Saturday, April 29, 2017

UAE's Battle-Hardened Military Expands Into Africa, Mideast

APRIL 29, 2017

Made available by the Emirates News Agency, WAM, a convoy of UAE military vehicles and personnel travels from Al Hamra Military Base to Zayed Military City, marking the return of the first batch of UAE Armed Forces military personnel from Yemen, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The UAE is better known for its skyscrapers and pampered luxuries, but its battle-hardened military that's gained on-the-ground experience in the last decades is expanding into new bases in Africa. (Ryan Carter-Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi/WAM via AP)

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) — The United Arab Emirates is better known for its skyscrapers and pampered luxuries, but its small size belies a quiet expansion of its battle-hardened military into Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The seven-state federation ranks as one of Washington's most prominent Arab allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, hosting some 5,000 American military personnel, fighter jets and drones. But the practice gunfire echoing through the deserts near bases outside of Dubai and recent military demonstrations in the capital of Abu Dhabi show a country increasingly willing to flex its own muscle amid its suspicions about Iran.

Already, the UAE has landed expeditionary forces in Afghanistan and Yemen. Its new overseas bases on the African continent show this country, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calls "Little Sparta," has even larger ambitions.

FROM PROTECTORATE TO PROTECTOR The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, only became a country in 1971. It had been a British protectorate for decades and several of the emirates had their own security forces. The forces merged together into a national military force that took part in the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War that expelled Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait.

The UAE sent troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission there starting in 1999, giving its forces valuable experience working alongside Western allies in the field. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it deployed special forces troops in Afghanistan to support the U.S.-led war against the Taliban. Emirati personnel there combined aid with Arab hospitality, working on infrastructure projects in villages and meeting with local elders.

Today, the UAE hosts Western forces at its military bases, including American and French troops. Jebel Ali port in Dubai serves as the biggest port of call for the American Navy outside of the United States.

BULGING RANKS The UAE decided in recent years to grow its military, in part over concerns about Iran's resurgence in the region following the nuclear deal with world powers and the Islamic Republic's involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

In 2011, the UAE acknowledged working with private military contractors, including a firm reportedly tied to Blackwater founder Erik Prince, to build up its military. The Associated Press also reported that Prince was involved in a multimillion-dollar program to train troops to fight pirates in Somalia, a program by several Arab countries, including the UAE.

"As you would expect of a proactive member of the international community, all engagements of commercial entities by the UAE Armed Forces are compliant with international law and relevant conventions," Gen. Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri, a senior Emirati military official, said in a statement on the state-run WAM news agency.

Media in Colombia have also reported that Colombian nationals working as mercenaries serve in the UAE's military. In 2014, the UAE introduced mandatory military service for all Emirati males between the ages of 18 to 30. The training is optional for Emirati women.

"Our message to the world is a message of peace; the stronger we are, the stronger our message," Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wrote at the time on Twitter. WAR IN YEMEN

In Yemen, UAE troops are fighting alongside Saudi-led forces against Shiite rebels who hold the impoverished Arab country's capital, Sanaa. Areas where the UAE forces are deployed include Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramawt, and the port city of Aden, where the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is stationed.

Additionally, the UAE appears to be building an airstrip on Perim or Mayun Island, a volcanic island in Yemeni territory that sits in a waterway between Eritrea and Djibouti in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait, according to IHS Jane's Defense Weekly. That strait, some 16-kilometers (10-miles) wide at its narrowest point, links the Red Sea and the Suez Canal with the Gulf of Aden and ultimately the Indian Ocean. Dozens of commercial ships transit the route every day.

Already, the waters have seen Emirati and Saudi ships targeted by suspected fire from Yemen's Shiite rebels known as Houthis. In October, U.S. Navy vessels came under fire as well, sparking American forces to fire missiles in Yemen in its first attack targeting the Houthis in the years-long war there.

"More incidents at sea, especially involving civilian shipping, could further internationalize the conflict and spur other actors to intervene," the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy warned in March.

UAE forces and aid organizations have also set foot on Yemen's Socotra Island, which sits near the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, after a deadly cyclone struck it. It too represents a crucial chokepoint and has seen recent attacks from Somali pirates.

The UAE has suffered the most wartime casualties in its history in Yemen. The deadliest day came in a September 2015 missile strike on a base that killed over 50 Emirati troops, as well as at least 10 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and five from Bahrain.

Meanwhile, Emirati forces were involved in a Jan. 29 Yemen raid ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump that killed a U.S. Navy SEAL and 30 others, including women, children and an estimated 14 militants.

EXPANDING TO AFRICA Outside of Yemen, the UAE has been building up a military presence in Eritrea at its port in Assab, according to Stratfor, a U.S.-based private intelligence firm. Satellite images show new construction at a once-abandoned airfield the firm links to the Emiratis, as well as development at the port and the deployment of tanks and aircraft, including fighter jets, helicopters and drones.

"The scale of the undertaking suggests that the UAE military is in Eritrea for more than just a short-term logistical mission supporting operations across the Red Sea," Stratfor said in December. UAE officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on its military operations or overseas expansion.

South of Eritrea, in Somalia's breakaway northern territory of Somaliland, authorities agreed in February to allow the UAE open a naval base in the port town of Berbera. Previously, the UAE international ports operator DP World struck a deal to manage Somaliland's largest port nearby.

Further afield, the UAE also has been suspected of conducting airstrikes in Libya and operating at a small air base in the North African country's east, near the Egyptian border. Meanwhile, Somalia remains a particular focus for the UAE. The Emiratis sent forces to the Horn of Africa country to take part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the 1990s, while their elite counterterrorism unit in 2011 rescued a UAE-flagged ship from Somali pirates. The unit has also has been targeted in recent attacks carried out by al-Qaida-linked militants from al-Shabab.

A UAE military expansion into Somalia is also possible, as Trump recently approved an expanded military, including more aggressive airstrikes against al-Shabab in the African nation. The UAE recently began a major campaign seek donations for humanitarian aid there.

Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at . His work can be found at .

N. Korean Missile Test Fails Hours After UN Meeting On Nukes

APRIL 29, 2017

The USS Carl Vinson sails offshore Nagasaki prefecture, southern Japan Saturday, April 29, 2017. The USS Carl Vinson is heading north toward the Korean peninsula in a show of force after satellite images suggested North Korea may be preparing to conduct a nuclear test. A North Korean mid-range ballistic missile apparently failed shortly after launch Saturday, South Korea and the United States said, the third test-fire flop just this month but a clear message of defiance as a U.S. supercarrier conducts drills in nearby waters. (Kyodo News via AP)

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — A North Korean mid-range ballistic missile apparently failed shortly after launch Saturday, South Korea and the United States said, the third test-fire flop just this month but a clear message of defiance as a U.S. supercarrier conducts drills in nearby waters.

North Korean ballistic missile tests are banned by the United Nations because they're seen as part of the North's push for a nuclear-tipped missile that can hit the U.S. mainland. The latest test came as U.S. officials pivoted from a hard line to diplomacy at the U.N. in an effort to address what may be Washington's most pressing foreign policy challenge.

President Donald Trump said on Twitter, "North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!" He did not answer reporters' questions about the missile launch upon returning to the White House from a day trip to Atlanta.

North Korea didn't immediately comment on the launch, though its state media on Saturday reiterated the country's goal of being able to strike the continental U.S. The timing of the North's test was striking: Only hours earlier the U.N. Security Council held a ministerial meeting on Pyongyang's escalating weapons program. North Korean officials boycotted the meeting, which was chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile flew for several minutes and reached a maximum height of 71 kilometers (44 miles) before it apparently failed. It didn't immediately provide an estimate on how far the missile flew, but a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said it was likely a medium-range KN-17 ballistic missile. It broke up a few minutes after the launch.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, speaking after a meeting of Japan's National Security Council, said the missile is believed to have traveled about 50 kilometers (30 miles) and fallen on an inland part of North Korea.

Analysts say the KN-17 is a new Scud-type missile developed by North Korea. The North fired the same type of missile April 16, just a day after a massive military parade where it showed off its expanding missile arsenal, but U.S. officials called that launch a failure.

