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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TV Land pulls 'Cosby Show' from lineup

TV Land pulls 'Cosby Show' from lineup

AP Photo
FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2013 file photo, actor-comedian Bill Cosby poses for a portrait in New York. NBC announced Wednesday, Nov. 19, that it has canceled plans for a family comedy starring Bill Cosby.
 
NEW YORK (AP) -- NBC has scrapped a Bill Cosby comedy that was under development and TV Land will stop airing reruns of "The Cosby Show," moves that came a day after another woman came forward claiming that the once-beloved comic had sexually assaulted her.


NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks said Wednesday the Cosby sitcom "is no longer under development." 

A TV Land spokesperson said the shows will stop airing immediately for an indefinite time. "The Cosby Show" also was to have been part of a Thanksgiving sitcom marathon.

The NBC sitcom and "Cosby Show" reruns joined a Netflix Cosby standup comedy special, which was indefinitely postponed late Tuesday, as mounting evidence of Cosby's faltering career. They occurred a day after actress Janice Dickinson, in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight," became the third woman in recent weeks to allege she'd been assaulted by Cosby - charges strongly denied by the comedian's lawyer.

The developments, which involve allegations that were widely reported on a decade ago as well as new accusations, have gravely damaged the 77-year-old comedian's reputation as America's TV dad at a time when he was launching a comeback. A year ago a standup special - his first in 30 years - aired on Comedy Central and drew a hefty audience of 2 million viewers. His prospective new series was announced by NBC in January.

Cosby has never been charged in connection with any of the allegations; Former Pennsylvania prosecutor Bruce L. Castor Jr., who investigated a woman's claims that Cosby had sexually assaulted her in 2004, said Wednesday he decided not to prosecute because he felt there was not enough evidence to get a conviction.

"I wrote my opinion in such a way as I thought conveyed to the whole world that I thought he had done it, he had just gotten away with it because of a lack of evidence," the former Montgomery County district attorney said.

If Cosby hadn't been cooperative with the investigation, "I probably would have arrested him," he said.

Cosby has continued working as a stand-up comic, and has at least 35 performances scheduled throughout the U.S. and Canada through May 2015. None of the performances has been cancelled.

National Artists Corporation, which is promoting part of the tour, said it will not be canceling any shows.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art has not changed its plans for an exhibition featuring Cosby's African-American art collection alongside African artworks. The show opened this month on the 

National Mall and is scheduled to remain on view through early 2016.

"The exhibition has been very well received. We've actually had record numbers through the door," spokesman Eddie Burke said, adding the museum has had no complaints.

Cosby was asked about the growing furor by an AP reporter when he was promoting the exhibit earlier this month.

When the AP interviewed Cosby, on Nov. 6, the story involved long-circulated accusations from several women and recent criticism from comedian Hannibal Buress. Cosby declined to comment, saying "We don't answer that."

The AP mentioned the allegations and Cosby's decision not to comment at the end of its story, which, like the interview, was primarily about his loan of more than 50 artworks to the Washington museum.

Since then, two women have come forward publicly to accuse him of sexual assault, Netflix, TV Land and NBC cut ties and an appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" was canceled. In recent days, as the allegations gained increasing attention, AP went back through the full video of the Nov. 6 interview and decided to publish Cosby's full reaction to questions about the claims.

The AP was among a handful of news organizations granted interviews with Cosby in connection with the art exhibition. After his initial refusal to comment - as the interview was winding down but with the camera still running and Cosby wearing a lapel microphone - the comedian asked the AP to not use the brief on-camera refusal to comment he had just made about the allegations. "And I would appreciate it if it was scuttled," he said.

The interview was on the record. The AP had made no agreement to avoid questions about the allegations or to withhold publishing any of his comments at any time.

The NBC project was in the very early stages, without a script or commitment to production. But it would have brought Cosby back to the network where he had reigned in the 1980s with the top-rated "The Cosby Show."

There's some precedent for a network burying a project because of stories involving a star's personal life. NBC shelved a two-hour TV movie, "Frogmen," starring O.J. Simpson in 1994 after the former football star was implicated in his wife's death.

Dickinson told "Entertainment Tonight" that Cosby had given her red wine and a pill when they were together in a Lake Tahoe, California, hotel room in 1982. When she woke up the next morning, "I wasn't wearing my pajamas and I remembered before I passed out I had been sexually assaulted by this man."

Cosby's lawyer, Martin Singer, said in a letter to the AP that Dickinson's charges were "false and outlandish" and were contradicted by Dickinson herself in a published autobiography. Cosby's spokesman, David Brokaw, did not return calls for comment.

Singer said the first Cosby heard of any assault allegation came in the "Entertainment Tonight" interview, and suggested Dickinson was "seeking publicity to bolster her fading career."
 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Probe of Ferguson police could spur broad change

Probe of Ferguson police could spur broad change 


AP Photo
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2014 file-pool photo, Attorney General Eric Holder participates in closed door meeting with students at St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley in Ferguson, Mo. As local authorities in Missouri near the end of their investigation into the Ferguson shooting, a separate, ongoing federal civil rights review of the entire police department holds the greater potential to refashion the agency and spur long-lasting change, experts say. The Justice Department, which is investigating the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown along with a county grand jury, is more than two months into its probe of the Ferguson department’s practices. The civil rights inquiry, relying on data and interviews, is searching for any pattern of racial bias in how officers in the predominantly white department interact with the majority-black community.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As local authorities in Missouri near the end of their investigation in the Ferguson shooting, a broader federal civil rights review could hold a greater potential to refashion the police department and bring long-lasting change.


While a St. Louis County grand jury investigates the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the Justice Department is investigating, too. More than two months into its probe of the Ferguson department's practices, the civil rights inquiry is focusing on use-of-force, stops and searches and possible patterns of discrimination in the ways that officers in the predominantly white department interact with the majority-black community.

Results are likely months away and may do little quickly to mollify the community. But whether or not officer Darren Wilson ends up facing state or federal criminal prosecution, the civil rights investigation will continue. 

In similar cases, broad federal investigations of police departments have dictated changes in how officers carry out the most fundamental of tasks, from searching suspects to making traffic stops.

