AEG not liable in Michael Jackson’s death, jury finds

— A Los Angeles jury decided Wednesday that AEG Live hired Dr. Conrad Murray, but also concluded that the concert promoter was not liable for Michael Jackson’s drug overdose death.

The jury decided that Murray was competent, so even though AEG Live hired him, it was not liable for Jackson’s death and didn’t owe the Jackson family millions of dollars in compensation.

“I counted Michael Jackson a creative partner and a friend,” the company’s CEO Randy Phillips said. “We lost one of the world’s greatest musical geniuses, but I am relieved and deeply grateful that the jury recognized that neither I, nor anyone else at AEG Live, played any part in Michael’s tragic death.”

The verdict brings the five-month-long trial to a close.

“We have said from the beginning that this case was a search for the truth. We found the truth. AEG hired Dr. Conrad Murray, the man who is in jail for killing Michael Jackson,” according to a statement from family matriarch Katherine Jackson and her lawyers. “All options regarding the balance of the jury verdict are being considered.”

The jury accepted AEG Live lawyers’ arguments that the company was not negligent because its executives had no way of knowing that Murray — licensed to practice in four states and never sued for malpractice — was a risk to Jackson. The singer was a secretive drug addict who kept even his closest relatives in the dark about his use of propofol to sleep, they contended.

Jackson’s mother and the singer’s three children sued AEG Live in 2010, arguing that the company’s negligence in hiring, retaining or supervising Murray was a factor in the singer’s June 25, 2009, death.

Jackson died of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, which Murray told investigators he was using to treat the singer’s insomnia so he could rest for rehearsals. Murray is set to be released from jail later this month after serving two years for involuntary manslaughter.

Jackson died just days before his comeback tour — promoted and produced by AEG Live — was set to debut in London in the summer of 2009.

“We felt (Murray) was competent” to be Jackson’s general practitioner, said juror Greg Barden. “That doesn’t mean we felt he was ethical.”

Barden said jurors thought the second question — which said, “Was Dr. Conrad Murray unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he was hired?” — was confusing and took some time, and several votes, to work out. In the end, they voted 10-2 to answer “No.”

He said one of the key pieces of evidence was the contract between Murray and AEG.

“The jury’s decision completely vindicates AEG Live, confirming what we have known from the start — that although Michael Jackson’s death was a terrible tragedy, it was not a tragedy of AEG Live’s making,” attorney Marvin Putnam said in a written statement.

Murray’s lawyer, Valerie Wass, let out a gasp when she heard the decision and was visibly shaken.

Because jurors concluded that AEG Live was not liable, they did not consider other questions on the verdict form that would have determined how much in damages the promoter would have paid Katherine, Prince, Paris and Blanket Jackson.

Jackson lead lawyer Brian Panish suggested a range between $1 billion and $2 billion to replace the earnings lost by Jackson’s death at age 50 and the non-economic — or personal — damages from the loss of a father and son.

The damage award, however, would have been reduced by the percentage of blame jurors decided Michael Jackson shared in his death. The Jacksons lawyer suggested in closing arguments that they assign 20% of the liability to Jackson.

AEG’s lawyers had contended Jackson chose Murray, who had treated him for three years as a family physician, but Jackson lawyers had argued the promoters chose to negotiate their own contract with the doctor so they could control him.

The case is unlikely to end with the jury’s verdict because Jackson lawyers have said they have grounds for an appeal, which could take years to decide.

Jurors appeared engaged and entertained during the 21-week trial that included dramatic testimony by Jackson’s mother, son and former wife.


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Young and healthy needed to make Obamacare mandate work

— Lauren Zanardelli and Graham Foster are the kind of customers the government needs to make Obamacare work.

The chefs own and operate a bright orange hipster magnet called the Neue Southern Food Truck. The farm-to-table vehicle stands out in Greenville, South Carolina, even among the new gastropubs that dot the city’s charming Main Street.

