David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

Explosives Found In Packages In Route to United States

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Friday, October 29, 2010

NBC News Photo

A terror attack on targets in the United States has been thwarted but law enforcement officials aren’t letting their guard down.

President Barack Obama briefed the country from the White House Press Briefing Room Friday afternoon calling the plot “a credible threat against our country.”

Mr. Obama confirmed earlier reports that packages carrying explosives were found aboard U.S. bound cargo planes in Dubai and the United Kingdom, Friday.

That discovery prompted heightened inspections of cargo plans and trucks in cities across the country.

 Terror officials believe al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was behind the failed attack.  The devices were found in

The President said, “Although we are still pursuing all the facts, we do know that the packages originated in Yemen.  We also know that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen, continues to plan attacks against our homeland, our citizens, and our friends and allies.”

 Mr. Obama said the packages were being sent to two Jewish places of worship in Chicago. 

 Synagogues in Chicago are now being warned to be on alert.

The President addressing the nation about the thwarted terror attacks on the United States

The President reminded Americans about the threat we live under.  “The events of the past 24 hours underscores the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism.”

Following the President’s remarks, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan took the podium to discuss the situation in more detail. He said the devices were “in a form that was designed to try to carry out some kind of attack”.  Clearly, from the initial observation, the initial analysis that was done, the material that was found … was intended to do harm.”

U.S. officials told NBC News the amount of explosives in one of the packages was about five times greater than quantity carried by the would-be Christmas Day bomber. That would make it slightly less than a pound, but that’s a significant amount.

It was unclear how the devices were to be set off.

 FedEx and UPS have suspended receiving shipments from Yemen for “the foreseeable future.”

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October 30, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Accused Russian Spies Gathered Intel on Nuclear Weapons; Other Sensitive Information

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Monday, June 28, 2010

It sounds more like an old spy novel than reality.  10 people were arrested for allegedly spying on the United States for the Russian Federation, the Justice Department announced Monday.

As details continue to unfold, the more bizarre and potentially dangerous the situation seems.  Authorities say the 10 have been living in the United States for close to 20 years; going to great lengths to cover up any ties to the Russian government.  Officials say they used American names to conceal their identity; using secret code words and making document exchanges in public places like New York City’s Central Park.

The Justice Department says the alleged spies had a special, “deep-cover” mission:  Penetrate U.S. policy-making circles while posing as U.S. civilians.

But now, it appears their lives were anything but ordinary.  They lived across Manhattan, Boston, Montclair, NJ, Yonkers, NY and Arlington, VA while secretly working for the Russian intelligence service, or SVR.  They are the successor to the Soviet KGB.

While 10 of the suspects were arrested Sunday, one was still at large as of Monday night.

Suspects Allegedly Worked For Russian Intel Agency

Court documents show a message sent from the headquarters of the SVR, intercepted by U.S. government officials, to two of the defendants says, “You were sent to USA for long term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house, etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e., to search and develop ties in policy-making circles in the US and send intels (intelligence reports) to Center.”

Another intercepted message talks about one of the alleged spies, known as Cynthia Murphy.  It states she “had several work-related personal meetings” with a man the documents describe as a prominent New York-based financier who was active in politics.

Court documents describe other messages from the suspects to Moscow discussing turnover in the highest levels of the CIA and the 2008 presidential election between President Obama and Senator John McCain.

Sources say the information was received during private conversations between at least one of the suspected spies and a former legislative counselor on Capitol Hill.

Mission: Gather U.S. / World Nuclear Info.

The Justice Department also says Russian intelligence officials wanted one defendant to gain information from a man, who has not been identified, who worked at a U.S. government research facility back in 2004.

The suspect’s intelligence report allegedly said that researcher, “Works on issues of strategic planning related to nuclear weapon development.

That same report claims the suspect had conversations with the researcher about “programs on small yield high penetration nuclear warheads (also known has nuclear “bunker-buster” warheads) recently authorized by the United States Congress.

U.S. intelligence officials say Moscow encouraged the suspects to “try to build up little by little relations,” and to gain more information about U.S. foreign policy, and about the White House “internal kitchen.”   It’s not yet clear what they mean by “internal kitchen.”