"If the end goal of this is to ensure that no one's civil rights get violated, that everyone is treated decently and their constitutional rights are protected, the best thing that can come out of this is an overall look at the department," said David Weinstein, a former federal civil rights prosecutor in Miami.

Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has made the overhaul of troubled police departments among his civil-rights priorities. In the past five years, the Justice Department has investigated some 20 police departments for problems that include treatment of the mentally ill, high numbers of officer-involved shootings and patterns of excessive force and racial bias. Police departments in Detroit, Seattle and New Orleans are among those that have committed to reforms.

A county grand jury is expected to announce any day whether it will indict Wilson, and federal authorities also are investigating the shooting for potential civil rights violations. Concerned about reactions if Wilson is not indicted, police are bracing for protests, and Missouri's governor has activated the state National Guard.

Separately, the Justice Department on Sept. 4 announced a broad investigation into the police force, with Holder pointing to a "deep mistrust" by residents and a lack of racial diversity among the Ferguson officers. 

More recently, he's described a need for "wholesale change" at the department.

A report last year by the Missouri attorney general's office found that Ferguson police stopped and arrested black drivers nearly twice as often as white motorists but were less likely to find contraband among the black drivers.

"From what we know, it seems likely that they're going to find some problems," said William Yeomans, an American University law fellow who spent more than two decades in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. He said the public too often becomes preoccupied with individual prosecutions without recognizing the importance of "bringing about long-term lasting change."

The civil rights investigations often, though not always, end with the Justice Department and a local police force entering into a court-enforceable agreement that mandates changes.

Recent examples include Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the police department resolved a federal investigation by agreeing to reforms that include new training and protocols for investigating officer shootings, and Portland, Oregon, where an agreement approved by a judge in August required changes in the way the police deal with the mentally ill.

Still, federal investigations into police departments can take years and it's not easy to measure their lasting results, especially since some of the agreements are relatively new.

Ursula Price, executive director of community relations for the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor, a civilian oversight agency, said the city police department is "not there yet" despite a sweeping reform plan approved last year that required changes in the use of force, crisis intervention, training, interrogations and stops, searches and arrests.

She said federal intervention alone isn't enough, noting that Justice Department lawyers don't go to every police-involved shooting, attend every disciplinary hearing or live permanently in the community. But she said it was a positive step that provides oversight and promotes comprehensive change.

Community advocates in New Orleans have years of experience responding to police-involved shootings, including a string of such cases in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that brought renewed scrutiny to the department. Price said experience has taught her that changing a department's culture is as important as individual accountability.

"I can name 25 Michael Browns," she said. "We've been through this over and over again, so our perspective has deepened."

Despite criminal convictions arising from officer misconduct, "we were still having the same difficult and dysfunctional relationships with the police we've always had, so it started becoming clear that sending individuals to jail isn't the way to resolve this."

"The lesson we've learned here in New Orleans is, yes, we need to hold individuals accountable but we also need to address systemic issues."

Monday, November 17, 2014

AP IMPACT: 'Vaccine court' keeps claimants waiting

AP IMPACT: 'Vaccine court' keeps claimants waiting 

AP Photo
In this Friday, Oct. 24, 2014 photo, Jeffrey McCord, who suffered from violent and unexplained seizures as a baby, demonstrates his guitar at home in St. John, Virgin Islands. A neurologist drew a connection that a dozen other doctors missed: his convulsions began days after a routine vaccination. Jeffrey's mother Martha filed a claim with a congressional program that compensates children like Jeffrey, but it took 11 years for the first check to arrive.
  
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A system Congress established to speed help to Americans harmed by vaccines has instead heaped additional suffering on thousands of families, The Associated Press has found.

The premise was simple: quickly and generously pay for medical care in the rare cases when a shot to prevent a sickness such as flu or measles instead is the likely cause of serious health complications. But the system is not working as intended.

The AP read hundreds of decisions, conducted more than 100 interviews, and analyzed a database of more than 14,500 cases filed in a special vaccine court. That database was current as of January 2013; the government has refused to release an updated version since.

Among the findings:
-Private attorneys have been paid tens of millions of taxpayer dollars even as they clog the court with more cases than they can handle, some of which the court rejected as totally inadequate. The court offers a financial incentive to over-file - unlike typical civil court cases, attorneys are paid whether or not they win, as was the case with more than 5,000 losing claims that vaccines caused the developmental disability autism. Those who double-bill for their time or consistently submit questionable expenses are not disciplined.

-Prominent attorneys have enlisted expert witnesses whose own work has been widely discredited, including one who treated autism with a potent drug used to chemically castrate serial rapists. Another doctor cribbed his material from an anti-vaccine website. Some of the most prominent experts set up nonprofits questioning vaccine safety, further fueling public skepticism. Meanwhile, many doctors hired by the government to defend vaccine safety in court have ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

-Lawmakers designed vaccine court to favor payouts, but the government fights legitimate claims and fails its obligation to publicize the court, worried that if they concede a vaccine caused harm, the public will react by skipping shots. The court was created with relaxed standards of evidence and a burden of proof more easily met than civil lawsuits. Lawmakers expected some children would get help even though their injuries weren't truly caused by a vaccine. If government doctors had their way, though, 1,600 families would not have gotten more than $1.1 billion in cash and future medical care between the court's opening in 1988 and the end of 2012. The government said that while perception of vaccine safety is important, individual claims are evaluated on scientific evidence and legal standards.

-Cases are supposed to be resolved within 240 days, with options for another 150 days of extensions. Less than 7 percent of 7,876 claims not involving autism met the 240-day target. Add in autism claims, which were postponed so the court could hear all of them at once, and just 4.5 percent took fewer than 240 days. 

Most non-autism cases take at least two and a half years, with the average case length more than three years, not including cases unresolved at the end of 2012. Hundreds have surpassed the decade mark. 

Several people died before getting any money.

The vanquishing of polio, measles and other preventable diseases was the transcendent public health accomplishment of the 20th century. And yet, by the mid-1980s, those gains seemed fragile. Pharmaceutical companies were facing a barrage of lawsuits from parents who believed the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis shot had disabled their kids. Their profits imperiled vaccine makers signaled they would leave the U.S. market.
In response, Congress gave a break both to pharmaceutical companies and to those who received a vaccine to prevent one illness, yet suffered another.

