Thursday, April 28, 2016

Nigeria, France Step Up Joint Fight Against Boko Haram

AFP, APRIL 28, 2016



President Muhammadu Buhari. Image: Punch



Nigeria and France on Thursday signed an agreement on closer military cooperation, including intelligence sharing, to strengthen the fight against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region.

Nigerian Defence Minister Mansur Dan Ali said the agreement was evidence of a "growing partnership" between Abuja and Paris, as he met his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in the capital.

France has provided satellite images and surveillance footage from Rafale fighter jets based in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, which have flown over the main conflict area in northeast Nigeria.

Some 2,000 surveillance images have been shared and Nigerians have also been trained by French military intelligence in how to interpret them, French officials indicated.

Nigeria's neighbours, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, are all former French colonies where Paris continues to have influence and its support is vital, Dan Ali acknowledged.

Relations between anglophone Nigeria and its francophone neighbours have often been tense but Dan Ali said the French army can act as an intermediary for dialogue.

Boko Haram, whose insurgency has killed some 20,000 in Nigeria since 2009, has been pushed out of captured territory over the past year, leading to more cross-border attacks.

- Greater co-operation -

Le Drian for his part said France was primarily concerned with "the common fight against terrorism and particularly against Boko Haram".

Maritime security is also a key factor in cooperation, he added, with incidences of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea off Nigeria's oil-rich south increasing sharply since the turn of the year.

Both armies signed an operational cooperation document detailing 28 areas to be tackled before the end of the year, including training against improvised explosives and combat rescue.

Cross-border military exercises and joint maritime operations with other countries are also included.

A regional security summit is scheduled to take place in Abuja on May 14 with French President Francois Hollande in attendance, as well as representatives from Britain and the United States.

Britain and the United States have provided military personnel to the counter-insurgency in the form of special forces advisors in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, and training.

Some 300 US troops have been sent to Cameroon's remote north, where Washington is operating a drone base for surveillance flights above Nigerian territory.

- Regional force -

Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have agreed to set up a new regional force against Boko Haram with African Union backing but the deployment of its 8,700 troops has been severely delayed.

The troops were supposed to have been operational in July last year, commanded by a senior Nigerian officer from N'Djamena, where France has a base for anti-Islamist operations in the Sahel region.

"It (the regional force) is far from being perfect but it's starting to function," said one French military source.

"By speaking to one another they'll end up cooperating and understand their common interests are more important than their differences," he added.

Nigeria has struggled to acquire military hardware for troops fighting Boko Haram, with Western governments reluctant to provide arms and ammunition because of its army's poor human rights record.

A former national security advisor is currently on trial over a multi-billion arms deal scandal, in which cash earmarked for weapons procurement was allegedly diverted for political ends.

But French sources said Abuja could consult them about their requirements.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

(NIGERIA): How States Squandered FG Bailout Funds

BY SONI DANIEL
VANGUARD,  NIGERIA, APRIL 23, 2016




MOST of the 23 states that got bail out cash from the federal government for the settlement of arrears of workers' salaries and emoluments, diverted the funds for other purposes, thereby defeating the purpose of the government's effort to provide succour for the workers.

A comprehensive analysis carried out by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, ICPC, in conjunction with the Nigeria Labour Congress, revealed last night that many of the states deliberately lied that they were owing their workers huge debts when the reverse was the case.

A major feature of the analysis released by the ICPC and signed by its Commissioner for Public Enlightenment, indicated that many of the states failed to apply the amount received from the federal government to settle their indebtedness to their workers, leaving them enmeshed in huge arrears of salaries to the staff despite collecting the bailout cash.

A breakdown of the analysis indicates that out of the 27 states that applied for the fund, only 23 had been paid by the Central Bank of Nigeria as at the end of December 2015.

The benefiting states are: Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Ekiti, Katsina, Gombe, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Ondo, Osun, Ogun, Plateau, Sokoto, Kwara, Bayelsa and Imo.

Others are: Enugu, Oyo, Delta, Kebbi and Zamfara.

Of particular concern to the ICPC, is the case of Zamfara State, which applied for N32.5bn but as at the time of collecting N10 billion from the federal government for workers' arrears, the state was reportedly not indebted to any of its workers.

But after receiving the cash, the state government made overtures to its House of Assembly to approve the use of the money for the settlement of indebtedness to contractors and other purposes.

The House of Assembly thereafter approved the disbursement of the money as follows:

*Outstanding of payment to 14 LGS of the State: N4,262,560,629.83

* Outstanding payment of fertilizer for 2014 farming season: N3,056,300,000.00

*Outstanding certificate for construction of Bungudu-Nahuche Kyabarawa Road 22.6Km: N265,256,342.76

* Outstanding certificate of Hostel Block at Abdu Gusau Polytechnic. T/Mafara:N55,000,000.00

* Payment of outstanding cost of Vehicles supplied to State: N319,430,000.00

* Outstanding certificate of construction work at K/Namoda Juma'at Mosque: N20,4 79,100.39

* Outstanding certificate of construction work at Emir's Palace. Gusau: N6,020,000.00

* Share of 14 Local Government Councils Bailout: N2,035,705,000.00.

In a different dimension of misuse, Imo State, which collected the sum of N26,806,430.000.00 from the CBN, paid the amount into two commercial banks and transferred part of the money into uses not related to workers salaries.

The ICPC said it discovered that N2 billion was lodged into a Government House Account, N2 billion paid into Imo State Project Account, while another N2 billion was lodged in a micro-finance bank and a 'management fee' of N21 million paid into an unspecified account out of the bailout fund received by the state. Similarly, Adamawa State got N9,578,360, 000.00 as bailout cash but disbursed only N2,378,360,000.00 with a balance of N7,200,000,000.00. According to the report, the state could not adduce any reason for the slow process of off-setting the debt as at the time of the report. However, the state claimed not to owe outstanding salaries as at September, 2015.



In the case of Bauchi State, the report shows that out of the N8.609.100.000.00 it received as bail-out fund, it disbursed N8.4I4.088,383.26 with a balance of N95.011.616.74. The State claimed not to owe salaries as at September. 201 5.

Also, Benue State received N 12.503,439.787. 48 as bailout fund and disbursed N10,852.536.702. 96 with a balance of N 1.650.903.084.52. Analysis of the documents submitted revealed a double payment of N37,760,000.00 in favour of Office of the Deputy Governor. The ICPC said it was investigating the double payment to the Deputy Governor.

Cross River State is said to have received N7.856,400.000.00 as bailout fund and disbursed N3.140.883.040.77 with a balance of N4.715,516.959.23. However the State claimed not to have outstanding salaries to workers as at 19/11/2015.

Ekiti State according to the report, received N9.604.340.000.00 as bailout fund and disbursed N9.213. 816.252.44 with a balance of N390.613.747. 56. The State owed one month salary as at 28th October 2015.

Katsina State got Nl1, 086.630.000.00 as bailout fund and disbursed N2.512.214.530.71 with a balance of N8.574.415.469.29. The State claimed to have cleared all outstanding salaries as at 18lh February, 2016.

Gombe State got N11,000,000,000.00 and disbursed N6,321.684.423.67 with a balance of N4,678,315,576.33. The state claimed it was not owing salaries as at September, 2015, according to the report.

Nasarawa State received N8,317.167.368.87 in two tranches of N3.956.047.519.60 and N4.361.119.848.27 as bailout fund and disbursed N3.956.047.519.60 with a balance of N4.361.1 19.848.27. The State claimed not to have paid Local Government Workers' salaries due to an on-going verification exercise.

Niger State received N4.396.810.000.00 as bailout fund and the entire amount was claimed to have been expended in off-setting salary debts.

Ondo State received N9.443.059.226.92 as bailout fund and disbursed N7.905.484.176.60 with a balance of N1,537.575.050.32. The State reportedly owed one-month salary and several months arrears of gratuity/pension as at 30th September. 2015.

