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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual Spring Outlook report on Thursday. The report suggests that snow and ice left over from the winter could pose mild to moderate flood risks come spring. (Courtesy of NOAA)

NOAA Spring Outlook: Floods for some, but drought could spread

By Staff writer / 03.20.14

The winter that keeps on giving could fuel flood conditions this spring in much of the Midwest, Great Lakes, and New England, say federal meteorologists.

As the remaining snowpack begins to melt, it may not have many drainage paths because of deep layers of frozen ground and thick ice jams on rivers and streams, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a teleconference with reporters Thursday.

All that extra water could overwhelm rivers and streams in half of the continental United States, NOAA’s annual Spring Outlook report cautions.

“Rivers in half of the continental United States are at risk of exceeding minor or moderate river flood levels this spring,” explained Robert Hartman, acting director of NOAA's Office of Hydrologic Development.

NOAA’s predictions are primarily based on the existing snowpack, ice accumulation, depth of frozen ground, and relatively short-term weather forecasts. Heavy rain events could exacerbate flood conditions.

“Unfortunately, for precipitation, climate signals were very weak and unreliable,” Mr. Hartman said. “That is often the case during spring but especially this year.”

Floods not only pose major economic threats to homes and businesses, but also to human life.

“Flooding is the leading cause of severe-weather-related deaths [in the United States], claiming, on average, more than 100 lives per year,” Hartman cautioned.

“Half of these flood-related deaths occur in motor vehicles,” he added. “Please take NOAA’s advice to ‘Turn around, don’t drown.’ Water can be deceptively deep and the underlying roadway can be washed away,” he said.

The flood risk in the middle and eastern portions of the country is in stark contrast to the drought that has gripped – and likely will continue to plague – much of the West and Southwest.

While portions of Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Nebraska, and the Midwest could experience some relief this spring, drought conditions in Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas could spread to previously unaffected areas, said Jon Gottschalack, acting chief of the Operational Prediction Branch of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

"If the drought persists as predicted in the West and Southwest, it will likely result in an active wildfire season and continue to stress crops and livestock, due to low water levels,” Mr. Gottschalack said.

Over the next three months, areas ranging eastward from Western Montana across the Northern Plains to the Great Lakes Region can expect temperatures below normal, while parts of the Northwest, California, Nevada, the desert Southwest, Southern Plains, and the Southeast likely will feel warmer than usual.

NOAA issued an advisory earlier this month that conditions appeared favorable for the development of an El Niño event later this summer or early fall. Such an event could exacerbate drought conditions in parts of Arizona and New Mexico.

A jogger runs along the Potomac River on a foggy Thursday morning in Washington. The Northern Hemisphere celebrates the first day of spring Thursday, an event marked by the vernal equinox. (J. David Ake/AP)

Spring equinox has arrived (today, officially)! Someone better tell winter. (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.20.14

Spring has sprung! At least that’s what the calendar says. However, it could be nearly a month before temperatures fully catch up to the calendar in many parts of the country, according to long-term forecasts.

“It looks like we are going to have a 2-3 week stretch where there’s far more chilly days than warm ones,” says Accuweather meteorologist Mark Paquette.

He does have some consolation for the winter-weary, though.

“Even though we have this extended period of cool weather expected – and I do expect it to be chilly – it’s not going to be like we are locked in the freezer for three weeks at a time,” Mr. Paquette says. “Though the three-week stretch will average quite a bit below normal, we’ll be able to sneak in some normal to above normal days here and there.”

Paquette expects that spring will truly set in around the second week of April and could rapidly give way to more summer-like conditions.

The late warm up isn't actually all that unusual.

As many Northeasterners and Midwesterners know, snow in April is never entirely out of the question.

In New England, the now-fabled April Fools’ Day blizzard buried Boston in two feet of snow, shuttering schools, businesses, and much of the usually weather-hardy public transit system in 1997.

Denver catches an average of 5.6 inches of snow in April, The Weather Channel’s Tom Niziol reports.

Last year, four major wintry storms swept across the Northwest, the High Plains, and the Heartland during the month of April, Mr. Niziol said.

The good news is that it is much more difficult for cold temperatures to persist after the vernal equinox, Accuweather’s Paquette says.

While the equinox technically has more to do with astronomy than meteorology – it’s the day that the sun is positioned most directly over the equator – the amount of solar energy that the Northern Hemisphere receives in coming weeks will not allow bitter cold air masses to build up as frequently as they did a month or two ago, he says.