Moscow is also accused of sending directives to some of the defendants in advance of President Obama’s visit to Russia last year.  Documents show Moscow wanted information on the United States’ position on a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty as well as intelligence information about Afghanistan and Iran’s nuclear programs.

But, according to court documents, the alleged espionage didn’t stop there.  The documents show the defendants developed a short-range wireless network between laptop computers to communicate with other Russian agents.

As the investigation continues, U.S. intelligence officials are trying to determine how much the spies were able to learn during their time in the United States and if, or how, they damaged current or previous U.S. intelligence operations.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kagan’s Confirmation Hearings Begin Today; Expect It To Get Ugly

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Monday, June 28, 2010

When President Obama’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, begins her confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill around noon Monday, she will be thrust into the middle of a battle; as she defends her ability to sit on the high court against a long list of republicans who say she’s not up for the job.

If she makes it through the processes, she will become the nation’s 112th Supreme Court Justice.

Many democrats are calling her a liberal lion; ready to take on opponents to her confirmation and be a key liberal voice on the court.

But for those of us who frequently watch Capitol Hill, we know these hearings can turn very ugly, very fast.

Republicans are ramping up their anti-Kagan rhetoric.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell told the media two weeks ago that he would not rule out a filibuster.

Ready More About Filibusters

If Kagan is confirmed, she would be the first Supreme Court Justice with no experience on the bench.  She has an impressive resume from dean of the Harvard Law School to United States Solicitor General.  But will that be enough to get her past the blockade conservatives hope to put up during her confirmation hearings.

Because Kagan hasn’t had a very public profile before her nomination, many lawmakers in Washington are expected to ask a lot of questions in the hopes of getting to know her better.

Kagan on Gun Rights

Members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) are nervous about Kagan’s confirmation.  As a clerk for Justice Marshall, Kagan wrote that she was “not sympathetic” to a constitutional challenge of Washington D.C.’s gun-control law which was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2008 in the hotly debated D.C. v Heller decision.

During her confirmation hearings for Solicitor General, Kagan said she would uphold the court’s ruling because the decision is “settled law.”

She’s expected to be grilled about a paper she wrote while working in the Clinton administration that led to an executive order banning a variety of semiautomatic weapons.  The White House argues Kagan’s role in the Clinton administration was primarily to give advice and counsel and that she played no part in creating policy.

Kagan to Be Grilled On Abortion

The country is so divided on the issue of abortion; it makes it a politically tricky topic to discuss.  It’s like the third rail in national politics, you step on it and you die.  But it wouldn’t be a Supreme Court confirmation hearing without talking about the hot button issue.

Many pro-lifers are worried about Kagan’s stance on abortion because they believe she’s pro-choice.  They point to a memo she authored while working in the Clinton White House.  The memo recommended the President support a ban on late-term abortions excluding cases where the mother’s life or physical health would be in danger by not having the abortion.

In a letter written to Senators by the National Right to Life Committee, the pro-life group argues, “The picture that emerges of Kagan is not that of a staffer who presented the President objective information and disinterested analysis but, rather, a staffer who sometimes presented selective and tendentious information and who employed a variety of legal and political arguments to achieve her overriding goal of defeating the legislation.”  This, to encourage lawmakers not to confirm Kagan to the high court.

Kagan Takes Conservative Heat on Gay Rights Issues

During her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan raised eyebrows, and new much criticism, for temporarily barring military recruiters from the school’s resources office because of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; baring gay men and women from serving openly in the military.

She had little choice but to allow recruiters back on campus after the Federal Government threatened to revoke millions of dollars in aid to Harvard for not allowing the military recruiters to work on campus.

Republicans have portrayed Kagan as “anti-military” because of the decision to bar the recruiters in the first place.  But Democrats are standing up against Kagan’s opposition.  Democratic Senator John Kerry wrote, in an op-ed defending Kagan, “Like me, Kagan has never made it a secret that she opposes ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ – so, by the way, do [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Admiral [Mike] Mullen.  But Elena Kagan’s actions as dean don’t speak to her political beliefs, they simply reflect current law.”

