Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Uber Partners With Starwood, Giving Hotel Points For Ride

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

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

Overfishing Driving Slavery On Thailand's Seafood Boats

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

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

Confident Obama Predicts Success In Immigration Appeal

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

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

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

By Ambrose Ehirim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brain Stents Show Big Promise For Certain Stroke Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Electricity Companies Get N39.5bn CBN Stabilization Fund

By Ugochukwu Onyeocha, 
Daily Times, February 12, 2015

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Footage Of 1915 Chicago Ship Disaster That Killed 844 Found

Passengers are rescued as they stand atop the Eastland passenger ship after the vessel capsized in the Chicago River in downtown Chicago. Film clips have surfaced of the 1915 disaster that left 844 people dead. The first-known footage of the Eastland disaster was spotted by Jeff Nichols, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was looking through seemingly unrelated material on World War I

CHICAGO (AP) — Film clips have surfaced of a 1915 disaster that left 844 people dead when a ship headed to a company picnic capsized in the Chicago River.
The first-known footage of the Eastland disaster was spotted by Jeff Nichols, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was looking through seemingly unrelated material on World War I.
Nichols, who has lived in Chicago for 20 years, said he found the clips in Dutch newsreels. Title cards describing what happened precede them. "It's as easily recognizable to someone who cares about Chicago history as the Titanic, so I knew what I had right away," Nichols told the Chicago Tribune ( ). "I knew folks would go, 'Wow,' even if they had seen the clip before."
The SS Eastland, which was carrying 2,500 people, turned onto its side while docked in the Chicago River in July 1915. It was one of five boats chartered that day to take Western Electric workers and their families and friends across Lake Michigan to a park in Michigan City, Indiana.
One 55-second clip shows first-responders and volunteers walking on the boat, and a second 30-second clip shows workers trying to right the ship at least a week later. Frank Roumen, a collections manager with EYE Film Instituut Nederland, confirmed in an email sent to The Associated Press that the footage is in the institute's archives.
Nichols posted links to the clips on the Facebook page of the Eastland Disaster Historical Society, which later put them on its website. "It completely defeats the purpose to hoard the thing," Nichols said. "It's something that should be shared, and it's easily shared with lots of folks."
Ted Wachholz, the historical society's chief historian, said photos of the disaster showed movie cameras on tripods, leading him to believe footage existed somewhere. Nichols said that after his initial discovery he found a copy of one of the clips in another museum, and he guessed that other copies could be out there.
"These (lost) films are discovered where you'd least expect them, so it's not a surprise that it was in the Netherlands," Nichols said. "If it were close at hand, then it would have been discovered a long time ago."
The last known survivor of the Eastland disaster, 102-year-old Marion Eichholz, died in November.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Jordan: Smith Was 'Mentor, Teacher, 2nd Father

North Carolina guard Michael Jordan, left, and Tar Heels coach Dean Smith are shown at a news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Jordan announced he would forfeit his final year of college eligibility to turn pro. Smith, the North Carolina basketball coaching great who won two national championships, died "peacefully" at his home Saturday night, Feb. 7, 2015, the school said in a statement Sunday from Smith's family. He was 83.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan called North Carolina coaching great Dean Smith the most influential person in his life other than his parents.

Smith died Saturday night at 83. In a statement on Twitter released through his business manager, Jordan said Smith was "more than a coach — he was a mentor, my teacher, my second father." The former NBA superstar and Charlotte Hornets owner said Smith taught him not only about the game of basketball, but about "the game of life."

Jordan played three seasons for Smith from 1981-84. When he was a freshman he helped lead the Tar Heels to a national championship in 1982, hitting a 16-foot jump shot in the final seconds to beat Georgetown.

Jordan often said that shot was the turning point in his basketball career. He went on to win six titles and is considered by many the greatest basketball player ever. Through the years, Jordan's respect for Smith grew, and he would often lean on his beloved college coach for advice and guidance.

"Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it," Jordan said in the statement. At Jordan's Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he called Smith "legendary." Jordan also poked some fun at him — as he often did — about his days as a freshman and a Sports Illustrated cover.

"The day that he was on the Sports Illustrated and he named four starters and he didn't name me — that burned me up," Jordan joked in the speech. "Because I thought I belonged on that Sports Illustrated. Now he had his own vision about giving a freshman that exposure, and I totally understand that. But from a basketball sense I deserved to be on that Sports Illustrated."

In 2007, Jordan returned to Chapel Hill for a game honoring the Tar Heels championship team in 1982. He was photographed with his arm around Smith and kissing the gray-haired coach on his head. "My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids," Jordan said. "We've lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players his staff and the entire UNC family."

