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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fired reporter kills 2 former co-workers on live TV

Fired reporter kills 2 former co-workers on live TV

AP Photo
CORRECTS YEAR FLANAGAN WAS FIRED TO 2013 FROM EARLIER THIS YEAR - This undated photograph made available by WDBJ-TV shows reporter Alison Parker, left, and cameraman Adam Ward. Parker and Ward were fatally shot during an on-air interview, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, in Moneta, Va. Authorities identified the suspect as fellow journalist Vester Lee Flanagan II, who appeared on WDBJ-TV as Bryce Williams. Flanagan was fired from the station in 2013.
  
MONETA, Va. (AP) -- He planned it all so carefully - a choreographed execution of two former colleagues, broadcast live to a horrified television audience. Hours later, he shared his own recording of the killing worldwide on social media.

Vester Lee Flanagan's video shows him approaching WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, gun in hand, as they conduct an interview. He points the gun at Parker and then at Ward, but he waits patiently to shoot until he knows that Parker is on camera, so she will be gunned down on air.

TV viewers heard about the first eight of 15 shots. They saw Parker scream and run, and heard her crying "Oh my God!" as she fell. Ward fell, too, and the camera he had been holding on his shoulder captured a fleeting image of the suspect holding a handgun.

That man, authorities said, was Flanagan - a former staffer who used the on-air name of Bryce Williams and was fired by WDBJ, a man who always was looking for reasons to take offense, colleagues recalled. He fled the scene but then posted his own 56-second video of the murders on Twitter and Facebook. He later ran off a highway while being pursued hundreds of miles away and was captured; he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Wednesday's on-air murders reverberated far from central Virginia because that's just what the killer wanted - not just to avenge perceived wrongs, but to gain maximum, viral exposure. He used his insider's knowledge of TV journalism against his victims - a 24-year-old reporter who was a rising star and a 27-year-old cameraman engaged to a producer who watched the slaughter live from the control room.

Flanagan's planning may have started weeks ago when, ABC News said, a man claiming to be Bryce Williams called repeatedly, saying he wanted to pitch a story and needed fax information. He sent ABC's newsroom a 23-page fax two hours after the 6:45 a.m. shooting that was part-manifesto, part-suicide note - calling himself a gay black man who had been mistreated by people of all races, and saying he bought the gun two days after nine black people were killed in a June 17 shooting at a Charleston church. The fax also included admiration for the gunmen in mass killings at places like Virginia Tech and Columbine High School in Colorado.

He described himself as a "human powder keg," that was "just waiting to go BOOM!!!!"

Parker and Ward were a regular team, providing stories for the station's "Mornin'" show on everything from breaking news to feature stories on subjects like child abuse. Their live spot Wednesday was nothing out of the ordinary: They were interviewing a local official at an outdoor shopping mall for a tourism story before the shots rang out.

As Parker screamed and Ward collapsed, Ward's camera kept rolling, capturing the image of the suspect pointing the gun. WDBJ quickly switched to the anchor back at the station, clearly shocked, who told viewers, "OK, not sure what happened there."

Parker and Ward died at the scene. Their interview subject, Vicki Gardner, also was shot, but emerged from surgery later Wednesday in stable condition.

Flanagan, 41, who was fired from WDBJ in 2013, was described by the station's president and general manager, Jeffrey Marks, as an "an unhappy man" and "difficult to work with," always "looking out for people to say things he could take offense to."

"Eventually after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. He did not take that well," Marks said. He recalled that police had to escort Flanagan out of the building because he refused to leave when he was fired.

Tweets posted Wednesday on the gunman's Twitter account - since suspended - described workplace conflicts with both victims. He said he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Parker, and that Ward had reported him to human resources.

Marks said Flanagan alleged that other employees made racially tinged comments to him, but that his EEOC claim was dismissed and none of his allegations could be corroborated.

"We think they were fabricated," the station manager said.

Dan Dennison, now a state government spokesman in Hawaii, was the WDBJ news director who hired 
Flanagan in 2012 and fired him in 2013, largely for performance issues, he said.

"We did a thorough investigation and could find no evidence that anyone had racially discriminated against this man," Dennison said. "You just never know when you're going to work how a potentially unhinged or unsettled person might impact your life in such a tragic way."

Court records and recollections from former colleagues at a half-dozen other small-market stations where he bounced around indicate that Flanagan was quick to file complaints. He was fired at least twice after managers said he was causing problems with other employees.

Both Parker and Ward grew up in the Roanoke area, attended high school there and later interned at the station. After Parker's internship, she moved to a smaller market in Jacksonville, North Carolina, before returning to WDBJ. She was dating Chris Hurst, an anchor at the station and had just moved in with him.

"We were together almost nine months," Hurst posted on Facebook. "It was the best nine months of our lives. We wanted to get married. We just celebrated her 24th birthday. She was the most radiant woman I ever met."

Ward, who played high school football, was a devoted fan of his alma mater, Virginia Tech. His colleagues said he rarely, if ever, missed a game. They called him a "happy-go-lucky guy" - even during the early morning hours that are the proving ground for so many beginning journalists.

Ward's fiancee, station producer Melissa Ott, was in the control room marking her last day on the job when the shots rang out. Ward had planned to follow her to her new job in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Marks helped lead the live coverage Wednesday after the station confirmed its two employees were dead. He said he and his staff covered the story despite their grief, to honor their slain colleagues.

"Our hearts are broken," he said. "Our sympathy goes to the entire staff here, but also the parents and family of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were just out doing their job today."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

With many Ebola survivors ailing, doctors evaluate situation

With many Ebola survivors ailing, doctors evaluate situation 
 

AP Photo
In this photo taken Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, laboratory technician Mohamed SK Sesay, who contracted and survived Ebola but saw many of his colleagues die and now has joint and muscle pains and loss of sight, holds the child of one of his work colleagues who died of the disease, in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Lingering health problems afflicting many of the roughly 13,000 Ebola survivors have galvanized global and local health officials seeking to determine how widespread the ailments are, and how to remedy them, with the World Health Organization calling it an emergency within an emergency.
  
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- Lingering health problems afflicting many of the roughly 13,000 Ebola survivors have galvanized global and local health officials to find out how widespread the ailments are, and how to remedy them.

The World Health Organization calls it an emergency within an emergency. Many of the survivors have vision and hearing issues. Some others experience physical and emotional pains, fatigue and other problems. The medical community is negotiating uncharted waters as it tries to measure the scale of this problem that comes on the tail end of the biggest Ebola outbreak in history.

"If we can find out this kind of information, hopefully we can help other Ebola survivors in the future," Dr. Zan Yeong, an eye specialist involved in a study of health problems in survivors in Liberia, told The Associated Press.


About 7,500 people will enroll - 1,500 Ebola survivors and 6,000 of their close contacts - and will be monitored over a five-year period in the study launched by Partnership for Research on Ebola Vaccines in Liberia, or PREVAIL.