Today Zanardelli and Foster are zooming around their rented kitchen on the edge of town, preparing deep-fried Brussels sprouts, Ramen with seaweed and pumpkin sweet rolls. They won’t have time after their 12-hour work day to explore the new health insurance marketplaces that opened this morning, but they look forward to seeing what Obamacare can offer them.

And that’s good news for health care insurance companies.

Young and fit people like Zanardelli, 31, and Foster, 28, have to buy into the system to support the law’s mandate that all people must have health insurance next year. What insurance companies save on medical costs for this healthy population will help pay for the older and sicker people who will enter into the insurance market for the first time.

Under Obamacare, companies can no longer deny policies to people with pre-existing conditions, and some 48 million Americans are uninsured, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Zanardelli and Foster have health insurance now, but it’s pricey and “it covers nothing,” Zanardelli said. She hasn’t been to the doctor in years and shells out about $200 a month. Her policy doesn’t cover prescriptions either.

“If it’s not generic, I can’t afford it.”

She says her family warned her about this when she left her teaching job in Charlotte to follow her passion for cooking.

“One of the first things my parents said was that I was really going to miss that good health insurance, and they were right. I’m healthy, but I really do,” Zaradelli said. “Ultimately, though, it’s worth it. … This doesn’t feel like work to me. I love what I do. New insurance will make this even better.”

The owners of Neue Southern met in 2011 when they enrolled in the culinary arts program at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.

The two chose to move to South Carolina after working under well-known chefs in New York. The foodie fast lane, they decided, wasn’t for them. When they scanned the country for opportunities, the food trucks in their East Village neighborhood inspired them. Why not bring a slice of the East Village to Greenville, where Foster got his first taste of cooking in the kitchen of his German-born grandmother?

They were true foodie pioneers. Zanardelli says the people of Greenville welcomed their European take on old Southern favorites, but when it comes to health insurance they may have been better off somewhere else.

South Carolina ranks near the bottom in the nation when it comes to access to care and health outcomes, according to the latest edition of America’s Health Rankings.

While Obamacare is federal legislation, the Supreme Court ruled that states could decide how they would handle the implementation. Leaders in South Carolina have been downright antagonistic to the legislation.

“Just because the Supreme Court says something is constitutional doesn’t make it constitutional,” one South Carolina state senator, who introduced an anti-Obamacare bill this year, told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

The senator’s bill failed, as did others — one of which would actually have made it a crime for a state or federal official to implement any provision of Obamacare — but the state did successfully refuse to expand Medicaid. It has not set up its own health care marketplace.

Fortunately for the more than 726,000 people in South Carolina without insurance there are parts of the federal legislation that will help them. Many will be able to buy policies through the federal health insurance marketplaces. And many, such as the chefs of Neue Southern, will be eligible for tax breaks and subsidies to help them pay for any policies bought through these marketplaces.

The policies themselves will also be much more comprehensive.

All health insurance plans will now have to cover preventative health care and at least nine other kinds of care, including hospitalization, outpatient care, emergency services, mental health and substance abuse care, maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, lab tests, rehab, and pediatric care. Premiums will vary depending on the depth of coverage. Out-of-pocket costs for an individual are capped at $6,350.

When Zanardelli and Foster do get a break from work they say they will shop around and figure out which policy best fits their needs.

Health care coverage could come in handy right now for Foster, who has a cold. He says he’s been struggling with an ear infection for weeks, but it remains untreated since doctor visits aren’t covered by his current policy. Unfortunately, even if he were to buy insurance through the exchanges, the policies won’t actually kick in until January 1.

Not having insurance, they say, is not an option — even if the fine that all people who do not have insurance will face next year would be a lot cheaper than the least expensive policy option.

“I think of this as an investment in our future health care,” Zanardelli said. “Most of the younger people we hear object to Obamacare are looking at the present and how it affects them now. We are relatively healthy, but in a few decades we will likely need medical attention.”

“We feel optimistic it will be something that can work better for us health wise and be affordable,” she continued. “That would be a beautiful thing.”


