August 09, 2012

By ABDI GULED and JASON STRAZIUSO | Associated Press 


MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Isaq Abdi works 15-hour days as the right-hand boy of a Somali woman who sells the narcotic leaf khat. Abdi tends the kiosk and delivers the mild stimulant to customers.

At day's end, the homeless boy receives his reward: A handful of chewed sticks that his customers throw away. He rebundles the best and sells them to Mogadishu's poor, earning less than a $1 to help care for his younger sister and their mother.

Children in Somalia have long suffered from poverty and war. Very few are lucky enough to go to school.

Last week Somali leaders voted in a new provisional constitution that greatly expands the rights afforded to children. It bars child labor and protects children from neglect and abuse. It outlaws the use of child soldiers and bans child marriage. It says every child has the right to care from their parents, and that every person in Somalia has the right to free education until secondary school.

Despite leaders' good intentions in the expansion of protections for children, most of the new rights will remain distant dreams for children like Abdi, who is only 10 years old. The impoverished, fledgling government controls only Mogadishu and its surroundings, and is unable to provide basic services.

"Survival is my priority. Any extra shillings will go to my family," Abdi said, sprinkling water on cotton khat sacks to prepare the kiosk before the khat is brought by his employer.

"But there is no guarantee of earnings every day. Sometimes I survive by one piece of bread for the entire day," he said.

Though violence is decreasing in Mogadishu's capital, the number of street children has grown over the last year. Tens of thousands of families who fled famine in the countryside last year now live in the capital as refugees. Many of the families are poor, and because their kids aren't going to school and have no money, the children often wind up on the streets.

Because widespread violence has lasted more than 20 years in Somalia, the country now has nearly an entire generation of people who received little or no education. The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, says Somalia has one of the lowest primary school enrollment rates in the world.

"Although no specific statistics are available on the numbers of working children and children living in the street, the figures have been increasing across Somalia and particularly in Mogadishu," said Ban K. Al-Dhayi, a spokesman for UNICEF.

If Somalia's government were stronger, more organized and better funded, children like Ali Abdinasir would be sitting in classrooms, in accordance with the constitution. All the new rights the document affords children like Ali may go over most of their heads. The 11-year-old held out a child's hope of how the constitution might benefit him: "Cleaner playgrounds," he said.

One of the more than 600 Somali elders who voted to pass the new constitution last week acknowledged that writing the words on paper is easier than enforcing the promised rights in the real world. Dahir Abdulqadir Muse, though, said he hopes the constitution helps lower the number of child soldiers in Somalia.

"Our children have suffered a lot because of a lack of legislation," said Muse, a member of Somalia's parliament.

Efforts to protect children don't extend into areas still controlled by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, which is known for recruiting young teens who are often forced to fight on the front lines of battle. Al-Shabab no longer controls any part of Mogadishu but has wide influence across south-central Somalia.

For kids like Abdi, the khat seller, warfare is not a problem anymore. It's hunger.

"Life would be better if we could go to school or get a better job," he said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

August 02, 2012

By LARRY MARGASAK Associated Press


Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., improperly compelled her congressional staff to do campaign work and should be reprimanded and fined for violating standards of conduct, the House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday August 1.

The committee said she admitted to all seven counts of violations and agreed to the proposed punishment, which awaits House action.

The committee unanimously adopted the report of its investigative panel, in which investigators detailed the third-term lawmaker’s coercion, attempts to alter evidence and efforts to influence the testimony of staff members who would be witnesses.

Adoption of the report by the House would constitute a reprimand. The House also was asked by the committee to impose a $10,000 fine to be paid by Dec. 1.

The committee said it discouraged Richardson from permitting any staff members to work in her campaign. She's in a tough re-election race against fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn. Although Hahn beat Richardson by a 60-39 margin in the primary, the state allows the top two finishers to run against each other in the general election regardless of party affiliation.

The ethics charges have been a drag on Richardson’s fundraising as her campaign was greatly outspent in the primary.

The investigative report said the coercion of the staff began in early 2010 and continued in the current campaign even though Richardson knew she was under investigation.

Investigators said Richardson infuriated the committee by appearing to contradict her own admission that she violated House rules, as well as federal law governing proper use of federal appropriations.

She contended that she had never taken or intended action against any aide who failed to volunteer for campaign work and accused the committee of intimidating and frightening her employees. She also claimed she was unable to fairly present her side of the case.

