Friday, February 28, 2014

'90s Documents Show Clinton's Health Care Concerns

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in New Orleans. The National Archives plans to release about 4,000 pages of previously confidential documents involving former President Bill Clinton's administration. Some of the topics include the president's health care task force and the 9/11 Commission Report. The papers could shed light on Clinton's presidency and provide insight into a future presidential candidate: former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bill Clinton's aides revealed concern early in his presidency about the health care overhaul effort led by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and later about what they saw as a need to soften her image, according to documents released Friday. Mrs. Clinton now is a potential 2016 presidential contender

The National Archives released about 4,000 pages of previously confidential documents involving the former president's administration, providing a glimpse into the ultimately unsuccessful struggles of his health care task force, led by the first lady, and other Clinton priorities such as the U.S. economy and a major trade agreement.

Hillary Clinton's potential White House campaign has increased interest in Clinton Presidential Library documents from her husband's administration during the 1990s and her own decades in public service. A former secretary of state and New York senator, Mrs. Clinton is the leading Democratic contender to succeed President Barack Obama, though she has not said whether she will run.

Friday's documents included memos related to the former president's ill-fated health care reform proposal in 1993 and 1994, a plan that failed to win support in Congress and turned into a rallying cry for Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections. As first lady, Hillary Clinton chaired her husband's health care task force, largely meeting in secret to develop a plan to provide universal health insurance coverage.

White House aides expressed initial optimism about her ability to help craft and enact a major overhaul of U.S. health care. "The first lady's months of meetings with the Congress has produced a significant amount of trust and confidence by the members in her ability to help produce a viable health reform legislative product with the president," said an undated and unsigned document, which was cataloged with others from April 1993. The document urged quick action, warning that enthusiasm for health reform "will fade over time."

But the documents also showed the growing concerns among Clinton's fellow Democrats in Congress. Lawmakers, it said, "going to their home districts for the August break are petrified about having difficult health care reform issues/questions thrown at them."

Administration officials also wanted to distance Hillary Clinton from a staff meeting on the touchy subject of making health care cost projections appear reasonable. Top aides wrote an April 1993 memo saying pessimistic cost-savings projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office were "petrifying an already scared Congress."

"CBO has the very real potential to sink an already leaking health reform ship," said the memo, signed by Clinton aides Chris Jennings and Steve Ricchetti, the latter now a top aide to Vice President Joe Biden. A White House and congressional meeting meant to "align budget assumptions with CBO" would be "all staff," the memo said, so "we do not believe it appropriate that Mrs. Clinton attend."

The documents also include detailed media strategy memos written as aides tried to soften Mrs. Clinton's image. Her press secretary, Lisa Caputo, encouraged the Clintons to capitalize on their 20th wedding anniversary as "a wonderful opportunity for Hillary" and also suggested she spend more time doing White House events celebrating first ladies of the past.

Placing Clinton in a historical context "may help to round out her image and make what she is doing seem less extreme or different in the eyes of the media," Caputo wrote in a lengthy August 1995 memo about courting better press coverage as the president looked toward re-election. It noted the first lady had an "aversion to the national Washington media."

Caputo also proposed the "wild idea" of having Clinton do a guest appearance on a popular sitcom of the day, "Home Improvement." As the first lady began her bid for a Senate seat from New York in July 1999, adviser Mandy Grunwald coached her with "style pointers" and tips for handling "annoying questions" from the media without appearing testy. Grunwald said she was sure to be asked about her husband's Senate impeachment trial earlier that year.

The advice: "Be real" and acknowledge "that of course last year was rough." As for Clinton himself, by the end of his presidency he showed frustration with his proposed farewell speech to the nation. He told aides that he didn't think the drafts included enough of his administration's accomplishments.
"Doesn't anybody care about me?" he asked aides during his final days in office. On the health care effort, by September 1993, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the obstacles in a Capitol Hill meeting with House and Senate Democratic leaders and committee chairs. "I think that, unfortunately, in the glare of the public political process, we may not have as much time as we need for that kind of thoughtful reflection and research," the first lady said, citing "this period of challenge."

The meetings also showed that Mrs. Clinton was doubtful that a health care law with a universal mandate — requiring people to carry health insurance — would be approved. "That is politically and substantively a much harder sell than the one we've got — a much harder sell," she told congressional Democrats in September 1993, predicting it could send "shock waves" through the "currently insured population."

In 2007, when she ran for president, Clinton made the "individual mandate" a centerpiece of her "American Health Choices Plan," requiring health coverage while offering federal subsidies to help reduce the cost to purchasers.

The health care overhaul signed into law by Obama in early 2010 carried a mandate that all Americans must obtain health insurance or pay a fine. In another document, Clinton's advisers flirted with the same type of overpromising language that Obama later used about allowing people to keep their doctors under the reforms. A Clinton-era memo noted that the policy promised people could "'pick the health plan and the doctor of your choice.' This sounds great and I know that it's just what people want to hear. But can we get away with it?"

The documents offer cameo appearances by several Obama officials during their younger days. Speechwriter Jeff Shesol appeared frustrated in the spring of 1998 when describing Clinton adviser Rahm Emanuel, who later served as Obama's White House chief of staff and is now Chicago's mayor. Emanuel, Shesol wrote, "is gonna complicate all our lives."

Clinton aide Paul Begala, now a top Democratic strategist, was "wrong half time, glib," Shesol wrote. In another document, future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, then a White House lawyer, advised Clinton's team to be "non-defensive" in dealing with tobacco companies involved in the government's settlement in May 1998. "Let them know they shd be leery of (expletive) with this. In those words."

In 2000, National Security Adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger told his speechwriter to cite the accomplishments of young government-service aides instead of Silicon Valley "whiz kids" like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. "Stick with public service," Berger scrawled in notes on the margins. "How old is Susan Rice?" he added, referring to the then-assistant secretary at state for African Affairs who is now Obama's national security adviser.

The new documents offer glimmers of Clinton's internal national security deliberations. The most detailed material, contained in files from then-national security speechwriter Paul Orzulak, show top Clinton officials wrestling with how to deal with China's emergence as a world financial power.

Notes from an undated meeting with Berger show the Clinton national security adviser pushing for China's membership in the World Trade Organization despite concerns about human rights abuses. A series of emails pertaining to the 9/11 Commission's research into Clinton-era handling of al-Qaida attacks were all apparently withheld by Archives officials, citing national security and confidential restrictions. The only memo released was a single July 1998 email about whether to send a high-ranking diplomat to Minnesota with a presidential message to greet ailing Jordanian King Hussein. "Sounds like too much crepe hanging," said a dismissive official.

Other documents released Friday offered a glimpse into the juggling of priorities early in Clinton's first term and administration concerns after Republicans took control of the House and Senate in the 1994 elections.

A July 1993 memo shared among Clinton's advisers sought guidance on how the administration should focus its attention on three major priorities: health care reform, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and an initiative aimed at "reinventing government."

"The president has repeatedly promised that health care will come after the economic package passes," the memo from Clinton advisers Emanuel, Bob Boorstin, Mark Gearan and others said. "Surveys indicate that health care remains the second or third priority (behind job creation) for the vast majority of voters, but also that people fear reform is just another promise to be broken."
"Our core supporters are rapidly losing patience and could block passage by throwing their support to alternative plans," the memo warned.

Associated Press writers Stephen Braun, Henry C. Jackson, Pete Yost, Laurie Kellman, Connie Cass and Charles Babington in Washington and Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

Critics Blasts Rio's World Cup, Olympic Evictions

Trash fills an area in the Favela do Metro slum outside Maracana stadium where some homes have been demolished and residents evicted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Some residents in this slum were evicted from their homes two years ago for the area to be renovated for this year's World Cup and 2016 Olympics, but people reoccupied the homes and are fighting to stay.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (AP) — With her family of six living in five different houses scattered across the city, Dalvaneide Pequeno do Nascimento longs for the days when her whole clan shared the same roof.

Nascimento, her husband and children were among the more than 230 families forced out of their homes in Vila Recreio II, a Rio de Janeiro slum that was razed three years ago to make way for the Transoeste expressway connecting the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, the main hub for the 2016 Olympics, with the western outskirts of Rio.

It's just one of a slew of urban renewal efforts launched ahead of this year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, works igniting a sweeping transformation of Rio after decades of neglect since Brazil's capital was moved to Brasilia in 1960. Officials are using the events as catalysts for expanded metro lines, roads, airport renovations and other works. Critics say poor residents such as Nascimento are paying the price and estimate some 100,000 people have been evicted or face removals to make way for the projects.

"The city has become the object of the big business, the big interests behind the mega-events," said Marcelo Chalreo, who heads the human rights commission of the Rio chapter of Brazil's bar association. "In the name of the (sporting) events, now everything has to be pretty and nice looking."
Nascimento said city officials presented her and her husband, bricklayer Jucelio de Souza, with a simple choice: Accept a lump-sum compensation for their house, be given an apartment in a distant housing project or walk away with nothing. With Rio's real estate market among the hottest in the Americas and even homes in many slums fetching upward of $50,000, the city's compensation offer of just over $2,300 was grossly inadequate, Nascimento said.

Scared of being left homeless, the couple chose the apartment and were assigned a unit in a housing project in the distant suburb of Campo Grande. Inaugurated in 2011, the Condominio Oiti project, a grouping of beige four-story towers that now houses nearly 200 families originally hailing from slums throughout the city, is 35 miles (60 kilometers) from Rio de Janeiro's center, and prohibitively far from the upscale home where she works as a nanny.

