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Outlook unclear at best in Congress as Trump pushes for actions to deter school shootings

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 4:11 AM

In the wake of the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school, President Donald Trump on Saturday signaled again that he wants changes in background checks for those people who are buying firearms, as he emphasized his call for Congress to make a series of reforms to gun-related laws, also urging state and local officials to do more to toughen security at their schools.

“Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue – I hope!,” the President tweeted.

White House officials said Mr. Trump would again press his call for action on issues of school safety in coming days as he meets with the nation’s Governors, many of whom will be in Washington, D.C. for their yearly legislative conference.

But the question remains – what will the Congress do? Or what can Congress do?

1. Some details still murky on what the President wants to do. While the President has a ready list of items on which he is asking for action in the Congress, the exact details will determine how the Congress reacts. For example, Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he wants ‘comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health’ – how that is structured is an extremely important point. While it may sound completely logical that someone who has mental issues should not be able to buy weapons, those details are not easily fleshed out.  While he has talked repeatedly about background checks, the President has never addressed the issue of private gun sales – what is sometimes referred to as the ‘gun show loophole’ – which is something members in both parties have talked about dealing with for several years.   At a Friday news conference with the Prime Minister of Australia, here’s how the President set out what he wants accomplished:

2. The push for the “Fix NICS” bill. Even before the Florida school shooting, there was a bipartisan effort to make some changes to ensure that more information is funneled into the background check system for gun buyers, whether it’s on mental health, or military charges which would disqualify someone who wants to buy a firearm. The House already passed the “Fix NICS” bill – but it was combined with another measure that approved a national “Concealed Carry” effort, which would allow anyone with a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon to do that in any state – even if that state has different laws and regulations governing such conduct. While that combination was approved by the House, it seems doomed in the Senate, and it is one reason that some lawmakers are now pressing for action on just the “Fix NICS” plan, which the President has endorsed.

3. How much would the Congress really do under Trump’s plans? This is a question that’s up for debate. Think of the President’s call for certain teachers or administrators to carry concealed weapons at schools – that seems more of a state and local matter than something which would be legislated by the Congress. Increasing security measures at schools – the Congress could deliver aid, but the idea of approving new spending is not exactly a popular item with some Republicans right now in the House and Senate. Changing the age of purchase for certain weapons like an AR-15 might sound attractive to some, but that is guaranteed to be controversial as well in Congress – especially when states might be able to take that same step on their own. The “gun violence restraining order” is another idea that’s popped up as a way to keep the mentally ill from access to firearms – but is that better done by state legislatures instead of the Congress?

4. There has been some movement in Congress – but not much. Yes, we have examples of members of Congress who have changed their position on certain gun issues, but by no means has there been an upheaval on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Florida school shooting, just like there was no major change after past school shootings. Yes, the President has talked to House and Senate leaders about the gun issue – but don’t expect gun legislation to be on the floor next week or anything. Here is one GOP lawmaker who said he wants to revisit that ban – but that’s just one.

5. The outlook for the short-term – more of the same. While the Florida school shooting has energized younger Americans and their call for action, there is no sense that Republicans are about to dramatically change course on guns. As someone who has covered the gun debates since the 1980’s in Congress, the House and Senate right now have large majorities in favor of gun rights – and it has been that way since Democrats pushed through the Brady law and an assault weapons ban back in the early 1990’s. Change could always happen – but as of now, it’s hard to see that occurring in 2018.

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Trump to meet House GOP amid furor over immigrant families

Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 @ 4:15 AM

As President Donald Trump lashed out at Democrats on Monday, demanding again that Congress act to tighten federal immigration laws, more Republicans in the Congress began to distance themselves from a recent Trump Administration policy change, which has resulted in the separation of some 2,200 illegal immigrant families detained by border authorities.

“As the son of a social worker, I know the human trauma that comes with children being separated from their parents,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), as he asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “take immediate action to end the practice of separating children from families at the border.”

“We as compassionate Americans absolutely detest watching families being pulled apart,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who in a speech on the Senate floor said on one hand the President is correct to call for action in Congress on immigration – but that the Trump Administration has been wrong to separate so many families in the last six weeks, labeling the situation “a mess.”

