Thursday, July 20, 2017

Trump Administration Pulls Health Law Help In 18 Cities

JULY 20, 2017

Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace navigator Leticia Chaw, right, helps gather information for Jennifer Sanchez to re-enroll in a health insurance plan in Houston. Shoppers will have fewer places to turn for help signing up for coverage on the ACA's insurance exchanges with the announcement in July 2017 that President Donald Trump's administration ended contracts that brought assistance into libraries, businesses and urban neighborhoods in 18 cities.

CHICAGO (AP) — President Donald Trump's administration has ended Affordable Care Act contracts that brought assistance into libraries, businesses and urban neighborhoods in 18 cities, meaning shoppers on the insurance exchanges will have fewer places to turn for help signing up for coverage.

Community groups say the move, announced to them by contractors last week, will make it even more difficult to enroll the uninsured and help people already covered re-enroll or shop for a new policy. That's already a concern because of consumer confusion stemming from the political wrangling in Washington and a shorter enrollment period. People will have 45 days to shop for 2018 coverage, starting Nov. 1 and ending Dec. 15. In previous years, they had twice that much time.

Some see it as another attempt to undermine the health law's marketplaces by a president who has suggested he should let "Obamacare" fail. The administration, earlier this year, pulled paid advertising for the sign-up website, prompting an inquiry by a federal inspector general into that decision and whether it hurt sign-ups.

Now insurers and advocates are concerned that the administration could further destabilize the marketplaces where people shop for coverage by not promoting them or not enforcing the mandate compelling people to get coverage. The administration has already threatened to withhold payments to insurers to help people afford care, which would prompt insurers to sharply increase prices.

"There's a clear pattern of the administration trying to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act," said Elizabeth Hagan, associate director of coverage initiatives for the liberal advocacy group Families USA. "It's not letting the law fail, it's making the law fail."

Two companies — McLean, Virginia-based Cognosante LLC and Falls Church, Virginia-based CSRA Inc. — will no longer help with the sign-ups following a decision by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials not to renew a final option year of the vendors' contracts. The contracts, awarded in 2013, were never meant to be long term, said CMS spokeswoman Jane Norris in an email.

"These contracts were intended to help CMS provide temporary, in-person enrollment support during the early years" of the exchanges, Norris said. Other federally funded help with enrollment will continue, she said, including a year-round call center and grant-funded navigator programs. The existing program is "robust" and "we have the on-the-ground resources necessary" in key cities, Norris said.

But community advocates expected the vendors' help for at least another year. "It has our heads spinning about how to meet the needs in communities," said Inna Rubin of United Way of Metro Chicago, who helps run an Illinois health access coalition.

CSRA's current $12.8 million contract expires Aug. 29. Cognosante's $9.6 million contract expires the same date. Together, they assisted 14,500 enrollments, far less than 1 percent of the 9.2 million people who signed up through, the insurance marketplace serving most states. But some advocates said the groups focused on the healthy, young adults needed to keep the insurance markets stable and prices down.

During the most recent open enrollment period, they operated in the Texas cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, McAllen and El Paso; the Florida cities of Miami, Tampa and Orlando; Atlanta; northern New Jersey; Phoenix; Philadelphia; Indianapolis; New Orleans; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland and Chicago.

The insurance exchanges, accessed by customers through the federal or state-run sites, are a way for people to compare and shop for insurance coverage. The health law included grant money for community organizations to train people to help consumers apply for coverage, answer questions and explain differences between the insurance policies offered.

In Illinois, CSRA hired about a dozen enrollment workers to supplement a small enrollment workforce already in the state, Rubin said. The company operated a storefront enrollment center in a Chicago neighborhood from November through April.

"It was a large room in a retail strip mall near public transit with stations set up where people could come in and sit down" with an enrollment worker, Rubin said. CSRA spokesman Tom Doheny in an email said the company "is proud of the work we have accomplished under this contract." He referred other questions to federal officials.

Cognosante worked on enrollment in nine cities in seven states, according to a June 6 post on the company's website. The work included helping "more than 15,000 Texas consumers" and staffing locations "such as public libraries and local business offices." A Cognosante spokeswoman referred questions to federal officials.

The health care debate in Congress has many consumers questioning whether "Obamacare" still exists, community advocates said. "What is the goal of the Trump administration here? Is it to help people? Or to undermine the Affordable Care Act?" said Rob Restuccia, executive director of Boston-based Community Catalyst, a group trying to preserve the health care law.

Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson on Twitter: @CarlaKJohnson

Nigerian Court Orders Seizure Of Former Oil Minister's $37.5 Million Property

Diezani Alison Madueke

LAGOS, JULY 20, 2017 (REUTERS) - A Nigerian court has ordered the temporary seizure of a $37.5 million property owned by a former oil minister, the state news agency said, the latest move related to graft allegations against a lynchpin of the last administration.

Diezani Alison-Madueke, a key figure in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan who served as petroleum minister in the OPEC member country from 2010 to 2015, has been dogged by corruption allegations over the last year.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a civil complaint last Friday aimed at recovering about $144 million in assets allegedly obtained through bribes to the former minister.

A lawyer representing the former minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Alison-Madueke's whereabouts are unclear, but she was last known to be in Britain.

In April, she was charged in absentia with money laundering by Nigeria's financial crimes agency.

In October 2015, she was briefly arrested in London for questioning about allegations related to missing public funds but no charges were brought against her. Prior to her arrest she had denied to Reuters any wrongdoing when asked about missing public funds and corruption allegations.

On Wednesday the Federal High Court in the commercial capital Lagos issued the order over Alison-Madueke's property in the city's upmarket Banana Island area which she bought in 2013, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) said.

The property is an apartment block situated in a heavily guarded gated community where some of the richest people in the country have properties worth millions of dollars. The area is also popular with expat oil executives.

The court also ordered a temporary freeze on sums of $2.74 million and 84.54 million naira ($269,000) that were said to be part of the rent collected on the property.

The temporary seizure orders were made following an application to the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Anselem Ozioko, the barrister representing EFCC, told the court that the financial crimes agency suspected the property was acquired with the proceeds of alleged illegal activities.

In Spite Of Everything, Nigerians Have A Weird Attraction To Donald Trump

JULY 20, 2017

Donald Trump meets two Chibok schoolgirls from Nigeria (Official White House Photo/Shealah Craighead)

Even as his domestic approval ratings hit an all-time low, US president Donald Trump can take comfort in his growing popularity in some parts of Africa’s most populous nation.

Though his xenophobic, white nationalist views have no doubt alienated many Nigerians, his nativist and Islamophobic rhetoric has energized others. Indeed some see Trump as a political icon. Even though Trump has said little to nothing about Nigeria, these groups see in him a powerful figure sympathetic to their aims.

It goes without saying that Nigerians’ reaction to Trump’s 2016 election victory was muted compared to their response to president Barack Obama’s historic 2008 win. Over the course of his presidency, however, Nigerian goodwill toward Obama faded, hurt by his decision not to visit Nigeria, his support for gay marriage, and perceived unwillingness to supply arms to the Nigerian military. Former president Goodluck Jonathan even accused the Obama Administration of clandestinely supporting president Muhammadu Buhari’s candidacy, claiming U.S. actions during Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election amounted to interference.

Despite these irritants, 69% of Nigerians still view the United States favorably, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll. This reservoir of goodwill—combined with Trump’s robust social media following and his ambivalence about contentious issues like human rights—suggests Trump might receive a warm welcome if he decided to visit Nigeria. A U.S. presidential visit is long overdue: the last was by George W. Bush in July 2003.