Hornets spokesman Mike Cristaldi said the team will have a moment of silence before Sunday night's game against the Indiana Pacers.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Obama: Scaling Back College Savings Benefits Wasn't Worth It

President Barack Obama takes questions after he spoke at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. Obama is promoting his budget proposal to make two years of community college free.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — President Barack Obama said Friday that he dropped a widely criticized plan to scale back tax benefits for college savings accounts because the savings weren't worth it.
Obama, who revealed that he uses the 529 savings accounts for his own daughters, said he looked at reducing the tax savings because the accounts tend to be used by "folks who were a little more on the high end." He says other taxpayers struggled to save enough to participate.
About 12 million families take advantage of college savings plans, in which money can eventually be withdrawn with no tax on earnings to pay for postsecondary education costs. About half the accounts were held by families making more than $150,000, according to a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office.
The administration initially estimated that scaling back the tax breaks would bring in about $1 billion over 10 years. Obama had planned to use the savings to help fund his proposal to make two years of community college free for all. "Our thinking was you could save money by eliminating the 529 and shifting it into some other loan programs that would be more broadly based," Obama told a crowd of nearly 400 at a town hall meeting at Ivy Tech Community College.
But he quickly backed off after lawmakers from both parties objected. "It wasn't worth it for us to eliminate it," Obama said. "The savings weren't that great. So we actually, based on response, changed our mind and are going to be paying for the two years of free community college with other sources."
Obama's remarks were his first on the matter since the White House announced the shift last week, saying the issue had become a distraction. The president's comments came in response to a question from a woman who said she uses the accounts to help her grandchildren.
The president mixed politics with the personal as he touted his higher education agenda while talking about his own experience as a one-time student and the father of a daughter on her own college hunt.
In response to a questioner who asked about help paying the rising costs of books, Obama said he understood the problem all too well after having to buy his own during undergraduate and law school. "I addition to the bonds of love, we had the bonds of debt. Our net worth was negative," Obama said.
Obama chuckled at kids these days on the college hunt. His older daughter, Malia, is checking out colleges during her junior year of high school. "These days, I hear everybody's looking for fancy gyms and gourmet food and really spiffy dorms," Obama said. He said that when he started at California's Occidental College, the weight room amounted to not much more than a medicine ball and the cafeteria served food that wasn't very appetizing. "There was something on the menu that we called roast beast, because we couldn't really tell what kind of meat it was."
In the hometown of the NBA's Indiana Pacers, Obama couldn't get by without a question about his basketball game from Eddie White, host of the Pacers' postgame show. He said he doesn't play as much as he used to because "I'll be honest with you, my game's a little broke."
"The chances of an Achilles tear or an ACL injury is increasing each month, and then the satisfaction that I get from playing diminishes because I am so bad," he said. He said the likelihood of injury is much lower with golf, which he plays most weekends when the weather permits.
Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at

Islamic State Says Airstrike Killed US Hostage, US Skeptical

N after speaking to a group in Prescott, Ariz. A statement that appeared on a militant website commonly used by the Islamic State group claimed that Mueller was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the militant group's main stronghold. The IS statement could not be independently verified.

BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State extremists claimed that an American woman held hostage by the group was killed Friday in a Jordanian airstrike in northern Syria, but the government of Jordan dismissed the statement as "criminal propaganda" and the U.S. said it had not seen any evidence to corroborate the report.
The woman was identified as Kayla Jean Mueller, an American who went to Syria to do aid work, but there was no independent verification of the militants' claim. The statement appeared on a militant website commonly used by the group and was also distributed by Islamic State-affiliated Twitter users.
The 26-year-old Mueller, of Prescott, Arizona, is the only known remaining U.S. hostage held by the Islamic State group. If the death is confirmed, she would be the fourth American to die while being held by Islamic State militants. Three other Americans — journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig — were beheaded by the group.
Journalist Austin Tice, of Houston, Texas, disappeared in August 2012 while covering Syria's civil war. It's not clear what entity is holding him, but it is not believed to be the Islamic State group or the Syrian government, his family has said.
The announcement was the second time this week that extremists announced the death of a hostage. They released a video Tuesday showing Jordanian air force Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, also 26, being burned to death in a cage in gruesome images that caused outrage in Jordan and the rest of the region.
Al-Kaseasbeh, whose F-16 came down in December while conducting airstrikes as part of a campaign against the militants by a U.S.-led coalition, was believed to have been killed in early January. Friday's statement said Mueller was killed in the militants' stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria during Muslim prayers — which usually take place around midday — in airstrikes that targeted "the same location for more than an hour."
It published photos purportedly of the bombed site, showing a severely damaged three-story building, but offered no proof or images of Mueller. The statement said no Islamic State militants were killed in the airstrikes, raising further questions about the veracity of the claim.
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said it was investigating. "But as a first reaction, we think it's illogical and we are highly skeptical about it. How could they identify a Jordanian warplane ... in the sky? What was the American lady doing in a weapons warehouse?" al-Momani said.
"It's part of their criminal propaganda. They have lied that our pilot is alive and tried to negotiate, claiming he is alive while they had killed him weeks before," he added. American officials said they also were looking into the report.
Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council, said the White House has "not at this time seen any evidence that corroborates" the claim." "We are obviously deeply concerned by these reports," she added.
A U.S. official said coalition aircraft did conduct bombing near Raqqa on Friday, but had nothing to confirm the claim that the American captive was killed in the airstrike. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue with reporters.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters the U.S. coordinates with the Jordanian air force as they fly airstrikes. He wouldn't say whether the U.S. was aware of the hostage's location. Mueller had been working in Turkey assisting Syrian refugees, according to a 2013 article in The Daily Courier, her hometown newspaper. She told the paper that she was drawn to help with the situation in Syria.
"For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal," she said. "It's important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done."
According to the newspaper, Mueller had been working with the humanitarian aid agency Support to Life, as well as a local organization that helped female Syrian refugees develop skills. A 2007 article about Mueller from the same newspaper said she was a student at Northern Arizona University and was active in the Save Darfur Coalition. A statement from the office of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Mueller graduated in 2009 and had worked to help people in need in India, Israel, the Palestinian territories and in Arizona.
On Sunday, Obama said the U.S. was "deploying all the assets that we can" to find Mueller. "We are in very close contact with the family trying to keep them updated," he said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show. "Obviously this is something that is heart-breaking for the family, and we want to make sure we do anything we can to make sure that any American citizen is rescued from this situation."
Mueller's identity had not been disclosed until now out of fears for her safety. Jordan has stepped up its attacks against the Islamic State group after the extremists announced they had put al-Kasaesbeh to death.
The Syrian government said Thursday that dozens of Jordanian fighter jets had bombed Islamic State training centers and weapons storage sites. It did not say where the attacks occurred. The Jordanian military said its warplanes carried out a series of attacks Friday and "destroyed the targets and returned safely." It did not elaborate.
Activists who monitor the Syrian conflict from inside the country said coalition planes hit several targets on the edges and outskirts of Raqqa in quick succession. A Raqqa-based collective of anti-IS activists known as "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" said the planes targeted multiple IS positions and headquarters in the western and eastern countryside of Raqqa, sending up columns of smoke. Explosions could be heard in the city. The collective said there were no recorded civilian casualties, and did not mention any IS casualties.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of IS members were killed in coalition airstrikes that targeted a tank and vehicle depot in the area of al-Madajen and at least six other IS positions, including a training camp and a prison.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace and National Security writer Robert Burns in Washington, and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

NATO Beefs Up Response Force To Face Russia, Islamic Threats

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. NATO defense ministers meet Thursday to discuss terrorism, the situation in Ukraine and the size and composition of the new spearhead force

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO defense ministers agreed Thursday to more than double the size of the alliance's Response Force and create a new quick-reaction force of 5,000 troops to meet simultaneous challenges from Russia and Islamic extremists.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the decisions made during a daylong meeting at alliance headquarters in Brussels will "ensure that we have the right forces in the right place at the right time."
NATO will now "be able to defend all allies against any threat, from the east or from the south," he told reporters. NATO's total Response Force was increased from 13,000 to 30,000 troops and its new rapid reaction force should start to deploy within 48 hours, Stoltenberg said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his counterparts from NATO's other 27 member nations also ordered the creation of command-and-control centers in the capitals of the three Baltic states — Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania — as well as in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In an emergency the centers will help speed the arrival of the new quick-reaction force as well as later NATO reinforcements.
A new headquarters to help defend NATO members in northeastern Europe will also be created in western Poland, and Romania has volunteered to host a similar multinational divisional headquarters for southeastern Europe, the ministers said.
Six of NATO's largest European members — Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain — volunteered on a rotating basis to furnish the nucleus for the quick-reaction force, a brigade-sized, land-based unit accompanied by air- and sea-based elements that should be able to deploy in a week, Stoltenberg said.
"European allies are fully playing their part, taking the lead in protecting Europe," Stoltenberg said. For 2015, he said, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands have already begun training and exercising a prototype version of the force.
U.S. officials have said they plan to assist the new formation with non-troop support such as airlifts, intelligence, surveillance or reconnaissance capabilities. When asked if the U.S.-led alliance's latest actions might fuel a Cold War-style escalation with Russia, Stoltenberg said the measures are purely defensive and were being taken only because of Russia's actions.
"In Ukraine, violence is getting worse and the crisis is deepening," Stoltenberg said. "Russia continues to disregard international rules and to support the separatists with advanced weapons, training and forces."
Russia has vehemently denied allegations of being involved in the Ukrainian conflict, a stance that Western military experts dismiss. The top NATO commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, said Thursday that Russia continues to supply the separatists in Ukraine with heavy, state-of-the-art weapons, air defenses and fighters.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said NATO's new command and control centers and the high readiness joint task force are part of the alliance's "measures on land, air, and sea." "Everything NATO does is designed to reassure the alliance that we can defend the alliance," she said. "That is in stark contrast to what Russia has done (in Ukraine), offensively pouring weapons into another country, supporting separatists, taking over parts of territory and annexing them."
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.