US Rejects Offer of Free Flu Shots for Detained Immigrants

As the flu season reaches its peak in December and January, the Trump administration has again rejected an offer by an American physicians group of free flu vaccinations for detained undocumented immigrants.

Physicians from Doctors for Camp Closure sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offering a flu shot pilot program to detainees at a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility at no cost to the federal government.

The CBP said this is not a new policy, that it has never been the agency’s practice to administer vaccines to migrants.

On Friday, the physicians group reaffirmed its commitment to vaccinate migrants.

“We have the vaccinations and are ready to deliver them as soon as we receive permission, but have not been granted access by CBP or DHS,” said Marie DeLuca, an emergency physician from New York City who helped co-found Doctors for Camp Closure.

“Individuals in CBP custody should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in either CBP hold rooms or holding facilities,” CBP spokesman Matthew Dyman wrote to VOA in an email. “Every effort is made to hold detainees for the least amount of time required for their processing, transfer, release or repatriation as appropriate and operationally feasible.”

Children in detention
FILE – Central American migrants wait for food in a pen erected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to process a surge of migrant families and unaccompanied minors in El Paso, Texas, March 27, 2019..

At least 3 flu deaths

During last year’s flu season, at least three children died of the flu while in CBP custody, according to reports.

But Dyman said that because CBP is a law enforcement agency and because of the short amount of time migrants are held and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible.

Both the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Health and Human Services “have comprehensive medical support services and can provide vaccinations as appropriate to those in their custody,” he said.

The physicians organization, which has 2,000 physician members, was formed a few months ago. The group had outlined a plan to vaccinate about 100 migrants in a San Diego, California, facility, and then expand and vaccinate more migrants.

A lot can happen in 72 hours

Commenting on CBP’s 72-hour hold statement, Danielle Deines, a pediatrician in Virginia and member of the group, said a lot can happen in 72 hours for someone with the flu.

“You can have a number of migrants exposed in that amount of time. … People who are going to come into this really crowded situation are already vulnerable from a health standpoint because their bodies are stressed based on the travel and things that they’ve had to do just to get [to the border]. And then you’re placing them in a place where there’s limited access to anything to maintain hygiene, so it’s a kind of a great setup for getting the flu,” Deines said.

She said the flu vaccine cuts the risk of hospitalization, intensive care admission, and death.

“There’s multiple reasons why this is important. And I think the biggest one is that they’re not following their own protocols as far as how long they’re putting people [in detention] and how they’re handling in keeping people healthy,” she said.

CBP has not been able to limit time in its custody to 72 hours, spokesman Dyman said.

“However, that is still the goal and the agency, working with partners, is still doing everything it can to move people out of temporary CBP holding facilities,” he said.

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2018 photo, migrant teens walk in a line through the Tornillo detention camp in Tornillo, Texas. The Trump administration says it will keep the tent city holding more than 2,000 migrant teenagers open through early 2019.
FILE – Migrant teens walk in a line through the Tornillo detention camp in Tornillo, Texas, Dec. 13, 2018. The Trump administration says it will keep the tent city holding more than 2,000 migrant teenagers open through early 2019.

Teen died of flu

During the 2018-2019 flu season, at least three children died of the flu while in CBP custody, according to reports.

One of those people was Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez, a 16-year-old boy. In a video, shot earlier this year and published Thursday by ProPublica, Vásquez is visibly disoriented and motionless after he collapsed in his concrete cell around 1:36 a.m. The migrant Guatemalan boy died May 20.

Though border officials said the boy was found “unresponsive this morning during a welfare check,” the video ProPublica published shows another migrant boy, who shared the cell with Vásquez, was the one to discover Vásquez four hours later in the same position and unresponsive.

Vásquez was detained in the Border Patrol station in south Texas. An autopsy revealed he died of the flu and other complications.

A CBP spokesperson told VOA the investigation into his death is ongoing.

Flu activity elevated

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website shows that seasonal influenza activity in the United States has been “elevated for four weeks and continues to increase.” CDC recommends that everyone 6 months old and older get a flu vaccine each season.

Though CBP has more than 250 medical personnel along the U.S. Mexico border, which includes a mix of nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, Deines, of Doctors for Camp Closure, said they are not qualified to diagnose patients.

Doctors for Camp Closure co-founder DeLuca said Vásquez’s death was preventable, adding that childhood death from influenza is rare in the U.S. because of preventative measures such as flu vaccines, and because of the medical care received by children in offices and hospitals across the country.

“To see a child suffering as [Vásquez] did in that video is horrifying and inhumane. His death was preventable. … The video also makes it clear that detention is unsafe and can have deadly consequences,” DeLuca said.

PG&E Reaches $13.5 Billion Wildfire Settlement

Pacific Gas and Electric says it has reached a $13.5 billion settlement that will resolve all major claims related to devastating wildfires blamed on its outdated equipment and negligence.

The settlement, which the utility says was reached Friday, still requires court approval. PG&E says it is a key step in leading it out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The settlement is to resolve all claims arising from the 2017 Northern California wildfires and 2018 Camp Fire, as well as all claims from the 2015 Butte Fire and 2016 Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) CEO Bill Johnson listens to speakers during a California Public Utilities Commission…
FILE – Pacific Gas and Electric CEO Bill Johnson listens to speakers during a California Public Utilities Commission meeting in San Francisco, Oct. 18, 2019.