"It's a nightmare," said Nascimento, whose weathered, lined face belies her 36 years, 16 of them spent in the Vila Recreio II slum. "There's nothing here, no work, no hospitals, no public transport, nothing. They forced us out of our houses and dropped us here in the middle of nowhere."

City officials have in the past acknowledged that some 15,000 families were resettled, but insist the moves were done to remove people from areas prone to deadly mudslides and had nothing do with the World Cup or Olympics. The office of Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes confirmed that in a statement, saying it "is not and will not carry out any resettlements" connected to the World Cup.

For coming Olympics preparations, however, city officials said they planned to resettle 278 families living on land that's part of the Olympic Village. Local organizers for the World Cup didn't respond to requests for comment, while Olympic organizers confirmed the removals near the Olympic village.
Amnesty International Brazil paints a different picture, saying 19,200 families in and round Rio have been pushed out of their homes since 2009. An advocacy group for affected slum residents called the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics estimates that 100,000 people have or will be moved.

Evictions and the Olympics have long gone hand-in-hand, and even the worst-case scenario for Rio involves far less than the 1 million believed to have been moved for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 or what some rights groups estimate were the 720,000 people displaced ahead of the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.

Officials have said all removals in Rio have been carried out fairly, with those evicted being offered a wide range of housing options. Advocacy groups and those who have lost their homes, however, tell a different story.

"The city's removal policy is disastrous because it's taking these pockets of poverty and pushing them out to the furthest limits of the city, thus making vulnerable people that much vulnerable," said Renato Cosentino, a member of the Popular Committee.

For Nascimento's husband Souza, in fact, the family's eviction has put more obstacles in the way of an already difficult life. The distance that separates their new home from the jobs, schools and hospitals of central Rio has wrenched the family apart. Since their 2011 move, Nascimento sleeps five nights a week at her employers' house. Otherwise, her commute would gobble up at least six hours a day, its cost taking a major bite out of her $500 monthly salary. For similar reasons, her husband shells out $190 a month for a tiny rental apartment close to his job. One of Nascimento's youngest children lives with her mother and another with a close friend, while her two teenage boys live alone in the housing project.

"We were working hard and getting ahead in life and then this happens and it sets us not even back to where we started, but way back before the starting point," said Souza, his sunglasses failing to conceal the tears streaming down his face. "I would give everything just to have my little plot of land back and my family whole again."

Follow Jenny Barchfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennybarchfield

NYC Official: Hoffman Died Of Toxic Mix Of Drugs

Philip Seymour Hoffman poses for a portrait at The Collective and Gibson Lounge Powered by CEG, during the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah. A spokesperson for the New York City Medical Examiner announced on Friday, Feb. 28, that Hoffman’s death an accident. The Oscar-winning actor’s body was found on Feb. 2 with a needle still in his arm. Officials say he died from a toxic mix of heroin and other drugs.

NEW YORK (AP) — A toxic mix of heroin and other drugs killed Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, New York City officials said Friday.

A spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner said Hoffman died from a mix of heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and benzodiazepines, which are drugs such as Xanax and Valium that are widely prescribed for anxiety, trouble sleeping and other problems. His death was ruled an accident.

Law enforcement officials have said Hoffman was found Feb. 2 with a needle in his arm, and tests found heroin in samples from at least 50 packets in his Manhattan apartment. Authorities also found unused syringes, a charred spoon and various prescription medications, including a drug used to treat heroin addiction, a blood-pressure medication and a muscle relaxant.

Police had been investigating his death as a suspected drug overdose. Hoffman, 46, who won an Oscar for "Capote" and starred in numerous other movies as well as New York stage productions, had been frank about struggling with substance abuse. He told CBS' "60 Minutes" in 2006 that had he used "anything I could get my hands on" before getting clean at age 22. But in interviews last year, he said he'd relapsed, had developed a heroin problem and had gone to rehab for a time.

Investigators have been probing how Hoffman may have obtained the heroin. Tests of the heroin in his apartment have found that it was not cut with a dangerous additive such as fentanyl, a synthetic form of morphine used to intensify the high that has been linked to deaths in other states.

A musician, veteran jazz player Robert Vineberg, has been charged with keeping a heroin stash in a lower Manhattan apartment amid the investigation into Hoffman's death. Vineberg, who has said he was a friend of the Tony Award-nominated Hoffman, hasn't been charged in Hoffman's death and has said he didn't sell him the heroin found in his apartment.

As police followed a tip after Hoffman's death, they said they found about 300 small bags of heroin, worth about $10 apiece on the street, and $1,300 in cash in Vineberg's apartment and music studio.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Black Skin Can Be A Symptom Of Cancer Risk

Traditionally we used to believe that black skin can be caused from dying and direct exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) radiations, but it can induced skin cancer according to a recent analysis. Originally skin cancer reasons were rejected as they are likely to create pressure about having black skin. This was so because of a belief rarely fatal at age young sufficient to involve reproduction. According to a new paper that has been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has been providing evidences about black people and the albinism of parts from Africa with highest exposure degree of UV radiation. Professor Mel Greaves, Director of the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: "Charles Darwin thought variation in skin color was of no adaptive value and other investigators have dismissed cancer as a selective force in evolution. But the clinical data on people with albinism, particularly in Africa, provide a strong argument that lethal cancers may well have played a major role in early human evolution as an important factor in the development of skin rich in dark pigmentation - in eumelanin."

-------------HEALTH & BEAUTY NEWS

Phone System Failed In LAX Shooting

Provided to the AP, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, police officers stand near a weapon at the Los Angeles International Airport after a gunman opened fire in the terminal, killing one person and wounding several others. Dispatchers at Los Angeles International Airport who received an emergency call seconds after the gunman opened fire in a passenger screening area last fall didn’t know where to send help because the airport’s communications system doesn’t identify locations of its emergency phones.


LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles International Airport police dispatcher who received a call seconds after a gunman opened fire last year didn't know where to send officers because no one was on the line and the airport communications system didn't identify that the call was coming from a security checkpoint emergency phone, two officials told The Associated Press.

A screening supervisor in the sprawling airport's Terminal 3 picked up the phone but fled before responding to a dispatcher's questions because the gunman was approaching with a high-powered rifle and spraying bullets, according to two officials briefed on preliminary findings of a review of the emergency response to the Nov. 1 incident. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the final report won't be released until next month.

One of the officials likened the situation to a 911 call but police not knowing what address to go to. Airport dispatchers knew something was wrong but didn't know where to send help because the system didn't identify locations of its emergency phones. After asking questions and receiving no answers, the dispatcher hung up. An airline contractor working in the terminal called dispatch directly from his cellphone, and officers were dispatched 90 seconds after the shooting.

Douglas Laird, a former security director for Northwest Airlines who owns an aviation security consulting business, said most emergency phone systems he's seen indicate the origin of a call. If "dispatch doesn't know where the call is coming from, that shows there's a serious flaw, obviously," said Laird, who has conducted security surveys at about 100 airports around the world. He was not involved in the review of the LA airport shooting.

Officials with Los Angeles World Airport, the agency that runs LAX, declined to comment on any aspects of the review until the report is issued next month. The broad review of the emergency response included interviews with airport staff, law enforcement and first responders, reviews of camera footage, dispatch logs and 911 calls. While it found that the response was swift, the investigation conducted by airport staff and an outside contractor also identified a number of problems. Among them:

— Broken "panic buttons" that when hit are supposed to automatically call for help and activate a camera giving airport police a view of the area reporting trouble. Two of the dozen or so buttons in Terminal 3 weren't working and several others around the airport were defective. Later testing revealed that another terminal's system of buttons was down and airport police beefed up patrols until it was fixed, one of the officials said. Though TSA officers told airport officials that an officer hit the panic button, there's no evidence — video or electronic — it happened.

— Anyone calling 911 at the airport is routed to the California Highway Patrol or Los Angeles Police Department, not airport police dispatchers. — The airport has no system allowing for simultaneous emergency announcements throughout the complex.

— Most cameras in the terminal provided fixed and often limited views of areas or weren't located at key spots such as curbs, making it difficult for investigators to learn how and where the gunman arrived at the airport.

The attack killed Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez and injured two other TSA officers and a passenger. Paul Ciancia, 24, who'd moved from Pennsville, N.J., to Los Angeles two years prior, is accused of targeting TSA officers. He has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer.

Earlier AP reporting revealed that the only two armed airport police officers assigned to the area of the shooting weren't in Terminal 3 at the time. Both were on breaks and had yet to notify dispatchers, as required, so neither was in position to call in the shooting.

Once dispatchers put out the call for help 90 seconds later, it took nearly two more minutes before armed officers arrived. Ciancia was shot and taken into custody near gate 35, deep inside the terminal, soon afterward.

The AP also found that it took 33 minutes for Hernandez to be wheeled out of the terminal to waiting medical personnel. He was pronounced dead at the hospital after surgeons worked on him for an hour. A coroner's news release later said he likely was dead within two to five minutes after being shot multiple times.

In response to the shooting, the Los Angeles Fire Department already has announced it will train more tactical paramedics who can more quickly enter dangerous areas. Los Angeles police are training their officers on how to use combat-style trauma kits.

TSA Officer Victor Payes, who has worked at LAX for six years and is former president of the local union, said the inability of dispatchers to locate the origin of the emergency call highlights local TSA officers' concerns about overall communication with airport police. He said no general instruction on how to use the phones has been provided.