But some liberals are concerned about Kagan’s more conservative view on gay marriage.  During her Solicitor General Confirmation Hearing, she said, “There’s no federal constitutional right to same sex marriage.”  She also defended the Defense of Marriage Act, which says states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Either way, it looks like Kagan’s future is far from settled.  Lawmakers will begin taking cracks at her Monday at noon (eastern) on Capitol Hill.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Primetime Address: Lights, Camera, Action???

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Sunday, June 20, 2010

Did President Barack Obama forget to bring some action to his Tuesday night primetime address?  Some say yes.  Americans have been growing increasingly frustrated over the federal government’s response (or lack thereof for some) to the Gulf Oil Crisis.

 A new Associated Press (AP) poll, released Tuesday, shows 52% of Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of the oil spill.  It’s becoming clear this crisis and the federal government’s response, is frighteningly reminiscent of former President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, where the majority of Americans polled felt like Bush’s response was insufficient.

Many hoped Tuesday’s Oval Office address would contain a bit more “Obama Kick-Ass.”  [The President told a reporter recently he met with experts to learn “whose ass to kick,” in the Gulf.]

The President addressed the nation in a somber tone from the hallowed chambers of the Oval Office, comparing the efforts in the Gulf to a battle and vowing to do everything in his power to make it right.

“Tonight I’d like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward:  what we’re doing to clean up the oil, what we’re doing to help our neighbors in the Gulf, and what we’re doing to make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.”  

But harsh attacks on BP were not the theme of this address.  The President obviously wanted to take a different approach.  He sounded like someone who has been there and understands what the people down there are going through because he has made several trips to the Gulf coast since the spill.

While his tone may not have been what all were hoping for, he did make it clear he will hold BP accountable for their actions.

“We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused.  And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.” 

Mr. Obama used a portion of his address to send a clear message to the American people that he is taking care of business.

Yahoo! News Photo

“Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness.  And this fund will not be controlled by BP.  In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party.”

As promised, Mr. Obama met with BP’s CEO at the White House.  In that meeting, the President ordered BP to create a $20 billion compensation guarantee and an apology to the nation from the company.  The fund would set up a large claims fund for shrimpers, restaurant owners and others whose livelihoods depend on the once beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House also announced the compensation guarantee account would be led by Kenneth Feinberg, he’s the man who handled the 9/11 compensation account.

 

June 21, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

President Names New National Intelligence Director

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]  –  Sunday, June 6, 2010

Courtesy: MSNBC

President Barack Obama nominated retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper to be the new director of national intelligence.

Clapper, who retired in 1995 after 32 years in the service, has been the top Pentagon intelligence official, will replace Dennis Blair, who resigned last month.

If confirmed, Clapper will be the fourth DNI in the last 5 years.  The position was created after the 9/11 attacks as a way to coordinate and oversee the 16 agencies in the nation’s intelligence community.

June 6, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Estimates Show Much More Oil Gushing Into Gulf Than Once Feared

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

New estimates show 500,000 to 1 million gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst oil spill in the nation’s history.

BP engineers are using robots to place a cap onto the jagged edge of the oil well.  This is the company’s latest attempt to restrict the flow of oil gushing from the blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico.

5,000 feet below the Gulf’s surface, maintenance efforts are being hampered because the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil gushing out is reducing visibility.

BP says this is not a fix.  Instead, it is meant to restrict, not cut-off, the flow of oil.  As the work is being done, there is the possibility the oil could flow faster than before for a short time (BP hopes).

A permanent fix won’t be ready until August.  With BP’s failure record, many question whether that fix will actually work.

Until Thursday, BP’s plans to stop the oil have failed time after time.  And while it’s too soon to

MSNBC: BP LIVE Video Feed

know if this plan will work, it’s the closest they’ve come so far.

Fears continue to grow along the Gulf coast where oil continues to spread.  So far, between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil has spewed out of the blown out well and into the Gulf of Mexico.  As of Thursday, oil was spotted six miles from the white sand beaches along the Florida panhandle.

BP will soon be getting a bill from the federal government.  The White House says BP owes $69 million in costs so far.