“From the beginning of the Chapter 11 process, getting wildfire victims fairly compensated, especially the individuals, has been our primary goal,” Bill Johnson, PG&E Corporation’s CEO and president, said in a statement. “We want to help our customers, our neighbors and our friends in those impacted areas recover and rebuild after these tragic wildfires.”

The settlement is still subject to a number of conditions involving PG&E’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plans, which must be completed by June 30, 2020.

Friday’s settlement figure responds to pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom to give wildfire victims more than it originally offered, but it still relies on the bankruptcy judge’s approval as part of the proceedings. A February hearing at which an official estimation of losses will be made still looms for the utility and could upend any settlement deals.

“We appreciate all the hard work by many stakeholders that went into reaching this agreement,” Johnson said. “With this important milestone now accomplished, we are focused on emerging from Chapter 11 as the utility of the future that our customers and communities expect and deserve.”

PG&E said the proposed settlement is the third it has reached as it works through its Chapter 11 case. The utility previously reached a $1 billion settlement with cities, counties and other public utilities and an $11 billion agreement with insurance companies and other entities that have paid claims relating to the 2017 and 2018 fires.

Afghans Mourn Slain Japanese Doctor Known as Uncle Murad

He came to Afghanistan as Dr. Tetsu Nakamura in the 1980s to help treat leprosy patients in Afghanistan and refugee camps in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. His body is leaving Afghanistan as “Kaka Murad” or Uncle Murad, revered by millions of people across the country who feel indebted to his three decades of humanitarian work in the war-torn country.

Dr. Tetsu Nakamura speaks at a meeting about Afghanistan’s drought in Fukuoka, Japan, Nov. 16, 2018. (Kyodo/via Reuters)

On Wednesday, Nakamura was on his way to work with five members of his aid organization, Peace Japan Medical Services, when his car came under attack by unidentified gunmen in Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province.

He and his staff were shot and killed, with Nakamura dying of his wounds on the way to Bagram Airfield, a U.S. military base in northern Afghanistan, local Afghan officials said.

Life’s work in Afghanistan

Nakamura, 73, had dedicated most of his adult life to working in Afghanistan, trying to save lives at times as a physician and at times as a mason, building water canals for people affected by drought.

“You’d hear a child screaming in the waiting room, but by the time you got there, they’d be dead,” Nakamura told NHK TV, Japan’s national broadcasting organization, in October.

“That happened almost every day. They were so malnourished that things like diarrhea could kill them. … My thinking was that if those patients had clean water and enough to eat, they would have survived,” he added.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (R) and Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura pose for a photo, in this undated picture, in Kabul…
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, right, and Japanese Dr. Tetsu Nakamura pose in this undated photo in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Japanese Afghan citizen

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani bestowed upon Nakamura an honorary Afghan citizenship in October, and earlier this year residents of Nangarhar province campaigned on social media for him to become the mayor of Jalalabad city.

“This morning a terror attack against the reconstruction hero of Afghanistan, Japanese Afghan Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, resulted in his injury. His deep wounds unfortunately led to his death,” Ghani tweeted in Pashto earlier this week.

Ghani offered “our deepest condolences” to Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan Mitsuji Suzuka, as well as to the families of the Afghans who were killed in the attack.

On Friday, Ghani met with Nakamura’s family in Kabul, the presidential office said.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani meets with family of Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura, in Kabul, Afghanistan December 6,…
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani meets with family of Japanese Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 6, 2019, in the Afghan Presidential Palace.


#SorryJapan has been trending on Afghan social media networks with officials, activists and Afghan citizens expressing sorrow over Nakamura’s death and apologizing to Japan for not being able to protect him.

“#Nakamura I can’t stop my tears. My heart cries for you, my heart aches so much. I can’t forget you, you were the true servant of this land,” Basir Atiqzai wrote on twitter.

Bilal Sarwary, a former BBC reporter in Afghanistan, said Nakamura had great affection for the people of Afghanistan.

Sarwary tweeted he remembered “the joy and jubilation” on Nakamura’s face “after inaugurating the water canal. His friendly hugs with Gul Agha Shiraz and his laughter of joy shows his deep love for Afghanistan.”

Amrullah Saleh, the former chief of Afghan intelligence and Ghani’s running mate in September’s presidential elections, said the crime against Nakamura would not go unpunished.

Nakamura has become “a hero of compassion for all Afghans. He was an uncle for east Afg before. There is no way his murder will remain a mystery for ever. No way. He is too big to be cremated or buried. This high profile crime won’t go unpunished. We promise,” Saleh wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Afghan men light candles for Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura, who was killed in Jalalabad in yesterday's attack, in Kabul,…
Afghan men light candles for Japanese Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, who was killed in Jalalabad in a terrorist attack, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 5, 2019.


Candlelight vigils have been held in several provinces in Afghanistan. Locals named a roundabout after Nakamura in Eastern Khost province with Kam Air, a local Afghan airline, putting Nakamura’s portrait on an Airbus 340 to pay tribute to the slain aid worker.

WATCH: Afghan Activists Hold Vigil in Honor of Slain Japanese Doctor

Afghan Activists Hold Vigil in Honor of Slain Japanese Doctor video player.

