Friday, January 31, 2014

Is "February 14, 2015" According To INEC Realistic?


 The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in one of how it could still not be understood by some, and in what some pundits had applauded as right and appropriate, released its time table, the schedule for the 2015 general elections on Friday, January 24, 2014. The release had slated February 14, 2015 for the Presidential and National Assembly elections, which is about a year away from now with no known potential candidates from the multitude of political parties and the alliances we have seen erupt over the months.

Though Egbon Goodluck Jonathan has not made his intentions known yet, that is, if he would continue with his stewardship of the nation's top job, INEC, for some reasons, from its announcement, appeared to have thrown in a ball of confusion to a collective of political parties that had been making series of noises in their clamor to get rid of Egbon Jonathan from Aso Rock. Some of the opposition now blame the Egbon Jonathan-led government to have compelled INEC in that surprising announcement even though we are yet to see any candidate emerge as any party's contender or flag bearer.

Nobody is actually sure what is it in particular they have been saying or their strategy to do things differently the Nigerian electorate should buy. And nobody have seen, of all the political talks and campaigns, their political agenda from around which we on the public square should take a close look at, and determine if there's something to it, convincing us that they have a good plan and we should give them our votes. And nobody have seen a candidate, among the aspirants, that Nigerians should take their word in their allured creed to make life better for a desperate and longing for good governance public, attesting from their word of mouth, looking back to their previous handling of the affairs of state.

And nobody indeed knows, or even sure that a sudden love affair out of the blues among grand and small political parties which sooner than later as we found out, becomes one as in marriage in which the head of household is to be known; and now that INEC has released its mandate, we do hope they crawl out and sincerely tell us who they are and one, why we should be listening to them.  Two, what is it that they have for us? Three, what guarantees that when we give them our votes, that they would not turn around and tell us we can go to hell, and that they have used us, taking advantage of our gullible and vulnerable nature. Four,  that they are now in power, and that we should shut up or they would exercise power on us. Five, that everybody serves his or her turn in Nigeria, and that you have to mount your complaints and pressure to get there, which is the parlance in Nigeria politics.  Six,  that we should begin now to mount our own pressures and complaints to lay the path to our turn and as the list goes on and on, where is the origin of the "turn by turn"?

And I'm getting sick and tired of the chants Nigeria needs new hands. The new hands? And assuming we are giving former dictator and military junta Muhammadu Buhari that said privilege, again, what guarantees that Buhari would not as he did in his era of dictatorship, destroy every aspect of civil liberties?  And how do we know that the extremities of the Sharia laws will not be recalled knowing for the fact that radical Islam is baked in Buhari's genes?

And in what had erupted from the vicious attacks by the Islamic Jihadists, Boko Haram, the last few weeks, and yet to see where Buhari had taken the lead to condemn the act of terrorism for the fact that Buhari himself, a Muslim, should be positioned enough to have appropriate contacts and be able to summon meetings of the Northern elders to seek resolve in what had been a national nightmare for several years now. And as the general election fast approaches even though no candidate is in the books as of the moment, Buhari who wants to rule Nigeria in civilian outfits is yet to get involved to determine his contribution as a northern elder to locate the logistics of Boko Haram and the machinery behind its funding. Why?

But as INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega has been confidently sure that the 2015 elections is guaranteed to be free and fair, and in the chairman's own words, much, much better than the previous ones held, including the past gubernatorial election in Anambra last November, which was turned into a police state on the grounds of enforcing the rules of engagement while unnecessary police checkpoints and roadblocks were mounted all around the state, and oftentimes, harassing innocent citizens going about their businesses, having nothing to do with the conduct of said elections.

Jega's freest and fair elections come February 14, and 28, 2015 respectively, means there would be no complaints of missing ballot boxes, improper polling stations and knock-around guys anywhere within the nation's political landscape to cause all kinds of trouble by way of political thuggery, hoodlums and nihilists hired by politicians to throw in series of disorderliness when the election tally seems not be going their way.

What gives Jega the confidence as corrupt as he is himself, and elections that had been marred by irregularities since the inception of the Fourth Republic that the 2015 general elections was going to be exceptional? What had been the measures taken to correct the ills of election failures within these few months? And talk about the discharge of riot police officers as was the case in Anambra, would that be avoided, too, for civilians to exercise their civil liberties as seen in all organized societies? From where is Jega so confident that the loopholes that attracts bribery and corruption, in addition to election rigging having no end in sight can be stopped in this eleventh hour a time bomb is about to explode?

Maybe, there are some magical formulas Jega's about to unveil that would surprise us, and by the time 2015 is up and about, and eventually free of election malpractices, a record, first of its kind in the nation's history, we would begin believing in magic, that mystical experience of a national transformation begun by Jega.

Jega is so sure even with a volatile northeastern states where the blood thirsty Islamic Jihadists Boko Haram have taken hold on a mass murdering spree, and nothing whatsoever stopped them; not even with Egbon Jonathan's unbecoming tactic of the random reshuffle of his service chiefs. So far, it hasn't worked and Boko Haram and its subsidiaries remains firm keeping up with its motive of the acts of terrorism and an Islamic state while it's funded from the coffers of the government.

Egbon Jonathan's moves to contain Boko Haram so far has not worked which seemed to have frustrated his efforts. Just last week, on mounting the defense ladder as the new chief, Air Marshall Alex Badeh, in Egbon Jonathan's attempt to fish out Boko Haram insurgents, Badeh assured Nigerians that the Boko Haram vicious attacks and campaign for radical Islamism would be over by April before Egbon Jonathan's "Doctrine of Extra-Ordinary Measures" expires. Badeh claimed the war was over; "war was over" as if we have not heard that before.

As it would happen upon Badeh's assurances of Boko Haram terrorist activities to be a thing of the past and a nightmare over with by April, it would not take 72 hours of Badeh's statement that Boko Haram would struck in two different locations -- one at a market in Borno State and the other at a Catholic Church in Adamawa. Dozens of innocent citizens perished in the two separate attacks, and hundreds more wounded.

So, when Jega is guaranteeing a free and fair election in 2015, what exactly does he mean? Does he mean while Boko Haram is keeping its logistics intact, and when and where next to strike around the northeastern landscapes, that a normal election freer than ever would be taking place in those volatile regions?

Impoverished Zimbabweans Turn To Gambling

Punters monitor the screens after betting on horses and football in Harare, Zimbabwe. Poor and desperate Zimbabweans hang out in Harare's crowded low-end betting halls, placing stakes as low as U.S. 20 cents on world soccer matches and international horse and dog races with fervent hopes of getting quick returns on their bit of cash.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE. (AP) — Poor and desperate Zimbabweans hang out in Harare's crowded low-end betting halls, placing stakes as little as U.S. 20 cents on world soccer matches and international horse and dog races with fervent hopes of getting quick returns on their bit of cash.

The gambling intensified in January, when many families were cash-strapped after year-end spending and children's school fees were due. Many short of cash responded by flocking to Harare's downtown licensed betting shops in search of a windfall. Five new betting agencies opened in the capital in the past year, frequented primarily by poor men.

At one, unemployed 28-year-old Tinashe Marira said he spends his days gambling on soccer matches and depends on sporadic winnings to feed his family and elderly parents. He won $140 from a $5 wager on a soccer match and rushed out to buy long-overdue groceries.

Although he doesn't win all the time, Marira declared gambling is now his full-time job and won't be looking for formal employment again anytime soon. "This pays better than any job I could ever find," Marira told The Associated Press after his shopping spree.

Zimbabwe's already high unemployment rate, estimated at more than 80 percent, increased in the past year when hundreds of companies shut down. The country's economic crisis has deepened since long-time President Robert Mugabe, who will turn 90 in February, won re-election in July.

Factories in the once bustling industrial zones in the main cities are eerily silent. Job seekers on foot in the scorching heat are turned away. Railroad tracks once used by trains to ferry in raw materials and supplies are now overgrown with weeds.

The jobless drift into to Harare, the capital, to look for opportunities to make money and many end up selling vegetables, trinkets and mobile phone airtime on the street. Forty-six percent of Zimbabwe's 13 million people now survive by running such informal businesses, according to the World Bank.