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Government shutdown harder on black workers

— Although the shutdown of the federal government that began Tuesday is affecting all Americans, a disproportionate portion of the 800,000 furloughed federal workers are African Americans, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Because government jobs have been more available to Blacks than private sector employment over the years, especially under de jure segregation, Blacks, who comprise 13.6 percent of the U.S. population, make up 17.7 percent of the federal workforce.

Overall, people of color represent 34 percent of the federal workforce. Latinos are 8 percent of government workers, Asians are 5.8 percent, Native Americans are 2.1 percent and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders are .40 percent of federal employees. People of color are 37 percent of the U.S. population, a figure projected to grow to 43.3 percent as soon as 2025 and 57 percent by 2060.

Federal workers considered non-essential to the functioning of government were instructed not to report for work as of Tuesday, the first day of the new fiscal year, because Congress failed to pass a permanent or interim budget in time to prevent a federal shutdown, the first in nearly two decades.

The impasse came as a result of a Republican-controlled House determination to tie any budget measure to defunding the Affordable Care Act, the major provisions of which went into effect Tuesday.

On Monday, President Obama warned about the consequences of a federal shutdown.

“With regard to operations that will continue: If you’re on Social Security, you will keep receiving your checks. If you’re on Medicare, your doctor will still see you. Everyone’s mail will still be delivered. And government operations related to national security or public safety will go on. Our troops will continue to serve with skill, honor, and courage. Air traffic controllers, prison guards, those who are with border control — our Border Patrol will remain on their posts, but their paychecks will be delayed until the government reopens. NASA will shut down almost entirely, but Mission Control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the Space Station.”

Obama added, “I also want to be very clear about what would change. Office buildings would close. Paychecks would be delayed. Vital services that seniors and veterans, women and children, businesses and our economy depend on would be hamstrung. Business owners would see delays in raising capital, seeking infrastructure permits, or rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. Veterans who’ve sacrificed for their country will find their support centers unstaffed. Tourists will find every one of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Smithsonian to the Statue of Liberty, immediately closed. And of course, the communities and small businesses that rely on these national treasures for their livelihoods will be out of customers and out of luck.

“And in keeping with the broad ramifications of a shutdown, I think it’s important that everybody understand the federal government is America’s largest employer. More than 2 million civilian workers and 1.4 million active-duty military serve in all 50 states and all around the world. In the event of a government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of these dedicated public servants who stay on the job will do so without pay — and several hundred thousand more will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay.”

The shutdown could have dire consequences for our national security, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

According to the report, “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects,” published Sept. 23: “A federal government shutdown could have possible negative security implications as some entities wishing to take actions harmful to U.S. interests may see the nation as physically and politically vulnerable,” the report stated.

If the past is any guide, the shutdown might be short-lived. The longest federal shutdown lasted 21 days, from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996. In the past, furloughed federal workers received retroactive pay for the time they were out. But there is no assurance that would happen this time. Members of Congress are exempt from furloughs.

There is also concern that the shutdown will be another setback for the already shaky economy.

Moddy’s Analytics estimates that a three to four week shutdown could cost the economy about $55 billion, about equal the combined economic disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

When the government was shutdown in fiscal year 1996, according to the Congressional Research Service report:

Health – New patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National

Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical center; the Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention ceased disease surveillance; and hotline calls to NIH concerning

diseases were not answered.

Law Enforcement and Public Safety – Delays occurred in the processing of

alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications by the Bureau of Alcohol,

Tobacco, and Firearms; work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases reportedly

was suspended; cancellation of the recruitment and testing of federal law enforcement

officials reportedly occurred, including the hiring of 400 border patrol agents; and

delinquent child-support cases were delayed.

Parks, Museums, and Monuments. Closure of 368 National Park Service sites

(loss of 7 million visitors) reportedly occurred, with loss of tourism revenues to local

communities; and closure of national museums and monuments (reportedly with

an estimated loss of 2 million visitors) occurred.

Visas and Passports – Approximately 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners

for visas reportedly went unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for

passports reportedly went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines

reportedly sustained millions of dollars in losses.

American Veterans – Multiple services were curtailed, ranging from health and

welfare to finance and travel.

Federal Contractors – Of $18 billion in Washington, D.C.-area contracts, $3.7

billion (more than 20 percent) reportedly were affected adversely by the funding lapse;

the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was unable to issue a new

standard for lights and lamps that was scheduled to be effective January 1, 1996,

possibly resulting in delayed product delivery and lost sales; and employees of federal

contractors reportedly were furloughed without pay.

Speaking in the Rose Garden Tuesday, President Obama said: “I will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay bills it’s already racked up. I’m not going to allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud just to refight a settled election or extract ideological demands. Nobody gets to hurt our economy and millions of hardworking families over a law you don’t like.”

Donna Brazile takes on food stamp critics

— After the vote in the House of Representatives to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, I wrote a column against cutting food stamps. This column generated more than 5,200 online comments and hundreds of e-mails.

Comments reflected, not surprisingly, the tone and tenor of the political debate: a lot of partisan passion, some mutual understanding, animosity based on stereotypes and a lot of misinformation.

I would like to address some of the typical concerns that were expressed.

For example, “Willis CurryFans” wrote, “These wealthy Republicans spend a lot of time RUNNING from the typical black person this affects. If they came and visited some of these neighborhoods, they would see folks that they KNOW they won’t give a job to.”

But who are the people using food stamps? They’re us.

The Census Bureau, which gathers statistics house by house, reports that Americans on food stamps are 49% white, 26% African-American and 20% Hispanic. The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit polling firm, found in a July survey that self-identified liberals, moderates and conservatives who receive food stamps are in a statistical tie.

A lot of people who commented on the column wanted to regulate what foodstuffs program participants can buy — often not realizing that alcohol and prepared foods are banned. And many respondents bashed food stamp recipients, declaring they should “get a job,” “stop having kids on my dime” or giving a variation on such cliches.

“Chiefpr” writes to one reader who’s been out of work: “Get training to better yourself and DO NOT have kids until you can feed them. But do not demand I do all that and support you …”

But the truth refutes the cliches: Feeding America says participation in SNAP, or the food stamp program, “historically follows unemployment with a slight lag.”

Unemployment increases food stamp rolls, not people with children who go looking for aid.

And unemployment has been abnormally high because of the recession that began under the previous president. In fact, USA Today found that “under President George W. Bush, the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.”

With employment increasing, “the Congressional Budget Offices projects SNAP participation to begin declining in 2015.”

Shaun Kirkpatrick commented: “There was a work requirement for welfare. Bill Clinton did that during his welfare reform that most working people applauded. To make sure he got the votes and make Republicans look greedy and evil, Obama removed the work requirement …” Kirkpatrick’s perception is prevalent on the Web.

But that information comes from a 2012 Mitt Romney political ad that got it dead wrong. Obama actually encouraged the states to strengthen their work requirements. Also, of course, welfare is not the same as food stamps.

As for food stamps, more than 72% of all SNAP beneficiaries are families with children. Most of the recipients are children (48%), the elderly (8%) and the disabled. Less than 10% of food stamp recipients receive welfare payments.

“John in WNY” wrote, “Yes, many do work, but many of them make sure they never make enough to lose their benefits …”

Again, the facts refute the assumption.

SNAP has strict time limits for unemployed workers: Able-bodied adults without children can only get three months worth of food stamps in a three-year period, unless working in a qualifying job training program.

And how much are the benefits, anyway?

The average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $133.85, or less than $1.50 per person per meal. Those benefits are low, and for many families, SNAP benefits don’t last the whole month.

Why do we need to support the food stamp program?

Because low-income families experience unemployment at a far higher rate than other income groups. Because cutting nutritional assistance programs is immoral and shortsighted and protecting families from hunger improves their health and educational outcomes. Food stamps are an investment in our future.

Being on food stamps can be demeaning.

Cashiers know the difference between the new plastic SNAP cards and a credit card. Some food stamp recipients say some cashiers have made them feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Maybe we should focus on rewards rather than punishments. Behavioral psychologists say that’s more effective.

Why not add benefits for making healthy food choices, provide a transition bonus for getting off food stamps or increase job training opportunities and income — raising minimum wage?

Doing so takes courage, compassion and believing in “We, the people.”

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pot in America.” She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.


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Author Tom Clancy, master of the modern-day thriller, dead at 66

— Spy thriller writer Tom Clancy, whose best-selling books became blockbuster films, has died, his publisher said Wednesday. He was 66.

Clancy’s publisher, the Penguin Group, said the author died in Baltimore on Tuesday. The written statement did not indicate the cause of death.

Clancy’s 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October” propelled him to fame, fortune and status as a favorite storyteller of the American military. Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin brought the Cold War drama to life in the big screen in 1990.

“Spending time with Tom prior to shooting was the best part of that whole experience for me,” Baldwin said Wednesday. “Tom was smart, a great story teller and a real gentleman.”

Harrison Ford took the big screen role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan in “Patriot Games and “Clear and Present Danger.” Ben Affleck was cast as Ryan for “The Sum of All Fears.”

“I’m deeply saddened by Tom’s passing,” said Penguin executive David Shanks, who worked with Clancy on each of his novels, quoted in the company’s statement. “He was a consummate author, creating the modern-day thriller, and was one of the most visionary storytellers of our time. I will miss him dearly and he will be missed by tens of millions of readers worldwide.”

“Command Authority,” his last book, is due to be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in December, the company said. Putnam is an imprint of the Penguin Group.

“It was an honor to know Tom Clancy and to work on his fantastic books,” said Ivan Held, president and publisher of G.P. Putnam’s Sons. “He was ahead of the news curve and sometimes frighteningly prescient. To publish a Tom Clancy book was a thrill every time. He will be missed by everyone at Putnam and Berkley, and by his fans all over the world.”

A Baltimore-born former insurance agent, Clancy was known for writing meticulous thrillers focusing on political intrigue and military tactics and technology.

Seventeen of his 28 books appeared on the New York Times best-sellers list, according to his website. Many of them reached the No. 1 spot.

His writings also provided the inspiration for the “Rainbow Six,” “Ghost Recon” and “Splinter Cell,” video game series.

His writing gained him a loyal following within the armed forces in the United States and abroad, giving him inside access that frequently informed the plots of his books. But in a 2003 CNN interview, Clancy said he was always careful not to reveal classified information or sensitive details of how the elite troops he often wrote about operated.

“I’ll never decide for commercial reasons to put something in that endangers our national security. You just can’t do that,” he said in a 2003 CNN interview. “There was one thing, I discussed with a friend of mine in the Royal Navy. I told him a story I knew, and he said, ‘Well, Tom, you may never repeat that, as long as you live.’ And I haven’t.”

CNN’s Oliver Janney, Marc Balinsky and Rachel Wells contributed to this report


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House vote could worsen food insecurity

— A vote by a majority of Republican members of the House of Representatives to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP) could further jeopardize millions of people receiving assistance.

Last Thursday, Sept. 19, the House passed HR 3102, by a 217-210 vote. The bill would gouge $4 billion a year from SNAP for the next 10 years. While Senate leaders indicate that the bill won’t pass in their chamber and President Barack Obama has promised to veto the measure, the vote has unnerved social justice advocates, non-profits, and the operators of soup kitchens and food banks.

“When the House passed the bill last week, it was the next step in the Farm Bill,” said Christine Ashley, a policy analyst with Bread for the World. “The Senate proposed $4 billion in cuts to SNAP and we weren’t happy. That would affect 400,000 people.”

Ashley said she’s not sure what will happen to the bill but said representatives from the Senate and House will arrive at a compromise in a conference committee.

“I don’t expect $40 billion in cuts from the conference committee, but it will cause hardships anyway,” she said. “Unfortunately, the budget situation means that large programs like SNAP would come under scrutiny.”

