Thursday, March 26, 2015

In Shadow Of Boko Haram, Cameroon Combats Extremism At Home

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

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Japanese Police Arrest Suspect In US Embassy Bomb Threat

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


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

Monday, March 16, 2015

Homegrown, Gourmet Pot On The Rise In Mexico

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


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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Maine Teacher Wins $1 Million Global Teacher Prize In Dubai

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


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

Israeli Leader Netanyahu: Foreign Powers Want To Push Me Out

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


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

Monday, March 02, 2015

Netanyahu Tells AIPAC That US-Israel Alliance Strong

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


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