Osun State received N34.988.990.000.00 as bailout fund and disbursed N18.677.224.582.20, leaving a balance of N16.311,765.418 billion as at November. 2015. The Commission said it was verifying allegations that Osun State public servants had only been paid salaries up to July 2015.

Ogun State claimed it received N18,916.208.664.86 as bailout fund and duly expended the entire sum for salary arrears and did not owe workers as at 9th October, 2015.

Plateau State received N5.357.570.000.00 as bailout fund and disbursed N5.330.589.061.15 with a balance of N26.980.938.85. The State was owing two months salaries as at 30th September 2015.

Kwara State received the sum of N4.320.950.000.00 as bailout fund and disbursed N4,291.087.985.08 for staff salaries and emoluments with a balance of N29.862.014.92. The State claimed to have cleared all outstanding salaries as at 20th October. 2015.

Bayelsa State applied for the sum of N 1.285.000.000.00 and had concluded disbursement formalities but the Central Bank of Nigeria was yet to release the said fund to the State as at 18th December, 2015.

Enugu State was granted N10,174,238,681.19 as bailout fund as at 16th November 2015. Analysis of the documents submitted revealed that, the State disbursed N5, 967,238,681.19 from the bailout fund to settle domestic debts and claimed that funds for the payments of Staff salaries and emoluments was not yet assessed.

Oyo State was granted N26,606,944,831.03 as bailout fund and disbursed N25,495,292,422.63 with a balance of Nl, l 11.652.408.40. The State owes four months' salaries as at 7 April. 2016.

Delta State has a total debt value accrued from Staff salaries and emoluments of N36,417,217,601.53. The State was granted N10,936,799,299.36 as bailout fund and disbursed N8,129,888,279.86 with a balance of N2,806,9I1,019.50. However, the state claimed not to owe salaries as at 24th November. 2015.

Kebbi State received N7.080.000.000.00 as bailout fund and disbursedN2,617,152,577.20 with a balance of N4,463,975,420.27. The State claimed to have cleared all outstanding arrears on salaries as at September. 2015.

Boko Haram: U.S. To Mobilize More Aid For Nigeria – Amb. Power



SAMANTHA POWER/HARVARD MAGAZINE


The U.S. on Friday pledged to mobilise more aid and support for Nigeria and other countries affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

 U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power made the pledge at a Town Hall Meeting with the students and staff of American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola. 

Power noted that the current assistance to Nigeria and other affected countries was inadequate in meeting the food and medical needs of the Internally Displace Persons (IDPs), among others.

“When I return to United Nations in New York, I plan to deliver an urgent message to other member states that we together need to do much more to support Nigeria and other affected countries in responding to this immense problem,’’ she said. 

Power noted that so far, the U.S. support to Nigeria covered only 13 per cent of the UN requirements in meeting the needs of the IDPs in the country. 

She commended the efforts of the Nigerian military to contain the Boko Haram insurgents, citing the soldiers’ latest repel of the insurgents’ attack in Kareto as a feat.

 She urged the military to continue the campaign within the rules of engagement by respecting the people’s human rights in the fight so as to garner the citizens’ trust and goodwill.

 “This (respect for human rights) is something we had discussed in all our meetings with the leaders in Cameroon, Chad, President Buhari and respective regional militaries,’’ she said. 

Power noted that Boko Haram had an unparalleled record in the area of human rights abuses, adding that the U.S. was now very active in efforts to strengthen the Nigerian military’s capacity to perform optimally. 

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that while in Yola, Power visited IDPs camps, addressed a news conference and took time off in the evening to play basketball with the students of AUN

Returning Home Is Mixed Blessings For Victims Of Boko Haram

ASSOCIATED PRESS
SATURDAY, APRIL 23, 2016



A girl identified as Monica, cries as her story of escaping the Boko Haram is told during a Bring Back Our Girls vigil in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday, April 21, 2016, which, two years after Boko Haram abducted the girls from their school, is still held daily. A total of 219 girls remain missing, and Power said she couldn't imagine the frustration of the families.



YOLA, NIGERIA (AP) — "Bring Back Our Girls," say the placards in the park and the tweets read around the world. But for thousands of girls and women who've escaped Boko Haram's clutches, the message they've sometimes encountered at homecomings has been "Stay Away."

As U.S.-backed African governments make military advances against the Islamic extremist group and rescue more and more of the kidnapped and enslaved, aid groups and activists say a new challenge is mounting: rehabilitation.

Perhaps no group is as stigmatized as those abducted, raped, forcibly married or otherwise mistreated by the militants. Sometimes they are called "Boko Haram wives" or even "epidemics" in their native communities, and few organized services are available for their care. Sometimes even fewer people are willing to embrace them as survivors.

"No one helped me, just one person who got me these clothes," said Maria Saidu, a 32-year-old woman who was held by Boko Haram for more than a year before escaping three months ago. Finishing up a weeklong tour of the Boko Haram-affected countries of West Africa, Samantha Power, America's U.N. envoy, highlighted efforts to assist the victims of Boko Haram.

In the eastern Nigerian city of Yola, where displaced people far outnumber native residents, Power met Friday with several people from the group of Chibok schoolgirls whose kidnapping two years ago sparked the world-famous "#Bring Back Our Girls" social media campaign.

While 219 remain in captivity, the ones Power lauded for their courage are now receiving free education at the American University of Nigeria. They speak of becoming doctors or chemical engineers or undertaking other careers.

Few who were once in their shoes have been so lucky. "There is nothing we can hold onto," said Monica, a 22-year-old from northern Nigeria, whose monthlong captivity ended in a long flight through Cameroon on to Abuja, leaving a dead child in the bush along the way. "We are just here. We are alive but not living."

As with others interviewed for this story, Monica knew of other women who had been raped, some by 15 different men each day. But like everyone else, she told a story of good fortune or an opportune escape or rescue that allowed her to avoid a similar fate. She didn't want to give her full name.

Monica has no job, which causes her to cry. But after receiving little initial help, she has reunited with her husband and has a baby due in September. And she has rediscovered a cousin and another family member in Nigeria's capital, and they are helping her.

At a dusty displacement camp outside Yola, where kids kick a soccer ball behind wicker-roofed huts, 51-year-old Fatima Hassan has even less. She recounted her sufferings over four months in 2014 when she ate and drank little while being forced to cook for Boko Haram's fighters. She now cooks for refugees.

By Hassan's understanding, Boko Haram doesn't rape. "If they see a lady they like, they just force her to marry," she said, explaining that she was too old for any of the fighters. A militant helped her flee, but now she has nothing in her hometown of Lassa to go back to.

"My house is burned to ashes," she said. "If I go back home, I have nowhere to sleep. I have a husband, but I don't know anything about him." Family and community reactions to returnees vary greatly, according to a recent report by UNICEF and International Alert, a peace-building group.

Some women, believed to have joined Boko Haram voluntarily, are seen as deserving of the brutal treatment they received. Some communities shun them, worried about the contagion of radicalization in their midst.

Fears of violence are pervasive after two kidnapped girls blew themselves up at a refugee camp last year, killing 60 people. A third girl with explosives strapped to her body backed out at the last minute after spotting her mother at the settlement.

"Suddenly people who have been with terrorists are back in the neighborhood," said Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian minister who leads the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. "You can't simply kiss the person and hold them. There has got to be mechanisms that deal with the criminal intents and actions, and then there are mechanisms that deal with the redemptive aspect."

But for the victims, Ezekwesili said, much more assistance is needed. Those who've suffered sexual violence are a particular problem "because of the stigma and the sense that it would be hopeless to go forward and be known as a rape victim."