To protect the nation's supply, lawmakers shielded companies from jury verdicts, shifting liability for injuries to the U.S. government. That part worked: Vaccines are widely available, and profitable.

To help people harmed by shots, Congress created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Government doctors and lawyers review claims. If they believe it is more likely than not that a vaccine - and not something else - caused the injury, they tap a $3.5 billion fund to pay for future care and lost wages. That fund is replenished by a 75-cent tax on each vaccine.

If the government concludes the vaccination was not likely the cause, it contests the claim in vaccine court, based several blocks from the White House.

Serious injuries are extremely uncommon. Though much is in dispute regarding vaccines and their side effects, the court remains obscure. But largely due to an influx of adult flu claims, the volume of new cases has increased, averaging more than 400 annually in recent years.

To be sure, many of those who received the $2.8 billion that the government says it has distributed would not have won a civil trial. But the system has not worked as Congress envisioned.

Many claims fall into a vast gray area: The science is clear on only nine of 144 vaccine-injury combinations that a shot could - or could not - cause the illness. Amid this fundamental uncertainty, the kind of litigation the court was created to avoid is routine.

Caught in the middle are families that need help.

"The system is not working," said Richard Topping, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who defended the government against vaccine injury claims but resigned after concluding his bosses had no desire to fix the major flaws he saw. "People who need help aren't getting it."


Europeans have prominent role in beheading video

Europeans have prominent role in beheading video 

AP Photo
Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins addresses the media in Paris, France, Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. A Paris prosecutor says that a French 22-year-old convert to radical Islam appears in a video showing a beheaded American aid worker and the deaths of Syrian soldiers. Molins identified the man as Maxime Hauchard, and said that he has been on the radar of French authorities since he left for Syria in 2013 under cover of humanitarian action.

PARIS (AP) -- The cold-eyed militants lined up behind their victims in the latest Islamic State video appear to come from outside the Middle East, including one from France and possibly two from Britain, as the extremist group tries to show a global reach.

The grisly video - clearly aimed at a Western audience - lingers as much on the faces of the camouflaged extremists as the men who are beheaded. The victims include American aid worker Peter Kassig and more than a dozen Syrian soldiers.

The images of the Islamic State militants, who are shown one by one in close-up, allowed authorities to identify one of them Monday as a 22-year-old Frenchman who converted to radical Islam.

Maxime Hauchard has been on the radar of French authorities since 2011 when he took two trips to Mauritania to attend a Quranic school, said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins. The prosecutor said investigators were trying to determine if another Frenchman also is in the video.

President Barack Obama confirmed Kassig's slaying after a U.S. review of the video.

The overwhelming majority of Islamic State fighters are from the Mideast, but the extremist group is trying to cement its claim on an Islamic empire straddling Iraq and Syria. Europe appears to be a fertile ground to find supporters, with officials saying thousands of young Europeans have headed off to jihad. More than 1,000 people in France alone are under surveillance for suspected plans to join the militants, officials said.

In the video released Sunday, some of the knife-wielding extremists standing behind their kneeling victims had distinctly Asian features. Another whose face was hooded had the familiar London accent of the jihadi who also appeared in beheading videos with American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and with British hostages David Haines and Alan Henning. There also were indications that a Welsh medical student may be the man standing next to Hauchard.

"It's quite transparent that IS is trying to exaggerate its base of support," said Charlie Winter, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation in London. "They are trying to show that Muslims from all over the world are protecting their Syrian brethren and their Iraqi brethren."

European officials are trying just as furiously to counter that message.

"I call solemnly and seriously on all our citizens, and notably our young people who are the primary target of the terrorist propaganda, to open your eyes to the terrible reality of the actions of Daesh," said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. "These are criminals that are building a system of barbarity."

Hauchard gave an interview to France's BFM television in July, telling the network he had helped capture Mosul, the Iraqi city whose fall eventually prompted the United States to resume military operations in Iraq.

"We're waiting for death," Hauchard said at the time. "My objective is to be a martyr."

A man from Wales, Ahmed Muthana, said he thinks he saw his son, 20-year-old Nasser Muthana, in the latest video, and Winter, the British researcher, confirmed the likeness.

"It resembles him. I was shown a picture of the video. I cannot confirm it is him, but I think it might be," Ahmed Muthana told Britain's Press Association.

Kassig had gone to Syria on a humanitarian mission. His parents, Ed and Paula Kassig, said Monday that while their hearts have been shattered by his death, they believe his life is proof that "one person can make a difference."

"In 26 years, he has witnessed and experienced firsthand more of the harsh realities of life than most of us can imagine," Paula Kassig said in Indianapolis, Indiana, reading a brief statement. "But rather than letting the darkness overwhelm him, he has chosen to believe in the good - in himself and in others.

As for the French militant in the video, Molins said he had used aid work as a pretext.

"The humanitarian action was a facade. In fact, he wanted to fight and join Islamic State agents," Molins said.
With Kassig's death, the Islamic State group has killed five Westerners it was holding.

Unlike previous videos of slain Western hostages, the latest one did not show the decapitation of Kassig, the moments leading up to his death or threaten to kill any other Western hostages.

It identified the militants' location as Dabiq, a town in northern Syria that the Islamic State group uses as the title of its English-language propaganda magazine and where they believe an apocalyptic battle between Muslims and their enemies will occur.

The high-definition video also showed the beheadings of about a dozen men identified as Syrian military officers and pilots, all dressed in blue jumpsuits.

All of the militants wore brand new camouflage uniforms, except for the black-clad man who spoke with a British accent and warned that U.S. soldiers will meet a similar fate.

"We say to you, Obama: You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago," the militant said. "Here you are: You have not withdrawn. Rather, you hid some of your forces behind your proxies."

A U.S.-led coalition is targeting the Islamic State group in airstrikes in northern Syria, supporting Western-backed Syrian rebels, Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi military. The U.S. said 31 airstrikes had been carried out from Nov. 14-17 against Islamic State group targets.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the Islamic State group could grow worldwide if left unchecked. Already, he said, the IS has seized more land and resources "than al-Qaida ever had on its best day of its existence."

IS "leaders assume that the world will be too intimidated to oppose them," Kerry said. "But let us be clear: We are not intimidated."

Kassig served in the U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, a special operations unit, and was deployed to Iraq in 2007. After being medically discharged, he returned to the Middle East in 2012 and formed a relief group, Special Emergency Response and Assistance, to help Syrian refugees.

