Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Oct. 24 2014 12:30 PM

NIH Says Dallas Nurse Now Ebola-Free, Will Be Released From Hospital

Health officials confirmed on Friday that Dallas nurse Nina Pham is Ebola-free. Pham became the first to contract the virus in the U.S. when she tested positive earlier this month after treating Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

The 26-year-old nurse has been receiving treatment at the National Institutes of Health since Oct. 16. After weeks in isolation battling the virus, ABC News reports, Pham walked out of the NIH Friday morning to a round of applause. “I feel fortunate and blessed to be standing here today," she told reporters. Pham is scheduled to be discharged from the hospital on Friday. Amber Vinson, the other nurse to contract Ebola at the Dallas hospital, is also now virus-free, according to her family, but will remain at Emory University Hospital for several more days of treatment, according to NBC News.

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Oct. 24 2014 10:45 AM

New York City Police Shoot and Kill Man Who Attacked Cops With Hatchet

New York City police officers shot and killed a man on Thursday after he attacked the officers with an axe. The attacker, who has been identified as Zale Thompson, charged at the officers while they posed for a photo on the street around 2 p.m. Thompson struck one officer in the arm and another in the head, critically wounding the officer. The two other officers fired on Thompson.

Here’s more on the scene of the attack from the New York Times:
The burst of violence occurred on the sidewalk in front of a local department store where the four uniformed officers were standing on a regularly assigned foot patrol. A passer-by asked to photograph the officers, Mr. Bratton said, and they obliged. As they did so, standing together, a man in a hooded green rain jacket approached quickly from down the block, pulled a hatchet from his clothes, raised it over his head and, appearing to say nothing, brought it down on the officers with two hands, video released by the police showed. The man first hit one officer in the arm and, continuing to swing, hit another in the head, Mr. Bratton said. A witness to the attack said that blow appeared to be particularly severe. “His head was split open from here to here,” said the witness, Mick Jones, 52, tracing a finger from his forehead to the back of his head. “His hat probably saved his life.” The two other officers drew their weapons and fired multiple times at the man, killing him, Mr. Bratton said.
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"At this point, no known motive for this attack has been established," Police Commissioner William Bratton said at a press conference. Initially there were reports that questioned whether the attack was terrorism-related, but officials appear convinced there is no connection to any radical Islamist groups, CNN reports.

Oct. 23 2014 10:28 PM

New York City Doctor Who Recently Returned From Guinea Tests Positive for Ebola

Update: 10:28 p.m.: Press Conference with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett via CBS New York:

At the news conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said officials believe Spencer came in contact with four people during the time he was infected and symptomatic, and state officials are already talking to those four people. Those four people include Spencer’s fiancée and two friends – all of whom are healthy, but have still been quarantined, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett said. The fourth person is who is in contact with the state is the driver of an Uber car, which Spencer took when he bowling Wednesday night in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Bassett said. The Uber driver had no direct contact with Spencer, and is not believed to be in any danger, she said.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett said Spencer left Guinea on Oct. 14, and returned to the U.S. three days later. He went through mandatory Ebola screening processes upon arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, officials said.
Bassett went on a three-mile jog before being hospitalized, and has used the subway system, Bassett said. He has ridden on the A Train, the No. 1 Train and the L Train. Bassett added that Spencer had no fever when he was at The Gutter bowling alley at 200 North 14th St. in Brooklyn on Wednesday night. But The Gutter was closed as a result Thursday night, and a CMJ music show planned for the venue was canceled...
“He did attempt to self-isolate and we’re still getting clear the amount of time he spent outside of his apartment,” said Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health. “But our impression is that he spent most of his time in his apartment and he was taking his temperature twice a day, he was being mindful about contact with people.”
But Spencer was not shutting himself off, Bassett said.
“During the time that he was leaving his apartment he had no fever. He was monitoring his temperature twice a day, as has been recommended and he had no fever,” she said. “I don’t want to give the impression he was self-quarantining because he did leave his apartment.”
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Original Post: A New York City doctor who recently returned from Guinea tested positive for Ebola on Thursday evening. Craig Spencer was taken to Bellevue Hospital and put in isolation after reporting symptoms of the virus Thursday morning. Spencer had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea until Oct. 14 and arrived in New York City on Oct. 17.

Spencer began to feel “sluggish” on Tuesday, but told authorities he didn’t develop a fever until Thursday morning. By 11 a.m. on Thursday, Spencer’s fever was at 103 degrees, an official told the Times. While health officials work to treat Spencer, city officials have been piecing together a timeline of the doctor’s recent interactions.

“As a further precaution, beginning today, the Health Department’s team of disease detectives immediately began to actively trace all of the patient’s contacts to identify anyone who may be at potential risk,” New York City’s health department said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “The Health Department staff has established protocols to identify, notify, and, if necessary, quarantine any contacts of Ebola cases.”

“[Spencer] traveled from Manhattan to Brooklyn on the subway on Wednesday night, when he went to a bowling alley and then took a taxi home,” according to the Times. “A person infected with Ebola cannot spread the disease until they begin to display symptoms, and it cannot be spread through the air. As the person becomes sicker, the viral load in the body builds, and they become more and more contagious.” On Thursday afternoon, “Spencer's apartment in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood was sealed off but the rest of the six-story brick building remained open to residents, health officials said,” according to Reuters.

“In a statement, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center said that Spencer was part of its staff and that he had not been to work at the hospital since returning to the U.S.,” NBC News reports.

*This post has been updated.

Oct. 23 2014 7:53 PM

Boko Haram Reportedly Kidnaps Dozens More Girls in Nigeria

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has conducted another mass kidnapping of dozens of women and girls in Nigeria, according to local residents. Nigerian officials have not confirmed the abductions in the northeastern region of the country, where the group has a stronghold. Local journalists, news reports, and a Catholic bishop in the area corroborated the attack took place over the weekend, according to the New York Times.

Here’s more on the kidnappings from the Times:

The kidnappings took place last Saturday in a mountain village near the border with Cameroon, a Boko Haram stronghold, said Bishop Stephen Mamza, who is from the area but now officiates in the state capital, Yola. In the latest kidnapping, residents told the bishop that scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed their village, Garta, on Saturday. Boko Haram has operated with near impunity for months in the mountainous region, with occasional reprisals from Nigeria’s military. The gunmen torched houses in the village, slit the throats of four men and went house-to-house searching for young women, eventually taking away around 60, according to the bishop and local news reports.
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“The heavily armed fighters left 1,500 naira, or about $9, and kola nuts as a bride price for each of the women abducted Saturday, suggesting that they would be taken as sex slaves,” residents told CNN. The latest round of abductions comes shortly after the Nigerian government announced a ceasefire had been agreed to with the group and a deal had been reached to secure the release of the some 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the group earlier this year. Boko Haram, however, never confirmed the existence of the announced negotiated settlements and, the Times reports, the government announcement was “greeted with broad skepticism in Nigeria.”

Oct. 23 2014 5:46 PM

Head of Assembly That Will Pick Next Supreme Leader of Iran Dies

83-year-old Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani died on Tuesday in Iran. And while Kani was not necessarily a well-known figure outside of his own country, his death may have international significance: he was the chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts, the body that will choose the next Supreme Leader of Iran. With the inconsistent health of 75-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who recently underwent prostate surgery, that could be a that's made sooner rather than later.

The Assembly of Experts, a group that's been described as roughly analagous to the Vatican's College of Cardinals, is a body of 86 religious leaders. They're elected—but must be chosen from among the clergy and be pre-approved by a separate council of 12 legal experts appointed by the Supreme Leader and the Parliament. Although Kani's death is unlikely to cause any obviously visible unrest or conflict, the composition of the Assembly of Experts has been a key indicator of Iran's political landscape and a litmus test of who holds relative political power. Kani—a "moderate conservative," per the AP—became chairman of the Assembly in 2011 when moderate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani withdrew his bid for reelection as chairman following intense pressure and threats of violence from hardline supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Earlier this year, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, one of the most powerful right-wing clerics in Iran and the head of the Guardian Council that vets Assembly candidates, claimed vaguely that a (presumably non-conservative) plot to seize the Assembly was afoot.

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With rumors of Khamenei's ailing health and impending death swirling pervasively enough that his surgery earlier this year was accompanied with an aggressive PR push perceived to be a preemptive strike against gossip, it's not unlikely a leadership transition will take place in the near future. If and when that happens, the old-guard clerics of the Assembly of Experts and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard are expected to compete for power. The latter group, which is powerful in the more earthly realms of the military and the economy, has played an increasingly expansive role under Khamenei, with whom it has a close and mutually dependent relationship, and is not expected to relinquish that power easily.

Kani, who was 83, had been in a coma since suffering a heart attack in June. Since then, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi has assumed the role of acting chairman, and is expected to continue on in that capacity until the election of the next assembly in early 2016. Although Shahroudi is not considered particularly hardline by Iranian standards, Al-Monitor writes that in general Kani's death leaves Iran's more moderate clergy "at the mercy of more extreme leaders."

