- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

INSIDE KOBANI: Kurdish civilians endure battles with IS in hopes of rebuilding their lives

KOBANI, Syria (AP) - One of the few signs of life in this northern Syria border town is the old bakery, revived by Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State group.

Closed down for some 20 years, the production line now bakes two tons of doughy bread every day to energize the fighters and feed the spatter of civilians left behind.

“We came and fixed up (the bakery) for use in these difficult times,” said Fathi Misiro, a fighter with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, who works in the bakery. “Ten days ago…it was worse here. We’ve been helping people and sending bread to them daily.”

An exclusive report shot by a videojournalist inside Kobani late last month offered a rare, in-depth glimpse of the destruction that more than two months of fighting has inflicted on the Kurdish town in northern Syria by the Turkish border.

Outside the bakery, children playfully jump in and out of foxholes - barely fazed by the thunderous explosions nearby. Kobani as it was has been virtually erased. Rubble is all that remains of people’s homes and their memories. Shops are gutted. Schools are flattened.


Japan’s ‘clean’ coal projects highlight lack of rules for UN climate money

KANCI KULON, Indonesia (AP) - About $1 billion in loans under a U.N. initiative for poor countries to tackle global warming is going toward the construction of power plants fired by coal, the biggest human source of carbon pollution.

Japan gave the money to help its companies build three such plants in Indonesia and listed it with the United Nations as climate finance, The Associated Press has found. Japan says these plants burn coal more efficiently and are therefore cleaner than old coal plants.

However, they still emit twice as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide as plants running on natural gas. Villagers near the Cirebon plant in Indonesia also complain that stocks of shrimp, fish and green mussels have dwindled.

Japan’s coal projects highlight the lack of rules to steer the flow of climate finance from rich to poor countries - a critical part of U.N. talks on global warming, which resume Monday in Lima, Peru. There is no watchdog agency that ensures the money is spent in the most effective way, and no definition of what climate finance is.

Japan, a top contributor of climate finance, denies any wrongdoing and has done nothing illegal - there are no rules against counting such projects as climate finance in the U.N. system.


A glance at developments in Ferguson shooting case; Obama meetings, no severance for Wilson

ST. LOUIS (AP) - President Barack Obama planned to hold meetings Monday on the Ferguson situation, and a few members of the St. Louis Rams football team showed their support for protesters who have been rallying in the streets and at retail stores since a grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who fatally shot a black 18-year-old.

Also, the mayor of Ferguson said Officer Darren Wilson received no severance package when he resigned over the weekend.

Here’s a look at the latest developments in the response to the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown case:




Officials to AP: Afghan president to overhaul security by firing military, civilian leaders

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Facing an intensified Taliban insurgency, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani plans to fire senior civilian and military leaders in the country’s most volatile provinces to reinvigorate the battle against militants, officials have told The Associated Press.

Already, Kabul police chief Gen. Mohammad Zahir has resigned following a string of attacks in the capital over three days that killed four foreigners - including an employee of the British embassy - and several Afghan civilians. Officials and diplomats who spoke to the AP say Ghani next will remove governors and generals in five provinces where the Taliban have held territory for years.

With Afghan security forces suffering high casualties in the run-up to the official Dec. 31 end of the U.S. and NATO combat mission, the newly elected president is eager to chart a new course. But the question remains of what effect the shake-up will ultimately have in a war-torn country mired in corruption and riven by complex ethnic and tribal rivalries.

“Ghani feels there is a need for reform within the armed forces,” said Franz-Michael Mellbin, the special representative in Afghanistan for the European Union. “There is an inherent weakness in the way the armed forces have been managing their personnel that didn’t allow the best and brightest to step forward.”

Ghani plans to replace officials in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghdis, Ghazni and Nangahar provinces in the east bordering Pakistan and Helmand in the south, presidential spokesman Nazifullah Salarzai told the AP.


Supreme Court to consider free speech rights of threatening language on Facebook

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is weighing the free-speech rights of people who use violent or threatening language on Facebook and other social media.

The justices will hear arguments Monday in the case of a man who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for posting graphically violent rap lyrics on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class and attacking an FBI agent.

Anthony Elonis of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, says he was just venting his anger over a broken marriage and never meant to threaten anyone.

But his wife didn’t see it that way, and neither did federal prosecutors. A jury convicted Elonis of violating a federal law that makes it a crime to threaten another person. A federal appeals court rejected his claim that his comments were protected by the First Amendment.

Lawyers for Elonis argue that the government must prove he actually intended his comments to threaten others. The government says it doesn’t matter what Elonis intended; the true test of a threat is whether his words make a reasonable person feel threatened.


Republican education committee leaders seek to fix outdated No Child Left Behind law

WASHINGTON (AP) - The No Child Left Behind education law could be making a political comeback.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who is the incoming chairman of the Senate committee overseeing education, says his top education priority is fixing the landmark Bush-era law. His goal? Get a bill signed by President Barack Obama early next year.

Doing so will require bipartisanship that’s been elusive since the law, primarily designed to help minority and poor children, came up for renewal in 2007.