The Islamic State group still holds other captives, including British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has appeared in several videos delivering statements, likely under duress, and a 26-year-old American woman captured last year in Syria while working for aid groups. U.S. officials have asked that the woman not be identified for er safety.

The group's militants have beheaded or shot dead hundreds of captives, mostly Syrian and Iraqi soldiers, celebrating the mass killings in graphic videos.

The Islamic State group has declared a self-styled Islamic caliphate in areas under its control, which it governs according to its violent interpretation of Shariah law.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

US cities brace for protests off Ferguson decision

US cities brace for protests off Ferguson decision 

AP Photo
FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2014 file image from video provided by the City of Ferguson, Mo., officer Darren Wilson attends a city council meeting in Ferguson. Police identified Wilson, 28, as the police officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014 in Ferguson. Police departments across the country are bracing for large demonstrations when a grand jury decides whether to indict Wilson.
 

BOSTON (AP) -- From Boston to Los Angeles, police departments are bracing for large demonstrations when a grand jury decides whether to indict a white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

The St. Louis County grand jury, which has been meeting since Aug. 20, is expected to decide this month whether Officer Darren Wilson is charged with a crime for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown after ordering him and a friend to stop walking in the street on Aug. 9.

The shooting has led to tension with police and a string of unruly protests there and brought worldwide attention to the formerly obscure St. Louis suburb, where more than half the population is black but few police officers are.

For some cities, a decision in the racially charged case will, inevitably, reignite long-simmering debates over local police relations with minority communities.

"It's definitely on our radar," said Lt. Michael McCarthy, police spokesman in Boston, where police leaders met privately Wednesday to discuss preparations. "Common sense tells you the timeline is getting close. We're just trying to prepare in case something does step off, so we are ready to go with it."

In Los Angeles, rocked by riots in 1992 after the acquittal of police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, police officials say they've been in touch with their counterparts in Missouri, where Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis-area law enforcement held a news conference this week on their own preparations.

"Naturally, we always pay attention," said Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a police spokesman. "We saw what happened when there were protests over there and how oftentimes protests spill from one part of the country to another."

In Las Vegas, police joined pastors and other community leaders this week to call for restraint at a rally tentatively planned northwest of the casino strip when a decision comes.

Activists in Ferguson met Saturday to map out their protest plans. Meeting organizers encouraged group members to provide their names upon arrest as Darren Wilson or Michael Brown to make it more difficult for police to process them.

In a neighboring town, Berkeley, officials this week passed out fliers urging residents to be prepared for unrest just as they would a major storm - with plenty of food, water and medicine in case they're unable to leave home for several days.

In Boston, a group called Black Lives Matter, which has chapters in other major cities, is organizing a rally in front of the police district office in the Roxbury neighborhood the day after an indictment decision.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, police are expecting demonstrations after having dealt with a string of angry protests following a March police shooting of a homeless camper and more than 40 police shootings since 2010.

Philadelphia police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said he anticipated his city will see demonstrations, regardless of what the grand jury returns.

But big-city police departments stressed they're well-equipped to handle crowds. Many saw large but mostly peaceful demonstrations following the 2013 not-guilty verdict in the slaying of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman. In New York, hundreds of protesters marched from Union Square north to Times Square, where a sit-in caused gridlock.

The New York Police Department, the largest in the nation, is "trained to move swiftly and handle events as they come up," spokesman Stephen Davis said.

In Boston, McCarthy said the city's 2,200 sworn police officers have dealt with the range of public actions, from sports fans spontaneously streaming into the streets following championship victories to protest movements like Occupy.

"The good thing is that our relationships here with the community are much better than they are around the world," he said. "People look to us as a model. Boston is not Ferguson."


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Trooper ambush suspect charged with terrorism

Trooper ambush suspect charged with terrorism 
 

AP Photo
FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2014, file photo, Eric Frein, charged with the murder of Pennsylvania State Trooper Cpl. Byron Dickson and critically wounding Trooper Alex Douglass, is taken to prison after a preliminary hearing in Pike County Courthouse in Milford, Pa. On Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, authorities added terrorism charges againstFrein and they say he told them he wanted to "wake people up." State police say Eric Frein called slaying of Cpl. Bryon Dickson an "assassination" in an interview after his capture.


 BLOOMING GROVE, Pa. (AP) -- Authorities have added terrorism charges against a man accused of ambushing a Pennsylvania State Police barracks and killing a trooper, and they say he told them he wanted to "wake people up."

State police say Eric Frein called the Sept. 12 slaying of Cpl. Bryon Dickson an "assassination" in an interview after his capture.

Police filed the additional counts on Thursday. He was already charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

In court papers, police say they found a letter addressed to "Mom and Dad" on a thumb drive belonging to Frein. They quote the letter as saying that only a revolution "can get us back the liberties we once had."

Frein is accused of opening fire outside the Blooming Grove barracks, killing Dickson and seriously wounding another trooper.

The quiet takedown of Frein last month ended weeks of tension and turmoil in the area, as authorities at times closed schools, canceled outdoor events and blockaded roads to pursue him. Residents grew weary of hearing helicopters overhead, and small businesses suffered mounting losses.

Police said they linked Frein to the troopers' ambush after a man walking his dog discovered his partly submerged SUV three days later in a swamp a few miles from the shooting scene. Inside, investigators found shell casings matching those found at the barracks as well as Frein's driver's license, camouflage face paint, two empty rifle cases and military gear.

Officials, saying Frein was armed and extremely dangerous, had urged residents to be alert and cautious. Using dogs, thermal imaging technology and other tools, law enforcement officials combed miles of forest as they hunted for Frein, whom they called an experienced survivalist at home in the woods.

They pursued countless tips and closed in on an area around Frein's parents' home in Canadensis after he used his cellphone to try contacting them and the signal was traced to a location about 3 miles away. At times police ordered nearby residents to stay inside or prevented them from returning home.

When Frein was arrested near an abandoned airline hangar, he was placed in the handcuffs of the trooper he's accused of killing. He was driven back to the state police barracks in the trooper's cruiser.

Police refused to tell Frein that his family had hired an attorney for him the night he was captured, his lawyer has said. Veteran criminal defense attorney James Swetz said he was prevented from seeing Frein the night he was arrested.

