Nation roundup for April 24


Hackers compromise AP Twitter account

NEW YORK (AP) — Hackers compromised Twitter accounts of The Associated Press on Tuesday, sending out a false tweet about an attack at the White House.

The false tweet said there had been two explosions at the White House and that President Barack Obama was injured. The attack on AP’s Twitter account and the AP Mobile Twitter account was preceded by phishing attempts on AP’s corporate network.

The AP confirmed that its Twitter account had been suspended following a hack and said it was working to correct the issue.

The false tweet went out shortly after 1 p.m. and briefly sent the Dow Jones industrial average sharply lower. The Dow fell 143 points, from 14,697 to 14,554, after the fake Twitter posting, and then quickly recovered.

A Securities and Exchange Commission spokeswoman declined comment on the incident.

AP spokesman Paul Colford said the news cooperative is working with Twitter to investigate the issue. The AP has disabled its other Twitter accounts following the attack, Colford added.

The Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for the hack. This couldn’t be corroborated.

The FBI has opened an investigation into the incident, spokeswoman Jenny Shearer said. She declined to elaborate.

The group has taken credit for a string of Web attacks on media targets it sees as sympathetic to Syria’s rebels. Among the targets the group claims to have hacked are Twitter feeds of Al-Jazeera English and the BBC.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president was fine. “I was just with him,” Carney said at a news briefing.

A representative for Twitter did not return messages for comment.

Airline service improves but delays still possible

NEW YORK (AP) — A day after flight delays plagued much of the nation, air travel was smoother Tuesday, but the government warned passengers that the situation could change by the hour as thousands of air-traffic controllers are forced to take furloughs because of budget cuts.

Meanwhile, airlines and members of Congress urged the Federal Aviation Administration to find other ways to reduce spending. Airlines are worried about the long-term costs late flights will have on their budgets and on passengers.

“I just can’t imagine this stays in place for an extended period of time. It’s just such terrible policy,” US Airways CEO Doug Parker said. “We can handle it for a little while, but it can’t continue.”

The delays are the most visible effect yet of Congress and the White House’s failure to agree on a long-term deficit-reduction plan.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said no one should be surprised, noting that he warned about the potential for problems two months ago.

His solution: Blame Congress for the larger budget cuts that affected all of government, including a $600 million hit to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” LaHood said. “This is very bad policy that Congress passed, and they should fix it.”

Critics of the FAA insist the agency could reduce its budget in other ways that would not inconvenience travelers.

Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, and John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, sent a letter to LaHood on Monday accusing the FAA of being “slow and disturbingly limited” in response to their questions. They suggested the FAA could divert money from other accounts, such as those devoted to research, commercial space transportation and modernization of the air-traffic control computers.

Others in Congress urged the Obama administration to postpone the furlough for at least 30 days.

In the past five years, the FAA’s operating budget has grown by 10.4 percent while the number of domestic commercial flights has fallen 13 percent.

“There’s no cause for this. It’s a cheap political stunt,” said Michael Boyd, an aviation consultant who does work for the major airlines.

The FAA says the numbers aren’t so clear cut. In that time, the government has signed a new, more expensive contract with air traffic controllers, added 400 new aviation safety inspectors and beefed up its payroll to deploy a new air traffic-control computer system.

So given the budget cuts, FAA officials say they now have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees — including nearly 15,000 controllers — because salaries make up 70 percent of the agency’s budget. Each employee will lose one day of work every two weeks.

Planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.

About 400 delays piled up Sunday and another 1,200 Monday that were linked to the furloughs.

Delays were minimal for most of Tuesday. But during the afternoon rush, delays of one to two hours started to mount in New York and Washington. Flight-tracking service FlightAware expected them to last through the evening. Los Angeles and Dallas saw delays of less than an hour.

Travel has not yet reached the levels the FAA warned about where some airports — like those in Atlanta or New York or Chicago — could see delays of more than three hours. Mother Nature has so far cooperated.

“Bad weather would make this much worse,” Parker added.