Some analysts say a missile the North test fired April 5, which U.S. officials identified as a Scud variant, also might have been a KN-17. U.S. officials said that missile spun out of control and crashed into the sea.

Moon Seong Mook, a South Korean analyst and former military official, says that the North would gain valuable knowledge even from failed launches as it continues to improve its technologies for missiles. The South Korean and Japanese assessments about Saturday's launch indicate that the North fired the missile from a higher-than-normal angle to prevent it from flying too far, he said.

"They could be testing a variety of things, such as the thrust of the rocket engine or the separation of stages," Moon said. "A failure is a failure, but that doesn't mean the launch was meaningless."

The two earlier launches were conducted from an eastern coastal area, but Saturday's missile was fired in the west, from an area near Pukchang, just north of the capital, Pyongyang. South Korea's Foreign Ministry denounced the launch as an "obvious" violation of United Nations resolutions and the latest display of North Korea's "belligerence and recklessness."

"We sternly warn that the North Korean government will continue to face a variety of strong punitive measures issued by the U.N. Security Council and others if it continues to reject denuclearization and play with fire in front of the world," the ministry said.

The North routinely test-fires a variety of ballistic missiles, despite U.N. prohibitions, as part of its weapons development. While shorter-range missiles are somewhat routine, there is strong outside worry about each longer-range North Korean ballistic test.

Saturday's launch comes at a point of particularly high tension. Trump has sent a nuclear-powered submarine and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft supercarrier to Korean waters, and North Korea this week conducted large-scale, live-fire exercises on its eastern coast. The U.S. and South Korea also started installing a missile defense system that is supposed to be partially operational within days.

On Friday, the United States and China offered starkly different strategies for addressing North Korea's escalating nuclear threat as Tillerson demanded full enforcement of economic sanctions on Pyongyang and urged new penalties. Stepping back from suggestions of U.S. military action, he even offered aid to North Korea if it ends its nuclear weapons program.

The range of Tillerson's suggestions, which over a span of 24 hours also included restarting negotiations, reflected America's failure to halt North Korea's nuclear advances despite decades of U.S.-led sanctions, military threats and stop-and-go rounds of diplomatic engagement. As the North approaches the capability to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, the Trump administration feels it is running out of time.

Chairing a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday, Tillerson declared that "failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences."

His ideas included a ban on North Korean coal imports and preventing its overseas guest laborers, a critical source of government revenue, from sending money home. And he warned of unilateral U.S. moves against international firms conducting banned business with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, which could ensnare banks in China, the North's primary trade partner.

Yet illustrating the international gulf over how best to tackle North Korea, several foreign ministers on the 15-member council expressed fears of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, which was divided between the American-backed South and communist North even before the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended with no formal peace treaty. And while danger always has lurked, tensions have escalated dramatically as the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, has expanded a nuclear arsenal his government says is needed to avert a U.S. invasion.

No voice at Friday's session was more important than that of China, a conduit for 90 percent of North Korea's commerce and a country Trump is pinning hopes on for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis. Trump, who recently hosted President Xi Jinping for a Florida summit, has sometimes praised the Chinese leader for a newfound cooperation to crack down on North Korea and sometimes threatened a go-it-alone U.S. approach if Xi fails to deliver.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would adhere to past U.N. resolutions and wants a denuclearized peninsula. But he spelled out no further punitive steps his government might consider, despite Tillerson's assertions in an interview hours ahead of the council meeting that Beijing would impose sanctions of its own if North Korea conducts another nuclear test.

Wang put forward a familiar Chinese idea to ease tensions: North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile activities if the U.S. and South Korea stop military exercises in the region. Washington and Seoul reject the idea.

Tillerson said the U.S. does not seek regime change in North Korea, and he signaled American openness to holding direct negotiations with Pyongyang. The U.S. also could resume aid to North Korea once it "begins to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missile technology programs," he said. Since 1995, he added, Washington has provided more than $1.3 billion to the impoverished country.

But the prospects for any more U.S. money going there appeared bleak. Even negotiations don't seem likely. Tillerson said the North must take "concrete steps" to reduce its weapons threat before talks could occur. Six-nation nuclear negotiations with North Korea stalled in 2009. The Obama administration sought to resurrect them in 2012, but a deal to provide food aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze soon collapsed.

"In a nutshell, (North Korea) has already declared not to attend any type of talks which would discuss its nuclear abandonment, nuclear disbandment," Kim In Ryong, North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador, told The Associated Press. His government declined to attend Friday's council meeting.

AP writers Matthew Pennington and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this story.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Focus Turns To Senator With Doctor Guilty Of Medicare Fraud

APRIL 28, 2017

Dr. Salomon Melgen holds hands with his wife, Flor, as he leaves the federal courthouse with family and friends after arriving for a jury question Friday, April 28, 2017. Melgen, a prominent Florida eye doctor accused of political corruption was convicted of Medicare fraud Friday, increasing the odds that federal prosecutors could pressure him to testify against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez. (Lannis Waters /Palm Beach Post via AP)

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA. (AP) — A prominent Florida eye doctor accused of political corruption was convicted of Medicare fraud Friday, increasing the odds that federal prosecutors could pressure him to testify against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez.

Dr. Salomon Melgen faces 15 to 20 years in prison on 67 counts, including health care fraud, submitting false claims and falsifying records in patients' files, unless he offers or accepts a deal before his sentencing, scheduled for July 14.

The senator denies any wrongdoing. The doctor, 62, collected more money from Medicare than any other physician in the nation — $21 million — at the height of the fraud in 2012. He showed no reaction when the verdict was read and was immediately taken into custody. Several of his family members burst into tears outside the courtroom.

"It's not fair," said his wife, Flor Melgen. "He's a good doctor." Defense attorney Kirk Ogrosky said he's considering an appeal. "He cares very deeply about his patients and tried very hard to help them," Ogrosky said. "He had hopes the jury would see it differently."

Prosecutors had no immediate comment. The senator's defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, said he spoke with Menendez after the verdict, "and he is saddened for his long-time friend and is thinking of his family on this difficult day."

"As we have known for the past two years, the issues involved in Dr. Melgen's case in South Florida had no bearing on the allegations made against the Senator, and this verdict will have no impact on him," Lowell's statement said.

Melgen and Menendez face trial on Sept. 6 in New Jersey on charges the doctor bribed the senator for favors, including intervention in a billing dispute with Medicare. Prosecutors convinced jurors the doctor stole up to $105 million from the federal medical insurance program between 2008 and 2013 by performing unneeded tests and treatments on mostly elderly and disabled patients.

Melgen's attorneys argued that the Dominican-born, Harvard-trained doctor was a kind and caring physician. They acknowledged that he made billing and treatment mistakes, exposing him to potential lawsuits and possibly losing his medical license. But they said they were unintentional, and therefore not a crime.

Prosecutors countered that anybody can make an occasional mistake, but Melgen's actions were too numerous to be honest. For example, the doctor frequently billed Medicare for tests and treatment of prosthetic eyes.

Prosecutors also pointed to tests run in seconds that were supposed to take five minutes or more. That made the tests unusable for diagnosis, but enabled him to bill Medicare up to several hundred dollars each for as many as 100 patients a day.

He pocketed millions more by splitting single-use vials of an expensive eye drug into four doses and billing the government for each one, they said. Melgen became politically active in 1997, when he treated Florida Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, who appointed him to a state board.

He was soon hosting Democratic fundraisers at his 6,500-square-foot (605-square-meter) North Palm Beach home. That led to his friendship with Menendez, during which Melgen paid for trips he and the senator took to France and to the doctor's home at a Dominican resort.

Menendez reimbursed Melgen $58,500 after the trips became public knowledge. Federal prosecutors say Melgen's gifts to Menendez were actually bribes. In return, they say, the senator obtained visas for the married Melgen's foreign mistresses, interceded with Medicare officials investigating his practice, and pressured the State Department to intervene in a business dispute he had with the Dominican government.

"Dr. Melgen's case focused solely on the day-to-day operations of his medical practice and the private care of his patients - specifics of which the Senator could not be aware, nor has it ever been suggested otherwise," Lowell's statement said.