"I was told, `He's an adult and has not asked for a lawyer,'" Swetz recounted days ago.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gas to average under $3 in 2015, government says

Gas to average under $3 in 2015, government says 

 
AP Photo
In this Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 photo, gas station prices are posted for passing motorists in Augusta, Ga. The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration predicts in its most recent short-term energy outlook, released Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, that drivers will pay $2.94 per gallon on average in 2015, 45 cents lower than this year.

NEW YORK (AP) -- The average price of gasoline will be below $3 a gallon in 2015, the government predicted Wednesday. If the sharply lower estimate holds true, U.S. consumers will save $61 billion on gas compared with this year.

In a monthly report, the Energy Department reduced its forecast for global oil prices next year by $18 a barrel to $83. Weakness in the global economy will crimp demand for oil, while production in places like the U.S. keeps rising.

The result: Drivers will pay $2.94 per gallon on average in 2015, 45 cents lower than this year. Based on expected gasoline consumption, that's a savings of $60.9 billion.

That may not seem like a lot in the context of a $17.5 trillion U.S. economy, but economists say it matters because it immediately gives consumers more money to spend on other things. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

"It would be a reversal of the trend over the last few years where consumers can't stretch a dollar far enough," says Tim Quinlan, an economist at Wells Fargo.

Quinlan says the price of gasoline is one of the three big drivers of consumer confidence, along with stock prices and the unemployment rate. "Lately all three are moving in the right direction," he says.

The average gasoline price in the U.S. has fallen for 48 straight days and is at its lowest point since December of 2010, according to AAA. That was also the last full year when the average came in below $3 a gallon.

Drivers are now paying $2.92 per gallon on average, AAA says. Late fall is often when the price of gas hits its low for the year. The government is now saying that these prices aren't just a low point, but instead will be the norm next year.

Adam Sieminski, administrator of the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department's statistical arm, attributed the lower pump prices to lower prices for crude oil and weak fuel demand. The EIA did hedge its bet on lower oil prices though, as it cautioned that OPEC could cut production in order to push prices higher.

The global price of crude has fallen by $35 a barrel, or 30 percent, since late June and closed at $80.38 Wednesday.

Oil production around the world has been strong in recent years. A boom in the U.S. has pushed domestic production up 70 percent since 2008. At the same time, demand for fuels is growing more slowly than expected in Asia and Europe because of weak economic growth.

The U.S. economy is faring relatively well, but more fuel-efficient cars and changing driving habits are keeping domestic gasoline demand low. The EIA expects demand to fall slightly next year despite the lower pump prices.

The EIA also slightly lowered its prediction for growth in U.S. oil production because lower prices will force some drillers to cut back. Production is expected to reach 9.4 million barrels a day in 2015, down from a previous estimate of 9.5 million barrels per day. Still, that would be an increase of 4 percent over this year and the highest domestic crude production since 1972.
 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

America marks Veterans Day with parades, freebies

America marks Veterans Day with parades, freebies 

AP Photo
Al Willis, a Montford Point Marine, salutes during a ceremony on Veterans Day, Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, at the The All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors in Philadelphia. Americans marked Veterans Day on Tuesday with parades, speeches and military discounts, while in Europe the holiday known as Armistice Day held special meaning in the centennial year of the start of World War I.


NEW YORK (AP) -- Americans marked Veterans Day on Tuesday with parades, speeches and military discounts, while in Europe the holiday known as Armistice Day held special meaning in the centennial year of the start of World War I.

Thousands of veterans and their supporters marched up Fifth Avenue in New York, home to the nation's oldest Veterans Day parade.

At 11 a.m. - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - a solemn hush fell over Manhattan's Madison Square Park as veterans laid wreaths under the Eternal Light Monument to honor the fallen.
Former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who was a Marine lieutenant, served as grand marshal.

"I learned everything I know about leadership from my military service," Kelly said.
The parade featured a float carrying rapper Ice-T, who is an Army veteran, plus six military dogs and their handlers, all of whom have served in the U.S. armed forces.

Maylee Borg, 40, of Staten Island, said she brought her two daughters to show them "that we should support our veterans, because they supported us."

Her 13-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn Borg, made a sign that read, "Land of the free, thanks to the brave."
Here is how the holiday was celebrated elsewhere around the country and overseas.
---
ARMISTICE DAY
Europe marked Armistice Day with ceremonies and moments of silence as France opened an international memorial on a former battlefield. The events had special significance because this year is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Tuesday was the 96th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war on Nov. 11, 1918.

French President Francois Hollande placed a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier under Paris' Arc de Triomphe. Later, he inaugurated an international war memorial at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, in northern France, in the presence of German, British and Belgian officials. The Ring of Memory carries the names of 600,000 soldiers from over 40 countries who died in the region during the war. Names are listed alphabetically without their nationalities.
---
CELEBRITY CONCERT
Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, Eminem and Metallica were among the headliners for a free concert on the National Mall to raise awareness for issues affecting veterans, In Washington, D.C.

Tuesday's first-of-its-kind Concert for Valor is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of fans to the Mall. The Veterans Day event was spearheaded by Starbucks president Howard Schultz.
---
VETERAN BONUSES
State officials in Ohio used the holiday to remind Iraq war veterans that time is running out to claim bonuses of up to $1,500. Ohio voters in 2009 approved a $200 million bond issue to fund bonuses for veterans of the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq war eras.
---
VETERANS PERKS AND FREEBIES
Veterans Day is not only a time to honor those who have served in the military. For American businesses, it's also a time to back up that appreciation with a freebie.

Many national chains, as well as mom-and-pop retailers around the U.S., offered free goods and services to anyone who has served in the military, a trend that has been growing since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They included IHOP pancakes, Starbucks coffee and even admission at select theaters to see the World War II film "Fury," starring Brad Pitt.
---
MILITARY GAY PRIDE
Massachusetts marked Veterans Day with commemorations around the state including a parade in Boston in which gay and transgender veterans were taking part for the first time. A recently formed group called OutVets said it expected up to 30 people to march in Tuesday afternoon's downtown parade.

Gov. Deval Patrick and other top officials gathered earlier at the Statehouse to express "gratitude, pride and support" for service members from Massachusetts.
---
CHRISTIE HONORS THE FALLEN
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie attended an event at the Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown. The state-operated cemetery is the final resting place for more than 56,000 veterans and their family members.

