CommunityConcerns™: Can Glenville State College Survive Its Downward Enrollment Trend?

The Free Press WV

Glenville State College’s continued existence is vital to Gilmer County and central West Virginia. There is controversy about GSC’s enrollment.  GSC’s officials tend to cite enrollment to be approximately 2,000 students.

The GFP obtained enrollment information from West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) for the College’s full time equivalents (FTEs) from the fall of 2010 to the fall of 2014. FTEs are defined as the total credit hours taken by all students divided by 15. 

Headcounts normally cited by officials represent all students who sign up for any number of credits to be as small as one credit per semester. This accounting method results in higher enrollments being reported.

FTEs are used by the WV Legislatures to compare enrollments at the State’s colleges and universities.  The approach was decided on to have a standard measure for comparisons relating to a student load of 15 credits considered to equate to being a full-time student.

Total operational money taken in by institutions correlates to the total credit hours paid for by all students to make FTEs more meaningful than simple head counts.  The following graph published by the HEPC is an example of a picture being better than 1,000 words to express GSC’s FTE trend.

Credit Enrollment: Glenville State College
Fall Headcount

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

The FTE value for the fall of 2015 was estimated from sources to be 1251. By using that value FTEs from the fall of 2010 (1474) to the fall of 2015 (1251), GSC’s enrollment declined 15.1% over the past five years. If more accurate information is available from the HEPC for the fall of 2015 it should be used to revise the graph.

The often asked question is what are the FTEs for those who take courses on GSC’s Glenville campus?  Also, there is a question about how much students at the federal prison contribute to GSC’s FTEs? If those students are included what is the FTE trend if they were not included?

Glenville State College: Degrees/Certificates Conferred
AY 2010 through AY 2014

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

Based on the understanding of available FTE information GSC’s enrollment is dwindling rapidly. What is being done to reverse the trend to shore up GSC’s chances for survival while there is increasing competition among WV’s institutions of higher learning to recruit from declining numbers of WV’s college bound?

Fall-to-Fall Retention in HEPC Institutions
First-Time, Full-Time Freshmen
% of Cohort Returning Following Fall

The Free Press WV

Dr. Barr and GSC’s Board of Governors deserve credit for implementing the Hidden Promise Scholar Program that is providing educational opportunities for WV’s students. The challenge is what can be done in addition to ensure that GSC survives?

Promises without results, rosy scenarios to convey that everything at GSC is fine without the existence of verifiable information to back up the accuracy of assessments, and rhetoric will not save the College.

G-OpEd™: Fighting Disability Fraud

Protecting the integrity of Social Security
The Free Press WV

A far greater percentage of West Virginians collect Social Security disability benefits than the rest of the nation. For instance, a 2011 review found 9 percent of the state’s working-age population received benefits as compared to 4.6 percent nationally.

There’s no doubt many have legitimate disabilities, but such a high percentage also suggests some people may be gaming the system. Such a significant problem demands action.

That’s why my office recently partnered with federal authorities to launch a Cooperative Disability Investigation Unit, a first-of-its-kind partnership in West Virginia designed to root out disability fraud before benefits are paid.

The Charleston CDI will consist of two investigators and an analyst from my office. Their salaries will be covered by the federal government as they work alongside representatives from the Social Security Administration, its Office of the Inspector General and the state’s Disability Determination Section.

Certain claims from Social Security or DDS will be investigated and analyzed and then turned over to disability examiners.

The unit’s report will help others make informed decisions and ensure payment accuracy, a formula that generates significant taxpayer savings for federal and state programs.

CDI has a proven track record. In Virginia, federal officials credit a Richmond unit with saving $1 million per month in federal funds and $700,000 in state funds – benefits otherwise awarded without CDI’s investigative work.

Nationwide, CDI projections show units as having saved Social Security programs $3.3 billion since the program’s inception in 1997. That’s in addition to another $2.2 billion in savings for related programs.

The CDI program is one of Social Security’s most successful anti-fraud initiatives and its formation in West Virginia should be a wake-up call for anyone who thinks about stealing from Social Security.

Such thievery comes at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer and jeopardizes a critical safety net for those who depend upon Social Security now and into the future.

While I firmly believe tackling such abuse is critical, those legitimately receiving disability benefits have no reason to worry. In fact, those are the very people we aim to protect.

By exaggerating or lying about one’s disability, the undeserving take from the poor, disabled and retired. They also contribute to the potential exhaustion of Social Security’s Disability Trust Fund, which just this past fall needed an act of Congress to maintain solvency past 2016.

This recent legislation, which involved taking money from Social Security’s retirement fund, represents just a band-aid for a program scheduled to face bankruptcy yet again in 2022.

This extreme action only reinforces the notion that Social Security fraud must be stopped, and now.

Disability fraud has been a generational issue for far too long – one untouched by the West Virginia’s leaders in the past. Fortunately, we are changing that with this unit’s formation. That is why I proudly join a program operating 37 units in 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico – this is the beginning of a real cultural change in West Virginia.

I believe these partnerships are crucial for protecting taxpayer funds and reinforcing confidence in the government’s stewardship of this program. It is time for West Virginia to go after fraud more aggressively and reach her potential.

~~  Patrick Morrisey serves as attorney general for West Virginia ~~

City of Glenville Police Report - January 2016

The Gilmer Free Press
City of Glenville, WV Police Report - January 2016
Crime/Ordinance Violation
Defective Equipment Garrett Warnings Issued for Defective Equipment and Unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Warning N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Warnings Issued for Speeding and Unsigned Registration W. Main Street
Speeding Garrett Warning N. Lewis Street
Defective Equipment Huffman Warnings Issued for Defective Equipment and No Proof of Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Warnings Issued for Speeding and Unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Warnings Issued for Speeding, No Proof of Registration, and Improper Display N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Warning Issued for Speeding  and Cited for No Proof of Insurance N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Warnings Issued for Speeding and Unsigned Registration W. Main Street
Defective Equipment Garrett Warning S. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Warning N. Lewis Street
No Seatbelt Huffman Cited for No Seatbelt Warning Issued for No Proof of Insurance and Arrested for Driving while Suspended 3rd Offense N. Lewis Street
Loose Dog Complaint Huffman Unable to locate dog Center Street
Speeding Garrett Cited N. Lewis Street
Defective Equipment Huffman Warning N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Cited for Speeding and Warning issued for No Proof of Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Cited for Speeding and Warning Issued for Unsigned Registration W. Main Street
Speeding Huffman Cited W. Main Street
Speeding Huffman Cited for Speeding and Warning Issued for Unsigned Registration W. Main Street
Speeding Huffman Cited for Speeding and Warning Issued for No Proof of Insurance W. Main Street
DOS Huffman Unattended Death, Death notification delivered to Webster County Sheriff’s Department to be delivered to next of Kin Academy Drive.
Diesel Fuel in Roadway Huffman Fire Department had already contacted DOH and were taking care of Traffic control W. Main Street
Speeding Garrett Warnings Issued for Speeding and unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Warnings Issued for Speeding and unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Cited College Street
Speeding Garrett Cited N. Lewis Street
Leaving the Scene of an Accident Garrett Criminal Investigation Started Sunoco
Defective Equipment Garrett Warning W. Main Street
Speeding Garrett Cited W. Main Street
Inmate Transport Huffman/Williams Transported inmate from CRJ to Circuit Court for Sentencing Flatwoods
Warrant Service Huffman/Williams Warrant Served female transferred to CRJ custody at courthouse Magistrate Court
Assist EMS Garrett Lifting Assistance River Street
To Fast for Roadway Conditions Garrett Cited N. Lewis Street
Assist GSC Public Safety Garrett Assisted Public Safety with a room Search Goodwin Hall
Alarm Investigation Huffman/Williams Everything ok Employee didn’t get alarm turned off in time Calhoun Banks
Speak to an officer Huffman/Williams Wanted to discuss a civil matter McDonalds
Parking Complaint Garrett Owner was located and vehicle was moved W. Main Street
Speak to an officer Garrett CI Started for Stolen License Plate W. Main Street
Assist another Agency Garrett Assisted Sheriffs Department with Active Domestic Vanhorn Dr.
Alarm Investigation Huffman Everything Ok owner was having trouble with key pad Ramsey Associates
Speak to an Officer Huffman Spoke to female about the issue she was having with a rooster advised her to contact her landlord and see if they would block the area where the rooster was getting in under her house W. Main Street
Speeding Huffman Warning N. Lewis Street
Motor Vehicle Crash Huffman/Williams Accident Report Completed Warning Issued for failure to Maintain Control N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Warning N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Warning N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Cited Mineral Road
Speak to an officer Huffman Spoke to subject about damage to her truck done by stray cats incident report filed for insurance purposes Howard Street
Speeding Garrett Warning N. Lewis Street
Defective Equipment Garrett Warnings Issued for Defective Equipment and Unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Defective Equipment Garrett Warnings Issued for Defective Equipment and Unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Defective Equipment Garrett Warning for Defective Equipment and Cited for failure to produce operators N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Cited N. Lewis Street
Welfare check Garrett Located female and transported her back to callers residence W. Main Street
Motor Vehicle Crash Garrett Accident Report Completed Howard Street
Stop Sign Violation Huffman Cited for Stop Sign Violation and No Proof of Insurance N. Lewis Street
Expired Registration Huffman Warnings Issued for Expired Registration, Failure to Produce Operators, and No Proof of Insurance N. Lewis Street
Alarm Investigation Huffman Everything Ok Owner didn’t get the alarm shut off in time W. Main Street
Assist another Agency Huffman Assisted WVSP and GCSO on Active Domestic Elm Street
Speeding Garrett Cited N. Lewis Street
Vehicle Unlock Garrett Vehicle Unlocked Nursing Home
Expired Registration Huffman Warnings Issued for Expired Registration and Unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Warning for Speeding and unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Cited for Speeding and No Proof of Insurance N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Warnings Issued for Speeding and Unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Talking on Cellphone while driving Huffman Cited for talking on a Cellphone while driving and No Seatbelt Warning Issued for Failure to Carry operators N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Warning N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Warnings Issued for Speeding and Unsigned registration N. Lewis Street
Talking on Cellphone while driving Huffman Cited for Talking on Cellphone while driving and No Proof of Insurance Warning Issued for Unsigned Registration N. Lewis Street
Speeding Huffman Cited N. Lewis Street
Assist WVSP Huffman/Williams Deployed K9 for vehicle Search Dollar General
Remove a Subject Garrett Subject left residence without incident Dolliver Street
Speeding Garrett Cited N. Lewis Street
Talking on Cellphone while driving Garrett Cited Mineral Road
Speeding Huffman Warnings Issued for Speeding, No Proof of Registration, and No Proof of Insurance N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Warning N. Lewis Street
Speeding Garrett Cited N. Lewis Street
Intoxicated Subject Huffman/Williams Located Subject on Walnut St and transported him to the Conrad Motel Walnut Street
Assist another Agency Huffman/Williams Assisted WVSP and GCSD with an Active domestic one female was arrested by GCSD Rocky Fork
Cellphone while driving Huffman Cited N. Lewis Street
Stop Sign Violation Garrett Cited for Stop sign Violation and Failure to Produce Operators Walnut Street