"From the beginning, Senator Menendez has been clear that he has always acted in accordance with the law and in his appropriate legislative oversight role as a member of Congress. When all of the facts are heard, he is fully confident that a jury will agree and he will be vindicated."

This story about Medicare fraud has been corrected to remove a reference to Medicaid.

'Apartheid' Furor Comes Amid 50 Years Of Israeli Occupation

APRIL 28, 2017

In this Wednesday, April 19, 2017 photo, former veteran U.N. official Rima Khalaf speaks in Amman, Jordan about her decision to resign as head of a U.N. regional agency, ESCWA, after refusing to withdraw an agency report that labeled Israel an apartheid state. Khalaf says the issue deserves serious study, while official Israel and its supporters label the apartheid charge as anti-Semitism and an attempt to single out Israel. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil) (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

AMMAN, JORDAN (AP) — Labeling Israel's treatment of Palestinians as "apartheid" is like flinging a burning match into spilled gasoline — so combustible are the passions on both sides.

Rima Khalaf did just that when a report commissioned by her U.N. agency accused Israel of having established an apartheid regime designed to dominate the Palestinian people as a whole.

In a swift outcry, Israel slammed the 65-page document as anti-Semitic. The U.S. demanded its removal and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered it quashed, saying it did not reflect his views. Rather than comply, Khalaf resigned as head of ESCWA, a Beirut-based agency with 18 Arab member states and one of several U.N. regional bodies dealing with economic and social issues.

More than a month later, Khalaf has no regrets. The report's charge of apartheid — a "crime against humanity" in the eyes of the International Criminal Court — deserves serious examination, she said in an interview.

"We are not here for defamation," Khalaf said. "We are here for solving the problem." The former U.N. undersecretary general said the international community has failed the Palestinians and must sanction Israel if it wants to regain credibility.

Israeli government official Michael Oren disputed the apartheid charge as a "big lie," portraying the report as the latest attempt to "apply a completely unique standard to Israel which by definition is anti-Semitic."

Official Israel and its supporters are outraged at comparisons to apartheid-era South Africa, pointing to the many differences: Unlike disenfranchised blacks in segregated South Africa, Israel's Arab citizens, about 20 percent of the population, can vote, are represented in parliament and on the Supreme Court, and easily mingle with Jewish Israelis in daily life.

"There are no separate bathrooms, there is no apartheid here," said Oren, a deputy minister of diplomacy. "It's not just deeply offensive to Israelis. It is deeply offensive to the real victims of apartheid."

The report says apartheid is more than an exact replica of conditions in pre-1994 South Africa. It notes that international conventions and the ICC define it more broadly, as "inhumane acts" committed in the context of institutionalized and systematic oppression of one racial group by another, with the intention of maintaining that regime.

Such expanded parameters could conceivably apply at least in some of the Israeli-controlled territories, according to critics of Israeli policy.

In the West Bank, military rule has sharply curtailed Palestinian movement, trade and access to resources, while Jewish settlers in the same territory enjoy full rights of Israeli citizens. Jews and Arabs in the West Bank live under different legal systems, with Jews having far more protections.

A Palestinian state carved from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, has been touted as the redress. But 50 years on, a partition deal appears distant, even as President Donald Trump says he'll try to broker one. Israel has said it is willing to negotiate, blaming Palestinians for past failures, but a majority in Israel's Cabinet opposes Palestinian statehood, some seek partial annexation of the West Bank, and settlement construction continues unabated.

The report describes a "regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole" in complex ways that it says include a calculated fragmentation. Divided into groups— citizens in Israel, permanent residents in east Jerusalem, stateless occupied subjects elsewhere — Palestinians are prevented from effectively resisting Israeli control, it says.

But the report goes well beyond past warnings by some, including former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, that an apartheid-like situation could emerge unless a two-state solution is reached. It suggests that beyond the question of the occupied areas, Israel itself must eliminate laws that discriminate among Jewish and Arab citizens.

Israel "can be a Jewish state" provided all citizens enjoy equal rights, according to Khalaf, who is of Palestinian origin.

"If this is the case, then the label really doesn't matter," she said in the interview in Jordan, where she once held senior Cabinet posts and where she now lives again.

Detailing the most controversial charge of apartheid in Israel itself, the report argues that voting rights of Arab citizens lose significance because Israel's Basic Law bars any political parties that deny Israel's identity as both Jewish and democratic. This prevents Arab citizens from "challenging laws that perpetuate inequality," it said.

Arab politicians in Israel appear divided on the issue.

Some avoid using seemingly provocative terms like apartheid. They prefer to work within the system to try to alleviate what has been widely acknowledged as longstanding official discrimination, such as preferential state spending on Jewish communities.

Others, like parliament member Jamal Zahalka of the Joint List, an alliance of four Arab-dominated parties, say Israel has created a version of apartheid, including discriminatory rules on immigration and land use, even if it differs from the former South African system.

He noted that Jews from anywhere in the world can claim Israeli citizenship while Arab citizens are barred from bringing Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories to live with them in Israel.

Oren said fast-tracking Jewish immigration is a "correction to a terrible historic injustice of 2,000 years of statelessness for the Jewish people." He also argued Israel is one of many nation-states, and pointed to other countries with preferential immigration rules, such as Germany which repatriated large numbers of ethnic Germans.

"While we recognize the Palestinians as a people, endowed with the right of self-determination in what they regard as their homeland, that recognition is not reciprocated," Oren said, reflecting the widespread view in Israel that those making apartheid claims want to delegitimize and eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.

Many Israelis feel singled out because only their country has suffered the apartheid allegations so far, despite the fact that there are many cases of discrimination elsewhere, including in the Arab world.

Legally, the crime of apartheid is still largely uncharted territory, said Sari Bashi, the Israel/Palestine advocacy director of the international group Human Rights Watch.

So far, the ICC has not made such a charge, and evidence of racial discrimination is not sufficient to make the case.

"The broader question is whether taken as a whole the entire system constitutes apartheid," Bashi said. "It's a question that certainly has not been adjudicated, and we don't have judicial rulings from other parts of the world that would provide a clear answer."

U.N. chief Guterres hasn't discussed the substance of the report despite appeals by Khalaf. But in a recent speech to the World Jewish Congress, an umbrella group of Jewish communities, he suggested he was siding with some of the complaints, saying that "the state of Israel needs to be treated as any other state."

He stuck by his principles even when it required decisions that "create some uncomfortable situations," he said, an apparent reference to ordering the report removed from the ESCWA website.

Khalaf, who resigned two weeks before her scheduled retirement, believes Guterres was pressured by the U.S., Israel's strongest ally, at a time when the Trump administration is threatening to cut U.N. funding significantly. Guterres' office declined comment.

President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian government in parts of the West Bank, has praised Khalaf for "courage and support" for the Palestinian people.

Khalaf rejected allegations of bias by those who produced the report. One author is Richard Falk, a former Princeton University professor who published blistering critiques of Israeli policies in his former role as U.N. special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

"Let's not focus on the messenger," Khalaf said. "Let's focus on the facts."

She said she hopes the debate started by the report will continue.

"This is not a verdict by a court," she said. "It is a scholarly work. We want to make sure everyone has a chance to look at it and discuss it openly, because we want a solution."

Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed from Ramallah, West Bank.

Immigrants Plan May Day Rallies Buoyed By Trump Opposition

APRIL 28, 2017

Pastor Don Taylor, of a suburban Chicago organizing group, speaks to immigrant rights advocates in downtown Chicago. The advocates plan to march in a May 1 rally in Chicago.

CHICAGO (AP) — Immigrant groups and their allies have joined forces to carry out marches, rallies and protests in cities nationwide next week to mark May Day, saying there's renewed momentum to fight back against Trump administration policies.

Activists in major cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles expect tens of thousands of people to participate in Monday demonstrations, starting with morning neighborhood protests and culminating in rush hour events downtown. Activists also plan an overnight vigil in Phoenix, a farm workers demonstration outside Miami and a White House rally. In Seattle, pro-immigrant events are expected to give way to rowdier, anti-capitalist marches led by protesters who said they plan to shut down a major freeway through the city.