The law requires schools to show annual growth in student achievement or face consequences, with all students expected to be proficient in reading and math this year. It has been credited with shining a light on how schools handle minority, low-income, English learners and special needs students, but led to complaints that teachers were teaching to standardized tests and that mandates were unrealistic and penalties ineffective.

Obama since 2012 has allowed states to get a waiver from some of the more stringent requirements of the law, but they had to agree to requirements such as adopting college and career ready standards - like Common Core - and implementing teacher evaluation systems with teeth. More than 40 states have a waiver.


Amazon shows off army of new robots designed to help workers meet holiday shipping crunch

TRACY, California (AP) - A year ago, Amazon.com workers like 34-year-old Rejinaldo Rosales hiked miles of aisles each shift to “pick” each item a customer ordered and prepare it for shipping.

Now the e-commerce giant boasts that it has boosted efficiency - and given workers’ legs a break - by deploying more than 15,000 wheeled robots to crisscross the floors of its biggest warehouses and deliver stacks of toys, books and other products to employees.

“We pick two to three times faster than we used to,” Rosales said during a short break from sorting merchandise into bins at Amazon’s massive distribution center in Tracy, California, about 60 miles east of San Francisco. “It’s made the job a lot easier.”

Amazon.com Inc., which faces its single biggest day of online shopping on Monday, has invested heavily this year in upgrading and expanding its distribution network, adding new technology, opening more shipping centers and hiring 80,000 seasonal workers to meet the coming onslaught of holiday orders. Amazon says it processed orders for 36.8 million items on the Monday after Thanksgiving last year, and it’s expecting “Cyber Monday” to be even busier this year.

CEO Jeff Bezos vows to one day deliver packages by drone, but that technology isn’t ready yet. Even so, Amazon doesn’t want a repeat of last year, when some customers were disappointed by late deliveries attributed to Midwestern ice storms and last-minute shipping snarls at both UPS and FedEx. Meanwhile, the company is facing tough competition from rivals like Google and eBay, and traditional retailers are offering more online services.


The Girls Scouts are going digital for the first time to sell you cookies

NEW YORK (AP) - Watch out world, the Girl Scouts are going digital to sell you cookies.

For the first time in nearly 100 years, Girl Scouts of the USA will allow its young go-getters to push their wares using a mobile app or personalized websites.

But only if their scout councils and guardians say OK.

“Girls have been telling us that they want to go into this space,” said Sarah Angel-Johnson, chief digital cookie executive for the organization covering about 2 million girls. “Online is where entrepreneurship is going.”

And the best news for these digital natives: They can have cookies shipped directly to your doorstep.


Historic Tenement Museum brings to life NYC’s immigrant story for English learners

NEW YORK (AP) - The actress playing a real-life teenage Jewish immigrant in 1916 never stepped out of character as she talked about the hardships of living in three small rooms with nine family members. Her captive audience of 11 - squeezed into her tiny apartment at the historic Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan - were immigrants themselves, some recently arrived in New York City from Venezuela, Mali and other far-flung nations.

The group, representing eight countries, spent several hours one recent morning at a workshop that uses the museum’s exhibitions of authentic former tenants’ apartments to help the recent immigrants build their language skills.

Called Shared Journeys, the workshops in English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, encourage participants to imagine life in the tenement and to share and compare their own experiences to those of the early Irish, Italian, Jewish and German immigrants.

Voytek Chachlowski, 55, who came to the U.S. from Poland 20 years ago, said he could easily relate to 14-year-old Victoria Confino’s story of living in cramped conditions. When he first arrived he had to “share two rooms and one bathroom with seven people.”

The program is one of many immersive experiences at the museum located in a restored 4-story tenement building on the Lower East Side that housed 7,000 working class immigrants between 1863 and 1935.


A family’s life rag-picking in New Delhi: ‘I do not want my children to die in this trash’

NEW DELHI (AP) - Six months ago, Marjina stepped off a train in New Delhi with her two children, hoping to find a better life after her husband abandoned them without so much as a goodbye.

She thought leaving her home in West Bengal to find work in the Indian capital would give her children a chance at a better life. But the only job she could find was as a “rag picker” - picking through other people’s garbage to find salvageable bits to resell or recycle.

It is filthy, dangerous work, performed by millions of people across India. Rag picking is effectively the primary recycling system in India. But the work is by no means environmentally friendly, and very far from being secure. While the rag pickers offer invaluable services to the city, they have few rights. Every day, they are exposed to deadly poisons.

Marjina, who goes by only one name, and her children - daughter Murshida, 12, and 7-year-old son Shahid-ul - spent their days at a landfill in Gazipur, on the outskirts of New Delhi. The next morning they would sit outside their single-room shanty and sort the trash into metal, plastic and paper. The children counted themselves lucky if they found a discarded toy or plastic jewelry to play with. The family earned just $26 per month. Rent was $9.

The work took a toll on the family’s health. Marjina’s children were constantly sick. Her daughter contracted dengue fever and had to be hospitalized.

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