As the Northern Hemisphere begins to tilt closer toward the sun, there will be more days when it feels even warmer than thermometer readings, he says.

While there is hope in the long term that the seemingly endless winter will in fact come to an end, there are still some ominous weather systems on the way.

Next week could bring yet another round of the dreaded polar vortex, as the jet stream once again dips as far south as Virginia, The Weather Channel reports.

The following week may not be any better, the National Weather Service predicts, with an 8-to-14 day outlook that suggests large swaths of the country, from the Atlantic corridor to the High Plains, can expect temperatures as much as 50 percent below normal.

Cindy Quiring (L.) and her husband Roger place flowers at a memorial outside Fisher Plaza, home to KOMO-TV, following a helicopter crash outside the building earlier Tuesday in Seattle. The news helicopter crashed into a city street near Seattle's Space Needle, killing two people and critically injuring a person in a car on the ground. (Elaine Thompson/AP Photo)

Seattle crash underscores NTSB's urgent concerns over helicopter safety (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.19.14

The crash Tuesday of a news helicopter into a busy Seattle intersection, killing two men and injuring a third, is highlighting concerns about helicopter safety expressed just this January by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB outlined helicopter safety as a major advocacy priority, citing “an unacceptably high number of helicopter accidents,” in an NTSB Most Wanted List report. Since 2004, more than 1,600 accidents have claimed more than 500 lives.

“The NTSB is concerned that these types of accidents will continue to occur if a concerted effort is not made to improve the safety of helicopter operations,” the NTSB report states.

This year alone, there have been 10 other helicopter crashes in the United States, two of them fatal, according to NTSB data.

Hundreds of helicopters take to the sky every day. Some flights bear journalists monitoring traffic and breaking news. Others support law enforcement. Many transport medical patients and supplies. The US civil helicopter industry is growing, and safety management systems need to be updated to accommodate the increasingly diverse number of uses, the NTSB says.

The agency called on helicopter operators, manufacturers, and regulatory agencies to revise safety management practices, including inspection and maintenance procedures. Specific recommendations called on operators to ensure that pilots receive adequate training in maneuvering during compromising conditions and to restrict the schedules of maintenance personnel to ensure alertness.

The NTSB uses information gathered in the investigations of crashes like the one in Seattle to inform new safety recommendations.

NTSB acting deputy Dennis Hogenson said Wednesday that investigators are examining pilot, maintenance, and company records. While it could be a full year before the agency is prepared to release a full report, Mr. Hogenson said that a preliminary report could come in several days.

At a televised news conference Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told reporters that the incident could have been “a much larger tragedy” if it had not taken place so early in the morning. The site of the crash was very near several tourist attractions, including the Space Needle, the monorail, and a music museum. Mayor Murray has ordered a review of helipads in the city. He said regulations have not been updated in more than 20 years.

"We need to look at it," Murray said of the regulations. "In consultation with the council, we will decide if we need to adjust our policies."

An online list of public and private airports suggests that Seattle has a dozen such helipads at TV stations, universities, hospitals, and private corporate sites.

Helicopter pilot Gary Pfitzner of Issaquah, Wash. and former KOMO photographer Bill Strothman were killed in the crash. Both men worked for Cahokia, Ill.-based Helicopters Inc.

Another man, Richard Newman of Seattle, was seriously injured when the just-fueled helicopter crashed, setting several cars ablaze. Two other drivers escaped their burning cars unharmed.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

President Obama gives a speech on climate change at Georgetown University in Washington in 2013. On Wednesday, the Obama administration launched a new web portal that provides access to government-held data on climate change in a bid to boost preparedness. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Obama's Climate Data Initiative: Congress gridlocked? Empower the public. (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.19.14

With Congress shunning legislation to curb global warming, President Obama on Wednesday launched a new online resource to help businesses, citizens, and communities plan for climate change.

The Climate Data Initiative aims to ease access to federal data on climate issues including rises in sea level, storm surges, extreme heat, and drought. The hope is that Americans will use the data to create better public and private preparedness plans.

The website is a work in progress, with some components still under construction. For example, a click on the "coastal flooding" tab yields a description of what will be available, though there is no indication when the data will go live.

The Climate Data Initiative marks a next step on Mr. Obama's pledge last June to address climate change. The president and Democratic leaders have highlighted the issue several times in recent months, despite congressional opposition from most Republicans and red-state Democrats.