Only about 40 percent of those infected have survived Ebola, according to WHO estimates. But while the survivors beat the odds, preliminary research shows that many are still suffering. Around half those who received post-recovery check-ups have joint pain, said Dr. Daniel Bausch, an Ebola expert and consultant for WHO.

"We don't have the capacity yet - we wish we did - to follow every survivor," he said. Consequently, the percentage of survivors who have complications isn't known, he said.

He described the joint pain as "very debilitating and a very serious problem that can prevent people from going back to work and providing for their family."

Some degree of changes in vision has been reported by roughly 25 percent of the survivors who have been seen by medics, he said, including severe inflammation of the eye that if untreated can result in blindness, he said. The Ebola virus has been found, in at least a few cases, to linger in the eyes, though experts say it is not transmitted through tears.

Morris Kallon, 34, a health worker who survived Ebola in a village in Liberia's Grand Cape Mount County, said he had fevers, headaches, lower abdominal pain and red eyes after he returned home.

"I have been experiencing whole lot of problems within my body system," he said. "I still feel pains in my back. It is very difficult for me to swing my arms. ... My vision is always blurred, like dew on my face."

Lab technician Mohamed SK Sesay was working at a hospital in Kenema, a town in eastern Sierra Leone, testing blood samples for Ebola when he fell sick with the virus. About eight members of his team got infected and he was among the few survivors, WHO said.

After he recovered, he was discharged from an Ebola treatment unit in September. He was still weak, and says he was shunned by his community.

Then his health deteriorated.

"Sleepless nights. Joint pain. Muscle pain," he said. "I started experiencing loss of weight. ... Loss of sight was the worst one that set me off. I used to cry. I couldn't see my computer."

He was attended to by one of Sierra Leone's few eye doctors and his health improved overall, but he still has bad days.

"My biggest challenge is now my health," he said. He loses vision from time to time. Sometimes if people call out to him on the street he can't hear them.

Eye problems were noted in some survivors of Ebola outbreaks in Congo in 1995, in Uganda's Gulu district in 2000 and in Uganda's Bundibugyo district in 2007. But with such small numbers, past outbreaks haven't provided sufficient opportunities for extensive study, Bausch said.

Now, with thousands of survivors, doctors want to learn why people are experiencing these ailments, how they affect the body, what percentage of survivors has issues and how to treat them.

Experts also want to learn whether the physical problems are directly caused by the virus, whether they existed before, are side-effects or perhaps autoimmune reactions, Bausch said.

"It's too early ... to know what the direct effect or link is to Ebola, if at all," Bausch said.

In early August, WHO gathered experts in Sierra Leone who concluded that more needs to be done to provide better care plans for survivors, and more research and specialist help is needed.

Post-recovery problems haven't been confined to West African survivors, whose health might not have been strong to begin with considering the poor state of health care in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea - the three impoverished countries most affected by Ebola - even before the epidemic.

Dr. Ian Crozier, an American who became infected while working in Sierra Leone for WHO, developed an inflammation and high pressure in one eye months after being released from treatment. His iris temporarily changed color from blue to green; doctors found his eye contained the Ebola virus. He is still recovering, but his vision has improved, according to Emory University Hospital which has been treating him.

Nancy Writebol, who last year became the second American infected with Ebola, said she suffers joint pain, mostly in her knees. She said she had problems with her vision, but they seem to have gone away.

She assists a weekly survivor clinic in Liberia at ELWA hospital run by Serving In Mission, a North Carolina-based Christian organization. She noted that Liberia's health-care system is broken and many survivors lack running water and electricity in their homes, making their recovery more arduous than that of survivors in the West.

"There are a lot that are having troubles with vision," she said. "One of the greatest complaints that we see is joint pain. And you can tell just by the way people are moving that they are suffering."

Dr. Rick Sacra, an American Ebola survivor who helps at the ELWA Liberia hospital every few months, said when he was in Liberia in June and July, he saw a mixture of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in the 15 to 40 people that came to survivor clinic appointments each week. Physically the main complaints involve the eyes, joints and nerve problems, he said. Less common symptoms are rashes, headaches, abdominal discomfort and cough.

"I know there's likely a large number of survivors who are fine, but then you have smaller subsets who have one or more of these complications," he said.

Sacra also suffered eye problems that were treated with steroids. He told AP he has fully recovered.

The epidemic, which has claimed nearly 11,300 lives, has significantly slowed, with only three confirmed cases emerging in the last weekly reporting period, according to WHO figures. But experts and survivors say the struggle to deal with the residual damage is just starting.

Dr. Anders Nordstrom, the WHO representative for Sierra Leone, said: "It is increasingly clear that emerging from an ETU (Ebola treatment unit) is just the beginning."

Friday, August 21, 2015

Cancer forces Jimmy Carter to slow down but not stop work

Cancer forces Jimmy Carter to slow down but not stop work 

AP Photo
Former President Jimmy Carter walks to a news conference followed by his wife, Rosalynn Carter, center, at The Carter Center in Atlanta on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. Carter announced that his cancer is on four small spots on his brain and he will immediately begin radiation treatment, saying he is "at ease with whatever comes."
 

ATLANTA (AP) -- Cancer in his brain is forcing Jimmy Carter to slow down, but the 90-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner is insisting on keeping up with some of the humanitarian work that has sustained him since leaving the White House as a one-term president 35 years ago.

Hours before receiving radiation targeted at four spots of melanoma in his brain on Thursday, the former president warned his staff and a roomful of reporters that he has no intention of missing The Carter Center's next progress reports on the eradication of elephantiasis and Guinea worm disease.

Carter acknowledged Thursday that skin cancer is forcing him to cut back "fairly dramatically" on his usual routine. His regimen includes intravenous drug treatments every three weeks, and the possibility of more targeted radiation if the melanoma shows up elsewhere in his body.

But he insisted that his work isn't done yet - and pointed to The Carter Center's dramatic inroads against diseases in Africa, Asia and Latin America as an example. Guinea worm - a parasite that lives in untreated water and grows inside the human body - afflicted 3.5 million people but seemed beyond the reach of global health initiatives.

The Carter Center says its public health work helped reduce Guinea worm disease to a mere 126 cases worldwide last year.

"I would like the last Guinea worm to die before I do," Carter said.

That's no surprise to Jim Niquette, who spent nine years working on the disease in Nigeria, Ghana and Southern Sudan with the center, and accompanied Carter on three working trips in the field. Niquette founded and now runs WATER (Water in Africa Through Everyday Responsiveness), a nonprofit focused on improving access to clean water.

"He gets his strength from the future world," said Niquette. "My guess is, his frame of reference is, as long as he's on this Earth, he's supposed to do as much as he possibly can."

Gerald Rafshoon, who ran Carter's political advertising campaigns, said a president's legacy is determined by "what he can accomplish for the future." Carter has kept that mentality ever since, despite his disappointment at losing to Ronald Reagan in 1980, he said.