What do you think?  Is it time for the federal government to take over the emergency efforts going on in the Gulf?  Leave comments and take my Soundoff news poll.

June 4, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Polls, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SoundOFF Web Poll: Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration is a hot topic on the minds of many Americans right now.  In the wake of Arizona’s new, “get tough” reform law, state legislators around the country are wondering if they should be next to adopt immigration reform.

As the debate rages on from coast to coast, opponents of Arizona’s law says it’s unconstitutional because immigration is federal jurisdiction.  Those same opponents think the law will be challenged in federal court.  Some think the United States Supreme Court will have the final say.

What do you think about the issue?  Before you answer that question, have YOU read the Arizona Senate Bill 1070?  If not what are you basing your opinions on?  Most people get their opinions based on what they see on television news and in the newspapers.  But remember, the Washington spin machines (both on the left and the right) are in the business of selling their product (in this case public opinion of the Arizona immigration law is the product). 

The republican spinners are great public relations experts.  So are the democratic spinners.  They paint the best picture for the audience and hope it turns the tide of public opinion.  The only way to get PURE facts, without the spin, partisan bitch slapping, and childish he said, she said antics, is to read the bill for yourself. 

CLICK HERE to read the entire bill (It’s not very long).

Now.  What do you think?  Sound off by taking the web poll and commenting on this story.

May 31, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Polls | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Immigration Debate

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

The nation is divided on the idea of states adopting newer, tougher anti-illegal immigration laws.  Spearheaded by Arizona’s controversial law, states across the country are looking in to following their lead.

In Indiana, state senator Mike Delph (R-Carmel) wants to pass an, “Arizona-like” law giving law enforcement across the state the authority to stop and question any individual about their status in the United States as long as the officer has “reasonable suspicion” they are here illegally.

Arizona Senate Bill 1070 Sec. 2. Title 11, chapter 7 (Section B):

“FOR ANY LAWFUL CONTACT MADE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL OR A LAW

ENFORCEMENT AGENCY OF THIS STATE OR A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL OR A LAW

ENFORCEMENT AGENCY OF A COUNTY, CITY, TOWN OR OTHER POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF

THIS STATE WHERE REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN WHO

IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES, A REASONABLE ATTEMPT SHALL BE

MADE, WHEN PRACTICABLE, TO DETERMINE THE IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE PERSON,

EXCEPT IF THE DETERMINATION MAY HINDER OR OBSTRUCT AN INVESTIGATION.”

CLICK HERE to read the entire bill.

During a recent interview on WTWO (NBC 2 – Terre Haute), state representative Clyde Kersey said, “I think the law is unconstitutional and the reason I believe that is because immigration is a federal responsility.”

Delph says he agrees with democratic critics who say immigration policy is federal jurisdiction.  But Delph remains doubtful that a democratic president and congress will pass a federal policy strong enough to get the problem of immigration under control.

During a recent interview on WTWO, Delph told me he, and many republicans, are frustrated with Washington and ready to take matters in to their own hands.

Delph’s interest in illegal immigration reform is not new.  For the past three years, Delph has proposed legislation in the State House that addresses illegal immigration.  It has been defeated every time.  This upcoming legislative session could be the fourth consecutive year Delph tries to tackle Indiana’s immigration problem.  He says if congress doesn’t act, he will.

But is illegal immigration in Indiana really a big problem worthy of a new, tough immigration policy?  Obviously, it depends on where you go.  In smaller towns like Terre Haute, immigration doesn’t seem like a big problem.  But go to Indianapolis, Fort Wayne or Bloomington and you might see a much more diverse population.  Granted, Indiana, unlike Arizona, isn’t a boarder state but reports show at least 85-thousand illegal immigrants live in the Hoosier State.

I’ve spoken to state lawmakers on both sides and they seem to agree something must be done about Indiana’s immigration problem.  The debate boils down to how exactly the reform should be implemnted.

CLICK HERE to view my story on mywabashvalley.com (NBC WTWO 2 / FOX 38 WFXW).

So, what is all of this about?  I think a lot of the nation’s problems right now make the issue of illegal immigration important to many citizens.