The courts often engage in "victim bashing," she explained. And religious leaders don't always do better by them. Across the border in the northern Cameroon state of Maroua, Bakary Yerima Bouba Alioum, a Muslim tribal leader with the title of paramount chief, said assisting women and girls who were forced into marriages is a responsibility of authorities.

In his community, he said bluntly, "rape is still a taboo."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fidel Castro Gives Rare Speech Saying He Will Soon Die


Fidel Castro sits as he clasps hands with his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, right, and second secretary of the Central Committee, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, moments before the playing of the Communist party hymn during the closing ceremonies of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 19, 2016. Fidel Castro formally stepped down in 2008 after suffering gastrointestinal ailments and public appearances have been increasingly unusual in recent years. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP)



HAVANA (AP) — Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro delivered a valedictory speech on Tuesday to the Communist Party he put in power a half-century ago, telling party members he would soon die and exhorting them to help his ideas survive.

"I'll be 90 years old soon," Castro said in his most extensive public appearance in years. "Soon I'll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without truce to obtain them."

Castro spoke as the government announced that his brother Raul will retain the Cuban Communist Party's highest post alongside his hardline second-in-command. That announcement and Fidel Castro's speech together delivered a resounding message that the island's revolutionary generation will remain in control even as its members age and die, relations with the United States are normalized, and popular dissatisfaction grows over the country's economic performance.

Government news sites said Raul Castro, 84, would remain the party's first secretary and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura would hold the post of second secretary for at least part of a second five-year term. Castro currently is both president and first secretary. The decision means he could hold a Communist Party position at least as powerful as the presidency even after stepping down from the government post in 2018.

Machado Ventura, 85, is known as an enforcer of Communist orthodoxy and voice against some of the country's biggest recent economic reforms who fought alongside Castro and his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Fidel Castro made his rare appearance at the Communist Party congress to rousing shouts of "Fidel!" according to state media that showed a delayed, edited broadcast of the day's events. Government-run television showed rare images of the 89-year-old leader seated at the dais in Havana's Convention Palace, dressed in a plaid shirt and sweat top and speaking to the crowd in a strong if occasionally trembling voice, pausing occasionally to consult a written version of his speech.

Raul Castro's decision to remain in power alongside a deputy even he has criticized for rigidity capped a four-day meeting of the Communist Party notable for its secrecy and apparent lack of discussion about substantive new reforms to Cuba's stagnant centrally planned economy. Even high-ranking government officials had speculated in the weeks leading up the Seventh Party Congress that Machado Ventura could be replaced by a younger face associated with free-market reforms started by Castro himself.

The party congress also chose the powerful 15-member Political Bureau, mostly devoid of fresh faces associated with the party's younger generations. Five members were new but none are high-profile advocates for reform.

Esteban Morales, an intellectual and party member who had complained about the secrecy of the congress, said he was gratified by Raul Castro's decision to submit the guidelines approved by the 1,000 delegates to an ex-post-facto public discussion and approval. He said he expected the first and second secretaries to remain in their positions only until Castro leaves the presidency in 2018, after what Morales called a necessary transition period.

A physician by training, Machado Ventura organized a network of rebel field hospitals and clinics in the Sierra Maestra mountains in the 1950s, participating in combat as both a medic and a fighter under Castro in the revolution against Batista. After the revolution he became health minister and later assumed more political roles within the Communist Party. He also sat on the powerful Politburo starting in 1975.

Machado Ventura was vice president from Raul Castro's ascent in 2008 until 2013, when the post was taken by Miguel Diaz-Canel, widely seen as the country's likely next president. Machado Ventura was named second secretary in 2011 in a move seen as a way to placate and empower party hardliners.

Machado Ventura was often employed by Raul Castro and his brother Fidel to impose order in areas seen as lacking discipline, most recently touring the country to crack down on private sellers of fruits, vegetables and other agricultural goods. While Raul Castro opened Cuba's faltering agricultural economy to private enterprise, the government blames a new class of private farmers and produce merchants for a rise in prices.

Machado Ventura has been the public face of crackdown on what the government labels profiteering. "He's demanding! He's very demanding!" Castro said of his deputy in 2008. "To be sincere, sometimes I've said it personally, he doesn't use the best techniques in being demanding."

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Jury Convicts Texas Doctor In Biggest Home Health Care Fraud

ASSOCIATED PRESS



The office window of Medistat Group Associates in DeSoto, Texas. Dr. Jacques Roy owned Medistat Group Associates in the southern Dallas suburb of DeSoto. A federal jury deliberated for 14 hours over two days before finding Roy, guilty of eight counts of committing health care fraud, one of conspiracy, two of making a false statement and one of obstructing justice.


DALLAS, TEXAS (AP) — A jury on Wednesday convicted a Dallas-area doctor of fraud for allegedly "selling his signature" to process almost $375 million in false Medicare and Medicaid claims in what investigators called the biggest home health care fraud case in the history of both programs.

A federal jury deliberated for 14 hours over two days before finding Dr. Jacques Roy, 58, of Rockwall, Texas, guilty of eight counts of committing health care fraud, one of conspiracy, two of making a false statement and one of obstructing justice.

Three others — Cynthia Stiger, 53, and Wilbert James Veasey Jr., 64, both of Dallas; and Charity Eleda, 55, of Rowlett, Texas — also were convicted of conspiracy and assorted other charges. Each health care fraud and conspiracy conviction is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, while each false statement and obstruction-of-justice conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison. Each count also carries fines of up to $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for this fall.

Trial evidence showed that Stiger, Veasey and Eleda recruited Medicare clients to sign up for their home health care services. Among those recruited were patients from a Dallas homeless shelter, with recruiters sometimes receiving bounties of up to $50 per patient.

Once the patient was certified to receive services, records were falsified to show nursing services were being provided and Roy would perform unnecessary home visits and order unnecessary medical services.

Three other defendants charged in the case — Cyprian and Patricia Akamnonu, both of Cedar Hill, Texas; and Teri Sivils, of Midlothian, Texas — each pleaded guilty to single conspiracy counts before the trial and are serving 10-year prison sentences. They also were ordered to pay $25 million in restitution.

Roy owned Medistat Group Associates in the southern Dallas suburb of DeSoto. He and six co-defendants certified 11,000 Medicare beneficiaries through more than 500 home health providers between January 2006 and November 2011. Those numbers would have made Roy's Medicare practice the busiest in the country, and the fraud was unprecedented in scope, said C.J. Porter, special agent in charge of the Dallas regional office of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The verdict is "incredibly significant," she said in a telephone interview. "This will send a message to the home health industry." The trial in a Dallas federal courtroom took 22 days. The fact that the alleged scheme went undetected for years before an investigation began raised questions about the federal system for detecting fraud by Medicare and Medicaid contractors. The problem was not with the detection system but the complexity and sophistication of the conspiracy, said Miranda Bennett, assistant special agent in charge of the Dallas HHS office.

"This office will continue to use the most sophisticated techniques available to aggressively prosecute those who, through their fraud, drive up the costs of health care to consumers and taxpayers alike," U.S. Attorney John Parker said in a statement.

Journalist Sentenced To 2 Years In LA Times Hacking Case

ASSOCIATED PRESS




Matthew Keys, right, walks to the federal courthouse for his arraignment with his attorney Jason Leiderman, in Sacramento, Calif. Keys, a well-known social media journalist is set for sentencing Wednesday, April 13, 2016, after he was convicted of conspiring with the hacking group Anonymous to break into the Los Angeles Times' website and alter a story. Federal prosecutors in Sacramento say that despite his news media role, Keys was simply a disgruntled employee striking back at his former employer.



SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — A well-known social media journalist was sentenced to two years in federal prison Wednesday after he was convicted of conspiring with the hacking group Anonymous to break into the Los Angeles Times' website and alter a story.