Afghans living in the Washington, D.C., area are planning a candlelight vigil Saturday.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack against the group. The Taliban denied responsibility for it, but Afghan officials and civil society activists have blamed the insurgent group for it.

On Friday, a group of activists held a protest in Kabul in front of Pakistan’s Embassy to condemn the terror attack and criticize Pakistan’s alleged support for the Afghan militants.

Pakistan has not immediately reacted to the protest.

“Afghans will never forget his services for this country,” Rahimullah Samandar, a civil society activist, told Reuters. “The whole nation will love him and keep him in their memories.”

Afghan National Army soldiers put flag of Afghanistan on the coffin of Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura, at a Hospital in Kabul,…
Afghan National Army soldiers drape the flag of Afghanistan on the coffin of Japanese Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 6, 2019.

‘I couldn’t ignore Afghans’

Nakamura was born in western Japan. He was a physician by profession and left his country in 1984 to work at a clinic in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. He treated Afghan refugees displaced by war and suffering from leprosy.

He eventually opened a clinic in Afghanistan in 1991. He found the health problems in Afghanistan overwhelming for his clinic and instead found another way to combat them: irrigation canals.

In 2003, borrowing tactics from Japan’s irrigation systems, he swapped his doctor’s tools for construction gear. He began building an irrigation canal to help address the drought issue in eastern Afghanistan. He and local residents spent six years completing the construction of a canal that has reportedly changed the lives of nearly a million people.

“As a doctor, nothing is better than healing patients and sending them home,” and providing water to drought-stricken areas did the same for rural Afghanistan, Nakamura told NHK TV.

“A hospital treats patients one by one, but this helps an entire village. … I love seeing a village that’s been brought back to life,” he added.

Since the construction of the irrigation canal, more than 16,000 hectares (about 40,000 acres) of desert has been reportedly brought back to life.

Nakamura was fluent in both Dari and Pashto, the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan.

“I couldn’t ignore the Afghans,” Nakamura told NHK TV.

VOA’s Mehdi Jedinia and Rikar Hussein contributed to this story from Washington. Some of the materials used in this story came from Reuters.

Did Italian Priest Father 2 African Sons, And Walk Away?