In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►   Workers at mine sites in Braxton, Webster are the latest to receive WARN notices

BRAXTON COUNTY, WV — Early April layoffs are possible for hundreds of workers at several Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary mine sites in Braxton County and Webster County.
On Friday, WARN notices were issued for Brooks Run Mining’s Jackson Bridge No. 1 Mine, Jackson Bridge No. 4 Mine, Sumter Mine and Seven Pines Surface Mine along with the Erbacon Processing Plant No. 1.
Additionally, several support personnel with Maxxim Shared Services received notifications of expected idlings and possible layoffs.
In all, more than 230 workers could be affected.
Those layoffs, blamed on a reduced demand for coal at a time of oversupply, are not taking effect immediately.
WARN stands for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, a requirement for larger employers to provide 60 days advance notice of possible large-scale layoffs.

►   Fayette County Schools plans to cut professional positions and service jobs

FAYETTEVILLE, WV — Fayette County Schools plans to eliminate eliminate professional jobs and service personnel in an effort to match state funding for those positions.
The county will reduce staff for next school year by 9.5 professional positions and 8.5 service jobs, according to Fayette Superintendent of Schools Terry George.
Positions that are eliminated will end on June 30.
West Virginia uses student population to determine the amount of funding each district will receive, and George cited both declining state aid and enrollment.
Fayette County Schools general fund for fiscal year 2016 is $61.4 million, which is down $7 million from 2015.

►   Lawmakers once again question cost of public defender program

CHARLESTON, WV — Members of the House Finance Committee are questioning why the state has to pay so much for attorneys to represent criminal defendants who can’t afford their own.
The legislature is asked to add money to the budget each year to meet a shortfall in the Public Defender Services agency–this year it’s $17 million.
Several members of the House Finance Committee appeared frustrated Friday during a budget hearing at the state capitol.
“I’m concerned that people (defendants) that do have the means to pay are not coming up with their fair share and are expecting us to come up with it down here,” Delegate Brent Boggs (D-Braxton) said. “I say that not to deny anyone who truly needs funds for representation, but this is truly year after year after year.”
County circuit judges determine if a defendant qualifies for a court-appointed attorney, not the agency according to Public Defender Services Deputy Director Donald Stennett.
“The agency itself does not follow-up to check behind the validity of all of the people that are requesting the assistance,” Stennett told the finance committee.
Stennett added, from his experience, there’s only a detailed review of the financial affidavit if it’s brought to the prosecutor’s or judge’s attention that there may be something incorrect.
Boggs and other members of the committee including Chair Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha) expressed concerning of having to add millions of dollars each year to to the program to cover the bills of the court-appointed attorneys.
“I’m sure that in some jurisdictions this (the cost) is checked into but I’m not completely satisfied that throughout the state we are making the effort,” Boggs said.
The money allocated in the next state budget for Public Defender Services will probably be spent within six months after the budget year begins, Stennett said.

►   Money that’s been used for old workers’ comp debt to help fill revenue hole

CHARLESTON, WV –Governor Earl Tomblin expressed concern earlier this week about the pace of the legislature on several of his budget remedy bills. The Senate Finance Committee did move forward with one of those bills Friday.
The bill (SB419) would take severance tax payments from coal, natural gas and timber that currently help pay down the old workers’ compensation debt and put that money for the next few months in the state budget to help fill an anticipated $354 million revenue shortfall in the current budget year.
The bill speeds up paying off the remaining debt in the old fund and then will produce $92 million to fill the current state budget hole, payments from February to June. The switch would also produce $5 million for next fiscal year’s budget. A 2.78 percent tax on timber would stay in place even after the old workers’ compensation fund debt is paid off.
Senator Bob Plymale (D-Wayne) expressed concern Friday about keeping the special tax on timber and not on coal and natural gas in the new fiscal year.
“Things have changed in the forestry community, the timber side, just as drastically (as coal) if not more so,” Plymale said.
The Division of Forestry will receive $2.4 million next budget year by keeping the special severance tax on timber, state Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss said. Without it, there would be a hole in the agency’s budget, according to Kiss.
The bill passed Friday without any changes and will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

►   West Virginia Wesleyan president announces she will step down in December

BUCKHANNON, WV — The 18th president of West Virginia Wesleyan has announced Thursday that she will step down from the position in December.
Dr. Pamela Balch, the first female president of the United Methodist Church-related school, said that she wanted to give plenty of notice.
“Pam has served her alma mater with distinction and will be remembered for the incredible job she has done transforming the College,” said Marc Halbritter, chair of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees. “Thanks to her leadership, the College is thriving. She has accomplished the goal she established upon her arrival — moving Wesleyan from good to great.”
Balch is a 1971 graduate of the institution –receiving her bachelor’s degree there– that previously served as president of Mayville State University, ND, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Bethany College, vice provost for academic planning at California State University, Chico, associate dean for academic affairs at San Diego State University, Imperial Campus, director of teacher education at San Diego State and a ten-year faculty member at WVWC.
She then began her presidency 10 and a half years ago.
Among the first projects she took up were adding athletic and co-curricular programs, helping direct resources to enhance the school’s “picturesque” campus, reestablishing the nursing and physics programs and the addition of graduate programs in athletic training, education, English creative writing, and nursing.
Other notable accomplishments turning her decade-long tenure include the acquisition of a $10 million Title III grant –the largest ever awarded by the Department of Education– through the Strengthening Institutions Program in September 2014. As one of only two schools to receive the grant, the money provides support to renovate academic classrooms and laboratories, program resources to help students persist and graduate and a challenge match to increase the endowment by $4 million.
Wesleyan also publicly launched a $30 million “Enhancing Our Tradition, Empowering Our Future” Capital Campaign in October 2015 and has already secured nearly $25 million toward the campaign goal.
In addition to renovating classrooms and buildings and adding new facilities, campaign gifts have resulted in the addition of more than 25 new endowed scholarships and the investment of more than $250,000 in new science equipment.
Halbritter said that through all of Balch’s accomplishments, putting the school in good financial standing is one of the most important.
“When President Balch arrived, Wesleyan had several million dollars in accumulated deficits. As she concludes her presidency, the College’s financial position is strong.”
She is married to Patrick Balch, a retired professor from West Virginia University and San Diego State University. They have a son, Paul, a civil engineer, in Phoenix, Arizona, and a daughter, Julie, who is a pediatric hand/upper extremity surgeon at Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH.
President Balch and Patrick, plan to move to The Villages, FL after departing Wesleyan in December.
She plans to continue her love of higher education through potential part-time work with a search firm that helps place administrators for colleges and universities.
“As Pam prepares to leave Wesleyan and enter the next chapter in her life, on behalf of the Board, we want to thank her for her years of leadership and her willingness to work collaboratively,” Halbritter said. “It has resulted in a shared vision where everyone is focused on attracting and graduating students, providing them with a quality education while they are here.”
A nationwide search is underway for the college’s next president.

►   Tomblin seeks “bridge loan” to shore up unemployment benefits

CHARLESTON, WV — West Virginia’s unemployment rate continued dropped to 6.3 percent in the month of December.  Despite the improved number, months of a growing jobless rate in the state have hit the state’s unemployment compensation fund hard.  The fund is starting to grow dangerously low as payouts are increasing and payment into the fund is starting to slow.
Now Governor Earl Ray Tomblin wants lawmakers to allow him to borrow $50 million to shore up the unemployment fund from the Rainy Day Fund.  Tomblin says it’s been done before, and there’s a reason it makes better sense.
“A few years ago we were able to borrow from the Rainy Day Fund when so many other state’s borrowed from the federal government,” said Tomblin. “You pay a huge interest on that, plus if you don’t have it paid back on time there’s a huge surcharge that automatically goes on every business in West Virginia.”
Tomblin said now is not the time to be piling onto businesses in the state which are already struggling to get through the present economy.
“These kind of times when we can get through by borrowing from ourselves, that wouldn’t impact the employers in the state of West Virginia.”  he said.
Lawmakers have been reluctant to move on any of the governor’s budget proposals so far.  The state is facing a $354 million dollar revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year.  Tomblin believes borrowing from Rainy Day Fund will be the far better option than through a federal loan.  The governor called it a “bridge loan” to get the state through a rough patch and get back on solid financial footing.