The committee said she had acted “with utter disdain” for the process and by agreeing to a deal, “rendered her own arguments moot.”

Among the findings by the investigative subcommittee in connection with Richardson’s 2010 campaign were:

—Richardson’s chief of staff, in early 2010, told district staff members that they would be expected to work on the campaign. When one asked what would happen if he declined, he was told he probably wouldn’t have a job.

—Employees were expected to close the congresswoman’s Long Beach office at 6 p.m. every workday and then go to the campaign office to answer the phone and perform “precinct walks.” Staff members were not permitted to take a break for dinner or perform any personal tasks before starting the daily campaign work. Staff members also were expected to attend campaign events on weekends.

—During the fall of 2010, Richardson directed a staff member to volunteer for her opponent’s campaign under a fake name to gather information.

—Richardson repeatedly called staff members who failed to attend campaign events, in order to secure their future appearances. This was an attempt to pressure and intimidate the employees.

—In an October 2010 meeting in the Long Beach office, with the Washington staff watching by teleconference, Richardson explained she was under investigation by the House committee. She “attempted to influence the testimony of members of her staff by suggesting that they tell the committee that their work on her campaign had been voluntary, even though some of it had not,” the report said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

August 02, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California man faces federal drug charges for allegedly trying to smuggle more than 4 pounds of methamphetamine to Japan in what looked like dozens of Snickers bars.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Monday that 34-year-old Rogelio Mauricio Harris of Long Beach was arrested last week at Los Angeles International Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Japan.

Harris was charged in Los Angeles with drug possession and faces at least 10 years in prison if convicted.

Federal agents conducting routine baggage inspections found 45 full-sized Snickers bars inside Harris’ luggage. Each bar was coated in a chocolate-like substance to make it look like a candy bar, but tests revealed the so-called candy contained methamphetamine.

Authorities estimate the 4 pounds of meth is worth about $250,000.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

August 02, 2012

Associated Press

The body of an FBI agent who vanished more than two months ago was found near his home in Burbank, authorities said this week.

Steven Ivens, 35, was found by two hikers in a wooded area behind a church on July 30, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. His gun was found near his body.

The cause and time of death will be determined by the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

Ivens was being treated for depression and was said to be distraught at the time of his disappearance, authorities said.

A massive air and ground search was unsuccessful after Ivens walked away from his home on May 10 with his keys and his service weapon. His wife, Thea, later made a public plea for him to return home.

Ivens is survived by his wife and 1-year-old son

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 26, 2012

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) spoke at an event recently, marking the display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall, reading the names of individuals who died of HIV/AIDS and who are remembered on the quilt.  The quilt is currently on display for the international AIDS 2012 Conference. Waters, a leader in the fight to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS through increased awareness, testing, treatment, and funding, was scheduled to speak at the conference July 26.

“I am so deeply honored and humbled to be here to participate in this extraordinary quilt,” Waters said.  

“This quilt is a powerful reminder of the AIDS pandemic and the toll it has taken on our world.”

Gay rights activists who wanted to make certain their friends who had died of AIDS would not be forgotten started the AIDS Memorial Quilt.  It was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987.  Since then, the quilt continued to grow as the disease continued to spread. Today, the quilt is so large that the National Mall cannot fully contain it, she explained. 

“The quilt is the largest community art project in the world, and it was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.  It is a poignant testimony to love, peace, and possibilities, and I believe it will one day receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which it so richly deserves,” Waters continued.

“It is only fitting that it has become the centerpiece of the International AIDS Conference, a conference at which we rededicate ourselves to working for the day when AIDS is eradicated from our world…”

According to Waters, the quilt has always reflected the evolution of the epidemic.  In the early years, most of the panels represented young gay men whose lives were tragically cut short by AIDS.  Today, a new series of panels has been added to remember African American men and women who died of AIDS, illustrating the devastating toll that AIDS is now taking in the black community. 

“And as we look across the National Mall at the thousands of quilt panels, we see that AIDS affects us all,” said Waters.

“There are men, women and children of every race, creed, and color and every walk of life remembered in these beautiful, memorial panels. Yet, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is not just a memorial to those who have died, It is a celebration of their lives.  The quilt reminds us that every person who died of AIDS was a human being. 

“Every person who died of AIDS had hopes and dreams.  Every person who died of AIDS had family and friends who loved them and miss them.  Every person who died of AIDS had a name…”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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