Growing Social Media Footprint

So how big is Trump’s Nigerian fan base? In the absence of public polling, one quantifiable metric of Nigerian interest in Trump is the number of people following him on Twitter. Over 700,000 Nigerians tune in to Trump’s tweets: over 2% of his 32 million followers, according to His Nigeria-based Facebook is another useful metric of his popularity: between October and June it more than quadrupled, says analytics firm

Nigeria has the 5th highest share of Trump followers on Twitter

Country% of Twitter followersTwitter followers (millions)Facebook Fans (millions)US 58.70% 19.1 11.7
UK 4.60% 1.5 0.25
India 3.20% 1.0 0.99
Canada 3.10% 1.0 0.25
Nigeria 2.20% 0.7 0.43

Approximate totals as of 20 June. Source:, Note that Twitter analytics service assesses that roughly one-third of all of Trump’s followers are fake (bots, paid followers, etc.)

(Some) Nigerians love Trump

Trump’s social media popularity among Nigerians belies the fact that he didn’t mention Nigeria during his campaign and has said little about it since becoming president, though he had a phone conversation with president Buhari in February. Trump has also approved the sale of fighter jets to Nigeria to help in its fight against Boko Haram.

Nevertheless, his generically nativist and Islamophobic messaging resonates with many particularly among some members of two ethno-political constituencies: Christian, self-described “indigenes” in the middle belt’s Plateau State and Igbo nationalists across the southeast.

Six weeks before Trump’s election victory, on a cool evening outside Jos—Plateau State’s at times volatile capital—a friend who is an up-and-coming local politico explained to me why he and other ‘like-minded indigenes’ are attracted to the US president: “Trump’s boldness and guts represent hope for the defenseless”, he said. “Obama was a disgrace and weak compared to the likes of Trump and Putin. He speaks in favor of Islam which is the root cause of terrorism.”

When I suggest Nigerians should be concerned by Trump’s anti-immigrant stance and white supremacist sympathies, my friend acknowledged that these probably would influence his feelings toward Trump if he was a Nigerian-American living in the United States, but as a non-resident, it did not.

Like my friend, some self-described ‘Biafrans’ (modern-day Igbo nationalists) have also emerged as vocal Trump supporters. Biafra was the name adopted by Nigeria’s then-Eastern Region when rebel leaders attempted to secede from Nigeria in 1967. Following a two-and-a-half year long civil war that left over 2 million people dead, Nigeria defeated the rebels.

Unbeknownst to him, Trump is being hailed as a patron of this controversial movement even though he lacks any connection—direct or indirect—to it. According to journalist Atane Ofiaja, Biafran affinity for Trump is rooted in his statements on political self-determination and radical Islam, while deliberately overlooking his racist, anti-immigrant policies.

These “statements” refer to a tweet Trump made in June 2016 in support of the British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union (“Brexit”):

Self-determination is the sacred right of all free people's, and the people of the UK have exercised that right for all the world to see.

Trump’s Islamophobic pronouncements have also appeared to resonate with Biafra activists, who sometimes blame Nigeria’s northern Muslim leadership for oppressing their people over the decades.

After Trump’s election victory, one spokesman proclaimed: “Since Mr Trump is our choice, who will say no to Muslim colonization. It was the prayers of the Biafrans that stopped Hillary Clinton from winning the presidential election.” Pro-Biafra activists on social media are amplifying this and other anti-Islamic narratives, merging them with pro-Trump and anti-Buhari messages.

Though extreme and at times unhinged, this rhetoric reflects the perception among some Nigerians that the Obama administration was unduly close to president Buhari and that it somehow facilitated his 2015 election victory. Six months into Trump’s term, however, Biafran activists are beginning to express some disappointment that Trump has yet to acknowledge their plight and has instead cultivated a cordial relationship with their perceived archenemy: president Buhari.

As Trump enters his seventh month in the Oval Office, his administration’s policy toward Nigeria—or toward Africa writ large—hasn’t coalesced. Trump has yet to appoint the two people who will heavily shape his approach to Nigeria: the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and the Senior Director for Africa on the National Security Council. Even more telling, Washington insiders have little sense of when he will name them or who they will be.

In the meantime, US policy toward Nigeria will largely be steered by US Ambassador to Nigeria W. Stuart Symington, an affable career diplomat and former ambassador to Rwanda. Since arriving in Abuja last year, Symington has worked hard to cultivate relationships across the federal and many state governments.

Unless Trump—via a tweet or unscripted public musing—disrupts the US Nigeria policy consensus that guides diplomats like Symington, his Nigerian fan base may become increasingly disillusioned with a man they hoped would rally to their cause.

U.S. Hunt For Nigeria Fraud Cash May Come Second To A Small Bank


Banque Havilland lines up first for N.Y. condominium proceeds
Aluko signed One57 mortgage as U.K. investigated his wealth

One57 building in New York. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

U.S. prosecutors trying to recover proceeds from an alleged $1.5 billion Nigerian fraud may have to wait their turn.

A plum penthouse condominium in one of Manhattan’s most expensive buildings is among the cash, real estate and luxury yacht the U.S. moved last week to seize from Nigerian tycoon Kolawole Akanni Aluko, whom it accuses of laundering money and bribing a foreign official. That’s where it gets complicated.

The apartment in the One57 building was scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction on July 19. The sale was delayed at the last minute after a new creditor claimed Aluko owes it about $83 million for gasoline and jet fuel.

Yet as things stand now, the first and likely largest chunk of the proceeds from any condo sale won’t go to the Justice Department’s effort to claw back the allegedly illicit funds. It would be bound instead for Banque Havilland SA, a small Luxembourg bank that wrote a mortgage against the property shortly before public disclosures emerged that international law enforcement agencies were investigating the owner and his associates.

Aluko wired about $49 million for the apartment and registered it in 2014 in the name of a shell company he controlled, according to court documents. If that ownership structure had stayed in place, the U.S. could have sought to claim the property outright. But in September 2015, Aluko’s shell company took out a $35.3 million mortgage from Banque Havilland, guaranteed by the condominium, in exchange for a 25 million euro ($28 million) loan, according to the mortgage document. What Aluko did with the money he borrowed remains unclear.

Tokunbo Jaiye-Agoro, who has represented Aluko in the Nigerian court case, didn’t respond to multiple messages left with his secretary at his office in Lagos.
Spoils of Oil

The U.S. has accused Aluko of laundering the spoils from bribes paid for Nigerian oil contracts, notably by buying assets such as apartments in New York and a superyacht. Aluko hasn’t responded in the U.S. court proceeding.

“It seems likely that the assets won’t be Aluko’s for much longer, what is less clear is who gets what after that," Daniel Hall, an expert in financial crime investigations and a director at Burford Capital, which provides litigation financing, wrote in an email. Burford isn’t involved in this case. "The U.S. authorities will want to scrutinize the diligence conducted by these creditors before they contracted with Aluko."

The full payment of the loan was due a year after the mortgage was written, foreclosure filings in New York State Supreme Court show. The payment wasn’t made, according to the documents. Banque Havilland started a foreclosure action in January, which Aluko’s shell company didn’t oppose, and got a New York Supreme Court judgment allowing the action in May. The U.S. is seeking only funds left over after the bank is paid off, along with any taxes or other assessments owed on the condominium, according to the filing in district court in Houston.

The U.S. hasn’t accused Banque Havilland of any wrongdoing. Officials at the bank didn’t respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.
Asking for Help

Shortly after Aluko’s mortgage was filed, the U.K. asked Switzerland, where Aluko had his residence, to help their investigation into the Nigerian. In October 2015, British police arrested and then released on bail Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former Nigerian oil minister Aluko is alleged by the U.S. to have bribed, on suspicion of bribery and money laundering, a spokesman for the Nigerian government said at the time. In April, Alison-Madueke was charged in a separate case in a Nigerian court with violating anti-money laundering laws. She was described in the charge as being "still at large."

Alison-Madueke’s lawyer, Oscar Onwudiwe, didn’t return calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.

The U.S. may choose to take a closer look at the timing of the mortgage, said Howard Sharp, the former solicitor general of Jersey. “One issue for investigators to carefully consider is whether these events constitute money laundering intended to frustrate an anticipated confiscation order or civil asset recovery proceedings in the USA," he said, referring to Aluko.
Banque Havilland

Banque Havilland is controlled by the family of U.K. Conservative party donor and businessman David Rowland, its website and annual report show. A fund controlled by Rowland started the bank in 2009, when the governments of Luxembourg and Belgium lent him 320 million euros to keep part of Iceland’s failing Kaupthing Bank going, according to a European Union statement from the time. Rowland’s fund also invested 50 million euros in capital.