"Climate change is a fact," Obama said during his 2014 State of the Union Address. "And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say, 'Yes, we did.' "

In June, Obama unveiled a plan to cut carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, with or without congressional support. He directed the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen air emissions regulations under the Clean Air Act, a move that Republican leaders have called an overstepping of executive authority.

“I think it’s unfortunate, I think it’s divisive and quite frankly, borderline unconstitutional on many of those issues,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida told Politico, following the president’s address. “I understand the [legislative] process takes long and can be frustrating, but I think it truly undermines the republic.”

Earlier this month, 28 Senate Democrats and two Independents held an all night “talkathon” on climate change in an attempt to “wake up” Congress and the nation on the issue.

With little chance of congressional compromise in sight, the president appears to be appealing instead to the American public.

While nearly two-thirds of Americans believe global warming is happening, just under half of the country believes that humans are to blame, according to a survey conducted by researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the international nonprofit organization and publisher of Science magazine, has also shifted its education efforts from policymakers to American citizens.

AAAS launched its own website this week in an effort to bring the scientific evidence for climate change directly to the people.

While the government portal is a text-heavy catalog of federal databases, AAAS’s What We Know report is a visually rich, multimedia product that makes the case for climate change with video interviews.

“Climate change is not about the polar bears. It’s about your kids and my kids. It’s about the price of Cheerios and cereal,” says Marshall Shepherd, a geography professor at the University of Georgia and former president of the American Meteorological Society, in one of the interviews. “It’s not a political issue. It’s an issue of human beings, their kids, and their future.”

Master Sgt. Jose Rodela is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, March 18. Mr. Obama awarded 24 Army veterans the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in recognition of their valor during major combat operations in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Medal of Honor: 24 given overdue award 'to set the record straight' (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.18.14

Master Sgt. Jose Rodela was 17 years old when he left his Corpus Christi home to join the Army. In September 1969 his company came under attack in Phuoc Long Province, Vietnam, and sustained heavy casualties.

Ignoring his own wounds, Sergeant Rodela braved enemy fire to assist his fallen comrades, according to a biography posted by the Army this month. In 1970, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military honor.

More than 45 years later, President Obama upgraded that award to the the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award, in a special White House Ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

Rodela was just one of 24 Army veterans to receive the Medal of Honor Tuesday. The unusual ceremony was the culmination of a 12-year review that found potential anti-minority bias in the awarding of commendations since World War II. All but three of the 24 recipients – among them Jews, Hispanics, and blacks – are now deceased.

While each of the so-called “Valor 24” received the Distinguished Service Cross for their services, they were passed over for the nation’s highest commendation. Until now.

In the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama took a small step toward righting one of the nation’s historic wrongs. "Today we have the chance to set the record straight," he said.

Before beginning the ceremonial distribution of the medals, Obama shared with the crowd a bit about the men and the sacrifices that they made for their country.

“They were Americans by birth and Americans by choice,” he began, “They were sons who made their parents proud and brothers who their siblings looked up to. They were so young, many in their early 20s. And when their country went to war, they answered the call. They put on the uniform and hugged their families goodbye. Some of them hugged the wives and children that they’d never see again.”

The Army has posted biographies of each of the so-called “Valor 24” online so the public can read about their acts of heroism.

One such hero is Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, a Vietnam veteran and one of the country’s first Green Berets.

While commanding a strike force near Chi Lang, Vietnam, in September 1969, Sergeant Morris risked his own life to advance across enemy lines to retrieve a fallen comrade after his company came under fire. He was shot three times before he was able to return to safety. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in April 1970 and returned to Vietnam for a second tour later that month.

Mr. Morris reflected on that fateful day in a video interview with the Army News Service.

“I didn’t worry about the shooting. One of the two individuals I was with was wounded. I had to get them out and come back again,” he said. “I don’t know how many magazines I used or how long I fought until I decided I had to get out some kind of way, ‘cause I was by myself,” he recalled. “Luck was with me.”

More than 40 years later, Morris told the Army News Service that he was overwhelmed to learn that the president wished to honor him.

“To be honored in such a fashion, I just still can’t comprehend it, not yet anyhow.”