"We're seeing an unprecedented amount of enthusiasm and activity," said New York Immigration Coalition executive director Steven Choi. "It's driven by the fact that Trump administration has made immigration the tip of the spear."

Around the world, union members have traditionally marched on May 1 for workers' rights. In the United States, the event became a rallying point for immigrants in 2006 when more than 1 million people marched against a proposed immigration enforcement bill.

While the current climate surrounding immigration may be similar to 2006 amid President Donald Trump's hard-line approach to the issue, the immigrant rights movement has changed dramatically since then.

Advocacy groups that in 2006 were united in their determination to flood the streets to make a statement have fractured since then and pursued other efforts, such as voter registration, lobbying and fighting deportations.

However, activists expect a surge in participation this year, in part because immigrant rights groups have worked with Women's March participants, Black Lives Matter and Muslim civil rights groups who are united by their opposition to Donald Trump. Also, businesses with immigrant ties are closing or allowing employees to take the day off without penalty.

Immigrant groups acknowledged there is some fear among people in the country illegally who are skittish about drawing attention to themselves in visible marches. But organizers are reminding them that it's an important cause and there's safety in numbers.

"If you are an immigrant in Los Angeles, the safest place you can be on Monday is in the action in downtown Los Angeles," said David Huerta, president of SEIU United Service Workers West. As Trump approaches his first 100 days, he has aggressively pursued immigration enforcement, including executive orders for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a ban on travelers from six predominantly-Muslim countries. The government has arrested thousands of immigrants in the country illegally and threatened to withhold funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, which limit cooperation between local and federal immigration authorities.

In response, leaders in sanctuary cities have vowed to fight back and civic participation has seen a boost, including February's "Day Without Immigrants." The travel ban and sanctuary order were temporarily halted by legal challenges.

"We will not be divided," Pastor Don Taylor of an interfaith organizing group told Chicago supporters preparing this week for May 1. "It is a moral issue." Still, while there is opposition to Trump, activists aren't focused on a single course of action.

In Illinois, they're pushing legislative plans to essentially extend sanctuary protections statewide. Outside Miami, advocates are calling for an extension of temporary protected status for Haitians displaced by a deadly 2010 earthquake. In Detroit, the push is for immigrants' constitutional rights, including due process.

In Los Angeles, organizers expect as many as 100,000. New York could see up to 50,000 participants. Chicago organizers estimate at least 20,000. In Pennsylvania, student groups are calling for strikes to demand a safe place for immigrants on campus, while in Las Vegas culinary workers will take to the casino-lined strip to show support.

In the Chicago area, dozens of restaurants and grocery stores planned to either close or allow workers to attend the demonstrations. In Portland, Oregon, unions, immigrants and others are urging people to skip work, school and shopping to highlight the importance of workers and the community's strength.

Elsewhere, union leaders have asked employers to let workers participate. Google, for one, asked managers to be flexible in accommodating requests for time-off so employees can join marches. Adonis Flores, an organizer with Michigan United, plans to participate for the first time on what's long been known as International Workers Day.

The 28-year-old was brought to the country as a young child from Mexico and doesn't have legal permission to stay. For four years, he's received a work permit through an Obama administration program for young people, and doubts Trump's assurances that his administration won't target people like him for deportation.

"I don't believe anything he says and don't believe anybody should," he said. "It's getting to a point where the community is being tired and ready to take action."

Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California. Astrid Galvan contributed from Phoenix.

Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter at and Amy Taxin at .

US Economy Expanded At Weakest Pace In 3 Years

APRIL 28, 2017

People walk near the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center under construction, middle, and the Comcast Center, center right, in Philadelphia. On Friday, April 28, 2017, the Commerce Department issues the first of three estimates of how the U.S. economy performed in the January-March quarter.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy turned in the weakest performance in three years in the January-March quarter as consumers sharply slowed their spending. The result fell far short of President Donald Trump's ambitious growth targets and underscores the challenges of accelerating economic expansion.

The gross domestic product, the total output of goods and services, grew by just 0.7 percent in the first quarter following a gain of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The slowdown primarily reflected slower consumer spending, which grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.3 percent after a growth rate of 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter. It was the poorest quarterly showing in more than seven years.

Despite the anemic first-quarter performance, the U.S. economy's prospects for the rest of the year appear solid. Growth is expected to be fueled by a revival in consumer spending, supported by continued strong job growth, accelerating wage gains and record stock levels.

Weakness in the first quarter followed by a stronger expansion in the spring has become a pattern in recent years. The government's difficulty with seasonal adjustments for the first quarter has been a chronic problem and may have shaved as much as 1 percentage point off growth this year.

The sharp slowdown in consumer spending in the first quarter was attributed to a collection of temporary factors: warmer weather, which shrank spending on heating bills, a drop-off in auto sales after a strong fourth quarter and a delay in sending out tax refund checks, which also dampened spending.

Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said he expected consumer and government spending to bounce back, leading to a much stronger second quarter. "Still, the report will mark a rough start to the administration's high hopes of achieving 3 percent or better growth, not the kind of news it was looking for to cap its first 100 days in office," Guatieri said in a note to clients.

Averaging the two quarters, they forecast growth of around 2 percent for the first half of this year. That would be in line with the mediocre performance of the eight-year economic expansion, when growth has averaged just 2.1 percent, the poorest showing for any recovery in the post-World War II period.

Trump had repeatedly attacked the weak GDP rates during the campaign as an example of the Obama administration's failed economic policies. He said his program of tax cuts for individuals and businesses, deregulation and tougher enforcement of trade agreements would double growth to 4 percent or better.

In unveiling an outline of the administration's tax proposals on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he believed growth above 3 percent would be achievable. Many economists are more skeptical. They are forecasting growth of this year around 2.2 percent. That would be an improvement from last year's 1.6 percent, the weakest showing in five years, but far below Trump's goal. Many analysts believe that the impacts of Trump's economic program will not be felt until 2018 because they are not expecting Congress to approve some version of Trump's tax program until late this year.

The GDP report released Friday was the first of three estimates the government will make of first quarter growth. The 0.7 percent increase was the worst showing since GDP contracted by 1.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014.

In addition to weaker consumer activity, the first quarter slowdown also reflected a cutback in restocking of store shelves. The slowdown in inventory rebuilding cut nearly a percentage point from growth in the first quarter. Also acting as a drag was a reduction in government spending, which fell at a 1.7 percent annual rate with both the federal government and state and local governments seeing cuts.

On the positive side, business investment rose at a 9.4 percent rate, helped by a record surge in spending in the category that tracks spending in the energy sector. This category had seen sharp cutbacks in recent quarters, reflecting reductions in exploration and drilling as energy prices declined. Housing construction was also strong, growing at a 13.7 percent rate, the fastest pace in nearly two years.

Trump noted the weak 2016 GDP performance in a tweet Wednesday and contended that "trade deficits hurt the economy very badly." For the first quarter, trade was actually a small positive after a major drag in the fourth quarter.

Part of the problem for the administration is that its efforts to boost the economy are coming after the economic expansion has been underway for nearly eight years. At this point in a recovery, stimulus measures tend to have less impact. The Federal Reserve, in fact, has begun raising interest rates to ensure that the tight job market doesn't trigger high inflation pressures.

For now, analysts say they think Trump's stimulus efforts and the Fed's gradual tightening can co-exist. Yet they also caution that the Fed may eventually raise rates to a point where they will begin to constrain growth, making it harder for Trump to achieve his GDP goals.

US Urges New Sanctions On N Korea And Warns Of Catastrophe

APRIL 28, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a trilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida and Korean Foreign Minister Yun, Friday, April 28, 2017, at the United Nations. (Bryan R. Smith/Pool Photo via AP)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States called for new sanctions on North Korea Friday and threatened to punish international companies doing banned business with the pariah nation's nuclear and missile programs. Doing nothing could be "catastrophic," top diplomat Rex Tillerson told a special U.N. Security Council session he chaired.

Amid council members' warning about the potential for conflict, Tillerson urged tougher action from China, North Korea's main trading partner. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi countered that a solution doesn't lie with Beijing and suggested resuming a long-stalled dialogue with Pyongyang.