Oct. 23 2014 4:15 PM

Billionaire Paul Allen Will Donate $100 Million to Ebola Battle

Paul Allen—the Microsoft co-founder who's worth about $17 billion, owns the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, and has a yacht so large it carries two helicopters and a submarine—will give $100 million to organizations battling the Ebola outbreak, he says. Among the intended uses of the money, per the New York Times:

  • A University of Massachusetts Medical School program providing "training, medical workers and lab equipment" to Liberia.
  • The development, in partnership with the State Department, of evacuation and containment units.
  • Funding the World Health Organization's coordination of medical personnel deployment.
  • Funding the evacuation of infected medical personnel.
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Allen has made previous donations to public health causes, including an attemt to develop an Ebola vaccine at Kansas State University. He's also created a website called TackleEbola that directs small donations to current projects in need of funding.

Oct. 23 2014 3:05 PM

Mexican Mayor and Wife Suspected in Disappearance of 43 Students

Mexico's attorney general says the mayor of the town of Iguala and his wife are suspected of involvement in the disappearance of 43 student protesters in the area last month. From NPR:

On Wednesday, Mexico's attorney general said an arrest warrant has been issued for Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda.
Jesus Murillo Karam, the country's top prosecutor, also named the mayor's wife as the "principal operator" of the trafficking group known as the Guerreros Unidos, and that she together with her husband ran the group's illegal activities right out of Iguala's City Hall.
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The students were apparently headed toward Iguala when they were intercepted and attacked by police acting on the instructions of the mayor; six students were killed outright, and 43 are still missing. It's still unclear exactly why the traffickers felt these students—who were protesting education reforms and trying to raise money—were a threat, although Mexican student movements' traditionally leftist, democratic politics certainly don't align with the kind of quasi-military narco-oligarchy that the cartels prefer.

The mayor and his wife have not been located and are considered fugitives.

Oct. 23 2014 1:02 PM

Pittsburgh NHL Fans Honor Canada by Singing “O Canada” National Anthem

NHL fans in Pittsburgh paid tribute to Canada on Wednesday night by singing the Canadian national anthem before facing off against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Canadian flag was projected on the ice during the playing of “O Canada” to honor the U.S.’s northern neighbor grappling with Wednesday’s deadly attack on the parliament building in Ottawa.

“The NHL postponed the scheduled game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators following the attack,” the Associated Press reports. “The Penguins and Flyers feature rosters filled with Canadian players, including reigning league MVP Sidney Crosby.”

Oct. 23 2014 12:06 PM

Swiss Company Makes Hitler Creamer Packets; Apologizes for Not Noticing It Was a Bad Idea

“You cannot put Pol Pot or a terrorist on a milk creamer.” That truism comes courtesy of a spokesman for the Swiss retail giant Migros, via the New York Times. That seems like a pretty easy rule to live by—unless you're Migros, apparently. The company apologized this week for shocking Swiss coffee drinkers by distributing coffee creamer containers with pictures of Hitler on them. Oh, and there was also one dedicated to Italian fascist Benito Mussolini.

“In coffee-loving Switzerland, labels from the mini-cream containers are cult collectibles, and producers often seek new and inventive ways to enhance their appeal,” the Times reports. The dictatorial tributes were part of a series of containers based on vintage cigar labels. Migros said one of its subsidiaries was responsible for supplying the cream, and the series was developed by a firm that—somehow—specializes in cream container design. In the understatement of the year, a company spokesman told the Times: “Whoever made this mistake was not thinking properly, as these aren’t images accompanying a book about World War II, but rather something meant to be enjoyed with coffee and a chocolate cake.”

Oct. 23 2014 9:47 AM

North Korea Quarantines Itself to Join Global Community on Ebola Panic, Bans All Tourists

North Korea isn’t exactly Italy when it comes to its tourism industry, but apparently that doesn’t mean it’s not concerned about Ebola arriving on its shores. And since the country is no stranger to going way over the top on just about anything, North Korea announced it is banning all foreign tourists from entering the country starting Friday, Reuters reports. While there is no official tally of how many travelers this will affect, my unofficial count of disappointed tourists is 12.

“We have just received official news from our partners in [North Korea] that, as of tomorrow, tourists from any country, regardless of where they have recently visited, will not be permitted to enter,” a travel company operator that runs tours in the country told Reuters.

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“North Korean state media on Thursday said it was stepping up quarantine efforts to detect foreigners and tourists who might be carrying the virus, but did not confirm the tourist ban,” according to Reuters. This is not the first time North Korea has closed its already pretty airtight borders. In 2003, the country quarantined itself over fears of the spread of SARS. North Korean state media said there have been no reported cases of Ebola in the country, according to the Associated Press. While transparency and public awareness have never really been North Korea’s thing, the country is making an effort to heighten awareness of Ebola and its symptoms. “Television news on Wednesday evening showed a video of Ebola patients and explained the dangers of the disease,” according to the AP.

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