At the White House, the President didn’t shy away from the controversy, again blaming Congress for not acting, and making it clear he wants to stop a recent surge in illegal immigration across the southern border.

“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” the President said. “Not on my watch.”

The President will take that sharp message on Tuesday evening to a meeting of House Republicans at the Capitol, trying to rally them to get behind a piece of immigration legislation, which could solve a series of issues.

GOP leaders though have been trying for months to figure out a deal, but have found the party too splintered over what to do on DACA, younger illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” and ways to tighten what Mr. Trump says are odious loopholes in immigration law.

“A county without borders is not a country at all,’ the President declared, as he said that illegal immigrants are bringing “death and destruction” to America.

“They are thieves and murderers and so much else,” Mr. Trump added.

But Mr. Trump’s criticism of Democrats and Congress has drawn more opposition in recent days from within his own party, who feel the White House is wrongly trying to use the plight of immigrant children to force through immigration law changes.

“President Trump has chosen to implement this policy and he can put an end to it,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), “but he chooses not to do so and instead blames others.”

“The administration has the power to rescind this policy. It should do so now,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) via Twitter.

While Mr. Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats for the separation of families, it was the Trump Administration that decided to take this step in early May, by prosecuting adults for illegally entering the country.

That move to enforce the law triggers a situation in which children are removed from their parents, leading to the uproar of recent days.

“This is the Trump administration’s policy,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “President Trump could put an end to this immoral policy right now.”

Republicans have floated various ideas in recent days – it wasn’t clear if any could make it through the House, as immigration has vexed GOP lawmakers for years, as this latest battle has turned up the heat even more.

“It’s not good policy to separate children at our border from their parents & release them into the US,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY). “It’s also not good policy to just immediately release an entire family together into the US when that family enters our country illegally.”

 

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Senate OKs $116 million for massive NASIC project at Wright-Patterson

Published: Monday, June 18, 2018 @ 6:36 PM
Updated: Monday, June 18, 2018 @ 6:36 PM

‘60 Minutes’ previews story about NASIC and Wright-Patt

The Senate late Monday passed a $716 billion defense bill that included $116 million expansion of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center - one of the largest projects in Wright-Patterson’s recent history.

By a vote of 85-10, the Senate passed its version of the defense bill, which authorizes defense programs for the 2019 federal spending year that begins in October. Both Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted in support of the bill.

The House version of the defense bill, which passed last month, authorized $182 million for the full NASIC project, but it would be paid out or appropriated over a number of years starting with $61 million in the first year.

RELATED: Some of U.S.’s most secretive work will be done in new NASIC building

The differences between the two versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee before a final appropriations bill is passed.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, whose district includes Wright-Patterson, had pushed for authorization of the entire construction cost.

The Air Force had asked for $116 million in its initial budget request and was expected to ask for the remainder in future years, according to a spokeswoman for Portman. Portman’s office had initially indicated the senator would pursue additional funding, but the Air Force had requested the additional amounts in 2020-2023, a spokeswoman said.

The expansion is expected to relieve overcrowding at the secretive intelligence center, where some employees share desks and work in shifts. NASIC has added about 100 people a year between 2000 and 2015, spokeswoman Michelle Martz said.

Loren B. Thompson, a Virginia-based senior defense analyst with the Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said with the return of great power competition with Russia and China, NASIC’s intelligence analysis will be in growing and greater demand and bring “total job security.”

“Making China and Russia the focus of our military strategy increases the importance of what NASIC does. After all, terrorists and insurgents like the Taliban don’t have air forces or space programs, whereas China and Russia do,” he said in an email.

He added that NASIC “is central to understanding the state of aerospace technology from missile defenses to stealthy aircraft in the countries that will likely remain America’s key competitors through mid-century.

“China and Russia are the only two countries in the world that have the ability to destroy the U.S. economy, and perhaps our democracy, with their nuclear arsenals,” he said. “So working at NASIC in the years ahead is likely to offer the closest thing to total job security that you can find in modern-day America.”

Saves jobs at Research Lab

Separately, the defense bill also blocked the transfer of a manufacturing technology office with 55 jobs from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon had planned to move the office, which had been at Wright-Patterson since 1987, last Oct. 1, archives show. But Brown sponsored a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act to keep the jobs at Wright-Patt.

RELATED: Stealth bombers, UFO rumors among base’s first 100 years

Brown and three of his congressional colleagues had sent a letter last August to Secretary of Defense James Mattis warning the move could lead to “disorganized and haphazard development” of future programs and put at risk dozens of active projects.

Brown praised the inclusion of the provision in the defense bill Monday.

“The workers at the Lab have the deep institutional knowledge and experience we need to continue making these defense manufacturing investments, and to oversee the program to ensure current projects are successful and cost-effective,” he said.

Charlie Ward, chief of the AFRL manufacturing and technologies division, said in a statement there were no plans to move the manufacturing and industrial technologies division to Washington.

CONTINUING COVERAGE

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Back on the air with Jamie Dupree 2.0

Published: Monday, June 18, 2018 @ 12:15 PM

It was just another newscast this morning for WSB Radio in Atlanta. It was just another newscast on WDBO in Orlando, WHIO in Dayton, WOKV in Jacksonville, and KRMG in Tulsa. But it was much more than that for me, as my voice – my new, computer generated voice – went on the air today, getting me back on the radio for the first time in two years, after my voice was taken away by an unknown neurological disorder.

We call it, Jamie Dupree 2.0, a voice synthesized from recordings of my past news stories, which when paired with a special text-to-speech program, will allow me to go back on the radio,

I tuned in from home to see how it would sound. It all seemed so normal. The anchor reading the intro. “More from Jamie Dupree in Washington.” And then my story played on the radio, just like up until the spring of 2016.

A few hours later, I got to work, and there was breaking news from the Supreme Court, as the Justices sidestepped a ruling on two cases dealing with gerrymandering of legislative district lines.

It all felt so normal. I typed up my story, fed it out to my stations, and it hit the air.

At home it seemed normal. But at work in the Capitol, when it played out in real time – the moment hit home.

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Pulling back the curtain on Jamie Dupree 2.0

Published: Sunday, June 17, 2018 @ 1:19 PM

Monday marks the start of a new effort to get my voice back on the radio for the first time in two years, by using a high tech solution, a computer generated voice, drawn from recordings of my old stories, as medical efforts to bring my voice back – to anything close to normal – have not been successful.

It was April 2016 when my voice began to falter, after I got sick on a family vacation; since then, my doctors have determined that I have a rare neurological disorder, in which the signals from the brain are getting mixed up somehow, causing my tongue to push out of my mouth when I speak – it’s known as ‘tongue protrusion dystonia.’

As it became obvious in the last year that my voice was not coming back, we searched for answers, and finally, high tech guru Mike Lupo at our Cox Media Group corporate headquarters contacted a company in Scotland, CereProc, which agreed to try to build what amounts to a Jamie Dupree voice app.

How does it work? How do I produce stories with it? Why is it even needed? Let’s take a look.

1. Let’s start with an explanation of what’s wrong. Over the past two years, there have been no answers in the search for my voice. What I have is a neurological disorder, for which there really aren’t specific treatments, known as tongue protrusion dystonia. When I try to talk, my tongue pops out of my mouth, my throat clenches, and it results in a strangled, unintelligible voice. I’ve been to Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, George Washington, the Cleveland Clinic, Emory University. The Mayo Clinic wouldn’t take my case. Many doctors have frankly admitted my problems were above their expertise. At Easter of 2017, the head of the voice center at the Cleveland Clinic correctly diagnosed my problems, but had no names to offer me in terms of treatment. I have been seeing a doctor outside of D.C. who agreed to try to decipher my case, but we really haven’t pushed any closer to a solution. In March, I saw Dr. Hyder Jinnah at the Emory University Brain Health Center in Atlanta – he gave me two Botox shots to my tongue in mid-May, to see if that would slow my tongue, and stop it from thrusting out of my mouth when I speak. It hasn’t really helped, so we will try again in August, with a little more Botox. You can hear from my doctor in this report that was done by CNN’s medical unit, thanks to producer Sandee LaMotte.