First, take national security.  How can we possibly protect ourselves from terrorist attack if we don’t even know who is in the country?  I’m a moderate thinker (who leans a bit more left than anything) but I want every person in this country accounted for.

I am not calling illegal immigrants terrorists but if we are serious about the security of our nation, we have to look at all illegal immigrants (not just from Mexico but from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc.).

Secondly, the job market is still struggling.  People aren’t getting jobs as quick as they lost them during the recession.  For a long time, Americans have debated if illegal immigrants take jobs that, “Americans don’t want.”  To be honest, I don’t know the answer.  I don’t know who is right in that argument.  But either way, jobs are a big reason many people are looking at immigration more than usual right now.

With health care reform being unrolled as we speak, many fear that non-tax paying illegal immigrants will show up at hospitals looking for care with no money to pay the bill.  Usually, when someone can’t pay a hospital, and they show a financial need, they can get financial assistance which is funded, in part, with federal tax dollars.

When reporting the story for WTWO, I asked viewers to write in and let us know what they think about illegal immigration.  Out of all of the responses I received, not ONE wrote in opposition of immigration reform.  It seems most people want something to be done but don’t know how to execute it.  Is it possible citizens want some kind of action so any law cracking down on illegal immigration sounds better than nothing?  Or do people really believe the particular details of the Arizona law are the best way to handle the immigration problem?

Honestly, how many people have actually read the actual transcript of the bill?  You can’t take the national media’s word for it.  If you turn on Fox News Channel, most of their on-air talent are more politically right thinkers and personal opinion too many times lead to viewers mistaking fact for opinion.  It’s the opposite side of the spectrum when you turn on more liberal leaning CNN or MSNBC.

The sad truth is, the national media (along with some local media around the nation) are filled with people with a human instinct to analyze a problem and think of a best solution.  So when you hear “facts” on television or in the papers, are you really hearing facts or are you hearing opinions being twisted slightly to sound factual?  What’s the point you ask?  If you want to really know what the law will and will not do, print off a copy and read it for yourselves.

At the same time, one could ask if the law is really needed.  As I mentioned earlier, the Arizona law gives police the authority to stop an individual and question them about their status in the United States if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is here illegally.  Isn’t reasonable suspicion just another name for probable cause?  If a cop believed someone was here illegally before, do you think they didn’t investigate it before the new law took effect?  All police need to investigate a crime (being in the country illegally is a crime, that’s not opinion, that is fact) is probable cause or “reasonable suspicion.”

Is this law nothing more than just a political bargaining chip months before a crucial national mid-term election?  Do the framers of this bill think the law really changes things or is it just a way to re-write the current law in a more intimidating and frightening way?  Could go either way.

One thing is for sure.  The issue of illegal immigration is not going anywhere anytime soon.  I think it’s going to be a hot mid-term election issue that will energize both sides.  For some Americans, how a candidate views illegal immigration will determine how they vote.

Many legal scholars are already predicting a legal challenge in federal court.  They say the law is unconstitutional and encourages law enforcement to use racial profiling as a tool in the war against illegal immigration.  Some have predicted the issue of illegal immigration will be settled in the United States Supreme Court.

The high court has two fresh faces on the bench, both appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the senate.  These two, Judge Sonia Sotomayor and United States Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, could be key in the opposition of the law, if it makes it to the Supreme Court.  President Obama has said he is opposed to Arizona’s new law.

So, what will the next few months bring for immigration reform?  I think we will be seeing a lot of federal legal challenges, an increase in racial tensions in some areas of the United States, and a real debate on the future of immigration reform.

Let’s not assume that real debate is a bad thing.  Some of the nation’s most defining moments came out of great debate and a clear vision for change.  It’s how things are supposed to work in a democracy.  Liberals and conservatives are supposed to argue and lay out their positions.  It’s the only way to ensure the minority voices are being heard.  The Executive Branch is supposed to butt heads with the Legislative and Judicial Branches.  That’s why we have separation of power.

Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke believed, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, have faith that good men and women will stand up, debate the issue, and put together immigration reform that is fair to all it affects.

Let me know what you think!  Please comment and cast your vote on my SOUNDOFF Web Blog below.

May 31, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment