Special Report: Auditing The Disaster Aid For 2013 Tornadoes And Storms

Federal public-assistance funds are paying for the rebuilding of Plaza Towers Elementary School, in which seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado. The school is expected to open next month.
Clifton Adcock Oklahoma Watch

The tornadoes and storms that devastated Oklahoma and killed 34 last year triggered the release of tens of millions of dollars in federal and state aid that will keep flowing for years.

To date, the federal government has approved up to $257 million in disaster assistance of various kinds to help re build damage and help victims of the winds and flooding that struck between May 18 and June 2, 2013, and to mitigate future risks.

The state has contributed an additional $10.5 million, and private insurers are paying about $1.1 billion. Charities also have pumped in aid.

The relief aid stemming from Disaster No. 4117, as it is called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is arriving through several channels, heading ultimately to state and local agencies, contractors, businesses and individuals.

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The Two-Way
5:31 am
Tue December 24, 2013

Repairs Done, Astronauts Wrap Up Spacewalk

Astronaut Mike Hopkins during Saturday's spacewalk. He's going out again Tuesday.
NASA.gov

Originally published on Tue December 24, 2013 3:12 pm

Spacewalking astronauts have successfully replaced a failed coolant pump on the International Space Station.

NPR's Joe Palca reports that American spacewalkers Michael Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio had to bolt the massive pump in place (on the ground, it weighs 780 pounds), connect four ammonia lines and plug in five electrical cables. The ammonia is a refrigerant used in the station's two-part cooling system, which is necessary to dissipate heat from the onboard electrical equipment.

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Anyone With A Computer Can Access
6:18 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

Court Documents To Be Available For Viewing Online

Credit OklahomaJudicialProcessServers / Flickr.com

A plan to publicly release court documents from all 77 Oklahoma counties online and make them free to the public is slowly moving ahead. Noble County in north-central Oklahoma is going live as a test for the ambitious information technology upgrade.

Documents dating back decades, even more than a century in some cases, that have been filed in Noble County are available for anyone with a computer to view from home. This includes marriage licenses, traffic tickets, and criminal and civil filings, among other court documents.

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Long-term Effects Unknown
5:21 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

Fallin Bans Electronic Cigarettes And Vapor Devices

Credit planetc 1 / Flickr.com

Gov. Mary Fallin has issued an executive order that bans the use of electronic cigarettes and vapor devices on state property, saying the potential long-term health effects of the products are unknown.

Fallin's office released the order Monday that applies to all land and property owned or leased by the state, including state vehicles, effective Jan. 1. The only exception in the order is to residents of state residential facilities for veterans.

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Same-Sex Marriage
9:23 am
Mon December 23, 2013

Utah Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Spurs Oklahoma Court Filing

Credit Ronny Richert / Flickr Creative Commons

Lawyers for two same-sex couples suing for the right to marry in Oklahoma and to have a marriage from another jurisdiction recognized in the state have filed a brief pointing to a recent ruling in Utah that found a same-sex marriage ban violated the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.

Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin filed the lawsuit along with another couple back in November 2004. That was shortly after Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

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The Two-Way
8:26 am
Mon December 23, 2013

Ice Storm Leaves Tens Of Thousands In The Dark

Heather Griffin, of Buffalo, N.Y., and her dog Sal walk beneath ice-covered trees on Sunday in Buffalo.
Mike Groll AP

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 12:06 pm

About 200,000 households are in the dark across the country, after a massive ice storm swept through Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard.

The Associated Press estimates that some 95,000 households are without power in New York, Vermont and Maine. MLive.com reports that 155,000 are without power in Michigan.

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Oklahoma Tornado Project
7:30 am
Mon December 23, 2013

Take Shelter Oklahoma Lacks Signatures, Seeks Supreme Court Support

Credit hyku / Flickr / Creative Commons

The 90-day time period for collecting those signatures ran out last week, and supporters were 35,000 signatures short. They’re now awaiting the outcome of a legal challenge, claiming the deck was stacked against them.

After Kristi Conatzer lost her daughter Emily in the tornado that hit Moore’s Plaza Towers Elementary School on May 2o, she got together with others to form “Take Shelter Oklahoma.”

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The Two-Way
5:55 am
Mon December 23, 2013

Their Release Is Just A 'PR Stunt,' Pussy Riot Member Says

Maria Alyokhina, after her release from prison on Monday in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
Sergei Karpukhin Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 12:03 pm

The remaining members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot have been released from prison in Russia, a few months short of serving their full two-year sentences for "hooliganism" — a charge that the band's supporters say was just a trumped-up effort to quash free speech.

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Parallels
5:15 pm
Sun December 22, 2013

'Jihad Tourism': From Germany To The Syrian Battlefield

Burak Karan was a rising German-Turkish soccer player before leaving Germany to fight in the Syrian civil war. He was killed in northern Syria in October at age 26. Karan is shown here in Aachen, Germany, in 2008.
Marcel Decoux EPA/Landov

Originally published on Sun December 22, 2013 1:57 pm

More than 240 people have left Germany to join the civil war in Syria — the largest reported number from a European country.

One was Burak Karan, a rising German-Turkish soccer player who died in northern Syria in October at age 26. Bild newspaper quoted his brother saying Karan had gone to the border region between Turkey and Syria to help distribute aid.

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Politics
1:40 pm
Sun December 22, 2013

Pension Cut Angers Senate's Staunchest Military Supporters

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., left, is urging her Senate colleagues to change the budget proposal that cuts retirement benefits for current and future military retirees.
Susan Walsh AP

Originally published on Sun December 22, 2013 1:33 pm

In the two-year, $2 trillion budget deal that cleared the Senate last week, one item, worth just one-sixth of 1 percent of that total, was the reason many senators said they voted against it.

That item would produce some $6 billion in savings by shaving a percentage point off annual cost-of-living adjustments, and it would apply only to military pensions. Not all military pensions — just the retirement paid to veterans younger than 62.

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Africa
1:38 pm
Sun December 22, 2013

CAR Atrocities Must Be Answered, Says U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power

Samantha Power greets children on Thursday at a makeshift refugee camp in Central African Republic, where more than 40,000 people have found refuge from sectarian violence.
Jerome Delay AP

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 7:56 am

The vicious sectarian violence in the Central African Republic continued last week as Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visited on Thursday to make an appeal for peace.

It was a particularly significant trip for the ambassador: She began her career as a journalist and an activist, and was a vocal critic of the U.S. response to past atrocities and genocides.

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