April 2nd, 2012
By Lesa Jansen, CNN White House Producer
(CNN) -- The head of the General Services Administration resigned Monday after a scathing report that called government spending on a training seminar in Las Vegas "excessive, wasteful, and in some cases impermissible."
The White House put out a statement that President Barack Obama was "outraged" when he found out about the spending.
GSA Administrator Martha Johnson admitted in a letter of resignation that her agency had made a "significant misstep" and that "taxpayer dollars were squandered."
A GSA Inspector General's report on the 2010 GSA "Western Regions" training conference in Las Vegas shows the government spent more than $822,000 for the 300 attendees, including $75,000 on team building exercises, $6,000 on commemorative coins and $6,000 on canteens, keychains and T-shirts.
President Obama was informed about the report last week before his South Korean trip and administration officials said he acted quickly. "[H]e was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars," White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement Monday.
Lew said the president called for all those responsible "to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as president."
An administration official told CNN the president respects Johnson's decision (to resign), and believes as stewards of taxpayer dollars, these episodes are not acceptable.
The Inspector General's findings show the 2010 training conference was held at the lavish M Resort Spa and Casino outside of Las Vegas.
The report shows that GSA employees "scouted" the location several times before the conference and that travel for conference planning totaled more than $100,000, with catering costs of more than $30,000. Add to that costs for the actual conference of more than $686,000 and the total comes to $822,751.
In her letter of resignation, Johnson said that when she was made aware of the allegations of excessive and questionable spending for the conference she launched internal reviews, took "personnel disciplinary action" and instituted "tough new controls to ensure this incident is not repeated." That was not enough, she said, adding she is resigning to allow the GSA to "move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team."
Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman leveled bruising criticism. "This was a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars. The people responsible for it should be held accountable," Lieberman said in a statement.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, similarly slammed the spending.
"I appreciate the work of GSA Inspector General Brad Miller in investigating this matter. I expect that the committee will have additional questions for him and GSA about this wasteful spending," he said in a statement.
Johnson came into her position amid controversy. Her appointment as head of the GSA was held up for 10 months through an arcane Senate procedure known as the "hold," in which one senator can delay a nomination without reason. When Johnson was finally confirmed by the Senate in 2010, the White House touted it as an example of why Americans are so frustrated with Washington.
April 2nd, 2012
It promises to be a treasure trove of information – detailed family data from the 1940 census, released today for the first time.
There's just one problem: That long-buried treasure is now proving difficult -- if not impossible -- to open. Interest has been so high, the National Archives' website has essentially crashed.
"We are having a server problem," said Susan Cooper, director of public and media communications at the National Archives. "Because there is such a huge volume, they're having a hard time keeping up."
Cooper told ABC News that the website had 22.5 million hits in the first three hours of operation today and 37 million hits by this afternoon -- far more than anyone had anticipated.
"We knew we would have high traffic volume, and we thought we were prepared for it," she said, 'but I think we've been very surprised by actually how popular it is."
The general outlines of the 1940 U.S. Census have been publically released before, but actual data from each household is kept private for 72 years.
Today's release offers a snapshot of the lives of the famous, as well as the ordinary. The 1940 census data, for example, indicates that then-actor Ronald Reagan was paying $135 a month for the Los Angeles apartment he shared with his wife, actress Jane Wyman. It also reveals how much some of Hollywood's biggest stars were paying their live-in help.
When the National Archives released the detailed data from the 1920 and 1930 census reports, it was on microfilm. Accessing it meant making a trip to the library and fishing through the films.
This is the first time the data, 3.8 million digital images, has been released online. "Now, theoretically, you can now stay at home and search from your own computer," said Cooper, "so it makes it much more accessible; and therefore more popular."
Cooper says they're working to add more capacity, to allow the millions looking for family pay-dirt to get onto the site.
Currently, even if you do manage to click through the search feature, if you are looking for a particular person, you need to already know how to locate them. The special archives website, requires a specific address or zip code in order to narrow down a search to the specific enumeration district where the person lived.
Enumeration districts were the several city blocks assigned to the enumerators – the government workers dispatched to go knocking on door after door to conduct the surveys for that year's census.
The National Archives is working with volunteers to try to index the data base by name, so that only a name would be necessary to start a search. But that feature will likely take another six to nine months before it becomes available.
The archivists, who prepared millions of pages documenting the America of the 1940 for online release, pulled information on some particularly notable figures included in this census -- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and then-actor, future President Ronald Reagan.
