Thursday, March 26, 2015

In Shadow Of Boko Haram, Cameroon Combats Extremism At Home

A family of refugees that fled their homes due to violence from the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram sit inside a refugee camp in Minawao, Cameroon. With radical Islamic insurgents on its doorstep, Cameroon is trying to head off unrest at home by quelling any signs of the extremism that has roiled neighboring Nigeria. In recent months, Cameroon has arrested dozens of imams and their followers accused of promoting radical ideology and collaborating with Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants.

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON (AP) — With radical Islamic insurgents on its doorstep, Cameroon is trying to head off unrest at home by quelling any signs of the extremism that has roiled neighboring Nigeria.
In recent months, Cameroon has arrested dozens of imams and their followers accused of promoting radical ideology and collaborating with Nigeria's Boko Haram militants. But the country is also mobilizing soft power. The government sponsored a conference this week where Islamic and Christian leaders discussed promoting religious tolerance. Earlier this month, Cameroon announced $8 million in grants for young people who start businesses in the north, the country's poorest region and the one where most Muslims live.
Boko Haram insurgents have been fighting the Nigerian government for six years in the hopes of creating an Islamic state. With their own security threatened, Cameroon, Chad and Niger are now attacking the militants inside Nigeria.
Military operations alone cannot defeat Boko Haram, says Bridgit Ndemba, a sociologist at the University of Yaounde, in the capital. "As far as ideology is concerned, fighting it will take a lot of time because we cannot fight ideology with war weapons," she said.
Cameroon — where about 20 percent of the population is Muslim, 40 percent is Christian and the rest hold indigenous beliefs — has a long history of tolerance. But Ndemba says high youth unemployment and poverty in Cameroon's north could leave young people vulnerable to recruitment.
Already the influence of Boko Haram can be felt in Cameroon. Some mosques in the northern regions are calling for Shariah law, according to Souleyman Abba, a cleric and member of Cameroon's Islamic Cultural Association, which helped organize the conference. Muslim students and clerics are offered scholarships to study in Arab countries, raising fears they may return with extremist beliefs.
Even at the conference itself, there was friction. Modibo Moustapha Issa, an imam, told the conference that it was wrong to invite Christians to discuss religion because they are nonbelievers.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Japanese Police Arrest Suspect In US Embassy Bomb Threat

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy delivers opening remarks during the JFK International Symposium at Waseda University in Tokyo. News reports say Japanese police have arrested a man for allegedly making bomb threats against the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and say he is also a possible suspect in death threats against the U.S. ambassador.


TOKYO, JAPAN (AP) — Japanese police said they arrested a man on Thursday accused of making bomb threats against the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and media reports said he is also a possible suspect in recent death threats against Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.
Tokyo police arrested Mitsuyoshi Kamiya, a resident of the southern island of Okinawa, for making the bomb threats from a pay phone in downtown Okinawa, a police spokesman said. He said the suspect also threatened to bomb Camp Schwab, a U.S. military base on the island.
Kamiya admitted to police that he made the bomb threats, but his motive was not immediately known, the police spokesman said. He did not provide any other details about Kamiya. Public broadcaster NHK said police also suspect Kamiya made phone calls threatening to kill Kennedy and the U.S. consul general on Okinawa.
The island is home to about half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan, and residents have frequently complained about crime, noise and other issues related to the U.S. bases. The U.S. government wants to relocate one base, the Marine Corps Futenma air station, to another area of Okinawa, but many people want it moved completely off the island.
In three phone calls in March, Kamiya used threatening phrases in English such as "Bomb Camp Schwab" and "Bomb the embassy" which forced the embassy to increase its security, the police spokesman said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists who are not members of the police press club, which is largely limited to Japanese media.
The mass-circulation Yomiuri newspaper said police had been secretly following the suspect. It said the embassy had received about 30 threatening calls since last month, including those threatening to kill Kennedy and the consul general.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed to reporters in Washington on Thursday that Japanese police had arrested a 52-year-old person from Okinawa for making threatening phone calls against the embassy, not just related to the ambassador. She said the Japanese government is leading the investigation.
Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, arrived in Tokyo in November 2013 as the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan. She visited Okinawa in February last year in an attempt to win support for the base relocation plan, and pledged that Washington would do its best to reduce the burden of its heavy troop presence there.
Earlier this month, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was slashed in the face and wrist by an anti-U.S. activist in Seoul and was hospitalized for several days.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Homegrown, Gourmet Pot On The Rise In Mexico

Homero Fernandez warms a pipe with one hand as he holds in the other a small amount of marijuana which he'll introduce into the heated tube and cover, as he demonstrates different varieties of marijuana in Mexico City. Fernandez, a 29-year-old event promoter, teamed up with about a dozen people to form a pot club. "It comes out much cheaper than paying for even regular pot ... and the quality is much higher," said Fernandez. "What gets produced is exclusively for us. Nothing more, and it doesn't get sold outside" the club


MEXICO CITY (AP) — Once upon a time, Mexican marijuana was the gold standard for U.S. pot smokers. But in the new world of legal markets and gourmet weed, aficionados here are looking to the United States and Europe for the good stuff.
Instead of Acapulco Gold, Mexican smokers want strains like Liberty Haze and Moby Dick — either importing high-potency boutique pot from the United States, or growing it here in secret gardens that use techniques perfected abroad.
It's a small but growing market in a country where marijuana is largely illegal, unlike the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington that have legalized recreational use, and others where medicinal pot is available.
A text message will bring a Mexico City dealer to the customer's doorstep with a menu of high-end buds for sale at the swipe of a credit card through a smartphone reader. Hydroponic shops have sprung up that supply equipment to those who want to cultivate potent strains in sophisticated home-grown operations. Some even are setting up pot cooperatives to share costs like high electrical bills and swap what they grow with each other.
"I know people who are architects, executives, lawyers ... who went to the United States or Europe," said Antoine Robbe, the 35-year-old, French-born proprietor of Hydrocultivos, one of the shops. They say, "'Man, why don't we have this in my country?'"
So far, reports of U.S.-grown marijuana making its way south have been only anecdotal but enough to raise concern, according to Alejandro Mohar, a Mexican physician and member of the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board.
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official told NPR in December that Mexican cartel operatives were smuggling in high-end U.S. marijuana to sell to wealthy customers, though there's no sign so far of a massive southward trade. The DEA declined to comment further in response to a request from the AP.
In Mexico City, several people said they have seen freezer-size bags of marijuana here labeled as being for medicinal use in Los Angeles. Mexico allows people to carry up to 5 grams of pot for personal use but bans sale and growing. Historically, there has been little social tolerance for pot use, with "marijuanos" stigmatized as slackers or supporters of the deadly drug trade.
Mexico growers say their home-cultivation phenomenon is removed from the grisly narco-wars that have wracked the country. In fact, growing and swapping among themselves, they contend, allows them to avoid supporting the cartels.
"I'm not a narco, dude. I just like to smoke," said Daniel, a goateed 32-year-old living in the bohemian Roma neighborhood. He spoke on condition that his last name not be used because, he said, his home-grow operation is "super-illegal" despite being for personal use only.
Mexican law provides for prison sentences of up to 25 years for people convicted of producing, trafficking or selling drugs. Home growers say they are forming cooperatives to share the costs of the indoor-gardening gear and high electric bills and swap harvests with each other, many building their club model with skills first imported by foreigners.
Last year, Homero Fernandez, a 29-year-old event promoter, teamed up with about a dozen people to form a pot club, each paying about $200 to buy a hydroponic grow kit now tended to by one of the members.
Today the club has about 50 to 60 plants that produce enough sativa buds to satisfy the members, some of them heavy smokers, who are able to purchase an ounce of high-end pot for between $95 and $130, less than half of what they'd pay a dealer.
The end result is pot with around 15 to 20 percent THC, the high-generating component of marijuana, compared to 3 to 8 percent in the Mexican "brick weed" more commonly sold here and north of the border. Some people are also producing concentrates with 60 to 99.6 percent THC, the strongest of which are too powerful to be smoked in a pipe or joint.
"It comes out much cheaper than paying for even regular pot ... and the quality is much higher," said Fernandez, who wore his Ray-Ban shades indoors and sported a white T-shirt emblazoned with the letters "THC." ''What gets produced is exclusively for us. Nothing more, and it doesn't get sold outside" the club.
The market for gourmet weed is still minuscule next to the multibillion-dollar marijuana export trade dominated by the cartels. According to DEA statistics, seizures along the border last year accounted for more than 2.2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of pot.
The hydroponic shops don't sell seeds or pot and thus stay on the right side of the law. Like others, Daniel ordered seeds online from a company in Spain, opting for a U.K-originated strain known as Exodus Cheese. The precious cargo arrived by mail nine days later in envelopes resembling teabags inside a tiny, discreetly labeled tin.
Just as seeds increasingly are crossing borders, Fernandez said, wider acceptance abroad is reshaping attitudes in Mexico. "The United States, with this boom of regularization and this boom of legal marijuana, all that arrives here and has an impact on cannabis culture."
Associated Press writer Alberto Arce in Mexico City contributed.
Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Maine Teacher Wins $1 Million Global Teacher Prize In Dubai

Nancie Atwell, a teacher from Southport, Maine, U.S., center, throws a kiss as she poses with former President of the United States Bill Clinton, left, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the U.A.E. and Ruler of Dubai, after she won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Atwell has been teaching since 1973 and founded the Center for Teaching and Learning in Southport.


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An English teacher from rural Maine won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize on Sunday after 42 years of work as an innovator and pioneer in teaching literature.
Nancie Atwell plans to donate the full amount to the Center for Teaching and Learning which she founded in 1990 in Edgecomb, Maine as a nonprofit demonstration school created for the purpose of developing and disseminating teaching methods. The school says 97 percent of its graduates have gone on to university.
Atwell said that winning the award is a valedictory for her life's work, but that her true validation comes from the responses of students. "I really find that I'm validated every day just by the experiences I have with children in the classroom," she told The Associated Press after receiving the award.
Atwell was selected from a pool of 1,300 applicants from 127 countries. The top 10 finalists, which included two other teachers from the U.S. and others from Afghanistan, India, Haiti, Cambodia, Malaysia, Kenya, and the U.K., were flown to Dubai, United Arab Emirates for the ceremony. The winner was announced on stage by Sunny Varkey, founder of the non-profit Varkey Foundation that focuses on education issues and founder of the for-profit GEMS Education company that has more than 130 schools around the world.
The award was created to be the largest prize of its kind and to serve as a sort-of Nobel Prize for one exceptional teacher each year. After Atwell won the award, a young boy no older than 11 with a book bag strapped to his back waited patiently with his mother for a photograph with the winning teacher.
Varkey said that the award is aimed at fostering that kind of admiration for teachers and to say "to a celebrity-obsessed world that teachers are important and worthy of respect." Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is honorary chair of the Varkey Foundation, were also on-hand to give Atwell the award.
Atwell has received numerous other awards throughout her life for her innovative approach to teaching. She has authored nine books about teaching, including "In The Middle," which sold more than half a million copies.
"The other recognition I've received has been content-area specific," she said. "This is global... this is really an award for a body of work, for a lifetime of teaching." Hundreds of teachers have visited her center in Maine over the years to learn its writing-reading practices.
Her school's eighth grade students read an average of 40 books per year, compared to the national average of about 10. They also write extensively, and many of her students have gone on to become published authors.
All of her students choose the subjects they write about and the books they read. The school's website boasts that there is "never a raised voice or standardized test," but that there are tens of thousands of books and time to read from among them every day.
"If we want them to be highly literate, we have to value the power of stories and self-expression," she said, explaining her approach. "Anything else is a false choice. Anything else will be an exercise that gets kids good at doing exercises."
This is the first year for the Global Teacher Prize to be awarded, though the Varkey Foundation plans it to be an annual event. Experts, including other teachers and school administrators, shortlisted the top 50 finalists and a prize committee helped select the top 10. The winner was then selected by a group of more than 60 people that included CEO's, investors, professors, journalists and public figures such as Oscar Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey and Grammy Award-winning artist Esperanza Spalding.
Online:
Global Teacher Prize http://www.globalteacherprize.org/
Center for Teaching and Learning http://c-t-l.org/

Israeli Leader Netanyahu: Foreign Powers Want To Push Me Out

A worker hangs an election campaign billboard of Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud party leader and Israel's Prime Minister. Polls show that Prime Minister Netanyahu's nationalist Likud Party is running slightly behind the Isaac Herzog’s Labor Party, rebranded the Zionist Union in a bid for nationalist votes


JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister is accusing foreign governments of trying to topple him from power.
Benjamin Netanyahu tells Israel's Army Radio Sunday that foreign powers have spent millions of dollars as part of an orchestrated campaign against him. He did not indicate which governments he was referring to, but said they were colluding with the media and leftist groups in a "just not Bibi" campaign, referring to himself by his popular nickname. He said these foreign powers do not have Israelis' interests in mind and just want weak leadership that will capitulate to their demands
Netanyahu is trailing the opposition Zionist Union two days before the national election. After shunning the media for much of his tenure, Netanyahu has been on a media blitz lately to try and close the gap.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Netanyahu Tells AIPAC That US-Israel Alliance Strong

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while speaking at the 2015 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, Monday, March 2, 2015.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Monday that despite recent differences with the Obama administration over a looming nuclear deal with Iran the alliance between his country and the Unites States was "stronger than ever."
Kicking off a charged visit to Washington that has sparked criticism both in the U.S. and Israel, Netanyahu told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that "reports of the demise of the Israeli-U.S. relationship are not just premature, they are just wrong."
The centerpiece of his trip is an address to Congress Tuesday, which came at the invitation of congressional Republicans and was not coordinated with the White House. As a result, Netanyahu's already tense relationship with President Barack Obama reached a new low and included some of the harshest attacks against him to date.
The Israeli leader is deeply suspicious of Obama's efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, fearing the U.S. and its negotiating partners are prepared to leave Tehran on the cusp of developing a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu stressed he would speak clearly before Congress about the threat a nuclear Iran would pose to Israel and the world.
"First, let me clarify what is not the purpose of that speech. My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both," he said, receiving a standing ovation from more than 15.000 pro-Israel supporters.
Noting Israel's proximity to Iran, Netanyahu said his country's situation was more dire than that of the United States. "American leaders worry about the security of their country," he said. "Israeli leaders worry about the survival of their country."
Showing a graphic he said depicted Iran's training, arming and dispatching of terrorists on five continents, Netanyahu said their "tentacles of terror" reached across the world. "This is what Iran is doing now — without nuclear weapons. Imagine what Iran would do with nuclear weapons. And this same Iran vows to annihilate Israel. If it develops nuclear weapons, it would have the means to achieve that goal," he said. "And as prime minister of Israel, I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Uber Partners With Starwood, Giving Hotel Points For Ride

Anthony Khoury, head of Middle East and Africa expansions for Uber, demonstrates the mobile application at a press event to celebrate the official launch of the car-hailing service in Cairo. Uber passengers can now earn one Starwood rewards point for each dollar they spend on a ride in a car found through the Uber app, the San Francisco-based company said Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.


NEW YORK (AP) — Uber is partnering with hotel chain Starwood to give riders a bit more incentive to choose the ride-hailing service over a taxi.
Uber passengers can now earn one Starwood rewards point for each dollar they spend on a ride in a car found through the San Francisco-based company's mobile app. Guests spending the night at one of Starwood's 1,200 hotels will earn two to four points per dollar spent, depending on their level of status with Stamford, Connecticut-based Starwood. Points can't be earned until the Uber passenger spends at least one night during the calendar year at a Starwood hotel.
Free hotel nights start at 3,000 points for the lowest tier of hotels, like the Four Points by Sheraton Tucson Airport in Arizona, and can be as high as 35,000 points a night for properties like the St. Regis Princeville Resort in Hawaii.
This is the first global deal where ground transportation passengers can earn hotel points for trips. This potentially helps Uber in big cities such as New York, San Paulo, Brazil and Bangalore, India where it's going head to head with established taxi companies and car services.
Some airport car services do offer passengers airline miles for their trips, but those programs are open to a number of airlines. This new Uber partnership is exclusive to Starwood. Neither company would disclose the terms of the deal.
The hotel company, known for its Sheraton, Westin and W brands, already has similar partnerships with Delta Air Lines and Emirate Airline. "Our guests get to us in many different ways," says Mark Vondrasek, Starwood's senior vice president of loyalty and partnership marketing. Through these partnerships, "we're trying to get members to concentrate their stays with us."
__ Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.

Overfishing Driving Slavery On Thailand's Seafood Boats

Min Min, from Myanmar, rests on a make-shift bed. Min Min was rescued from a tiny island two months ago, on the verge of starvation, and brought back to Thailand, the world's third-largest seafood exporter. Concerns about labor abuses, especially at sea, prompted the U.S. State Department last year to downgrade Thailand to the lowest level in its annual human trafficking report, putting the country on par with North Korea, Iran and Syria.


SAMUT SAKHON, THAILAND (AP) — Urine pools under a bed where an emaciated Burmese man lies wearing only a T-shirt and a diaper.
As he struggles to sit up and steady himself, he tears at his thick, dark hair in agitation. He cannot walk and doesn't remember his family or even his own name. He speaks mostly gibberish in broken Indonesian — a language he learned while working in the country as a slave aboard a Thai fishing boat.
Near death from a lack of proper food, he was rescued from a tiny island in Indonesia two months ago. He is just one of countless hidden casualties from the fishing industry in Thailand, the world's third-largest seafood exporter.
A report released Wednesday by the British nonprofit Environmental Justice Foundation said that overfishing and the use of illegal and undocumented trawlers have ravaged Thailand's marine ecosystems and depleted fish stocks. Boats are now catching about 85 percent less than what they brought in 50 years ago, making it "one of the most overfished regions on the planet," the report said.
Shrinking fisheries in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea have, in turn, pushed Thai fishing boats farther and farther from home. The group estimates that up to half of all fish labeled a "product of Thailand" is sourced from outside its borders — mainly in Asia, but as far away as Africa.
The report, compiled from the group's own research and the work of others, explains how Thailand's vast seafood industry is almost wholly dependent on cheap migrant labor. Since few Thais are willing to take the dangerous, low-level jobs that can take them far from home, a sophisticated network of brokers and agents has emerged, regularly recruiting laborers from impoverished neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia, often through trickery and kidnapping.
Men — and sometimes children as young as 13 — are sold onto boats where they typically work 18- to 20-hour days with little food and often only boiled sea water to drink, enduring beatings and sometimes even death at the hands in their captains. Most are paid little or nothing. They can be trapped at sea for months or years at a time; transshipment vessels are routinely used to pick up catches and deliver supplies.
Concerns about labor abuses, especially at sea, prompted the U.S. State Department last year to downgrade Thailand to the lowest level in its annual human trafficking report, putting the country on par with North Korea, Iran and Syria. It highlighted abuse on both ships and in processing plants, noting widespread involvement from corrupt officials.
The Southeast Asian nation responded by launching a major public relations campaign, with the government drafting its own country assessment to highlight steps taken to clean up the industry since a military junta took control of Thailand in May. The unreleased Thai report, obtained by The Associated Press, includes establishing a new national registry of illegal migrant workers and plans for stricter labor regulations on vessels and in the seafood industry.
However, just a month after the new government stepped in, Thailand was the only country in the world to vote against a U.N. international treaty aimed at stopping forced labor. "If you drill down, if you look at the substance of enforcement and the implementation of existing laws and regulations, it's minimal," said Steve Trent, the group's executive director. "What the Thai government seems to do repeatedly, again and again in the face of these accusations, is conduct a high-powered PR exercise rather than seek to address the problem."
A Thai government spokesman and officials at the Department of Fisheries did not immediately respond to The Associated Press' requests for comment. Thailand, which exported $7 billion in seafood in 2013, is one of the biggest suppliers to the U.S. But a study published last year in the journal Marine Policy estimated 25 percent to 40 percent of tuna shipped from Thailand to America is from illegal or unreported sources — the highest rate of any species or country examined — and is frequently linked to labor abuses at sea.
Human rights advocates say some improvements have been noted in domestic waters, but such policies have little impact when vessels stray into the territorial waters of other countries. Traveling longer distances to catch fish raises operating costs, and increases pressure on fishing companies to save money by relying on forced, bonded and slave labor.
"On long-haul boats, nothing has changed in the brutal working conditions and physical abuse meted out by captains against their crews," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, who has worked extensively on the issue. "The reality is the Thai government's high-sounding rhetoric to stop human trafficking and clean up the fishing fleets still largely stops at the water's edge."
The man rescued from the Indonesian island in December now remembers his name — Min Min — and bits of his old life in Myanmar, also known as Burma. But his mind remains far from clear. He knows he worked three years on a boat in Indonesia where his ankles were sometimes bound with rope. He recalls collapsing one day on deck during a storm and being unconscious for three hours before the Thai captain forced him to get up and haul the nets back in.
Eventually, he became too sick and weak to work and was abandoned on the remote island two years ago. Min Min was on the verge of starvation when he was rescued and taken to the nonprofit Labor Rights Protection Network in Samut Sakhon, a gritty port town on the outskirts of Bangkok. He's eating well and taking vitamins to try to regain his strength, and he can now stand and slowly shuffle across the floor.
He is still far from well. He's confused about such basics as his age, saying once that he is 43 and later that he is 36. If his family back in Myanmar is mentioned, he becomes rattled and stutters his thoughts as if it's too much to bear.
"Working on the boat is no good. People like to take advantage of you," he said. "If I recover from my illness, I'll never be on a boat again in my life. Never again. I'm scared."
Associated Press writer Thanyarat Doksone contributed to this report from Samut Sakhon, Thailand.

Confident Obama Predicts Success In Immigration Appeal

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez watches at left as Florida Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla. gives a Miami Marlins baseball cap to President Barack Obama upon the president's arrived at Miami International airport in Miami, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. Obama is taping an immigration town hall hosted by Telemundo and MSNBC at Florida International University.

MIAMI (AP) — President Barack Obama urged immigrants thrown into limbo by legal wrangling to keep planning for eventual relief, professing confidence Wednesday that his deportation directives won't be thrown out in court.
"This is just one federal judge," Obama said of the district judge in Texas who put Obama's order on hold. "We have appealed it very aggressively. We're going to be as aggressive as we can." Obama said he expected to win when a U.S. circuit court hears his appeal, but added that his administration will "take it up from there" if the appeal fails, in an apparent reference to the Supreme Court. He said at each stage of the process, the White House believes it has the better argument.
The strong-willed defense of Obama's executive actions came as millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally wait to see whether Obama's order shielding them from deportation will be upheld. A 26-state coalition led by Texas is suing Obama, alleging he overstepped his legal authority.
Dismissing those hoping for a presidential about-face, Obama insisted he was "absolutely committed" to the new policy, which he described as focusing deportation efforts on felons. "People should be gathering up their papers, make sure you can show you are a long standing resident of the United States," Obama said at a town hall meeting hosted by the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo. He said immigrants should make sure that by the time the legal issues are sorted out, "you are ready to go."
As Obama spoke in Miami, another immigration drama was playing out in Congress, where lawmakers were attempting to fund Homeland Security over the insistence by some Republicans that Obama's immigration actions be repealed at the same time. Obama derided Republicans for holding national security funding hostage and said he would veto a stand-alone measure to repeal his actions being contemplated in the Senate.
The immigration dispute has increasingly taken on political overtones as focus shifts to the campaign for Obama's successor, raising questions about whether Republicans can appeal to the fast-growing number of Hispanic voters. Obama said the first question for 2016 presidential candidates should be whether they really intend to deport 11 million people living here illegally. If not, voters should demand to know their alternative plan, Obama said.
Of Jeb Bush, a likely Republican candidate who is one of his party's more moderate voices on immigration, Obama said he appreciated that the former Florida governor was concerned about fixing the immigration system.
"I would suggest he talk to the speaker of the House and the members of his party," Obama said.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"February 14": A Troubled Nation And Jega's Mathematical Errors

By Ambrose Ehirim



Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, Attahiru Jega, speaks during a news conference Saturday night, February 2, 2015 as the Nigerian Elections postponement is announced in the city of Abuja. Image: Olamikan Gbemiga/AP


The postponement of the February 14 Presidential and Legislative elections did not come to Nigerians as a surprise; it was expected as the speculations about shift in date had already gone viral within the Nigerian social media, even though the Attahiru Jega-led Independent National Electoral Commission, the INEC, was in denial about the voters card and distribution, in addition to the security forces engaged in combat with the bloodthirsty cannibals, Boko Haram, and the inability to guarantee voters' safety on the northeast that is home to the terrorist organization. Jega had long before now been convinced and totally sure that he had it gripped in his hands and have calculated with certainty his January 24, 2014 announcement date for February 14, 2015 presidential and legislative election schedules was firm and would not be changed despite the doubts in his accuracy. He had assured Nigerians that there'd be no way elections would not be held on Saturday, February 14, 2015 until the late, late hour, when he had realized the impossibilities of the guaranteed February 14th date to which he hurriedly went on air to announce Saturday night, February 7, that there's a shift, and it would take another 6 weeks before such election could be possible, rescheduling the first part of the elections to Saturday, March 28. I had questioned Jega's pronouncement with certainty that his calculation for Februarey 14 would not be changed, not even considering the effects of Boko Haram and the instability overwhelming the northeast, the Islamic Jihadists terrorists stronghold.

Jega had assumed one year notice to general elections was adequate and appropriate from his scheduling in what would be the decision for Nigerian electorates on who becomes the next president of Nigeria if Goodluck Jonathan is not reelected in which he also had guaranteed the best outcome in the history of Nigeria elections, beginning the First Republic. From that announcement to hold elections on February 14, Jega also came with lots of assurances that past electoral mistakes had been corrected, putting INEC platforms into perspective that gets the job done for freer and fair elections through time -- with references from the Anambra State Guber elections seen as smoother than previously held, and, as an example, to much better results in the future.

Jega was wrong. Jega was not only wrong; he had knew there was no way he could meet up with the February 14 date, while he kept lying about it's certainty and a guaranteed historical election; to be marked as the freest and fairest election ever to be held in the country. With a date suddenly moved, all about Jega and his declarations, and his authenticity toward the Presidential and National Assembly elections are now questionable with the errors difficult to be erased.

The Wiki Link tells us Jega was born on January 11, 1957, and had attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, earning a degree in political science, and later proceeded to Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, where he wrote his thesis, earning his doctorate in political science before returning back to Nigeria and joining the Political Science Faculty at the Bayero University. He was nominated by President Jonathan in June 2010 as the new Chair to the INEC, in a meeting (National Council of State) presided by the president himself with former heads of state Shehu Shagari, Ernest Shonekan, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar in attendance. At the meeting was also the Senate President David Mark, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Oladimeji Bankole, and a majority of the state governors. Jega was unanimously approved, and had replaced the outgoing Maurice Iwu.

Jega takes over and had gone to work to implement electoral reforms with much anticipations the 2015 elections would have no hiccups by the time it arrives and from the assumption of Jega's clean slate.

While Jega was so sure of an election that would hold on a date he had guaranteed, his thinking did not direct him to a certain disturbance in the country where militants had called home and have continued with the quest in their agitation for an Islamic republic, on the premise nothing else could be held other than the Islamic faith and the doctrine of Mohammed, their Messiah, observed through bloodletting in which the militants haven't stopped, and in which they have consistently carried out their terrorist activities with sustained accuracy, indicating the groups' organizational effectiveness.

Not even President Jonathan's last attempt from exhausting all of his options when on May 14, 2013, the president used his executive privileges to enact an executive order, the "Doctrine of Extraordinary Measures" for national interest giving the military and security details  orders on the guidelines of the  "Rules of Engagement" to combat Boko Haram, with the backing and support of numerous union heads and the people in general as the bloodlust Islamic Jihadists threatens the security and sovereignty of the nation.

Before the bloodthirsty cannibals, the Boko Haram Terrorists resurrected from a number of previous attacks of previous governments, they have not been known until eruption of the Sharia Debacle in 2000 during the Obasanjo administration. Henceforth, Boko Haram started to cause the havoc that would not allow any political play into the nation's political landscape except Sharia and why Islam matters to the republic from around which those who object becomes target as opposed to Islam.

Jonathan's "Doctrine of Extraordinary Measures" was just another slap on the face, and adding insult to dishonor, Boko Haram would strike in numerous occasions even when a new chief of defense staff had been appointed to handle the case of the Islamic Jihad murderous nihilists. Jonathan had appointed Air Vice Marshall Alex Badeh as the Chief of Defense Staff January 2014 with all hopes that Badeh who happens to come from the northeast should be able to identify with his Boko Haram kins and resolve what had been a national nightmare, with reports of who had been the brains behind the funding and operatives of the terrorists. Keeping hopes alive and reason why Nigerians should applaud him, Badeh assured the nation that Boko Haram would be history in three months of his appointment as Chief of Defense Staff. Within 72 hours Badeh had run his mouth of containing Boko Haram, a market in Borno State was bombed and a Catholic church in his hometown, allegedly his parish in Adamawa, also bombed to send a strong message to the air marshall that it wasn't time for kiddie stuff, that they had meant business and should be taken seriously.

With the bombing of the Catholic church in Adamawa, Badeh had nothing else to say, had no other options, at all, until the worst of cases started popping up. More bombings which questioned the strength of the Nigeria military continued apace through the kidnap of the Chibok Girls that received a global attention and a time for global concerns to act swiftly in rescue of the over 200 plus-girls abducted from their dorms in the woods of Chibok. Every other tactic failed and a new hashtag was born, #BringBackOurGirls.

In my article June 8, 2013 titled "Jonathan's Doctrine of Extraordinary Measures and Nigeria's Political Future," I had said Boko Haram was far from over because the capitalist class, the bunch with the cash that keeps the operation of the terrorists alive still have the influence and resources to train and arm the insurgents even with a US bounty of $7 million on information that would lead to arrest of their leader Abubakar Shekau.

Again, we understand Jega's INEC has shifted the elections to March 28, and the question remains what I had asked way before the social media catapulted what was wrong in Jega's date and a realistic terrorists in the northeast where the elections are still questionable and why the elections may not finally hold.

Brain Stents Show Big Promise For Certain Stroke Victims

Graphic illustrates one type of brain stents.; 2c x 5 inches; 96.3 mm x 127 mm;


(AP) - Stroke experts are reporting a major advance: Stents similar to the ones used to open clogged heart arteries also can be used to clear a blood clot in the brain, greatly lowering the risk a patient will end up disabled.

Patients treated with these brain stents were far more likely to be alive and able to live independently three months after their stroke, doctors said Wednesday at an American Stroke Association conference in Nashville. The treatment was so successful that three studies testing it were stopped early, so it could be offered to more patients. One study also found the death rate was cut almost in half for those given the treatment.
"This is a once-in-a-generation advance in stroke care," said the head of one study, Dr. Jeffrey Saver, stroke chief at the University of California, Los Angeles. An independent expert, Dr. Lee Schwamm of Massachusetts General Hospital, called it "a real turning point in the field." For many patients, "this is the difference between returning home and not returning home," although only certain types of patients can be offered it, he said.
Stroke care "needs to be completely changed" to make the treatment more widely available, said Dr. Walter Koroshetz, acting director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "This has taken stroke therapy to the same place that heart attack therapy is now," he said.
Most of the 800,000 strokes in the U.S. each year are caused by a blood clot lodged in the brain. The usual treatment is clot-dissolving medicine called tPA. When that doesn't work, doctors sometimes try devices pushed through blood vessels to pluck out the clot, but several studies found they didn't help.
However, newer devices — metal mesh cages called stent retrievers — open an artery much faster and with less damage to the blood vessel. Unlike heart stents, which stay in place to prop the artery open, the brain stents flatten the clot, trap it and are removed with it.
Two brands are sold in the U.S. — Trevo, made by Stryker Corp. of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Solitaire, made by Covidien, now part of Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc. They won approval in 2012 based on their ability to remove a clot — not because there was evidence they made patients better.
Some people who got them had dramatic results. Don Sadoway, 64, a chemistry professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was having a holiday lunch on Dec. 23, 2012, at a Boston restaurant when he suddenly found he couldn't lift his wine glass for a toast. His wife was perplexed.
"I said something unintelligible to her and all of a sudden my right side collapsed," he said. Doctors at Massachusetts General gave him tPA but it didn't work, so they tried a Solitaire stent. "Two hours later I was sitting up, talking to my kids," said Sadoway, who is fine now except for small problems with memory and fine motor skills.
Last fall, the first solid evidence that these devices helped patients arrived. A study in the Netherlands that tested a variety of clot removers, mostly stents, found these treatments greatly lowered the risk of disability in patients whose clots were not dissolved by tPA.
Stroke experts said more studies were needed to confirm the success. The three new studies do that; all were stopped early because independent monitors saw better results three months later in those treated with devices after tPA failed to dissolve their clots. Two tested just the Solitaire stent and the third tested a mix of devices, but mostly stents. Patients all sought help fast, had clots that were not opened by tPA, and no evidence of irreversible brain damage on CT scans.
Highlights: —A study Saver led in the U.S. and Europe on 196 patients found 60 percent of those treated with a Solitaire stent were free of major disability versus 35 percent of those given just tPA. Covidien sponsored the trial.
—A study led by Australian researchers of 70 patients found 71 percent of those given a Solitaire stent were free of major disability versus 40 percent of those given tPA alone. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and others paid for the trial.
—A study led by Canadian doctors of 316 patients found 53 percent treated with a stent or other clot-removing devices were free of major disability versus 29 percent of those given just tPA. Ten percent of patients given both treatments died versus 19 percent of those given just tPA. Covidien and others paid for the study, and some study leaders have financial ties to the companies.
The Canadian and Australian studies were published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine. Stent treatment is not for everyone, and it won't help people who had a stroke some time ago. It is not known if stents would help people not given tPA first, or those who seek help too late to get it. The key to surviving a stroke is getting help fast — tPA must be given within four and a half hours after symptoms start.
The warning signs of a stroke are sudden onset of any of these: numbness or weakness on one side, severe headache with no known cause, confusion, and trouble walking, speaking or seeing.
Online:
Stroke info: http://stroke.nih.gov/
and http://www.strokeassociation.org
Marilynn Marchione can be followed at http://twitter.com/MMarchioneAP

Obama Ask Fresh War Powers, Says IS Group 'Going To Lose'

President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, gestures as he speaks about the Islamic State group, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Obama asked the U.S. Congress on Wednesday to authorize military force to "degrade and defeat" Islamic State forces in the Middle East without sustained, large-scale U.S. ground combat operations, setting lawmakers on a path toward their first war powers vote in 13 years.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Vowing that Islamic State forces are "going to lose," President Barack Obama urged Congress on Wednesday to authorize military action against terrorists who are cutting a swath across the Middle East. Yet he ruled out large-scale U.S. ground combat operations reminiscent of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I'm convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war," the president said at the White House as he set Congress on a path to its first war-powers vote in 13 years.
Despite his words of reassurance, initial reaction in Congress amounted to bipartisan skepticism, with much of the dissatisfaction centered on his attempt to find a political middle ground with respect to ground forces.
Republicans expressed unhappiness that he had chosen to exclude any long-term commitment of ground forces, while some Democrats voiced dismay that he had opened the door to deployment at all. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also said Obama had ruled out air support for U.S.-trained rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad, adding, "That's immoral."
Under Obama's proposal, the use of military force against Islamic State fighters would be authorized for three years, unbounded by national borders. The fight could be extended to any "closely related successor entity" to the Islamic State organization that has overrun parts of Iraq and Syria, imposed a stern form of Sharia law and killed several hostages it has taken, Americans among them.
"Make no mistake. This is a difficult mission," Obama said in seeking action against a group that he said threatens America's own security. He said it will take time to dislodge the terrorists, especially from urban areas. "But our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose." ISIL is one acronym for the Islamic State group.
The 2002 congressional authorization that preceded the American-led invasion of Iraq would be repealed under the White House proposal, a step some Republicans were unhappy to see. But a separate authorization that was approved by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks would remain in force, to the consternation of some Democrats.
At the heart of the debate, the struggle to define any role for American ground forces is likely to determine the outcome of the administration's request for legislation. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the proposal was intentionally ambiguous on that point to give the president flexibility, although the approach also was an attempt to bridge a deep divide in Congress.
While asking lawmakers to bar long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama said he wants the flexibility for ground combat operations "in other more limited circumstances." Those include rescue missions, intelligence collection and the use of special operations forces in possible military action against Islamic State leaders.
While he proposed legislation to terminate in three years, Obama said, "It is not a timetable. It is not announcing that the mission is completed at any given period. What it is saying is that Congress should revisit the issue at the beginning of the next president's term."
Whatever the outcome, Obama's request puts Congress on the path toward a vote that could reverberate unpredictably for years. A post-9/11 request from then-President George W. Bush for authorization to use military force against Iraq was intensely controversial, and it played a role in Obama's successful campaign for the White House in 2008.
His chief rival for the Democratic nomination, then-New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, voted in favor of the Bush proposal. Obama, who was not in Congress at the time of the vote, said later he would have opposed it, and he made it an issue in the presidential race.
Clinton, who served four years as Obama's secretary of state and is now a likely candidate for president in 2016, had no immediate reaction to the new White House proposal. Lawmakers were not as reticent, although outright supporters of the president's plan were relatively scarce.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, expressed doubt it would "give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people." He said changes are likely before the measure comes to a vote, although one House committee set an initial hearing for Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., like Boehner, said the proposal would receive serious consideration. Democrats had a different reason to question the president's proposal. The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, issued a statement that refrained from endorsing Obama's request. It said Congress should act judiciously and promptly to pass legislation "narrowly tailored" to the fight against Islamic State fighters. She has said previously she opposes deploying U.S. "boots on the ground."
Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Senate's longest-serving Democrat, cautioned that any legislation must be in a form that avoids "repeating the missteps of the past and that does not result in an open-ended authorization that becomes legal justification for future actions against unknown enemies, in unknown places, at unknown times."
In a letter to lawmakers accompanying the three-page draft legislation, Obama referred to four American hostages who have died in Islamic State custody — at least three of them beheaded. He said the militant group, if left unchecked, "will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland."
Among the four hostages was Kayla Mueller, a 26-year-old humanitarian worker whose death under unknown circumstances was confirmed Tuesday. In the past, Obama has cited congressional authorizations from 2001 and 2002 to justify his decision to deploy more than 2,700 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces and conduct airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria.
Obama said coalition airstrikes were disrupting terrorist supply lines, destroying their tanks, their barracks, their training grounds and the oil and gas facilities that support their operations.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Erica Werner and Laurie Kellman contributed to this story

Six Electricity Companies Get N39.5bn CBN Stabilization Fund

By Ugochukwu Onyeocha, 
Daily Times, February 12, 2015




An additional six electricity generating and distributing companies have benefitted to the tune of N39.527 billion under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) N213 billion Nigeria Electricity Stabilisation facility.
CBN Governor, Mr. Gowin Emefiele, announced this on Wednesday in Abuja while distributing the cheques to the companies.
The three distributing companies are Enugu, Kano and Port Harcourt while the generating companies are Egbin, Geregu and Ughelli.
Enugu Distribution Company got N10.25 billion; Kano got N7.638 billion while Port Harcourt got N6.58 billion.
Ughelli generating company received N3.91 billion; Egbin got N5.10 billion and Geregu had N938.99 million.
``I welcome all of you at the CBN where we are witnessing the disbursement of the second batch of the Nigeria Electricity Stabilisation facility to some Discos and Gencos.
``You will recall that on the second of February, which is less than two weeks ago, we disbursed the first tranche to two Discos - EKo and Ibadan - and three Gencos, Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro.
``At that section, about N18.2 billion was disbursed; I am happy to inform you that today, we have moved on to the disbursement for another three Discos of Enugu, Kano and Port Harcourt and three Gencos of Ughelli, Egbin and Geregu,’’ he said.
According to him, N39.5 billion will be disbursed to the six companies, which brings disbursement so far to over N50 billion.
He said that in due time the apex bank would conclude the disbursement of the entire sum not only to the discos and gencos but to all important stakeholders, particularly the gas suppliers.
``We will continue to make public, this process of disbursement as we progress, so that Nigerians can see what we are doing to unlock the potentials in the power sector,’’ he said.
Emefiele said that the facility was meant to catalyse the power sector, adding that the funds would principally be used for the discos to procure metering and certain spares that they needed to improve their business.
This, he said, would help to shore up areas where revenue shortfalls and power shortfalls in the grid were witnessed, adding that it would help to reduce power losses to people's homes and consumers.
``We expect that even by the time the gencos themselves receive their disbursement, the gas suppliers receive theirs, the transmission companies and other important stakeholders in the entire value chain, we will certainly see change in power generation and distribution in the country.
 
``Like we said earlier, it is a loan that will spread over 10 years period and we would like the discos, gencos, everybody that is important in this value chain to please dedicate themselves towards the successful performance and achievement of the objective,” the CBN governor added.