The bank has grown under Rowland and it now has offices in Monaco, Liechtenstein, Dubai, Geneva, Zurich, the Bahamas, London and Moscow, according to its website. It shares a name with his mansion in Guernsey. Multiple attempts to reach members of the Rowland family through the bank received no response.

The U.S. prosecutors may yet recover much of the amount they identified. Apart from three Manhattan apartments, including the One57 property, they said they would go after the 65-meter Galactica Star yacht, two properties in Santa Barbara county and all rights held by a another company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why It's So Hard To Stop The World's Looming Famines

NPR, JULY 18, 2017

A World Food Programme worker stands next to aid parcels that will be distributed to South Sudanese refugees at the airport in Sudan's North Kordofan state. Image: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty

It's the famine that not enough people have heard about.

An estimated 20 million people in four countries — Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen — are at risk of famine and starvation. And the word isn't getting out, says Justin Forsyth, a deputy executive director of UNICEF.

Speaking with NPR's Audie Cornish on All Things Considered, he explained that politics and donor fatigue are two of the main causes.

"Politicians around the world are very focused domestically on politics at home, not on international issues," Forsyth says. "In addition, some of the public fear that their aid money hasn't really made a difference when they've provided it before."

The severity of the famine has prompted an unprecedented response from the aid community. Agencies usually raise funds on their own. But this week, eight international aid organizations — including Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps — banded together to form the Hunger Relief Fund

Forsyth spoke to NPR about what the U.N. is calling the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you explain what's happening right now?

In these four countries of Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria, we've got a combo of [not only] drought but conflict, too, which has really tipped some of these countries, or regions of these countries, over the edge. And this is a very severe situation. In these countries, 1.4 million children face death because they're severely malnourished — which means a small thing, an infection, diarrhea, would tip them over the edge and allow them to die. So we're racing against time to help save these children that are in this very difficult situation.

Let's begin with Yemen, because it has the largest number of people in need. UNICEF says 400,000 children are severely malnourished. And that's not the only problem in Yemen.

There's a terrible war that's been going on many years in Yemen. It's led to the destruction of the whole health system, a lot of the water and sanitation system. So not only do we have a nutrition crisis, with many children starving, we also now have a cholera crisis with many children facing very severe consequences of either what we call acute watery diarrhea or cholera, and both of them kill young children. Many of the health workers, doctors, nurses aren't even being paid. [The children] don't get the right support, and they die very quickly.

In Nigeria, the famine is somewhat regional — the northeast region of the country affected by fighting, by Boko Haram. Somalia is facing political fighting but also drought.

These are terrible humanitarian situations, or looming famines. In a very remote part of South Sudan I went to a UNICEF-supported health clinic and they'd been completely looted. There were children lying on the floor. Even the beds had been taken. We're fighting for the lives of children, but at the same time, we're trying to do it in these very difficult situations. The different warring factions [are] producing big obstacles to us being able to save children's lives.

What happens when your teams try to address this?

In the very, very difficult situations, we're basically just trying to keep people alive. In South Sudan at the moment, or in Yemen, we're doing surge teams out into remote areas where there's fighting and we're doing emergency work, often with other U.N. agencies like the World Food Programme or the World Health Organization and other nongovernment organizations like Save The Children. We're working with them on the ground. Literally, we're providing things like Plumpy'Nut [an enriched peanut paste], which is this emergency food we give to children. It's very high in nutrients. It's really lifesaving work to pull children back from the brink. In these very extreme situations, we're really doing sticking-plaster jobs of keeping children alive.

Is this something that can harm a generation in a region?

Individual children's lives can be ruined forever. From having not enough quality food with nutrients for those first few years of a child's life it stunts them not only physically but also mentally, so they never really have a chance to recover in later life and to fulfill their potential.

Just last month there was an announcement that South Sudan was no longer facing famine conditions. How did that happen, and is there danger it could slip back?

So there was famine declared in two parts of one state in South Sudan. I've been there, and I've seen it firsthand. And there was a very intense response which allowed that area to pull back from famine conditions. So we might have actually stopped famine in those two counties in that one state. But the number of children in South Sudan who are still severely malnourished has actually gone up dramatically.

We've managed to do a lot on the ground in South Sudan, but also Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia. Not just UNICEF, but other organizations, too. We've acted early, we've gone to scale, but the crisis is so big that we have to redouble our efforts in the coming months if we're going to get on top of it.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit

'Let Obamacare Fail,' Trump Declares As GOP Plan Collapses

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska is surrounded by reporters as she walks toward the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18, 2017.

WASHINGTON (AP, WEDNESDAY, JULY 19, 2017) — President Donald Trump declared Tuesday it's time to "let Obamacare fail" after the latest GOP health care plan crashed and burned in the Senate, a stunning failure for the president, Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a party that has vowed for years to abolish the law.

In a head-spinning series of developments, rank-and-file Republican senators turned on McConnell and Trump for the third time in a row, denying the votes to move forward with a plan for a straight-up repeal of "Obamacare." This time, it was three GOP women — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — who delivered the death blow.

All had been shut out of McConnell's initial all-male working group on health care. McConnell, who could afford to lose only two votes in the narrowly divided Senate, had turned to the repeal-only bill after his earlier repeal-and-replace measure was rejected on Monday. That had followed the failure of an earlier version of the bill last month.

The successive defeats made clear that despite seven years of promises to repeal former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, Republicans apparently cannot deliver. Nonetheless, McConnell insisted he would move forward with a vote on his measure to repeal the law, effective in two years, with a promise to work — along with Democrats — to replace it in the meantime.

The vote to move ahead to the bill will take place early next week, McConnell announced late Tuesday. It appears doomed to fail, but GOP leaders want to put lawmakers on record on the issue and move on.

At the White House, Trump appeared to recognize defeat, at least for the moment, while insisting he bore none of the blame. "I think we're probably in that position where we'll just let Obamacare fail," the president said. "We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it. I can tell you that the Republicans are not going to own it. We'll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they're going to say, 'How do we fix it?'"

Despite the current law's problems, most health care experts do not believe it is at immediate risk of outright failure, and Democratic cooperation to adjust the law is far from assured. Nor does it appear likely that Republicans can escape owning the problems with the law and the health care system overall, now that they control the House, Senate and White House, partly on the strength of campaigning against the law.

"They seem to have this notion that they can be a majority party, and have control of the White House, and not be responsible for bringing down the health care system," said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. "It doesn't work that way."

Asked how he would justify the GOP's failure on health care to voters, McConnell responded: "Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice" — suggesting inaction on health care would be forgiven because of that success along with some regulatory roll-backs.

As the day began Tuesday, McConnell was hunting for votes to open debate on a revived version of legislation Congress sent to Obama's desk in 2015 that would have repealed major portions of Obamacare, with a two-year delay built in. He had turned to that approach after getting stunned Monday night by defections by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas on a repeal-and-replace bill.

Many Republicans support the repeal-only approach, and they questioned how senators who voted for the legislation two years ago could oppose it now. "We're going to find out if there's hypocrisy in the United States Senate in the next few days I'm afraid," said Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia.

But for others, the implications were too severe now that the bill could actually become law with a Republican president in the White House ready to sign it. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that more than 30 million people would lose insurance over a decade under the legislation.

Collins voted against the legislation in 2015 while Murkowski and Capito both supported it. Murkowski told reporters Tuesday that repealing the Affordable Care Act without the promise of a replacement would cause uncertainty and chaos.

"To just say repeal and 'Trust us, we're going to fix it in a couple of years,' that's not going to provide comfort to the anxiety that a lot of Alaskan families are feeling right now," she said. Said Capito: "I did not come to Washington to hurt people."