Roosevelt's occupation was listed as President of the U.S.A. According to the census sheet, he lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with his wife, personal secretary, cousin, governess and four servants.
At the time of the 1940 Census, Ronald Reagan was pursuing his burgeoning acting career and was just married to his first wife, Jane Wyman, a co-star from the movie "Brother Rat." The year he married Wyman, Reagan was living in an apartment in the hills of Hollywood.
In the spring of 1939, the couple moved to a different apartment in Los Angeles proper, according to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
The detailed census data indicates that Reagan and his wife lived alone at 1326B Londonderry View Drive in Los Angeles. They both reported incomes of greater than $5,000 a year, and lived in a $200,000 home.
Living two doors away from Reagan was Sydney Rusinow, a famous bridge player who married actress Viola Richard, a Laurel and Hardy co-star. There is a technique named after the bridge player, the "Rusinow lead."
April 2nd, 2012
ABC News / By Devin Dwyer
But today Obama didn’t pass up an opportunity when asked about GOP frontrunner’s claims, made over the weekend, that the president does not believe in the “exceptionalism” of the U.S.
“It’s worth noting that I first arrived on the national stage with a speech at the Democratic Convention that was entirely about American exceptionalism and that my entire career has been a testimony to American exceptionalism,” Obama said at an afternoon Rose Garden press conference.
“But, you know, I will cut folks some slack for now because they’re still trying to get their nomination,” he added, without mentioning Romney by name.
During a Saturday speech in Pewaukee, Wisc., Romney questioned Obama’s commitment to the view of America as a unique and unrivaled world power sustained by the values of free enterprise.
“Our president doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” Romney said Saturday. “And I think over the last three or four years, some people around the world have begun to question that. On this Tuesday, we have an opportunity — you have an opportunity — to vote, and take the next step in bringing back that special nature of being American.”
Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia all hold primary votes on Tuesday.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who joined Obama in the Rose Garden on Monday, declined to respond to Romney’s claim that America’s influence has declined under Obama.
But Harper praised the president and the U.S. for its leadership over the past three years.
“For Canada, the United States is and always will be our closest neighbor, our greatest ally and our best friend. And I believe that American leadership is at all times great and indispensable for the world,” Harper said.
“We had under your leadership, Barack, that successful intervention in Libya. Our trade relationship is the biggest in the world and growing. And so I think it’s been a tremendous partnership,” he said.
More From ABC News
April 2nd, 2012
Good Morning America
By MATT GUTMAN
Enhanced video footage of George Zimmerman being taken into custody less than 30 minutes after he shot and killed Florida teenTrayvon Martin shows the neighborhood watch captain with an injury to the back of his head.
The never-before-seen evidence of an injury to Zimmerman, in this case a gash or mark to his head, would appear to back his claim that he shot Martin in self defense after he was attacked by Martin on the night of Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla
Zimmerman, 28, claims Martin, 17, punched him in the nose, knocked him down and repeatedly slammed his head into the ground.
The police surveillance video, first obtained exclusively by ABC News last month and clarified by Forensic Protection, Inc., shows Zimmerman exiting the police cruiser with his hands cuffed behind his back. Zimmerman is frisked and then led down a series of hallways, still cuffed. At one point, one of the officers stops to look briefly at the back of Zimmerman's head.
There was no obvious sign of any injury to Zimmerman's head or face on the video until it was enhanced. But the enhanced video does not show any visible injury to Zimmerman's nose, nor any signs of blood on his shirt.
The initial police report noted that Zimmerman was bleeding from the back of the head and nose, and his lawyer later claimed that Zimmeran suffered a broken nose. After receiving medical attention at the scene of the shooting, it was decided that he was in good enough condition to travel in a police cruiser to the Sanford, Fla., police station for questioning. He did not check into the emergency room following the police questioning.
The surveillance tape of Zimmerman, later released by the Sanford Police Department, could be used as evidence if Zimmerman is brought up on charges, sources tell ABC News.
Zimmerman's lawyer, Craig Sonner, has said his client felt "one of them was going to die that night," when he pulled the trigger.
The case has gained national prominence with rallies across the country demanding that Zimmerman be arrested and charged with murder.
Lawyers for Martin's family sent a letter to the Justice Department today asking that the federal probe into the killing look into the fact that Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee met with State Attorney Norm Wolfinger on the night of shooting. Lawyer Benjamin Crump also claims in the letter that members of Zimmerman's family were also present in the police station that night.
The lead homicide investigator, Chris Serino, wrote in an affidavit that he recommended manslaughter charges be brougth against Zimmerman but was advised by the prosecutor not to file charges because there was not enough evidence for a conviction, sources have told ABC News.