Faculty and students in Monmouth University in West Long Branch were reading the names of troops killed 
during deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
---
SERIOUS WORDS FROM A COMEDIAN
Comedian Bill Cosby urged hundreds in attendance at a Veterans Day ceremony in Philadelphia to "call out the name of someone who left their life for us" and remember those who died for their country.

Cosby told the crowd during a 20-minute address in front of the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors that "we don't forget about ours."



Thursday, November 6, 2014

Police: Cracking Germantown Abduction Case “An Example Of How Things Should Work”

Police: Cracking Germantown Abduction Case “An Example Of How Things Should Work”

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Police officials spoke at a press conference Thursday afternoon, just one day after the woman who was abducted off of a Philadelphia street was found alive in Maryland.

Inspector Kelly of Northwest Detectives says of Detective Sloan, “He was always adamant that we were finding her. He was optimistic and driven by it.”

Detective Sloan had promised Carlesha’s mother that he would bring her daughter home safe, and sure enough, he delivered.

“I spoke to her sister yesterday and I said ‘why do you sound gloomy, why don’t you start cheering?’ She asked why and I told her ‘we found your sister and she’s safe, now put your mother on the phone.’”

For full story go to:  http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/

Boehner warns Obama on immigration

Boehner warns Obama on immigration


WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a blunt post-election warning, House Speaker John Boehner cautioned President Barack Obama on Thursday against taking sweeping action on immigration without congressional approval, saying "when you play with matches you take the risk of burning yourself."

"And he's going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path," the Ohio Republican said at his first news conference after elections in which Republicans captured control of the Senate that meets in January and emerged with their largest majority in the House in at least 70 years.

Obama has said he intends to reduce deportations of immigrants who are working yet living illegally in the United States.

Boehner made his comments one day before he and the other congressional leaders head to the White House for a lunch meeting with Obama. Even before the new Congress convenes, the outgoing one is scheduled to meet next week to wrap up business left over from the past two years.

Sketching an early agenda for 2015, Boehner said the Congress that convenes in January hopes to pass legislation approving construction of the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline planned to carry Canadian oil to the United States.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Ernest was equivocal about whether the president might sign a bill along those lines. "We'll consider any sort of proposals that are passed by Congress, including a rider like this, that ... does seem to pretty directly contradict the position that's been adopted by this administration," he said.

Boehner also mentioned bills to help create jobs and a measure to encourage businesses to hire veterans and several to attack the health care law piecemeal.

Boehner, just shy of his 65th birthday, won a 13th term from the voters in western Ohio on Tuesday. Despite widely publicized difficulties managing his fractious rank and file in the past four years, he is assured of a new term as speaker when Congress convenes in January.

This time, unlike the others, the man in charge of the Senate's agenda will be a Republican. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, is from Kentucky, a state that neighbors Ohio.

Even before confronting Democrats and the White House, the two are likely to face a steady stream of management challenges from within as they pursue a GOP agenda.

Among them are a strong presence of tea party-backed lawmakers in both houses, softer-edged, conservative swing-state senators who will be on the ballot in 2016, and a group of presidential hopefuls that includes Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul from McConnell's own state of Kentucky.

Boehner defended most of the newcomers to the ranks of House Republicans after he was asked about one who has said Hillary Rodham Clinton is the "antichrist" and another who said family members of victims of the Sandy Hook elementary shootings should get over the experience.

"When you look at the vast majority of the new members that are coming in here, they're really solid members," he said.

Boehner's news conference followed McConnell's first post-election meeting with reporters by one day.
So far, neither man has made much of what is expected to be an all-out Republican assault on federal deficits.

The party has passed budgets through the House in recent years that eliminate deficits in a decade. The likely chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said in a pre-election interview that was his timetable as well.

Achieving that goal without tax increases will require significant savings from benefit programs like food stamps, welfare and possibly Medicare and Social Security over the next decade.

At his news conference, Boehner also said Congress will vote to repeal the health care law that stands as Obama signature domestic accomplishment, but Boehner conceded the measure may not clear the Senate despite a new GOP majority. Democrats will have more than enough seats to block passage.

Instead, the speaker said the Republican-controlled Congress might seek piecemeal changes in the law, which he said repeatedly "is hurting our economy." He mentioned measures to repeal a medical device tax, abolish an advisory board that is charged with recommending cuts to Medicare in future years, and repealing a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage.

The first is a provision that many Democrats oppose and have indicated privately they would like to jettison. Abolition of the second would greatly undercut the legislation's claimed deficit savings in future years. Obama made it clear on Wednesday at a White House news conference he opposes ending the coverage requirement.

Despite Obama's remarks, Boehner said, "There are bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate to take some of these issues out of `Obamacare.' We need to put them on the president's desk and let him choose."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Local Authorities Say South Jersey Man Lured Children To His Home By Promising Them Modeling Jobs


Authorities Say South Jersey Man Lured Children To His Home By Promising Them Modeling Jobs
 
CHERRY HILL, NJ (CBS) – The FBI arrested two Cherry Hill seniors for allegedly luring underage girls to take illicit sexual pictures in their upscale homes.

Sixty-eight-year-old Burton Gersh and 73-year-old Les Sidweber are each charged with two counts of producing child pornography.

“They had a guy who approached one of the young women while she was walking to school in her school uniform and encouraged her to come to one of the defendant’s home where she would be photographed for modeling,” says First Assistant United State Attorney Louis Lappen from the Philadelphia office.

A criminal complaint filed in U-S District Court describes how beginning in Fall 2010 Gersh and Sidweber paid for two Pennsylvania girls ages 16 and 17 to come to their homes, strip naked and perform sexual acts on each other as well as Gersh.

“Once these men earned the trust of these victims they exploited them on multiple occasions,” says Lappen.
Investigators say several of the illicit pictures show identifiable characteristics of Gersh’s home including one taken in his driveway with his home address on Hidden Lane and another with a backyard gazebo that has a sign “Welcome to Gershs” with the picture of a lighthouse.
 
For full story go to: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/

Woman in Philadelphia Abduction Found Alive, Her Kidnapper Arrested, FBI Says

Woman in Philadelphia Abduction Found Alive, Her Kidnapper Arrested, FBI Says

Woman in Philadelphia Abduction Found Alive, Her Kidnapper Arrested, FBI Says

Woman in Philadelphia Abduction Found Alive, Her Kidnapper Arrested.
 
 The woman who was kidnapped on Sunday off a desolate Philadelphia street -- a harrowing crime that was caught on surveillance camera -- was found alive today in Maryland, while her abductor was arrested, authorities said. 
 
Carlesha Freeland-Gaither, 22, was found by FBI agents inside a parked car in Jessup, Maryland.
Her alleged abductor, Delvin Barnes, 37, was arrested at the scene, according to the FBI.
 
Ed Hanko, the special agent in charge of the Philadelphia FBI field office, said that because of tips called in from the public, investigators were "able to identify this individual, identify his car and track it into Maryland."
FBI agents were joined by U.S. Marshals and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents who located the car and approached when Barnes stepped out of the vehicle.

Freeland-Gaither was found inside the car and is now being treated at a local hospital, police said.
Hanko said that she is "in good shape," but police still have not had a chance to interview her.

Freeland-Gaither's mother, whose name was not released, attended tonight's news conference and said that she has been able to speak to her daughter by phone from the hospital, but will be reunited later this evening.

"She was very upset. She was crying," she said of her daughter.

"Thank you for keeping me up. Thank you for being there for us. I'm taking my baby home," she added.

Barnes is being held as a result of an outstanding attempted capital murder warrant that was issued for him in Virginia, though he is expected to face federal charges once the ongoing investigation into Freeland-Gaither's case is complete.

Investigators said that they have no reason to believe Barnes knew his victim before the abduction.

"He's a thug and this is what he does apparently," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told reporters. "People like this, there's nothing that makes sense."

In the surveillance video released Monday, Freeland-Gaither can be seen fighting to get away from her attacker during Sunday's abduction.

Freeland-Gaither was pulled down the street in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia toward the man’s car, which police believed to be a 2000 or 2002 gray Ford Taurus. At one point, she even fell to the ground to try and get away before she was pushed into the car.
 
 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mexican mayor, wife detained in case of 43 missing

Mexican mayor, wife detained in case of 43 missing 

AP Photo
FILE - In this May 8, 2014 file photo, the mayor of the city of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, right, and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa meet with state government officials in Chilpancingo, Mexico. Federal police early Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 detained the couple, who are accused of ordering the Sept. 26 attacks on teachers' college students that left six dead and 43 still missing. The Iguala police chief is still a fugitive.
 
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexico's most-wanted couple, accused of running their town as a drug fiefdom and ordering an attack that killed six and left 43 college students missing, were caught Tuesday in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Mexico City where they were hiding.

Federal police seized Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, in a raid before dawn in Iztapalapa, a working-class neighborhood of the capital. It was a far fall from their reign of wealth and power as the mayor and first lady of Iguala, a town in southern Guerrero state where the students from a teachers' college went missing Sept. 26, allegedly at the hands of police and a drug cartel.

Even as they were hauled off to the Attorney General's organized crime unit to give their statements, the capture did nothing to answer the biggest mystery: Where are the students? Their disappearance, and the failure to make progress in the case, has ignited protests across the country and broadsided President Enrique Pena Nieto's efforts to paint violence in Mexico as a thing of the past.

"News like this just makes you angrier," said Mario Cesar Gonzalez, whose son, Cesar Manuel Gonzalez, is among the missing students. "I wish they would put the same intelligence services and effort into finding the students. The ineptitude is staggering."

Authorities have uncovered mass graves and the remains of 38 people, but none has been identified as the missing students. Besides Tuesday's arrests, at least 56 other people have been taken into custody, and the Iguala police chief is also being sought.

Some hoped the couple's detention would provide new leads.

"This was the missing piece. This arrest will help us find our kids," Felipe de la Cruz, the father of one of the missing students, told Milenio television. "It was the government who took our kids."

No shots were fired in Tuesday's raid on three houses, including the one in which the couple was hiding, according to a federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

One of the houses was a run-down stucco structure with cracked and stained walls and men's jeans hanging out to dry.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said 60 federal agents had staked out the three houses, and were tipped off to the couple's presence by a female associate, Noemi Berumen, who apparently accompanied the couple or aided them in their flight from justice. Berumen was also detained in the Tuesday raids.

"The house they were found in looked as it were abandoned," Murillo Karam said. "The reason we started to suspect this person (Berumen) was that she appeared to be entering an abandoned house. "

Before they fled last month, the couple ran Iguala like a fiefdom in cooperation with the local drug cartel, Guerreros Unidos. Abarca received up to $220,000 every few weeks as bribe money and to pay off his corrupt police force, according to Attorney General Jose Murillo Karam, who gave a detailed account last month of the couple's alleged collusion with organized crime.

The mayor's wife was a major operator in the cartel, an offshoot of the Beltran Leyva gang, Murillo Karam said. Two of her brothers were on former President Felipe Calderon's most-wanted drug trafficker list until they were killed in 2009. A third brother, Salomon Pineda, was believed to run the territory in northern Guerrero state for the cartel.

Guerreros Unidos has increasingly turned to the lucrative practice of growing opium poppies and sending opium paste to be refined for heroin destined for the U.S. market, according to a federal official.

The students attended a radical rural teachers college with a history of carrying out protests. They had gained the enmity of Abarca because of a previous demonstration in the town, Murillo Karam said. Abarca believed they planned to disrupt a speech by his wife, who aspired to succeed him as mayor, and ordered police to detain the students after they hijacked four buses to provide transportation to a coming protest.

Three students were shot dead in the confrontation and later three bystanders were killed in a separate attack.

Police then picked up the other students and took them to the nearby town of Cocula, Murillo Karam said. At some point they were loaded aboard a dump truck and taken - apparently still alive - to an area on the outskirts of Iguala where some mass graves have been found, he said.

In statements to the media soon after the disappearance, Abarca maintained that he spent the evening of Sept. 26 dining out, and that he ordered police to leave the students alone.

Detained gang leader Sidronio Casarrubias told authorities one of his lieutenants told him the students were sympathizers of a rival gang, the attorney general said.

The search for the students has taken authorities to the hills above Iguala and to a gully near a trash dump in the neighboring city of Cocula, but still no remains have been identified.