North Korea may already be able to strike its U.S.-allied neighbors with a nuclear-tipped missile. It could develop the capability to target the U.S. mainland by the end of President Donald Trump's first term.

Tillerson's goals Friday were two-fold: Stricter global enforcement of existing sanctions on North Korea and strengthening the international resolve on North Korea so it eventually disarms. He dangled the possibility of counteracting "North Korean aggression with military action if necessary," a threat Trump administration officials had been unusually vocal in making until recent days.

"Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences," Tillerson said. Tensions on and around the divided Korean Peninsula are running high. Hoping to deter North Korea from more nuclear and missile testing, the U.S. has sent a group of American warships led by an aircraft carrier to the region. North Korea this week conducted large-scale, live-fire exercises on its eastern coast.

China's Wang warned that "use of force ... will only lead to bigger disasters" and urged the U.S. and ally South Korea to end military exercises. China is North Korea's main source of food and fuel aid. While it wants the North to end its nuclear weapons program, it is wary of destabilizing a traditional ally whom it fought with in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Tillerson's told nations to downgrade their diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and increase its financial isolation. "We must levy new sanctions on DPRK entities and individuals supporting its weapons and missile programs, and tighten those already in place," he said, using an acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He said the U.S. "would not hesitate" to impose sanctions on non-American companies helping the North and described China as having "unique" economic leverage.

In an interview Thursday, Tillerson said Beijing has threatened to impose sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests. The North conducted two last year and satellite imagery in recent weeks has suggested another could be coming.

Wang didn't answer a reporter's question Friday about Tillerson's assertion. Talking to reporters, he repeated a proposal for North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a suspension of large-scale U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

In February, China said it was suspending for the rest of the year coal imports that are an important revenue source for North Korea. Beijing said that was to adhere to the latest in a series of Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing the North's nuclear and missile programs. Other Chinese economic activity with North Korea remains robust.

China is eager to see a resumption of negotiations. Six-nation talks with North Korea on its nuclear program, hosted by Beijing, stalled in 2008. The Obama administration attempted to resurrect them in 2012, but a deal to provide food aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze soon collapsed.

"What is crucial today is to resume the talks," Wang told reporters. North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons because of the "hostile" policy of the U.S. toward it, and has threatened nuclear strikes if there is war. It complained this week that the Security Council rejected its request last month to discuss the U.S.-South Korea military exercises it says are a rehearsal for invasion.

The U.S. is currently president of the 15-member Security Council. Although South Korea is not currently on the council it will also address Friday's meeting. As of late Thursday, North Korea had not requested to speak.

UN Security Council To Confer On North Korea Nuclear Program


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley hold a trilateral meeting with Japan Foreign Minister Kishida, left, and Korea Foreign Minister Yun, right at the United Nations, Friday, April 28, 2017. (Bryan R. Smith/Pool Photo via AP)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Turning to diplomacy after flexing military muscle, the United States will urge the U.N. Security Council on Friday to increase economic pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, leaning on China in particular to turn the screws on its wayward ally.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with his counterparts from allies Japan and South Korea and was set to chair a ministerial meeting of the U.N.'s top decision-making body. The U.S. wants to tighten the implementation of sanctions and build international resolve to isolate North Korea so it eventually disarms.

That's a goal that has eluded U.S. administrations for two decades, and the threat is intensifying. North Korea may already be able to strike its U.S.-allied neighbors with a nuclear-tipped missile, and could have the U.S. mainland within range by the end of President Donald Trump's first term.

Tensions on and around the divided Korean Peninsula have been running high. In an attempt to deter North Korea from more nuclear and missile testing, the U.S. has sent a group of American warships led by an aircraft carrier to the region. North Korea this week conducted large-scale, live-fire exercises on its eastern coast.

"Right now, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is under very grave tension and at a critical point," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Friday. However, after weeks of unusually blunt military threats, the Trump administration announced this week its policy is to exert economic and diplomatic pressure with international partners to achieve denuclearization and said it is not aiming for regime change in North Korea. Officials say, however, a military strike is still an option.

While the U.S. is calling for global action, it says the onus is on China to ramp up pressure on North Korea, its main trading partner and source of food and fuel aid. China wants North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program but is wary of destabilizing its traditional ally, on whose side it fought in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Tillerson said in an interview Thursday that Beijing has threatened to impose unilateral sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests. It conducted two last year and satellite imagery in recent weeks has suggested another could be imminent.

China "confirmed to us that they had requested the regime conduct no further nuclear test," Tillerson said on Fox News Channel. Wang Yi did not answer Friday when asked about Tillerson's assertion "that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own."

Wang said China agrees to step up efforts on nonproliferation. He said it is committed to realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and upholding stability there and not allowing war to break out. He repeated a proposal for North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a suspension of large-scale U.S.-South Korea military exercises — which the allies have rejected.

In February, China said it was suspending for the rest of the year coal imports that are an important revenue source for North Korea. Beijing said that was to adhere to the latest in a series of Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing the North's nuclear and missile programs. Other Chinese economic activity with North Korea remains robust.

In a separate interview with National Public Radio, Tillerson said the U.S. remains open to holding direct negotiations with Pyongyang. "But North Korea has to decide they're ready to talk to us about the about the right agenda, and the right agenda is not simply stopping where they are for a few more months or a few more years and then resuming things," he said. "That's been the agenda for the last 20 years."

China is eager to see a resumption of negotiations. Six-nation talks with North Korea on its nuclear program, hosted by Beijing, stalled in 2008. The Obama administration attempted to resurrect them in 2012, but a deal to provide food aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze soon collapsed.

"What is crucial today is to resume the talks. It could be either bilateral, trilateral or multilateral, but ultimately we hope we will get back to the six-party talks because the six parties are the six parties that are directly related to the issue on the peninsula," Wang said.

North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons because of the "hostile" policy of the U.S. toward it, and has threatened nuclear strikes if there is war. It complained this week that the Security Council rejected its request last month to discuss the U.S.-South Korea military exercises it says are a rehearsal for invasion.

The U.S. is currently president of the 15-member Security Council. Although South Korea is not currently on the council it will also address the meeting. As of late Thursday, North Korea had not requested to speak.

Tillerson will have separate meetings Friday with British Foreign Secretary Johnson, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters Thursday that "the world cannot ignore" the emerging threat of the North's intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear capability. French Ambassador Francois Delattre said it supports America and others in seeking to maximize pressure on the North Korean government.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trump Tax Plan Could Be Good News For Many, Bad For Deficit

APRIL 27, 2017

Graphic shows highlights President Donald Trump’s tax plan; 2c x 5 inches; 96.3 mm x 127 mm;

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dismissing concerns about ballooning federal deficits, President Donald Trump on Wednesday proposed dramatic tax cuts for U.S. businesses and individuals — outlining an overhaul his administration promises will spur economic growth and simplify America's tangle of tax code rules.

His proposal, a one-page sketch short on detail, would reduce the top corporate tax rate by 20 percentage points and allow private business owners to claim the new lower rate for their take-home pay. It would whittle the number of tax brackets for individuals from seven to three, lower the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent and double the standard amount taxpayers could deduct.

It would eliminate the estate tax and reduce taxes on investments, typically paid by the rich. It would further reduce the tax burden for the wealthy by eliminating the catch-all alternative minimum tax, which takes an additional bite out of high-income Americans.

More lower-income Americans would pay no tax at all, and there would be relief — still undefined — for families with child care expenses. The plan does not propose any budget cuts or tax increases that might offset the lost revenue, a choice that alarms some fiscal conservatives in Trump's party who have spent years railing about the dangers of deficit spending.

It also does not fully embrace tax proposals backed by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, an essential ally if the president is to make good on his promise to deliver a tax overhaul that creates growth and brings jobs to struggling parts of the country.

Still, "I would never, ever bet against this president. He will get this done for the American people," said Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council. "He understands that there are a lot people who work hard and feel like they're not getting ahead."

The president's proposal marks a rehash of an economic theory popularized in the 1980s. Trump officials essentially argue that benefits from the tax cuts will trickle down from higher profits for companies into stronger pay raises for workers and greater consumer spending. This expected surge in growth, in theory, would be enough to keep the federal budget deficit from shooting upward.

Some economists agree, but most budget experts say it's unlikely. "Unfortunately, it seems the administration is using economic growth like magic beans — the cheap solution to all our problems," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "But there is no golden goose at the top of the tax cut beanstalk, just mountains of debt."

Trump's plan resembles aspects of the tax ideas he campaigned on last year. The right-learning Tax Foundation estimated that, even after accounting for growth, the Trump campaign plan would put a $2.6 to $3.9 trillion hole in the budget over 10 years.

"We know this is difficult," Cohn said. "We know what we're asking for is a big bite." Despite the details provided Wednesday, the proposal leaves significant open questions that could affect its impact on taxpayers and the economy.

The administration has yet to decide the incomes at which the new personal tax rates — 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent —would apply, meaning that some Americans might see their taxes increase if they get bumped into a higher bracket. It also has yet to spell out how the plan would stop wealthier Americans from exploiting a lower corporate rate to reduce their own taxes.

Administration officials intend to finalize details with members of the House and Senate in the coming weeks for what would be the first massive rewrite of the U.S. tax code since 1986. The possibility of a deficit increase, unacceptable to some Republicans, means that Trump would need to attract Democratic support to make the overhaul permanent.

Senate Democrats say his plan tilts its benefits to the wealthy, including Trump himself. The real estate magnate might save millions of dollars in his personal taxes because of the changes. "This is an unprincipled tax plan that will result in cuts for the one percent, conflicts for the president, crippling debt for America and crumbs for the working people," said Sen. Ron Wyden, or Oregon, ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee.

The Trump proposal would double the standard deduction for married couples to more than $24,000, while keeping deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest payments. On the other hand, it would trim other deductions, including for state and local tax payments, a change that could alienate lawmakers in states such as California and New York with higher state taxes.

"It's not the federal government's job to be subsidizing the states," said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The administration has emphasized that the plan is focused on simplifying the tax code and helping middle class Americans. The median U.S. household income is slightly above $50,000 annually.

In a boon for wealthier taxpayers, it would repeal the 3.8 percent tax on investment income from President Barack Obama's health care law The proposal has yet to be vetted for its precise impact on top earners, as several specifics are still being determined.

On the corporate side, the top marginal tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 15 percent. Small businesses that account for their owners' personal incomes would see their top tax rate go from 39.6 percent to that corporate tax rate of 15 percent. Mnuchin said the change for small business owners — a group that under the current definition could include doctors, lawyers and even major real estate companies — would be done in a way that would ensure wealthier Americans could not exploit the change to pay less than intentioned in taxes.

Coulter's Berkeley Speech Canceled, Police Prep For Violence

APRIL 27, 2017

A leaflet is seen stapled to a message board near Sproul Hall on the University of California at Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif. The University of California, Berkeley says it's preparing for possible violence on campus whether Ann Coulter comes to speak or not.

BERKELEY, CALIF. (AP) — Ann Coulter said Wednesday that she was forced to cancel her speaking event Thursday at the University of California, Berkeley amid concerns of violence, calling it "a dark day for free speech in America."

Police and university officials said they were still preparing for possible violence and protests whether Coulter comes to campus or not. In an email to The Associated Press, Coulter said that despite the event's cancellation she might decide to turn up anyway.

"I have my flights, so I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment," Coulter said in an emailed message when asked if she was still coming to Berkeley. Officials at UC Berkeley said last week they feared more violence on campus if Coulter followed through with plans to speak. They cited "very specific intelligence" of threats that could endanger Coulter and students, as Berkeley becomes a platform for extremist protesters on both sides of the political spectrum.

Efforts by the university to cancel or delay the event dealt a blow to Berkeley's image as a bastion of tolerance and free speech. Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks sent a letter to the campus Wednesday saying the university is committed to defending free speech but also to protecting its students.

"This is a university, not a battlefield," Dirks said in the letter. "The university has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech the other to the safety of our campus community." Berkeley's reputation as one of the country's most liberal universities, in one of America's most liberal cities, has made it a flashpoint for the nation's political divisions in the era of Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley at a pro-Trump protest that featured speeches by members of the white nationalist right. They clashed with a group of Trump critics who called themselves anti-fascists.

Similar violent clashes also erupted at the same site, a public park, on March 4. In February, violent protesters forced the cancellation of a speech by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who like Coulter was invited by campus Republicans.

The Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America's Foundation, a conservative group that had helped book Coulter's campus speaking events, both pulled their support Tuesday citing fears of violence. They blamed the university for failing to ensure protection of conservative speakers.

"Berkeley College Republicans do not want to endanger people's lives so because of the university's unwillingness to do their job we are forced to cancel the event," Troy Warden, president of the campus Republicans, said Wednesday.

Coulter echoed the blame on Twitter: "I'm very sad about Berkeley's cancellation, but my sadness is greater than that. It's a dark day for free speech in America." Police and university officials said they remained concerned by online chatter and intelligence that groups on the extreme ends of the political spectrum were ready to incite violence.

Capt. Alex Yao of the Berkley campus police force said police presence will be strong Thursday. "You will see a high number of highly visible law enforcement. We're going to have a very, very low tolerance for any violence," he told a news conference. He said Berkeley police had reached out to local and state police forces "to let them know we might be calling for assistance."

Carson Eyes Private Sector As Tool To Offset Housing Cuts

APRIL 26, 2017

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, second from right, speaks with Michelle Heritage, director of a shelter program, center, and Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther, left, outside a shelter in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Carson said Wednesday he expects to release a policy agenda within the next few months that delivers “bang for the buck,” partly by encouraging more private-sector collaboration.

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said Wednesday he expects to release a policy agenda within the next few months that delivers "bang for the buck," partly by encouraging more private-sector collaboration.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Carson said he expects to advance public-private partnerships, extending low-income housing tax credits and providing more opportunities for public-housing residents to get jobs at the buildings where they live.

"The biggest tools are the partnerships — public, private, nonprofit and faith community partnerships — which allow us to leverage those federal dollars, anywhere from 2, 3, 4, 5 to 20-to-1," Carson said.

He said businesses with a financial stake in such projects are motivated to maintain the surrounding infrastructure. "And if they're maintaining it, we don't have to — and then we can spend more time and effort dealing with the things that really need to be dealt with," he said.

Carson has been traveling the country gathering input from agency field staff, local leaders and residents of public housing developments. His three-day visit to Ohio, the tour's fourth stop, included visits to developments in both urban and rural areas.

Carson declined to comment during a later news conference on the tax plan President Donald Trump released Wednesday, saying he had not yet seen it. He said he doesn't anticipate negative effects associated with Trump's proposed budget cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, and said he has not been promising those he encounters along his tour route that he will fight the cuts.

"I'm going to be fighting for the people who benefit from the programs. I'm not fixated on any particular number," he said. "I'm fixated on making sure that we maintain the good programs that are helping our elderly and disabled people."

He said a review of redundancies, inefficiencies and waste should allow for the reductions to have "no material effect." For Robin Mallory, 59, a public housing resident Carson visited Wednesday at Columbus' Van Buren Village, maintaining the facility where she lives and the programs it offers are vital to helping people who are down and out.

Mallory said she told the secretary, "I feel the funding should be continued, because a person like myself was afforded this opportunity and there's others out there that are in need." Their conversation wasn't open to the press.

She voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton last year, but Mallory said she's hopeful. "I also feel with the right people working together with President Trump that we'll be fine and we'll get what we need."

She says the facility afforded "an opportunity not only to get your pride back but to get yourself back together. It's a second start on life to rejuvenate once again a productive lifestyle." Carson said he was inspired by the collaborations behind Van Buren Village, a 100-unit housing complex backed by various government, nonprofit and business partners, the homeless shelter next door and a veterans-only housing site he toured on the other side of Columbus.

"There are some like these that make you so proud. There are others where you would want to turn and run," he said. "But we want to get to the situation where they're all good, that they're something we can be proud of. As a nation, we are totally capable of doing this."