"A lot of these protocols that have been set up, we find, at least on the TSA end, it's supervisor-driven, and the employees, the subordinates, do not necessarily know many of the protocols," Payes said. "If someone told me to pick up the phone, I wouldn't know what to say."

The review recommends instituting emergency protocol and evacuation training for all airport employees. "We realize in incidents like this, how quick you are or how fast you are at responding to incidents is generally going to be the difference between how many people get hurt or don't get hurt," Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said in a recent interview. He said the airport in its review had looked at ways to speed up notification from TSA, dispatch and also within the airport itself.
Since the shooting, Gannon said airport staff worked to ensure that all airport employees have the airport police dispatch number in their cellphones.

Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams

Married Man Becomes Maronite Catholic Priest In US

Deacon Wissam Akiki, who is married, center left, is ordained into the priesthood during a ceremony at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in St. Louis. Akiki is the first married priest to be ordained by the Maronite Catholic Church in the United States in nearly a century.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — When Wissam Akiki was ordained as a Maronite Catholic priest Thursday night in St. Louis, he was welcomed by hundreds of supporters, including his wife and daughter.

For the first time in nearly a century, the Maronite Catholic Church in the United States ordained a married priest in a ceremony at St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral near downtown St. Louis.

Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in the U.S. Eastern Catholics accept the authority of the pope but have many of their own rituals and liturgy.

Akiki, 41, speaking at the end of the two-hour ceremony, called it a "historic day" and said he had been given two great blessings — marriage to his wife of 10 years, Manal, and "the dream to serve the Lord and church as a priest."

Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. However, the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners. But Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions, and over the years, popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in America. Pope Francis gave permission for Akiki to be ordained.

"Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it's not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite church, though in the United States it is," Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St. Raymond's, said.

The ordination ceremony featured several bishops from within the Maronite rite. Many members of the St. Raymond's congregation are of Lebanese descent, and many of the prayers, hymns and readings were in Arabic.

Members of the church said they were ready to welcome the new priest. "He'll be a wonderful priest," Linda Hill, 54, said. "The fact that he's married will be exciting for the church. It's tradition in the old country. I guess we're finally catching up to the old country."

Stephanie Baker, 57 and a lifelong member, agreed. "I really think it sets a precedent," Baker said. "There are a lot of people who have it (the priesthood) in their hearts. This opens it up for other people."

That remains to be seen. Peters said the pope's action does not lift the ban on married priests in the U.S. It is simply an exception Experts, too, cautioned against reading too much into it. "This is certainly not an automatic indication that the mandate of celibacy within Roman rite will be overturned," said Randy Rosenberg, a theological studies professor at Saint Louis University.

Akiki emigrated from Lebanon in 2002, and almost immediately became a subdeacon at St. Raymond's, ascending to deacon in 2009. It was about a year-and-a-half ago that he and the church petitioned the Vatican to allow him to enter the priesthood.

Akiki completed seminary studies at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary in Washington, D.C., and the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. He and his wife have one daughter, 8-year-old Perla. She read a brief prayer at her father's ordination.

Peters said that in the most recent Maronite Patriarchal Synod, the church reaffirmed its position in support of allowing married priests, a tradition that, worldwide, dates back centuries. In a statement, the Archdiocese of St. Louis congratulated Akiki.

"The Archdiocese of St. Louis values its strong relationship with the Maronite community in St. Louis," the statement read in part. Those attending the ordination applauded the new priest several times, which clearly left him moved.

"It is a day of grace and of joy," he said.

Associated Press Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.

Egypt Army "AIDS Detector" Instead Finds Ridicule

A device that the Egyptian army claims will detect and cure AIDS and Hepatitis. Egypt's military is facing embarrassment after unveiling a so-called "miraculous" invention of a set of devices that allegedly detect and cure AIDS, Hepatitis and other viruses. The army's carefully managed image as protector of the nation has suffered after many experts dismissed the claims, saying they aren't technically sound.

CAIRO, EGYPT. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Egypt's military leaders have come under ridicule after the chief army engineer unveiled what he described as a "miraculous" set of devices that detect and cure AIDS, hepatitis and other viruses.

The claim, dismissed by experts and called "shocking to scientists" by president's science adviser, strikes a blow to the army's carefully managed image as the savior of the nation. It also comes as military chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who toppled Mohammed Morsi in July after the Islamist leader ignored mass protests calling for him to step down, is expected to announce he'll run for president.

The televised presentation — which was made to el-Sissi, interim President Adly Mansour and other senior officials — raised concerns that the military's offer of seemingly inconceivable future devices will draw Egypt back into the broken promises of authoritarian rule, when Hosni Mubarak frequently announced grand initiatives that failed to meet expectations.

"The men of the armed forces have achieved a scientific leap by inventing the detecting devices," military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali wrote later on his official Facebook page. Ali said a patent has been filed under the name of the Armed Forces Engineering Agency.

Well-known writer Hamdi Rizk noted that video clips of the presentation had gone viral on social media, with tweets and blogs saying the military had made a fool of itself and put its reputation in jeopardy.

"The marshal's camp has been dealt a deep moral defeat," he wrote in a column in Thursday's Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. "God give mercy to ... the reputation of the Egyptian army, which became the target of cyber shelling around the clock."

Professor Massimo Pinzani, a liver specialist and director of the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, said he attended a demonstration of the C-Fast device during a visit to Egypt but "was not given convincing explanations about the technology" and wasn't allowed to try it for himself.

"As it is at present, the device is proposed without any convincing technical and scientific basis and, until this is clearly provided, it should be regarded as a potential fraud," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

None of the research has been published in a reputable journal. The uproar escalated when a scientific adviser to Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour denounced the claim and said it has no scientific base.

"What has been said and published by the armed forces harms the image of the scientists and science in Egypt," Essam Heggy, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, told the daily newspaper El-Watan in remarks published Wednesday. "All scientists inside and outside Egypt are in a state of shock."

He added that both Mansour and el-Sissi were surprised and their presence in the audience did not indicate approval. The furor started when Maj. Gen. Taher Abdullah, the head of the Engineering Agency in the Armed Forces, gave a widely televised presentation to el-Sissi and other senior officials on what he calls an "astonishing miraculous scientific invention."

Abdullah said two of the devices named C-Fast and I Fast used electromagnetism to detect AIDS, hepatitis and other viruses without taking blood samples while the third, named Complete Cure Device, acted as a dialysis unit to purify the blood. He also said the C-FAST, which looks an antenna affixed to the handle of a blender, detected patients infected with viruses that cause hepatitis and AIDS with a high success rate.

A short film aired during the presentation showed the engineering team's leader Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdel-Atti telling a patient: "All the results are great, showing you had AIDS but you were cured. Thank God." The patient replies: "Thank God."

The next day, Abdel-Atti and his team held their own press conference at which the scientist said "I take AIDS from the patient and nourish the patient on the AIDS by giving him a skewer of AIDS kofta," a meat dish.

Gamal Shiha, head of the Association for Liver Patients Care, one of Egypt's prominent centers that worked alongside with the military, said he was angry about the "hasty" announcements. He said only one of the devices — C-FAST — underwent thorough testing.

Shiha said the C-Fast uses electromagnetic frequencies similar to those used in bomb detectors and radars and had been tested on more than 2,000 patients with a high success rate. "The technology of C-Fast is effective without doubt," he said. However, he dismissed the claims that the other two devices detect AIDS and cure viruses.

Despite the skepticism, Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Fathallah said the ministry recognizes the devices as legitimate. Egypt's former Health Minister Amr Helmi, a liver surgeon by profession, said C-Fast had been approved by the ministry two years ago but he had never before heard of the other two devices.

For the general public, the uproar added to the uncertainty already fueled by years of turmoil since Mubarak's overthrow in February 2011. "I hope that the invention turns out to be true but I don't have confidence this is the case," said 35-year-old taxi driver Ahmed Morad. "I don't believe anyone ... everything is very confusing. It is like a salad."

Associated Press writer Maggie Hyde contributed to this report.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Central African Republic Orphans Walk To Refuge Alone

Ibrahim Adamou sits on a bench at a Catholic church in Carnot a town 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Cameroonian border, in the Central African Republic Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Ibrahim Adamou wasn’t sure whether any of his five siblings had survived the attack by Christian militiamen who opened fire on his family as the group of herders journeyed on foot. His parents already had been killed in front of him.

CARNOT, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Ibrahim Adamou's parents had just been killed in front of him. He wasn't sure whether any of his five siblings had survived the attack by Christian militiamen who opened fire on his family of herders as they journeyed on foot.

The 7-year-old just knew he had to keep running. Covering 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) barefoot and alone, he slept under the thick cover of banana trees at night and followed the red rutted paths by day, not entirely sure where he was going, with nothing to eat.

Finally he encountered peacekeepers who gave him some cookies and pointed the way to Carnot, where a Catholic church was sheltering some 800 Muslims, including many ethnic Peuls like Ibrahim. With the help of a Christian man on a motorcycle who risked his life by giving the boy a lift, Ibrahim arrived at the church early Monday.

"When we got to a checkpoint, the militia fighters told the man, 'Leave the boy here and we will kill him'," Ibrahim recounted softly. "But the man said, 'If you are going to kill him, you must kill me too' and then they let us pass."