Both young and elderly unemployed say gambling is a way of making money. "It is a relief to many unemployed people roaming the streets," said Roger Tekwa, 46, another regular at the betting shop. "Gambling here is done with seriousness coupled with a sad desperation," said Harry Ndlovu, bookmaker and manager at Zimbets, a downtown betting shop that provides, along with slot machines, an array of sporting events to bet on including televised horse and dog races, European soccer matches and virtual video roulette.

A subdued atmosphere engulfs the shop; there is no animated chatter. At one end elderly patrons sit at tables in pairs whispering betting tips to each other and occasionally breaking off to watch horse races on giant TV screens. At the other end, a huddle of younger men is deeply engrossed in an English league soccer match. The somber mood is suddenly broken by boisterous cheers of youths celebrating a goal.

"These people don't bet for fun, for them it's a desperate search for money to pay for household expenses," Ndlovu said. He said many gamblers try to play it safe, placing $1 bets on several games to maximize their chances of winning. Their fear of losing is palpable and some walk away sad and dejected after a bad day, he said.

"After losing a couple of times, they don't come back for a while," Ndlovu said. Others are rash and gamble away all their cash away and resort to begging for money to get home. One daring gambler, feeling lucky after a previous win on a virtual roulette game, wagered $3,000 meant for wages at his company and lost it all. He was later arrested and is now serving a prison term, Ndlovu said.

"The thrill of just thinking of the possibility to become what they always dreamed of makes them take reckless chances," he said. Ndlovu told the Associated Press that he can take up to $50,000 in cash on bets in a single month and pays out about 40 percent of that in winnings to gamblers.

The young men, like Marira, say they feel confident to bet on top flight English soccer matches that are popular in Zimbabwe because they are familiar the team stars and their form. "You nearly always get something from soccer. We know the game," Marira said.

Older betters stick to what feel they know best — horse racing, which has a long tradition in southern Africa. Jonathan Muchenje, 44, said he has always dreamed of owning a big house and a top-of-range car for him and his family.

A security guard for a local company, Muchenje placed $15 in bets on several international and regional horse races being screened live. So far, five of his predictions have come through, he waits for the sixth one to hit the big jackpot and win what he describes as "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to enable him to "give his family a better life."

It's his birthday and he is optimistic. But after the race is run, he is crestfallen that once again his hopes have been dashed. "I will come back again next week and keep trying; I was so close," Muchenje said. "Who knows? Maybe next time."

Red Cross: 30 Dead In C. African Republic Capital

Bystanders photograph a man slaughtered by unknown assailants in the Miskin district of Bangui, Central African Republic, Wednesday Jan. 29, 2014. Fighting between rival Muslim Seleka factions and Christian anti_Balaka militias continues, as two Muslim men were slaughtered with machetes, prompting French forces to fire warning shots in the air but not intervene to try to prevent the killings.

BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Central African Republic's capital is experiencing "unprecedented levels of violence" with at least 30 people killed in the last three days, Red Cross officials warned Friday as heavily armed rebels regrouped in a town not far from the capital.

In one incident this week, marauding gangs with machetes hacked to death a man as French peacekeepers awaited instructions from their base. By the time they fired warning shots 10 minutes later, the man already had been slain by the crowd.

The attacks have largely targeted Muslim civilians accused of having supported the Seleka rebels who overthrew the government in March 2013, ushering in months of violence against the Christian majority. An armed Christian movement known as the anti-Balaka arose in opposition to Seleka, and included supporters of ousted president Francois Bozize.

Now that the Seleka leader who installed himself as president has stepped down and many rebels have left the capital, Muslim civilians have become increasingly vulnerable to horrific attacks in which crowds have killed them and then mutilated their bodies.

"The level of violence is unprecedented in the last few weeks," said Nadia Dibsy, a spokeswoman for the ICRC in Bangui. "We're calling on regional forces to put an end to the violence and ensure the protection of the population."

Antoine Mbao-Bogo, president of the local Red Cross, said at least 30 bodies had been collected over the last three days. That toll did not include victims who had been buried by relatives. Nearly 5,000 African peacekeepers and 1,600 French troops are working to secure the country, which is the size of Texas. Most of those peacekeepers, though, remain in the capital, Bangui, even as violence soars in the remote northwest. Human rights groups have urged the troops to head out into the communities where militias are regrouping and staging new attacks.

Heavy gunfire erupted again Friday in Bangui, where residents reporting fighting between the Muslim rebel fighters and the Christian militiamen in several neighborhoods. Eric Sabe, who lives in the capital's third district, said his neighbor was killed by a stray bullet.

"We're terrified. We don't understand why neither the African peacekeepers nor the French have intervened to separate the fighters," he said. "We don't know what will happen tonight because the Muslims have sufficiently rearmed themselves. We're afraid they'll return to pillage and set fire to our homes like they did a week ago."

There also were new concerns Friday about the intentions of hundreds of Seleka rebels who had left the capital earlier this week under the escort of regional peacekeepers. It now appears that they have merely reassembled at a base in the town of Sibut, located only about 110 miles (180 kilometers) from the capital.

Seleka Gen. Mahamat Bahr declined to specify how many fighters he had with him in Sibut, but confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that there were "numerous" men and vehicles and that the town had been under their control as of Thursday.

While some fear that ex-Seleka fighters could launch another coup from Sibut, Bahr said they wanted to work with the new transitional government that replaced their leader as head of state. "We are here awaiting a solution for us," he said. "If the transitional government calls us, we can discuss our role."
The presence of some 50 vehicles and heavily armed fighters, though, already has alarmed local residents. Marcellin Yoyo, who represents the region in the national transitional council, called on the international community to quickly intervene.

Local authorities said that the men who have arrived in Sibut do not speak either French or Sango, the national languages of Central African Republic. Many of the armed fighters backing the Seleka rebellion are mercenaries who speak Arabic, and hail from neighboring Chad and Sudan.

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.

Follow Krista Larson on Twitter at

Kenyan Court: ICC Can Arrest Journalist

Kenyan journalist Walter Barasa, right, speaks to supporters before attending a court hearing to determine whether authorities will enforce an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against him, at the Milimani court in Nairobi, Kenya. A Kenyan court Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 refused to stop the arrest of Barasa who is wanted by the ICC for allegedly interfering with prosecution witnesses in the crimes against humanity case against Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto.

NAIROBI, KENYA. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — A Kenyan court Friday refused to stop the arrest of a journalist wanted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly interfering with prosecution witnesses in the crimes against humanity case against Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto.

Journalist Walter Barasa has 14 days to appeal after which Kenya's Internal Security Ministry can arrest and extradict him to The Hague-based court. Barasa did not demonstrate how his constitutional rights will be violated and that he is likely to suffer oppression and discrimination if arrested, said Judge Richard Mwongo when he declined to stop the arrest.

ICC Judge Cuno Tarfusser had issued a warrant for Barasa, 41, in October on suspicion of attempting to bribe a potential witness. "The evidence collected so far indicates that there is a network of people who are trying to sabotage the case against Mr. Ruto ... by interfering with prosecution witnesses," Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement. "Walter Barasa, against whom compelling evidence has been collected, has been part of this network, and his actions fit into this wider scheme that the (prosecutor's) office continues to investigate."

Bensouda said she hopes Barasa's arrest warrant will serve as "a warning to others who may be involved in obstructing the course of justice through intimidating, harassing, bribing or attempting to bribe ICC witnesses ... My office will continue to do everything it can to ensure that witnesses are able to present their evidence before the court without fear."

If convicted, Barasa could face a prison sentence of up to five years. Ruto, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and radio broadcaster Joshua Sang face crimes against humanity charges for allegedly orchestrating post-election violence which killed more than 1,000 people following a disputed presidential election in late 2007. They all deny the charges.

Ruto's trial continued this week but the case against Kenyatta may collapse because witnesses are withdrawing. Kenyatta's trial was to start in November but was postponed to February after the prosecution and defense teams said they needed more time to prepare.

The ICC prosecutor in December requested court for an additional three month adjournment after one witness withdrew and another admitted giving false evidence. At the time, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she needed time to reconsider her case.

On Feb. 5 the ICC judges will consider the prosecutor's request for the adjournment as well as Kenyatta's request to have the case thrown out altogether.