White House aides would "joke about asking: `What are your priorities?' and he would give you a list of 6 or 7 things for that day," Rafshoon said. "But he wanted to accomplish everything. You knew if he was working you hard, he was working even harder."

Carter stressed that he will closely follow the recommendations of "the best cancer-treaters in the world," even as he keeps lecturing at Emory University, attending meetings and fundraising for The Carter Center, and enjoying his extended family -- four children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Dr. Walter Curran, Jr., leader of Emory's Winship Cancer Institute and part of Carter's medical team, said with melanoma patients like Carter, doctors aren't seeking to "cure" cancer but rather to control it and provide a good quality of life.

Asked if he finds it difficult to step back, Carter immediately responded that he "really wanted to go" to Nepal this November to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Carter said he and his wife, Rosalynn, have helped the organization build on 32 previous missions.

Curran said he would defer to his patient's better understanding of the trip's demands. Carter explained that flying to Katmandu and then the even more distant Habitat site near the Indian border could delay his final dose by five weeks. Reluctantly, he acknowledged that his family might make the trip to Nepal without him.

"For a number of years, Rosa and I have planned on dramatically reducing our work at The Carter Center but haven't done it yet," he said, prompting a round of laughter from the center's employees watching from an upstairs balcony.

"We thought about this when I was 80," Carter said. "We thought about it again when I was 85; we thought about it again when I was 90. So this is a propitious time I think for us to carry out our long-delayed plans."































Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Police: Ohio mom says she killed 3 young sons in 13 months

Police: Ohio mom says she killed 3 young sons in 13 months 
 

AP Photo
This photo provided by the Logan County Jail shows Brittany Pilkington, who calmly called 911 to report her baby son wasn't breathing on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, and then hours later confessed to killing him and her two other young sons over the past several months, police said. Pilkington was charged with three counts of murder and was jailed Tuesday, said police in Bellefontaine, Ohio.
  
BELLEFONTAINE, Ohio (AP) -- A woman calmly called 911 to report her baby son wasn't breathing on Tuesday and then hours later confessed to killing him and her two other young sons over the past several months, police said.

Brittany Pilkington was charged with three counts of murder and was jailed Tuesday, said police in Bellefontaine, about 60 miles northwest of Columbus.

Pilkington, who's 23 years old, is accused in Tuesday's death of 3-month-old Noah Pilkington and in the deaths of 4-year-old Gavin Pilkington, who died in April, and 3-month-old Niall Pilkington, who died in July 2014. No working telephone number for her home could be found, and no attorney information was available for her.

Police said officers went to the family's apartment on Tuesday morning after an emergency call from the mother saying that Noah wasn't breathing. They said she calmly answered a dispatcher's questions while the baby's sleep apnea alarm beeped in the background. The baby was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Authorities already were investigating what happened to Niall and Gavin, whose causes of death still hadn't been conclusively determined. In each of those cases, their father, Joseph Pilkington, found them unresponsive when he got home from work.

"Our son's not breathing," Brittany Pilkington said meekly to a dispatcher when she called police on April 6 as her husband frantically gave Gavin chest compressions. "He's turning white."

Joseph and Brittany Pilkington were cooperative on Tuesday, police said. She eventually told detectives that she killed all three children, police said, but no other details of officers' discussions with her were released.

"The tragic deaths of Niall, Gavin and Noah leave a pit in our stomachs today," police Chief Brandon K. Standley said in a statement. "Our condolences go out to the remaining family members who have supported this family through a very difficult 13 months."

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is assisting local authorities.


FDA approves female sex pill, but with safety restrictions

FDA approves female sex pill, but with safety restrictions 
 

AP Photo
FILE - In this June 22, 2015, photo, a tablet of flibanserin sits on a brochure for Sprout Pharmaceuticals in the company's Raleigh, N.C., headquarters. The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, approved the first prescription drug designed to boost sexual desire in women, a milestone long sought by a pharmaceutical industry eager to replicate the blockbuster success of impotence drugs for men.
  
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the first prescription drug designed to boost sexual desire in women, a milestone long sought by a pharmaceutical industry eager to replicate the blockbuster success of impotence drugs for men.

But stringent safety measures on the daily pill called Addyi mean it will probably never achieve the sales of Viagra, which has generated billions of dollars since the late 1990s.

The drug's label will bear a boxed warning - the most serious type - alerting doctors and patients to the risks of dangerously low blood pressure and fainting, especially when the pill is combined with alcohol. The same problems can occur when taking the drug with other commonly prescribed medications, including antifungals used to treat yeast infections.

"Patients and prescribers should fully understand the risks associated with the use of Addyi before considering treatment," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's drug center, in a statement.

Under an FDA-imposed safety plan, doctors will only be able to prescribe Addyi after completing an online certification process that requires counseling patients about Addyi's risks. Pharmacists will also need certification and will be required to remind patients not to drink alcohol while taking the drug.

Opponents of the drug say it's not worth the side effects, which also include nausea, drowsiness and dizziness. They point out that the FDA rejected the drug twice, in 2010 and 2013, due to these risks.

"This is not a drug you take an hour before you have sex. You have to take it for weeks and months in order to see any benefit at all," said Leonore Tiefer, a psychologist and sex therapist who organized a petition last month calling on the FDA to reject the drug.

Patients should stop taking the drug after eight weeks if they do not see any improvement, notes the FDA release.

Sprout Pharmaceutical's drug is intended to treat women who report emotional stress due to a lack of libido. Its approval marks a turnaround for the FDA, which previously rejected the drug twice due to lackluster effectiveness and side effects. The decision represents a compromise of sorts between two camps that have publicly feuded over the drug for years.

On one side, Sprout and its supporters have argued that women desperately need FDA-approved medicines to treat sexual problems. On the other side, safety advocates and pharmaceutical critics warn that Addyi is a problem-prone drug for a questionable medical condition.

Beginning with the drug's launch in mid-October, doctors who see patients complaining about a loss of sexual appetite will have a new option.

"Women are grasping, and I feel like we need to offer them something that acknowledges that, and that we can feel safe and comfortable with," said Dr. Cheryl Iglesia, a surgeon and official with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Iglesia said she has occasionally resorted to prescribing testosterone creams to boost women's libido, a use not approved by the FDA.

The search for a pill to treat women's sexual difficulties has been something of a holy grail for the pharmaceutical industry. It was pursued and later abandoned by Pfizer, Bayer and Procter & Gamble, among others. But drugs that act on blood flow, hormones and other biological functions all proved ineffective.

Addyi, known generically as flibanserin, is the first drug that acts on brain chemicals that affect mood and appetite.

Women and their doctors will have to decide whether the drug's modest benefits warrant taking a psychiatric pill on a daily basis.

Company trials showed women taking the drug generally reported one extra "sexually satisfying event" per month, and scored higher on questionnaires measuring desire.

Tiefer and other critics said the FDA was pressured into approving the drug by a feminist-themed lobbying campaign funded by Sprout and other drugmakers.

"It's just a mishmash of politics and science and sex and money," Tiefer said.