Despite his role in the news media, federal prosecutors in Sacramento say Matthew Keys, 29, of Vacaville was simply a disgruntled employee striking back at his former employer. U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller sentenced him Wednesday after he was convicted in October of providing login credentials to The Tribune Co.'s computer system. His attorneys said they plan to appeal.

The company owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other media companies including FOX affiliate KTXL-TV in Sacramento. Keys worked at the television station until he was fired two months before the December 2010 hacking.

He was convicted in October of providing the login information that a hacker used to gain access to the Times' computer system and change the story. Prosecutors say Keys posted the information in an Internet chat room, urged hackers to attack his former employer and praised the outcome.

When charges were filed in 2013, he was fired from his then-employer, the Reuters news agency. Defense attorney Jay Leiderman argued for probation and will ask that Keys be allowed to remain free on bail while he appeals to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mueller ordered Keys to begin serving his sentence June 15.

The judge settled on a two-year term after an hours-long hearing, though Leiderman said the presumptive sentence was more than seven years. Prosecutors previously said that as a first-time offender, Keys would face less than the maximum penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison.

The appeal will center on whether the Times suffered any significant damage, Leiderman said. His attorneys argued the hacking was a relatively harmless prank. Restoring the story's original headline, byline and first paragraphs took less than an hour and cost less than the $5,000 required to make the violation a felony, they argued unsuccessfully.

"They clicked the button and it reverted to the previous story. Is that damage, is that loss?" Leiderman asked. Prosecutors said employees spent 333 hours responding to the hack at a cost of nearly $18,000.

"Although he did no lasting damage, Keys did interfere with the business of news organizations, and caused the Tribune Company to spend thousands of dollars protecting its servers," U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said in a statement. "Those who use the Internet to carry out personal vendettas against former employers should know that there are consequences for such conduct."

Regulators: 5 Big Banks Get Failing Grades For Crisis Plans

ASSOCIATED PRESS
APRIL 13, 2016



Customers use Wells Fargo Bank ATM machines in Santa Clara, Calif. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Bank of New York Mellon and State Street were cited Wednesday, April 13, 2016 by the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for gaps in their bankruptcy plans known as "living wills" that they were required to submit. The five banks were among eight Wall Street behemoths whose plans were evaluated.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators say five of the biggest banks in the U.S. failed to develop adequate plans for how they might reshape themselves in case of bankruptcy, which could leave them unable to survive without another taxpayer bailout.

JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Bank of New York Mellon and State Street Bank were cited Wednesday by the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for gaps in their bankruptcy plans known as "living wills" that they were required to submit. The five banks — with a total of about $5.6 trillion in assets — were among eight Wall Street behemoths whose plans were evaluated.

The two agencies found the five banks' plans are "not credible" or insufficient for an orderly restructuring in the event of bankruptcy. The regulators gave the banks an Oct. 1 deadline to fix the problems or face possible "more stringent" requirements. That could include ordering the banks to beef up their capital cushions against unforeseen losses. If the regulators still weren't satisfied, banks eventually could be forced to sell off assets.

Wall Street appeared unruffled by the news, and stocks of major banks rose in early U.S. trading. Investors view the banks' shortcomings in their "living wills" mainly as a housekeeping problem rather than an indication of fundamental financial weakness.

The financial component of the Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 1.6 percent, more than double the broader market. The regulators' announcement came in a week when several major banks are expected to report weak earnings for the first quarter.

The big banks are in strong financial shape and are facing no threat of collapse. They sit on sturdy bases of capital that the regulators ordered them to shore up in recent years. The banking industry as a whole has recovered steadily since the financial crisis, racking up climbing quarterly profits.

At the same time, it's been a tough slog for big banks in recent months. Profits and share prices have fallen as their loans to energy companies have soured and the Fed signaled it will slow the pace of interest rate increases, which hurts bank profits. The financial industry is the worst performing sector of the S&P 500 this year.

The "living will" assessments are part of the regulators' effort to avoid another taxpayer bailout of Wall Street banks in a crisis and to end the marketplace perception that the government would step in and rescue them. Under the 2010 overhaul law, the FDIC has the authority to seize and dismantle big financial firms that could collapse and threaten the broader system. The banks' "living wills" could serve as guidelines for possible breakups by the government.

"We are going to do everything we can to fix this issue," JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a conference call with reporters. The biggest U.S. bank, with some $2 trillion in assets, reported Wednesday that its first-quarter profit fell more than 8 percent from a year earlier, hurt by weak performance in its investment business. Still, the earnings came in better than analysts had expected, and JPMorgan's stock advanced.

Any potential breakup of JPMorgan would be at least two years away, if regulators continued to find the bank's plan to be deficient. And any capital that JPMorgan, or the other banks, would have to raise to meet the regulators' demands would also be at least six months away. In a conference call with investors, JPMorgan's finance chief Marianne Lake said any costs tied to meeting regulators' requirements would likely be modest.

Complex legal structures are a big factor in the problems the regulators had with the banks' plans. JPMorgan's plan, for example, relies on moving cash and holdings away from its overseas subsidiaries, a feat that could be difficult in a global financial crisis.

In their 18-month review, the Fed and the FDIC also found weaknesses that must be addressed in the plans of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The agencies' assessments differed. Only the FDIC deemed Goldman's plan "not credible," the more serious label, while only the Fed accorded the "not credible" finding to Morgan Stanley.

The agencies also found shortcomings to be fixed in Citigroup's plan, but they didn't rise to the "not credible" level. All eight banks must file the next round of plans by July 1 of next year. The exercise was mandated under the financial overhaul law enacted in the wake of the crisis that struck in 2008 and set off the Great Recession. It is designed to check that big banks — which received hundreds of billions in bailouts — are prepared in case of financial disaster and aren't "too big to fail."

Wells Fargo said it was "disappointed" by the regulators' assessment of its plan. Still, the bank noted that the regulators acknowledged that it had taken steps to correct the problems. "We view the feedback as constructive and valuable," San Francisco-based Wells Fargo said in a statement.

Bank of New York Mellon said it "is committed to addressing the issues raised within the required timeframe" and has taken important steps to improve its ability to be restructured if necessary. The Fed and the FDIC already had put the big banks on notice in mid-2014 that they had to correct serious deficiencies in their "living wills" — such as a lack of details and relying on unrealistic assumptions. The banks were told to go back to the drawing board. Only the FDIC, not the Fed, used the "not credible" wording at that time.

__ Sweet reported from Phoenix. __ This story has been corrected to show that major banks were reporting earnings for the first quarter, not fourth, this week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Yorima Beat: Vibe Of Many Genres

MUSIC REVIEW
AMBROSE EHIRIM




I'm not sure if I have done this before, besides the vinyl LP era when I would spin a record on the Elizabethan stereo turntable, like The Temptations 'Masterpiece,' repeatedly over and over again until something else distracts me. Songs like that, back in the day, was how a music appealed to me, by way of listening to it continuously, paying particular attention to the generated beats and lyrics while studying the arrangements and compositions in addition to the liner notes that tells it all -- the album itself and origin.

As it had happened, Jerri Jhetto shipped to me his latest release from the recording studio, to complement his days of sleepless nights on 'The Jerri Jheto Project: Mangasa', in which one must admit, that hard work pays off, eventually. When I received a copy of the album, I was not sure of what to expect knowing from what had erupted at a time musicians wanted their success commercialized in line to going with the flow and joining a bandwagon that had pursued the rush as pop culture zig-zags with a changing times even though I had looked forward to some 'as usual' reggae beats and kind of vibes people always wanted to hear and dance.  Jhetto came up entirely different and what a master of his craft would do to identify himself.

The "Jerri Jheto Project: Mangasa," amplified in all aspects, takes a little bit of every musical genre, swinging along the typical sound of its African origin with mother tongue, the Owerri dialect, revived in his lyrics and beats to draw from the notable bongo beats of the seventies in appreciation to pop culture as it evolves. In spite of the cuts superbly arranged, and adaptation, Jheto found his way around for authenticity while he kept intact  the originality of his music holding steadfast to the highlife traditions, adding calypso, afrobeat, afrorock, blues and ikwokirikwo to an emerging coinage, Yorima Beat.