►   1st woman brigadier general in West Virginia’s history named

CHARLESTON, WV — The first female brigadier general in West Virginia’s history has officially been named.

A ceremony was held Saturday to promote Brig. Gen. Paige B. Hunter to the senior rank at the 130th Airlift Wing at the Mclaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston.

Hunter’s father, retired Brig. Gen. Bob Parish, and her husband, retired Lt. Col. Rick Hunter, pinned the stars onto her uniform.

Hunter thanked her family and the people that she worked with for helping her along the way.

She began her military career in 1983 when she was sworn in as a second lieutenant. From there, she worked her way up, serving in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield and eventually earning the rank of colonel and now brigadier general.

►   Nominations accepted for West Virginia ag hall of fame

CHARLESTON, WV — The deadline is approaching for nominations to the West Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Hall of Fame.

The deadline for nominations is February 16, and honorees will be enshrined July 16 at Jackson’s Mill.

The Department of Agriculture says the honor is awarded to individuals, businesses, organizations, institutions and foundations that have a long history of making outstanding contributions to the agriculture or forestry industries, or family life.

Nomination forms can be downloaded from the state Department of Agriculture’s website at

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►   Viral Photo of Mom, Twins Leaves Everyone Guessing

What started out as a simple car selfie has turned into a viral sensation. Kaylan Mahomes of Indianapolis posted a pic on Twitter on January 28 of herself, her twin sister Kyla, and their mom, captioned “Mom, twin & me,“ CNN reports. But that photo has caused thousands of double-takes, because it’s almost impossible to tell the mother apart from her doppelganger daughters. The pic is “causing lots of confusion and also prompting discussion about age-defying products,“ as the Springfield News-Sun puts it. The photo has already received more than 30,000 likes and almost 19,400 retweets as the world tries to pinpoint who gave birth to whom.

And the News-Sun documents viewers’ intricate sleuthing methodology, with some Internet detectives insisting the mom has to be in the middle because the two on the outside look too much alike. Others go even deeper: The girl on the right is the one taking the photo, and a mother wouldn’t be sitting in the back, so Mom has to be the one on the left in the black blazer. Turns out that last theory is the correct one, though at least one user is content to just be enamored with all three. “I don’t understand how so much perfection can be allowed in one picture,“ the commenter tweets. A video posted on Instagram gives viewers a second perspective on the mom and her two high schoolers.

►   Teen Forced to Remove His Spirit Week Frozen Costume

Students are in an “uproar"—in the words of one parent—after a middle school principal in California forced a 13-year-old to change his clothes Thursday. When students at Ethan Chase Middle School were given the opportunity to dress as a Disney character for spirit week, eighth-grader Austin Lacey went “all out,“ KTLA reports. “I’m just one of those people,“ he says. Austin showed up to school in a sparkly blue dress and long blonde wig, unmistakably the trademarks of Elsa from the popular film Frozen. But he was almost immediately told to take the costume off by his principal. “The principal’s action was based upon the need to stop a general disruption to the school environment,“ KTLA quotes a statement from the district’s superintendent as saying. But BuzzFeed reports that’s not what Austin’s mother, Brooke Francey, heard.

Lacey “was informed the principal does not agree with boys dressing like girls,“ she writes on Facebook. And she says the principal told her the same. “The statement made to me was, ‘It is not okay for boys to dress like girls or girls to dress like boys.‘“ Austin, who was told to remove the costume before school even started, says classmates were cool with it and were posing for photos with him. “It wasn’t a disruption,“ a fellow student tells the Press-Enterprise. “Nobody had a problem with it.“ According to a second Facebook post from Francey, students are passing out flyers encouraging everyone to cross-dress next week to support the LGBT community. “This is a real problem, and as students it is our job to fix this,“ the flyer states.

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►   Colombia: 3,177 pregnant women with Zika; no microcephaly

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said Saturday that there’s no evidence Zika has caused any cases of the birth defect known as microcephaly in his country, though it has diagnosed 3,177 pregnant women with the virus.
Santos also announced that a U.S. medical-scientific team will arrive in Colombia to help investigate the mosquito-borne virus.
Brazilian officials say they suspect Zika is behind a seemingly unusual number of microcephaly cases, in which children are born with unusually small heads. The link is not confirmed, but it has helped prompt the World Health Organization to declare an emergency over the virus.
Santos says Zika apparently has affected more than 25,600 Colombians overall.
Colombian officials said Friday that three people had died of the paralyzing Guillain-Barre syndrome they attributed to cases of Zika.
To date, the mosquito-borne virus has spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas.
With global concern over the Zika virus growing, health officials are warning pregnant women to be careful about who they kiss and calling on men to use condoms with pregnant partners if they have visited countries where the virus is present.
The flurry of recommendations began in Brazil, where a top health official said that scientists have found live virus in saliva and urine samples, and the possibility it could be spread by the two body fluids requires further study.

►   North Korea Launches Long-Range Rocket

North Korea defied international warnings and launched a long-range rocket that the UN and others call a cover for a banned test of technology for a missile that could strike the US mainland. The rocket was fired from North Korea’s west coast and tracked separately by the governments Japan and South Korea, which immediately convened an emergency national security council meeting, reports the AP. South Korean media reported that the rocket may have failed, but provided no other details. The launch follows North Korea’s widely disputed claim last month to have tested a hydrogen bomb. This time, the North had said it was launching a satellite, reports CNN.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the launch and the weapons test violations of UN agreements. “We absolutely cannot allow this,“ he told reporters at the prime minister’s residence. “We will take action to totally protect the safety and well-being of our people.“ A South Korean defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rocket disappeared from South Korean military radars around six minutes after its launch. The official said there were no immediate reports of debris landing on South Korean territory or damaging property. The rocket’s first stage fell off South Korea’s west coast, the official said.

►   French Outraged by Spelling Shake-Up

France is in uproar over reports that the official spellings of 2,400 words are being changed to make them less confusing for schoolchildren just learning the language, the Guardian reports. For example, “ognon” is now a fine way to spell onion in addition to the more familiar “oignon.“ And the circumflex—the hat-like accent—will be removed from some words where it doesn’t affect meaning or pronunciation. But what advocates call a “clean-up” of the language, others accuse of being a “dumbing down” on the part of the government. “Absurd,“ say some. “The French language is our soul,“ say others. One French headline even went so far as to proclaim the changes “the death of the circumflex,“ according to NPR.

What’s strange is that the new spellings have been the “official standard” since they were adopted by the High Council of the French Language back in 1990, only no one paid attention, the Local reports. The changes only started garnering responses like the hashtag #JeSuisCirconflexe after a TV news story this week. The president of the Higher Council of School Programmes says the story was a “political smear,“ trying to blame the current government for changes made decades ago. Regardless, schoolbooks will start using the new spellings in September (though schools will still accept the old spellings as correct). And as long as we’re changing languages to make them easier for schoolchildren, we’d like to request the US government immediately recognize “wierd,“ “concious,“ and “embarass” as fine and good spellings.

►   Syria: Foreign Troops Will Go Home in Coffins

Syria Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem warned Saturday that Saudi or other foreign ground troops entering Syria would “return home in wooden coffins,“ and called on rebel groups fighting a massive government offensive in the north to “come to their senses” and lay down their weapons. His comments came after Saudi Arabia said earlier this week it would be willing to send troops as part of a US-led military campaign against ISIS, the AP reports. “Any ground intervention in Syria, without the consent of the Syrian government, will be considered an aggression that should be resisted by every Syrian citizen,“ the minister told a news conference in Damascus. “I regret to say that they will return home in wooden coffins.“

Al-Moallem’s comments capped a week that saw the collapse of UN-led efforts to launch indirect peace talks between the Syrian government and an opposition delegation in Geneva. The talks broke down in large part because of Syrian government offensives, including on the outskirts of Aleppo, the country’s largest city and one-time commercial center. The offensive, aimed at encircling rebel strongholds in Aleppo, was backed by intense Russian airstrikes and sent tens of thousands of area residents fleeing toward a closed Turkish border. Al-Moallem said the government advances signaled that the five-year-old Syria war is nearing its end, although he added that there’s no telling how long “those who conspire” against Syria will continue to do so.

►   Japan May Ditch Old Symbol Over Swastika Confusion

As Japan gears up to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and caters to a surging influx of foreign visitors, the country faces a cultural dilemma: Should it stop identifying Buddhist temples on maps with the traditional “manji” symbol that is often confused with a Nazi swastika? The symbol, from ancient Sanskrit, means happiness and prosperity and has been used for centuries by Hindus and Buddhists, reports the AP. But many Western tourists associate it with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust because the emblem was adopted by Nazi Germany to try to enhance a sense of ancient lineage. The swastika in Japan—which usually points counter-clockwise, the reverse of the Nazi symbol—has been used for centuries in Buddhist decorations and to denote Buddhist temples on maps.

In a report released last month, based on survey results collected from more than 1,000 foreigners, a government panel proposed a three-tiered pagoda symbol to replace the swastika. It is one of 18 suggested icons for landmarks like hospitals and convenience stores for foreign-language maps, part of a broader push to create user-friendly maps for the growing number of foreign tourists, which jumped more than 40% last year. A final decision is expected in late March. Japan’s main Buddhist group is nonchalant because the change doesn’t affect domestic maps and therefore likely won’t alter perceptions at home. But public opinion seems divided online, with some arguing the symbol should be kept as a way to teach people about the ancient history behind it.