What is even more remarkable about Ibrahim's story is that there are at least six other children under the age of 10 with a nearly identical story in Carnot. In the nearly three months since the country erupted in violence between Christians and Muslims, leaving many hundreds dead, children appear to be in many cases the only survivors.

The Peul are a nomadic community of herders who span West and Central Africa. They often travel great distances on foot — a habit that probably enabled these children to make the journey alone. Many, like Ibrahim's family, came under attack as they were fleeing west from violence earlier this month. The survivors are only now making their way to Carnot.

"Unfortunately after fleeing they fell upon a spot where violence also had erupted," said Dramane Kone, project coordinator in Carnot for Doctors Without Borders, which has treated some of the children for malnutrition.

The refugees at the church may not be safe much longer. The armed Christian gangs outside the concrete-walled compound have ordered them to leave the country within a week or face death. The fighters have brought in gasoline and threatened to burn the church to the ground.

Ibrahim was brought to the church after the man on the motorcycle hid the boy in his home for several days. Scores of fellow Peul came to hear what news the youngster had brought from the countryside, gathering around him as he wolfed down a bowl of porridge.

Sitting on a bench outside the priest's quarters, his tiny legs too short to touch the ground, the boy seemed overwhelmed by the attention and pulled the hood of his adult-size gray sweatshirt tight around his tiny bird-like face.

The other refugees gave him what coins they had so that he could pay someone to cook meals for him at the mission. The priests said he is welcome as long as he likes, though he was clearly on his own in a sea of strangers.

Around 10:30 on a recent night, a distressed Cameroonian peacekeeper knocked on the church door to wake up the priests. A little Muslim girl who didn't know how old she was had turned up in the center of town, barefoot and shaken. The priests emerged in their pajamas to bring her inside.
Habiba, believed to be about 7, saw anti-Balaka militants kill her parents and her brothers, she whispered to a priest. They asked her where she came from: Her village was more than 80 kilometers away by foot.

Two men who had lost young daughters arrived at the door, then quickly shook their heads in disappointment. She was not theirs. No one knew who she was. One of the women from the church offered her water and some dinner leftovers of manioc and beef. At first she refused but then began to pick at the meat once she was assured it was not pork.

On Sunday just before Mass, four more new arrivals gathered on the steps of the church. One child was inconsolable and sobbed against a tree as other little boys tried to cheer him up. Ten-year-old Nourou said he spent two days being hidden by Christians, who then brought him to the church. Tears rolled down his face, some of them spilling from a crusted eye badly wounded in an anti-Balaka attack. His legs were so spindly he could barely stand.

Beside him was another Peul boy named Ahamat, believed to be about 8. He couldn't say for sure how many days he had spent walking or when he last ate. The Muslim men who welcomed him asked about his village and then shook their heads in disbelief. It is some 300 kilometers away.

"My mother and father were killed along the way, but I kept going," he said. When he heard motorcycles on the road, he would hide in the woods. When the roads were empty, he just kept walking, asking anyone he could where he could find the peacekeepers who were guarding Muslims.
By the end of their first day at the church, Ahamat, Nourou and Ibrahim had formed a band of brothers, brought together by sorrow. At night they cry for their mothers on a well-worn mattress. During the day, they play in the dirt with the other boys and chase each other around the courtyard.

A community leader shaved their heads to indicate they are in mourning for their parents, making them nearly indistinguishable with their little old man faces and knobby knees. In some cases, the children arriving in Carnot were saved by the most unlikely of people. It was an armed anti-Balaka militiaman who brought several of the boys to the church after spotting them on the edge of town.
"He left them at the door and just said that he felt sorry for the poor boys," said the priest, the Rev. Justin Nary. "Apparently he had a heart."

Follow Krista Larson on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/klarsonafrica

Dozens Killed In Attack On Nigerian School

Ibrahim Gaidam, Governor of Yobe state, left, looks at bodies of students inside an ambulance outside a mosque in Damaturu, Nigeria, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Islamic militants killed dozens of students in a pre-dawn attack Tuesday on a northeast Nigerian school some 45 miles from the city, survivors said.

DAMATURU, NIGERIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Islamic militants set fire to a locked dormitory at a school in northern Nigeria, then shot and slit the throats of students who tried to escape through windows during a pre-dawn attack Tuesday. At least 58 students were killed, including many who were burned alive.

They "slaughtered them like sheep" with machetes, and gunned down those who ran away, said one teacher, Adamu Garba. Soldiers guarding a checkpoint near the coed government school were mysteriously withdrawn hours before it was targeted by the militants, said the spokesman for the governor of northeastern Yobe state.

Female students were spared in the attack, said the spokesman, Abdullahi Bego, though girls and women have been abducted in the past by militants of the Boko Haram movement, whose name means "Western education is forbidden."

This time, the insurgents went to the female dormitories and told the young women to go home, get married and abandon the Western education they said is anathema to Islam, Bego said. All of the dead were teenage boys or young men.

The militants, whose struggle for an Islamic state has killed thousands and made them the biggest threat to security in Africa's top oil producer, have increasingly preyed on civilians, both Muslim and Christian. Some 300 people have died in attacks this month alone.

Local officials buried the bodies of 29 victims and another 29 were taken to Damaturu Specialist Hospital, according to the hospital records and an Associated Press reporter who went to the mortuary. Most of the victims appeared to be between 15 and 20 years old, Bego said.

Eleven wounded survivors of the attack were being treated at the hospital. Touring the smoldering ruins Tuesday at the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi, Gov. Ibrahim Gaidam decried the federal government's failure to protect the population.

"It is unfortunate that our children in schools are dying from lack of adequate protection from the federal government," Gaidam told reporters. He called on President Goodluck Jonathan to deploy more troops to the region.

Jonathan, who rarely comments on individual attacks, said in a statement that he felt "immense sadness and anguish" by the loss of life at the school, and vowed that the military would "continue to prosecute the war against terror with full vigor, diligence and determination."

Garba said the militants locked the door of a dormitory where male students were sleeping, then set it on fire. Some students were burned alive in the attack that began around 2 a.m., he said. The governor said it took hours for troops to arrive, giving the assailants plenty of time to set the rest of the school campus ablaze— six dormitories, the administrative building, staff quarters, classrooms, a clinic and the kitchen.

Bego, the governor's spokesman, said the governor will be looking into why the school was left unprotected. "The community complained to the governor that yesterday the military were withdrawn and then the attack happened," he said.

Soldiers from Damaturu, the state capital located some 45 miles (70 kilometers) away, did not arrive until noon, hours after the attackers had taken off, according to community leaders. Military spokesman Eli Lazarus confirmed the attack, but could not give an exact death toll because soldiers were still gathering corpses. He had no immediate comment on the charge that soldiers withdrew before the attack.

Nigeria's military has reported arresting several soldiers accused of aiding and passing information to Boko Haram extremists; a senator has also been accused of similar charges. On Monday, Jonathan dismissed suggestions the military was losing the war to halt the 4-year-old Islamic uprising in the northeast.

Tens of thousands of Nigerians have lost family members, houses, businesses, their belongings and livelihoods to the rebellion and the fallout from a military state of emergency by soldiers accused of gross human rights violations, including setting ablaze entire villages and summary executions of suspects.

Tuesday's attack is only the latest in a string of deadly assaults by Islamic militants. Entire towns and villages were under the sway of Boko Haram when Jonathan declared a state of emergency in May. The military quickly forced the insurgents out of urban areas, only to have them regroup in forests and mountain caves where it has proved difficult to flush them out.

The military said recent attacks are being perpetrated by militants escaping a sustained aerial bombardment and ground assaults on their forest hideouts along the border with Cameroon, an offensive begun after Jonathan fired and replaced his entire military command last month. On Saturday, the military announced it had closed hundreds of miles of the border with Cameroon to prevent militants using it as a launch pad for attacks.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday condemned the "unspeakable violence and acts of terror" and said the United States was helping Nigerian authorities "to combat the threat posed by Boko Haram, while protecting civilians and ensuring respect for human rights."

But survivors and local officials charge they get no protection. "Everybody is living in fear," local government chairman Maina Ularamu told the AP after Izghe village was attacked twice in a week this month — with militants killing 109 people and burning hundreds of thatched huts in neighboring Adamawa state.

"There is no protection. We cannot predict where and when they are going to attack. People can't sleep with their eyes closed," Ularamu said.

Faul reported from Lagos. Associated Press writer Ibrahim Abdulaziz contributed to this report from Yola, Nigeria.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Koreans Part, Likely For last Time, From Relatives

North Koreans wave to their South Korean relatives in buses before they leave for South Korea after a separated family reunion meeting at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Elderly North and South Koreans separated for six decades were tearfully reuniting, grateful to embrace children, brothers, sisters and spouses they had thought they might never see again.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — As his North Korean daughter wept Saturday, 93-year-old South Korean Park Un-hyeong tried to console her before boarding a bus to take him south across the world's most heavily armed border after spending three days with her in the North. For Park and dozens of other Koreans at these rare reunions of families divided by the Korean War, it was likely the last time they'd see each other.

"You shouldn't cry on this good day," he told his daughter, Pak Myung Ok, 68, as he prepared to leave the North Korean resort that hosted the first reunions of North and South Koreans in more than three years, according to South Korean media pool reports. "We'll be able to meet again soon. Trust your father, stay healthy and live well."

