Lawyer Nominated By Obama Would Be First Muslim Federal Judge

Lawyer Abid Qureshi could become the first Muslim federal judge. President Obama nominated Qureshi for an open seat on the federal court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Abid Qureshi, a partner at the law firm Latham & Watkins, has been nominated to fill a spot on the federal court in Washington, D.C. Latham & Watkins LLP via AP hide caption

toggle caption Latham & Watkins LLP via AP

Over the past seven years, Obama has appointed 138 women and 120 minorities to federal judgeships. He has made this judicial diversity a “major priority” throughout his time in office, says former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, who now works with Qureshi at the D.C. law firm Latham & Watkins.

“Having judges who are reflective of the nation as a whole just brings public confidence into our court system,” Ruemmler says, explaining the president’s thinking about these selections, which require Senate confirmation and are held for life.

American Muslims have served as judges at the state level, but never as a federal judge, says Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy group.

“This is a very, very exciting time, and we are just so thrilled that the president took this step,” Khera says of Qureshi’s nomination.

Qureshi, born in Pakistan and now a U.S. citizen, graduated from Cornell University and Harvard Law. He has spent his entire career at Latham & Watkins.

“He’s a brilliant lawyer,” says fellow partner Ruemmler, “but his temperament and his demeanor and his collegiality and just general kindness toward colleagues is legendary.”

The National Law Journal says Qureshi’s clients include a student loan servicing company, a pharmacy giant and the Hospital Corporation of America. He also represented a private school with ties to the Saudi Arabian government in a case before the National Labor Relations Board. The dispute centered on whether the board had jurisdiction over the school’s decision to fire a teacher. Qureshi cast the case as a matter of religious freedom — and he won.

Friends say he is passionate about donating his time to good causes. Some of those pro bono projects have been colorful. Khera of Muslim Advocates points to a case her group handled with Qureshi as co-counsel last year. They represented two American Muslim comedians who had been told they could not run ads for their movie in the New York subway system. The comic documentary, The Muslims Are Coming, was designed to counter negative stereotypes.

Qureshi once again prevailed in the case. As CBS New York reported at the time, a federal judge sided with comedians Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad about their free speech rights, and the ads ran in the subway.

The question now is whether the Senate has enough time and interest to hold a hearing and confirm Qureshi in this presidential election year.

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Mexican Finance Minister Resigns; Apparent Casualty Of Trump Visit

Mexico’s Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray looks down as President Enrique Pena Nieto announces Videgaray’s resignation in Mexico City. Videgaray, one of Pena Nieto’s closest confidants, reportedly engineered the unpopular decision to invite Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to visit Mexico. Dario Lopez-Mills/AP hide caption

toggle caption Dario Lopez-Mills/AP

Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s M.I.T.-educated minister of finance and confidant of President Enrique Peña Nieto, has resigned in a move widely seen as fallout from Donald Trump’s visit to that country last week.

Peña Nieto made the announcement in Mexico City, but he gave no reason for the change, nor did he say whether Videgaray, a key aide since 2005, would receive a new post.

According to the Associated Press, Videgaray was the “architect” of Trump’s visit to Mexico. The Republican presidential candidate is wildly unpopular there, given his characterizations of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. as “criminals” and rapists” and for insisting that Mexico pay for a border wall. Peña Nieto himself has come under heavy criticism for inviting Trump and then appearing deferential to the candidate.

The move was fraught with political hazards for Peña Nieto from the start. The Washington Post reports that the Mexican president’s own cabinet was “deeply divided” over the Trump invitation and that Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu opposed it.

The Post also offered this quote:

” ‘The political cost [of the visit] was extremely high for Peña Nieto, and he was obliged to find someone to blame,’ said Alberto Arnaut, a political science professor at the College of Mexico, explaining the minister’s departure.

“The Trump visit, he said, ‘was a monumental failure.’ “

The New York Times discussed the lingering impact of the Trump visit:

“The discontent has continued to boil on social media and in the press, and an anti-Peña Nieto demonstration has been called for Sept. 15. On Tuesday, an opposition senator — seeking to provide the defense of Mexico that he said Mr. Peña Nieto had failed to provide — submitted a bill that would empower the government to fight back against several of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy proposals, including his promise to force Mexico to pay for the construction of a border wall and his vow to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

Leaving aside Peña Nieto’s problems, Videgaray’s resignation is a sharp setback for an economist who looked to be a possible nominee of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or P.R.I., for the Mexican presidency in 2018. Videgaray was Peña Nieto’s campaign manager in the 2012 election. As finance minister, he led Peña Nieto’s efforts to reform the Mexican economy. His successor is Yale-trained economist Jose Antonio Meade, who held the post of finance minister under the former president, Felipe Calderon.

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Apple Nixes Headphone Jack In iPhone 7, Reveals Cordless AirPods

Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses the company’s new wireless AirPods headphones during an event in San Francisco on Wednesday in which Apple also presented the iPhone 7. Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Bloomberg via Getty Images

Apple had waited many years to send its very first tweet. It finally happened on Wednesday, with a release of a sponsored tweet, promoting the new iPhone 7: New cameras. Water-resistant. Stereo speakers. Longer battery life.”

Except — oops! — CEO Tim Cook had yet to announce the new version of the smartphone. When he finally did, he said, as always: “It’s the best iPhone that we have ever created.”

The long-running speculation about the new features on the phone proved largely true. The 7 and 7 Plus, for sale later this month, look very much like the 6 and 6 Plus, though ever-so-slightly lighter — and, yes, without a headphone jack.

“The reason to move on [is] courage,” said Apple’s Phil Schiller in revealing the change. “The courage to move on, do something new that betters all of us.”

Instead, new phones will come with special adapters that plug into the same port as a charging/data cord. But what Apple really wants you to do is buy its new $159 product: AirPods — wireless headphones that look like the buds of the regular Apple headphones but cordless — for an “effortless and magical listening experience,” as Cook put it.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, talks about the new iPhone 7 during an event to announce new products Wednesday in San Francisco. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP hide caption

toggle caption Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

The new iPhone is also water- and dust-resistant, has a new home button that doesn’t physically click, stereo speakers, a bit longer-lasting battery, a really fancy camera setup (with low-light capacity and color recognition, and better zoom on the two-camera 7 Plus) and new body options in matte black and “jet black.”

These changes may seem like a far cry from significant iPhone overhauls Apple had done in the past to encourage users to buy a new device every two years. Some observers had argued this is a sign of iPhone’s maturing as it approaches its 10th birthday.

But Forrester analyst Julie Ask argues the iPhone 7 will pick up momentum after a possibly lukewarm response. “Consumers underestimate the engineering feats that the iPhone 7 brings, like the audio, camera, processing power, etc. in such a small package,” she said in a statement.

Shipping in mid-September, the new phones are priced starting at $649 for the iPhone 7 and $769 for the iPhone 7 Plus, which has a bigger screen. They will also start with a higher memory capacity of 32 gigabytes, as Apple gets rid of the 16GB option.

In other releases, the company unveiled a “Series 2” of the Apple Watch that is waterproof and includes a GPS — an appeal to the workout market of runners/hikers/bikers/swimmers/surfers, where the watch has faced persistent competition from other wearables.

The watch also gets in on the Pokemon Go craze of the summer with a game adaptation specifically for the device.

But perhaps a bigger gaming piece of news came from Nintendo, which announced that Super Mario is finally coming to the app store.

Shigeru Miyamoto, known as the father of Mario, took the stage to announce a new game called “Super Mario Run,” which you can play on the phone with one hand — “while eating a hamburger or eating an apple,” as Miyamoto said.

Shares of Nintendo, which as The Verge points out “has been slow to bring its iconic characters and games to smartphones,” jumped on the news. Apple’s shares didn’t see major gains.

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Why The Low Zika Numbers In Haiti Might Be Wrong

Maudeline Orelien, 22, with her son, Wilguens Pierre, who was born in July with microcephaly. Jason Beaubien/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jason Beaubien/NPR

The Dominican Republic has identified nearly 1,000 pregnant women suspected of being infected with the Zika virus. Haiti, which shares the same island, has identified only 22.

“There’s no reason to believe that the mosquito will behave differently here [in Haiti] than in the Dominican Republic,” says Dr. Jean Luc Poncelet, the World Health Organization’s representative in Port-au-Prince.

Why are the numbers so dramatically different? Dr. Louise Ivers, with the nonprofit Partners in Health, which runs the largest teaching hospital in Haiti, is concerned that Zika is spreading as a silent epidemic.

Indeed, Haiti has all the ingredients for a major outbreak. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus, is widespread. Open sewers and ravines covered in trash provide ideal breeding grounds for the mosquitoes. A doctors strike over the past four months — it just ended — pushed the public health system into crisis, making it less likely that health care officials would pay attention to Zika.

Poncelet says part of the problem is that the country doesn’t have the resources to test extensively for Zika. Haiti is also in the midst of a political crisis that has left it without an elected government since February. And it faces numerous other health issues, including a cholera outbreak that has sickened 25,000 people this year alone.

Billboards advertise the scheduled October election in Haiti, which has been without an elected government since February. Jason Beaubien/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jason Beaubien/NPR

Meanwhile, the effects of Zika are apparent, even though the nation is reporting only a handful of confirmed cases.

