Nation roundup for June 14


Terrorists helped by leaks, rep says

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday that terrorists are already changing their behavior after leaks about classified U.S. surveillance programs, but he offered no details.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said it’s part of the damage from disclosures by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of two NSA programs that collect millions of telephone records and track Internet activity.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong in May and has granted some interviews since then, saying he hopes to stay there and fight any charges that may yet be filed against him.

Rogers said there are “changes we can already see being made by the folks who wish to do us harm, and our allies harm” and that the revelations might also “make it harder to track bad guys trying to harm U.S. citizens in the United States.”

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, said he’s concerned that Snowden fled to Hong Kong because of China’s history of spying on the U.S.

“It seems unusual that he would be in China and asking for the protection of the Chinese government … but we’re going to investigate,” Ruppersberger said.

Rogers added, “Clearly, we’re going to make a thorough scrub of what his China connections are.”

Rogers and Ruppersberger spoke to reporters after a closed committee briefing with the NSA’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, who said he hopes to declassify details of dozens of attacks disrupted by the programs.

Alexander said officials don’t want to “cause another terror attack by giving out too much information.”

Whites under 5 falling to minority

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a first, America’s racial and ethnic minorities now make up about half of the under-5 age group, reflecting sweeping changes by race and class among young people. Due to an aging population, non-Hispanic whites last year recorded more deaths than births.

These two milestones, revealed in 2012 census estimates released Thursday, are the latest signs of a historic shift in which whites will become a minority within a generation, by 2043. They come after the Census Bureau reported last year that whites had fallen to a minority among newborns.

Fueled by immigration and high rates of birth, particularly among Hispanics, racial and ethnic minorities are growing more rapidly in numbers than whites. The decline in the U.S. white population has been occurring more quickly than expected, resulting in the first “natural decrease” for whites — deaths exceeding births — in more than a century, census data show. For now, the non-Hispanic white population continues to increase slightly, but only because of immigration from Europe.

Based on current rates of growth, whites in the under-5 group are expected to fall below 50 percent this year or next, said Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau’s acting director.

“This is the tipping point presaging the gradual decline of the white population, which will be a signature demographic trend of this century,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “More so than ever, we need to recognize the importance of young minorities for the growth and vitality of our labor force and economy.”

1 dead, 73 hurt in La. plant blast

GEISMAR, La. (AP) — A ground-rattling explosion Thursday at a chemical plant in Louisiana ignited a blaze that killed at least one person and injured dozens of others, authorities said. Witnesses described a chaotic scene of flames as high as 200 feet into the air and workers scrambling over gates to escape the plant.

A thick plume of black smoke rose from the plant after the blast even after the fire was extinguished. At a roadblock several miles away where family members waited anxiously to hear about loved ones, flames were still easily visible above the trees even hours later.

Louisiana’s health department said 73 people were treated at hospitals for injuries ranging from minor to critical following the morning explosion. A body was found by hazardous materials crews going through the aftermath of the blast at the facility, state police Capt. Doug Cain said.

The company said the blast happened at 8:37 a.m. By the afternoon, all of the plant’s more than 300 workers had been accounted for, Cain said. The plant, owned by The Williams Companies Inc., based in Tulsa, Okla., is in an industrial area of Geismar, a Mississippi River community about 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge.

The Williams facility is one of scores of chemical and industrial facilities that dot the riverside between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. A few homes and four other plants are within 2 miles, said Lester Kenyon, spokesman for Ascension Parish government.

The cause was not immediately known but the FBI said terrorism was not suspected.

Inspector kills self after collapse

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A veteran Philadelphia building inspector who apparently committed suicide had inspected the site of a deadly building collapse twice in February, and an adjacent, related project in mid-May.

The June 5 collapse killed six people when a four-story building tumbled onto a small thrift shop.

The demolition site consisted of three attached buildings.

Records show that Ronald Wagenhoffer inspected the site before work began on Feb. 12 and again on Feb. 25, after it was underway.

He returned to the strip of attached storefronts on May 14 after a citizen complained about the demolition being conducted at the building next door to the one that collapsed. Wagenhoffer found the complaint unfounded.

Mayor Michael Nutter calls the 52-year-old Wagenhoffer the seventh victim of the tragedy, and says his death is “astounding” and “painful.”

 

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