Carson is working to raise the profile and use of HUD's Section 3 program, which requires recipients of agency funding to provide — "to the greatest extent possible" — job training, employment and contract opportunities to low-income residents.

He said the provision has been "largely ignored" because developers say residents lack necessary skills for the jobs that will be created. Carson would like to see job training begin when the ground is broken on any new housing complex.

"What we're really going to be emphasizing is planning. We know when a big project is going to be done and, you know, the planning stage generally takes at least a year," he said. "Well, during that time you can be training people in the area, so that now you have some skills."

Carson said he wants to explore working with the Treasury Department and the IRS on how to make the low-income housing tax credits "more effective, efficient and more widespread."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Harvard Doctor Just Won $1 Million For A Project That Could Prevent The Next Deadly Pandemic


Raj Panjabi getting his blood pressure checked by a community health worker

Before the Ebola virus ravaged West Africa, killing thousands and leaving entire towns reeling, it started small. The virus wound its way out of a rainforest-adjacent village in Guinea and spread through other rural areas in Liberia and Sierra Leone, going undetected for months. By the time the world realized what was happening, it was too late to stop the virus's spread.

It's hard to find outbreaks if people aren't actively looking for them. And in rural communities across the world, people lack access to healthcare workers who might be able to detect future Ebola outbreaks — or on a more regular basis, help diagnose and treat problems like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea.

Dr. Raj Panjabi just won the $1 million TED Prize for an idea that could dramatically increase the number of paid community health workers around the world. The prize is given each year at the TED conference in Vancouver, Canada to make the recipient's "big wish" a reality.

Panjabi is a physician at Harvard Medical School and the co-founder and CEO of Last Mile Health, an organization that expands access to healthcare in remote areas through the hiring of professional community health workers. Panjabi tells Business Insider that he wants to "recruit and train the largest army of community health workers that's ever been known."

He calls his concept the Community Health Academy.

"I want to help countries where they're already working on this to do it at a higher quality and lower cost, to create and curate the best in digital education resources, and to [use] self-learning and online courses to recognize the next outbreak," he says.

All of these steps could reduce unnecessary deaths from treatable diseases and potentially prevent future pandemics, according to Panjabi.

Panjabi grew up in Monrovia, Liberia. He lived what he calls a normal childhood as a math and science geek, until civil war erupted when he was nine years old. The war sent hundreds of thousands of families fleeing, and Panjabi's family ended up moving to North Carolina.

"I wanted to go back to see if I could contribute to serving those we left behind," he says. When Panjabi returned to Liberia in 2005, he discovered the country had the one of the biggest doctor shortages in the world, with just 51 doctors for four million people. The physicians available to see patients were clustered in urban areas, forcing many rural residents to travel over a day to get care.

That's why he started Last Mile Health in 2007 — to bring healthcare to rural areas at a low cost by training paid community health workers to detect and treat diseases. "I believe no one should have to die in the 21st century from lack of access to a doctor or a clinic," he says.

Last Mile Health came into existence at the right time, technologically speaking, since smartphones have made it easier than ever to access medical knowledge without a degree or a lab.

Panjabi gives the example of a child with a shortness of breath. A healthcare worker could check to see if the child has a fever with a digital thermometer, count their breaths using the phone as a smartwatch, and come away knowing whether the child is likely to have pneumonia.

In the next year, Panjabi hopes to use his TED Prize money to set up online training courses for community health workers across the globe. He wants to start in countries with the most dire healthcare shortages (like Liberia).

Online education platform EdX has already committed to working with Last Mile Health on the project. The next step after that is to work with ministries of health in various countries to set up official certifications for trained health workers.

"If we can't understand the value they bring, their labor is undervalued. This would help countries measure training competencies," he says.

Ultimately, Panjabi believes community health work is both an economic and a national security issue. By hiring health workers, governments can create much-needed jobs in rural areas. And as the recent Ebola outbreak revealed, blind spots in rural healthcare lead to diseases that threaten people all over the world.
"You can't bomb Ebola," he says.

(BIAFRA): Alleged Treason: Kanu’s Parents Reject Bail Terms


APRIL 26, 2017

(ABUJA, NIGERIA) -- There was jubilation yesterday in the family home of pro-Biafra agitator Nnamdi Kanu in Umuahia, Abia State. 

But to the family, the bail conditions are “harsh” and should be reviewed by the court. Kanu should be free unconditionally.

Speaking with reporters at his palace at Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku in Umuahia, Kanu’s father, Eze Israel Kanu, flanked by his wife Ugoeze Sally, called for the unconditional release of his son.

The traditional ruler of Afaraukwu Ineku Umuahia kingdom, however, said he was overjoyed over the news – that his son had been granted bail by the Abuja High Court but insisted that the conditions were impossible.

To the monarch, it sounds illogical for a court in Nigeria to expect a Jewish leader in faraway Israel to stand as surety for a person standing trial in Nigeria, “Why ask him to produce a Jewish leader as surety? Why demand a Senator or Igbo leader who will deposit N100 million? Is N100 million N100.
“It is possible that they are looking for an opportunity to keep him in detention. It is up to the world to look at the bail conditions and see if they are justifiable for a man who has done nothing to warrant being held in prison.”

Eze Kanu urged Ndigbo to “unite and take up the challenge as a people”. He pleaded that other IPOB members standing trial with his son should be released unconditionally.

The elder Kanu said he had always had the faith that his son would one day be released and thanked God that such a day had come.

He hailed Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose and former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode for their solidarity with his son, but frowned at the absence of Igbo leaders at the court premises, saying that was an indication that they were not supporting the Biafra cause.

The IPOB leader’s mother said she had been having sleepless nights while her son was in detention and thanked God for answering her prayers.

Mrs Kanu thanked all those who stood firm for the Biafra cause and prayed for her son’s release, urging them to keep the faith.

Asked if she would advise her son to discontinue his agitation, she cried: “No retreat, no surrender. Biafra is a divine project.”

Kanu’s mother said the arrest of her son popularised the Biafra agitation and vowed to keep supporting the movement. “My son was raised by God to deliver Biafra and as God delivered Israel so he will deliver Biafra because my son is fighting for his right,” she said.

Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) members described the bail granted to the IPOB leader as the triumph of light over darkness. 

In a release signed by its leader, Uchenna Madu, MASSOB said it had always identified with true representations of Biafra and genuine struggle for the liberation of the people of Biafra. 

The release reads: “I spent almost four years in different prisons from 2005 to 2009 which includes Suleleja, Keffi and Kuje prisons for same purpose of Biafra and was later released. Nnamdi Kanu and others won’t be an exception. He represents the interest of the people of Biafra; he is not a criminal”.
“MASSOB commends the efforts of Igbo governors, Some prominent and eloquent leaders, like Mr Peter Obi, Chief John Nwodo (Ohaneze PG), Governor Fayose, some Igbo National Assembly members, Nzuko Umunna and other progressive persons for their unflinching efforts in compelling the Federal Government to grant Nnamdi Kanu bail.

“As the people of Biafra erupted in jubilation all over the world in celebration of triumph of light over darkness, it shows that we are more united in our pursuit for Biafra actualisation and restoration, irrespective of our different organisations.”

Separatist Nnamdi Kanu got a temporary reprieve yesterday. A Federal High Court in Abuja granted him a N100 million bail on health grounds.

But his parents complained that the conditions were harsh and meant to keep him in detention.

Justice Binta Nyako, in a ruling, noted that the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) leader had consistently exhibited traits of ill-health in court. He was directed to produce three sureties.

But the trio of Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, who are standing trial with Kanu, were not that lucky. The judge rejected their bail.

Justice Nyako said: “I have not also seen any new argument to warrant my reviewing my earlier decision. However, as it relates to the 1st defendant, the applicant has deposed extensively on his health and appeals to the court on health grounds to allow bail on any condition.

“Overtime that the 1st defendant has appeared in court, the 1st defendant may be having some health issues as he always sits down and sweats profusely.

“I am of the opinion that the 1st defendant needs better health attention than the Prison Service is unable to provide.