Steven Lacchin grew up a fatherless boy, but he knew some very basic facts about the man who was his father.
He knew Lacchin, the name on his Kenyan birth certificate, was his dad’s name. He knew that Mario Lacchin abandoned him and his mother.
When he was older, he learned that his father was an Italian missionary priest – and that in leaving, he had chosen the church over his child.
What he did not know is that less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) away, another man was on a quest to prove that Mario Lacchin was his father, too.
These two men would find each other thanks to an Associated Press story that appeared on the front page of Kenya’s main newspaper. All agreed that they bore a marked resemblance, but they underwent genetic testing to be certain.
Were they indeed half-brothers, sons of the same Father?
The Vatican only publicly admitted this year that it had a problem: Priests were fathering children. And it only acknowledged the problem by revealing that it had crafted internal guidelines to deal with it.
“I don’t know how many children of priests there are in the world, but I know that they are all over the planet,” said Anne-Marie Jarzac, who heads the French group Enfants du Silence (Children of Silence), which recently opened negotiations with French bishops to access church archives so these children of priests can learn their true identities.
Just as clergy sex abuse victims have long suffered the indifference of the Catholic hierarchy, many of these children of priests endure rejection multiple times over: abandoned by their fathers, deprived of their identities and ignored by church superiors when they seek answers or help.
Steven Lacchin’s lineage was no secret. Members of Mario Lacchin’s order were well aware of it and exerted pressure on him to choose the church over his young family, according to his letters.
His mother, Madeleine, kept a decade worth of correspondence with the priest, as well as meticulous records of her efforts to seek child support from the Consolata leadership and regional bishops after Steven was born June 21, 1980. (Steven Lacchin asked that his mother be identified only by her first name.)
The two had met two years earlier in Nanyuki, about 200 kilometers north of Nairobi, where Madeleine was a school teacher at an all-girls school and Lacchin would celebrate Mass. Madeleine would later tell the Consolata regional superior that she first went to Lacchin with “a spiritual problem,” but that they then eased into a “friendly pastor-parishioner” relationship that grew into love.
On July 28, 1979, Mario Lacchin wrote a birthday card to Madeleine in his neat cursive, promising to spend more time with her and her young daughter from a previous relationship, Josephine, despite the risks their union posed.
“I do really love you with all my heart and body,” he wrote. “You are the only one who is giving me, not only physical satisfaction, but a lot more. You are telling me and teaching me how beautiful it is to love and be together no matter the sacrifices we have to make for it.”
Soon after, Madeleine became pregnant. A few months before Steven was born, Lacchin wrote from Rome about meetings he held with the Consolata leadership at the order’s headquarters about his impending fatherhood.
“I had a little trouble in Rome with my superiors,” he wrote Madeleine on March 4, 1980. “It is my impression that nobody is going to help me in the way I would like to go,” he wrote, adding: “How is the baby?”
By the end of 1981, with Steven Lacchin a year old, the priest seemed determined to end his “double life” and devote himself to his family.
“I took a courage to meet with my provincial superior about you, about Steven, about my readiness to leave the priesthood,” he wrote. “I want you, and I will fight until I will be with you, Steven and Josephine forever.”
But in that same letter, Lacchin told Madeleine that his superior wasn’t at all on board with the plan. “He told me that he wants to save my priesthood, but I told him that I will never be able to continue in such a life knowing I had a child belong to me,” he wrote.
Lacchin never left the Consolatas. His letters over the following years speak of his order’s “pressure” to remain a priest, as well as his own feelings of “failure” and his apologies for having promised Madeleine “a future which will never come.”
While the Vatican was loath in those years to let a priest abandon his vocation, the Consolata’s deputy superior, the Rev. James Lengarin, insists that if a priest formally requested to be released from his vows because he had fathered a child, he would have been allowed to go.
By 1985, Madeleine was increasingly unable to care for the children. She was ill, and shunned by her devout Catholic family because of her liaison with Lacchin.
Lacchin, then stationed in Uganda, had left 1.7 million Ugandan shillings for her in the Ugandan diocese of Tororo that year (the equivalent at the time of $2,500), but in the midst of a civil war, Madeleine couldn’t access the money. Due to the upheaval, the money lost nearly all its value.
Two years later, Madeleine wrote to Lacchin’s superiors seeking financial and bureaucratic help as she increasingly feared for Steven’s future. Who would pay for his education? And the child couldn’t get Kenyan citizenship because his father wasn’t Kenyan; Steven Lacchin’s birth certificate and other identity papers all bore Mario Lacchin’s name.
The Consolata’s then-regional superior, the Rev. Mario Barbero, replied that he understood Lacchin had left money for Steven’s care in Uganda.
“With this I think that Mario has given some contribution towards meeting the expenses for Steven’s upbringing, though I know that money is not enough to heal psychological wounds and frustrations you had to go through,” Barbero wrote.
A year later, Madeleine took her case directly to Lacchin.
“Even as I write, I find it difficult to believe that you, Mario, could turn me into the helpless beggar I am,” she wrote on Jan. 5, 1988.
“I accepted your decision regarding me, and yet I cannot accept your hiding behind the priesthood to refuse to help a child you helped bring into the world,” she wrote. “I do not know what you think he will think of you and of your priesthood and other priests when he grows up and learns how you treated him.”
By then, Mario Lacchin had been transferred north and was working at the Consolata mission in Archer’s Post, a onetime trading station in the Northern Rift Valley. There, he met Sabina Losirkale, a young girl in her final year at Gir Gir Primary School who cleaned the Consolata priests’ quarters after classes.
Impregnated at 16, before the age of legal consent in Kenya, she would give birth to a boy, Gerald Erebon, on March 12, 1989. He was pale complexioned, unlike his black mother or siblings or the black man he was told was his father.
When Sabina became pregnant, the Consolatas transferred Lacchin out of Archer’s Post, and he vanished from her life.
Shortly before her death in 2012, family members say, Sabina told them Lacchin was Gerald’s father. The priest has denied it, and refused to take a paternity test. The order acknowledged nothing.
The AP told Gerald Erebon’s story in October. That article led Steven Lacchin to reach out to Erebon on Facebook.
“I saw your story and I feel for you,” he wrote. “I am letting you know, you are not alone.”
Intrigued, but skeptical, Erebon responded. What did the writer want to share?
“He is my dad too,” Lacchin replied.
A few days later, the two met in Nairobi. It turns out they are practically neighbors, living in adjacent neighborhoods along Nairobi’s main Magadi Road. They marveled at how much they looked alike: two bi-racial men born to black African mothers, soft-spoken and pensive, though Erebon towers over Steven.
Awkwardly, they hugged for the first time and looked over the documentation Steven had brought along detailing the years-long relationship between Lacchin and his mother and her efforts to hold him responsible for Steven’s upkeep.
They shared the stories of their lives. Like Erebon, Steven Lacchin was brought up in the church and attended seminary for a time. Steven said he was kicked out once his bishop discovered that his father was a Catholic priest. Eventually he was able to put himself through law school, and now is married with three children.
“I wouldn’t need a DNA to tell these two are brothers,” said Lacchin’s wife, Ruth. “If you look at Mario, you look at Steven, you look at Gerald, it’s one person. It’s one tree. They are brothers!”
Still, they needed to know. The AP arranged for DNA tests.
Two weeks later, the results were in: The findings were “entirely consistent with a direct male-line biological relationship,” the lab said.
In other words, the men are almost certainly half-brothers, said Darren Griffin, a geneticist at the University of Kent who reviewed the lab results for AP.
“The only thing I can say is welcome to the family!” Lacchin told Erebon, shaking his hand.
“This is eternal,” Lacchin said. “We can’t run away from this. We may go our separate ways, but one thing, you know you have a brother out there.”
Erebon said he had thought he was alone, and having “a relative, a family, someone you can call your own, makes it a bit easier for me now.”
Mario Lacchin, who has taken a leave from his parish work in Nairobi to see his Italian relatives, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Lengarin, the deputy Consolata superior, said he searched the order’s Nairobi archives in 2018 after Erebon came forward and turned up no information about Erebon or Steven Lacchin. But he acknowledged that he only looked into the two years surrounding Erebon’s 1989 birth, and that the order doesn’t keep complete personnel files.
He said AP’s inquiry about Steven Lacchin was the first the order in Rome and Nairobi had heard about a possible second son of Mario Lacchin.
But Steven’s mother was in touch with the Consolata superiors in the 1980s. Steven sent letters to Consolata officials in Nairobi in 2010 and 2014, seeking financial assistance (he wanted to buy land to build a home for his family) along with help sorting out his citizenship status.
Getting no response, starting in 2016 he made the same requests of Mario Lacchin’s bishop, Virgilio Pante, like Mario Lacchin, an Italian member of the Consolata order.
Pante responded with an Oct. 14, 2017, text: “You look for something big. My diocese of Maralal now financially is suffering. True. Can I send you now a Christmas gift 25,000?” (In Kenyan shillings, the equivalent of around $250.)
Steven still wants the church’s help in ironing out his Kenyan and Italian citizenship issues; Erebon wants Mario Lacchin to acknowledge his paternity, so the heritage of his own two children can be recognized and they can obtain Italian citizenship.
“It started very long time ago and our father has to do the right thing, at least once,” Erebon said. “He needs to make it right. And the church should not continue with the cover-up. They should just make this right.”