In another emotional scene, an 84-year-old South Korean woman, Lee Oh-hwan, became short of breath from crying too hard and was immediately treated by a medical team. Her North Korean sister, 72-year-old Ri Ok Bin, tried to calm her down, telling her in an aching voice not to get sick.
Again and again, similar scenes played out as 80 elderly South Koreans said their goodbyes to North Korean relatives. They wept, held hands, caressed faces, took pictures and tried to convince themselves that they'd meet again.

Both democratic South Korea and authoritarian North Korea share the same type of rhetoric about eventual reunification, and many average Koreans say they long for that day. But after near continual animosity and occasional bloodshed since the three-year war ended in an unsteady armistice in 1953, many analysts see that as only a distant possibility.

The reunions will continue when a group of about 360 South Koreans arrives Sunday to meet with North Korean relatives whom most haven't seen in six decades. The second and final round of reunions is set to end Tuesday.

It's an unusual moment of detente between the rivals. Millions of Koreans were separated from loved ones by the tumult and bloodshed of the war, and few have been reunited. Both governments ban their citizens from visiting each other or even exchanging letters, phone calls and emails. During a previous period of inter-Korean rapprochement, about 22,000 Koreans had brief reunions — 18,000 in person and the others by video. None got a second chance to reunite, Seoul says.

The current reunions were arranged after impoverished North Korea began calling recently for better ties with South Korea, in what outside analysts say is an attempt to win badly needed foreign investment and aid. But Pyongyang threatened to scrap the reunions to protest annual military drills between Seoul and Washington set to start Monday. North Korea had canceled previously scheduled reunions in September at the last minute.

In South Korea, there are still worries that the current reunions might be disrupted because of the impending military drills. Despite Pyongyang's recent charm offensive, many in Seoul remember that a year ago North Korea threatened repeatedly to launch nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington.
The reality of the Korean division wasn't lost on those lucky few who said their goodbyes Saturday. When it was time to part, many began to wail. North Korean personnel tried to calm down weeping North Korean families, according to the pool report, saying that too much crying would make them sick.

South Korean TV showed elderly North Koreans straightening their stooped backs to get a final look at loved ones who had boarded the buses. As their breaths steamed in the cold air, men wearing suits and women wearing thin traditional Korean dresses waved without gloves.

Some stood on tiptoes so they could put both of their hands on the bus windows, their loved ones doing the same on the inside of the glass. South Koreans on the bus shouted out goodbyes, wiping their faces with one hand and waving with the other. Some held up paper with names or thank you messages.

"Let's meet again later," South Korean Woo Young-shik wrote in part to his aunt. Then, flipping the paper over, he wrote a second message: "Stay healthy until the day we reunite."

2 Popes On Hand In 1st Cardinal Ceremony

Pope Francis, flanked by cardinals Angelo Sodano, left, and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, as arrives to open the morning session of an extraordinary consistory in the Synod hall at the Vatican, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. Pope Francis is leading a two-day meeting urging his cardinals to find "intelligent, courageous" ways to help families under threat today without delving into case-by-case options to get around Catholic doctrine. He said the church must find ways to help families with pastoral care that is "full of love."

VATICAN CITY (ASOCIATED PRESS — In an unprecedented blending of papacies past, present and future, retired Pope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at a ceremony Saturday to formally install new cardinals who will elect their successor.

It was the first time Benedict and Francis have appeared together at a public liturgical ceremony since Benedict retired a year ago, becoming the first pope to step down in more than 600 years. It may signal that after a year of staying largely "hidden from the world," Benedict may slowly and occasionally be reintegrated back into the public life of the church.

Benedict entered St. Peter's Basilica discreetly from a side entrance surrounded by a small entourage and was greeted with applause and tears from the stunned people in the pews. He smiled, waved and seemed genuinely happy to be there, taking his seat in the front row, off to the side, alongside the red-draped cardinals.

"We are grateful for your presence here among us," the newly minted Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, told Benedict in his introductory remarks at the start of the service, drawing more applause.

Francis warmly greeted his predecessor at the start and end of the service, clasping him by his shoulders and embracing him. Benedict removed his white skullcap in a show of respect as Francis approached.

But in a sign that Benedict still commands the honor and respect owed a pope, each of the 19 new cardinals — after receiving his red hat from Francis at the altar — went directly to Benedict's seat to greet him before then exchanging a sign of peace with the other cardinals.

They had, however, already pledged their fidelity to Francis in an oath of obedience. Saturday's surprise event was the latest in the evolving reality for the church of having two popes living side-by-side in the Vatican. Over the summer, Francis and Benedict appeared together in the Vatican gardens for a ceremony to unveil a statue. But Saturday's event was something else entirely, a liturgical service inside St. Peter's Basilica marking one of the most important things a pope can do: create new cardinals.

Benedict's presence could signal a new phase in his cloistered retirement that began with his Feb. 28, 2013, resignation. Chances are increasing that Benedict might also appear at the April 27 canonization of his predecessor, John Paul II, and Pope John XXIII.

"Benedict's surprise resignation last year showed a deep humility and a profound spiritual freedom," said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit author. "And in his retirement, the Pope Emeritus has kept to his promise to remain largely out of sight. This kind of self-effacement is rare in public life and welcome in the life of the church."

Benedict's decision to appear at the consistory could also be seen as a blessing of sorts for the 19 men Francis had chosen to join the College of Cardinals, the elite group of churchmen whose primary job is to elect a pope.

Francis' choices largely reflected his view that the church must minister to the peripheries and be a place of welcome and mercy, not a closed institution of rules. In addition to a few Vatican bureaucrats, he named like-minded cardinals from some of the poorest places on Earth, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast among them.

In his homily, Francis told the new cardinals that the church needs their courage, prayer and compassion "especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world." "The church needs us also to be peacemakers, building peace by our works, our hopes and our prayers," he said.
Two of the new cardinals hail from Africa, two from Asia and six from Francis' native Latin America, which is home to nearly half the world's Catholics but is grossly underrepresented in the church's hierarchy.

There's Cardinal Chibly Langlois, who isn't even an archbishop but rather the 55-year-old bishop of Les Cayes and now Haiti's first-ever cardinal. The archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua, Leopoldo Jose Brenes Solorzano, is an old friend who worked alongside the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in preparing the seminal document of the pope's vision of a missionary church — the so-called Aparecida Document produced by the 2007 summit of Latin American bishops.

Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, archbishop of Seoul, South Korea, has serious Catholic chops: His ancestors were among the lay people who brought Christianity to the Korean peninsula in the 19th century, and his great-great grandfather and his wife were executed as part of the Joseon Dynasty's persecution of Christians, the Asian Catholic news agency UCANews reported. Of the six children in his immediate family, three became priests.

Though he hails from Burkina Faso, Cardinal Philippe Nakellentuba Ouedraogo sounded an awful lot like the Argentine Francis in his 2013 Christmas homily. He denounced the "inequality, injustice, poverty and misery" of today's society where employers exploit their workers and the powerful few have most of the money while the poor masses suffer.

One cardinal sat out the ceremony even as he made history by living to see it: Cardinal Loris Francesco Capovilla, aged 98, became the oldest member of the College of Cardinals, but due to his age couldn't make the trip from northern Italy. His was a sentimental choice for Francis: For over a decade, Capovilla was the private secretary to Pope John XXIII, whom Francis will make a saint alongside Pope John Paul II in a sign of his admiration for the pope who convened the Second Vatican Council.

Capovilla, Felix and the emeritus archbishop of Pamplona, Spain are all over age 80 and thus ineligible to vote in a conclave to elect Francis' successor.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kids With Seizures Use Pot As Treatment

Aileen Burger holds up a bottle of cannabis-infused oil used as medicine for her 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who suffers from severe epilepsy and is receiving the experimental treatment with a special strain of medical marijuana, at her home in Colorado Springs, Colo. After years of nearly losing their daughter while trying and failing with dozens of mainstream treatments, Elizabeth's parents moved from the east coast to Colorado, where they say they have had luck with Charlotte's Web, a proprietary strain of marijuana in which the psychoactive THC has been largely bred out, and the other cannabinoid compounds thought to be medically useful accentuated.

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The doctors were out of ideas to help 5-year-old Charlotte Figi.

Suffering from a rare genetic disorder, she had as many as 300 grand mal seizures a week, used a wheelchair, went into repeated cardiac arrest and could barely speak. As a last resort, her mother began calling medical marijuana shops.

Two years later, Charlotte is largely seizure-free and able to walk, talk and feed herself after taking oil infused with a special pot strain. Her recovery has inspired both a name for the strain of marijuana she takes that is bred not to make users high — Charlotte's Web — and an influx of families with seizure-stricken children to Colorado from states that ban the drug.

"She can walk, talk; she ate chili in the car," her mother, Paige Figi, said as her dark-haired daughter strolled through a cavernous greenhouse full of marijuana plants that will later be broken down into their anti-seizure components and mixed with olive oil so patients can consume them. "So I'll fight for whomever wants this."

Doctors warn there is no proof that Charlotte's Web is effective, or even safe. In the frenzy to find the drug, there have been reports of non-authorized suppliers offering bogus strains of Charlotte's Web. In one case, a doctor said, parents were told they could replicate the strain by cooking marijuana in butter. Their child went into heavy seizures.

"We don't have any peer-reviewed, published literature to support it," Dr. Larry Wolk, the state health department's chief medical officer, said of Charlotte's Web. Still, more than 100 families have relocated since Charlotte's story first began spreading last summer, according to Figi and her husband. The relocated families have formed a close-knit group in Colorado Springs, the law-and-order town where the dispensary selling the drug is located. They meet for lunch, support sessions and hikes.