For weeks, I drove around glued to "Mangasa" and every beat seemed to be sending some kind of message, either of joyous festivities, merry-making and causes and effects to our troubled times, Jheto took step to put every track into perspective to explain the worthiness of his work as his notes indicates in every category: high pitched Owerri dialect in highlife music from the track 'Umu Igbo,' and 'Udara,' reviving beats of the early seventies bongo in Ala Owerri, combining storytelling and the realities of life. Rap, flowing of  wind instruments and strings can be heard while mixing traditional highlife tunes with mainstream pop culture, hip-hopping in 'Egwu Ndere Ndere'. The request for palm wine, ugba (oil bean) and its concoction, stockfish, culinary correctness and tasty Owerri dishes streams along to identify with his cultural heritage.

Mangasa, no question, is impeccably produced even when it kind of slows down and jumps over again, it's deeply entertaining to listen to as every track is done with perfection. A jam in every track, though my favorite piece here is 'Umu Igbo,' where Jheto remarks his craft, the authentic sound of Igboland and revival of culture. A must collection for every lover of music and good vibes.

Tracklisting:

1. Mangasa
2. Umu Igbo
3. Kanayo
4. Eluwa
5. Onyebiri
6. Uwa Wu Ahia
7. Udara
8. Mama
9. Yorima
10. Eringa
11. Adaugo
12. Egwu Ndere Ndere
13. Tuwarimumi
14. mangas (English)

UN Reports Tenfold Increase In Number Of Children Used In 'Suicide' Attacks In Nigeria Regional Conflict

Teacher and class in a temporary learning space in Dar es Salaam camp, Baga Sola area, in the Lake Chad Region. More than 4,900 Nigerian refugees are currently sheltering in the camp, where UNICEF has set up 16 temporary learning spaces Image: Cherkaoui/UNICEF


The number of children involved in 'suicide' attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger has risen sharply over the past year, from 4 in 2014 to 44 in 2015, according to a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report released today.
The report, entitled 'Beyond Chibok', is being published two years after the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok, in Borno State, Nigeria, and shows alarming trends in four countries affected by Boko Haram over the past two years.
“Let us be clear: these children are victims, not perpetrators,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Deceiving children and forcing them to carry out deadly acts has been one of the most horrific aspects of the violence in Nigeria and in neighbouring countries.”
Among the trends highlighted in the report is that between January 2014 and February 2016, Cameroon recorded the highest number of suicide attacks involving children (21), followed by Nigeria (17) and Chad (2).
In addition, the report found that over the past two years, nearly 1 in 5 suicide bombers was a child and three quarters of these children were girls. In 2015, children were used in 1 out of 2 attacks in Cameroon, 1 out of 8 in Chad, and 1 out of 7 in Nigeria.
UNICEF said that this past year, for the first time, suicide bombing attacks in general spread beyond Nigeria's borders. The frequency of all suicide bombings increased from 32 in 2014 to 151 in 2015. Of the attacks in 2015, a total of 89 were carried out in Nigeria, 39 in Cameroon, 16 in Chad and 7 in Niger.
The calculated use of children who may have been coerced into carrying bombs has created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion that has devastating consequences for girls who have survived captivity and sexual violence by Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, the agency stressed.
UNICEF said that as shown in recent research it conducted with International Alert, children who escaped from, or were released by, armed groups are often seen as potential security threats. Children born as a result of sexual violence also encounter stigma and discrimination in their villages, host communities, and in camps for internally displaced persons, the agency noted.
“As 'suicide' attacks involving children become commonplace, some communities are starting to see children as threats to their safety,” said Mr. Fontaine. “This suspicion towards children can have destructive consequences; how can a community rebuild itself when it is casting out its own sisters, daughters and mothers?”
The report assesses the impact that conflict has had on children in the four countries affected by Boko Haram. It notes that nearly 1.3 million children have been displaced; about 1,800 schools are closed – either damaged, looted, burned down or used as shelter by displaced people; and more than 5,000 children were reported unaccompanied/separated from their parents.
UNICEF said it is working with communities and families in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger to fight stigma against survivors of sexual violence and to build a protective environment for former abductees.
The agency also noted that the response to the regional crisis remains “severely underfunded.” Thus far this year, 11 per cent of the US$97 million needed for UNICEF's humanitarian response has been received.

UGANDA: Cancer Patients Go Home To Die

BY ZURAH NAKABUGO AND RACHEAL NINSIIMA
THE OBSERVER (KAMPALA)/ALL AFRICA, APRIL 12, 2016






What next for radiotherapy patients?

The aftermath of the breakdown of radiotherapy services has shined a bright light on the poor state of Uganda's health care system.

On a sizzling Friday afternoon, the normally-crowded and noisy waiting room of the radiotherapy department at Mulago national referral hospital was unusually-quiet.

What stood out most to a visitor were empty plastic chairs arranged in repetitive rows. In front of the chairs was an imposing Coca-Cola fridge teeming with soft drinks. At the back was Naomi Walulumba, a lone patient who needed radiotherapy services. She is suffering from cervical cancer and sat waiting to be called in by a doctor.

Usually, this room is inundated by tens and even hundreds of patients waiting for radiotherapy treatment from the country's only Cobalt-60 radiation machine.

However, there were no patients. Why? The radiation machine broke down three weeks ago. The out-of-service machine, according to sources, costs about $1.8m.

"I have been coming to the department for a week now to receive radiotherapy but all in vain. I do not know when it will be up and running again but all I know is that I need it desperately," Walulumba, with a despondent look, told The Observer.

During the interview, she intermittently slumps her body backwards in the chair, complaining of severe chest pain. This was her second time to seek radiotherapy since 2013 when she was diagnosed with cancer. However, it was also the second time she couldn't be attended to due to the machine's inefficiency.

"When I first came here after my diagnosis in 2013, I had to wait two days for the machine to be worked on after it experienced technical challenges," she recalled.

DIRE CONSEQUENCES

This time round, Walulumba will have to wait even longer. Official sources said assembling a new machine would take between three to six months. It also implies that hundreds of patients who depend on the machine for free treatment will have to seek alternative cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery or pay millions to access radiotherapy in other countries.

Mulago is the only hospital in East Africa that offers radiotherapy free of charge. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) donated the machine to Mulago in 1995.

"The machine will cost $1.8m (Shs 5.9bn) if the government invests some money in its reconstruction by IAEA. IAEA manufactures and repairs this machine on request. But this time round this old machine is beyond repair since the radiation sources have fallen down," sources said.

Therefore, one would need at least Shs 14m to access the same kind of services in Nairobi. The machine has not only been used on Ugandan patients but also those who seek free cancer treatment at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) from neighboring South Sudan, DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Christine Namulindwa, the institute's spokesperson, said Mulago needs four machines of its kind to operate optimally because of the increased number of cancer patients.

"On average the machine has been treating 27,648 cancer patients annually. But since it has broken down, they [patients] have been referred to Nairobi and India," she said.

Monday, April 11, 2016

HRW: 'Generation Robbed Of Their Rights To Education In Nigeria'

DEUTSCHE WELLE, APRIL 12, 2016







A new Human Rights Watch report says the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has forced a million children out of school. The military is part of the problem, Mausi Segun from Human Rights Watch tells DW.

In a new report released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that that attacks carried out by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram have had a devastating effect on education in the country’s northeastern region.

The report highlighted the plights of nearly 1 million children, who have not been able to go to school as a result of the violence in the region. Mausi Segun, one of the researchers of HRW has been speaking to DW about their findings.