Kenya Arrests Gold-loving Nairobi Governor on Suspicion of Corruption

Kenyan police arrested the Nairobi County governor, known for his chunky gold jewelry and impromptu raps, Friday on corruption charges, a high profile move in the government’s much trumpeted anti-graft push.

Chief public prosecutor Noordin Haji told a news conference that Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko and his associates were accused of conspiracy to commit corruption, failure to comply with laws related to procurement, unlawful acquisition of public property and laundering the proceeds of crime.

Sonko and his assistants did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Citizens and international investors have long complained of corruption in Kenya, East Africa’s business hub and richest economy.

President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Haji, a former deputy head of national intelligence, last year after years of taking little action to rein in widespread graft.

Kenya's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji speaks during a Reuters interview at his office in Nairobi, Kenya…
FILE- Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji speaks during a Reuters interview at his office in Nairobi, Kenya. July 23, 2019.

On Friday, Haji accused Sonko, who runs the Kenyan capital as Nairobi’s most senior regional politician, of “deploying intimidation tactics and using goons to threaten law enforcement officials” investigating the case.

Police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of Sonko’s supporters when he was called into the anti-corruption office for questioning in November.

Flamboyant Sonko

Sonko, a former senator, was elected in 2017 after years of news splashes featuring his flamboyant lifestyle and flashy fashion, complete with ubiquitous chunky gold jewelry and eye-catching hairstyles.

After Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto faced charges of crimes against humanity following the disputed 2007 elections and subsequent violence, Sonko showed up to the proceedings at the Hague-based International Criminal Court with “Uhuruto Not Guilty” dyed into his hair.

He was recently photographed using a gold-plated iPad and matching iPhone and has appeared in rap videos gyrating in public offices wearing gold-colored trainers while insulting political opponents.

Gold-plated taste

He invited a storm of public criticism this month after he shared photos online of his dining room, featuring a gold-plated lion statue, and a gold-tinted dining table and chairs.

He has recruited hundreds of people into his “Sonko Rescue Team” who sweep out streets or appear at fires wearing “Sonko” branded red boiler suits in Nairobi’s poorest neighborhoods.

On Thursday, Sonko received an award sponsored by the Kenya Red Cross and United Nations Volunteers for encouraging volunteering.

Sonko has been photographed handing out cash for things like hospital bills, but Nairobi has seen little improvement in public services under his watch.

Nairobi’s public schools and clinics are crumbling, roads are potholed and hundreds of thousands of people live in slums without access to electricity, sewage or services.

Border Crossings: Kevin Griffin

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Andrew Griffin formed the alternative rock band “Better Than Ezra in 1988.” As a songwriter, Griffin stands out as a five-time BMI Pop Award winner and ARIAA Award-winner with multiple number ones, including Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue” and Howie Day’s “Collide.” In October, he released his first solo album, “Anywhere You Go.”

Will Boris Johnson Slay the ‘Beast of Bolsover?’

BOLSOVER, ENGLAND — Dennis Skinner is a no-nonsense, unchanging socialist and the only British MP ever to heckle the Queen’s Speech Ceremony, when Britain’s lawmakers process from the Commons annually to the House of Lords to hear the monarch’s address outlining the government’s legislative program.

Nicknamed the “Beast of Bolsover,” a reference to the Derbyshire constituency he has represented since 1970, the 87-year-old Skinner has traditionally occupied the seat of the front bench below the gangway in the Commons, where invariably wearing a tweed jacket and red tie, he has harangued those he deems “class enemies,” earning himself a dozen cooling off’ suspensions for what was deemed “unparliamentary language.”

The son of a coal miner — his father was sacked after the historic coal strike of 1926 — and a former miner himself, his first brush with the Speaker of the House of Commons was in 1984 when he dubbed the leader of a group of Labour defectors a “pompous sod” and was ordered out of the chamber when he agreed to withdraw only the word “pompous.” In 1992, he incurred another suspension for describing the then Conservative agriculture minister as “a little squirt” and “a slimy wart on Margaret Thatcher’s nose.”

Skinner’s working-class constituents, many of them former coal-miners or the sons and daughters of miners, have been relentlessly behind their pugnacious tribune with the snappy bark, and they have been loyal to the Labour Party. The closure of local collieries by Conservative governments in the 1980s and 1990s only deepened Bolsover’s allegiance to Labour and to their MP, who took a pay cut himself in support of the miners during a ferocious 1984-85 miners’ strike.