Ashley said four million SNAP recipients could potentially lose their benefits, while 210,000 children would lose free school meals and 850,000 individuals and households would see their monthly benefits reduced by $90. Already, she added, every household receiving SNAP will see cuts to benefits on Nov. 1.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), said removing these benefits from those who’re unemployed would “put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence.”

“This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most,” he said in remarks made prior to the vote. “Most people don’t choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job. Most people want to go out and be productive so that they can earn a living, so that they can support a family, so that they can have hope for a more prosperous future. They want what we want.”

Yet critics of the bill have assailed those supporters of the measure, calling them everything from misguided and cynical to unfeeling.

Bread for the World is one of many social justice, advocacy and anti-hunger organizations lobbying Congress in an attempt to stave off cuts to welfare and other safety net programs.

Bread for the World President David Beckmann said advocates and those concerned about the cuts sent more than 3,000 emails and made hundreds of telephone calls to Congress to make clear their opposition to the cuts.

“Despite our best efforts, this nutrition bill passed by a vote of 217 to 210 on the House floor. The seven-vote margin reflects the pressure you exerted on your representatives,” he said on the organization’s website. “Now it is critical that you hold your representative accountable—let him or her know you were watching. Find out how House members voted and then call your representative. Either thank your representative for voting ‘no’ or express your outrage over a ‘yes’ vote.”

Stronger traffic safety laws take effect October 1

Effective October 1, 2013, two new traffic safety laws that were passed during this year’s Maryland General Assembly will immediately alter motorists’ current driving habits, and help make the roads safer for children and all highway users in the long term.

Distracted Driving:

After an unsuccessful attempt last year to revise the current handheld cell phone ban to make it enforceable as a primary offense instead of secondary, Maryland legislators this year were successful in passing HB 753/SB 339. This stronger piece of legislation, which AAA Mid-Atlantic supported, will enable law enforcement to stop a violator of the handheld cell phone ban based solely on that violation. Currently, the violation is enforceable only as a secondary offense, so a driver can be cited only if stopped for another offense, such as speeding.

The revised measure impacts motorists talking on a hand-held cell phone while their vehicle is in motion. Fines for first-time violators will now be $75 (previously the fine was $40) and will increase with each subsequent offense. No points will be assessed to a motorist’s license unless the violation contributes to a crash.

“We are pleased that the Maryland General Assembly recognized the importance of strengthening the handheld cell phone ban, as it will now serve as a real deterrent to motorists and enable police to better enforce the existing law. This measure will help stem the epidemic of distracted drivers in Maryland,” commented Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Based on preliminary Maryland motor vehicle crash data for 2012, approximately 58 percent (52,136) of the 89,655 total vehicle crashes involved a distracted driver, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s Highway Safety Office.

Nearly half (246) of the estimated 511 total fatalities on Maryland’s roads in 2012 were due to a distracted driver. Approximately 64 percent (28,515) of the estimated 44,027 injuries statewide were the result of crashes involving a distracted driver.

Seat Belt and Child Safety Seat Requirements:

SB 87 will require all passengers 16 years and older sitting in the rear seat of a vehicle to wear a seat belt. This new rear seat belt law, which carries a $50 fine, is enforceable as a secondary offense only, which means a police officer must pull over a driver for another offense, such as speeding, before a citation can be issued.

Children under 16 years of age are already required by Maryland law to wear a seat belt in the rear seat unless the child is under the age of eight, who is then mandated to ride in a child safety seat, unless the child is four foot, nine inches or taller.

“While the rear seat is the safest place to ride in a car that does not mean passengers should not buckle up. Unbelted back seat passengers are just as vulnerable to injuries or even death in a crash as those in the front seat,” said Averella. “Wearing a seat belt is your best defense against injury or death in the event of a crash.”

Seat belts prevent not only drivers but passengers as well from being ejected during a crash. People not wearing a seat bel are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than three out of four people who are ejected during a crash die from their injuries.

The new legislation also increases the fine from $25 to $50 for violating the requirement to use a child safety seat or a seat belt, as appropriate, for any specified motor vehicle passenger younger than age 16. It also eliminates an exemption that formerly allowed a driver to have more child passengers in a vehicle than the number of seat belts or safety seats in the car.