►   North Korea Moves Up Dates for Rocket Launch

North Korea has moved up the window of its planned long-range rocket launch to February 7-14, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Saturday. The AP reports he launch, which the North says is an effort to send a satellite into orbit, would be in defiance of repeated warnings by outside governments who suspect it is a banned test of ballistic missile technology. North Korea did not inform international organizations of any other changes in its plan, and the rocket’s expected flight path remains the same, said Moon Sang Gyun, Seoul’s Defense Ministry spokesperson. On Tuesday, the North informed the International Maritime Organization and the International Telecommunication Union that it would attempt a satellite launch between February 8 and 25. No reason was given Saturday for the change of dates.

North Korea’s launch declaration came just weeks after it conducted its fourth nuclear test. Outside experts and officials say that each nuclear test and long-range missile launch brings the North closer to creating a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile capable of reaching targets as far as the US West Coast. While the timing of the launch will be mainly determined by conditions such as weather, South Korean analysts had speculated that the North might attempt to pull off the launch ahead of February 16, the birthday of late dictator Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea previously tested nuclear explosive devices in 2006, 2009, and 2013, and claimed it successfully delivered a satellite into orbit in December 2012, the last time it launched a long-range rocket.

►   Rescuers in Taiwan pull out survivors from quake rubble

TAINAN, Taiwan — As anxious families waited nearby, rescuers on Sunday painstakingly pulled more survivors from the remains of a high-rise apartment building that collapsed a day earlier in a powerful earthquake that shook southern Taiwan and killed at least 32 people. More than 100 remained buried in the building’s rubble.

The government in Tainan, the worst-hit city, said that more than 170 people had been rescued alive from the 17-story building, which folded like an accordion after the quake struck.

Mao Yi-chen, 20, was rescued soon after the magnitude-6.4 quake hit before dawn Saturday, and her older sister Mao Yi-hsuan was pulled out Sunday in serious condition. A rescue worker had handed over a photo album and homemade cards found next to her for her family to collect, said local official Wang Ding-yu.

“He said that ‘maybe your home is damaged, but memories of the family can last,‘“ Wang said.

With the extended Lunar New Year holiday – the most important family holiday in the Chinese calendar – officially beginning on Monday, celebrations were certain to be subdued in Taiwan. Both President Ma Ying-jeou and President-elect Tsai Ing-wen canceled the handing out of envelopes of cash in their hometowns, a holiday tradition for Taiwan’s leader.

The Tainan Disaster Emergency Center estimated that 118 people were still trapped at the site of the collapsed building, many at the bottom of the wreckage. Tainan Mayor Lai Ching-te said rescuers were able to reach many people by using information from residents who got out about the possible locations of those still inside.

Two of the trapped, a male and a female at different sides of the building, were talking to rescue workers on Sunday evening, Lai said. He told reporters that rescuers intended to pull them out, and then bring in heavier excavators to remove part of the structure on top to allow access to the areas at the bottom.

The spectacular fall of the high-rise, built in 1989, raised questions about whether its construction had been shoddy. Tainan’s government said the building had not been listed as a dangerous structure, and Taiwan’s interior minister, Chen Wei-zen, said an investigation would examine whether the developer had cut corners.

Eighth-floor resident Huang Guang-wei was pulled out Sunday morning from a different section from where he lived, showing how distorted the building is, Lai said. Rescuers could see Huang only through a 4-inch crack and it took eight hours to get him out, Lai said.

Among the fatalities was a 6-month-old baby girl who was pulled from the rubble and rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. A deceased man believed to be her father was pulled out 40 minutes later, Wang said.

A man in his 60s, whose son escaped and whose daughter-in-law was in serious condition, was trying to help rescuers pinpoint his grandsons. “My 11- and 12-year-old grandsons are still inside on the ninth floor,“ said the man, who gave only his surname, Huang. “I told my son not to buy an apartment here; it was suspiciously cheap.“

Beside him, another man nodded in agreement as he waited for news of his own relatives on the seventh floor.

The emergency center said that 30 of the 32 confirmed deaths from the earthquake were from the building collapse. It said that 171 people had been rescued from the building, 92 of whom were sent to hospitals. More than 100 people were rescued from other parts of Tainan, eight of whom received hospital treatment. Nine other buildings in the city collapsed and five careened.

On Sunday, thousands of rescuers worked on different levels of the folded building, which was supported by steel pillars. Rescuer Su Yu-min said they were trying to cut through walls and pillars.

“It takes a few hours to complete a search for just one household and sometimes it takes two hours just to go forward 30 centimeters (12 inches)“ when the way is blocked by a wall, he said.

Taiwanese broadcaster EBC showed video of volunteers trying to comfort the mother of a missing 20-year-old man, Chen Guan-yu. “He always thinks of me,“ said the woman, whose name was not given. “He worries about me being single and lonely and that no one is taking care of me.“

Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, but most are minor and cause little or no damage, though a magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.

►   Turkey: Reaching limits but will keep taking in refugees

KILIS, Turkey — Turkey has reached the end of its “capacity to absorb” refugees but will continue to take them in, the deputy premier said Sunday, as his country faced mounting pressure to open its border to tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled a government onslaught.

The United Arab Emirates meanwhile joined Saudi Arabia in saying that it was open to the idea of sending ground troops to Syria to battle the Islamic State group, raising the possibility of even greater foreign involvement in the five-year-old civil war.

Turkish authorities say up to 35,000 Syrians have massed along the border, which remained closed for a third day on Sunday. The governor of the Turkish border province of Kilis said Saturday that Turkey would provide aid to the displaced within Syria, but would only open the gates in the event of an “extraordinary crisis.“

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told CNN-Turk television that Turkey is now hosting a total of 3 million refugees, including 2.5 million Syrians.

“Turkey has reached the end of its capacity to absorb (refugees),“ Kurtulmus said. “But in the end, these people have nowhere else to go. Either they will die beneath the bombings and Turkey will . . . watch the massacre like the rest of the world, or we will open our borders.“

Kurtulmus said some 15,000 refugees from Syria were admitted in the past few days, without elaborating. He put the number of refugees being cared for on the other side of the border at 30,000.

He did not explain why the Turkish border gate at Oncupinar, opposite the Bab al-Salameh crossing in Syria, was being kept closed or why tens of thousands of refugees were not immediately being let in.

In Syria, pro-government forces pressed ahead with their offensive in the northern Aleppo province, which has caused the massive displacement of civilians toward the Turkish border. Opposition activists said Syrian ground troops backed by Russian airstrikes were engaged in intense fighting with insurgents around the village of Ratyan and surrounding areas north of Aleppo city.

The army has almost fully encircled Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and one-time commercial center, preparing the way for a blockade. The main supply line to the Turkish border has already been cut and many residents of the city were looking to leave, anticipating severe shortages in coming days.

Dr. Ahmad Abdelaziz, of the Syrian American Medical Society, a humanitarian organization, said there were only four general surgeons for the entire city.

“The people there are very worried there could be a siege at any time. We expect a lot of people to get out of the city if the situation remains like this, if there is no improvement,“ he said.

Abdelaziz, who goes in and out of Aleppo but spoke to the AP from the Turkish city of Gaziantep, described a dire scene at the border and said it was difficult to get medicine to the people gathered there.

“There are so many old people and children in the cold weather . . . They are surrounded by ISIS from the east, the regime from the south and Kurdish forces from the west,“ he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

On Saturday, the European Union urged Turkey to open its borders, saying it was providing aid to Ankara for that purpose. EU nations have committed $3.3 billion to Turkey to help refugees, part of incentives aimed at persuading Turkey to do more to stop thousands of migrants from leaving for Greece.

Kurtulmus estimated that “in the worst case scenario” as many as 1 million more refugees could flee Aleppo and surrounding areas.

The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests but escalated into a full-blown civil war after a harsh government crackdown. The fighting has killed more than 250,000 people and forced millions to flee the country.

The war has drawn in regional and international rivals, with a U.S.-led coalition launching airstrikes against the IS group and Russian warplanes backing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The Lebanese Hezbollah group has sent thousands of fighters to back Assad while Iran has dispatched what it refers to as “military advisers,“ many of whom have been killed in combat in recent weeks.

Saudi Arabia – one of the main backers of the rebels battling to topple Assad – said last week it was willing in principle to send ground troops to battle IS.

The United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash echoed that pledge Sunday, saying “we have been frustrated at the slow pace of confronting Daesh,“ using the Arabic acronym for IS. He stressed that any deployment would be relatively small, saying: “We’re not talking about thousands of troops.“

Even a small force, however, could alarm Damascus and escalate regional tensions even further. On Saturday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said any Saudi or other foreign ground troops who enter Syria would “return home in wooden coffins.“

►   Somalia spokesman: Video shows laptop handed to bomb suspect

MOGADISHU, Somalia — A Somalia government spokesman says that CCTV video footage at Mogadishu airport shows two men handing what looks like a laptop computer to the suspected suicide bomber after he passed through the security checkpoint.

Spokesman Abdisalam Atto said at least one of the men delivering the laptop was an airport employee and that 20 people, including airport employees and others, have been arrested.

The man who received the laptop is the suspected suicide bomber who was blown from the Daallo Airlines jet creating a gaping hole in the fuselage and forcing the plane to make an emergency landing back at the Mogadishu airport. It is believed the laptop-like device was the bomb that caused the explosion. The plane’s pilot said that if the explosion happened when the aircraft was at a higher altitude it could have caused the jet to crash.

►   UN condemns North Korea launch, pledges significant new sanctions

SEOUL, South Korea — The U.N. Security Council on Sunday strongly condemned North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket that world leaders denounced as a banned test of dangerous ballistic missile technology and another “intolerable provocation.“ The U.N.‘s most powerful body pledged to quickly adopt a new resolution with “significant” new sanctions.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un went ahead with the launch just two hours after an eight-day window opened early Sunday, and a month after the country’s fourth nuclear test. He ignored an appeal from China, its neighbor and important ally, not to proceed and in another slap to Beijing, he chose the eve of the Chinese New Year, the country’s most important holiday.

Since its January 6 nuclear test, which the North claimed was a powerful hydrogen bomb but experts believe was not, China and the United States have been negotiating the text of a new Security Council sanctions resolution.

The U.S., backed by its Western allies, Japan and South Korea, wants tough sanctions reflecting Kim’s defiance of the Security Council. But diplomats say China, the North’s key protector in the council, is reluctant to impose economic measures that could cause North Korea’s economy to collapse.

The 15-member Security Council strongly condemned the launch and pledged to “expeditiously” adopt a new resolution with “further significant measures” – U.N. code for sanctions. The word “robust” referring to the measures was in an initial draft, but was dropped in the final statement.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters that “it cannot be business as usual” after two successive North Korean acts that are “hostile and illegal.“

“What’s important is that the Security Council unites,“ Power said. “China is a critical player. . . . We are hopeful that China, like all council members, will see the grave threat to regional and international peace and security, see the importance of adopting tough, unprecedented measures, breaking new ground here, exceeding the expectations of Kim Jong Un.“

However, China’s U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, made clear that unprecedented sanctions aren’t Beijing’s priority.

He said a new resolution should “do the work of reducing tension, of working toward denuclearization (of the Korean peninsula), of maintaining peace and stability, and of encouraging a negotiated solution.“

“I believe the council needs to work together for a new resolution,“ Liu added, indicating that China may want negotiations with the United States to be widened.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, whose country is also a North Korean ally, said: “It has to be a weighty resolution, but it also has to be a reasonable resolution” that doesn’t lead to North Korea’s economic or humanitarian collapse, or further heighten tensions.

Russia’s goal is to see six-party talks aimed at denuclearization resume, he said, but in the current atmosphere that’s unlikely because the North Koreans “have been very unreasonable” and are challenging the entire international community.

“We think this is wrong for their national interests ... for the Korean peninsula ... for the region,“ Churkin said.

North Korea, which calls its launches part of a peaceful space program, said it had successfully put a new Earth observation satellite, the Kwangmyongsong 4, or Shining Star 4, into orbit less than 10 minutes after liftoff, and vowed more such launches. A U.S. official said it might take days to assess whether the launch was a success.

Japan’s U.N. ambassador, Motohide Yoshikawa, told reporters the missile went over Japan and landed near the Philippines, “a clear threat to the lives of many people.“

The Security Council underscored that launches using ballistic missile technology, “even if characterized as a satellite launch or space launch vehicle” contribute to North Korea’s development of systems to deliver nuclear weapons and violate four Security Council resolutions dating back to the North’s first nuclear test in 2006.

North Korean rocket and nuclear tests are seen as crucial steps toward the North’s ultimate goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could hit the U.S. mainland. North Korea under Kim Jong Un has pledged to bolster its nuclear arsenal unless Washington scraps what Pyongyang calls a hostile policy meant to collapse Kim’s government.

In a development that will worry both Pyongyang and Beijing, a senior South Korean Defense Ministry official, Yoo Jeh Seung, told reporters that Seoul and Washington have agreed to begin talks on a possible deployment of the THADD missile-defense system in South Korea. North Korea has long decried the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and Beijing would see a South Korean deployment of THAAD, which is one of the world’s most advanced missile-defense systems, as a threat to its interests in the region.

In a statement, North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration, in typical propaganda-laden language, praised “the fascinating vapor of Juche satellite trailing in the clear and blue sky in spring of February on the threshold of the Day of the Shining Star.“ Juche is a North Korean philosophy focusing on self-reliance; the Day of the Shining Star refers to the February 16 birthday of Kim Jong Un’s father, former dictator Kim Jong Il. North Korea has previously staged rocket launches to mark important anniversaries.

The global condemnation began almost immediately.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye called the launch an “intolerable provocation,“ saying the North’s efforts to advance its missile capabilities were “all about maintaining the regime” in Pyongyang and ignored the hardships of ordinary North Koreans.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to “take action to totally protect the safety and well-being of our people.“ U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice called the North’s missile and nuclear weapons programs “serious threats to our interests – including the security of some of our closest allies.“

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan and reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad commitment to the security and defense” of its allies, the State Department said.

The Foreign Ministry in China expressed “regret that, disregarding the opposition from the international community, the (North) side obstinately insisted in carrying out a launch by using ballistic missile technologies.“

Noting China’s pivotal role in negotiating a new Security Council resolution, Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Peter Wilson, said: “Today is Chinese New Year’s eve and if I was a senior Chinese official I would be pretty annoyed at what’s been happening here. I know what I feel like when I’m dragged out of bed on a major national holiday.“

Kim Jong Un has overseen two of the North’s four nuclear tests and three long-range rocket launches since taking over after the death of his father in late 2011. The U.N. Security Council prohibits North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity. Experts say that ballistic missiles and rockets in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technology.

“If North Korea has only nuclear weapons, that’s not that intimidating. If they have only rockets, that’s not that intimidating, either. But if they have both of them, that means they can attack any target on Earth. So it becomes a global issue,“ said Kwon Sejin, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.


Flags lowered in memory of Delegate Frank “Chunki” Angotti
The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV - Governor Earl Ray Tomblin today ordered State Capitol flags at the State Capitol Complex in Charleston and at all state-owned facilities in Harrison County be lowered from dawn to dusk February 08, 2016, the day of services celebrating the life of Delegate Frank “Chunki” Angotti.
“Chunki was a true public servant who dedicated his life to serving the people of West Virginia and Harrison County,“ Governor Tomblin said. “Joanne and I were saddened to hear of his passing and send our thoughts and prayers to the entire Angotti family during this difficult time.“
In 1998, Angotti was elected to represent the people of the 48th District in the House of Delegates, where he served for consecutive two terms. In 2002, he was elected to the Harrison County Commission, where he served for eight years. He was later appointed to the Harrison County Commission in 2015 to fill a vacant seat.
Angotti served on a number of boards and committees, including Harrison County Parks & Recreation, the Senior Citizen Board of Directors, the Benedum Airport Board of Directors and the Harrison County Development Authority. He also operated Chunki’s Pizza and Subs in Clarksburg for more than 40 years.
Angotti is survived by his wife, Gina Jones; son, Dr. Frank Thomas Angotti; and daughter, Lori Angotti.

Twenty-Five School Districts Express Intent to Offer Alternative Teacher Certification Programs

The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV - Twenty-five districts throughout West Virginia have filed letters of intent indicating their plan to submit an alternative teacher certification program proposal.

School districts are able to propose offering alternative education programs as a result of West Virginia State Board of Education (WVBE) Policy 5901 which was approved in September 2015. The new policy establishes a process for counties to develop a rigorous alternative program for teacher certification in partnership with the education department itself, one of the state’s eight Regional Education Service Agencies, an institution of higher education with an accredited program for the education of professional educators that has been approved by the WVBE, or an entity affiliated with an institution of higher education with an accredited program for the education of professional educators that has been approved by the WVBE.

“We want the best education system in America to be right here in West Virginia and that system begins with qualified teachers who embrace high expectations, strive for excellence and put students at the center of their work each day,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano. “This alternative teacher certification program will help us promote, recruit and retain a highly effective and diverse workforce for the students in West Virginia.”

Proposals from the 25 districts must be submitted by Feb. 22, 2016.  Following submission, each proposal will be reviewed by the Alternative Certification Program Review Board (Review Board) which will occur in March 2016.

The Review Board, comprised of eight members who were trained last month, will determine if each proposal meets the criteria established in WV Code §18A-3-1 and WVBE Policy 5901. The Review Board will subsequently make recommendations to the WVBE. If criteria is met, approval of the proposed program can be granted by the WVBE for a period of up to five years.  If criteria are not met, program proposals may be revised and resubmitted to the Review Board.

Districts will have another opportunity to submit proposals to the Review Board prior to the 2016-17 school year.  The next reviews are scheduled in June and September.

Following is a list of districts which provided letters of intent to submit an alternative certification program proposal:

District RESA Location Partner(s)
Kanawha 3 RESA 3
Hardy 8 RESA 8
Berkeley 8 RESA 8
Morgan 8 RESA 8
Grant 8 RESA 8
Hampshire 8 RESA 8
Mineral 8 RESA 8
McDowell 1 RESA 1
Jefferson 8 RESA 8
Cabell, Mason,
Wayne, Lincoln,
2 RESA 2
Nicholas, Braxton,
Fayette, Webster,
Greenbrier, Pocahontas
4 RESA 4
Concord University
Marshall University
Pendleton 8 RESA 8
Putnam 3 RESA 3
Clay 3 RESA 3
Boone 3 RESA 3
Taylor 7 RESA 7

EducationNewsWest VirginiaPolitics | Government | ElectionState-WV(3) Comments

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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

Why can’t GSC run with this as an opportunity to redirect into a survivable position?

There have been several reports in WV about shortages of teachers in some academic areas to be why individuals without proper certifications are being hired under emergency conditions.

GSC is small enough to be able to redirect more quickly compared to one of our larger colleges and universities where size can be more of a disadvantage to rapid redirection.

Dr. Barr, why can’t you act on the opportunity?
This is a time to break strings to do what is right for GSC’s future.

WV needs hard to find teachers aplenty more than we do land management and criminal justice aplenty.

What happened to the idea to establish a first rate prestigious teacher’s academy at GSC to enable students to graduate in high demand fields with a master’s degree in five years?