US Naval Academy Midshipman Joshua Tate, a former US Naval Academy football player, has been accused of sexual assault. Lawyers offered opening statements Tuesday in his court-martial. (US Naval Academy/AP/File)

Sex assault trial begins for Naval Academy football player

By Staff writer / 03.18.14

Joshua Tate faced a court-martial Tuesday morning for sexual assault of a fellow midshipman after she passed out at an alcohol-fueled party in April 2012.

The former Naval Academy football player has been charged with aggravated sexual assault and falsification of official statements.

The trial comes on the heels of another high-profile military sexual assault case. On Monday, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was cleared of sexual assault charges but pleaded guilty to conducting a three-year affair with a female captain and pressuring other subordinates into texting him nude photos as part of a controversial plea deal.

RECOMMENDED: Women in the Military

Both cases have focused the national spotlight on sexual assault in the military. A Defense Department study released last May estimated that 26,000 armed service members had been sexually assaulted in the previous year, the Monitor reported.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed new a bill, which would eliminate the so-called “good-soldier” defense, which takes a defendant's service record into account, and would criminalize retaliation against victims of sexual assault, the Monitor reported. The bill has yet to be introduced in the House of Representatives.

Mr. Tate waived his right to a trial by jury at a Washington Navy Yard hearing on Friday, instead opting for a trial by judge. Opening arguments for the trial were originally scheduled for Monday, but were postponed due to a snowstorm that closed federal offices.

Prosecutor Col. Ryan Stormer argued that the victim had become too intoxicated to have consented to sex after taking “shot after shot after shot” and “swig after swig after swig” from a bottle of rum until the point of blacking out, The Baltimore Sun reports.

Defense attorney Cmdr. Warren "Art" Record countered that the victim had told a close friend the following morning, "Last night was crazy. What I did last night, I did it and I wanted to do it," according to the Sun.

The woman testified in a earlier hearing to determine whether a court-martial was warranted. At the hearing, she said she remembers little of what happened that night and began to piece together the events as rumors of a woman having sex with several men circulated the following day.

Two additional men were initially implicated in the assault, Tra’ves Bush of Johnston, S.C., and Eric Graham of Eight Mile, Ala. Charges against Mr. Bush were dropped in October after the hearing and those against Mr. Graham were dropped in January because Navy investigators neglected to read him his rights.

Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

RECOMMENDED: Women in the Military

(Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto listens during an interview with the Associated Press, March 6, in Los Angeles. Mr. Nakamoto, the man whom Newsweek claims is the founder of Bitcoin, denies he had anything to do with it. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

I am not Bitcoin's founder: Man denies Newsweek claim (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.17.14

Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto is a model-train collector, an electrical engineer, and a programmer. But he is not, he insists, the father of Bitcoin – no matter what Newsweek’s Leah McGrath Goodman says.

“I did not create, invent or otherwise work on Bitcoin,” Mr. Nakamoto said in a statement released via attorney Ethan Kirschner and first reported on Twitter by Reuters blogger Felix Salmon. “I have no knowledge of nor have I ever worked on cryptography, peer-to-peer systems, or alternative currencies."

Newsweek first published Ms. Goodman’s claim on March 6 as the cover story of the magazine’s first print edition in more than a year.

After a two-month-long investigation, Goodman purported to have uncovered the true identity of the digital currency’s founder – a man previously known only by the supposed pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Newsweek’s editor in chief, Jim Impoco, told The New York Times that the magazine is standing behind the report.

The reporter came across this Mr. Nakamoto while browsing a database of naturalized US citizens' registration cards. She first contacted him via e-mail and chatted about model steam trains, but said that he stopped replying when she started asking about Bitcoin. That was when she showed up at his door.

When Goodman confronted Nakamoto, she wrote that he responded by calling the police.

Flanked by two officers, he refused to answer her questions other than saying, “I am no longer involved in that, and I can’t discuss it” – a statement that she reported as tacit acknowledgement.

The two officers later confirmed Goodman’s account of the conversation. While Nakamoto has not disputed the quote, he says he was referring to his work as an electrical engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“I’m saying I’m no longer in engineering. That’s it,” he told the Associated Press. “When we get hired, you have to sign this document, contract saying you will not reveal anything we divulge during and after employment. So that’s what I implied."

He continued, "It sounded like I was involved before with Bitcoin and looked like I’m not involved now. That’s not what I meant. I want to clarify that.”

In an effort to explain a gap in his employment that Goodman had identified as “a career shrouded in secrecy,” Nakamoto said that he had not been able to find steady work as an engineer or programmer for a decade.