What's next? Go back to the committee room and work on a bipartisan basis "in a way that the public feels that we are really working toward their best interests," Murkowski said. "It's where we should have started. ... And yes, this is hard."

Sure enough, later in the day health committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announced he planned hearings on the issue in the next few weeks, a step Senate Republicans have not taken to date.

The GOP's struggles over the latest measures came down to differences between moderates who feared the implications of a full-blown repeal, and conservatives who wanted nothing less. Speaker Paul Ryan managed to bridge those divides in the House in May, barely passing a bill that would have eliminated the coverage mandates and tax hikes in the Affordable Care Act, while unwinding the Medicaid expansion and removing insurance coverage for millions.

But the GOP bills polled poorly, and Trump never tried to sell them to the country. Meanwhile, Obama's law grew steadily more popular in polls, and Republicans learned anew that a benefit, once given, is hard to take away.

Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher, Richard Lardner and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Key Component To Ending Poverty And Hunger In Developing Countries? Livestock

JULY 13, 2017

A vendor holds a broiler chicken for sale at the Mbare Market in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Jekesai Njikizana / AFP/Getty Images)

The recent emergence of famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen that has left more than 20 million people on the brink of starvation is a reminder of the difficulty of ending hunger around the world.

The problem is complex, and, unfortunately, policymakers have largely ignored an economic sector that could be a key part of the solution: small-scale livestock farming.

But that may be starting to change. At a high-level United Nations meeting currently underway, several events on poverty and hunger will feature the importance of livestock.

The key message of these sessions is that livestock’s potential for bolstering development lies in the sheer number of rural people who already depend on the sector for their livelihoods. These subsistence farmers also supply the bulk of livestock products in low-income countries. In fact, defying general perceptions, poor smallholders vastly outnumber large commercial operations.

At the International Livestock Research Institute, based in Nairobi, Kenya, we know that small-scale livestock farming can be the vehicle that puts families on the pathway out of poverty and out of danger when it comes to economic shocks.

Livestock policies that favor the poor have been shown to be effective in lifting families beyond mere subsistence, generating a ripple effect of benefits for them, their communities and even their countries.

When it comes to simply ensuring people have enough food, small-scale farms in developing countries remain essential, in many cases providing the majority of crops, milk, meat and eggs over larger, more industrialized producers.

In Kenya and India, for example, more than 70% of milk continues to be produced by smallholder farmers.

Moreover, more than 80% of poor Africans, and up to two thirds of poor people in India and Bangladesh, keep livestock. India alone has 70 million small-scale dairy farms, more than North America, South America, Europe and Australia combined.

In many rural settings, livestock farming is the most important part of individual household incomes and livelihoods. Daily surpluses of milk and eggs are sources of regular cash incomes in poor rural environments, and offer key sources of protein and nutrients for families facing malnutrition.

If the world is to support developing countries in feeding themselves, we must start with the farmers. Contributing to the research of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Initiative, we found that more than two in five households escaped poverty over 25 years because they were able to diversify through livestock such as poultry and dairy animals.

The addition of a heifer, for example, provided manure for crops, and milk for home consumption or sale to support income from cash crops. Buying chickens could mean a reliable source of extra money from eggs — crucial insurance if crops fail through drought or floods.

And as we have seen during the recent drought in the Horn of Africa, the loss of livestock in a hunger crisis foreshadows the loss of life.

Livestock provides an economic safety net for those often worst hit by shocks such as climate change or conflict, meaning the “non-market” benefits of keeping livestock can amount to an additional 20% on top of cash profits.

A secondary benefit of investing in smallholder livestock producers is that once family farms become even partly established, they provide employment opportunities for other rural people.

Our study in Kenya found that half of the country’s small family dairy farms, most with fewer than three head of cattle, hired at least one full-time laborer. This often offered a source of income to the landless and others in vulnerable situations, thus allowing them the chance to feed their families.

Beyond the on-farm jobs, there are numerous other economic and employment activities, for women as well as men, along the livestock product supply chain. These include the most basic collection of livestock or livestock products as well as quite sophisticated processing of specialty produce, such as yogurt and candy.

The retail prices of such goods on the informal market are nearly always lower for consumers than in the formal market, which means families’ incomes can go further.

For both livestock-keeping families and the employees along the supply chain, livestock represents a source of sustenance — literally and economically.

Another benefit is the contribution that this small-scale livestock production can make to countries’ economies.

Global demand for livestock products is set to increase by 70% in the next 30 years, and nearly all that growth is occurring in developing countries where livestock enterprises already contribute up to 40% of total agricultural gross domestic product.

Enabling and enhancing the productivity of the livestock sector can mean increasing surplus products, which in turn means countries can capitalize and open up new export markets. This transformation may eventually create new jobs and income opportunities that lead families away from livestock.

Finally, there are also opportunities for livestock to address environmental concerns. While people in the industrialized nations may justifiably be reducing or eliminating their consumption of livestock products to help cut the emission of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — research indicates that continued investment in improving livestock efficiency could actually reduce methane emissions by 8% by 2050.

For all these reasons, livestock production in low-income countries generates economic benefits that are up to 40% higher than the benefits of crop production.

Greater income can lead to improved diets, healthier people and more productive farmers.

So when we look at the progress we have made in ending hunger and poverty, it may seem that the road is never-ending. But when we discuss how to reduce the distance, at least one solution is obvious: Livestock is a proven means out of poverty and hunger in low-income countries.

Steve Staal is an agricultural economist and leader of the Policies, Institutions and Livelihoods Program at the International Livestock Research Institute, an agricultural research institute based in Nairobi, Kenya, that works to improve food security and reduce poverty in developing countries.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

FBI Nominee Rejects Trump Claim: Russia Probe No Witch Hunt

FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

WASHINGTON (AP, JULY 13, 2017) — Donald Trump's pick to lead the FBI broke with the president in key areas Wednesday, rejecting the idea that an investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump election campaign is a "witch hunt" and promising not to cave to any pressure from a White House that has challenged boundaries with the nation's top law enforcement agency.

Christopher Wray, the former high-ranking Justice Department official whom Trump nominated last month, told senators at his confirmation hearing that he would never let politics get in the way of the bureau's mission. And he said he "sure as heck" would not offer a pledge of loyalty to the president.

Asserting his independence, he said, "My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law. Those have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test."

Wray's responses seemed to satisfy both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, many of whom signaled their support for him. Wray, 50, would inherit the FBI at a particularly challenging time given Trump's abrupt dismissal of James Comey, who was admired within the bureau. Yet the hearing, the first public window into Wray's views since his selection, was largely devoid of fireworks in keeping with what friends and supporters have described as the nominee's low-key, disciplined style.

His reserved approach could bode well for the agency at a time when its work has been thrust into the center of a political maelstrom. But, Wray said, "Anybody who thinks that I would be pulling punches as FBI director sure doesn't know me very well."

After Trump dismissed Comey on May 9, the ex-FBI director said that the president had asked him to pledge his loyalty during a dinner at the White House months earlier. He also said Trump had encouraged him to end an investigation into the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Wray said he got no demand for personal loyalty, nor would he pledge it.

The back-and-forth with lawmakers focused extensively on the Russia investigation, with Wray repeatedly voicing his respect for Robert Mueller, the former FBI director selected in May as the special counsel to oversee the probe.

Trump has repeatedly derided that investigation and other probes, using such words as "hoax" and "witch hunt." But Wray said he would reject any efforts to interfere with Mueller's work. "I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt," he said under questioning from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

He also said he had no reason to doubt the assessment of intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election through hacking, a conclusion of which Trump has been dismissive. And when asked about emails released a day earlier showing that Donald Trump Jr. was willing to take help from Russia during the campaign, he said any foreign efforts to meddle in an election should be reported to the FBI rather than accepted.

Wray, who most recently has enjoyed a lucrative legal career at an international law firm, also faced questions about his work as a Justice Department official in the Bush administration. He served the government at a time when harsh interrogation techniques were approved within the department for terror suspects captured overseas, though Wray said he was never involved in signing off on those methods.