Gunman's Doctor Before Rampage: 'No Problem There'

A photo of Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis. Alexis, who killed 12 people in last year's rampage at Washington's Navy Yard lied so convincingly to Veterans Affairs doctors before the shootings that they concluded he had no mental health issues despite serious problems and encounters with police during the same period, according to a review by The Associated Press of his confidential medical files.

WASHINGTON (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The gunman who killed 12 people in last year's rampage at Washington's Navy Yard lied so convincingly to Veterans Affairs doctors before the shootings that they concluded he had no mental health issues despite serious problems and encounters with police during the same period, according to a review by The Associated Press of his confidential medical files.

Just weeks before the shootings, a doctor treating him for insomnia noted that the patient worked for the Defense Department but wrote hauntingly "no problem there." The AP obtained more than 100 pages of treatment and disability claims evaluation records for Aaron Alexis, spanning more than two years. They show Alexis complaining of minor physical ailments, including foot and knee injuries, slight hearing loss and later insomnia, but resolutely denying any mental health issues. He directly denied having suicidal or homicidal thoughts when government doctors asked him about it just three weeks before the shootings.

In a bizarre incident in Newport, R.I., Alexis told police on Aug. 7 that disembodied voices were harassing him at his hotel using a microwave machine to prevent him from sleeping. After police reported the incident to the Navy, his employer, a defense contracting company, pulled his access to classified material for two days after his mental health problems became evident but restored it quickly and never told Navy officials it had done so.

Just 16 days later, after Alexis told a VA emergency room doctor in Providence that he couldn't sleep, the doctor wrote that his speech and thoughts seemed "clear and focused" and noted that he "denies flashbacks, denies recent stress."

The medical records said Alexis, 34, was found sleeping in the VA waiting room in Providence on Aug. 23 while waiting to see a doctor. During that visit he was prescribed 50 milligrams of trazodone, an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication that in such low doses can be used to treat insomnia.

"Denies any pain except discomfort rt (right) temple," a nurse wrote on Aug. 23. "Pt (patient) taking no medications including any otc (over-the-counter) medications." An attending doctor provided additional details, saying Alexis suffered from fatigue after sleeping only two or three hours every night over the past three weeks.

"Speech and thoughts clear and focused. Denies flashbacks. Denies recent stress. Denies drugs, cocaine, heroin, caffeine product, depression, anxiety, chest pain, sob (shortness of breath), nightmares. He denies taking nap during the day. Denies SI (suicidal ideation) or HI (homicidal ideation)," the doctor wrote.

"He works in the Defense Department, no problem there," the doctor added. The medical records showed that Alexis answered "no" when asked, "Do you have anything that could be considered a weapon?" The VA told the AP that was a standard question it asks veterans whom it treats in a triage setting.

Five days later, on Aug. 28, Alexis visited a VA medical facility in Washington, again complaining of sleeplessness: "Patient presents to ER with c/o (case of) awakening each morning about 4 a.m. like clockwork and he cannot figure out why this is happening."

He answered "no" when asked whether he was having feelings of hopelessness for the present and the future. Another doctor that night described the examination as "unremarkable." The VA gave him 10 more tablets of trazodone and sent him home just before 9 p.m.

Alexis, a defense contractor and former Navy reservist, went on a deadly shooting rampage at the Navy Yard on Sept. 16, spraying bullets in a hallway and firing on workers from a balcony. He died in a gunbattle with police.

He had purchased the shotgun he used two days before the shooting from a gun shop in Virginia. Alexis had been involved in at least two earlier shooting-related incidents, in 2004 when he was arrested in Seattle and charged with malicious mischief for shooting the tires on a construction worker's vehicle and in 2010 when he was arrested in Fort Worth, Texas, for firing a rifle into a neighbor's apartment.

No charges were filed in those two cases, but it was not immediately clear whether Alexis was answering honestly on Aug. 23 when he was asked whether he still had any weapons. The FBI told the AP it found no weapons when it searched the hotel where Alexis had been staying after the shootings.

Before the Navy Yard shootings, Alexis left behind a note that FBI agents recovered saying he had been targeted by ultra-low frequency radio waves for the previous three months — the period that covered his visits to the VA medical facilities when he denied he was experiencing any stress or violent thoughts.

Sidney Matthew, a lawyer representing the family of one of the shooting victims, told the AP it's possible that Alexis was evasive with his doctors but expressed skepticism that physicians adequately questioned Alexis about why he wasn't sleeping.

"There doesn't appear to be very much curiosity about what the ideology of the insomnia is," said Matthew, who represents the family of Mary Frances DeLorenzo Knight in a federal lawsuit. The lawsuit claims the VA failed to treat Alexis' mental illness.

Matthew noted that Alexis aggressively confronted a family at Norfolk (Va.) International Airport on Aug. 4, just days before his encounter with police on Aug. 7 that was so bizarre that police contacted the Navy about their concerns. Alexis' family also had concerns about his mental health during the period.

If doctors were perplexed about the cause of a patient's problem, there are limits as to how far they can investigate. The executive director of the National Center for Veteran Studies, Dr. Craig Bryan, said conducting an online search of a patient would be time-consuming and unlikely to help. That's particularly the case for a doctor working in an emergency room setting treating a condition as common as insomnia, he said. With few exceptions, it would be illegal to contact others, such as family, friends or an employer to search for clues, Bryan said.

Other experts agreed. "In an emergency setting, a patient with insomnia who does not report stressors or substance use, who denies suicidal or homicidal thoughts and who otherwise does not have urgent psychiatric or medical issues would typically be referred for further, full evaluation of the insomnia in a nonemergency setting," said Dr. William E. Narrow, acting director of quality improvement for the American Psychiatric Association.

The AP obtained 114 pages of Alexis' medical records under the Freedom of Information Act after requesting them a few weeks after the shootings. It is unusual for the government to disclose anyone's medical files, but the Veterans Affairs Department agreed that the public interest in the mass killing outweighed Alexis' privacy rights in keeping his treatment records secret after his death. In the records the AP obtained, the government withheld the names of all the doctors and others who treated Alexis to protect their privacy.

Congress and the Pentagon are investigating the shootings, including whether faulty security clearance procedures allowed him to get and maintain his job. Some lawmakers have said Alexis fell through the cracks at the VA and should have been treated by mental health professionals, but they have stopped short of specifying what government doctors should have done differently.

The medical records also describe Alexis' efforts to qualify for disability payments because of ringing in his ears and orthopedic problems. In February 2011, almost immediately after Alexis received an honorable discharge from the Navy, he complained about tinnitus, which he said was "annoying and can be distracting." He said it began in 2009 when he was still serving in the Navy. An audiologist in Dallas determined that his hearing in both ears was "within normal limits" and said any hearing loss or tinnitus probably didn't occur when he was serving in the military.

In October 2011, Alexis filed another disability claim for what he said was a broken right foot he suffered when he fell down stairs in 2009, causing him mild to moderate pain daily. The Navy alleged in a nonjudicial punishment in July 2009 that Alexis was drunk when he leaped off stairs and suffered a broken ankle, but Alexis appealed the disciplinary action and it was removed from his record six months later because there was insufficient evidence he had been intoxicated. Alexis also complained to the VA about a spine problem and conditions with his knee and shoulder. An examiner concluded that Alexis had a degenerative disc in his back and less movement than normal in his shoulder and knee.

The government granted him a 20 percent disability rating for orthopedic issues in December 2011. He was awarded an additional 10 percent for tinnitus and received $395 in monthly benefits retroactive to his leaving the Navy, or about $4,740.

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Gunman's medical records:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Obama: Job Training Must Reflect Changing Economy

President Barack Obama speaks with employees Calvin Anderson, left, and Theodore (Ted) Korber at GE Energy in Waukesha, Wis. Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. The visit is part of a four-state tour the president is making following his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

WAUKESHA, WISCONSIN. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Stressing the importance of having job-training programs that work, President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered a "soup to nuts" review of federal workforce training initiatives and pledged to copy the most successful ones.

Emphasizing themes from his State of the Union address, Obama cast improved job training as central to his efforts to make it easier for people to move up into and stay in the middle class. At a General Electric engine factory near Milwaukee, he signed a presidential memo directing Vice President Joe Biden to lead the review, and to work with cities, businesses and labor leaders to better match training to employer needs.