“Pursuant to this, the bail of the 2nd to 4th defendants, is hereby refused. I hereby use my discretion and grant the 1st defendant bail on the following conditions:

He shall undertake before the court and depose to an affidavit that he shall attend his trial diligently and shall provide three sureties as follows;

All the sureties are in sum of N100 milliom each. One of them must be a highly placed person of Igbo extraction, such as a senator;

Second surety must be highly respected and recognised religious leader in Nigeria of the defendant’s belief. A highly respected Jewish leader;

The third surety must be resident in Abuja, highly respected, with landed property and Certificate of Occupancy verified;

He shall deposit all his international passports, with the court.

“I also want a report of his health status on a monthly basis filed in court,” the judge said.

Justice Nyako directed that Kanu should not grant interviews, organise ralies, and must not be in a crowd of more than 10 people.

The judge had, in an earlier ruling, rejected the defendants’ application for variation of her earlier order granting protection to prosecution witnesses.

She said the defendants had not provided anything new in their earlier argument for the variation of the order.

“My earlier ruling remains as prosecution witnesses, who are security agents, will be protected as their identity will not be disclosed,” Justice Nyako said.

The judge adjourned till July 11 for the opening of the trial. She said the court will take interlocutory applications only in the course of the trial.

There was unusually heavy security deployment in the court.

Inside the courtroom, Department of State Services (DSS) operatives took charge. Regular and riot policemen and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) officers were on guard outside the court premises.

The atmosphere outside the court premises was tense. Many visitors had a hectic time accessing the court. They were thoroughly frisked before being allowed in.

Those, who could not provide good reasons for their mission to the court, were turned back. The street leading to the court was barricaded with police trucks. A few people, mostly court officials, were allowed to drive in.

The defendants’ sympathisers, who before yesterday were always allowed to stay close to the main gate, were driven far away from the court.

Dressed in various attires, the sympathisers sang and danced, creating a carnival-like scene while the proceedings lasted. When the news was broken that Kanu had been granted bail, they went wild, singing: “We have won, we have won”; and “Bye bye to Nigeria. We told them before that Biafra is real.”

At proceedings were Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose and former Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka.

Another former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, who was in court in respect of his criminal trial, was prevented by security men from accessing the court where Kanu’s proceedings were on going.

At the end of proceedings, Fayose went close to Kanu, hugged him and engaged him in a brief chat.

Fayose said he was in court in solidarity with the Biafra agitators’ leader.

He told the IPOB chief that he will one day walk as a free man.

Fayose said that although he was not Igbo, he came to show solidarity as somebody who believed in justice.

Kanu and others are standing trial on a five-count charge bordering on treasonable felony and managing an unlawful organisation.

They are also accused of conspiracy to broadcast materials intended to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria and create a Biafra State.

Aba agog over Kanu’s bail

ABA, the commercial hub of Abia State, had a terrible traffic Jam yesterday.

Vehicular and economic activities were disrupted as residents took to the streets to celebrate the bail granted the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader and Radio Biafra Director Nnamdi Kanu by Justice Binta of the High Court in Abuja.

Kanu’s supporters, who converged on the Christ the King Catholic Church’s (CKC’s) gate immediately the news hit the town, marched through the major streets.

Singing pro-Kanu and anti-Federal Government songs, they marched through Asa Road, Azikiwe, Aba-Owerri Expressway, Aba-Ikot Ekpene, Faulks and others.

Sounds of bangers rented the air in Ahia Ohuru (New Market), Shopping Centre, Eziukwu and other markets.

St. Michael’s, Pound Road, Jubilee, and Hospital Road, were also besieged by Kanu’s admirers, who left their shops to join their friends in a drinking spree.

At Ariaria, where Kanu is said to have “die-hard supporters”, traders defied the flooded and near impassible nature of the market to join their counterparts in celebrating the Abuja Court order.

Not a few provided “free drinks” for both customers and fellow traders who joined in the celebration.

Some of the jubilant Biafra supporters, including Dominic Gilbert, said that they were happy that Justice Binta, in whose Kanu had several times complained of lacking confidence, later granted their leader bail.

Gilbert, however, described the bail conditions as “harsh”, stressing that the court could have granted Kanu bail unconditionally.

The factional leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Uchenna Madu, thanked the Southeast Governors’ Forum for their role in Kanu’s release.

In a statement, Madu, who was once detained for clamouring for the actualisation of Biafra, stated that the realisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra was not going to come on a platter of gold.

The MASSOB leader pleaded for the release of other Biafra agitators languishing in prisons across the country.

The statement reads: “The bail granted to our brother today is a sign of light triumphantly over the darkness. It is a motivational factor that Biafra will always triumph over Nigeria.

“I spent almost four years in different prisons from 2005 to 2009 which includes Suleleja, Keffi and Kuje prisons for same purpose of Biafra and was later released. Nnamdi Kanu and others won’t be an exception. He represents the interest of the people of Biafra, he is not a criminal.”

MASSOB praised the efforts of Igbo governors, some prominent and “eloquent” leaders, like Mr. Peter Obi, Chief John Nwodo (Ohaneze President General), Fayose, some Igbo National Assembly members, Nzuko Umunna and other progressive persons “for their unflinching efforts in compelling the Federal Government in granting Nnamdi Kanu bail.

“As the people of Biafra erupted in jubilation all over the world in celebration of triumph of light over darkness, it shows that we are more united in our pursuit for Biafra actualisation and restoration, irrespective of our different organisations. We know that freedom can never be achieved on a platter of gold.”

Judge Blocks Trump Order On Sanctuary City Funding

APRIL 25, 2017

Lordes Reboyoso, right, yells at a rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco. President Donald Trump moved aggressively to tighten the nation's immigration controls Wednesday, signing executive actions to jumpstart construction of his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and cut federal grants for immigrant-protecting "sanctuary cities." On Tuesday, April 25, 2017, a federal judge blocked a Trump administration order to withhold funding from communities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions to federal spending.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday blocked any attempt by the Trump administration to withhold funding from "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions to federal spending.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued the preliminary injunction in two lawsuits — one brought by the city of San Francisco, the other by Santa Clara County — against an executive order targeting communities that protect immigrants from deportation.

The injunction will stay in place while the lawsuits work their way through court. The judge said that President Donald Trump cannot set new conditions for the federal grants at stake. And even if he could, the conditions would have to be clearly related to the funds at issue and not coercive, Orrick said.

"Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves," the judge said.

A Justice Department attorney, Chad Readler, had defended the president's executive order as an attempt to use his "bully pulpit' to "encourage communities and states to comply with the law." The Trump administration had further argued the lawsuits were premature because the government hasn't cut off any money yet or declared any communities to be sanctuary cities.

Meanwhile, mayors from several U.S. cities threatened with the loss of federal grants emerged from a meeting Tuesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying they remain confused about how to prove their police are in compliance with immigration policies — a necessary step for them to receive grant money.

During a recent court hearing, the Trump administration and the two California governments disagreed over the order's scope. San Francisco and Santa Clara County argued that the order threatened billions of dollars in federal funding for each of them, making it difficult to plan their budgets.

But Readler, acting assistant attorney general, said the threatened cutoff applies to three Justice Department and Homeland Security grants and would affect less than $1 million for Santa Clara County and possibly no money for San Francisco.

In his ruling, Orrick sided with San Francisco and Santa Clara, saying the order "by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three mentioned at the hearing." "And if there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments," the judge said.

The Trump administration says that sanctuary cities allow dangerous criminals back on the street and that the order is needed to keep the country safe. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities say turning local police into immigration officers erodes trust that is needed to get people to report crime.

The order also has led to lawsuits by Seattle; two Massachusetts cities, Lawrence and Chelsea; and a third San Francisco Bay Area government, the city of Richmond. The San Francisco and Santa Clara County lawsuits were the first to get a hearing before a judge.

San Francisco and the county argued that the president did not have the authority to set conditions on the allocation of federal funds and could not compel local officials to enforce federal immigration law.

The sanctuary city order was among a flurry of immigration measures Trump has signed since taking office in January, including a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and a directive calling for a wall on the Mexican border.

A federal appeals court blocked the travel ban. The administration then revised it, but the new version also is stalled in court.