Although Trump as a candidate professed support for waterboarding, Wray said he considered torture to be wrong and ineffective. "The FBI is going to play no part in the use of any techniques of that sort," he said.

He also was questioned about his relationships with Comey and Mueller. Trump allies have said Mueller's closeness to Comey shows he can't lead an unbiased probe. But Trump nominated Wray despite his having worked with both men.

Wray at times sought to distance himself from Comey, who was widely criticized for publicly announcing that Hillary Clinton shouldn't face criminal charges for her use of a private email server. Pressed on how he would have handled the situation, he said he couldn't imagine holding a news conference about someone who had not been charged, noting Justice Department policies against doing so.

Wray was at the department in 2004 when Comey, temporarily serving as acting attorney general in place of the ailing John Ashcroft, was prepared to resign during a dispute with the White House over the reauthorization of a domestic surveillance program. Wray said he, too, was willing to resign along with Comey and other Justice Department officials — not because he knew the substance of the dispute but because of the quality of the officials who were prepared to leave.

"Knowing those people and having worked side-by-side with those people ... there was no hesitation in my mind as to where I stood," he said. He said he would again be prepared to step down if the president asked him to do something he thought was illegal.

"First I would try to talk him out of it," Wray said. "And if that failed, I would resign."

Lynch Distances Herself From Russian Lawyer After Trump Attack



Former attorney general Loretta Lynch on Thursday distanced herself from the Russian lawyer that gained passage into the U.S. before landing a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 campaign.

At a press conference in France earlier Thursday, President Trump blamed the Obama administration and Lynch's Justice Department for allowing Natalia Veselnitskaya into the country.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Lynch said the former attorney general "does not have any personal knowledge of Ms. Veselnitskaya's travel."

In his remarks in France, Trump appeared to cite a report in The Hill that the Justice Department issued Veselnitskaya a special immigration waiver so that she could defend her client, a Russian firm, in an asset forfeiture case in New York.

The U.S. Attorney's office in New York told The Hill that it let Veselnitskaya into the country on a grant of immigration parole from October 2015 to early January 2016 after her initial request for a visa had been denied.

Court records show that when Veselnitskaya sought permission to extend her stay, the U.S. attorney at the hearing told the judge that the special visa the Russian lawyer received was part of a "discretionary act that the statute allows the attorney general to do in extraordinary circumstances."

The U.S. attorney described the grant of parole immigration as extremely rare.

"In October the government bypassed the normal visa process and gave a type of extraordinary permission to enter the country called immigration parole," Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni said to the judge during a hearing on Jan. 6, 2016.

"That's a discretionary act that the statute allows the attorney general to do in extraordinary circumstances," Monteleoni said. "In this case, we did that so that Mr. Katsyv could testify. And we made the further accommodation of allowing his Russian lawyer into the country to assist."

Lynch's spokesperson did not address the specifics of that case, but said: "The State Department issues visas, and the Department of Homeland Security oversees entry to the United States at airports."

Veselnitskaya was granted the special immigration parole for the limited purpose of defending a company owned by a Russian businessman in a Justice Department asset forfeiture case, but later participated in a wide-ranging pro-Russia lobbying campaign.

Over the summer of 2016, Veselnitskaya met with current and former lawmakers from both parties and was spotted in the front row of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Russia.

In June of 2016, Donald Trump Jr., White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former campaign manager Paul Manafort took a meeting with Veselnitskaya. A music promoter told Trump Jr. that Veselnitskaya had dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But Trump Jr. said the Russian lawyer instead pushed for changes to the Magnitsky Act, which punished Russians for human rights violations.

Democrats have seized on the meeting, claiming it as evidence that Trump officials sought to collude with the Russians in the campaign.

"She was here because of Lynch," Trump said at a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.

"Nothing happened from the meeting," Trump added. "Zero happened from the meeting, and honestly I think the press made a big deal over something that many people would do."

Peter W. Smith, GOP Operative Who Sought Clinton's Emails From Russian Hackers, Committed Suicide, Records Show


Hillary Clinton Image By Justin Sullivan/Getty

A Republican donor and operative from Chicago's North Shore who said he had tried to obtain Hillary Clinton's missing emails from Russian hackers killed himself in a Minnesota hotel room days after talking to The Wall Street Journal about his efforts, public records show.

In a room at a Rochester hotel used almost exclusively by Mayo Clinic patients and relatives, Peter W. Smith, 81, left a carefully prepared file of documents, which includes a statement police called a suicide note in which he said he was in ill health and a life insurance policy was expiring.

Days earlier, the financier from suburban Lake Forest gave an interview to the Journal about his quest, and it published stories about his efforts beginning in late June. The Journal also reported it had seen emails written by Smith showing his team considered retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then a top adviser to Republican Donald Trump's campaign, as an ally. Flynn briefly was President Trump's national security adviser and resigned after it was determined he had failed to disclose contacts with Russia.

At the time, the newspaper reported Smith's May 14 death came about 10 days after he granted the interview. Mystery shrouded how and where he had died, but the lead reporter on the stories said on a podcast he had no reason to believe the death was the result of foul play and that Smith likely had died of natural causes.

However, the Chicago Tribune obtained a Minnesota state death record filed in Olmsted County that says Smith committed suicide in a hotel near the Mayo Clinic at 1:17 p.m. on Sunday, May 14. He was found with a bag over his head with a source of helium attached. A medical examiner's report gives the same account, without specifying the time, and a report from Rochester police further details his suicide.

In the note recovered by police, Smith apologized to authorities and said that "NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER" was involved in his death. He wrote that he was taking his own life because of a "RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017" and timing related "TO LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING."

One of Smith's former employees told the Tribune he thought the elderly man had gone to the famed clinic to be treated for a heart condition. Mayo spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said Thursday she could not confirm Smith had been a patient, citing medical privacy laws.

The Journal stories said it was on Labor Day weekend in 2016 that Smith had assembled a team to acquire emails the team theorized might have been stolen from the private server Clinton had used while secretary of state. Smith's focus was the more than 30,000 emails Clinton said she deleted because they related to personal matters. A huge cache of other Clinton emails were made public.

Smith told the Journal he believed the missing emails might have had been obtained by Russian hackers. He also said he thought the correspondence related to Clinton's official duties. He told the Journal he worked independently and was not part of the Trump campaign. He also told the Journal he and his team found five groups of hackers - two of them Russian groups - who claimed to have Clinton's missing emails.

Smith had a history of doing opposition research, the formal term for unflattering information that political operatives dig up about rival candidates.

For years, Democratic President Bill Clinton was Smith's target. The wealthy businessman had a hand in exposing the "Troopergate" allegations about Bill Clinton's sex life. And he discussed financing a probe of a 1969 trip Bill Clinton had taken while in college to the Soviet Union, according to Salon magazine.

Investigations into any possible links between the Russian government and people associated with Trump's presidential campaign now are underway in Congress and by former FBI chief Robert Mueller. He is acting as a special counsel for the Department of Justice. Mueller spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the Journal's stories on Smith or his death. Washington attorney Robert Kelner, who represents Flynn, had no comment on Thursday.

Smith's death occurred at the Aspen Suites in Rochester, records show. They list the cause of death as "asphyxiation due to displacement of oxygen in confined space with helium."

Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson on Wednesday called his manner of death "unusual," but a funeral home worker said he'd seen it before.

An employee with Rochester Cremation Services, the funeral home that responded to the hotel, said he helped remove Smith's body from his room and recalled seeing a tank.

The employee, who spoke on the condition he not be identified because of the sensitive nature of Smith's death, described the tank as being similar in size to a propane tank on a gas grill. He did not recall seeing a bag that Smith would have placed over his head. He said the coroner and police were there and that he "didn't do a lot of looking around."

"When I got there and saw the tank, I thought, 'I've seen this before,' and was able to put two and two together," the employee said.