Deutsche Welle: Can you briefly explain how bad the academic situation in northeastern Nigeria is?

Mausi Segun: The system has been devastated by the conflict, especially in Borno State and to a smaller extent in Yobe and Adamawa States. In the entire region almost one million school-aged children are out of school and many have been out of school for at least the last two years, some up to three, four years.

This means that almost an entire generation of children has been robbed of their right to education, which is an intrinsic component of their development. And so to our mind it is an emergency, a critical issue that the Nigerian authorities must pay immediate attention to in order to stem the tide of poverty and underachievement of children in this region that have lagged behind the rest of Nigeria for many years.

In your report, you say that at least 611 teachers have been deliberately killed and a further 19,000 have been forced to flee since 2009. But what about those who have been left behind? How are they coping with the security situation?

Many of them are living in displacement camps. Some who work for the government are earning small salaries even though they say it does not come in frequently. But they have many friends, families and neighbors that they have to take care of. A lot of them are deeply traumatized because they have witnessed the killings of their colleagues and family members. A few are doing some good by volunteering their time to teach children in the IDP camps, and some are setting up learning centers for children in host communities.

But you can tell the frustration and fear that still exist. They are longing to return home to the life they knew, to the profession they love and enjoy, but unable to do so because of the fear that Boko Haram would kill them upon their returning.

Boko Haram fighters as well as Nigerian security forces are turning schools into military bases, what can you tell us about that?

While children were still in school, soldiers were placed in these schools ostensibly to protect the children and the schools. Unfortunately the very presence of armed forces at a school can make the school a legitimate military target. And this thing has happened in reverse as well.

Because of the presence of Boko Haram fighters in schools, Nigerian security forces have targeted these schools. Many had to flee for their lives. For a station or a base, a school is not the best place because it might turn the school into a military target.

What about those children that have been abducted by the extremists? You mention the Chibok girls and another 300 children that were abducted. How concerned are you that they are now being used as suicide bombers?

It is a deplorable situation that would concern everyone. We are concerned at the level that we work. I can't imagine what it is like on a daily basis for the parents of the missing children, for their relatives and friends, their community members. I think for the Chibok girls, the activities of the advocates who have worked to continue to put pressure on the government have helped in some way.

Our question is: What about the other children? I think the government needs to do a lot more to give names to these people by, for example, opening up a missing persons' register, where parents can put down the names of their children. They do not know whether they are dead or just missing, or whether they have been recruited to become suicide members or whatever. Even the dead have been buried without giving them names. The government must immediately set up a mechanism to ensure that they are given names and their dignity is restored.

Mausi Segun is a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Nigeria

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu

Ex-Boxer (Ike Ibeabuchi) Who Served Time In Nevada Now In Trouble In Arizona

ASSOCIATED PRESS
APRIL 11, 2016





PHOENIX, ARIZONA  (AP) — A former heavyweight boxer who served prison time in Nevada is now in trouble with the law in Arizona, where he also has a criminal conviction on his record.

Authorities say 43-year-old Ikemefula "Ike" Ibeabuchi (ee-bee-a-BOO'-chee) was arrested Thursday in Gilbert, Arizona, for allegedly violating conditions of his Arizona lifetime probation for a 1998 conviction in a sexual assault case.

Ibeabuchi was convicted in 2001 in Las Vegas of attempted sexual assault and battery. Nevada's prison system released Ibeabuchi in 2014, handing over the Nigerian-born man to immigration authorities. They released Ibeabuchi in late 2015 when Nigeria declined to provide travel documents.The Maricopa County Adult Probation Department says Ibeabuchi failed to begin a treatment program.

Ibeabuchi's lawyer, Todd Nolan, did not immediately return a call for comment Monday.

Texas Attorney General Charged With Federal Securities Fraud

ASSOCIATED PRESS
APRIL 11, 2016




Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during a hearing in Austin, Texas. Federal securities regulators have filed civil fraud charges against Paxton, Monday, April 11, 2016, over recruiting investors to a high-tech startup before becoming the state's top prosecutor.




AUSTIN, TEXAS (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Federal securities regulators charged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Monday with four civil counts of fraud, piling on more legal troubles for the Republican already under criminal indictment for allegations that he deceived friends and wealthy investors — at least once with high-pressure tactics.

The lawsuit filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission provoked new calls from critics that Paxton should resign but no immediate response from state Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott.

Paxton, who has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of securities fraud handed up by a Texas grand jury last summer, has said he won't step down and has faced no public pressure from state leaders to do so. But questions about his private financial dealings have made for a tumultuous first 16 months on the job.

The new federal lawsuit essentially mirrors the charges in Paxton's criminal case — that he defrauded investors in a high-tech startup called Servergy Inc. — but provides a far more detailed narrative of Paxton's alleged misdeeds than what has previously been made public.

The SEC describes how Paxton allegedly betrayed a friend, raised $840,000 and pressured one investor to make a "hasty decision" to immediately invest, thereby increasing the value of Servergy stock that Paxton received as commission. Paxton's investor recruiting took place in 2011, when he was still a state legislator.

SEC investigators say Paxton claimed he planned to invest $100,000 of his own money into Servergy but that company founder Bill Mapp refused. The lawsuit alleges Paxton said Mapp told him, "I can't take your money. God doesn't want me to take your money." Paxton claimed he accepted Servergy shares as a gift, according to the lawsuit.

But both state prosecutors and now the SEC accuse Paxton of never telling investors Servergy paid him to raise money. The investors wouldn't have invested had they "known Paxton was being paid to promote the company," the lawsuit reads.

Those same allegations led to Paxton's indictment in his hometown and facing a possible sentence of five to 99 years in prison if convicted. By filing a civil lawsuit, federal regulators aren't seeking prison time but instead want Paxton to pay back "any ill-gotten gains or unjust enrichment" and be ordered to pay additional financial penalties.

SEC investigators allege that one investor considered Paxton "a personal friend" and believed that Paxton was also investing in the company. According to the lawsuit, that investor "grew worried" when promises about product shipment failed to materialize, and that Paxton "did nothing" to determine whether those company milestones were true.

Paxton attorney Bill Mateja said he was surprised the SEC chose to file the charges a year after Paxton's criminal indictment. "Like the criminal matter, Mr. Paxton vehemently denies the allegations in the civil lawsuit and looks forward to not only all of the facts coming out, but also to establishing his innocence in both the civil and criminal matters," Mateja said.

The Texas Democratic Party, which hasn't won a statewide office in more than two decades, said in a statement that "enough is enough" and again called for Paxton to step down. A spokesman for Abbott, who was Texas' attorney general for 12 years before becoming governor, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Paxton took office in January 2015 with strong tea party support. A year earlier, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, now a GOP presidential candidate, called him a "tireless conservative warrior" as Paxton trounced a moderate Republican challenger on the way to becoming Texas' top law enforcement officer.

During a heated GOP primary race in 2014, Paxton admitted to breaking state securities laws by not disclosing how he received commissions for referring his private law clients to a financial planner. He paid a $1,000 fine, downplayed it as an oversight and went on to handily beat an establishment Republican who counted former President George W. Bush as a supporter.

A Dallas state appeals court is scheduled to take up the criminal indictments next month.

Follow Paul J. Weber at www.twitter.com/pauljweber and Jim Vertuno at www.twitter.com/jimvertuno

This story has been corrected to reflect that the company name is Servergy, not Severgy.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Igbo Of South Eastern Nigeria, Most Brilliant Black Africa Race — US Report

APRIL 9, 2016 



Ogbuefi Ikelie blowing his elephant tusk in Iyioji festival. Image: Cyprian Ekwensi/University of Michigan, 1983 



A United States academic report for 2015 has suggested that the Igbo of South Eastern Nigeria are the most brilliant black Africa race. According to the report: “a search through the promotional materials of school for a black student – all schools and colleges would always show some black faces in their promotional materials if they have any – reveals that they have had at least one black student, and it was, unsurprisingly, a Nigerian Igbo.”