GSC must do something to set it apart as a special college worth saving for WV’s benefit.

By Why Not A New Teacher's Academy Program At GSC?  on  02.07.2016

Why is there an alternate certification plan??
Is there a problem with the original??
Why is this not explained??
Sounds like a sugar coated “easier” way to obtain it, am I right??

By Wondering...  on  02.07.2016

The explanation is there will be classroom Teachers with no teaching degree.  Is this going to happen to Gilmer County where our graduating Teachers were once highly sought after?

By Is It Down To This WVBOE?  on  02.07.2016

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In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►   Groups say WV a mixed bag on domestic violence gun laws

CHARLESTON, WV — West Virginia has been ahead of the curve in passing several protections to ban domestic abusers from having guns, but gun safety groups say the state should do more.
Over the past two years, more than a dozen states have strengthened laws designed to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, according to a review by The Associated Press.
In 2000, West Virginia made it illegal for people convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse to have a gun. The law broadly covers spouses, current or former sexual or intimate partners, someone with whom a person has a child, a former or current living mate, parent or guardian, or child.
In 2012, the state began requiring that domestic violence protective orders ban respondents from having guns or ammunitions.
However, West Virginia doesn’t establish a procedure to remove guns from domestic abusers once they are prohibited from having them, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Over the last two years, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Delaware and New Hampshire are among the states that established laws providing guidance about making sure domestic abusers or people under domestic abuse protective orders turn over their guns.
About 15 states allow or require the court issuing a protective order to require abusers to turn in their guns. Fewer states let law enforcement take guns subject to protective orders, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In West Virginia, law enforcement must seize guns they find at the scene of a domestic violence incident.
But the silence on making abusers hand over guns is a dangerous hole in the law, according to Everytown for Gun Safety lawyer Jonas Oransky.
“There’s no accountability, and if the person is already a gun owner, there’s just no process for enforcing the law,“ Oransky said.
The West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, however, is not currently on a policy campaign to change that law, said Joyce Yedlosky of the coalition.
In some areas, law enforcement, the courts and other groups have set up procedures to make sure guns are safely transferred, Yedlosky said.
“They’re not in place in every community, so I think that we could expand that,“ Yedlosky said.
Federal law already prohibits having a gun for people convicted of a domestic violence-related misdemeanor and those who are subject to permanent domestic violence protective orders. Some states, including West Virginia, have gone beyond that.
FBI records reviewed by AP show guns were used in 65 domestic-related killings of spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners in West Virginia from 2006 to 2014. Of those homicides, 51 were against women.
Generally a gun-friendly place, West Virginia has expanded gun rights in several ways the past few years.
In 2014, West Virginia adopted a law making it impossible for city officials to ban guns at such facilities as city swimming pools, tennis courts, after-school centers and similar recreational venues.
The law allows only people with concealed carry permits to bring guns to those locations, but they must be “out of view and access to others,“ or locked in cars and out of sight.
Last year, names and addresses of people with concealed carry permits became shielded from public record requests.
The Republican-led Legislature is currently considering a bill to eliminate the requirement that people first get a permit before they can carry concealed guns. Only a handful of states don’t require concealed carry permits.
Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the same kind of bill last year over safety concerns from law enforcement.
In a slight change of pace, all three branches of state government were on board this year with adding metal detectors to the state Capitol, where carrying guns was already illegal.

►   Fayette County Schools will cut 18 staff positions

FAYETTEVILLE, WV — Fayette County Schools will eliminate professional jobs and service personnel in an effort to match funding the state allows for such positions.
Fayette Superintendent Terry George says the county will reduce staff by 9.5 professional positions and 8.5 service jobs next school year. Positions set to be eliminated will end June 30.
West Virginia uses student population to determine the amount of funding each district will receive. The number of professional and personnel positions that fall outside that number must be paid for in other ways.
The school district’s general fund for fiscal year 2016 is $61.4 million, which is down $7 million from 2015.
George says state aid is expected to decrease as enrollment continues to decline. She says these cuts are recommended based only on the state aid formula.

►   Zika Virus Advisories Issued in Appalachian States

West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina have issued advisories for the Zika virus, urging caution, particularly for pregnant women traveling to areas where the disease is circulating.
According to the Centers for Diease Control and Prevention, 35 cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in the continental United States, only two of which were in Appalachia. However, Zika virus is possibly linked to birth defects in babies born to mothers who contracted the disease while pregnant. Therefore, the CDC has urged caution for pregnant women from any state traveling to regions (such as Brazil and Central America) where the disease is known to originate.
Zika is primarily contracted through mosquito bites – pregnant women can pass the virus on to their fetus; it also can be transmitted from blood transfusions or through sexual contact.
There is no vaccine for Zika virus. However, 80 percent of those who contract the virus don’t show symptoms, according to the Health Advisory from West Virginia’s Bureau for Public Health. Those with symptoms may experience fever, joint pain and a rash. Hospitalization and death due to Zika are rare.

►   State Police: Traffic Fatalities Decline in 2015

The West Virginia State Police say traffic fatalities in the state continued to decline in 2015.
State Police says roadway deaths are down from 337 killed in 2012 to 270 in 2015. Troopers with the Governor’s Highway Safety Program attribute the decline to an increase in targeted patrols across the state.
Trooper J.R. Tupper, a drug recognition expert who is part of the safety program, says he believes drivers are increasingly paying more attention to the road.
Lt. Michael Baylous says the State Police rely heavily on grants from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program in order to address highway concerns across the state.

►   West Virginia Ethics Commission Issues Two Public Reprimands as Part of Settlement Agreements

CHARLESTON, WV – The West Virginia Ethics Commission today issued public reprimands as part of settlement agreements of ethics Complaints filed against two former public servants.  The public reprimands were issued on February 04, 2016, against Harold D. Green, former President of the Boone County Ambulance Authority’s Board of Directors, and Joseph S. Gollie, former Vice President of the Board. 
The Commission found that Green and Gollie violated the West Virginia Governmental Ethics Act by using their public positions for the private gain of Randall W. Lengyel, the Authority’s former Executive Director.  Green and Gollie signed a loan repayment agreement which provided that the Authority would loan Lengyel $103,000 interest free to enable him to transfer his retirement participation from the Public Employees Retirement System to the more lucrative Emergency Medical Services Retirement System.  The loan agreement provided that Lengyel repay the loan with monthly payments of $350, which would not begin until he received his first retirement benefit payment.  Green and Gollie did not present the loan agreement, which is the only document containing the loan terms and amount, to the full Board of Directors. 

In addition to the public reprimands, Green’s and Gollie’s Conciliation Agreements with the Commission require them to pay fines of $1,000 each and to undergo training on the Ethics Act.

The Conciliation Agreements may be viewed on the Commission’s website at

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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

Fayette County cutting 18, Boone cut 77, last number heard was Mingo to cut about 27. McDowell cut, Logan cut, Putnam going to cut, etc.  Don’t know how many positions will be lost here in Gilmer.  If consolidted employees retire the job will be gone none the less.  Seems the state can’t cut enough to solve it’s problems and spent their way into a bottomless pit. Are they going to lay all of this on the county boards of education?

By Likely They Will Try  on  02.07.2016

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In USA….

The Free Press WV

►   Sea lion takes a booth at San Diego restaurant on the beach

A skinny sea lion pup with a taste for the finer things in life turned up on Thursday inside a fancy San Diego restaurant, where it settled down into a booth.

The malnourished mammal appears to have arrived at The Marine Room after sauntering down a ramp from the beach and going through a door left open by a cleaning crew, said Chef Bernard Guillas.

The early morning guest quickly made an impression on the establishment’s staff, as the female pup climbed into a booth “almost like she wanted to have dinner,“ the chef said.

The menu at the white table-cloth restaurant, which juts out into the Pacific Coast and is buffeted by waves during high tide, includes rarified dishes like “ginger kalbi lacquered tofu” and “ahi tuna and foie rossini.“

But the pup was hardly given a chance to get comfortable. A rescue team from the SeaWorld San Diego theme park was called in to pull the barking mammal from the booth and place it in a net. The mammal was then taken to SeaWorld for care, said David Koontz, a spokesman for the tourist center.

The lethargic pup is eight months old and weighs only 20 pounds (9 kg), less than half the normal size for its age, Koontz said. But SeaWorld staff is “guardedly optimistic” they can nurse it back to health and return the animal to the wild, he said.

►   United lets families board early, reversing 4-year policy

NEW YORK — United Airlines is trying to bring back a bit of the friendly skies, allowing families with young children to board early.

The move, which takes effect Feb. 15., lets families with children age two and under get settled in their seats before the rush of other passengers clamoring for overhead bin space.

United was the last holdout. It has forced families to board with everybody else since it revamped its boarding process in April 2012.

Policies vary from airline to airline. Some let families skip in front of everybody while others let the first class and elite passengers onto the plane first, then give families a head start on the rest of the passengers.

It’s a delicate balance. The airlines want to board passengers as fast as possible and take most of the pain out of the process. However, they also want to reward elite members by letting them settle in early. Additionally, airlines are making money selling early boarding directly to passengers or via credit card partnerships. Those who get on the plane first get a spot in the overhead bin for their bag; those who board last are typically forced to check their bags at the gate.

Sandra Pineau-Boddison, United’s senior vice president of customers, says the move comes as part of a larger effort by the Chicago-based airline to be more attentive to passengers’ needs.

“It takes a little bit of the stress out of the travel situation,“ she says. “Some things are just the right thing to do.“

It also helps the airline get a plane out on time. Having all the strollers gate-checked at once frees baggage handlers who later have to deal with storing carry-on bags under the plane because there is no overhead bin space left.