An autopsy was conducted, according to the death record. The Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office declined a Tribune request for the autopsy report and released limited information about Smith's death.

The Final Exit Network, a Florida-based nonprofit, provides information and support to people who suffer from a terminal illness and want to kill themselves.

Fran Schindler, a volunteer with the group, noted that the best-selling book Final Exit, written by Derek Humphry in 1991 and revised several times since, explains in detail the helium gas method.

"Many people obtain that information from his book," Schindler said. "It's a method that has been around for many years and is well known."

Smith's remains were cremated in Minnesota, the records said. He was married to Janet L. Smith and had three children and three grandchildren, according to his obituary. Tribune calls to family members were not returned.

His obituary said Smith was involved in public affairs for more than 60 years and it heralded him as a "quietly generous champion of efforts to ensure a more economically and politically secure world." Smith led private equity firms in corporate acquisitions and venture investments for more than 40 years. Earlier, he worked with DigaComm, LLC, from 1997 to 2014 and as the president of Peter W. Smith & Company, Inc. from 1975 to 1997. Prior to that, he was a senior officer of Field Enterprises, Inc., a firm that owned the Chicago Sun-Times then and was held by the Marshall Field family, his obituary said.

A private family memorial was planned, the obituary said. Friends posted online tributes to Smith after his death. One was from his former employee, Jonathan Safron, 26, who lives in Chicago's Loop and worked for Smith for about two years.

Safron, in an interview, said he was working for a tutoring firm when Smith became his client. His job entailed teaching Smith how to use a MacBook, Safron said. At the time Smith was living in a condominium atop the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. Safron said Smith later employed him at Corporate Venture Alliances, a private investment firm that Smith ran, first out of the same condo and later from an office in the Hancock Building.

Safron, who said he had a low-level job with the Illinois Republican Party in 2014, said he had no knowledge of Smith's bid to find hackers who could locate emails missing from Clinton's service as secretary of state. In his online tribute to his former employer, he called Smith the "best boss I could ever ask for ... a mentor, friend and model human being."

Safron said he worked part-time for Smith, putting in about 15 hours a week. But the two grew close, often having lunch together at a favorite Smith spot: the Oak Tree Restaurant & Bakery Chicago on North Michigan Ave. He called Smith a serious man who was "upbeat," "cosmopolitan" and "larger than life." He was aware Smith was in declining health, saying the older man sometimes had difficulty breathing and told work colleagues he had heart problems. Weeks before he took his life, he had become fatigued walking down about four or five flights of stairs during a Hancock Building fire drill and later emailed Safron saying he was "dizzy," he said.

Smith's last will and testament, signed last Feb. 21, is seven pages long and on file in Probate Court in Lake County. The will gives his wife his interest in their residential property and his tangible personal property and says remaining assets should be placed into two trusts.

He was born Feb. 23, 1936, in Portland, Maine, according to the death record.

His late father, Waldo Sterling Smith, was a manufacturer's representative for women's apparel firms, representing them in department stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, according to the father's 2002 obituary. The elder Smith died at age 92 in St. Augustine, Fla., and his obit noted that he had been active in St. Johns County, Fla. Republican affairs and with a local Methodist church

Peter Smith wrote two blog posts dated the day before he was found dead. One challenged U.S. intelligence agency findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Another post predicted: "As attention turns to international affairs, as it will shortly, the Russian interference story will die of its own weight."

Skiba reported from Washington, Heinzmann reported from Rochester and Lighty from Chicago. Lauren Rosenblatt of the Tribune Washington Bureau and Dan Moran of the Lake County News-Sun contributed to this story.

Twitter @Katherine Skiba

Twitter @DavidHeinzmann

Twitter @TLighty

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

N’Delta Leaders Meet, Call For Implementation Of 2014 Confab Report

Maintain region not part of Biafra
 Abdulsalami, Kukah caution political elite against divisive statements
Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja and Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa

-- Leaders and elders of the Niger Delta under the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) have reiterated their demand for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report and the relocation of the headquarters of oil multinationals to the region.

The national leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark, who presided over a meeting of the group Tuesday in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, also called on the federal government to urgently revisit the 16-point agenda of the forum, as the patience of the youths of the region had started running out.

The nonagenarian spoke at the third general assembly of PANDEF with the theme, “Appraisal of the 16-Point Agenda: State of the Nation and the Way Forward for Sustainable Peace and Development in the Niger Delta region.”
The elder statesman, in the course of the meeting attended by several other Niger Delta leaders, including Governor Seriake Dickson and the King of Twon-Brass, Alfred Diette-Spiff, said the over 600 recommendations in the report would tackle the challenges facing the country.

He also asked the federal government to raise a team to commence dialogue with PANDEF to ensure the sustainability of peace in the Niger Delta region, where he maintained that crude oil production had increased significantly.

PANDEF also accused the federal government of failing to prevail on the oil companies to relocate to their operational bases, as well as not being forthright in declaring its position on the setting up of modular refineries in the region.
On the current Biafra agitation, the leaders reaffirmed their position that the six states of the South-south zone were not part of Biafra as claimed by some Biafran agitators.
They equally condemned the quit notice issued by the Arewa youths to the Igbos, describing the action as a flagrant violation of the Nigerian Constitution.

In his comments, Dickson assured the elders and leaders that the South-south governors were committed to working with them to promote and protect the interests of the region.
Dickson maintained that peace and stability were paramount in the development of the Niger Delta, stressing that the leaders in the region would work collectively to change the long perceived notion of insecurity in the region and promote its socio-economic and political viability.

He reminded the federal government that the militarisation of the Niger Delta was not a solution to resolving the issues, noting that the only battle to be fought was lack of economic inclusion and environmental terrorism in the region.
“There are parts of this country that are very happy to promote crises and spread propaganda about insecurity in our region as a deliberate strategy of weakening this region economically.

“So I want to use this opportunity to charge all our people, political, opinion and community leaders, to continue to work for a stable and prosperous Niger Delta because in the end, whether we are able to bring prosperity and development to our people depends on the presence of security and stability.
“I want to also use this opportunity to make the point again that militarisation of any community within any state in our region is not a solution.

“And in this Niger Delta, the battles to be fought are not the ones that tanks and soldiers should be deployed; the battles all of us should unite to confront and defeat in the Niger Delta, are the issues of environmental terrorism as I have always called it and the issue of gross neglect, under-development and lack of economic inclusion,” Dickson said.
He also aligned with the position of PANDEF, pledging to support the forum to ensure that its secretariat in Yenagoa functions optimally.

In a related development, a former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the convener of the National Peace Committee, Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah, have strongly condemned the political elite who they said were promoting hate speeches and calling for the dissolution of the country.
They also commended Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for taking proactive steps to stem the growing divisive rhetoric and separatist sentiments in the country.

The National Peace Committee played a crucial role in the run up to the 2015 general election and used its influence to ensure that the key contestants in the polls and their supporters did not resort to violence during and after the elections.
The two eminent personalities who said this in a statement they jointly signed Tuesday in Abuja, noted that the developments were of serious concern to the peace committee.

They commended Osinbajo for engaging with leaders of influence across the North and South-east, in a bid to stop the rise of mutual hostility and tension that had been stoked by elements from some parts of the country.
Abdulsalami and Kukah called for more voices of leadership from all communities in the country to reinforce the message of the acting president.

“We’ve recently come to the end of the holy month of Ramadan, for millions of Nigerians, a time of spirituality, introspection and the request for God’s forgiveness,” they added.
“Therefore, there could be no better time than now as a nation for us all to be thoughtful, deliberate and make ourselves worthy of divine mercy, especially in the atmosphere of a steep rise in divisive and hateful rhetoric in our country.
“It is indeed, the appropriate time to underscore the imperatives of peaceful co-existence of all communities and all Nigerians,” they said.

They observed that Nigerians could not afford at this time or any other time to stoke the fires of hate and divisiveness in the body politic, especially when ordinary Nigerians are engaged in difficult struggles to secure their livelihood, amidst rising insecurity and increasing fear.
They added that the nation had lost too many of its citizens to random and diverse acts of violence, while many more had been maimed for life or living in displacement.