"Not all of today's good jobs need a four-year degree. But the ones that don't need a college degree do need some specialized training," Obama said. Obama said he wants a "soup to nuts" review because not all federal job-training programs do what they're supposed to. He said he wants to move the government away from a "train and pray" approach to job training, where "you train workers first, and then you hope they get a job."

The findings from the review will be applied later in the year to a competition to award $500 million in existing funds to design programs that pair community colleges with industry. Obama called on Congress to be more reliable in funding proven programs, while vowing not to let congressional inaction stand in the way.

"There are a lot of folks who do not have time to wait for Congress," Obama said. "They need to learn new skills right now to get a new job right now." House Republicans pushed back in a letter from Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders to Obama on Thursday, arguing that Biden's review was duplicative because the Government Accountability Office identified redundancies in a comprehensive review it completed in 2011. They urged Obama to press the Democratic-led Senate to vote on a House-passed bill to consolidate programs and link training to available jobs.

White House press secretary Jay Carney couldn't explain how Biden's review would be different from the GAO's, but he said that whenever Biden "is put in charge of an effort like this, it gets done, and it will be effective."

Before returning to the White House, Obama was stopping in Tennessee to speak at Nashville's McGavock Comprehensive High School. He was expected to address the fatal off-campus shooting earlier this week of a 15-year-old student by a 17-year-old classmate.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Swimmer's Death Casts Light On Campus Sex Assaults

In this photo provided by Mike Menu is his daughter, Sasha Menu Courey, with teammates. The Canadian family of former University of Missouri school swimmer says the school and its athletics department failed to properly investigate her alleged off-campus rape by as many as three football players in 2010. Menu Courey struggled with mental illness and committed suicide 16 months later.

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The case of a former University of Missouri swimmer who said she was raped in an episode that her parents say led to her suicide underscores the problems higher education institutions in the U.S. face in cracking down on sexual assaults.
The parents of Sasha Menu Courey say the university and its athletics department by now should have investigated her alleged off-campus rape by as many as three football players in February 2010. University leaders say they didn't learn about the purported attack until after Menu Courey, a Canadian, committed suicide 16 months later. They also said they followed the letter of the law because they didn't have specific knowledge of the attack and no victim to interview.

Schools nationwide are spending more time and money fighting campus rape in response to stricter federal enforcement of gender discrimination laws under Title IX. The White House has called it a public health epidemic, and President Barack Obama last week announced the formation of a new task force on college sex assault, citing statistics that show 1 in 5 female students are assaulted while in college, but only 1 in 8 victims report attacks.

But balancing the needs of individual students — including those who report attacks but don't want a criminal investigation — with protecting the larger community is vexing for many schools. Colleges and universities are also required to report campus crimes to the federal government under a 1990 law known as the Clery Act.

At least 50 schools have bolstered their efforts in recent years. Complaints of Title IX violations related to sexual violence are also increasing, a sign Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, attributes to new vigilance on campus.

"Obviously, there are all too many that still need prompting," she said. Earlier this week, Lhamon's department announced an investigation of Penn State University's handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints amid the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. The University of Colorado and California State University-Fresno have been ordered by civil courts to pay millions for Title IX violations asserted in victim lawsuits.

The University of Missouri's efforts to reduce sexual violence on campus are extensive. A campus equity office led by a lawyer oversees compliance with Title IX, the federal law more commonly known for ensuring equal participation by women in college sports but also has broader discrimination protections. There also is counseling and help available through the campus women's center and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center.

Students who eschew legal intervention can still seek a campus disciplinary hearing. And the university can also help students switch dorms or class schedules or bar contact outright. Menu Courey, 20, killed herself in June 2011 in a Boston psychiatric hospital soon after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and two months after an earlier suicide attempt.

"There are many resources out there, but there's not really any (sense) that she was provided with those resources," said Zachary Wilson, development director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "It's difficult for sexual assault survivors to go at it alone."

Missouri didn't immediately investigate the death of Menu Courey, who by then had withdrawn from classes at the university's urging and lost her financial aid. The school said in a statement Tuesday that a 2012 Columbia Daily Tribune article about Menu Courey's suicide briefly alluded to the alleged assault, but didn't meet the legal standard that the school "reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment."

The school says Menu Courey's parents ignored its request for more information a year ago after it discovered an online chat transcript with a campus rape counselor in which Menu Courey mentioned an earlier attack.

Missouri initially responded to an ESPN story about the swimmer by defending its handling of the case while criticizing the news organization's "skewed and flawed reporting." But soon after, the university said it was turning over information on the case to Columbia police, since the alleged attack happened off-campus.

A police investigation is underway, and University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe wants the university's governing board to pay for an independent legal review of how officials handled the situation. The Board of Curators is expected to consider that request at its regular meeting on Wednesday.

Other sexual assault cases have been linked to Missouri's athletic department. Former running back Derrick Washington was convicted in 2010 of sexually assaulting a tutor in her sleep, and basketball player Michael Dixon transferred in 2012 after two sex assault claims against him went public, though he was never charged.

In suburban Toronto, Mike Menu and his wife Lynn Courey have channeled their grief into a mental health foundation named in her memory. They want accountability from Missouri, though Menu said the couple hasn't hired an attorney and isn't "looking for money."

"We just want to make sure that changes are made," Mike Menu said. "We need more than Band-Aids. We need a transformation."

Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at

Police: Maryland Mall Gunman Wrote Of Killing People

Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, of College Park, Md., who killed two people before killing himself in the Jan. 25, 2014 shooting at the Mall in Columbia, Md. Aguilar wrote in general terms about killing people in his journal and said that he was ready to die, police said Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in releasing new details about writings the shooter left behind.

WASHINGTON (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The gunman in a deadly attack at a Maryland shopping mall wrote in general terms about killing people in his journal and said that he was ready to die, police said Wednesday in releasing new details about writings the shooter left behind.

Darion Aguilar did not mention targeting specific people, groups or locations but expressed in his journal "a general hatred of others," the Howard County police department said on its Twitter account. He apologized to his family for what he was planning to do and wrote that his plan was set, but did not specify what that meant, police said. He also revealed that he thought he needed to see a mental health professional but had not told his family.

Police say the 19-year-old Aguilar killed two employees of a skateboard gear shop on Saturday at the Mall in Columbia and then took his own life. Detectives have been analyzing Aguilar's cellphone, computer, financial records and journal in hopes of coming up with a motive, though answers so far have been elusive and police say they've found no connection between Aguilar and his victims. Aguilar had no prior criminal record.

The police description of the journal entries, written sporadically over a one-year period, provides some clues though not a complete explanation for what set off the shooting. It does not, for instance, resolve questions of why Aguilar fatally shot the two employees — 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson — or how he came to select Zumiez, a shop that sells skateboard gear, for the rampage.

"Aguilar mentions killing people, but in general terms. He does not mention the victims, or any other specific person," police wrote on Twitter. Ellis Cropper, a family friend who has been serving as a spokesman for the family, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Police have said Aguilar frequented the mall and was known to hang out outside and smoke in small groups. He had never worked at the store or sought a job there, a spokeswoman for the company said Wednesday. Aguilar, described by friends as an avid skateboarder, graduated from high school last spring and was working at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts, where he had been expected on the day of the shooting.

On Saturday, police say, he took a taxi to the shopping center, carrying plentiful ammunition and a shotgun concealed in a backpack along with crude homemade explosives. Police found the bodies of Aguilar and the two victims after arriving.

A police officer found the journal at Aguilar's home in College Park after his mother filed a missing person's report when her son didn't show up for work. Authorities have previously said the writing in the journal was enough to make the officer fear for Aguilar's safety. His cellphone was tracked to the Columbia mall.

Also Wednesday, police revealed new details about the shooting itself, saying that Aguilar assembled a broken down shotgun in the dressing room of the store and then opened fire after he exited the room. Police have said he fired between six and nine times in and around the store, including one shot that struck a woman who was near the store in the foot and one that hit the wall in the first-floor food court.

Aguilar legally purchased the 12-gauge shotgun last month along with several boxes of ammunition. Owners of the shop that sold him the gun have said he raised no red flags.

Johansson Stepping Down As Oxfam Ambassador

Actress Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers on the red carpet for the screening of the film "Under The Skin" at the 70th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. Johansson is ending her relationship with Oxfam International after being criticized over her support for an Israeli company that operates in the West Bank.

