaders were trying to protect the family, and I had no idea they were being deceived at any point."

Elliott says he felt "very conflicted" about not talking to Kevin Tillman about the tragedy.

"I always felt like I didn't know what to say to Kevin," Elliott says. "It felt like something that you just wanted to avoid, and it grieves me to no end that I didn't make the effort at that time."

To this day, Elliott, who has struggled with alcoholism, PTSD and divorce, all of which he traces to the friendly-fire episode, says he has never communicated directly with the Tillman family.

"I always felt very conflicted about that," he tells NPR. "I knew that they were very, just hurt beyond belief ... [both in] losing Pat but then in the grief and the confusion of the deception."

He says he hopes one day to talk to them.

In the meantime, he and his wife reconciled and remarried in 2010. And he's talked with others who have been in friendly-fire incidents, mostly soldiers who served in Vietnam.

"In some of those conversations, I felt like I was looking in a mirror," he says, choking up. "I saw the 1,000-yard stare in their eyes, and just the unresolved emptiness and hurt that that brings."

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