They further stated: “Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by conflict and millions of our fellow citizens now face threats of starvation in the face of rising food insecurity.”
In many parts of the country, the committee noted that mass killings had gone unpunished and unresolved, inter-communal clashes had become chronic, adding that economic deprivation and growing social exclusion and feelings of alienation, particularly among the youths were being exploited by segments of the elite with potentially dangerous and painful consequences for all Nigerians.

The statement acknowledged that the drums of rising division also reflects the perception by citizens that there is poor governance in Nigeria today, blaming politicians who had failed in delivering on the mandate of the electorate for better livelihoods and neighbourhoods for teaming up with advocates of division and hate.

The group stated that in many parts of the country, young people who had been left without means of livelihood or hope in their future had become converts to radicalisation preached by those it described as demagogues who resorted to various guises including ethnicity and religion.
According to Abubakar and Kukah, “At this time in Nigeria, more than ever before, we need government at all levels, which works for the people, with commitment and respect for the rule of law and for the security and well wellbeing of persons and communities in the country.

“We also need credible institutions, an economy that guarantees a fair deal and outcome for hardworking people, better physical infrastructure and an enabling environment in which citizens can thrive.”
They further urged the state governments to be more committed to developing their people and relying less on Abuja to fund their consumption through monthly allocations.
They encouraged Osinbajo and the federal government to remain steadfast in the steps they had taken to reassure all communities and citizens of an equal stake in the Nigerian project, insisting that Nigerians need an effective state they call their own.

To reinforce the unity of the country, they appealed that on-going efforts to reach out to leaders from various parts of the country should be broadened into honest dialogue with all segments of the Nigerian population to ensure that ordinary citizens get the opportunity to convey their views to government at the highest levels and get carried along in the formulation and implementation of government policies.

The committee further advised the government to hold consultations on the possibility of examining the reports of the Political Reforms Conference of 2005 and other National Conferences as a basis for further and continuing dialogue on the co-existence among communities in Nigeria.
Pledging their support for the government to ensure effective enforcement of laws that prohibit divisive speeches, they called on politicians to deny support to or endorse groups that harbour or express disdain for peaceful coexistence among Nigerians.

Eze Does It: Calvary Big On Rise Year After Brain Cancer Scare


A little over one year after undergoing brain surgery for a fist-sized cancer tumor, Elochukwu Eze is getting his groove back. The 6-foot-10 center, currently playing summer travel basketball for Florida Elite, will be a key returner this year for defending Florida high school state champion Calvary Christian. Image: Carline Jean/Sun Sentinel

Geoff Still picked up the phone in late May 2016 for what should have been a proud “father”-to-father update on the headway Elochukwu Eze had made in the U.S. as a sophomore at Calvary Christian.

The 6-foot-10 Nigerian teen, who Still and his family hosted as part of the small Fort Lauderdale private school’s international mission, was excelling in his studies and on the basketball court, where he was gaining national notice.

But instead of sharing all of Eze’s good news with Casmir Eze, Still was calling Nigeria with an altogether more tragic report: a plum-sized cancerous tumor – one doctors weren’t sure Eze would survive – had been found in his brain.

In response, instead of the dismay he expected, Still heard only gratitude and hope.

“Thank God he’s in America,” he said. “If he was in Nigeria today, he would be dead.”

For Eze himself, having recently passed the one-year anniversary of the emergency surgery he underwent on May 5, 2016, to remove the tumor, survival is about more than having the sort of advantages many Americans take for granted. As he explains it, his recovery from brain cancer sounds more like testament to personal improvement.

Instead of “lying there, feeling depressed,” he said. “I decided to get better.”

And “get better” is exactly what Eze has done.

The big move

Eze arrived in South Florida as an eighth-grader, even then more mature than his gangly adolescent body suggested.

Attending a sports camp in Nigeria hosted by former Cleveland Cavalier draft pick Ejike Ugboaja, “Big E” made a big impression on Geoff Still. Still, 48, of Coral Springs, an active Christian educator who’d previously taught at Coral Springs Christian, was speaking to the Ejike Foundation campers, giving encouragement and wishing them luck. Among them, only Eze remained engaged throughout the conversation.

Eze later contacted Still on Facebook and the friendship they struck up ultimately led to Still sponsoring the teen’s move to the U.S. as part of Calvary’s International Student Program.

The director of finance at Calvary Christian, Still said his wife, Stacy, and their three children – Geoffrey, who’s 19, Emilie (15) and David (11) – “absolutely adore” Eze.

He thrived in school and, by his sophomore season, started for the basketball team, averaging 10 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks at center under coach Cilk McSweeney.
The big sick

The way Eze remembers it, the trouble started after a day at the pool, when he couldn't seem to get the water out of his ears. Later that night, he struggled to make it through a church service because of the bright lights and loud music, which left him with a terrible headache.

But as his American brother, Geoffrey Still Jr., related in a story for at the time, Eze for weeks had complained about having headaches and being sensitive to light. One of his teachers, later visiting Eze in the hospital, had said the boy hadn't been his usual "happy and excited" self for several months.

Then along with the increasingly painful headaches, Eze began to have trouble walking and, on May 4, started vomiting.
Eze does it

More than one year has passed since the tumor was removed during three hours of emergency surgery on May 5, 2016. The MRIs he has had every three months since have come back clean. His doctors believe with the cancer fully removed from his brain, Eze need not undergo chemotherapy.

Eze seemingly has no obstacles as he looks forward to his senior year at Calvary Christian.

Still, he expects to make a huge return playing hoops too. After spending last year coming off the bench behind 7-footer and fellow Nigeria native Victor Uyaelunmo, now at Southern Cal, he’ll return to his starting role as Calvary looks to defend its state title.

McSweeney said Eze is working this summer on giving his guards a lane for drop passes and finishing strong at the basket. The fifth-year Eagles coach says Eze has a big part to play on the team and with his teammates.

“I always rely on him to be another coach in the locker room,” said McSweeney, who had him as a captain on the title-winning team last year. “He’s always a spiritual influence on the guys.”

Maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average, Eze already has scholarship offers from North Florida and Stetson and has drawn interest from FAU, FIU, Furman, East Carolina, Navy and USF.

For right now, Eze is more concerned about recovering from a high ankle sprain he sustained earlier this summer. Then it's back to work -- as part of the Florida Elite travel team, he has tournaments in Orlando, Atlanta and Las Vegas this summer before coming back to prepare for his senior season at Calvary.

“I know most people would have quit or suffer from depression,” Eze said about what seemed to him to be a long road back from brain surgery. “I don’t because I know what I came here to do.

“I have to embrace it and get working.”

Monday, July 10, 2017

5 Things To Know About Iraq's Mosul

U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division fire artillery in support of Iraqi forces fighting Islamic State militants from their base east of Mosul. U.S.-led coalition support for Iraqi ground forces in Mosul repeatedly proved to be the critical factor in the Mosul fight. Iraq’s prime minister declared victory over the Islamic State group in Mosul after more than eight months of some of the toughest fighting Iraqi forces have faced in the more than 3-year-old war against the extremists.

MOSUL, IRAQ (AP JULY 10, 2017) — Iraq's prime minister declared victory over the Islamic State group in Mosul after more than eight months of some of the toughest fighting Iraqi forces have faced in the more than 3-year-old war against the extremists.

Iraqi and coalition forces acknowledged from the start that Mosul would be a challenge, but the Iraqi leadership's initial vows that it would be over by the end of 2016 underestimated the capacity and the resolve of the IS fighters left to fight to the death.

Here are five things to know now that the fight for Mosul is officially over. THE IMPORTANCE OF MOSUL Mosul held deep symbolic importance for IS. It was after the Islamic State group overran Mosul in June of 2014 that they declared a caliphate stretching from territory in northern Syria deep into Iraq's north and west. And it was from Mosul's al-Nuri mosque that the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made his only public appearance when he gave a Friday sermon calling on all Muslims to follow him as "caliph." He vowed that IS would conquer "Rome," and the entire world.