"It's the most hope lots of us have ever had," said Holli Brown, whose 9-year-old daughter, Sydni, began speaking in sentences and laughing since moving to Colorado from Kansas City and taking the marijuana strain.

Amy Brooks-Kayal, vice president of the American Epilepsy Society, warned that a few miraculous stories may not mean anything — epileptic seizures come and go for no apparent reason — and scientists do not know what sort of damage Charlotte's Web could be doing to young brains.

"Until we have that information, as physicians, we can't follow our first creed, which is do no harm," she said, suggesting that parents relocate so their children can get treated at one of the nation's 28 top-tier pediatric epilepsy centers rather than move to Colorado.

However, the society urges more study of pot's possibilities. The families using Charlotte's Web, as well as the brothers who grow it, say they want the drug rigorously tested, and their efforts to ensure its purity have won them praise from skeptics like Wolk.

For many, Charlotte's story was something they couldn't ignore. Charlotte is a twin, but her sister, Chase, doesn't have Dravet's syndrome, which kills kids before they reach adulthood. In early 2012, it seemed Charlotte would be added to that grim roster. Her vital signs flat-lined three times, leading her parents to begin preparing for her death. They even signed an order for doctors not to take heroic measures to save her life again should she go into cardiac arrest.
\
Her father, Matt, a former Green Beret who took a job as a contractor working in Afghanistan, started looking online for ways to help his daughter and thought they should give pot a try. But there was a danger: Marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, THC, can trigger seizures.

The drug also contains another chemical known as CBD that may have seizure-fighting properties. In October, the Food and Drug Administration approved testing a British pharmaceutical firm's marijuana-derived drug that is CBD-based and has all its THC removed.

Few dispensaries stock CBD-heavy weed that doesn't get you high. Then Paige Figi found Joel Stanley. One of 11 siblings raised by a single mother and their grandmother in Oklahoma, Stanley and four of his brothers had found themselves in the medical marijuana business after moving to Colorado. Almost as an experiment, they bred a low-THC, high-CBD plant after hearing it could fight tumors.

Stanley went to the Figis' house with reservations about giving pot to a child. "But she had done her homework," Stanley said of Paige Figi. "She wasn't a pot activist or a hippy, just a conservative mom."

Now, Stanley and his brothers provide the marijuana to nearly 300 patients and have a waitlist of 2,000. The CBD is extracted by a chemist who once worked for drug giant Pfizer, mixed with olive oil so it can be ingested through the mouth or the feeding tube that many sufferers from childhood epilepsy use, then sent to a third-party lab to test its purity.

Charlotte takes the medication twice a day. "A year ago, she could only say one word," her father said. "Now she says complete sentences." The recovery of Charlotte and other kids has inspired the Figis and others to travel the country, pushing for medical marijuana laws or statutes that would allow high-CBD, low-THC pot strains.

ork state legislative panel to legalize medical marijuana while his wife, Aileen, was in the family's new rental house in Colorado Springs, giving Charlotte's Web to their daughter Elizabeth, 4. The family only relocated to Colorado after neurologists told them Elizabeth's best hope — brain surgery — could only stop some of her seizures.

"It's a very big strain being away from the rest of our family," Aileen Burger said recently while waiting for her husband to return from a trip to sell their Long Island house. "But she doesn't have to have pieces of her brain removed."

Ray Mirazabegian, an optician in Glendale, Calif., brought Charlotte's Web to his state, where medical marijuana is legal. He convinced the Stanley brothers to give him some seeds he could use to treat his 9-year-old daughter Emily, who spent her days slumped on the couch. Now, she's running, jumping and talking. Mirazabegian is cloning the Charlotte's Web seeds and has opened the California branch of the Stanleys' foundation.

Mirazabegian has begun to distribute the strain to 25 families and has a waitlist of 400. It includes, he said, families willing to move from Japan and the Philippines.

Follow Nicholas Riccardi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NickRiccardi .

Governor: Colorado Pot Market Exceeds Tax Hopes

Pot store employee Sam Walsh informs a first time customer about different strains of marijuana, a white board listing prices and sales tax, inside the retail shop at 3D Cannabis Center, in Denver. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced on Feb. 19, 2014 a plan to start spending nearly $100 million in marijuana tax money, the first signal of how much Colorado is reaping from recreational pot sales and what it plans to spend the money on. 

DENVER, COLORADO (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Colorado's legal marijuana market is far exceeding tax expectations, according to a budget proposal released Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper that gives the first official estimate of how much the state expects to make from pot taxes.

The proposal outlines plans to spend some $99 million next fiscal year on substance abuse prevention, youth marijuana use prevention and other priorities. The money would come from a statewide 12.9 percent sales tax on recreational pot. Colorado's total pot sales next fiscal year were estimated to be about $610 million.

Retail sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado. Sales have been strong, though exact figures for January sales won't be made public until early next month. The governor predicted sales and excise taxes next fiscal year would produce some $98 million, well above a $70 million annual estimate given to voters when they approved the pot taxes last year. The governor also includes taxes from medical pot, which are subject only to the statewide 2.9 percent sales tax.

Washington state budget forecasters released a projection Wednesday for that state, where retail sales don't begin for a few months. Economic forecasters in Olympia predicted that the state's new legal recreational marijuana market will bring nearly $190 million to state coffers over four years starting in mid-2015. Washington state sets budgets biennially.

In Colorado, Hickenlooper's proposal listed six priorities for spending the pot sales taxes. The spending plan included $45.5 million for youth use prevention, $40.4 million for substance abuse treatment and $12.4 million for public health.

"We view our top priority as creating an environment where negative impacts on children from marijuana legalization are avoided completely," Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to legislative budget writers, which must approve the plan.

The governor also proposed a $5.8 million, three-year "statewide media campaign on marijuana use," presumably highlighting the drug's health risks. The state Department of Transportation would get $1.9 million for a new "Drive High, Get a DUI" campaign to tout the state's new marijuana blood-limit standard for drivers.

Also, Hickenlooper has proposed spending $7 million for an additional 105 beds in residential treatment centers for substance abuse disorders. "This package represents a strong yet cautious first step" for regulating pot, the governor wrote. He told lawmakers he'd be back with a more complete spending prediction later this year.

The Colorado pot tax plan doesn't include an additional 15 percent pot excise tax, of which $40 million a year already is designated for school construction. The governor projected the full $40 million to be reached next year.

The initial tax projections are rosier than those given to voters in 2012, when state fiscal projections on the marijuana-legalization amendment would produce $39.5 million in sales taxes next fiscal year, which begins in July.

The rosier projections come from updated data about how many retail stores Colorado has (163 as of Feb. 18) and how much customers are paying for pot. There's no standardized sales price, but recreational pot generally is going for much more than the $202 an ounce forecasters guessed last year.

Mason Tvert, a legalization activist who ran Colorado's 2012 campaign, said other states are watching closely to see what legal weed can produce in tax revenue. "Voters and state lawmakers around the country are watching how this system unfolds in Colorado, and the prospect of generating significant revenue while eliminating the underground marijuana market is increasingly appealing," said Tvert, who now works for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Meanwhile, The Denver Post reported Wednesday that banks holding commercial loans on properties that lease to Colorado marijuana businesses say they don't plan to refinance those loans when they come due. Bankers say property used as collateral for those loans theoretically is subject to federal drug-seizure laws, which makes the loans a risk.

Colorado's two largest banks, Wells Fargo Bank and FirstBank, say they won't offer new loans to landowners with preexisting leases with pot businesses. And Wells Fargo and Vectra Bank have told commercial loan clients they either have to evict marijuana businesses or seek refinancing elsewhere.
"Our policy of not banking marijuana-related businesses and not lending on commercial properties leased by marijuana-related businesses is based on applicable federal laws," Wells Fargo spokeswoman Cristie Drumm told the Post.

Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this report.

Russian Security Forces Attack Pussy Riot Members

A Cossack militiaman attacks Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and a photographer as she and fellow members of the punk group Pussy Riot, including Maria Alekhina, right, in the pink balaclava, stage a protest performance in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. The group had gathered in a downtown Sochi restaurant, about 30km (21miles) from where the Winter Olympics are being held. They ran out of the restaurant wearing brightly colored clothes and ski masks and were set upon by about a dozen Cossacks, who are used by police authorities in Russia to patrol the streets.

SOCHI, RUSSIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Cossack militia attacked Russia's Pussy Riot punk group with horsewhips on Wednesday as the artists — who have feuded with Vladimir Putin's government for years — tried to perform under a sign advertising the Sochi Olympics.

The group has resurfaced as a thorn for Russian authorities this week for the first time in nearly two years, just as Putin had been using the Winter Games to burnish his image at home and charm critics abroad with the most expensive Olympics ever.

Six group members — five women and one man — donned their signature ski masks in downtown Sochi and were pulling out a guitar and microphone as at least 10 Cossacks and other security officials moved in. One Cossack appeared to use pepper spray. Another whipped several group members while other Cossacks ripped off their masks and threw the guitar in a garbage can.
Police arrived and questioned witnesses, but no one was arrested. The Cossacks violently pulled masks from women's heads, beating group member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova with a whip as she lay on the ground.