Doctors at public, private and religious hospitals say they’re seeing an increase in babies born with microcephaly — a condition that the World Health Organization has linked to Zika — as well as a spike in Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition that can spring from Zika. Haiti has few services for people with disabilities so it’s unclear how the country will be able to cope with a surge in severely disabled children.

At the Mirebalais Hospital in Haiti’s central plateau, doctors say they’ve had four babies born this year with microcephaly — three of them in July. Dr. Ivers and Dr. Roman Jean-Louis are tracking the development of the children. Ivers checks the reflexes of a girl named Chinashama, who is on the examining table.

“So this baby is much more muscle-toned than the other [microcephalic] babies,” she says. “She’s sort of fighting me, and the other really was not doing that much.

But the girl’s legs cross unnaturally at the shins, and one foot doesn’t respond when Ivers runs her finger over the sole. The baby’s mother says the child cries almost all the time.

Jean-Louis says he used to see perhaps one or at most two cases of microcephaly a year, but never three in one month.

Ivers is concerned that Haiti is unprepared to care for babies suffering from severe developmental delays because of Zika.

Life is already tough in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Sixty percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day. And there are few services for children with physical and neurological disabilities.

One of them is the Kay St. Germaine rehabilitation center in the Tabarre section of Port-au-Prince.

Outside the gate, a mother holds a child with twisted limbs and a floppy neck.
Inside, Annette Johansson, a volunteer from Sweden, is preparing for the start of the fall semester.

“Here we have the resource room,” Johansson says as she walks through the compound. “And a speech and language therapy room. But at the moment we don’t have any trained speech and language therapists.”

The center provides physical therapy and basic education to children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and other neurological disorders. Much of their work, Johansson says, is training parents to care for a disabled child.

“Because they [the parents] need to be able to change them, dress them, feed them in a safe manner,” she says. “We don’t have the equipment that you have in America or Europe. We can’t give them feeding tubes so it’s really important that they know how to handle their kids, position them the best way possible.”

Haiti is an incredibly hard place to look after a disabled child, she says.

Most of the families that bring their children to the center live in the poor sections of Port-au-Prince, with as many as four or five people in a one-room shack. The houses often aren’t accessible by paved roads or sidewalks, so they aren’t accessible to wheelchairs.

“So we can’t provide them chairs,” Johansson says. “Well, first of all we don’t have any chairs. Second of all they don’t have room for chairs or they don’t have anywhere to store them indoors.”

Many of the parents bring their kids to the center in the beat-up pickup truck taxis known as tap-taps that barrel across Port-au-Prince and serve as Haiti’s main form of public transportation.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen the tap-taps and how full they are,” she says. “And then imagine you’re going to try to get a disabled child into this.” She shakes her head as if the very thought of it is overwhelming.

Just up the dusty dirt road from Kay St. Germaine is the St. Damien children’s hospital. It’s run by the same Catholic organization that runs the rehab center. The hospital administrator, Jacqueline Gautier, says disability is the leading reason kids are abandoned in Haiti.

“Many times the parents just leave them,” she says. “Actually we have [a] room full of 10 children like that. And all hospitals have a small unit with abandoned children.”

She can usually find homes for able-bodied kids, but the disabled children will most likely stay at the hospital for the rest of their lives. Her hospital has also had three babies born recently with microcephaly. They’ve sent blood samples to the national laboratory to test for Zika but haven’t yet gotten any results back.

“It’s very hard,” she says. “The last one is still hospitalized, because the mother died. The father lives elsewhere now. The baby has seizures, so the baby is still with us.”

She’s hoping Haiti will be spared from Zika, that maybe it won’t be as bad here as in some other places.

But she shrugs and says they’ll just have to wait and see.

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For Arthritic Elephant, National Zoo Turns To Pachyderm Pedicures And Giant Tevas

Asian elephant Shanthi plays in an enclosure at the Elephant Community Center during the unveiling of the major expansion of Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s elephant house in 2013. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP hide caption

toggle caption Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Veterinarians at Smithsonian’s National Zoo have turned to an unconventional therapy for an arthritic 41-year-old Asian elephant — shoes.

Huge black boots designed by Teva for Shanthi’s front feet, to be exact. They are “about a size 20, with an EEEEEEEEEEEE width,” as The Washington Post reports, adding that “a single boot resembled a rubberized birdbath.”

The boots help zookeepers keep badly needed medication “on the pads of her feet while preventing debris from entering the lesions for several hours at a time,” Tony Barthel, the curator of the elephant exhibit, said in a statement. “They protect her healing feet in much the same way humans wear bandages, and they allow her to move freely throughout the exhibit.”