This is just as two teenage Nigerian high school students, Harold Ekeh and Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna, have broken a record of being accepted by eight Ivy League schools in the United States. Ekeh is a 17-year-old senior student at Elmont Memorial High School, Long Island while Uwamanzu- Nna is a high-school student from Long Island, New York.

Schools within the Ivy League are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.

However, the feat, according to two online news portals, NBC News and MSN, revealed that both teenagers are faced with “a big decision to make soon.” For instance, Ekeh was granted admission by 13 universities, including all the eight Ivy League schools.

The NBC News reports that Ekeh is faced with the dilemma of whittling down his college prospects, having applied to 13 colleges, with the hope to “maybe” get into Stony Brook University, about an hour east of his home in Elmont, Long Island.

But, in recent weeks, the cascade of reply letters started pouring in: Harvard. Yes. Yale. Yes. Princeton. Yes. Not only did he get accepted to all of the schools he applied to, those include all eight Ivy League institutions. Speaking with NBC News, Ekeh said: “It’s very, like, stunning.

It’s like getting hit with a brick, honestly. When you see congratulations, you’re like, wow your hard work has paid off, definitely.” The straight-A student has accomplished the rare feat of getting into all of the nation’s Ivy schools, crediting his parents’ work ethic for setting an example and a desire to strive in his adopted homeland after emigrating from Nigeria 10 years ago.

“I find that I’m very over-involved,” Ekeh said, counting advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities, such as science research, school plays and being editor-inchief of his school newspaper, as filling up his time. Ekeh, who scored a 2270 out of 2400 on his SATs, said: “I do have conflicts that maybe I’ll have this programme at the same time as I have another programme and so it’s hard to choose which one to be involved in.

I expected to maybe get into Stony Brook, a couple of other safeties, just based upon the SAT and the GPA, but I was still never certain of anything. There are so many variables taken into consideration in college admissions, so I was never certain of anything at any point.”

Ekeh, one of five brothers, said he wants to study biochemistry and become a neurosurgeon. He is inspired by his grandmother, who began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s when he was 11. He wants to find a cure. “There are so many researchers working for Alzheimer’s disease right now and many neurogenic disorders that definitely a cure can be found soon,” he said.

As for where he is going to college, he isn’t quite sure, but would like to stay close to family. “I am leaning towards Columbia right now because I’d like to stay in New York City for I guess the rest of my career and work at Mt. Sinai,” Ekeh said, adding that America has given his family a life they might never have had in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Uwamanzu- Nna, who also had found herself in the same situation, told MSN News that she has a big decision to make soon. The Elmont High School valedictorian, who was accepted into all the eight Ivy League schools, also gained admission into Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Uwamanzu-Nna is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, who said her parents instilled in her the value of education. “Though I was born here in America, I visited Nigeria many times. And I’ve seen that my cousins don’t have the same opportunities that I have.

So, definitely, whatever I do, I want to make sure that it has an impact on Nigeria,” she said. She also said her own tenacity and persistence helped shape her into becoming a great student. But as with a lot of students, she did face hardships with some classes.

“I struggled with numerous classes in the past. But I guess what allowed me to be successful, ultimately, in those classes, is my persistence and my tenacity,” she said. Though Uwamanzu- Nna hasn’t decided on which college to attend, having scored a GPA of 101.6, and with a recent invitation to the White House Science Fair, reports indicated that there’s no doubt that she would continue her academic excellence.

The report that suggested the outstanding academic performance of the Igbo revealed that if only environmental factors were responsible for the different Intelligence Quotients (IQs) of different populations, the world may expect to find some countries where Africans had higher IQs than Europeans.

The report cited empirical backup using theories propounded by eminent scholars such as Richard Lynn, a British Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Ulster and Arthur Jensen, who was a professor of educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

The report’s findings also revealed that while the fact remains that black immigrants to the U.S have shown achievements that were superior to native black Americans, studies had also shown that it had been a phenomenon studied since the 1970s at the least.

Using Lynn theory, who was also an assistant editor of the controversial journal Mankind Quarterly, who is known for his views on racial, ethnic and national differences in intelligence, the report revealed that: “Failure to find a single country where this is the case points to the presence of a strong genetic factor.”

For Jensen, the report said: “Regression would explain why Black children born to high IQ, wealthy Black parents have test scores two to four points lower than do White children born to low IQ, poor White parents.” The report also stated that at first, it was just the Caribbean blacks who were a subject of this unexpected outcome.

As black Africans kept immigrating into the U.S, they showed even higher levels of achievement than the native blacks. Many scholars theorised on the reasons for these differences, from Thomas Sowell’s proposal that this disproved the validity of discrimination against native blacks as an explanation for their underachievement (Sowell, 1978), to other scholars who suggested that these immigrants were just the most highly driven members of their home countries as evidenced by their willingness to migrate to a foreign country (Butcher, 1990).

Thursday, April 07, 2016

EU Threatens To Put Sanctions On Panama, Other Tax Havens

ASSOCIATED PRESS
APRIL 7, 2016




Russian President Vladimir Putin during media forum of the All-Russia People's Front in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, April 7, 2016. Speaking Thursday at a media forum in St.Petersburg, Putin rejected links to offshore accounts, calling the leaks part of Western efforts to weaken Russia.


BERLIN (AP) — A European Union official threatened Thursday to sanction Panama and other nations if they don't cooperate fully to fight money laundering and tax evasion, after a leak of data showed the small country remains a key destination for people who want to hide money.

The 11.5 million documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca showed it helped thousands of individuals and companies from around the world set up shell companies and offshore accounts in low-tax havens. Because such accounts often hide the ultimate owner of assets, they are a favored tool to evade taxes, launder money or pay bribes.

So far, the scandal has brought down the leader of Iceland and raised questions about the dealings of the presidents of Argentina and Ukraine, senior Chinese politicians, famous actors, athletes and the circle of friends of Russian Vladimir Putin, who some allege has profited indirectly from such accounts. On Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged he profited from his father's investments in an offshore tax haven before being elected.

"People are fed up with these outrages," said Pierre Moscovici, who heads financial affairs for the 28-nation EU. He took to task countries like Panama that facilitate such secretive, low-tax accounts.

"The amounts of money, the jurisdictions and the names associated with this affair are frankly shocking," he said. Panama is listed by the EU as a country that is not cooperative on tax issues, and Moscovici urged the country to "rethink its position in this regard." The EU has to "be ready to hit them with appropriate sanctions if they refuse to change," he said.

The Central American country's government is offering to cooperate more. On Wednesday, President Juan Carlos Varela announced the creation of an international committee of experts to recommend ways to boost transparency in Panama's offshore financial industry.

But Varela defended his country against what he called a "media attack" by wealthy nations that he says are ignoring their own deficiencies and unfairly stigmatizing Panama. Ramon Fonseca, a co-founder of the law firm at the center of the scandal and until recently a top adviser to Varela, said Thursday the only law that has been broken so far is the right to his clients' privacy. He said the biggest source of secretive shell companies is Europe and the U.S.

"If a company in England has problems nobody says anything against England, but when it happens to a firm in Panama it's a big problem and the entire world beats up on poor Panama," Fonseca told The Associated Press in an interview.

He said his firm creates about 20,000 shell companies annually but also rejects about 70 to 80 clients every year due to conflicts that crop up during due diligence. "We're not perfect and some surely escape by," he said. "But in all our years in business we've never been accused or condemned by a court."

Europe also is home to countries with a record of acting like tax havens and providing banking secrecy — Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, among others. The United States has also become a haven, with several states including Wyoming and Delaware now popular places to open anonymous accounts that are cheap to maintain and pay little or no local tax.