The lobbying group, dubbed Even the Score, began publicizing the lack of drugs for female sexual dysfunction as a women's rights issue last year.

"Women deserve equal treatment when it comes to sex," the group states in an online petition to the FDA, which attracted more than 60,000 supporters. Women's groups, including the National Organization for Women, signed on to the effort, though it was funded by Sprout and other companies working on female sex drugs.

At an FDA meeting in June, more than 30 members of the public called for the drug's approval, frequently citing the Even the Score campaign. They vastly outnumbered speakers who spoke in opposition to the drug. At the meeting's conclusion, the panel of FDA advisers voted 18-6 to recommend approving the drug, with safety restrictions.

Sprout declined to comment on how much it spent on the campaign.

For now, executives with the Raleigh, North Carolina-based company are setting modest expectations for Addyi, their first and only product. The company will focus its 200 sales representatives on promoting the drug to medical specialists.

"We will be small," CEO Cindy Whitehead said. "We will be specialty focused among the physicians who already have a familiarity with female sexual dysfunction."

Women with insurance can expect to pay between $30 and $75 per month for Addyi, depending on the terms of their coverage.

The FDA specifically approved the drug for premenopausal women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a lack of sexual appetite that causes distress.

Surveys estimate that 8 to 14 percent of women ages 20 to 49 have the condition, or about 5.5 to 8.6 million U.S. women. Because so many factors affect sexual appetite, there are a number of alternate causes doctors must rule out before diagnosing the condition, including relationship issues, medical problems, depression and mood disorders.

The diagnosis is not universally accepted, and some psychologists argue that low sex drive should not be considered a medical problem.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Reluctant Kentucky clerk gets time for gay marriage appeal

Reluctant Kentucky clerk gets time for gay marriage appeal 
 

AP Photo
FILE - In this July 20, 2015 file photo, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, walks with her attorney Roger Gannam into the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Covington, Ky. The Rowan County, Ky., clerk's office turned away gay couples who sought marriage licenses on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, defying a federal judge's order that said deeply held Christian beliefs don't excuse officials from following the law. The fight in Rowan County began soon after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in June. Davis cited her religious beliefs and decided not to issue marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight.
  
MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) -- A federal judge on Monday gave a Kentucky county clerk room to continue denying marriage licenses to gays and lesbians while she takes her religious objections case to an appellate court.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis last week to issue licenses to two gay couples, and ruled Monday that she is not entitled to any more delays. But because "emotions are running high on both sides of this debate," he also stayed his decision while she takes her case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal.

Attorneys on both sides disagreed about the implications. Dan Canon, representing the gay couples, said Davis remains under the judge's order. But Mat Staver, who represents Davis and is the founder of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said the convoluted order essentially grants her request for more time.

What is clear is that Davis will continue refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone in this county of about 23,000 people, home to Morehead State University in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky. Until the case is resolved, no new wedding can be legally recognized in Rowan County unless the couple obtains a marriage license somewhere else.

"This is not something I decided because of this decision that came down," Davis testified in federal court last month. "It was thought-out and, you know, I sought God on it."

Clerking has been a family business in Rowan County. Davis worked for her mother for 27 years before replacing her in the elected post this year, and her son Nathan now works for her. He personally turned away a gay couple last week.

Around the U.S., most opponents of gay and lesbian marriage rights are complying with the high court. Some other objectors in Kentucky submitted to the legal authorities after Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear told them to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples, or resign.

Kim Davis is one of the last holdouts, and apparently the first to be challenged in federal court, putting her and tiny Rowan County middle of one of the country's largest social upheavals.

Davis wants Kentucky lawmakers to allow county clerks to opt out of issuing marriage licenses for religious reasons. But the governor has declined to call a special session. Davis faces fines and possible jail time for contempt of court meanwhile if she loses her challenge and still refuses to issue licenses. But she can only be impeached from her $80,000 a year job by the legislature, and impeachment proceedings are unlikely even after the lawmakers reconvene in January.

Davis' lawyers compare her to other religious objectors, such as a nurse being forced to perform an abortion, a non-combatant ordered to fire on an enemy soldier, or a state official forced to participate in a convicted prisoner's execution.

Bunning disagreed. Davis is "free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do. However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County Clerk," he wrote last week.

Nevertheless, the judge's convoluted ruling on Monday effectively imposes more delays, not only on the couples suing Davis, but on anyone else in Rowan County who wants to get licensed to marry in the place where they live, work and pay taxes.

Davis said it would violate her Christian beliefs to issue a license to a same-sex couple that has her name on it, and she has her supporters for standing firm.

"If she was to say `Well, you know, I need my job, I'm going to do what they say do,' she would be letting down her faith," said Joe Riley, an evangelist who says he attended church with Davis at Morehead First Apostolic Church.

Davis, through her attorney, declined to be interviewed. Acquaintances describe her as easy-going but reserved. She hid behind her attorneys to avoid being photographed in a courthouse hallway and had to be told to speak up from the witness stand.

Beneath her quiet nature lies a steadfast resolve not to compromise, even after a video of her refusing to issue a license to a gay couple, David Ermold and David Moore, generated more than a million views online.

Shortly after she took office in January, she said she wrote every state lawmaker she could and pleaded to change the law, to no avail. So, on June 26th -- the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide -- Davis told her staff not to process any more licenses until further notice, no matter who asks.

Under Kentucky law, marriages must be licensed by a county clerk, who first determines if the couple meets all legal requirements - such as being unmarried, and old enough. And because every license issued in Rowan County is under her authority, she feels she can't delegate the job to a non-objector.

"If I say that I authorize that, I'm saying I agree with it, and I can't," Davis told the court.

Rowan County Judge Executive Walter Blevins can issue marriage licenses if the clerk is "absent," but the term is undefined in state law. Both Blevins and Bunning decided Davis not issuing licenses for religious reasons does not mean she is absent. That leaves Davis, for now, firmly in control.

Davis said her beliefs on sin are shaped by "God's holy word" in the Bible, and that she attends church "every time the doors are open." She also leads a weekly women's Bible study at the county jail.

"I love them. They're the best part of my Monday," Davis said.

Davis testified that the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Court records indicate Davis herself married when she was 18 in 1984, filed for divorce 10 years later, and then filed for divorce again, from another husband, in 2006.

Many Christians believe divorce also is a sin, and an attorney for the same-sex couples repeatedly questioned her about this in court. Asked if she would religiously object to issuing a marriage license to someone who has been divorced, she said "That's between them and God."

Davis has not said how she would react should she lose her appeal.

"I'll deal with that when the time comes," she said.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Backpage ad site: Aider of traffickers or way to stop them?

Backpage ad site: Aider of traffickers or way to stop them? 
   

CHICAGO (AP) -- The adult ads on Backpage.com are endless - written in a sort of risque code to avoid implying something illegal, yet still obvious invitations for sex, adorned with suggestive photos and videos. 

Many in the fight against sex trafficking loathe the website, particularly since some escorts in the ads have turned out to be minors who've been forced into the sex trade.