For more information about AAA Mid-Atlantic, visit the website:

U.S. shutdown impact on travelers

— Planning to travel in or to the United States and wondering if the U.S. government shutdown will hit your plans?

Well, you may need to tweak some sight-seeing plans. Never mind that visit to the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Forget visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia. And that hiking adventure at Yellowstone National Park? It won’t happen.

Congress, wrangling over spending and Obamacare, failed to renew government funds in time for the start of the new fiscal year on Tuesday, and many travelers — both domestic and international visitors — will quickly start feeling the impact of the shutdown.

While essential air security and traffic control operations won’t be impeded, travelers visiting the country’s national parks and other government-run tourist attractions will find the gates shuttered and the doors locked.

All 401 National Park Service sites, which collectively average about 715,000 visitors per day in October, will be closed, according to a park service spokeswoman. (Guests staying in campgrounds and on-site hotels will be given 48 hours to leave.) The Smithsonian’s 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoo will also turn visitors away.

Is it safe to fly?

Airport security personnel are considered essential, so travelers please continue to follow Transportation Security Administration rules about liquids, shoes and other restrictions at the airport.

Air traffic controllers, some safety inspectors and other essential employees will “continue working in order to maintain the safety of the national airspace system,” said the Federal Aviation Administration, in an e-mailed statement. “Safety is our top priority.”

Other FAA projects, including facility security inspections, routine personnel security background investigations and development of the next generation of air traffic control technology, will be placed on hold.

What if you’re waiting on a passport?

If you’re waiting on a U.S. passport, how long that wait will last depends on where the passport agency is located. Passport services, because they are funded by other revenue, are generally “unaffected by a government shutdown,” according to a State Department spokesperson.

There’s just one possible catch: If the passport office is located within a government building that has been shut down, passport approvals may be affected.

If you need a visa

Because consular services at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world are largely funded by application fees, not annual appropriations, visa applications filed by foreigners wanting to enter the United States will continue to be processed, according to the State Department.

Overseas impact

Even those visitors trying to pay their respects at American military cemeteries located outside of the United States will feel the impact. The Normandy American Cemetery and 23 other overseas cemeteries operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission will be closed to the public for the duration of the shutdown, according to the commission’s contingency plans.

“The Normandy American Cemetery presents a special case, as visitors have access to the cemetery via the unfenced approaches from the beach, according to the plan. “Visitors will be asked to leave, but confrontation will be avoided.”

CNN’s Laura Koran contributed to this story.

HBCUs must adapt to teach the 21st century students

— As historically Black colleges and universities adapt to the rapidly changing educational landscape, advocates say that collaborative partnerships in business, in the community, and on campus will be needed to ensure that HBCUs survive and thrive in the 21st century.

“My grandfather used to tell me, ‘If someone tells you something three times, you better start believing it,’” said Roosevelt Johnson, deputy associate administrator of education at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). “So, I’m going to tell you right now, partnerships, partnerships, partnerships, and you better start believing it.”

Johnson spoke on a panel titled, “Next Generation Partnerships: Increasing Investment in Inward and Outward Facing Research and Innovation” during the National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference held in Washington, D.C., a program hosted by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities during National HBCU Week.

The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities dates back to 1980 when President Jimmy Carter signed executive order 12232 dedicating a federal program to ameliorate the on-going effects of racial discrimination in higher education. Since then, every United States president has expanded the efforts and reach of program. In 2002, President George W. Bush moved the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to the Department of Education.

In a 2012 proclamation, President Barack Obama touted the role that HBCUs will play in achieving “goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.”

HBCU advocates say that will take greater investment in Black schools that have historically trailed their White counterparts in resources ranging from infrastructure to enrollment and endowment.

“We are still dealing with for the most part small liberal arts colleges and you are in competition with very large universities and university systems,” said Johnson in reference to federal and private research grant money.