LOS ANGELES (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Scarlett Johansson is ending her relationship with a humanitarian group after being criticized over her support for an Israeli company that operates in the West Bank.

A statement released by Johansson's spokesman Wednesday said the 29-year-old actress has "a fundamental difference of opinion" with Oxfam International because the humanitarian group opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights.

"Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years," the statement said. "She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam."

Earlier this month, "The Avengers" and "Her" actress signed on as the first global brand ambassador of SodaStream International Ltd., and she's set to appear in an ad for the at-home soda maker during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

SodaStream has come under fire from pro-Palestinian activists for maintaining a large factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, a territory captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians.

In response to the criticism, Johansson said last week she was a "supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine." Oxfam took issue with Johansson, noting it was "considering the implications of her new statement and what it means for Ms. Johansson's role as an Oxfam global ambassador."

Johansson had served as a global ambassador for Oxfam since 2007, raising funds and promoting awareness about global poverty. In her role as an Oxfam ambassador, she traveled to India, Sri Lanka and Kenya to highlight the impact of traumatic disasters and chronic poverty.

Oxfam representatives did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang at .

ANPP: Buhari, IBB Negotiate Ume-Ezeoke's Replacement


 From The Archives
By Ike Abonyi
This Day, January 29, 2007

In a masterstroke aimed at seeing him through at the April 21 presidential poll, former Head of State and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) presidential flag-bearer, Major General Muham-madu Buhari (rtd), has concluded extensive consultations with various stakeholders that may lead to dropping his running mate and party national chairman, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke.

THISDAY gathered that even with the weekend denial by the Senate President Ken Nnamani that he was not running with Buhari, there are moves to persuade him to contest with the ANPP candidate.

This move, according to sources, is being spearheaded by former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, said to be collaborating with Buhari in the new arrangement.

Nnamani, sources confirm, continues to appear in the equation based on "the calculation that he is the most respected politician from the South –East in the current dispensation."

It was also gathered that Buhari has resisted pressure from the South-South that he should pick from the zone to counter the PDP choice of Governor Goodluck Jon-athan of Bayelsa State.

According to an official of the Buhari Campaign organisation, the ANPP candidate "has also left the position of running mate for Babangida to fill, believing that such will really commit him to the project since he has visibly been sidelined by the ruling PDP."

Aside Babangida, Buhari is also known to have consulted widely across the country and is said to have been getting some encouraging support from the people.

Other names featuring in the list for Buhari if Nnamani project with Babangida fails include chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) and former Governor Abia State, Dr. Ogbonaya Onu.

THISDAY checks reveal that ANPP had from the outset gave the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC) indication of a possible change of their running mate as the choice of the national Chairman was merely a stop-gap measure.

The Electoral Act 2006 allows such change so long as it occurs before the mandatory date of February 13, the last day for such changes.

THISDAY learnt that Buhari emergence as the flag bearer of the ANPP in December enjoyed the support of most northern politicians.

Babangida was said to have played a prominent role in convincing top candidates like Governor of Zamfara, Ahmed Sani Yarima, his Yobe counterpart, Bukar Ibrahim and former defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) Presidential candidate, Alhaji  Bashir Tofa to step down for Buhari who has a better chance at the presidential election.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

DNA Shows Ancient Hunter Had Blue Eyes, Dark Skin

In this undated photo provided by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), a drawing depicting how a hunter-gatherer who lived in Europe some 7,000 years ago who had blue eyes and dark skin, a combination that has largely disappeared from the continent in the millennia since, might have looked like according to scientists on Tuesday, Jan. 28. 2013. The discovery, published in the journal Nature this week, was made by scientists from the United States, Europe and Australia who analyzed ancient DNA extracted from a male tooth found in a cave in northern Spain.

BERLIN (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — A hunter-gatherer who lived in Europe some 7,000 years ago probably had blue eyes and dark skin, a combination that has largely disappeared from the continent in the millennia since, scientists said Tuesday.

The discovery, published in the journal Nature this week, was made by scientists from the United States, Europe and Australia who analyzed ancient DNA extracted from a male tooth found in a cave in northern Spain.

"We have the stereotype that blue eyes are found only in light-skinned people but that's not necessarily the case," lead researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox said in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Lalueza-Fox, who works at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, said the man's skin would have been darker than most modern Europeans, while his eyes may have resembled those of Scandinavians, his closest genetic relatives today. The combination of blue eyes and dark skin, which is sometimes seen in people with mixed European and African ancestry, may once have been common among ancient European hunter-gatherers, he said.

The researchers also found the man had genes that indicated he was poor at digesting milk and starch, an ability which only spread among Europeans with the arrival of Neolithic farmers from the Middle East. The arrival of this group was also believed to have introduced several diseases associated with proximity to animals — and the genes that helped resist them.

But the hunter-gatherer whose remains were found in the La Brana caves, near Spanish city of Leon, already had some genes that would have helped him fight diseases such as measles, flu and smallpox. This came as a surprise to researchers, indicating that the genetic transition was already under way 7,000 years ago, Lalueza-Fox said.

The lack of such genes among pre-Columbian populations in the Americas was one of the reasons they were so susceptible to these diseases when the Europeans arrived. Researchers are hoping to make further discoveries from a second skeleton found at the site, said Lalueza-Fox.

Beth Shapiro, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California Santa Cruz, said the paper showed how old DNA could be used to learn more about the appearance and traits of ancient populations.

"I anticipate that this is just the beginning and am excited to see these sorts of analyses taking place," said Shapiro, who wasn't involved in the study. "I look forward to what else we will learn once we have population samples of paleogenomes (ancient DNA)."

Follow Frank Jordans on Twitter at @wirereporter.

Americans React To Obama's Address To Nation

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen.

(AP) President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to make his pitch that the nation must come together to address persistent problems, from the wealth gap between rich and poor to economic mobility to lagging schools.

Stymied by Congress, Obama vowed that if lawmakers won't act, he will use his executive power to achieve some of his goals, which include raising the minimum wage for some workers hired by federal contractors to making it easier for low-income Americans to save for retirement.

The president also called on lawmakers to pass immigration reform and restore unemployment benefits, among other proposals. The Associated Press spoke with a sampling of viewers from around the country to gauge whether the president succeeded in convincing them of the need for his proposals — or whether his address would be seen as the opening salvo in the midterm election fight for control of Congress.


Scott Valenti was astonished as he listened to the president. "He was talking about me tonight," said the 41-year-old resident of Woodland Park, Colo. "But I can tell you, I'm no more reassured than when he started."

After years of work, Valenti put himself through Colorado Christian University to finally get his bachelor's degree in organizational management.

But after a post-graduation position fell through, he's been jobless for a month with two teenage children to provide for and a mortgage to pay. Still, Obama's pledges to help the unemployed and his urging of Congress to jumpstart job growth left Valenti cold.

"When we look back 40 years from now and say, 'that Obama initiative in 2014 led to some change,' well, I'm sure that will happen," he said. "But I need a job now."



Naquasia LeGrand, 22, who works part-time as a fast-food employee at Kentucky Fried Chicken, said she was especially happy to hear Obama point to a pizza store owner who had raised his employees' wages, and asked other Americans to follow that example.

"Businesses don't have to wait on Congress to help their employees have a living wage," said LeGrand, from Brooklyn, who has campaigned to raise the minimum wage to $15 and to allow fast-food workers to unionize.

LeGrand said she was glad to see Obama suggest going around lawmakers and using his executive power.

"I'm glad to see he's taking steps and taking action with or without Congress and he's going to do what he's there to do."



Dean Weygandt, 52, of Toledo, Ohio, an electronics technician who's active in his local union, said that when it came to Obama using executive orders for his agenda, it's about time.

"I think he's used executive privilege less than he should have," Weygandt said.

"He's tried to work with those people," he said, referring to Republicans in Congress. "There are times before he could have used it and didn't."

He said he liked Obama's ideas on retirement and reforming the tax code, saying they would bring a better future. "Personally, I'm not living hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck, but I'm living month-to-month and I know the importance of a good retirement."


Bill Deile, 70, a retired Army colonel and attorney living in Cape Coral, Fla., said he took notice of what he called a "veiled threat" from the president when Obama promised to take action alone if Congress wouldn't.