An Illinois sheriff is among those targeting Backpage and recently helped convince Visa and Mastercard to stop providing payment services to the site.

"Whoever it is that's facilitating these horrible crimes, we can't just sit back and say, `Well, that's OK. I guess it's a business model,'" said Thomas Dart, the sheriff in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago.

He spoke to The Associated Press the day before a judge issued a restraining order, preventing Dart from making further comment until a Backpage lawsuit against him - seeking a retraction of his statements to credit card companies and damages for lost revenue - is resolved. Meanwhile, Backpage, with headquarters in Dallas and a parent corporation in Amsterdam, has continued to operate, allowing users to place free basic ads in its adult category.

Backpage attorneys, citing the First Amendment and federal statutes, argue that a public figure shouldn't be allowed to interfere with a law-abiding company's ability to do e-commerce.

Liz McDougall, general counsel, has long said that Backpage simply provides space for the ads but doesn't create the content. And she takes it a step further, claiming that Backpage routinely works behind the scenes with law enforcement to help put traffickers behind bars.

When it comes to fighting sex trafficking, "I am a true believer that this is one of the most valuable tools there is on the Internet," said McDougall, who's based in Los Angeles.

At least one anti-trafficking group has been willing to work with Backpage to rescue young women and has accepted substantial donations from the site.

And even as some in law enforcement point a finger of blame at Backpage, others on the front lines of the fight against sex trafficking see the site as an ally - even if sometimes uncomfortably so.

"I don't feel like demonizing them is the appropriate response. I feel like we should be working with them and focusing on ... things that could make a difference," said Sgt. Grant Snyder, the lead detective on the human trafficking team at the Minneapolis Police Department.

Like officials in other big-city departments, he confirms that he regularly gets information directly from Backpage that helps convict traffickers and rescue victims. "It helps us recover more victims. It helps us recover them sooner."

Dart says the help hardly justifies the crush of ads the site creates. He estimated that the company, in April alone, published more than 1.4 million adult services ads and made at least $9 million.

Some ads are posted by sex workers such as Grace Marie, a dominatrix in Los Angeles who tweeted recently to complain about Dart's campaign.

"As a system, Backpage is decidedly anti-pimp. It creates a direct and easy-to-use interface between providers and clients," Grace Marie said when contacted by the AP. She uses her first and middle names in her work and asked that her last name not be used, citing safety concerns and the fact that her work is illegal.

The bigger concern among law enforcement, however, is sex trafficking.

Victims are not always, as many think, women or children smuggled in from foreign countries to work as sex slaves. Police say sex trafficking is as much a homegrown crime - with victims who could be from just around the corner, controlled by pimps with drugs and alcohol or threats.

Its critics claim that Backpage helps promote this illegal trade.

"How is it possibly legal to help pimps sell kids? Since when is that legal in the United States of America?" asked Erik Bauer, an attorney in Tacoma, Washington, who is representing four young women in a lawsuit against Backpage. They are seeking damages from the site because their convicted traffickers used it to sell them to johns when they were 7th and 9th graders.

Besides providing law enforcement with information about who posts an ad, McDougall says that Backpage employees watch the site's content closely and send suspicious ads to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

In March, for instance, police in Panama City, Florida, arrested two Illinois men - Dashawn Taylor and Kevin Dante Finley - and charged them with procuring a minor for prostitution. Police found the two men with a 16-year-old girl at a Panama City hotel after Backpage reported an ad with a photo of an underage girl to NCMEC's sexual exploitation CyberTipline.

Still, NCMEC's top online analysis expert said Backpage could do more to stop repeat ads, for instance.

"Mere reporting has fallen short," said Staca Shehan, executive director of the center's case analysis division, which oversees the organization's child sex trafficking team.

And because age is so difficult to verify, even Backpage's allies concede that the system is not perfect.

"There's no question that kids are going to slip through on some of those ads," said Lois Lee. She is the founder and director of Children of the Night, a residential program in Van Nuys, California, for young people, ages 11 to 17, who are attempting to leave prostitution.

By the end of this year, Backpage will have donated $700,000 to Children of the Night since 2012- all of it, Lee said, used to feed, clothe and educate young women who come to her, often by way of police departments across the country, many who work with Backpage. The site also runs public service ads for a Children of the Night rescue hotline.

"You have to deal with people that are actually in the mix," Lee said, explaining why she works with Backpage - just as she works with vice officers and drug-addicted victims fleeing abuse. "None of it is pretty."

Teens in her program said that if their traffickers didn't use Backpage, they'd simply use other sites. And those sites don't always help police, said Snyder in Minneapolis, noting that he recently tried to get information on a suspected trafficker from a Canadian ad site that declined to cooperate.

"We can't shut down the Internet. So are we better off having a strategy that turns the very tools that (criminals) use to traffic back on them?" Snyder asked.

Sheriff Dart sees another way - for credit card companies to withhold payment services from the next big "entity" that allows escort ads, as they have Backpage.

"We're never going to eliminate this," the sheriff said. "But what we can do is to make it more difficult for the criminals who are involved with this - and make it easier for us to catch them."

Trump: Deport children of immigrants living illegally in US

Trump: Deport children of immigrants living illegally in US

AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greats the crowd at the Iowa State Fair Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Des Moines.
   
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wants more than a wall to keep out immigrants living in the country illegally. He also wants to end "birthright citizenship" for their children, he said Sunday. And he would rescind Obama administration executive orders on immigration and toughen deportation, allowing in only "the good ones."

Trump described his expanded vision of how to secure American borders during a wide-ranging interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press," saying that he would push to end the constitutionally protected citizenship rights of children of any family living illegally inside the U.S.

"They have to go," Trump said, adding: "What they're doing, they're having a baby. And then all of a sudden, nobody knows...the baby's here."

Native-born children of immigrants - even those living illegally in the U.S. - have been automatically considered American citizens since the adoption of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1868.

The odds of repealing the amendment's citizenship clause would be steep, requiring the votes of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and support from three-fourths of the nation's state legislatures. Republicans in Congress have pushed without success to repeal that provision since 2011.

"They're illegal," Trump said, describing native-born children of people living illegally in the US. "You either have a country or not."

Trump's remarks came as his campaign website posted his program for "immigration reform." Among its details: Making Mexico pay for a permanent border wall. Mandatory deportation of all "criminal aliens." 

Tripling the force of immigration officers by eliminating tax credit payments to immigrant families residing illegally in the U.S.

He said that families with U.S.-born children could return quickly if deemed worthy by the government. 

"We're going to try and bring them back rapidly, the good ones," he said, adding: "We will expedite it so people can come back in. The good people can come back."

Trump did not elaborate on how he would define "good people." But echoing earlier controversial remarks that Mexico was sending criminals across the border, Trump said a tough deportation policy was needed because "there's definitely evidence" of crimes linked to immigrants living in the country illegally.