“I discontinued my Internet service in 2013 due to severe financial distress,” his statement reads. He also noted that he dealt with significant health issues in 2012 and 2013.

In the time since the Newsweek story broke, Nakamoto has had a flurry of journalists approach him at his Temple City, Calif., home.

Goodman acknowledged in her article that there are multiple Satoshi Nakamotos around the world.

“Of course, there is also the chance ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ is a pseudonym, but that raises the question why someone who wishes to remain anonymous would choose such a distinctive name,” she wrote.

The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has been a mystery ever since Bitcoin’s inception in 2009.

Bitcoin’s chief scientist, Gavin Andresen, told Goodman that he had worked closely with the mysterious Nakamoto in 2010 and 2011, but only through e-mails and private messages.

“Back then, it was not clear that creating Bitcoin might be a legal thing to do.” Mr. Andresen told Goodman. “He went to great lengths to protect his anonymity.”

Since then, Bitcoin has gained a foothold as a meaningful – if not uncertain – currency.

In November, US law enforcement and regulatory officials appeared at the first-ever congressional hearing on virtual currencies.Then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, who was not present at the hearing, told senators in a letter that virtual currencies “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system.”

Questions about the identity of the cryptocurrency’s founder are just one more installment in Bitcoin’s controversial history. Other events include the federal seizure of $3.5 million in bitcoins from the online black marketplace known as Silk Road, the disappearance of 850,000 bitcoins held by the Bitcoin exchange MtGox, and the apparent suicide of the CEO of another Bitcoin exchange, First Meta.

 Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Seismologist Egill Hauksson talks about an early morning Los Angeles earthquake during a news conference at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena Monday. (Nick Ut/AP)

Los Angeles earthquake: 4.4-magnitude temblor 'a rude awakening' (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.17.14

Many Angelenos were rousted from bed by a 4.4-magnitude earthquake at 6:25 this morning. But the "Shamrock Shake," as it has been dubbed, caused little damage. At least six smaller aftershocks have rumbled through the densely populated neighborhoods at the heart of the Santa Monica mountain range where the temblor was centered, with the largest clocking in at 2.7 – again, causing little destruction. 

Nonetheless, Mayor Eric Garcetti has been quick to call the shaker, “a rude awakening.”

This was one of the largest quakes to hit the Los Angeles region since the 1994 Northridge quake, which killed 57 people and caused more than $20 billion in damage, according to scientists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The science of Monday's quake is still being sorted out.

Early analysis suggests that the quake came from one of a number of known faults beneath the Santa Monica mountains, though it is not clear which, says Chris Wills, a geologist with the California Geological Survey in Sacramento..

For residents of Los Angeles, the most urgent question is whether this quake is a foreshock of a larger quake in the near future. The likelihood of that is very low, and “it will diminish quickly over the next few days,” says Dr. Wills.

The science community across the state hopes that Monday's quake can serve as a teachable moment, particularly in the 20th-anniversary year of the Northridge disaster. “Every time one of these happens, people get interested in earthquakes and that is a good thing from a preparedness standpoint,” says Wills.

“Your alarm clock goes off every morning, but these do not happen that often,” he says, noting that when they do, “they remind us where we live and what we ought to do.”

That list includes simple actions such as grab-and-go kits with basic necessities, as well as the creation of a family communication and evacuation plan, in addition to longer-term efforts such as retrofitting old buildings. “Many of those beautiful homes in the Los Angeles area are not up to date and could not withstand a major quake,” notes Wills

In a report pegged to the Northridge anniversary, scientists from the US Geological Survey and Caltech concluded that many structures built before 1994 are vulnerable.

"We're not saying that every building constructed before 1994 is going to collapse in an earthquake," said study co-author Thomas Heaton, a professor of geophysics and civil engineering at Caltech, in a statement. "We're saying that buildings continue to be in use that pose a greater risk of physical injury and financial harm than is necessary.”

Pre-1994 structures with fracture-prone welds are most vulnerable, the study notes. The most tragic damage in the Northridge quake came from soft structures not properly strengthened against major events.

“It’s very easy to put off these larger, somewhat abstract events, such as The Big One,' ” says Wills. “Not every property owner has the financial resources to do what needs to be done to protect their property against a large quake.”