But the times are changing and the country’s oldest serving MP may became next week a casualty of electoral war thanks to the scrambling of British politics by Brexit and a makeover of the Labour Party, which has become more focused on metropolitan issues pushed by progressive urban recruits, irritating older and more socially conservative traditional Labour voters.

FILE - Labour party MP Dennis Skinner listens to a speech at a Labour party conference in Liverpool, England, Sept. 25, 2018.
FILE – Labour party MP Dennis Skinner listens to a speech at a Labour party conference in Liverpool, England, Sept. 25, 2018.

Britain’s ruling Conservatives hope Boris Johnson can pull off what his predecessor at 10 Downing Street, Theresa May, failed to do in a snap election 18 months ago. Their hope is that Johnson will breach the Labour Party’s so-called northern red wall,’ once thought to be impregnable, by persuading anti-European Union northern working-class voters to defect to the class-enemy Conservatives to “deliver Brexit.”

Skinner’s constituency is one brick in that wall and on the streets of Bolsover in the north east of the county of Derbyshire amid rolling hills, the talk is the December 12 general election may mark the end of the long-serving lawmaker’s political career. Locals say while they still admire their local MP, who’s been unable to campaign personally because of recent hip-replacement surgery, Brexit is driving them away from a Labour Party, which wants to hold a second Brexit referendum, if it wins power.

Bolsover voted 70 percent to Leave the EU in the 2016 referendum and because of that high proportion of pro-Brexit voters, the seat is a key target for the Conservatives. On a cold, breezy day when VOA visited the town center, which has the feel of left-behind desperation about it with boarded-up shops, shuttered pubs, neglected terrace houses and shabby cheap takeaways, it wasn’t difficult to find locals planning to switch their votes to either the Conservatives or the newly-minted Brexit Party of Nigel Farage.

One former miner, Dave Michaels, a stocky 65-year-old wearing a flat cap, said, “I’ve been Labour all my life, as was my father, and I don’t like Johnson, don’t trust the man, but I think he’ll get us out of the EU and stop all the dithering.” He voiced annoyance at the influx of eastern European migrants to staff new warehouses and online retail distribution centers. Locals complain migration has altered the social cohesion of this corner of Derbyshire and strained already under-resourced public services.

Others expressed similar sentiments, suggesting that Skinner’s 5,000 majority may well collapse next week, adding to a possible seismic change in British politics that could see Labour and the Liberal Democrats snatch traditional Conservative seats in the pro-EU south of England and the commuter belt around London, but lose heartland seats of their own in the north, midlands and southwest of the country.

Britain's Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Boris Johnson's rival in the country's upcoming election Jeremy Corbyn takes pictures with people outside the University of London, in London, Britain, Dec. 3, 2019.
Britain’s Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s rival in the country’s upcoming election Jeremy Corbyn takes pictures with people outside the University of London, in London, Britain, Dec. 3, 2019.

The Conservatives’ assault on the “red wall” will make or break Johnson’s dream of securing a parliamentary majority and dictate whether Britain leaves the European Union or not.

Daphne, a 52-year-old, who’d just finished shopping in a butcher’s shop, said she’ll be voting for Skinner’s Conservative rival Mark Fletcher. The mother of two grown up daughters, Lewis says she remains grateful to Skinner for all he’s done in the past, but he is “long in the tooth” and it is time for a change. “The Conservatives seem to have a goal,” she says.

The 34-year-old Fletcher, the grandson himself of a miner who was educated at state schools before heading to Cambridge University, says locals “want to get Brexit done and the Labour party has lost its way.” He’s convinced he can win Bolsover and that the Brexit Party won’t deny him victory by splitting the Leave vote. He is buoyed by a seat-by-seat opinion survey last week produced by the YouGov polling agency that predicted he will win the seat on December 12 with 42 percent of the vote, with Labour trailing 38 percent and the Brexit Party picking up 12 percent.

But the remaining days will be crucial before voting — in Bolsover, as well as in 49 other Labour seats in Wales, the midlands and northern England targeted by the Conservatives. At the last general election there were hints the ‘red wall’ isn’t as strong as Labour strategists suppose — two of Bolsover’s neighboring constituencies, North East Derbyshire and Mansfield, defected to the Conservative camp.

The Labour activists are hitting the doorsteps hard in the northern constituencies, though, trawling residual party support. And while the Conservatives are doing well when it comes to the issue of Brexit, they are on the back foot when it comes to public-service issues, and especially in regards to the under-staffed and under-funded National Health Service.

But Brexit isn’t Labour’s only problem in the north in what commentators describe as a “hold-your-nose election.” Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, seen widely as the most far-left leader the party has ever had, are vying in the unpopularity stakes, and according to opinion polls neither are trusted by voters. Johnson is the most disliked new prime minister in the modern history of opinion polling, while Corbyn is the most disliked leader of the opposition.

General election victory or defeat may come down to who is disliked the most.


New Biogen Data Showed no Major Safety Issues for its Alzheimer’s Drug

Biogen Inc on Thursday presented new data on its experimental Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab that eased concerns raised by some experts but still left many questions unanswered as the company made its case about why it plans to seek U.S. approval after declaring the drug a failure in March.

Experts had been watching closely for any statistical abnormalities or excess safety issues that would affect how the drug is reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), likely in the second half of 2020.