The current U.S. airline family boarding policies are:

— ALASKA AIRLINES: Families with children under two can board at the beginning of the process, before first class and elite customers.

— AMERICAN AIRLINES: Families with children board before first class and elite members upon request only. The age is at the discretion of the gate agent.

— DELTA AIR LINES: Families with car seats or strollers can board before first class and elite members.

— FRONTIER AIRLINES: Families with children age three and younger board after the airline’s elite members and those who have paid for extra legroom but before the rest of the plane.

— HAWAIIAN AIRLINES: Families with children under the age of two can board before first class and elite members.

— JETBLUE AIRWAYS: Families with children under the age of two board after elite members and passengers in premium seats but before the rest of the plane.

— SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: An adult traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding, which occurs after the “A’‘ group has boarded and before the “B’‘ group begins boarding.

— SPIRIT AIRLINES: Families board after passengers who paid extra to board early and those who purchased space for a carry-on bag in the overhead bin.

— UNITED AIRLINES: Starting Feb. 15, families with children age two and under can board before first class and elite members.

— VIRGIN AMERICA: Families with young children can board after first class passengers, those in the extra legroom seats, passengers who paid for early boarding, those with elite status and those with a Virgin America credit card. They do get to board before other coach passengers.

►   Radioactive material found in groundwater below nuke plant

BUCHANAN, NY — A radioactive material has been detected in the groundwater below a nuclear power plant north of New York City.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo said Saturday that water contaminated by tritium leaked into the groundwater at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, 40 miles north of Manhattan.

Officials say the contamination has remained contained to the site and there’s no risk to the public.

Cuomo says the state’s environmental conservation and health departments will investigate.

A spokeswoman for Indian Point hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Elevated levels of tritium were found in two monitoring wells at the plant in 2014. Officials said then the contamination likely stemmed from an earlier maintenance shutdown.

►   Chicago officer sues estate of teen he shot, claiming trauma

CHICAGO — A white Chicago police officer who fatally shot a black 19-year-old college student and accidentally killed a neighbor has filed a lawsuit against the teenager’s estate, arguing the shooting left him traumatized.

The highly unusual suit was filed Friday in the middle of the city’s effort to grapple with serious questions about the future of its police force. Those questions include the adequacy of its system for investigating police shootings and how to win back public trust after several cases of alleged misconduct. The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a wide-ranging civil rights investigation, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised a major overhaul of the Police Department and steps to heal its fraught relationship with black residents.

The timing and unusual nature of the suit by officer Robert Rialmo, who is seeking $10 million in damages, could complicate the department’s efforts to demonstrate more sensitivity toward the community in how police shootings are handled. His attorney, Joel Brodsky, said it was important in the charged atmosphere to send a message that police are “not targets for assaults” and “suffer damage like anybody else.“

The teen’s father, Antonio LeGrier, filed a wrongful death lawsuit days after the Dec. 26 shooting, saying his son, Quintonio, was not armed with a weapon and was not a threat. His attorney, Basileios Foutris, was incredulous at what he called the officer’s “temerity” in suing the grieving family of the person he shot.

“That’s a new low even for the Chicago Police Department,“ he said. “First you shoot them, then you sue them.“

The lawsuit provides the officer’s first public account of how he says the shooting happened, offering details that differ with the family’s version. It says Rialmo, who was responding to a domestic disturbance call with another officer, opened fire after Quintonio LeGrier swung a bat at the officer’s head at close range. A downstairs neighbor, 55-year-old Bettie Jones, was standing nearby and was shot and killed by accident. She was not part of the domestic dispute.

“The fact that LeGrier’s actions had forced Officer Rialmo to end LeGrier’s life and to accidentally take the innocent life of Bettie Jones has caused, and will continue to cause, Officer Rialmo to suffer extreme emotional trauma,“ the filing says.

When arriving at the scene around 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 26, Rialmo rang the doorbell of the two-story apartment building. Jones answered and directed them to the upstairs apartment. As Rialmo stepped through the doorway, he heard someone “charging down the stairway,“ the suit says.

It describes the teen coming down the stairs with a baseball bat in hand and says LeGrier “cocked” the bat “and took a full sing at Officer Rialmo’s head, missing it by inches” when the two were around 4 feet apart.

The officer then backed away with his weapon still holstered, according to the suit, while repeatedly shouting at LeGrier to drop the bat.

But the suit says LeGrier kept advancing and swung the bat again. Only when LeGrier cocked the bat again from 3 or 4 feet away, did the officer pull out his 9 mm handgun and open fire, the filing says.

As he began firing, Rialmo did not see or hear Jones behind LeGrier, the suit says. It says one of the bullets went through LeGrier’s body and struck Jones, killing her.

An autopsy determined that LeGrier suffered six bullet wounds.

Lawyers for Antonio LeGrier and for Jones have provided accounts that differ from Rialmo’s. They say the evidence indicates the officer was 20 or 30 feet away when he fired, calling into question Rialmo’s contention that he feared for his life.

Foutris also questions why the teen would attack the officer since he was the one who called 911. The father of the Northern Illinois University student also made a 911 call.

“If you’re calling multiple times for help are you going to charge a police officer and try to hit him with a bat? That’s ridiculous,“ Foutris said.

County prosecutors have asked the FBI to investigate the shooting.

A Police Department spokesman refused to comment on the officer’s lawsuit.

Such a lawsuit by an officer is extraordinarily unusual, said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor and current defense attorney who is not connected to the case.

He questioned whether a judge would give it any merit and said it appeared intended to intimidate LeGrier’s family. He said he had never heard of an officer blaming his shooting victim for causing trauma.

“That is a known part of the job,“ Turner said of policing’s emotional toll.

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►   Turkish army seizes parrots, budgies on Syria border

The Turkish army has confiscated 700 parrots and 294 budgerigars on the border with Syria, it said on Friday, as its tighter security measures ensnare what was once a thriving trade in domesticated birds.

NATO member Turkey has stepped up security along its 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria as it tries to prevent foreign fighters joining Islamic State militants and defend itself against spillover from the country’s civil war.

But the measures, including more frequent border patrols and reinforced fencing, have also shut off what was long a thriving illicit trade in goods including fuel, cigarettes, sugar and, it seems, birds.

“They were generally bringing Sultan, Love and Paradise parrots. Here in Turkey a Paradise parrot goes for 1,000 lira, but they were bringing them over for 500,“ said Mehmet Turan, a bird breeder in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli.

“It’s the same for lovebirds. We were selling them at 25 lira retail, but they came from Syria at 12.5 to 15,“ he told Reuters by telephone.

Some basic goods like sugar sold for around half the price in Syria, where it was produced, than in Turkey before the war. Fuel is heavily taxed in Turkey, meaning the black market for illegal diesel, however crudely refined, also thrived.

Turkey has won international praise for its humanitarian response to Syria’s war, maintaining an open door policy to those fleeing the violence and taking in more than 2.5 million refugees over almost five years.

But it is under pressure from Europe to stem the flow of migrants and from NATO allies to do more to secure the border.

While continuing to allow in refugees at border crossings, the Turkish army has been detaining those trying to cross illegally on an almost daily basis.

It said it detained almost 800 people on Thursday, and seized 2,660 packets of cigarettes, three cattle and a mobile phone along with the birds.

►   Assange sex case sinks in international quagmire

LONDON — It started more than five years ago as what appeared to be a fairly simple sex crime case: two women in Sweden came forward to accuse Julian Assange of sexual misconduct.

Now the case has mutated into a complicated international drama involving Britain, Sweden, the United States, Ecuador, a host of human rights lawyers and the United Nations.

But when the dust settles from an unexpected U.N. working group’s finding Friday that Assange has been unlawfully detained, the painful stalemate is expected to continue, and Assange — though claiming full vindication — will most likely remain cooped up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

The panel said his stay at the embassy — which he entered voluntarily in 2012 — constitutes arbitrary detention and that he should be set free and compensated for lost time.

Lawyer and legal blogger Carl Gardner said the finding “beggars belief” and pointed out it isn’t legally binding.

“Nobody will have to do anything,“ as a result of this finding, he said.

The sex crime allegations came at the height of Assange’s fame as the founder of WikiLeaks, an organization that had made a name for itself by releasing hundreds of thousands of pages of classified government documents. He had challenged, and embarrassed, U.S. officials with his disclosures, and feared a secret indictment in U.S. courts that could lead to prosecution there.

One woman said Assange intentionally damaged a condom and pinned her down while having sex. A second woman said Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep. In Sweden, having sex with an unconscious, drunk or sleeping person can lead to a rape conviction punishable by up to six years in prison.

A Swedish investigation into the crimes was launched, then dropped for lack of evidence, and then started again as prosecutors sought to question Assange about possible molestation and rape.

The computer hacker — facing no criminal charges — left Sweden for Britain, and the legal palaver begun.

Once he left, it became much more complicated for Swedish prosecutors to determine if the evidence against him was convincing enough to merit a criminal charge.

When prosecutors decided they needed to question him about the women’s allegations, they sought an international arrest warrant for him that was issued in November, 2010.

By then, Assange was in London, where he was seen by many as a hero in a “David versus Goliath” struggle pitting scrappy WikiLeaks against the mighty U.S. government. He was the toast of the town — at least among a group of wealthy friends from the film and media worlds who enjoyed the discomfort he brought to the high and mighty.

The arrest warrant would not go away, however, and Assange surrendered to police in London and was detained until his bail was granted. He got public support from filmmakers Oliver Stone and Michael Moore and human rights activist Bianca Jagger, and spent his time under court-ordered “house arrest” at a luxurious country estate owned by his friend, the journalist Vaughan Smith.