The New York businessman also said he would waste little time rescinding President Barack Obama's executive actions aimed at allowing as many as 3.7 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. to remain in the country because of their U.S.-born relatives. Obama's November 2014 actions were halted by temporary injunctions ordered by several federal courts in rulings challenging his executive powers to alter immigration policies without Congressional approval. The cases could lead to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We have to make a whole new set of standards," Trump said. "And when people come in, they have to come in legally."

On Sunday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich echoed Trump's call to finish construction of an incomplete system of barriers on the nation's southern border with Mexico. There are still gaps in the barriers, which have been under construction since 2005.

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," Kasich said he would "finish the wall" but would then work to legalize 12 million immigrants now estimated to live in the U.S. illegally. Kasich said he would "make sure we don't have anybody - any of the criminal element here." He would also revive the guest-worker programs that previously brought in temporary workers to aid in farming and other industries hobbled by labor shortages.

Most other GOP candidates also back completing the border wall but differ over how to treat immigrant families already living in the U.S. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently released his own immigration plan calling for the use of forward bases and drones to guard the border, but also backing an eventual plan to legalize the status of immigrant families. Bush disagrees with Obama's use of executive actions to unilaterally enforce the policy.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio worked with senators from both parties to develop a comprehensive plan in 2013 that would have legalized the status of many immigrant families. But Congress balked at the idea as tea party Republicans opposed the deal and Rubio has since backed away from his support.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

IS affiliate in Egypt releases image of slain Croat captive

IS affiliate in Egypt releases image of slain Croat captive

AP Photo
FILE - This image made from a militant video posted on a social media site on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, purports to show a militant standing next to another man who identifies himself as 30-year-old Tomislav Salopek, kneeling down as he reads a message at an unknown location. An online image purports to show the Croatian hostage being held by an Islamic State affiliate in Egypt has been beheaded.

CAIRO (AP) -- A Croatian hostage abducted in Egypt by Islamic State militants has been beheaded, according to a gruesome image circulated Wednesday online - a killing that, if confirmed, would be the first of its kind involving a foreign captive in the country, undermining government efforts to project stability and buttress an economic turnaround.

The killing of the 30-year-old oil and gas sector surveyor would deal a blow to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's attempts to burnish the country's reputation a week after he unveiled a new extension of the Suez canal in a much-hyped ceremony attended by international dignitaries.

It will also likely rattle companies with expatriate workers in Egypt and cast a cloud over hopes of boosting international investment and tourism following years of unrest in the wake of Egypt's Arab Spring uprising.

The still photo, circulated by IS supporters on social media, appeared to show the body of Tomislav Salopek, a married father of two, wearing a beige jumpsuit like the one he wore in a previous video. A black flag used by the Islamic State group and a knife were planted in the sand next to his body.

A caption in Arabic said Salopek was killed "for his country's participation in the war against the Islamic State," and came after a deadline had passed for Egypt to meet his captors' demands to free jailed Islamist women.

The picture contained an inset of two Egyptian newspaper reports, one declaring Croatia's support for Egypt's war against terrorism and another noting Croatia's backing of the Kurds, who have been battling the IS group in Syria and Iraq. Croatian troops fought in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and still serve in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

In a televised address to the nation, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said authorities there could not confirm the killing with certainty.

"We cannot 100 percent confirm it is true, but what we see looks horrific. A confirmation may not come for several days," he said, adding that the search for Salopek will continue as long as there is a glimmer of hope.

In remarks posted on the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's Facebook page, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said authorities were working to verify the authenticity of the claim.

In Salopek's hometown, anguished residents refused to believe the reports of his beheading.

"No, no, no," Goran Blazanovic kept repeating as he sat in a cafe in Vrpolje, Croatia, with other grim-looking friends and family of the Croat captive, who kept searching their smartphones for signs that would give them hope that the reports were mistaken.

"Nothing is proven," Blazanovic insisted. "We hope that he will come back home to his wife and children."

Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's prestigious religious institute, condemned the apparent killing, calling it a "demonic act of which all religions and human traditions are innocent." The statement also said Islamic law stipulates that it is forbidden to shed the blood of foreigners.

Exiled members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt brands a terrorist organization, said the beheading was a sign the government had failed to curb the rise of extremism.

Concerns were also raised about the economic impact on the country.

"It's obviously bad for the perceptions foreign investors have of Egypt, and I think it's probably bad for the perceptions that potential tourists have," said Hani Sabra, Middle East and North Africa head of the New York-based risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

"This increases the perception that North Africa as a region is unstable across the board - Libya, Tunisia, Egypt," he said, adding that he didn't think it would undermine el-Sissi's government domestically.

"This is something the authorities will use to advance the narrative that they've pushed that they are fighting ruthless, bloodthirsty terrorists," Sabra said.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the image, though it bore markings consistent with the filmed hostage demand released last week by Egypt's Islamic State affiliate, the Sinai Province of the Islamic State. It was not clear where that video was shot.

In that footage, the group set an Aug. 7 deadline for Egyptian authorities to free female Islamist prisoners detained in a sweeping government crackdown following the 2013 military ouster of the country's Islamist president.

The videotaped demand was shot in the style of previous IS propaganda videos.

The sister of an Egyptian woman jailed on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, Esraa el-Taweel, said she spoke to her sister about the threat against Salopek's life during a recent prison visit.

"She rejected that the life of an innocent man who is not responsible for other detainees be negotiated," said Doaa el-Taweel. "She rejected the whole thing."

As last week's deadline passed, security forces were searching for Salopek across the country, focusing on the western provinces of Matrouh and Wadi Gedid, which border Libya, as well as Beheira in the Nile Delta and Giza, part of greater Cairo, an Egyptian security official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to journalists, he said Salopek's driver, who was left behind by the kidnappers, said the gunmen who seized the Croat on a highway west of Cairo had Bedouin accents.

That suggests they could have come from a variety of isolated places in Egypt, including the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, where Egypt's Islamic State affiliate is based, or the vast Western Desert, which is a gateway to volatile and lawless Libya, home to its own Islamic State branch.

Salopek, a surveyor working with France's CGG Ardiseis, was abducted on July 22. The company has an office in the leafy Cairo suburb of Maadi, where many expatriates and diplomats live.

Egypt has seen an increase in violence since the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, with attacks by suspected Islamic extremists in both the Sinai Peninsula and the mainland focusing primarily on security forces.

But this would be the first time the local Islamic State affiliate has captured and then beheaded a foreigner in Egypt, a major escalation as the country tries to rebuild its crucial tourism industry after years of unrest following the 2011 revolt that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Last December, the affiliate claimed responsibility for the killing of an American oil worker with the Texas-based energy company Apache Corp, which had reported that one of its supervisors was killed several months earlier in an apparent carjacking in the Western Desert.

Militants have also targeted foreign interests, including the Italian Consulate, which was hit with a car bomb last month. That attack came two days after another bomb killed Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in an upscale Cairo neighborhood.