The incident lasted less than three minutes and one Pussy Riot member, a man wearing a bright yellow tank top, was left with blood on his face, saying he had been pushed to the ground. "They hit me all across my body, look at my bruises," Tolokonnikova said afterward.

Krasnodar region governor Alexander Tkachev, who has been advancing Cossacks' interests for years, promised on Wednesday to conduct a "thorough probe" into the incident and prosecute the attackers. Tkachev said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency that the views of Pussy Riot "are not supported by the majority of people in the region" but stressed the importance of abiding the law.

U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf on Wednesday criticized attacks on protesters in Russia but avoided specifically addressing the beatings of Pussy Riot members. "We continue to support the rights of all Russians to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly, as we say all the time, and of course condemn the use of violence against any protesters," Harf said.

Pussy Riot, a performance-art collective involving a loose membership of feminists who edit their actions into music videos, has become an international flashpoint for those who contend Putin's government has exceeded its authority, particularly restricting human and gay rights. They have called for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics.

The group gained international attention in 2012 after barging into Moscow's main cathedral and performing a "punk prayer" in which they entreated the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin, who was on the verge of returning to the Russian presidency for a third term.

Two members of the group, Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, were sentenced to two years in prison, but were released in December under an amnesty bill seen as a Kremlin effort to assuage critics before the Olympics.

The Cossacks have been used since last year as an auxiliary police force to patrol the streets in the Krasnodar province, which includes the Winter Olympic host city. Patrol leader Igor Gulichev compared his forces to the Texas Rangers, an elite law-enforcement body that has power throughout that state.

Cossacks trace their history in Russia back to the 15th century. Serving in the czarist cavalry, they spearheaded imperial Russia's expansion and were often used as border guards. Under communism, they virtually disappeared, but have since resurfaced, particularly in the south.

Later Wednesday, Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and two others held another surprise mini-performance in central Sochi, this time next to the Olympic rings in front of City Hall. Jumping up and down, one playing a plastic guitar, they sang-shouted in Russian: "Putin will teach you how to love the motherland!" A person dressed as one of the Olympic mascots joined them for a moment in an apparent joke.

Police were watching but did not intervene. A few passersby heckled them and yelled at onlookers, saying they should be ashamed to watch. Some opponents showed up later, one dressed like a chicken and others waving pieces of paper bearing crude sexual slurs against the band.

"We are not glad to see them. They should not be spoiling the Olympics. The Olympics are a beautiful thing in the life of every Russian," said one of the men, Sochi resident Oleg Boltovsky. On Tuesday, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were briefly detained in Sochi, but not arrested.

Pussy Riot's two run-ins with authorities in two days, the recent detention of gay rights and environmental activists, and violence in neighboring Ukraine have cast a shadow for some spectators on the sporting achievements on display in Sochi.

Three Pussy Riot members told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they plan to resume periodic protest actions and performances in the future, though said they had no plans to target Olympic venues themselves, for which they would need tickets and official clearance, like all spectators at the games.

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said Wednesday that any Pussy Riot protest at the Olympics would be "wholly inappropriate." The Pussy Riot members, excited and passionate but vague about their goals, described a loose collection of ideals, including fighting against prison abuse as well as feminist, gay rights, anti-corruption and environmental causes. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by police.

Obama Threatens Consequences For Ukraine Violence

President Barack Obama speaks to the media about the situation in Ukraine while meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the state government palace in Toluca, Mexico Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. The president said "there will be consequences" for violence in Ukraine if people step over the line. Saying that includes making sure that the military doesn't step into a situation that civilians should resolve.

TOLUCA, MEXICO (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Ukraine to avoid violence against peaceful protesters or face consequences, as the United States considered joining European partners to impose sanctions aimed at ending deadly street clashes that are sparking fears of civil war.

"There will be consequences if people step over the line," Obama said shortly after landing in Mexico for a summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, as fires burned in central Kiev. "And that includes making sure that the Ukrainian military does not step in to what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians."

Shortly after Obama's remarks, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's office said he and opposition leaders had agreed on a truce, although the brief statement offered no details about what it would entail or how it would be implemented.

Meanwhile, the European Union called an extraordinary meeting of its 28 member countries on Thursday to address the situation. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris that he and his counterparts from Germany and Poland would travel to Ukraine, meeting with the Ukrainian government and opposition before the emergency EU meeting. EU sanctions would typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the EU countries and freezing their assets there.

Obama said he is monitoring the Ukrainian violence "very carefully." "We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint and to not resort to violence when dealing with peaceful protesters," Obama said.

"We hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protesters in an appropriate way, that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression," Obama said, adding he also expects protesters to remain peaceful.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Paris for meetings with Fabius and others, said he was disturbed by the level of abuse demonstrated by the Ukrainian government and protesters. "We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps in order to create the atmosphere for compromise," he said.
It was not immediately clear Wednesday what sort of sanctions or penalties the U.S. could impose.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said visa restrictions already have been imposed against some members of the Ukrainian government, and cited "different kinds of individual sanctions that can be levied" without being specific. She said officials are still trying to determine who is responsible for the violence and described a sense of urgency within the Obama administration "to make decisions very, very soon about what we will do next."

Kerry said the situation is bad but there's room for dialogue and that it's up to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to decide the future of his country. "Our desire is for President Yanukovych to bring people together, dialogue with the opposition and find (a way) to compromise and put the broad interests of the people of Ukraine out front," he said. "We are convinced there is still space for that to happen. The violence can be avoided and, in the end, the aspirations of the people of Ukraine can be met through that kind of dialogue. That is our hope," he added.

Deadly clashes between police and anti-government protesters in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Tuesday left at least 25 people dead and hundreds injured. Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with Obama aboard Air Force one that what happened Tuesday was "completely outrageous" and will be a factor in U.S. decision-making.

He said there was still time for the Ukrainian government to avoid sanctions or other punishment by pulling back its "riot police," respecting people's right to protest peacefully, releasing protesters who have been arrested and pursuing a "serious dialogue" with the opposition about how to unify the country.

Associated Press National Security Writer Lara Jakes in Washington and Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Paris contributed to this report.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Crumbling Democracy Still In Practice And Press Freedom

BY AMBROSE EHIRIM


Illustration by Ed Stein, Rocky Mountain

I had argued with my friend and colleague, Austen Oghuma, March 31, 2010 while we drove to the LAX Weston Hotel for Donald Duke's presidential campaign launch, that for Duke to begin his campaign from the shores of America was uncalled for, and that, if it's anything serious regarding presidential politics, his bid for the presidency should begin from his home base, Cross River State, the state he had governed twice and from around which he has been given the green light to test the presidency. That would have been logical and would have made sense, I said.

But Oghuma would argue that Duke's approach toward launching his presidential bid in North America was necessary to engage Diaspora Nigerians and facilitate a process the Diaspora "must be involved" and participate in Nigeria politics if democracy, though still fledgling, should be kept intact and viable. And, that, given the opportunity for a Diaspora significant role with regards to the adequate and appropriate patterns toward the nation's political process, and based on a Diaspora know-how in the formations and applications of democratic fabrics, that sooner than later, democracy would begin to yield dividend as in other thoroughly, practicing and upheld democracies; even though Duke's strategy of the American political campaigns is seen as irrelevant, that the Nigerian public should exercise patient, and, that it takes time for such applications to take form.

Rightly so, as I would assume, thus agreed we are still in the learning process of the democratic experiment, and taking his words for the confidence he had in a becoming Nigeria democracy with expectations on the basis the Nigerian intellectual community and political class, that there is every indication that Nigeria is heading in the direction to channeling the course of its destiny. "Time," Oghuma would conclude is of essence and as it would eventually happen, would be what mattered and considered.

On the contrary and what had resulted to our discourse, my argument had been, I was not sure why he (Oghuma) had thought Duke was the man of the hour to fix Nigeria's troubling state, and never-minding all the assumptions that Cross River State, the state that Duke had privilege for two terms as governor and the concept he had a lot to show he was tailored for the nation's top job considering his stewardship and an acclaimed job, well done, as his admirers made us believe and my continued insistence that there was no need for Duke to be in Los Angeles to launch his bid for the presidency.

Reaching the LAX Weston Hotel and headed for the basement where Duke had engaged his Nigerian audience and supporters of his presidential politics, we found Duke at the podium narrating his ordeal and how he should also be included as one of the "cabals" who had gone to an elite school which bears witness to his qualification as a Nigerian presidential material. This was at a time the word "cabal" had been thrown in as a Nigerian political jargon, and had to be used for its importance and the difference it made between the ordinary Nigerian politician, the ruling elite and, the both combined gun runners and rapists of the nation's treasury -- the killer squad with cash and firepower.

Duke was not a different politician, the very idealist that would effect change and the kind of leadership Nigeria had wanted in all its years of searching for responsible governing bodies even if it doesn't have to be a democratic fabric modeled after the Western Hemisphere.