Abarca and his wife amassed jewelry stores and other properties believed bought with illicit funds, including a shopping mall that was vandalized in one of the many protests against the failure to solve the students' disappearance. Authorities said they ruled with fear. Pineda was overheard telling one of Abarca's political rivals, "You don't know who you're messing with." Days later he turned up dead. Witnesses said Abarca himself did the killing.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Assad's Syria truncated, battered _ but defiant

Assad's Syria truncated, battered _ but defiant

AP Photo
In this Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014 photo, Mustafa Sobhi, 53, and his wife Faten Shaar, 52, sit under a portrait of their son Majed, who was killed while serving in the Syrian army, at a shelter in Tartous, Syria. The family was forced to flee the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to the coastal city of Tartous. Their story spotlights the pain and challenges as Syrians adjust to life in this truncated country, now in its fourth year of war, still firmly under the grip of President Bashar Assad, despite an armed rebellion to uproot him and losing territory to opposition rebels and the extremist Islamic State group.

TARTOUS, Syria (AP) -- Syrian businessmen start from scratch after their shops and factories were destroyed. Families who lost their homes struggle to rent new dwellings and make ends meet. Along highways stretching through government-controlled areas are the bombed ruins of once-rebellious towns, now dotted with checkpoints.


Government-controlled Syria is truncated in size, battered and impoverished. But it carries on, underscoring how Syrian President Bashar Assad's government has clung to power, despite an armed rebellion to uproot him, now well into its fourth year.

Visits the past week to the capital, Damascus, and the coastal region of Tartous, a stronghold of government support, show how Syrians have adjusted to life in this reduced country. Thick barriers surround government buildings, painted in the red, black and white of the Syrian flag. Assad's portrait is everywhere: as a soldier, a businessman and a father.

After years of brutal back and forth, the government rules over Damascus and a sweep of territory west to the Mediterranean coastal region that includes Syria's biggest cities, along with some parts south of the capital. Rebels hold some suburbs in the countryside around Damascus and parts of the northwest. The extremist Islamic State group has imposed its rule over territory encompassing a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq.

The war constantly intrudes. The persistent thud of bombings of nearby rebel-held areas is the soundtrack of Damascus.

Checkpoints dot roads, often concrete shacks spruced up with posters of Assad cut into heart shapes. Soldiers rest on faded couches.

"Got any cigarettes, sir?" one soldier hopefully asks a driver.

Local pro-government militias also guard towns and neighborhoods, aiding Assad's stretched army.

Mustachioed men with assault rifles peer into cars at the entrance of the historic Bab Touma area of Damascus. The majority Christian district is a favorite target for mortars from the nearby rebel-held neighborhood of Jobar. Anti-Assad activists accuse some pro-government militias of being more brutal than soldiers, and say they demand bribes and steal cars.

Leaving Damascus, the highway is well-paved, including a strip of freshly asphalted road. Nearby stands part of the smashed remains of the town of Nabak, whose residents rebelled against Assad early in the uprising. The yellow Ferris wheel in Nabak's amusement park is faded.

Graffiti nearby reads "Assad for eternity." Another reads: "I love you Lulu."

It's unclear how many Syrians live in rebel- and government-controlled areas, given the demographic upheaval in a country where nearly half of the population has fled their homes. Areas once dominated by Assad-loyal minorities, like the Alawite-dominated coastal region of Tartous, have seen their communities change character as they host some 350,000 displaced people, mostly Sunni Muslims.

That ultimately will have a longer-term effect: It will be difficult for Assad's government to carve out an Alawite bastion, as some critics suggest he is doing - and which government officials deny.

It also highlights the fact that Sunnis, who form the country's majority faith group, form Assad's chief power base, even as the rebellion is dominated by Sunnis. Minorities, like the Alawites, Shiites and Christians, mostly support the government or have remained neutral.

The displaced include a Muslim preacher, Mustafa Sobhi and his wife, Faten Shaar, who fled to a town in Tartous province after rebels burned down their pharmaceutical factory. Sobhi says the rebels in his hometown in the northern city of Aleppo punished him because his son, Majed, was in the army. Majed was killed in March last year.

Sobhi's other son now sells sandwiches outside a local university. The upper-middle-class family's fortunes were destroyed in the war, but they were safe in Tartous, Sobhi says.

"We have to be one hand," he says, sitting beside his wife on a thin mattress on the floor, the apartment's only furniture. A large poster of their slain son in his army uniform and another praising Assad hangs on the wall.

The displaced include Sunni traders from Aleppo, once the country's industrial powerhouse. Some have re-opened businesses in Tartous on a smaller scale.

Mohammed Jallad, an oven maker, fled as fighting intensified in his Aleppo neighborhood. His home and business were destroyed in shelling.

With a loan, he reopened business in Tartous, sharing an industrial space with four other Aleppo men. He sleeps in a nook above his ovens to save money.

His shop's rent tripled over two years as demand by displaced people rose. From 15 workers in Aleppo, he now employs two.

Jallad says he doesn't want to flee abroad, fearing he would join the fate of some 3 million Syrian refugees who mostly live in miserable circumstances.

"I wanted to work, so where could I go? The situation abroad is humiliating," he says.

As Syrians struggle to get by, they have adjusted to reality.

Taghrid, an embroiderer in Damascus, says she sent her army-age son to Egypt to avoid conscription, something many families have done.

"May God protect him," she says outside Damascus' grand Umayyad Mosque. She only gave her first name out of fear of endangering her son.

Government services, while scrappy, still exist. Workers receive salaries, even if the local currency is falling. There is still power, though cuts are routine. Health care is still free, although residents say waits are long as doctors leave their posts.

"The Syrian government holds and clings to the unity and territorial integrity of Syria. And this for us is a sacred issue," Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban says.

Life continues on for Syria's wealthy. Cafes and restaurants in Tartous are half-filled, with apologetic owners saying young people being back at school has cut into their crowds. Businessmen have opened an entertainment center and mall in Damascus and a seven-story shopping center in Tartous.

At Damascus' Malki Mall, a sign advertises a selfie competition. At the mostly empty Tartous Mall, investor Ali Naddeh smokes a waterpipe and says shops soon will open.

"This is a time of opportunity," he says.
 

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