The Islamic State group holds about a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in its self-declared "caliphate." In Syria, IS militants have killed foreign journalists and aid workers, starting with American journalist James Foley last year.

In Libya, an IS affiliate released a video in February showing its fighters beheading a group of Coptic Christians from Egypt, and in April, another showing them beheading and shooting to death groups of Ethiopian Christians. Another video, released in February, showed them burning to death a Jordanian pilot who was captured when his F-16 crashed during a U.S.-led air raid last year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Latest on athlete's death: Officer fired over shooting

The Latest on athlete's death: Officer fired over shooting 

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- The latest on the fatal shooting by police in Texas of unarmed college football player Christian Taylor (all times CDT):
5:35 p.m.

The police chief in the Dallas suburb of Arlington says an officer who's been fired over the fatal shooting of an unarmed Texas college football player should not have approached the 19-year-old burglary suspect alone.

Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson on Tuesday said he had fired officer Brad Miller over the shooting of Christian Taylor. Johnson says he's troubled by some of the actions Miller took while responding to a reported burglary at a car dealership early Friday morning.

Johnson said Miller shot Taylor when Taylor began to advance toward the officer. But he said there was no physical contact between the officer and Taylor before Taylor was shot.

Johnson said it will be up to a grand jury to decide whether Miller should be charged criminally.

Taylor played football at Angelo State University in San Angelo. Security footage from the dealership lot shows Taylor breaking the windshield of a car on the lot before driving his own vehicle into a glass showroom.
---
The previous item has been corrected to reflect that Johnson said case will go to grand jury.
---
5:30 p.m.

The police chief in the Dallas suburb of Arlington has fired an officer who fatally shot an unarmed Texas college football player.

Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson said Tuesday that he was troubled by some of the actions taken by police responding to a reported burglary at a car dealership early Friday morning when 19-year-old Christian Taylor was fatally shot. Johnson says Taylor ran toward the officer who shot him, but there was no physical contact before he was shot.

Taylor played football at Angelo State University in San Angelo. Security footage from the dealership lot shows Taylor breaking the windshield of a car on the lot before driving his own vehicle into a glass showroom.
---
4:30 p.m.

Police in the Dallas suburb of Arlington will hold a news conference to provide additional details about the fatal shooting of an unarmed college football player by an officer.

Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson will speak at a 5 p.m. news conference on Tuesday. Police have not yet described the details of the confrontation between officers and 19-year-old Christian Taylor early Friday morning.

Taylor played football at Angelo State University in San Angelo. An officer shot him after police responded to a reported burglary at a car dealership. Security footage from the dealership lot shows Taylor breaking the windshield of a car on the lot before driving his own vehicle into a glass showroom.

Police have said that when officers arrived, Taylor was roaming inside the showroom. Police have said he refused to surrender and tried to run away.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pope's upcoming visit inspires anxiety in Philadelphia

Pope's upcoming visit inspires anxiety in Philadelphia 

AP Photo
Viewed from the Embassy Suites hotel traffic moves along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Philadelphia. On the parkway Pope Francis is scheduled to visit The World Meeting of Families' festival and celebrate a Mass during his visit to the United States.
  
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Pregnant women are calling up the mayor, concerned they won't be able to get to the delivery room. Some businesses say they've been told to close for a three-day weekend. Others are bringing in cots for workers to sleep. Taxi drivers, fearing onerous checkpoints and distant drop-off locations, are planning to stay home.

With official information scant just eight weeks before Pope Francis makes Philadelphia the centerpiece of his U.S. trip, rumors are swirling about massive security fencing and miles of street closures. Residents and visitors alike fear long walks to and from papal events, too-few bathrooms, and a dearth of food and other amenities in areas where delivery trucks could be restricted.

The lack of clear information is breeding confusion and consternation in the City of Brotherly Love and contempt for the people who run it - particularly around the downtown parkway where Francis is expected to attend an outdoor concert and celebrate Mass before more than 1 million people.

"There are serious logistical problems for residents and visitors alike," said Barbara Epstein, who lives three blocks from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. "It would be nice if the powers that be could reassure us that our lives aren't going to be disrupted in an irreconcilable way."

City officials are blaming the Secret Service, which has declared Francis' Sept. 26-27 visit a National Special Security Event. The agency said it would release road closure and security checkpoint information about three weeks before he lands - leaving the city and visit organizers vulnerable to rumors.

"Security plans are fluid and continue to evolve," Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback said Thursday. "As soon as the plans have been settled on by all of the many partners involved in the planning process, we will jointly share the final plans."

The agency said late Thursday that it is not forcing any businesses to close that weekend but instead has agents reaching out to local business owners and residents within the security zone.

Mayor Michael Nutter this week repudiated maps that popped up showing purported security and vehicle-free zones covering most of downtown, saying they were unofficial and premature. He blamed "little people who have little pieces of information" and speculative reporting for misleading the public.

Nutter, who mentioned the calls from the expectant mothers at a news conference this week, said the city would start providing updates next week. Organizers of the World Meeting of Families - the triennial Roman Catholic conference that is attracting Francis to Philadelphia - said it will post a "Papal Visit Playbook" for residents to its website next month.

"We're all eager to put the rumors to rest and put the information out there," said World Meeting Executive Director Donna Crilley Farrell. "But as the mayor said, it has to be the correct information."

Officials have confirmed there will be some type of security fencing - commonly used at big events like presidential inaugurations and Philadelphia's annual Made in America concert - but the size and scope have not been disclosed.

They have also said there will certainly be street and highway closures, particularly when the pope is in transit, but would not confirm a planning consultant's claim that the Benjamin Franklin Bridge - a vital link to Philadelphia's New Jersey suburbs across the Delaware River - would close. The consultant, who also requested that Interstate 95 be closed for the duration of Francis' visit, has since been dismissed from the papal planning process.

With dozens of agencies involved in the planning and so many details to work out - from accommodations for visiting clergy to the number of portable toilets on the parkway - some stakeholders are feeling left out.

"We haven't heard anything concrete yet," said Ron Blount, the president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. "We're asking every day."

The clearest details on logistics so far have come from Philadelphia's regional transit agencies - and even those haven't instilled confidence.

Commuter and subway train service will be limited, with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority limiting the number of commuter-train tickets each day to 175,000 to ease overcrowding; normal daily ridership is about 130,000. After a computer system crashed last week, the agency said it would sell the passes only through an online lottery. Regular tickets won't be accepted.

The number of subway riders won't be limited, but trains won't make all their regular stops.

"I don't think they are at all considering the lives of their regular riders who must still work, volunteer or just go about their daily lives in spite of the Pope's visit," said Steve Flemming, a Philadelphia teacher.

Francis is expected to stay at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary just outside the city limits in Lower Merion Township. The police chief there said residents should prepare "as if it's a big snowstorm," encouraging them to fill their cars with gas and stock up on milk, bread and other staples.

The reward of seeing Francis in person is worth the potential hurdles, Farrell said, comparing the visit to a recent feat from a now-traded Phillies pitcher.