It has been at least 15 years since the FDA has reviewed an application for a new Alzheimer’s treatment, and an agent that can slow progression of the mind-wasting disease is desperately needed.

Alzheimer’s experts on a panel organized by the company, who had seen the data previously, expressed confidence that the complicated study did show that the drug was able to slow progression of the disease.

“All of the data suggests this is a disease modification. That means the impact of the treatment will continue to accrue with time,” said Dr. Paul Aisen, an Alzheimer’s expert from the University of Southern California.

Dr. Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s expert from Mayo Clinic who moderated the panel and has been a paid adviser for Biogen, said while one of the two studies, known as Emerge, was “overwhelmingly positive,” the twin study known as Engage, was not. “Overall, I think it’s more positive than negative,” he said of the results.

Petersen was not too worried about the rates of a brain swelling side effect, known as ARIA-E, which occurred in 33-35 percent of patients in the high-dose groups.

“The side effects are there. They’re not zero. They’re to be expected. But I think they’re manageable.”

Others, however, acknowledged that the affected sample size was small and the trials were cut short early. Only one of the two phase 3 trials showed a statistically significant benefit.

“This reinforces what I thought before. That we need a third study. The data are encouraging, but there are still questions about whether the drug has a clinical effect,” said Dr. Howard Fillit, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, who was at the meeting.

Fillit said the company only measured one timepoint – 78 weeks after treatment. “It still remains to be seen if this effect is sustained. It could be an anomaly.”

Dr. Eric Siemers, a former Alzheimer’s researcher for Eli Lilly and a consultant on drugs for neurodegenerative disease who was not involved with the study, said based on his read of the data, the patient responses are not happening by chance.

“The regulators will have a very difficult job. Do you look at the totality of the data, or require more study, which would be years away,” he said.

Stifel analyst Paul Matteis said in a note to clients that he saw aspects that were both “incrementally better and worse than expected,” and puts the probability of the drug winning approval at less than 50%.

Biogen’s shares had been halted prior to the presentation at a Alzheimer’s meeting, reopened lower, and then rose as investors tried to parse the meeting from the complicated study.

Biogen has partnered with Japan’s Eisai Co Ltd to develop aducanumab as well as BAN2401, which works in a similar way.

Sailor Who Killed 2 and Himself at Pearl Harbor Identified

A Navy sailor shot three civilians, killing two of them, before taking his own life at Pearl Harbor just days before thousands were scheduled to gather at the storied military base to mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese bombing that launched the U.S. into World War II.

Rear Adm. Robert Chadwick, the commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said the service would evaluate whether security should be upgraded before the annual ceremony. About a dozen survivors of the 1941 bombing were expected to attend, along with dignitaries and service members.

The shooter was identified Thursday as 22-year-old G. Romero, according to a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details that had not been made public.

Chadwick said he didn’t know the motive behind Wednesday’s shooting at the naval shipyard within the base. The third victim was hospitalized.

It wasn’t known if the sailor and the three male civilians had any type of relationship, or what the motive was for the shooting, Chadwick said.

“We have no indication yet whether they were targeted or if it was a random shooting,” Chadwick said.

The sailor was assigned to the fast attack submarine USS Columbia, which is at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for maintenance. 

He was identified as a 22-year-old enlisted sailor, according to a military official speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details that hadn’t been made public

It wasn’t immediately known what type of weapon was used or how many shots were fired. Chadwick said that was part of the investigation. Personal weapons are not allowed on base.

Names of the victims will not be released until next of kin have been notified.

“Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and everyone involved. I can say that we are mobilizing support services for naval shipyard personnel as well as everyone else who may be affected by this tragic event,” Chadwick said.

The base went into lockdown at about 2:30 p.m. when the first active shooter reports were received. The base reopened a few hours later. Witnesses were still being interviewed hours after the shooting.

The shipyard repairs, maintains and modernizes the ships and submarines of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which is headquartered at Pearl Harbor. The base is the home port for 10 destroyers and 15 submarines. It also hosts Air Force units.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said the White House has offered assistance from federal agencies and that the state is also ready to help if needed.

“I join in solidarity with the people of Hawaii as we express our heartbreak over this tragedy and concern for those affected by the shooting,” Ige said in a statement.

Mass shootings and gun violence are rare in Hawaii. In 1999, a Xerox service technician fatally shot seven coworkers. In 2006, a man fatally shot his taxi driver and a couple taking photos of the city lights from a lookout point in the hills above Honolulu.

Hawaii had the lowest gun death rate among the states in 2017, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The islands have strict firearms laws, including a ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.

The shipyard is across the harbor from the wreckage of USS Arizona, which sank in the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack. It’s also across from the visitors center, which will host Saturday’s ceremony. More than 2,300 Americans were killed in the bombing.

The shipyard has played a key role in naval history, most notably during World War II. Shipyard workers were given just days to repair the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier severely damaged during the Battle of the Coral Seat in 1942, because the Navy needed to quickly send the ship to Midway to meet Japanese forces there.

Some 1,400 shipyard workers labored around the clock for almost 72 hours to patch the carrier together. The planes the Yorktown delivered to Midway sank one of the four aircraft carriers Japan sent to the battle and helped destroy two others. The Battle of Midway turned the tide of the war in the United States’ favor.

Sundance Sets One of its Most Diverse Lineups

A documentary on Taylor Swift will kick off the next Sundance Film Festival, where new films including the Will Ferrell-Julia Louis Dreyfus remake of the Swedish film “Force Majeure” and Benh Zeitlin’s long-awaited follow-up to “Beasts of the Southern Wild” are set to premiere.

Programmers for the preeminent showcase for independent cinema, founded by Robert Redford and set annually in the mountains of Park City, Utah, announced the lion’s share of the lineup for its 2020 edition Wednesday. The lineup of 118 feature-length films, culled from a record 15,100 submissions, come from 27 countries, includes 44 first-time filmmakers and is among the most diverse in the festival’s 37-year history. In the four competition categories, 46% of the directors are women, 38% are people of color and 12% are LGBTQ.

Streaming services

The coming Sundance, set for Jan. 23-Feb. 2, follows a 2019 festival that saw deep-pocketed streaming services set off an avalanche of high-priced acquisitions, some of which notably fizzled at the box office. Amazon paid large sums for “Late Night” and “The Report” but neither made much of a dent in theaters; Amazon is now shrinking its exclusive theatrical window for some releases. Warner Bros. paid $15 million for the Bruce Springsteen-infused coming-of-age tale “Blinded by the Light,” but it failed to catch on.

The biggest hit to emerge from last year’s crop was Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” which has grossed $17.7 million for A24. It’s been one of the bright spots in a trying marketplace this year for indie film. Still, Sundance, where movies like “Get Out,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Big Sick” first debuted, remains the premier factory for breakout hits. Lately, that’s increasingly meant documentaries, too, including “RBG,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and, from this year’s Sundance, “Apollo 11.”

FILE - This Nov. 24, 2019 file photo shows Taylor Swift performing at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. A documentary…
FILE – Taylor Swift performs at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles, Nov. 24, 2019. A documentary on Swift will kickoff the next Sundance Film Festival.

Taylor Swift documentary

Sure to add extra frenzy this year is Lana Wilson’s “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana,” which the festival describes as “a raw and emotionally revealing look at one of the most iconic artists of our time during a transformational period in her life.”

Netflix has acquired the film and plans to release it in early 2020. It is also set to distribute seven more, including new films from “Mudbound” filmmaker Dee Rees and the fictional debut of “What Happened, Miss Simone” director Liz Garbus, an early sign that Netflix will play a prominent role in this year’s Sundance.

Apple, too, has gotten in on the act, a year after making its first acquisition at Sundance (“Hala”). On Monday, it picked up a high-profile documentary headed to Park City: Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick’s untitled film about a former music executive grappling with the decision to go public with a story of sexual assault by a notable figure in the music industry. Oprah Winfrey is an executive producer.

“This year’s festival is full of films that showcase myriad ways for stories to drive change, across hearts, minds and societies,” Redford, president and founder of the Sundance Institute, said in a statement.

Premieres section

Among the films debuting in Sundance’s Premieres section is Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s “Downhill,” the English-language remake of Ruben Ostlund’s “Force Majeure,” starring Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell as a couple whose relationship is altered after they escape an avalanche.

Zeitlin will unveil “Wendy,” a “Peter Pan”-inspired adventure shot in the West Indies. It’s his first movie since his Oscar-nominated debut, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a sensation at 2012’s Sundance.

Also on tap for are Rees’ Joan Didion adaptation “The Last Thing He Wanted,” with Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck; Michael Almereyda’s Nikola Tesla biopic “Tesla,” starring Ethan Hawke as the engineer-inventor; Florian Zeller’s “The Father,” with Anthony Hopkins as an aged man who moves to Paris, co-starring Olivia Colman; and Garbus’ debut “Lost Girls,” a missing-child drama with Amy Ryan and Thomasin McKenzie.

Other notables include Julie Taymor’s nontraditional Gloria Steinem biopic, with Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Bette Midler and Janelle Monae; Justin Simien’s horror satire “Bad Hair”; Dominic Cooke’s Cuban Missile Crisis drama “Ironbark,” with Benedict Cumberbatch; Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman,” a revenge tale led by Carey Mulligan; Sean Durkin’s ‘80s-set marriage tale “The Nest,” with Jude Law and Carrie Coon; Josephine Decker’s Shirley Jackson biopic “Shirley,” starring Elisabeth Moss as the “The Lottery” author; Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut “Falling”; and Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire.”

John Cooper, left, director of the Sundance Festival, and Kim Yutani, the festival's director of programming, take part in the…
FILE – John Cooper, left, director of the Sundance Film Festival, and Kim Yutani, the festival’s director of programming, take part in the opening day press conference at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 24, 2019, in Park City, Utah.


Other documentaries coming to Sundance include Ron Howard’s “Rebuilding Paradise,” about the aftermath of the devastating 2018 California wildfire; “The Fight,” about the ACLU’s legal battles with President Donald Trump; the Deepwater Horizon oil spill expose “The Cost of Silence”; and Kim A. Snyder’s “Us Kids,” about the teenage survivors of Parkland, Florida.

This will be the last Sundance overseen by its longtime director, John Cooper. He is stepping down next year to take on the role of emeritus director.

“The program this year, my last as director, is a celebration: of art and artists, yes, but also of the community that makes the annual pilgrimage to Park City to see the most exciting new work being made today,” said Cooper.