There’s also potential that passengers will be scared away by fears over delays. Many families are now planning summer vacations and might choose a driving trip instead.

If the FAA staffing shortage persists into the summer, airlines will also have less flexibility to ease passengers’ pain.

For instance, Delta Air Lines canceled about 90 flights Monday because of worries about delays. Just about every passenger was rebooked on another Delta flight within a couple of hours, according to Ed Bastian, Delta’s president.

In the busy summer travel months, the airline might not have enough empty seats to accommodate passengers from canceled flights.

Summer also brings thunderstorms, which are the biggest source of airline delays. Unlike snowstorms, which are forecast days in advance, thunderstorms can develop quickly and are unpredictable.

“This is just the beginning of what promises to be a huge economic disruption,” the National Air Traffic Controllers Association warned in a statement Tuesday. “This is no way to run the world’s safest, most efficient national airspace system. Controllers continue to do their best every day to keep the system running. It’s time policymakers show the same amount of effort and dedication.”

The federal budget cuts are also eating into the company’s bottom line, with defense company employees cutting their flight budgets by 20 percent in the last month.

US Airways operates a hub at Washington National airport, and government business accounted for 3 percent of its revenue last year. Government revenue dropped 37 percent in March because of the spending cuts and the timing of Easter, Kirby said.

Unlike Delta, US Airways didn’t cancel flights in advance.

“It’s really difficult to do because we don’t know where the issues are going to be until the issues are there,” said the airline’s president, Scott Kirby.

Ricin suspect released from jail

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — A federal official says the man charged with sending poison letters to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a Mississippi judge has been released from jail.

Jeff Woodfin, chief deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service in Oxford, Miss., says Paul Kevin Curtis has been released from custody.

Woodfin says he doesn’t know if there were any conditions on the release.

The development comes hours after officials canceled a detention and preliminary hearing on Tuesday.

Curtis was arrested Wednesday at his house in Corinth, Miss., and charged with sending ricin-laced letters to Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker and a Lee County, Miss., judge.

Through an attorney, the 45-year-old Curtis has said he is innocent.

Report: Richest 7% got richer during recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) — The richest Americans got richer during the first two years of the economic recovery while average net worth declined for the other 93 percent of U.S. households, says a report released Tuesday.

The upper 7 percent of households owned 63 percent of the nation’s total household wealth in 2011, up from 56 percent in 2009, said the report from the Pew Research Center, which analyzed new Census Bureau data released last month.

The main reason for the widening wealth gap is that affluent households typically own stocks and other financial holdings that increased in value, while the less wealthy tend to have more of their assets in their homes, which haven’t rebounded from the plunge in home values, the report said.

Tuesday’s report is the latest to point up financial inequality that has been growing among Americans for decades, a development that helped fuel the Occupy Wall Street protests.

A September Census Bureau report on income found that the highest-earning 20 percent of households earned more than half of all income the previous year, the biggest share in records kept since 1967. A 2011 Congressional Budget Office report said incomes for the richest 1 percent soared 275 percent between 1979 and 2007 while increasing just under 40 percent for the middle 60 percent of Americans.

Other details of Tuesday’s new report:

—Overall, the wealth of American households rose by $5 trillion, or 14 percent, during the period to $40.2 trillion in 2011 from $35.2 trillion in 2009. Household wealth is the sum of all assets such as a home, car and stocks, minus the sum of all debts.

—The average net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while that of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent. That is, the mean wealth of the 8 million households in the more affluent group rose to an estimated $3.2 million from an estimated $2.5 million while that of the 111 million households in the less affluent group fell to roughly $134,000 from $140,000.

—The upper 7 percent were the households with a net worth above $836,033 and the 93 percent represented households whose worth was at or below that. Not all households among the 93 percent saw a decline in net worth, but the average amount declined for that group.

—On an individual household basis, the average wealth of households in the more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio was less than 18 to 1.

—During the study period, Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index rose by 34 percent, while the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index for home prices fell by 5 percent.

 

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