"We look forward to your thorough and comprehensive review of the suspicious circumstances surrounding this meeting," Crump wrote.
State prosecutors are expected to go before a Seminole County grand jury on April 10 to determine what, if any, files should be charged.
An analysis of a 911 call done over the weekend by the Orlando Sentinel determined that screams for help overhead on a 911 came from Martin, although Zimmerman's family insist they recognize his voice in the screams.
Two evidence experts consulted by the Sentinel found the voice heard in a 911 call placed by a woman in a home near where the shooting occurred was only a 48 percent match to Zimmerman's voice. One of the experts, Tom Owen, told the Sentinel to reach a positive match he would expect higher than 90 percent.
"As a result of that, you can say with reasonable scientific certainty that it's not Zimmerman," Owen told the paper.
Owen,the chair emeritus at the American Board of Record Evidence, was not able to determine if the voice was that of Martin, the Sentinel reports, because he did not have audio of the teen's voice to compare to the shouts for help in the 911 call.
More From GMA
April 2nd, 2012
Wired Science / By Neil deGrasse Tyson
The chances that your tombstone will read “Killed by Asteroid” are about the same as they’d be for “Killed in Airplane Crash.”
Solar System debris rains down on Earth in vast quantities — more than a hundred tons of it a day. Most of it vaporizes in our atmosphere, leaving stunning trails of light we call shooting stars. More hazardous are the billions, likely trillions, of leftover rocks — comets and asteroids — that wander interplanetary space in search of targets.
Most asteroids are made of rock. The rest are metal, mostly iron. Some are rubble piles — gravitationally bound collections of bits and pieces. Most live between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and will never come near Earth.
But some do. Some will. More than a thousand known asteroids are classed as “potentially hazardous,” based on size and trajectory. Currently, it looks doable to develop an early-warning and defense system that could protect the human species from impactors larger than a kilometer wide. Smaller ones, which reflect much less light and are therefore much harder to detect at great distances, carry enough energy to incinerate entire nations, but they don’t put the human species at risk of extinction.
Every few decades, on average, house-sized impactors collide with Earth. Typically they explode in the atmosphere, leaving no trace of a crater. Once in about a hundred million years, though, Earth is visited by an impactor capable of annihilating all life-forms bigger than a carry-on suitcase.
One killer asteroid we’ve been monitoring is Apophis, which is large enough to fill the Rose Bowl. On Friday the 13th, April 2029, it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. If its trajectory on that day passes within a narrow range of altitudes called the “keyhole,” then the influence of Earth’s gravity on its orbit will guarantee that seven years later, in 2036, on its next trip around the Sun, the asteroid will hit Earth directly, likely slamming into the Pacific Ocean. The tsunami it creates will devastate all the coastlines of the Pacific Rim. If Apophis misses the keyhole in 2029, we’ll have nothing to worry about in 2036.
A more recent discovery, half the size of Apophis, is expected to pass Earth at a distance of a million miles in 2023 and ten million miles in 2028, has been stirring up the scaremongers but rates only a 1 on the 1–10 scale of impact hazards. Unscarily named 2011 AG5, it will become much more visible and trackable during 2013. Earth’s gravity could conceivably convince it to collide with us in 2040, but NASA deems that a remote chance.
Some people would like to blow potentially hazardous rocks out of the sky with a nuclear bomb. Others would deploy a radiation-intensive neutron bomb (the Cold War–era bomb that kills people but leaves buildings intact) to induce a recoil and alter the asteroid’s orbit. A kindler, gentler approach would be to nudge it into a different orbit with slow but steady rockets that have somehow been attached to one side — or with a solar sail, which harnesses the pressure of sunlight for its propulsion.
The odds-on favorite solution, however, is the gravitational tractor. This involves parking a probe in space near the killer asteroid. As their mutual gravity draws the probe to the asteroid, an array of retro rockets fires, instead causing the asteroid to draw toward the probe and off its collision course with Earth.
Saving the planet requires commitment. First we have to catalogue every object whose orbit intersects Earth’s, then task our computers with carrying out the calculations necessary to predict a catastrophic collision hundreds or thousands of orbits into the future. Meanwhile, space missions would have to determine in great detail the structure and chemical composition of killer comets and asteroids.
If humans one day become extinct from a catastrophic collision, we would be the laughing stock of aliens in the galaxy, for having a large brain and a space program, yet we met the same fate as that pea-brained, space program-less dinosaurs that came before us.