Alyssa Bowdre (center l.) and Kia Dumas (center r.) march with a rainbow flag in an alternative parade that follows behind the traditional St. Patrick's Day parade in the South Boston neighborhood of Boston Sunday. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)

St. Patrick's Day: How did it become a flashpoint for gay rights? (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.17.14

Gay Irish-Americans, still feeling the sting of discrimination a decade after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, have begun to make headway in their push to turn St. Patrick's Day parades into a national cause.

Mayor Bill De Blasio will be the first New York City mayor since 1993 to boycott the procession in protest of parade organizers’ ban on pro-gay placards. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh sat out this year’s annual parade in South Boston on Sunday for the same reason. The bans have also prompted Samuel Adams Brewery and Guinness to pull sponsorship from the Boston and New York parades, respectively.

The issue has been percolating for two decades. In 1995, the US Supreme Court ruled that the organizers of the Boston parade were within their rights to exclude the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, since it was a private event.

But public opinion about homosexuality has changed dramatically since then, and gay marriage is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. That makes a difference, says Kara Coredini, executive director of MassEquality, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) advocacy group in Boston.

"We’ve had marriage equality for 10 years now in Massachusetts – we’re celebrating that huge anniversary this year. Seven in 10 people oppose discrimination against LGBT people at this point," she adds. "Just because the parade organizers still have the right to do this doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do."

To gay and straight Irish-Americans alike, St. Patrick's Day parades are a point of pride, and gay participants don't want to be compelled to hide who they are.

“There are Irish people who are LGBT there are veterans who are LGBT and they want to be able to participate in a parade that’s celebrating Irish heritage and that’s celebrating the service and sacrifice of our military service members,” Ms. Coredini says.

Organizers in both New York and Boston have said that gay individuals are not prohibited from participating, but they are not permitted to identify themselves as LGBT.

Coredini sees that distinction as “very symbolic of the double standard that LGBT people face in their daily lives about being able to live their lives openly and honestly. In the case of the parade, the police, the firefighters, Irish groups, they are able to march down the street, behind their standards – their flag – and behind a banner that identifies what group they are.”

Boston parade organizer John “Wacko” Hurley told the Boston Herald that the barring gays from the parade isn’t “a gay issue,” and reiterated the Supreme Court decision allowing the Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston “to ban anybody that we don’t want in there. It might have been Irish. It might have been blondes that talk too much.”

He added later that LGBT groups have their own parade in June. They may want to march in this one too, but “They ain’t,” he said, “Because I said so.”

Across the pond, many in Ireland are left wondering why parade organizers in the US would object to pro-gay signs.

“I find it extraordinary that Irish Americans can be so far behind the actual inhabitants of the island of Ireland," Irish Sen. David Norris told the Monitor in an e-mail. "Ten years ago the gay float won first prize in our national St. Patrick's Day Parade.”

Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. preaches at his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, in this 2006 file photo. (Charlie Riedel/AP/File)

Fred Phelps, founder of 'rabid' Westboro Baptist Church, said near death

By Staff writer / 03.16.14

Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of the Kansas church held in disgust worldwide for its antigay protests of prominent funerals, is in hospice care and "on the edge of death," according to one of his estranged sons.

Nate Phelps posted the information on Facebook Saturday night, adding the revelation that his father had been excommunicated from the church in 2013. A church spokesman told the Topeka Capitol-Journal that Phelps was indeed in the hospice but that Nate Phelps "is not well informed." The spokesman also refused to comment on the allegation that the elder Mr. Phelps has been excommunicated.

Another son, Mark Phelps, told the Capitol-Journal that its information on his father's health "is accurate."

Fred Phelps established the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955, and in recent years it has become famous for its position that those killed in America's wars are being punished for the country's lenience toward homosexuals. Members protested military funerals with signs that read, among other things, "God Hates Fags."

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the United States, says on its website that Westboro "is arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America. The group is basically a family-based cult of personality built around its patriarch, Fred Phelps."

The group began to gain widespread notoriety last decade, particularly through a series of court decisions that ended with the US Supreme Court in March 2011 declaring that the church's right to protest funerals was free speech protected by the Constitution. It later protested the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards, the former wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, and a memorial for Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple.

The church is made up mostly of Phelps's own family. But spokesman Steve Drain told the Capitol-Journal that "for a very long time, we haven't been organized in the way you think," referring to the idea of a defined leader.

Nate Phelps told the Capitol-Journal in an e-mail that when his father was excommunicated last August, he was watched for fear of him hurting himself, then he "basically stopped eating and drinking."

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