In order to level the playing field, Johnson suggested that HBCUs collaborate with each other and form coalitions.

Johnson encouraged HBCU administrators to engage with NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Program that works with minority-serving institutions on research programs and increasing diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic fields, commonly known as STEM.

“HBCUs need to understand their own strengths but they just can’t stop there because they are competing against universities who have established relationships more resources and staff members solely focused on creating these partnerships,” said Ivory Toldson, deputy director of White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“If you’re at an HBCU, you may be teaching classes you may be performing research, participating in committees and building relationships at the same time,” said Toldson.

During a panel discussion titled, “Strengthening the Dream Through Intergenerational Leadership,” speakers addressed the need for HBCUs to form stronger relationships with the communities where they reside.

William Harvey, dean of the School of Education at North Carolina A&T State University, favors new partnerships (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen).

William Harvey, dean of the School of Education at North Carolina A&T State University, favors new partnerships (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen).

William Harvey, dean of the School of Education at North Carolina A&T University, touted two public high schools housed on the Greensboro campus of North Carolina A & T as successful ways to form partnerships with the community while exposing students to HBCUs.

The Middle College at North Carolina A&T is an all-male high school on campus, recently made history achieving a 100 percent graduation rate during the 2011-2012 school year.

Last year, North Carolina A & T opened The STEM Early College.

According to the school’s web page, “Students take honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses in ninth and 10th grades. Juniors and seniors will take college courses and focus on one of three STEM pathways: biomedical sciences, renewable energy and engineering. Students will graduate with a high school diploma and two years of college credit from N.C. A&T.”

Harvey said that some of their students have already been recognized in the region for achievements in research projects.

Harvey also stressed the need for Black schools to be more proactive in recruiting top-flight students.

“We have to be much more thoughtful and much more intentional,” said Harvey. “We are providing a value proposition to those students and there parents that your son or daughter is going to get something special here that he can’t get at Duke or [the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] or Wake Forest.”

Harvey continued: “The flipside of that is that we know that we’re doing more with less. I want to do more with more.”

Harvey encouraged HBCU alumni think globally and to act locally to find ways to give a percentage of their earnings to their alma maters similar to tithing at church.

When some participants at the conference lamented the lack of support that some young scholars receive from their HBCUs, Greg Carr associate professor of Africana Studies and chair of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, suggested a different approach.

“You have to ignore Negro leadership at Black schools first of all,” said Carr. “Don’t go looking for the grant first, do the work first and the rest will emerge.”

Carr said that students and faculty need to collaborate in and generate interdisciplinary spaces and take a bottom up approach to their academic and research endeavors.

“Then when you go to the administration, you don’t so much appeal for resources, but demonstrate what has happened,” said Carr. “That’s where we really have the lesson to learn.”

Carr added: “You don’t ask for permission.”

Changes in the federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) program sideline many Black students who heavily depend on financial aid to get to college and earn degrees. The changes, which place heavier emphasis on previous loan defaults and foreclosures, disproportionately affected Black families who were hit hard during the housing crisis and economic downturn.

Over the summer, the Department of Education added a loan reconsideration process for students and parents who were previously denied PLUS loans.

Toldson said that the loan reconsideration process, that usually takes less than 10 minutes, has been very successful, enabling students to obtain federal funds who were initially blocked from receiving PLUS loans for college.

“The issue now is not enough students are going through that process,” Toldson said. “It’s a new thing. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

George Cooper, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities said that the biggest challenge facing HBCUs finding ways to engage federal agencies to support HBCU initiatives.

“I hope to look at innovative partnerships to build on the strengths of HBCUs,” said Cooper, who is the former president of South Carolina State University, in Orangeburg. According to Cooper, HBCUs need to learn how to brag about their unique talents and experiences. “If we form partnerships based on the strengths of our faculty and the strengths of our programs, then it allows us in a creative way to build centers of excellence.”

Some other challenges are fiscal, said Cooper. Falling enrollment, a shaky economic outlook, and accountability on campus are also challenges Cooper hopes to address as executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.