Shanthi, a 41-year-old Asian elephant, was recently fitted with Washington’s largest pair of Teva boots for her front feet to combat arthritis. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP

Shanthi was diagnosed with arthritis more than a decade ago. Barthel said that “over time, the disease has progressed in Shanthi. She’s putting pressure now on new parts of her feet, and as a result, she’s developing some cracks and lesions in the surrounding tissues.”

As a result, zoo staff have been “administering daily pedicures, medicated foot baths, and cold laser therapy” for several months now, according to a statement from the zoo.

YouTube

But Chief Veterinarian Don Neiffer said they wanted to see greater improvement in her condition. He said that along with the snazzy shoes, they turned to an unusual therapy to reduce joint inflammation:

“We decided to look for something more innovative, something new, something that had not been tried on an elephant. We pulled a large blood sample from her and submitted that to a laboratory to help create a protein normally made in the elephant’s blood. This protein was then injected back into Shanthi’s joint, where it actually helps block inflammation. Although this has been used on a number of horses with success, this is the first time this technology has ever been applied to an elephant.”

Barthel told the Post that Shanthi took some time to get used to the shoes, comparing it to when you “put a sock on a dog and they don’t know how to walk. She did a little bit of that. . . . She was very careful about how she walked. That was an important part of the learning process.”

Now, Neiffer said he believes they’re seeing signs that Shanthi is feeling more comfortable. “As a zoo veterinarian, my patients don’t often tell me whether they’re feeling better or not,” he said. “But when our elephant team reported that Shanthi, who has not laid down for several months, was in the yard, in the pool, lying on her side, and playing, I knew without a doubt that the efforts of all the teams here at the National Zoo had made a big and positive difference in her life.”

Impressed by Shanthi’s footwear? Wait till you hear her musical skills.

As we’ve reported, Shanthi loves playing the harmonica. This is how elephant keeper Debbie Flinkman described her musical style: “It’s not usually a long ditty but it always ends in this really big sort of fanfare at the end … this big blowout.”

Watch her in action here:

YouTube

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Laos: A Remote Battleground For North and South Korea

North Korean restaurants, like this one in Vientiane, Laos, are run by the North Korean government as a way to earn hard currency. North Korea and Laos have had good relations for many years, but South Korea is trying to make inroads as well. Elise Hu/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Elise Hu/NPR

North Korea and South Korea maintain strict separation most everywhere in the world. Yet oddly, one of the few places they intersect is Laos, the small, communist nation that’s long had ties with the North and now has growing links with the South.

“As strange as it sounds, Laos is kind of this remote battleground for inter-Korean politics or competition and diplomacy,” says Sokeel Park, research director for Liberty in North Korea, a private South Korean organization that assists North Korean refugees.

Laos rarely receives international attention. But it’s in the spotlight this week as it hosts a gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which has drawn many heads of state, including President Obama.

To find evidence of Laos’ longstanding ties to North Korea, look no further than the dining establishments. Laos hosts a North Korean-run restaurant in the heart of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. These North Korean restaurants are part of the regime’s money-making operations, a way for Pyongyang to earn hard currency abroad, since sanctions have increasingly cut it off from the rest of the world.

“North Korea has had fairly close relations with Laos for several decades. They’re both countries that [are] at least nominally socialist or communist states,” Park says.

Park’s work includes some dealings with Laos. It’s one of the countries North Korean defectors sometimes pass through on their way to a final destination, like South Korea.

Laos is one of the countries in Southeast Asia that North Korean refugees will go to out of China,” he explains. The vast majority of defectors cross from North Korea into China, rather than attempting to cross the heavily guarded inter-Korean border.

A place for business, a route for defectors

So the North Korean-Laos relationship cuts both ways. It allows them to do business together, but it also means that North Korean defectors look at Laos as way to get out, and they know Laos is willing to look the other way.

And in recent months, South Korea has stepped up efforts to drive a wedge between Laos and North Korea.

North Korea’s nuclear test and missile tests brought a new round of international sanctions this spring. It’s also been an opportunity for South Korea to court Laos.

South Korea has been sending diplomats, increasing communication and signed a new military-to-military agreement. All in hopes Laos will get tougher on its North Korean partner.

We think Laos and other countries previously friendly with North Korea have turned around considerably after the U.N. sanctions went into effect, and that they’re now supporting South Korea’s policies,” says South Korea’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Cho June-hyuck.

But the ties with North Korea endure. Laos is believed to be one of the few places left where North Korea can send its labor to earn cash. North Korean diplomats continue to visit Laos. And North Korean still runs these Pyongyang restaurants, playing patriotic North Korean karaoke songs.

Haeryun Kang contributed to this story, from Seoul.

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