"That I think, if it doesn't spur Congress into some sort of action to clamp down on this guy, I think you're going to see it from the states," he said.

Deile said he appreciated that Obama touched on immigration reform, even though he doubts they would agree on how it should be handled.

"I'm sure his idea of immigration reform is 180 degrees from what my idea is," Deile said. "His is probably to legalize everyone, and my idea is to close the borders and get those people out of here."


Mary Lynn English, 44, who has pursued more than 100 marketing jobs in recent years without success, said she wasn't impressed by the president's positivity.

"I was glad to hear what he's saying, but it's words and I'll be happier when there's some action. It doesn't much matter what the president says tonight," said English, who lives in the North Carolina mountain city of Asheville.

"All of that is happening in a stratosphere that's going to take a good long while to get to western North Carolina," English said.

English appreciated the president saying that policy-makers needed to make sure they reward work at a time employees often feel they are underappreciated and too often treated as disposable.

Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; Emery Dalesio in Raleigh, N.C.; Manuel Valdes in Seattle; Scott Smith in Fresno, Calif.; Robert Jablon in Los Angeles; Deepti Hajela in New York; David Fischer in Miami and Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report. Dalton reported from Los Angeles.

Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; Emery Dalesio in Raleigh, N.C.; Manuel Valdes in Seattle; Scott Smith in Fresno, Calif.; Robert Jablon in Los Angeles; Deepti Hajela in New York; David Fischer in Miami and Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report. Dalton reported from Los Angeles.

AGPA Crisis: Okwu’s Faction Appoints Acting Chairman In Anambra

Chief Maxi Okwu

The Chief Maxi Okwu faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has appointed Chief Shedrack Anakwue as its acting chairman in Anambra.

Anakwue's appointment followed a Federal High Court ruling which declared Okwu as the authentic National Chairman of the party.

The appointment was contained in a statement signed by Dr Sagir Maidoya, the National Secretary to the faction in Awka.

The release stated that Anakwue’s appointment was expected to be ratified at the party’s national executive council meeting in Abuja on Feb. 6.

It stated that the national working committee had reviewed the situation in the state, noting that there were issues which the erstwhile factional state chairman, Egwuoyibo Okoye, needed to clarify.

Reacting to the appointment, Anakwue said that he would reposition the party in the state to accommodate all the interest groups after his inauguration.

He said the party had been at war because of the in-house leadership tussle.

Anakwue commended the outgoing state governor, Peter Obi, for transforming the state with his numerous programmes and policies.

In his contribution, the National Youth Leader of the party, Ferguson Okpara, while congratulating Anakwue, urged him to take the party to greater height in the state.

UN Security Council Authorizes EU Troops To C. Africa Republic

An Air-France plane taxis past a refugee camp outside the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014. Christian refugees are living in makeshift shelters near the airport in Bangui, as they try to escape from the deepening divisions between the country's Muslim minority and Christian majority. Christian refugees who have fled sectarian violence complain about the lack of aid reaching their impoverished tent city. Image: Jerome Delay/AP

— CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC. (AP) The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday unanimously authorized the deployment of a European Union force to the Central African Republic to bolster French and African troops who are trying to quell sectarian violence that the United Nations has warned could escalate into genocide.

The council also approved financial sanctions against individuals who have committed human rights abuses, threaten peace and a political transition process and violate an arms embargo imposed earlier on the country.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the EU troops will be deployed to guard the airport in the capital, Bangui, where 100,000 people have taken refuge, mostly living on the tarmac. Araud said that will free up French troops to move beyond the airport and take up security operations in Bangui and beyond.

The EU mission likely will comprise 500 to 600 troops. It remains unclear which countries will contribute. Thomas Mayr-Harting, the head of the EU delegation to the United Nations, said the EU forces would be on the ground in CAR within weeks but could not provide a specific timeframe.
"We are starting to stabilize the situation, but it's still very fragile," Araud said. "We really need the arrival of the European forces."

France has sent 1,600 troops to bolster some 4,600 overwhelmed African peacekeepers, but few have reached the hot spots farther north.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and nearly 1 million forced from their homes since December in violence pitting Christians and Muslims, militias and civilians.

The mostly Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, came from the country's far north in March 2013 to overthrow the president. The situation has stabilized somewhat since rebel-turned-president Michel Djotodia surrendered power amid mounting international condemnation of his inability to stop sectarian bloodshed. A new interim civilian government has pledged to halt the violence and attempt to organize elections by February 2015.

On Tuesday, thousands of jubilant residents took to the streets of Bangui to celebrate after peacekeepers escorted dozens more rebels from military bases. But sectarian tensions remain high, and the U.N. has warned that the exodus of the Seleka has left Muslim civilians vulnerable to retaliatory attacks by Christian militiamen.

EU foreign ministers approved the deployment of a joint military force to CAR last week. The Security Council approved the mission for an initial mandate of six months and authorized it to use force.

Araud said he believes a U.N. peacekeeping mission must eventually be sent to the Central Africa Republic. He said the U.N. officials estimate that 10,000 troops are need to secure the vast country, and he said only the United Nations can provide the expertise and resource to help rebuild the government.

"There is no state left in the Central African Republic and we will need a very strong civilian component to rebuild the state," he said.

The Security Council resolution also orders all member states to freeze all funds, financial assets and economic resources that are owned or controlled by individuals who violate the arms embargo, commit abuses from rape to child soldier recruitment and undermine peace and stability.

It also threatens sanctions against those who obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance. On Monday, a World Food Program convoy escorted by African peacekeepers confronted frequent improvised checkpoints set up by armed groups during its journey from the Cameroon border to Bangui. The WFP said 41 food trucks are stranded at the Cameroonian border and more escorts are needed.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who visited the Central African Republic in December, applauded the approval of the sanctions and the EU force, which she said "is urgently needed on the ground."

"The situation in the Central African Republic is dangerous and it is deadly," she said in a statement. She added that "those who have fled their homes, who have seen their loved ones murdered, and who are in dire need of food and shelter - need to see that political spoilers and instigators of atrocities will be held to account."

Araud said France will submit to a Security Council committee a list of individuals who should be subjected to sanctions. The resolution said those targeted could include "political figures" who have provided direction to both anti-Christian and anti-Muslim groups planning violence against civilians. The sanctions will be in place for an initial period of a year.


Read more here:

Hemp Growing Going Legit After Decades-Long Ban

Hemp chef Derek Cross helps harvest hemp during the first known harvest of the plant in more than 60 years, in Springfield, Colo. The federal farm bill agreement reached Monday Jan. 27, 2014 reverses decades of prohibition for hemp cultivation. Instead of requiring approval from federal drug authorities to cultivate the plant, the 10 states that have authorized hemp would be allowed to grow it in pilot projects or at colleges and universities for research.

DENVER, COLORADO. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The federal government is ready to let farmers grow cannabis — at least the kind that can't get people high.

Hemp — marijuana's non-intoxicating cousin that's used to make everything from clothing to cooking oil — could soon be cultivated in 10 states under a federal farm bill agreement reached late Monday that allows the establishment of pilot growing programs.

The plant's return to legitimacy could clear the way for U.S. farmers to compete in an industry currently dominated by China. Even though it hasn't been grown in the U.S., the country is one of the fastest-growing hemp markets.

In 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of legal hemp products, up from $1.4 million in 2000. Most of that growth was seen in hemp seed and hemp oil, which finds its way into granola bars and other products.

"This is big," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a Washington-based group that advocates for the plant's legal cultivation. "We've been pushing for this a long time." Legalized growing of hemp had congressional allies from both ends of the political spectrum. Democrats from marijuana-friendly states have pushed to legalize hemp cultivation, as have Republicans from states where the fibrous plant could be a profitable new crop.

"We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in a statement. McConnell was a lead negotiator on the inclusion of hemp in the farm bill.

The full House and Senate still must agree on the bill that will head to the House floor Wednesday. State departments of agriculture then must designate hemp-cultivation pilot projects for research purposes.

Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa. Marijuana, however, is cultivated to dramatically increase THC, a psychoactive chemical that exists in trace amounts in hemp. Hemp has historically been used for rope but has hundreds of other uses: clothing and mulch from the fiber, foods such as hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and creams, soap and lotions.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, but centuries later the plant was swept up in anti-drug efforts and growing it without a federal permit was banned in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

The last Drug Enforcement Administration hemp permit was issued in 1999 for a quarter-acre experimental plot in Hawaii. That permit expired in 2003. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last recorded an industrial hemp crop in the late 1950s, down from a 1943 peak of more than 150 million pounds on 146,200 harvested acres.

It's not clear whether legalized hemp cultivation suggests the federal government is ready to follow the 20 states that have already legalized medical marijuana, including two that also allow its recreational use.

"This is part of an overall look at cannabis policy, no doubt," Steenstra said. However, opponents of legalized pot insist the hemp change doesn't mean marijuana is right behind. Kevin Sabet, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national alliance that opposes pot legalization, downplayed the change to the farm bill.

"On the one hand, I think it's part of a larger agenda to normalize marijuana, by a few," Sabet said. "On the other hand, will it have any difference at the end of the day? I would be highly skeptical of that."

Analysts have predicted legal hemp would remain a boutique crop, and the Congressional Research Service recently cited wildly differing projections about its economic potential. Still, farmers interested in hemp say the farm bill agreement is a giant leap toward a viable hemp industry in this country.

Tom McClain, a Colorado hemp activist who helps connect nascent growers with buyers, said the industry won't get off the ground without more research. "We don't have a compendium of information to go to," McClain said. "We do rely on universities and agricultural research to help us and direct us. We need local research to help drive the correct varieties, so that farmers get the best yield."

Ten states already allow the growing of hemp, though federal drug law has blocked actual cultivation in most. Those states are Colorado, Washington, California, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia.

Earlier this month, the Colorado Department of Agriculture released licensing procedures for farmers interested in raising hemp. About a dozen farmers didn't wait for the state rules and harvested small amounts last year — the nation's first acknowledged hemp crop in more than five decades. No statewide harvest totals were available.

Kristen Wyatt can be reached at

Hemp portion of the farm bill:

Man Of The Year Not Enough? Francis Now Super Pope

A graffiti depicting Pope Francis as Superman and holding a bag with a writing which reads: "Values" is seen on a wall of the Borgo Pio district near St. Peter's Square in Rome, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. It wasn't enough that Pope Francis was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" or that he fronted this week's Rolling Stone magazine. Now there's SuperPope graffiti sprouting up around the Vatican. The white caped crusader appeared Tuesday on a wall just off Borgo Pio, a tiny cobble-stoned street near St. Peter's Square. In typical superhero fashion, Francis' right fist is thrust in the air, leading him in flight, while his left clutches his black satchel. "Valores," or values in Spanish, is written across it. The artist is identified only as Maupal. Francis has charmed the masses with his simplicity and message of helping the poor, even as he has cracked down on Vatican waste and corruption. The Vatican communications office approved of the image, tweeting a photo Tuesday.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — It wasn't enough that Pope Francis was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" or that he fronted this week's Rolling Stone magazine. Now there's SuperPope graffiti sprouting up around the Vatican.

The white caped crusader appeared Tuesday on a wall just off Borgo Pio, a tiny cobble-stoned street near St. Peter's Square. In typical superhero fashion, Francis' right fist is thrust in the air, leading him in flight, while his left clutches his black satchel. "Valores," or values in Spanish, is written across it.

The artist is identified only as Maupal. Francis has charmed the masses with his simplicity and message of helping the poor, even as he has cracked down on Vatican waste and corruption. The Vatican communications office approved of the image, tweeting a photo Tuesday.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Seau Family Objects To NFL's $765M Concussion Deal

Late NFL star Junior Seau during his induction into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in San Diego. The family of Junior Seau plans to object to the proposed $765 million settlement of player concussion claims because the fund would not pay wrongful death claims to survivors.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The family of the late NFL star Junior Seau plans to object to the proposed $765 million settlement of player concussion claims because the fund would not pay wrongful death claims to survivors.

Although the players' lawsuits accused the NFL of concealing known concussion risks, there would be no blame assessed as part of the settlement, and no punitive damages for pain and suffering. "Mr. Seau's children have their own claims for the wrong the NFL did to them. His children are not suing for their father's pain and suffering, they are suing for their own," lawyer Steven M. Strauss wrote in a court filing Friday that signaled the family's intent to pursue an individual lawsuit.

Other potential critics to the settlement reached by players' lawyers and the league are also starting to emerge — and the judge overseeing the case has herself expressed doubts the sum is big enough.
About 50 plaintiffs' lawyers met in New York last week to learn more about the settlement from the lead lawyers, but some left dissatisfied. "This could be a great settlement, this could be a terrible settlement, but I don't know," said Chicago lawyer Thomas A. Demetrio, who represents 10 players, including the family of the late Dave Duerson, a four-time Pro Bowler who mostly played with the Chicago Bears.

Duerson fatally shot himself in the chest, leaving his brain intact for autopsy. Like Seau, he was diagnosed with CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. An honors graduate and trustee of the University of Notre Dame, he was 50 when he died, which would factor into his family's payout.

"His estate will receive $2.2 million. That's not adequate," Demetrio said. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who must weigh the deal, also wants more actuarial details than filed with the settlement papers. She preliminarily rejected the plan last month, questioning whether $765 million will be enough to fund about 20,000 claims involved for 65 years, as promised.

The architects of the plan argue that the players could end up with nothing if the lawsuits are thrown out of court. The NFL had argued that the claims belonged in arbitration. The retirees would also have to prove their injuries came from NFL concussions, and not those suffered earlier.

"The retired player community has provided overwhelming support for this agreement, and we look forward to finalizing it soon so they can begin taking advantage of its benefits," lead lawyers Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss said in a statement Monday that recognized the work of other lawyers on the case.

The NFL settlement, if approved in court, would be capped at $4 million on behalf of players diagnosed after their deaths with traumatic brain injury. The payments could go as high as $5 million for younger men with Alzheimer's disease, but many more plaintiffs with mild dementia would get $25,000 or less under the deal.

Demetrio wants to know how much of the NFL's payment will come from insurance, and why the lawyers would split another $112 million, when the case did not reach discovery or trial. The NFL's annual revenues top $9 billion.

"It's very, very unusual ... for all the plaintiffs to not know what's going on," Demetrio said. "They're acting like the Lone Ranger." The Seau Family, meanwhile, is also concerned that the deal calls for a stay on individual suits until all appeals are finalized with the settlement.

"Junior Seau's children could be forced to wait years for justice, while the NFL continues to make billions of dollars and the memories of witnesses grow ever more distant," the filing said. The NFL, which on Monday joined two U.S. lawmakers in pushing for legislation to help protect student athletes from concussions, declined comment Monday on the Seau family's objections.

For Obama, An Address Focused On What's Achievable

President Barack Obama works at his desk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, ahead of Tuesday night's State of the Union speech.

WASHINGTON (AP) — No longer about bold ambitions, this year's State of the Union address will focus more on what's actually achievable.

For the White House, that dose of realism is aimed at avoiding a repeat of 2013, when a long list of unfulfilled policy goals — including gun control and an immigration overhaul — dragged President Barack Obama down like an anchor. Tuesday's prime-time address will focus instead on redefining success for Obama — not by what he can jam through Congress but rather by what he can accomplish through his own presidential powers.

He is expected to announce executive actions on job training, retirement security and help for the long-term unemployed in finding work. All are part of the White House focus this year on boosting economic mobility and narrowing the income gap between the wealthy and the poor.

Another action Obama is expected to announce is the creation of a new retirement savings plan geared toward workers whose employers don't currently offer such plans. Because commercial retirement accounts often have fees or high minimum deposits that are onerous for low-wage workers, this program would allow first-time savers to start building up savings in Treasury bonds. Once the savings grew large enough, a worker could convert the account into a traditional IRA, according to two people who have discussed the proposal with the administration. Those people weren't authorized to discuss it ahead of the announcement and insisted on anonymity.

"Tomorrow night, it's time to restore opportunity for all," Obama said Monday on the video-sharing site Vine, part of the White House's broad social media promotion of the speech. "I think the way we have to think about this year is we have a divided government," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said. "The Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president's agenda. The president is not going to sign the Republican Congress' agenda."