2. Building a voice from the Dupree archives. Since my voice isn’t going to re-appear anytime soon, we started looking for high tech ways to get me back on the air. The first step was gathering years of recordings of my voice. I have shoe boxes filled with cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, mini-discs, hard drives, and all sorts of different media storage devices from the first time I went on the radio in 1983, up through April of 2016 when my voice went out. But to build this voice, we focused on recordings from the last few years, which I had saved on our company computer system. Whether it was my reports from Capitol Hill, or from out on the campaign trail, I had hours and hours of material. But what the people at CereProc needed was audio that was only from me – so I spent several very late nights sorting through hundreds and hundreds of my stories to isolate those items which would help build a good voice. Going through all of that audio, it was like a trip down memory lane of what news stories that I had covered in the past few years, where I had been during my campaign coverage, what stories were big, and more. But that audio search was also a sobering personal reminder for me, that what was once normal – the mere act of speaking on the radio – was now impossible. Thus, the need for Jamie Dupree 2.0.

3. CereProc then goes to work. Once I handed off hundreds of audio files to the folks at CereProc in Scotland, all I could do was wait to see what they were going to be able to produce. “The voice was harder to build as the audio data used to build the voice was not recorded for the purpose of building a text-to-speech voice,” said Graham Leary, who was in charge of my voice development. “Normally we would record a phonetically-balanced script, optimized for coverage of the different sounds in English,” he added. In other words – they would bring someone in to record 30 hours or more of material, to make sure they get all the right sounds. With me, they had to improvise, but Leary said it worked out okay. “The radio reports are high quality and a suitable alternative – they are studio-recorded, read in a measured, consistent style and don’t have any interjections from other speakers, crowd noise, applause etc. that can make audio difficult to work with.” Trust me, this is a complicated process.

4. Pairing the voice with a text-to-speech program. The folks at CereProc recommended downloading a freeware program called “Balabolka” to use with my Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice. While the name might be a tongue twister, the program is fairly straightforward. You load a specific voice to be used – in my case, the “CereVoice Jamiedupree – English (East Coast America)” voice. You type in some words. Then you hit the ‘play’ button. And it plays what you write. Hit another button, and it exports those written words into a computer generated audio file, either wav or mp3. Balabolka is a very powerful tool, and can probably do a lot more than I am using it for – but to see how it easy it was to hit Alt-W and generate an mp3 file with my new voice, it was really quite a surprise. So, when you hear me on the radio with this synthesized voice, it will just be me typing the words, and saving them into an audio file.

5. How does the voice work? When I type words into the text-to-speech program, it doesn’t go looking in an audio vault on my laptop for the exact words that I write, and then put those words together one-by-one. Instead, it searches out the sounds that would be made. So, this is not a question of having me on tape saying every word in the dictionary. Yes, it helps to have examples of me saying “President Trump” or “Congress.” But I know there was no example in my stories of me saying “Rudy Giuliani,” and yet, that popped out perfectly when I tried out the voice. How can that happen? CereProc uses “neural networks” to generate voices. “The neural networks, which contain between six to 10 layers each, work by slicing audio recordings of words down to phonetics,” the BBC wrote in a technical story about my new computer generated voice. This allows the Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice – and other voices created by companies all over the world – to navigate through just about any piece of text.

6. Figuring out certain words and sounds. While I have great praise for CereProc, the Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice isn’t perfect. One thing you run into immediately is that certain words and phrases don’t sound right – either because they are not pronounced clearly enough, or they seem artificially shortened. So, I spend a lot of time going back and moving words around in my news copy to see if it will sound better. One other way to massage the voice is that there are also a series of XML commands which can be used to emphasize certain words, to change the pitch, or alter the speed. One thing I quickly noticed is that the voice cuts off a word rather sharply at the end of a sentence – I simply found a way to fix that by slowing down the speed of the last word (or syllable) by 1 or 2 notches, to make it sound more natural. But there are some words that just don’t come out right, even if they are spelled correctly, so you have to be inventive. “Investigation” just doesn’t come out right, no matter what I try. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s last name didn’t sound good at all – so I wrote “Rye Inn” instead – and that sounded just right. Let’s take the word “denuclearize.” It sounded awful when written that way – but I found a way to make it sound better, as shown in the graphic below, by making it D-nuclear-rise, and by slowing down the final syllable.

7. What does Jamie Dupree 2.0 sound like? Listen to this extended ‘interview’ that I did with the BBC World Service. Some of the words and phrases sound natural and fairly normal – at other times, it gets a bit robotic. But to me, it’s still pretty amazing. It is my voice in there. And to be on the BBC World Service was a treat – I got hooked on shortwave radio as a teenager, and loved listening to Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’ each week. Will this voice solution work in the long run? That will be up to my bosses – and really, up to the listeners. If they can deal with the different sound – whether in a newscast, or a longer form appearance – then I will still be able to deliver the news from Capitol Hill. I fully expect to get a lot of people saying nice things, and I fully expect to get a lot of mean and nasty social media messages as well.

8. Comparing the old, the new, and 2.0 After two years of not having a voice that was ready for a trip to the grocery store – much less going on the radio – it is truly fantastic to have a way to get back on the radio. Yes, the voice is a bit robotic at times. But it is me. I can hear myself in these words. So, let’s look at how I sounded before, what I sound like now, and what Jamie Dupree 2.0 is like.

This news report is from February 28, 2016, at a Trump rally in Alabama. It was a giant crowd, and was one of my favorite reports from the first three months of 2016, when I was chasing the candidates all over the country.



What do I sound like now? I can get out words that sound okay, but not in any type of rapid fire way. If I am going to speak, it has to be very slow, and with a pen in my mouth to keep my tongue occupied (that is the source of my problem, a tongue which is not behaving properly, as it pops out of my mouth when I speak).



As you can tell from that audio, it is a struggle to say just about anything. So, we go to Jamie Dupree 2.0. It can say anything that I want (though four letter words don’t come out very well, just in case you were wondering). But, all I really want is to find my real voice again. Version 1 was better. But Jamie Dupree 2.0 is here, and this is what it sounds like.



9. Thanks to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). I can’t give any rundown on my voice without thanking Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. When she was elected after the death of Rep. Claude Pepper (D-FL), one of my company’s radio stations was in Miami, so I got to know her right away when she arrived in Congress in 1989. While Cox Media Group sold our news-talk station in Miami, I still kept in touch with Ros-Lehtinen in the hallways of the Capitol. She would hear me on the radio and happily chirp, “The most connected man in Washington!” When I told her of my voice problems late in 2017, she gave me a hug and said she would help. Her speech on the floor of the House in December drew attention to my problems, and spurred interest from news organizations. That’s how CNN’s medical unit got interested, and that’s how I found my way to Dr. Jinnah at Emory. I can’t thank Ros-Lehtinen, Speaker Ryan, and others for their help. It made a difference for me.

10. How do I feel about Jamie Dupree 2.0? Let’s be honest. I want to be able to speak normally. Even just somewhat normally. A friend texted me to ask, was I nervous about the new voice? I guess, a little. But if there is one thing that I take from the last two years, it’s that I never gave up. I kept working at my job. I kept searching for a medical answer. I’m still searching for that answer. The outlook was admittedly bleak at times, like in April 2017 when the doctor at the Cleveland Clinic told me that no one could even treat my neurological/voice disorder. Early on, I knew I couldn’t give up. I have kids who are only 9, 11, and 14. “I think everyone saw how passionate and how badly/deeply you wanted this,” my boss told me the other day. “He never let anyone see him sweat,” said my friend and colleague Dorey Scheimer.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to come down to our company’s headquarters in Atlanta – our CEO Alex Taylor wanted to see me. It turned out to be an event with several hundred people, where I was presented with the “Governor Cox Award,” named after our company’s founder, Taylor’s great-grandfather, James M. Cox. Taylor told the audience that because of my voice problems, I could have given up, I could have gone on disability, I could have quit my job. But I didn’t. His words meant a lot to me, and they have been echoed by many inside our company in recent weeks. I want to thank him, and many others for their support.

Finally, I want to thank all the listeners, viewers, readers, and fellow ham radio operators who have sent me expressions of support over the past two years. Your words of encouragement were a great source of strength.

I would also thank those of you who sent me nasty emails, and celebrated my voice troubles. I know you will be back to criticize my new voice.

But you know what? Those jabs make me work even harder to stay in the news arena.

And now, we go onward – with Jamie Dupree 2.0.

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