Mosul was also the bureaucratic and financial backbone of IS. In the early days of IS growth in Iraq and Syria, former Saddam-era military officers from Mosul made up some of the group's highest-ranking members and helped garner supporters in Iraq.

Raiding Mosul's central bank, and taxing and extorting the city's wealthy inhabitants, made IS the richest terrorist organization in the world in the summer of 2014. Mosul's vast industrial zones were converted into factories for weapons and explosives.

Iraq spent more than two years rebuilding its armed forces and preparing for the Mosul offensive. Some 70,000 forces drawn from Iraq's army, special forces, the federal police, and tribal and militia fighters were mobilized for the fight, according to Iraq's joint operations command.

Initially, Iraqi forces planned to attack the city simultaneously from multiple fronts — north, east and south. But forces without urban combat experience and limited training quickly proved incapable of leading pushes and instead were moved to act largely as holding forces. Iraq's special forces and the federal police led most combat operations to retake Mosul, first clearing the city's east and then the west.

U.S.-led coalition support for Iraqi ground forces in Mosul repeatedly proved to be the critical factor. Iraqi forces repeatedly called in airstrikes to kill just one or two IS fighters armed with light weapons. Iraqi commanders said this approach was adopted to keep military casualties to a minimum.

The final battles for Mosul played out in the Old City, dense terrain measuring just a few square kilometers (miles) where the United Nations estimated IS held more than 100,000 people as human shields.

The extent of the cost in civilian life is not yet known as many bodies are still believed to be trapped under rubble and Iraq lacks a centralized system for documenting civilian casualties.

But at a minimum hundreds of people are believed to have been killed and thousands more wounded, according to interviews conducted with doctors at field clinics and humanitarian organizations.

Iraq's military has also suffered high casualty rates. The government does not disclose official death tolls, but many of the units leading assaults in Mosul faced attrition rates of upward of 25 percent when engaged in urban combat. The high casualty rates will likely undermine the forces' ability to continue the fight against IS in the pockets of territory they still hold in Iraq.

The levels of destruction are dramatically different between Mosul's east and west. Complexes in the east used by IS fighters, like the city's university, were heavily bombed. But many of the east's residential neighborhoods suffered relatively little damage.

In the west, however, entire city blocks are damaged or destroyed by months of airstrikes and artillery. It was also in western Mosul that a single U.S. airstrike killed more than a hundred civilians sheltering in basement of a single home.

Human rights and aid groups warn that such widespread destruction could undermine the military victory and make it more difficult for the hundreds of thousands of civilians who fled the west to return to their homes.

The operation in Syria to retake the IS group's de-facto capital, Raqqa, is in full swing, with U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led forces having retaken a handful of neighborhoods. But the battle for Raqqa is expected to be extended and bloody, and IS still controls a number of other towns in eastern Syria.

IS also continues to carry out insurgent attacks in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Iraqi and coalition officials have said the fight against IS as an insurgent force will likely be more difficult than the fight against the group as a conventional one and that the extremists will continue to pose a threat for years to come.

Iraqi Declares 'Total Victory' Over Islamic State In Mosul

Iraq's prime minister Haider al-Abadi addresses forces from a small base on the edge of Mosul's Old City, where heavy clashes have been underway for days, Monday, July 10, 2017. Al-Abadi returned to Mosul Monday and declared victory against the Islamic State group in the northern city following nine months of grueling urban combat. (Iraqi Prime Minister's Media Office via AP)

MOSUL, IRAQ (AP JULY 10, 2017) — Iraq on Monday declared "total victory" over the Islamic State in Mosul, retaking full control of the country's second-largest city three years after it was seized by extremists bent on building a global caliphate.

"This great feast day crowned the victories of the fighters and the Iraqis for the past three years," said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, flanked by his senior military leadership at a small base in western Mosul on the edge of the Old City. Iraqi forces had backed the last pockets of Islamic State militants against the banks of the Tigris River.

Al-Abadi alluded to the brutality of the battle for Mosul — Iraq's longest yet in the fight against IS — saying the triumph had been achieved "by the blood of our martyrs." The nearly nine-month campaign, which was backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition, left thousands dead, entire neighborhoods in ruins and nearly 900,000 displaced from their homes.

Shortly after al-Abadi's speech, the coalition congratulated him on the victory but noted that parts of the Old City still "must be back-cleared of explosive devices and possible ISIS fighters in hiding." ISIS, ISIL and Daesh are alternative acronyms for the Islamic State group.

Earlier in the day, airstrikes pounded the last IS-held territory on the western edge of the Tigris, Humvees rushed the wounded to field hospitals and soldiers hurriedly filled bags with hand grenades to ferry to the front.

Iraqi troops had slowly pushed through the narrow alleyways of the Old City during the past week, punching holes through walls and demolishing houses to carve supply routes and fighting positions in a district where many of the buildings date back centuries.

For days, the remaining few hundred militants held area measuring less than a square kilometer (less than a mile), and Iraqi commanders described victory as imminent. Al-Abadi also visited Mosul on Sunday, congratulating the troops on recent gains but stopping short of declaring an outright victory as clashes continued.

The drawn-out endgame in Iraq's fight for Mosul highlighted the resilience of the extremists and the continued reliance of Iraqi forces on air support to retake territory. Iraqi commanders said gains slowed to a crawl in recent days as IS fighters used their families — including women and children — as human shields. As the battle space constricted, the coalition began approving airstrikes, dropping bombs of 200 pounds or more on IS targets within 50 meters (yards) of friendly forces.

Plumes of smoke Monday grew larger than the strip of territory under IS control. Over the campaign, the Iraqi special forces who largely led the assault have faced casualty rates of 40 percent, according to a report in May from the office of the U.S. secretary of defense. Iraq's army, federal police and mostly Shiite government-sanctioned militia forces also suffered significant losses.

As the Iraqi army celebrated imminent victory on Sunday, Muhammad Abdul Abbas, a 20-year-old solider, said he lost 15 close friends fighting for Mosul. "Honestly, all this death and all this destruction, I don't believe it was worth it," he said.

Reports of civilian casualties also rose as Iraqi forces punched into Mosul's western half in February. Residents fleeing the fighting reported that entire families sheltering in the basements of their homes were killed by airstrikes targeting small teams of IS fighters.

Thousands of civilians were estimated to have been killed in the fight for Mosul, according to Nineveh's provincial council. That did not include those still believed buried under collapsed buildings.

More than 897,000 people were displaced, and the U.N. said there was no end in sight to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq despite the conclusion of the fighting. The U.N. said thousands of Mosul residents will probably not be able to return to the city because of "extensive damage caused during the conflict."

The infrastructure in western Mosul, where the fighting was fiercest, has been decimated. Iraq's civil defense rescue teams — a branch of the Interior Ministry — said about 65 percent of the buildings in the Old City were severely damaged or destroyed. In western neighborhoods like Zanjili, destruction was estimated to be 70 percent of all houses, buildings and infrastructure.

Mosul fell to IS militants within a matter of days in June 2014, starting a political and security crisis not seen in the country since the 2003 toppling of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The territorial gains by the extremists led to the ouster of Iraq's top leaders, dramatically shifted the balance of power among its security forces, empowered Iranian-backed fighters who are now sanctioned by the central government, and brought U.S. ground troops back onto Iraqi soil for the first time since 2011.

The road to retake Mosul has taken the government, its security forces and the coalition more than three years of training troops to replace the tens of thousands of Iraqi forces who dissolved in the face of the 2014 IS advance.

That summer, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appeared at Mosul's al-Nuri Mosque and declared a caliphate on territory it seized in Iraq and Syria. Last month, as Iraqi troops closed in on the Old City, the militants destroyed the al-Nuri Mosque and its famous leaning minaret to deny the forces a symbolic triumph.