Since the first reports based on Mossack Fonseca documents were published Sunday, prominent politicians, celebrities and businesspeople have had their offshore business dealings dragged into the spotlight. On Thursday, the German newspaper that first obtained what have been dubbed the "Panama Papers," said it won't publish all the files, arguing that not all are of public interest.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung received the documents from an unidentified source more than a year ago and shared at least parts of them with dozens of other media outlets around the world. Fonseca said his firm has hired forensic experts to investigate and have already uncovered the method used to penetrate its systems. He said the hack was probably carried out from Europe and dismissed speculation it may have been an inside job.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which helped coordinate reporting on the leak, have said they won't make the complete set of 11.5 million documents available to the public or law enforcement but rather mine the information for details of public interest.

Responding to readers' queries about the absence of prominent German or American politicians in the reports, Sueddeutsche Zeitung said such names haven't yet been found in the documents. It said the documents include copies of the passports of 200 Americans and about 3,500 shareholders in offshore companies have listed addresses in the United States.

Fonseca said his firm has only a handful of American clients, mostly expats living in Panama. He said both he and his German-born partner have longstanding ties to Europe and over the years have focused their business there and in Latin America.

Meanwhile, Britain's Cameron looks to become the next European politician ensnared by the scandal. After four days fending off headlines about his family's finances, he acknowledged Thursday that he and his wife, Samantha, sold shares worth 31,500 pounds (currently $44,300) in an offshore fund named Blairmore Holdings in January 2010 — five months before Cameron became prime minister. They had paid 12,497 pounds for the shares in 1997.

The prime minister's father, Ian Cameron, an affluent stockbroker who died in 2010, was a client of Mossack Fonseca. There's no indication the offshore fund was set up to avoid paying taxes but the revelation has reinforced the prime minister's image as a scion of wealth and undermined calls to boost transparency at a time many British overseas territories act as tax havens.

Also on Thursday, an Argentine prosecutor asked a judge to authorize an investigation into President Mauricio Macri's role in offshore companies. Federal prosecutors said an investigation is necessary to see whether Macri "maliciously" omitted his role in two offshore companies in his annual tax declarations.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied having any links to offshore accounts and described the document leaks scandal as part of a U.S.-led plot to weaken Russia. Speaking at a media forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said Western media pushed the claims of his involvement in offshore businesses even though his name didn't feature in any of the documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm.

Putin described the allegations as part of the U.S.-led disinformation campaign waged against Russia in order to weaken its government. "They are trying to destabilize us from within in order to make us more compliant," he said.

The ICIJ said the documents it obtained indicated that Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin acted as a front man for a network of Putin loyalists and, perhaps, the president himself. The ICIJ said the documents show how complex offshore financial deals channeled as much as $2 billion to a network of people linked to the Russian president.

Associated Press writer Frank Jordans reported this story in Berlin and AP writer Raf Casert reported from Brussels. AP writers Irina Titova and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Global Military Spending Nearly $1.7T Amid Mideast Conflicts

BY JON GAMBRELL
ASSOCIATED PRESS, APRIL 4, 2016


\

Delegates from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) leave the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. A report by The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed that the U.S. with $596 billion in defense spending and China with an estimated $215 billion led all countries in military spending in 2015.




DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Global military spending rose in 2015 to nearly $1.7 trillion, the first increase in several years, driven by conflicts including the battle against the Islamic State group, the Saudi-led war in Yemen and fears about Iran, a report released Tuesday shows.

The study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute also noted that the Chinese expansion in the South China Sea and Russia's annexation of Crimea and support of Ukrainian separatists also accounted for nudging spending up 1 percent in real terms, compared to 2014.

For weapons manufacturers, the nonstop pace of airstrikes targeting Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, as well as Saudi-led bombing of Yemen's Shiite rebels and their allies, means billions of dollars more in sales.

But activists question continued U.S. arms deals to Saudi Arabia as its Yemen campaign has killed civilians, while American fighter jet sales to both emerging military buyer Qatar and longtime ally Kuwait appear stalled.

The United States, with $596 billion in defense spending, and China, with an estimated $215 billion, led all countries in 2015, the annual report by SIPRI said. Saudi Arabia, however, came in third with spending of $87.2 billion — double what it spent in 2006, according to the report. That fueled the first worldwide increase in military spending since 2011.

Iraq spent $13.1 billion on its military in 2015, up well over 500 percent from 2006 as it has rebuilt its armed forces following the U.S. withdrawal and rise of the Islamic State group, SIPRI said. While part of the U.S. coalition fighting the extremists, Saudi Arabia also launched a war in Yemen in March 2015 to support the country's internationally recognized government after Shiite rebels known as Houthis earlier overran the country's capital, Sanaa. The Sunni kingdom views the Houthis as a proxy of Shiite power Iran, long its regional rival.

The United Arab Emirates also is taking part in both conflicts and likely has spent billions of dollars to support its military in 2015 as well, though the Stockholm-based institute said it couldn't offer precise figures this year, senior research Pieter Wezeman said. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia also sent troops into Bahrain to put down its 2011 Arab Spring-inspired protests.

"This clearly is a reason for these countries to improve their so-called security forces, both to be able to fight against internal uprisings, whether a more-peaceful nature or more violent, but also of course to intervene in neighboring countries," Wezeman, who took part in the report, told The Associated Press.

But the air campaign waged by the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition in Yemen has been increasingly criticized by human rights activists over civilian deaths. Airstrikes account for 60 percent of the 3,200 civilians killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations, which has criticized coalition strikes that have hit markets, clinics and hospitals.

Yet arms deals continue, especially from the U.S. Asked about the civilian casualties, State Department spokesman David McKeeby said the United States remained "deeply concerned by the devastating toll of the crisis in Yemen."

"We have remained in regular contact with the Saudi-led coalition and have reinforced to them the need to avoid civilian casualties and the importance of precise targeting," McKeeby said in a statement. "We have encouraged them to investigate all credible accounts of civilian casualties as a result of coalition strikes — and to report publicly the results of these investigations."

But both the Yemen war and the fight against the Islamic State group likely will keep arms manufacturers busy into 2016. Companies that may see increased sales include Boeing. Co., General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co., aerospace and defense analyst Roman Schweizer at Guggenheim Securities wrote March 28.

"We have been bullish for the better part of a year that the Pentagon and its European and (Gulf) allies will have to refill their stocks of missiles and munitions due to the current campaign against ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and even Libya," Schweizer wrote, using an alternate acronym for the extremist group.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama promised America's "ironclad commitment" to back its Gulf allies during a summit last May. In the time since, the U.S. has made $33 billion in arms sales to its Gulf allies, including an $11.25-billion deal with Saudi Arabia that includes four armed warships to modernize its navy, McKeeby said.

But the Obama administration has been criticized by U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, for "failing to live to up the promises" made at the summit by allegedly stalling fighter jet sales to both Kuwait and Qatar.

"They are languishing on the shelf gathering dust," McCain said at a hearing on March 8. Tiny Qatar in the meantime has signed a deal for 6.7 billion euros ($7.6 billion) to buy 24 Dassault Rafal fighter jets from France.

Obama will visit Saudi Arabia on April 21 for a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE. The jet sales likely will be a topic of discussion, as will Iran after its recently implemented nuclear deal with world powers.

Wezeman said international sanctions against Iran had seen its weapons technology lag behind its neighbors as its military spending dropped by 30 percent between 2006 and 2015. However, he acknowledged regional suspicions likely would keep Gulf military spending strong.

"Iran is, of course, perceived as an adversary and also wants to be the main player in the region, a country which will potentially use its influence over different proxy groups in the region to destabilize countries," Wezeman said. "Both the expenditure and the armament procurement by states in the Gulf are clearly aimed at kind of keeping Iran in check."

Online:

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute: www.sipri.org

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jon-gambrell .