"I say, it's awesome to watch Cole Hamels throw that no-hitter on television," she said, "but wouldn't you rather say you were in the ballpark?"

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Prosecutors charge teen with murder in death of 8-year-old

Prosecutors charge teen with murder in death of 8-year-old 
 

AP Photo
FILE This undated photo provided by the Santa Cruz Police Department shows Madyson "Maddy" Middleton, from Santa Cruz, Calif. Prosecutors charged Adrian Jerry Gonzalez, 15, with murder, kidnapping and sexual assault Wednesday, July 29, 2015 in the death of the 8-year-old girl in an artists complex in a California beach town. Police say Gonzalez lured Middleton from a courtyard where she had been riding her scooter over the weekend into his family's apartment where he attacked and killed her.
  

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) -- Prosecutors charged a 15-year-old boy with murder, kidnapping and rape 
Wednesday in the death of an 8-year-old girl in an artists complex in a California beach town.

Police say Adrian Jerry Gonzalez lured Madyson Middleton into his family's apartment from a courtyard where she had been riding her scooter over the weekend. Once inside, he tied her up, sexually assaulted and killed her, according a charging document.

Gonzalez remains in custody at the Santa Cruz County juvenile detention center, where he has been held since the girl's body was found in a recycling bin Monday evening.

"Unfortunately, the search for Maddy ended in the worst way possible," Santa Cruz District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell said.

He said Gonzalez will be charged as an adult and added that in his two decades in Santa Cruz, he's never seen a 15-year-old charged with murder.

The charges could send Gonzalez to prison for the rest of his life.

Larry Biggam of the Santa Cruz public defender's office said he expects to be appointed as the teen's lawyer at the arraignment Thursday, but he declined to comment on the case.

Authorities haven't been able to establish a motive in the killing. "People do things for lots of reasons, sometimes we understand it, sometimes we don't," Rosell said.

Neighbors at the Tannery Arts Center where both the suspect and Madyson lived said they were stunned by the death. The center is a public-private nonprofit that includes 100 affordable loft apartments for artists and their families. About 250 people live in the complex, including about 50 children.

"It's a great community because it's a bit unusual," Geoffrey Nelson, a photographer and Tannery resident, said. "You share the joys of people, their children growing up. Their art shows, their recitals. But you also share the sorrows."

Nelson said he's known Gonzalez for several years and described him as shy, though they often chatted. "He was a yo-yo-expert, so he was oftentimes showing you tricks," Nelson said.

Residents have been heartbroken to learn that he is suspected in the death, he said.

"It wasn't somebody from the outside," Nelson said. "It was somebody we all knew. It was someone we all knew and liked."

Setorro Garcia, a Tannery resident who knew both the victim and suspect, said Gonzalez had been curious about the investigation.

"He kept asking, `Any updates?'" Garcia said.

Another resident, Kirby Scudder, described Madyson as a typical 8-year-old, alternately shy and gregarious.

"She was very smart, and I thought she was going to be an engineer," he said. "She had a great sense of humor."

Madyson was headed for fourth grade in the fall.

She had a little, black dog named "Lucy" and tearful children at the Tannery Wednesday placed pictures and notes on a growing memorial overflowing with bouquets, stuffed animals, balloons and candles.

"It was nice how you were so perky," wrote one.

"We all miss you," wrote another, next to a picture of the slain girl with wings and a halo.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Obama delivers frank words about Africa's problems

Obama delivers frank words about Africa's problems 

AP Photo
African Union Commission chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, right, stands with U.S. President Barack Obama as he looks up at the crowd before delivering a speech to the African Union, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On the final day of his African trip, Obama is focusing on economic opportunities and African security.
  
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- President Barack Obama arrived in East Africa with no big American aid packages, no ramped up U.S. military resources for fighting terror groups and no new initiatives with billions in government backing.

Instead, he brought a frank message on democracy, corruption and security that could perhaps be delivered only by a Western leader viewed in Africa as a local son.

"The future of Africa is up to Africans," Obama said during a trip to Kenya and Ethiopia that concluded Tuesday. "For too long, I think that many looked to the outside for salvation and focused on somebody else being at fault for the problems of the continent."

The president's advisers reject the notion that Obama's policy toward Africa is all talk, pointing to the long-term potential of initiatives to boost power access and food security for millions on the continent. They stress the importance of America's first black president, one with a sprawling family still living in Kenya, capitalizing on his ability to speak not as a lecturing Westerner, but as someone with a personal stake in the continent's success.

"He is someone who is broadly respected by not just the leaders, but the peoples of these countries, especially young populations who make up an increasing percentage of these countries," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "So, for that reason, I think people pay close attention to what he has to say."

"That doesn't mean that they're going to agree with everything he says, but I think he can lay out a direction that he thinks the U.S.-African partnership can go in," Rhodes added.

Indeed, Obama closed his East Africa swing with a blunt accounting of the risks facing the fast-growing continent. He compared Africa's large youth population to the Middle East, warning that without jobs and prospects for the future, young Africans are more likely to be drawn to terrorism. He warned of the "cancer of corruption" that runs rampant through some African governments, a problem he said only the continent's leaders could solve.

And with high-level African officials in the audience for his remarks at African Union headquarters, he launched a blistering and sometimes sarcastic takedown of leaders who refuse to leave office when their terms end.

"Let me be honest with you - I just don't understand this," he said, drawing cheers from many in the crowd. 

"I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can't."

While those remarks drew cheers from many in the crowd, some African activists greeted his comment one day earlier that Ethiopia has a democratically elected government with scorn and concern. Obama's remarks came during a news conference with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, whose ruling party won every seat in parliament in May elections.

Obama's predecessors have also pushed for good governance and respect for human rights in Africa. But none had the instant credibility African leaders confer on Obama, whose visit was heralded as a homecoming.

"It would have been different of course if he was from a different background," said Amadou Sy, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "But he's also one of us."

Obama barely knew his father, who was born and is buried in Kenya. The younger Obama wouldn't visit the nation of his father's birth until he was in his 20s, yet his political rise has been cheered enthusiastically throughout the continent.

Obama's connections to Africa garnered oversized expectations for what his tenure as U.S. president would mean for the continent. While he's made four trips to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office - more than any other U.S. president - his foreign policy focus has often been on boosting ties with the Asia-Pacific region and confronting crises in the Middle East.

Obama also faces frequent comparisons to his predecessor George W. Bush, who launched a $15 billion initiative for combating HIV/AIDS in Africa.

"I am really proud of the work that previous administrations did here in Africa, and I've done everything I could to build on those successes," Obama said during a news conference in Kenya Saturday. "This isn't a beauty contest between presidents."

At the heart of Obama's approach to Africa is a belief that the U.S. and other developed nations can no long view the continent simply as a receptacle for billions in international aid. In an era of budget cuts, the president has looked to jumpstart programs that rely heavily on private financing and could eventually be run by African governments or businesses, including his Feed The Future food security program and Power Africa electricity initiative.

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