And Duke without knowing and not paying much attention, had thought he had assembled the best of Greater Los Angeles Nigeria Diaspora to help run his campaign in Southern California so folks invited would buy into his war-chest which would help him fight his opponents in Nigeria, sustaining his credibility to garner votes, votes enough to see him through his party's primaries and the hope he would be elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

As it would happen, Duke's Los Angeles area presidential campaign organizers -- Ebube Wadibia, Uzo Diribe, Acho Emeruwa and others -- were dreaming like never before; they had put up a stunt and had convinced and persuaded Duke to stop by if he really wanted his coffers to have the kind of volume, filled up to the brim, he had anticipated so as to fight the nasty jungle politics in Nigeria where he'd have enough cash to recruit thugs to beat up their opponents, in some cases, eliminate them, when being on the way becomes a distraction. To cement Duke's presidential bid platform, the staff led by a team of Wadibia, Diribe and Emeruwa had urged every Nigerian Diaspora in Greater Los Angeles to commit $25.00 monthly contribution for the Duke's presidency cash flow in order to raise $500,000 before legitimate campaigns begins in all around the cities and localities in Nigeria, and in addition marketed the campaigns and strategies in online forums and social media platforms compelling the most vulnerable and gullible that the time has come for change which starts from lodging Duke in Aso Rock from a Diaspora influence, especially of the Greater Los Angeles group of Duke's political action committee.

In what had been some kind of noise about Duke's exploratory team and presidential campaign advisers, the Greater Los Angeles social media connection coupled with expectations a potential Diaspora is well tuned to situations  which ensures the platform of the organizers conforms to standard and respects ones right to free speech without a replica of bullying in the jungle where journalists are assaulted and kicked in the arse and nothing happens.

The hoodlums who had organized Duke's campaign in Los Angeles were no different from their native land counterparts. They had the same attitude. I had thought to myself how the hoodlums got to the United States in the first place, and whether they have been familiar with the First Amendment which had given the citizenry the right to free speech, the right to free press, the freedom to assemble and as the list goes on, what had given them the audacity to deny me the right to express myself or take pictures of events in a public forum of a presidential candidate.

Unfortunately, though, the confused and disorganized bunch, the organizers of Duke's campaign and its clueless batch of the Los Angeles Diaspora whose only hope had been a Duke ticket, miscalculated with Duke's mandate for the anticipated break they'd looked forward to, becoming desperate by every second.

When I was chased out by the mobs, I did not realize it was really happening until I hopped on the elevator heading upstairs to where I had parked my car. Few weeks after the Duke's campaign hoodlums confronted me, I bumped into Julius Kpaduwa who was also at the said event and, who had said to me he did not know I was the one the mobs had come after.

But while I exited the basement, the said hall of Duke's campaign launch, I did not hesitate to sound a note of warning to the organizers that what they had done only happens in a country like Nigeria, and that a clueless Diaspora bunch had added more insult to dishonor, considering what had happened to me on the night of Duke's presidential campaign launch at the LAX Weston Hotel.

The hoodlums never stopped tampering with press freedom. Like Martin Akindana and his gang of skirt wearing moderators at Naija Politics, the Yahoo Groups discussion forum, the Los Angeles hoodlums took it to a whole new heights censoring all my write-ups. Good thing I have websites and related blogs where my works can be seen; and good thing, the control freaks at the Yahoo Groups don't own any of the fora. If they had, only God knows.

It also goes without saying that journalists who write and report what they've observed, are victims, too, when the politicians and their loyalists go after them hiring hit-men and assassins whose pocket had been stuffed with cash stolen from the nation's treasury.

I bear witness to this. On that so-called "Duke's Presidential Campaign" bid at the LAX Weston Hotel, I had arrived with Oghuma and was not really interested in popping up questions on why Duke had traveled from Nigeria to the United States to launch and begin his campaign for the presidency. I had only gone there with my camera, what photojournalists normally do in occasions of that nature. Upon arrival, Oghuma and I, located a seat while Duke spoke from the podium, narrating Nigeria's power politics and how the cabals run every show, and the cabals thinking that the entire Nigeria and its resources belongs to them, thus to use it the way they want it.

I had always not agreed with the negativity surrounding Nigerian politicians and how they keep a tight lip regarding the way journalists are treated, the general dislike of folks from the press who are out there as watch dogs, telling the truth as it unfolds within the nation's political landscape, but pursued, and compelled to cease and desist from what was obvious in their reportage -- the simple truth.

It has been a commonplace scenario where journalists  are victims of their own profession; to observe and write a report on a variety of its discipline -- international journalism, collaborative journalism, investigative journalism, photo-journalism, link journalism, community journalism, civic journalism, interactive journalism, and the committed citizen journalism and, as the list goes on and on -- with locations where the events may have occurred or erupted; and upon published in the nation's dailies and community outlets, are then sought by hired assassins for elimination in order to hide the truth, and not to be told again.

Even in a presidential campaign without media coverage such as Duke and while he spoke from the podium, I started taking pictures, a move that was not at all, out of character. But there will be a problem. Before I knew what was going on, I was surrounded by a mob of Duke's admirers and supporters who had been irritated by my photo op, to catch up with the events of a Nigerian politician who had been talked into kick-starting his bid for the Nigerian presidency in the United States. It was ugly.

At the time of the Diribe-led mob against my photograph opportunity for a memorable and notable event, one thing had crossed my mind -- if I was actually in Nigeria and faced by those not tolerant of press freedom, the kind of mob that approached me  on that March 31, 2010 -- honestly glad to be in America.

The attempt to eliminate journalists was practically begun during the Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida military regime and criminal mafia. With the military enacted Decree No. 2 which had empowered the junta's national security agents to arrest and detain subjects considered security risks, the junta Babangida begun the mobilization of uniformed military personnel in a continuous harassment and intimidation of journalists including journalists who worked for government owned media outlets -- Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, News Agency of Nigeria, Daily Times -- and, also, including editors of the independently owned press (National Concord, Daily Champion, Nigerian Chronicle and the list goes on and on). Not even his own cronies in the military he spared. Before anybody could figure out what Babangida's motive had been while he wrestled power from the Muhammadu Buhari-Tunde Idiagbon tandem of destroying all aspects of civil liberties, the Babangida-led military juntas had no explanation to what had happened to Mamman Vatsa and the rest implicated in trumped-up charges and summarily executed. It was during the Babangida military junta that Newswatch founding member Dele Giwa was murdered with a letter bomb delivered to his house. His killers are yet to be found.

Prior to the Babangida military juntas and crime syndicate, the Buhari-Idiagbon dictatorships had experimented on the free press, and had locked behind bars two journalists -- Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson -- for not revealing their source of alleged government classified document. Irabor and Thompson would spend time in prison for information needed to be known by the general public on what draconian laws and dictatorships had been up and about. The same juntas also clamped on Barthlomew Owoh, Lawal Ojulope and Bernard Ogedengbe, summarily executing them by firing squad in an ex post facto law, a law the juntas had made illegal when it was not criminal at the time committed.

And before the Buhari-Idiagbon military juntas, another bully, Olusegun Obasanjo, during his regime shut down the Newbreed magazine in 1977 on the basis of interfering with the government of the time, the military juntas had thought posed security challenges on Chris Okolie's news-story on Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu who was then in exile, in Ivory Coast. The same Obasanjo regime rolled out military tanks on university students who were picketing on the hike in school fees by the government.

Enter the Fourth Republic in what had begun on Obasanjo's declaration of "no sacred cows" which would be followed by series of religious unrests, the Sharia debacle, kidnapping, curse words initiated by Obasanjo himself on citizens, and all kinds of social problems while the presidency "dey kampe."

Obasanjo had arrived the Fourth Republic with the same military mentality. On November 20, 1999 and barely six months in office, Obasanjo gave orders to his kin, Col. Agbabiaka and his command to go ahead and demolish Odi, an oil community  and oil wells controlled by Shell Petroleum, and predominantly an Ijaw enclave in Bayelsa State. About 2500 civilians were killed in the raid and many more injured, displaced and desperate while Obasanjo justified the actions on the grounds 12 members of the Nigerian Police Force were slain by a set of gangs.

It was also in Obasanjo's second coming, in a civilian outfit,  that members of the Nigerian Army invaded Choba, Rivers State, and carried out a mass rape on women, upon conflicts between the community and the Wilbros Oil Company. The soldiers were never brought to justice while Obasanjo smiled it away.

Despite all the games Obasanjo had played and the atrocities committed during his presidency, pushing the government that would stall when he handpicked a bedridden Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to succeed him, a subdued Nigerian public did nothing with what was obvious that all about its democratic fabric had been hijacked.

And Egbon Jonathan fell for the trap. Nothing had worked in Egbon Jonathan's administration by way of tight security to check Boko Haram, kidnappers, nihilists in every angle and the ability to curb corruption which seemed to be baked in every Nigerian gene. His strategy, so far, has not worked, and he has not shown he'd be working on it. For one born poor and privileged to have earned degrees in zoology and, eventually dabbling into politics, abandoning his responsibilities of teaching in the classroom where he belonged while catapulted as deputy governor of Bayelsa State, and within a short time frame elevated to governor of Bayelsa; Egbon Jonathan was just lucky, a symbol of his first name. He would be favored by Obasanjo as running mate to Yar'Adua, a duo that would sweep the polls to continue with Obasanjo's doctrine after a third term bid failed.

But that luck, as his name indicates, would be messy throughout his tenure with an upcoming general elections to be held in 2015 now full of uncertainties. Egbon Jonathan's luck has waned from a series of disturbances and advisers who had been misleading by a wave of recklessness not to have employed diplomacy in resolving cases that have overwhelmed the nation -- Boko Haram, kidnapping, bribery and corruption, oil thefts and as the list goes on -- with an exhausted option.

Not much to say, but apparently, the terrorist group Boko Haram is still whole and feasible, and an Egbon Jonathan-led administration have patently failed to stop them while aware the money managers of Boko Haram are alive and well in his cabinet. A nation in crisis, and that's all it is with the present administration.