The address, delivered before a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television and the Internet, typically garners a president his largest audience of the year. It also provides perhaps his best opportunity to try to persuade skeptical Americans that he still wields substantial power in Washington, even if he can't break through a divided Congress.

The risk for Obama in centering his agenda on his own executive actions is that those directives often are more limited in scope than legislation that requires congressional approval. And that raises questions about how much impact he can have.

For example, Obama can collect commitments from businesses to consider hiring the long-term unemployed, as he'll announce Tuesday night, but without the help of Congress he can't restore expired jobless benefits for those Americans while they look for work.

White House officials contend executive actions should not automatically be pegged as small bore, pointing in particular to steps the president can take on climate change, including stricter regulations on power plants and new car efficiency standards. And some Democrats are cheering the strategy, saying it's time for Obama to look beyond Capitol Hill after spending more than half his time in office mired in congressional gridlock.

"They spent far too much time actually trying to think they could negotiate with House and Senate Republicans," said Jim Manley, a longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "I, for one, am glad that they finally decided to go around Congress to the extent possible."

Not surprisingly, Republicans have been dismissive of the president's go-it-alone approach. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., suggested that some executive actions might run up against legal challenges, saying Congress should insist Obama "find the Constitution and follow it." And House Speaker John Boehner's office said the strategy was simply a rehash of earlier Obama efforts to focus on executive authority when action in Congress stalled, including a 2011 effort that the White House branded, "We Can't Wait."

Obama aides say this year's push will be more extensive than in the past. White House officials have been trying to boost involvement by often-sidelined Cabinet members, and the president has brought in John Podesta, a prominent advocate for executive action, to serve as a senior adviser for one year.

Obama won't be abandoning Congress completely. He's expected to make another appeal during the State of the Union for passage of a sweeping immigration bill, which stalled in the House after getting through the Senate last summer. The president also is likely to make a new pitch for two proposals that got little traction after they were first announced in last year's address to Congress: expanding access to early childhood education and increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10 an hour.

There are glimmers of hope for him on at least some of those issues. House Republicans are readying their own immigration proposal addressing border security, increased visas for high-skilled workers and legalization for some of the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, though stopping short of providing a pathway to citizenship. And with some GOP lawmakers also increasingly focused on economic inequality issues, White House officials say conditions could be right this year for pursuing a minimum wage increase.

Obama will follow his State of the Union address with a quick trip Wednesday and Thursday to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee. In Maryland, he'll visit a Costco where he's expected to discuss job training programs and in Pittsburgh, he'll speak at the U. S. Steel Irvin Plant, where he's likely to tout initiatives to boost manufacturing.

On Friday, Obama will hold an event at the White House where he'll announce commitments from several companies to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed during hiring. In keeping with tradition, the White House has invited several people to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday night's address. Among them are two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, a teenager who stole the show at a White House science fair with his "extreme marshmallow cannon," and Jason Collins, an openly gay professional basketball player.

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tunisia Finally Passes Progressive Constitution

Members of the Constitutional Assembly pray during a minute of silence for the passing of a late deputy, Mohamed Allouche, before a session as part of the debates on the new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia. The spokesman for Tunisia's Constitutional Assembly says a final vote on a new constitution will take place Saturday, now that members have approved each of the new articles in the historic document.

TUNIS, TUNISIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — After decades of dictatorship and two years of arguments and compromises, Tunisians on Sunday finally have a new constitution laying the foundations for a new democracy.

The document is groundbreaking as one of the most progressive constitutions in the Arab world — and for the fact that it got written at all. It passed late Sunday by 200 votes out of 216 in the Muslim Mediterranean country that inspired uprisings across the region after overthrowing a dictator in 2011.

"This constitution, without being perfect, is one of consensus," assembly speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said after the vote. "We had today a new rendezvous with history to build a democracy founded on rights and equality."

The constitution enshrining freedom of religion and women's rights took two years to finish. During that period, the country was battered by high unemployment, protests, terrorist attacks, political assassinations and politicians who seemed more interested in posturing than finishing the charter.

At the same time, Egypt wrote two constitutions — and went through a military coup against an elected government. Egypt's charters were quickly drafted by appointed committees and involved little public debate or input. In Tunisia, an elected assembly of Tunisian Islamists, leftists and liberals worked on a detailed roadmap for their political future.

Tunisians hope its care in drafting the constitution makes a difference in returning stability to the country and reassuring investors and allies such as the U.S. "We needed time to get this constitution as it is today," said Amira Yahyaoui, who has closely followed the assembly's activities with her monitoring group Bawsala. "Clearly, writing this constitution to do a real transformation of the minds of people needed time and I absolutely don't regret these two years and I am happy we had time to discuss and think about all the arguments."

The new constitution sets out to make the North African country of 11 million people a democracy, with a civil state whose laws are not based on Islamic law, unlike many other Arab constitutions. An entire chapter of the document, some 28 articles, is dedicated to protecting citizens' rights, including protection from torture, the right to due process, and freedom of worship. It guarantees equality between men and women before the law and the state commits itself to protecting women's rights.

"This is the real revolution, many democratic constitution don't even have that," said Yahyaoui. "It will have a real impact on the rest of the Arab region, because finally we can say that women's rights are not a Western concept only, but also exist in Tunisia."

Tunisia has always had the most progressive legislation on women's rights in the Arab world and Yahyaoui believes the long period of writing has made people comfortable with its contents. One of the most hotly debated articles guarantees "freedom of belief and conscience," which would permit atheism and the practice of non-Abrahamic religions frowned upon in other Islamic countries. It also bans incitement to violence and declaring a Muslim an apostate — a fallen Muslim — which leaves them open to death threats. In response, conservative law makers insisted that "attacks on the sacred" be forbidden, which many see as a threat to freedom of expression.

"This formulation is vague and gives too much leeway to the legislators to trample other rights such as the right to free expression, artistic creation and academic freedoms," warned Amna Guelleli, the Human Rights Watch representative in Tunisia. "However, the risk is reduced given the strong safeguards (in other articles) against overly broad interpretations."

Since the revolution, there has been a rise in convictions for so-called attacks on religion, especially by artists. A Tunisian cartoonist is in the second year of a seven-year sentence for posting cartoons insulting to the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

Constitutional scholar Slim Loghmani said despite some drawbacks, the constitution is an "historic compromise between identity and modernity" that can serve as a model for other countries in the region seeking a balance between an Arab-Islamic heritage and contemporary ideas of human rights and good governance.

"It's a step forward in the nagging question of cultural identity in Arab countries," he said, lauding in particular not just freedom of religion but what he calls the freedom "not to have a religion."

While the constitution itself will not solve the country's persistent unemployment, rising prices, crushing debt and constant demonstrations, Loghmani said it will move politics forward and reassure foreign investors that the country is back on track after a rocky transition.

"It will be a relief for the average Tunisian who is impatient to see the end of the transition period," he said. "It will reassure Tunisia's international partners that country is headed in the right direction."

The completion of the constitution is also a tribute to the assembly's disparate parties to come to compromise and negotiate to reach a consensus. The moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which holds more than 40 percent of the seats in the assembly, backed down on putting a number of religious-inspired measures into the constitution in the face of wide opposition.

At times the constitution looked like it would never get written, with numerous walkouts by different parties and at one point a complete suspension of its activities in the wake of the assassination of a left-wing deputy in July.

In the end, Ennahda made concessions to the opposition and stepped down in favor of caretaker government to manage the rest of the transition, allowing the constitution to be completed. The willingness of Ennahda to negotiate stood in sharp contrast to the more overbearing approach of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which had a more dominant position in the elected parliament and held the presidency. It ran roughshod over the demands of the opposition, citing its electoral successes.

"Egyptian constitutional politics has been a winner-take-all game; Tunisian politics has been more consensual_though consensus has been difficult to achieve," said Nathan Brown, an expert on Egyptian law at George Washington University. "The Tunisian experience is one that is more likely to give birth to a functioning democracy."

The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt by the military in July and subsequent violent repression was a stern warning to Tunisia, said Yahyaoui of Bawsala, and it helped the various parties find a compromise.

"The only people who won something out of what happened in Egypt was Tunisia," she said. "Ennahda saw what happened to Brotherhood and they didn't want to see the same scenario in Tunisia."

Paul Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco.