A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 30, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 105
files case over air strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Relatives of a Pakistani taxi driver who was killed in last week’s U.S. drone strike targeting the leader of the Afghan Taliban have formally lodged a police complaint against unnamed U.S. officials.
The deceased driver, Mohammad Azam, was transporting Taliban chief Mullah Mansoor when missiles fired by a drone struck their car in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, killing both of them.
Police in the remote district of Noshki, where the May 21 missile attack took place, confirmed Sunday that Azam’s relatives have set the criminal justice process in motion by filing what is called a First Information Report against unnamed U.S. officials.
“My brother, a father of four children, was innocent and the sole bread earner for his extremely impoverished family,” a brother of the deceased driver said in his complaint.
He said Azam had no links to any terror groups and used to ferry passengers in his taxi between Taftan, the Pakistani town bordering Iran, and Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan.
“I seek justice and legal action against American authorities responsible for the attack. I do not know their names but media has quoted them as claiming to have used explosive material to kill my brother,” the complainant added.
A Quetta-based attorney, Tahir Hussain, said that Azam's family likely will seek a trial in absentia if U.S. officials refuse to respond, and may attempt to push for monetary compensation.
In Islamabad Sunday, Pakistan's Interior Ministry said a DNA sample has confirmed that Mansoor was killed in the drone strike. American and Afghan officials already had confirmed his death, but Pakistan declined to do so until the DNA test result was known.
Officials said a relative of Mansoor provided a DNA sample that matched the Taliban chief's.
U.S. officials defended the drone attack, saying the Taliban leader was opposed to Afghan peace efforts and plotting deadly attacks against American soldiers as well as their partners in Afghanistan.
Mansoor apparently was returning from Iran and was targeted shortly after he entered Pakistan, where he had been residing along with other Taliban leaders.
A Pakistani passport found near the destroyed car carrying Mansoor was traveling in suggested the slain Taliban chief was using a pseudonym, Wali Mohammad, for undertaking journeys within and outside Pakistan. The travel document contained a valid Iranian visa.
The U.S. drone operations have long been under fire from rights defenders for causing collateral damage, although Washington insists they have effectively reduced the threat that terrorist groups pose to American interests in the region.
Pakistan condemned the drone attack on Mansoor as a violation of the country's sovereignty. Authorities have since arrested several officials for allegedly helping the slain Taliban leader get a Pakistani passport.
Libertarian candidate again
named for presidential slot
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
A previously little-noticed U.S. political figure, Libertarian Gary Johnson, again won his party's presidential nomination Sunday, drawing new attention to his candidacy at a moment when majorities of Americans have unfavorable opinions about the major party front-runners, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Recent polls show the 63-year-old Johnson, who served two terms as the Republican governor of the southwestern state of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003 before becoming a Libertarian, winning about 10 percent of the vote nationally against Trump and Clinton in a hypothetical three-way match in November's national election.
Also at the Libertarian convention in Orlando, Florida, Sunday, former Massachusetts governor William Weld was chosen to run as Johnson's vice presidential candidate.
Third-party presidential candidates in the U.S. have not fared well in the quadrennial elections, often times fading when people get closer to making their decisions about whom they will vote for. If Johnson were to maintain his 10 percent level of support nationally, it is unlikely he would win any of the country's 50 states.
But his vote total could affect the outcome in some individual states, especially since more than half of Americans in recent political surveys say they view both Trump, the brash billionaire real estate mogul, and Mrs. Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of State, unfavorably. U.S. presidential elections are not decided by the national popular vote, but rather in state-by-state votes, with the biggest states holding the most importance in the outcome.
Johnson's candidacy comes at a time when many Americans say they are disenchanted with the national government, a view that fueled the surge of Trump, who has never held elective office, to the top of the crowded Republican field that included a host of current and former senators and governors. Johnson would have to reach 15 percent support nationally in five polls to be included in three presidential debates scheduled for the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election.
In the U.S., Libertarians favor individual rights, challenging what they say is the cult of the omnipotent state, a view that could attract some voters to Johnson.
Johnson, as the Libertarian presidential candidate in 2012, won 1 percent of the vote when President Barack Obama won re-election to a second term over Republican Mitt Romney.
Ross Perot, a technology corporation executive, was the most recent serious third party presidential candidate in the U.S., winning no individual states, in the 1992 and 1996 elections, when Mrs. Clinton's husband, Bill Clinton, was twice elected as president.
Nomination races contain
many twists and turns
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Even as Americans pause for this week’s Memorial Day holiday, much attention is focused on the presidential contest, where almost-daily twists and turns are confounding conventional wisdom in what has become an unusually turbulent end of the primary campaign season.
In January, New York businessman Donald Trump was one of more than a dozen Republican presidential contenders in a field with no clear favorite. By contrast, Hillary Clinton stood as the front-runner over just two Democratic rivals.
Last week, Trump clinched the delegates required to become his party’s nominee.
“We’ve won the nomination big by numbers that you can’t believe,” he said to thunderous applause at a recent campaign rally in California.
Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, has the delegate math squarely in her favor. But she is campaigning hard to avoid embarrassing defeats closing out the primaries.
Making matters worse was last week’s inspector general report that her email usage as secretary of State violated agency policies. The controversy has been swirling for more than a year and once again put Mrs. Clinton on the defensive.
“The use of personal email was a practice by other secretaries of State,” she said Friday. “And the rules were not clarified until after I had left. And, as I’ve said many times, if I could do it over again, I would have done it differently.”
Trump was quick to pounce. “I watched Hillary Clinton, as I say Crooked Hillary. She is crooked. She lies, she lies so much. It’s sad,” the businessman said. “Hillary is a disaster, folks. She has bad judgment.”
But Trump has been making headlines of his own by first agreeing to and then turning down a proposed debate with Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders.
Sanders said he would have relished the chance to debate Trump.
“What I hope will happen is that, in fact, I will run against him as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. And if I do, we’re going to beat him and beat him bad,” the Vermont senator said on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” program.
Beating Trump is one idea Sanders and Mrs. Clinton agree on.
“The stakes could not be higher,” Mrs. Clinton said at a recent campaign stop in San Francisco. “There is absolutely no way that we can let Donald Trump get anywhere near the White House.”
But with Mrs. Clinton and Sanders still battling each other, the Democratic Party is not unifying behind either. Rank-and-file Republicans, meanwhile, are showing some signs of rallying behind their nominee-to-be, leading to the first polls showing Trump tied or slightly above Mrs. Clinton.
“I’m leading in the polls. We’re leading in almost every poll now,” Trump said. “Do you believe this? It’s so great.”
Primary season ends next Tuesday, when America’s most populous state, California, and several others get their say.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration photo
The inflatable new space station room goes up.
Space station get a room
with a really great view
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The International Space Station has added a unique new room to its configuration.
The U.S. space agency NASA successfully inflated and pressurized an add-on room that was installed on the outside of the outpost.
It took about seven hours Saturday for the pod to expand to its full capacity. Fully expanded, the module is 4 meters long by 3.23 meters wide.
A series of tests determining the structural integrity of the pod will be conducted before the space station crew is allowed to enter it next week.
In addition, NASA says the tests will gauge how well the inflated room will protect against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.
The benefit of the inflatable pod is that it takes up little space when deflated, but provides more living/working space when inflated.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, was designed by Bigelow Aerospace, based in Las Vegas. The company received an $18 million contract to design the first-of-its-kind habitat.
The first effort to inflate BEAM Thursday was not successful. Scientists believe that since BEAM had been packed for so long, its fabric had trouble unfolding.
Three newspeople released
by leftist rebels in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Colombian rebels have released three journalists being held hostage by guerrillas in a remote and restive region of the country. The three were released Friday.
Spanish-Colombian journalist Salud Hernandez-Mora was abducted May 21 in Catatumbo in northeastern Colombia by members of the Ejercito Nacional de Liberación. She was working on a story about coca growers who grow the plant used to make cocaine in an area known as a corridor for smuggling cocaine to Venezuela.
She said she was treated well by her captors who moved her frequently.
The 59-year-old journalist, who writes for Spain's El Mundo newspaper and Colombian newspapers, was handed over to a delegation from the Roman Catholic Church.
Diego D'Pablo and Carlos Melo of the RCN network were covering Ms. Hernandez-Mora's kidnapping when they were captured Monday by the same rebel group. The RCN journalists were released by the insurgents a few hours after Ms. Hernandez-Mora's release.
Colombia is attempting to end a five-decades long civil war.
The Ejercito Nacional de Liberación has recently agreed to hold peace talks with the government, but negotiations have been hampered by ongoing hostilities and kidnappings. It is Colombia's second largest rebel group.
For the past three years, Colombia has been holding peace talks with its largest rebel group, the Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC. The talks have been held in Havana, Cuba.
That group has observed a cease-fire since last year.
Leftist rebels have been fighting a guerrilla war to topple Colombian governments since 1964, killing more than 220,000 people. They have used drug trafficking and kidnappings for ransom to fund their war.
Colombia's rebel movement has been weakened in recent years, and right-wing paramilitary forces formed to counter leftist fighters have been disbanded.
Brazil celebrated diversity
with gigantic street parade
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians celebrated in the streets of Sao Paulo Sunday for one of the world's biggest gay pride parades.
Brazilians have little to celebrate at the moment. The country is dealing with a zika outbreak, the president's impeachment, and pressure to postpone this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
But the parade was an opportunity for people to dance, dress up and enjoy themselves, even if the overall theme of the gathering, a demand for equal rights, is a serious one.
"For some people, this is a Carnival out of season, to have fun, mess up and do some wrong things," one participant said. "In my case and for many others, we came for a cause -- asking for respect, to fight for our rights, for people to treat the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community better. We are human beings, just like any others."
Gay rights advocates in Brazil are pushing the congress to pass a law allowing Brazilians to legally identify themselves as the gender of their choice and not necessarily what is stated on their birth certificate.
Meanwhile, an open letter signed by 150 health experts calls for the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to be postponed or moved because of the zika virus outbreak.
The signatories, which include experts from more than two dozen countries in fields including public health, medicine and academia, said Friday that to hold the games would be irresponsible and unethical. Among the signatories is former White House science adviser Philip Rubin.
"The Brazilian strain of zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before," the letter said.
The virus has been linked to birth defects, including microcephaly in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains. The World Health Organization has said pregnant women should avoid areas where zika outbreaks are occurring, including the Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The letter's authors said "An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic. Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (e.g., most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great."
In an opposing view, Tom Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there is no public health reason to cancel or delay the Olympics.
Frieden said the outcry about the health risks of zika and the Olympics may well be overkill.
Rather than trying to "stop the world because we want to get off," he said, "let's take steps to make as much of the world is safe as possible for all."
The World Health Organization has noted that the Olympics, set for August, will take place during Brazil's winter season, when there are fewer active mosquitoes.
However, the letter's authors note that if visitors get infected with the zika virus in Brazil, they could return home to the Northern Hemisphere, where the virus could be spread among local mosquitoes during the peak summer months.
The letter's authors questioned whether World Health is properly considering its options to recommend moving or delaying the games because of its partnership with the International Olympic Committee. "We are concerned that WHO is rejecting these alternatives because of a conflict of interest," the letter said.
Scientists have known about the zika virus since it was discovered in Uganda in 1947, but only recently have realized its potential danger.
Starting last October, the mosquito-borne virus began to spread, particularly in Brazil, where it has been linked to birth defects in pregnant women who get infected with the disease.
Opioids are disappointment,
pain researchers contend
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service
The wonder drug pain medications of the mid-1990s have turned out to be a major problem and a big disappointment.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said not only do they run a high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse.
Public awareness of the opioid crisis has grown in the past few weeks, after the sudden death of pop star Prince, who died in April after reportedly seeking treatment for painkiller addiction, as well as with recent legislation passed by the U.S. House on opioid abuse.
“More than 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses,” Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement earlier this month. “Overprescribing opioids largely for chronic pain is a key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic."
A single opioid overdose can also kill, because it can result in respiratory distress. The number of those deaths has been rising to a high of 29,000 in 2014, the latest year for which the figures are available.
Of that number, 18,893 deaths were from prescription painkillers. The other 10,574 were from heroin, the opioid of choice when painkillers get too expensive or to difficult to obtain.
In a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in April, Frieden and fellow researcher Debra Houry were blunt: "We know of no other medication routinely used for a nonfatal condition that kills patients so frequently."
Vicodin, Oxycontin and their cousins, all synthetic versions of the narcotic found in the poppy flower, hit the market in an aggressive marketing rollout in the mid-1990s.
They quickly became popular, providing a euphoric effect while they dulled pain. Studies at the time promised the drugs carried little risk of addiction.
The introduction of the new drugs dovetailed with directives by medical experts for health care providers to focus more on pain management.
Doctors began asking their patients to estimate their pain level on a scale of 1 to 10, giving patients more power over what drugs they were prescribed. It wasn't long before the drugs were getting used recreationally.
A study published in January in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that among 2,848 commercially insured patients who had a nonfatal overdose during long-term opioid therapy between May 2000 and December 2012, 91 percent of them continued to use the opioids. Seventeen percent of those had a second overdose within two years.
The fact that opioids and other addictive medications are prescribed by doctors can make an addiction harder to recognize, and to treat.
"Some actually take their medicines as prescribed, but they have gone to very high doses which impair their functioning. So they're seen as taking legitimate medicines in an honest way," said Bernadette Solounias, medical director at Ashley Addiction Treatment in Havre de Grace, Maryland.
That appearance of legitimacy, Dr. Solounias said, can make it hard for painkiller addicts to recognize a problem, seek treatment, or trust another doctor or addiction counselor.
Solounias said the treatment organization began its pain recovery program in 2011.
"We saw that there were people who had chronic pain and who had developed a dependence, sometimes an addiction, to their pain medications. These were medicines that were prescribed for them," she said.
The drug dependency, for many, was debilitating, but the patients also still had chronic pain to manage.
Dr. Solounias said the effects of dependency are reduced function in a person's daily life, including forgetfulness, sedation and preoccupation with having enough of the drug on hand to continue use.
With chronic pain, physical mobility can also be affected. And she said she has found that the Centers' findings are true, patients dependent on opiates actually have less pain, as well as a better quality of life, when they come off the drugs.
"We're introducing other things -- we may use some non-opiate medicines that help with pain," she said. "Many of them have been inactive. So we get them moving, we strengthen muscles, work with physical therapists, with personal trainers to improve physical fitness. We make acupuncture available to them. Massage is also part of the program."
Patients also get counseling.
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