Assange repeatedly said his resistance was based on the overriding fear that once he was in the hands of British or Swedish authorities, he would be extradited to the U.S. to face trial there on charges related to his WikiLeaks work.

He denied the sex charges, and said they were part of a larger conspiracy to land him in a maximum security U.S. prison.

But Assange lost a series of legal attempts to block extradition. His final strategy failed in June, 2012 when Britain’s Supreme Court refused his bid to reconsider its earlier rejection of his appeal.

Assange had come to an uncomfortable crossroads: Return to Sweden to answer questions or take radical action to place himself beyond the prosecutors’ reach.

On June 19, he took those steps, calmly walking into the Embassy of Ecuador in central London to seek asylum. He’s been there ever since, in a prolonged state of legal limbo, unable even to stroll to a corner store.

He occasionally entertained celebrity visitors like actor John Cusack and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, but the flurry of magazine cover stories, books and even films about Assange started to subside as WikiLeaks generated fewer and fewer headlines.

In 2013, it became clearer than ever that his stay inside the embassy was no longer really about the sex crime inquiries when he said he would stay inside even if the investigation was dropped for fear of extradition to the United States.

U.S. officials have not revealed whether there is a secret indictment of Assange in U.S. courts, but in 2015, U.S. government representatives reiterated in court that a “sensitive” law enforcement investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing.

In March, a U.S. federal court confirmed there are “active and ongoing” attempts to prosecute him and WikiLeaks in an investigation involving espionage, conspiracy, and computer fraud.

Meanwhile, an attempt to question Assange inside the embassy — which would presumably allow Swedish prosecutors to decide whether to pursue or drop the case — has foundered because of sniping between Swedish and Ecuadorean officials.

Last year, Swedish prosecutors dropped the molestation inquiries because of the statute of limitations. But the rape investigation remains open.

The case seemed to be going nowhere until this week when a legal maneuver that had largely gone unnoticed paid big public relations dividends for Assange and his team. They had filed a complaint with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention against Sweden and Britain more than a year earlier charging that he had been unfairly detained.

The five-person board, operating under the auspices of the U.N. human rights chief, investigated, took evidence from both sides, and came out backing Assange’s position by a 3-1 vote, with one member deciding not to vote because she, like Assange, is Australian.

Cut to Assange emerging triumphant on the embassy balcony, like Winston Churchill and the royal family at the conclusion of World War II, claiming total victory.

A supporter shouted, “We love you Julian” as he went back inside the embassy — for what might be a very long time. British and Swedish officials said Friday they won’t be swayed by the working group’s opinion, and it is five more years before the statute of limitations on rape expires.

The lawyer for the Swedish woman who has accused Assange of rape said Friday Assange should answer questions — now.

Elisabeth Massi Fritz said in a statement that Assange should “pack his bags, leave the embassy and start cooperating with the police and the prosecutor.“

She said the panel’s decision is “insulting and offensive” toward her client and the rights of all crime victims, and that it is “important to remember that Assange had violated the law and is willfully defying the courts’ decisions.“

►   Thousands more Syrians rush toward Turkey to flee fighting

BEIRUT — Thousands of Syrians rushed toward the Turkish border Friday, fleeing a fierce government offensive and intense Russian airstrikes near Syria’s largest city of Aleppo.

Turkey, an ally of the Syrian opposition, promised humanitarian help for the displaced civilians, including food and shelter, but it did not say whether it would let them cross into the country, already burdened with hundreds of thousands of refugees.

“The attacks and bombings by the Russian planes and the Syrian regime have left our brothers with nowhere else to go,“ Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu said in a televised speech.

The U.N. estimated that nearly 40,000 newly displaced people have massed in recent days in several border areas of northern Syria, including about 20,000 near the Bab al-Salam border crossing. Turkish authorities increased security at the crossing and the pro-government A Haber news channel said all police and military leaves were canceled.

The international aid group Mercy Corps said that among those fleeing toward Turkey were residents of rebel-held areas of Aleppo who feared they would soon be besieged by government forces, while others were running from troops advancing in rural areas.

The Syrian government offensive began earlier this week in rural areas north of Aleppo, the provincial capital, and appears aimed at eventually encircling the city. Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad captured several towns and villages, driving a wedge into rebel-held areas and cutting off a supply road to Turkey.

Once Syria’s thriving commercial center, Aleppo has been divided since 2012 between government- and rebel-controlled districts. A government siege of rebel strongholds could isolate tens of thousands of civilians and would deal a devastating blow to the morale of groups fighting to topple Assad for the last five years.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest expressed concern that government forces backed by Russia threatened Aleppo.

“It does look like a terrible humanitarian situation inside of Syria and it is poised to get worse. And that is something that we continue to be quite concerned about,“ Earnest said.

“There is no denying that the efforts of the Russian military to buck up and strengthen the Assad regime’s grip on power only gives the Assad regime less of an incentive to come to the negotiating table and act constructively in conversations there,“ he added.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of using imprecise “dumb bombs” that have killed large numbers of civilians.

“This has to stop. Nobody has any question about that,“ Kerry told reporters at the State Department.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the “intense Russian airstrikes mainly targeting opposition groups in Syria are undermining the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.“

A U.N.-led attempt to launch indirect talks between a government delegation and opposition representatives in Geneva was adjourned Wednesday amid acrimonious bickering. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said the process will resume Feb. 25.

The opposition’s chief negotiator, Mohammed Alloush, told The Associated Press late Thursday that his delegation is unlikely to return to Geneva because of what he said was a “merciless” bombing campaign by Russia and the Syrian air force this week.

At the United Nations, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow plans to present new ideas on how to restart the talks, including a cease-fire, at a Feb. 11 meeting of key countries in Munich. He said Moscow hopes others in the 17-nation group will “shoulder responsibility” in restarting the talks.

Tensions ran high outside the U.N. Security Council, as Britain and France blamed Syria’s offensive near Aleppo for the suspension of talks.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the opposition couldn’t be expected to negotiate “with a gun to their heads,“ and British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said Churkin “needs to look in the mirror and understand where the responsibility lies.“

The Syrian rebels were able to hold positions in the Aleppo area before, but the Russian bombing, along with reinforcements sent to Assad by his allies in Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, appear to have tilted the balance in the battlefield.

London-based analyst Ayman Kamel, head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Euroasia Group, said he expects Assad’s forces to regain control of Aleppo at some point this year, barring further foreign intervention.

“I don’t think Aleppo is necessarily the most important city in the country, but it is very symbolic,“ he said. “If rebels lose their presence in Aleppo, then they are largely going to be demoralized, and it’s part of a larger campaign of them losing influence in northern Syria.“

Russia began its airstrikes in late September, ostensibly going after Islamic State extremists who control large areas of northeastern Syria. However, critics say Russian warplanes have struck a wide range of opposition targets in order to bolster Assad, a longtime ally.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its warplanes hit 875 targets across Syria this week, including in the area of the current offensive.

Mercy Corps, which has been delivering food to civilians in northern Syria, said it had to stop distributions in opposition-held areas of Aleppo earlier this week because the sole access road became too dangerous.

The Russian airstrikes north of Aleppo have “hugely increased” in the past two weeks, said Rae McGrath, head of Mercy Corps operations in Turkey and northern Syria.

The human rights advocacy group Amnesty International urged Turkey to admit the displaced. Turkey “must not close its doors to people in desperate need of safety,“ said Amnesty’s Global Issues Director Sherif Elsayed-Ali.

Turkish TV showed Syrians walking between long rows of large white tents at Bab al-Salam, and Davutoglu said tens of thousands more were on the move.

Abdulgani Fettah told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency that he escaped to the border after his hometown of Bab came under heavy bombardment.

“We are asking that Turkey looks after us and opens its doors to us,“ Fettah said. “We are in difficulty because of the cold. There are sick people, children, women, and wounded people. They came to the border in difficult conditions.“

There were conflicting estimates of the number of displaced near the border.

The U.N. said up to 20,000 people gathered at the Bab al-Salam crossing. Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said another 5,000 to 10,000 people reached the town of Azaz and that 10,000 arrived in the town of Afrin.

The Turkish Islamic charity IHH said about 50,000 people arrived since Thursday in the area of Bab al-Salam. The group is erecting tents on the Syrian side of the border, said spokesman Serkan Nergis. The charity runs about 10 camps for displaced Syrians on the frontier.

►   Pope Francis answers questions from children in new book

NEW YORK — “Dear Pope Francis,“ 10-year-old Mohammed begins, “Will the world be again as it was in the past?“

Signed “Respectfully yours,“ the boy wrote from a Jesuit-run school for refugee children in Syria and was treated to a long and personal answer from the pope himself. So were 29 other children who posed questions to Francis in letters from around the globe for a new book poignantly illustrated with their own artwork.

The book, “Dear Pope Francis,“ is out March 1 from Loyola Press in Chicago. It’s a project that likely wouldn’t have materialized without the help of Father Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit like the pope and the director of La Civilta Cattolica, a Roman Catholic journal published in Rome.

Tom McGrath of the Jesuit-founded publishing house co-edited the book with Spadaro after reaching out to the priest for help. Spadaro brought about 50 letters with questions to the pope so he could select 30. Spadaro sat with the pope as he responded to each. Francis often complimented the artwork of the children.

“He knows Pope Francis very well,“ McGrath said of Spadaro. “We tried to make it as easy for the pope as possible.“

The pope’s response to Mohammed spoke in part of suffering and the people who inflict it.

“There are those who manufacture weapons so that people fight each other and wage war. There are people who have hate in their hearts. There are people who are interested only in money and would sell everything for it. They would even sell other people,“ he wrote.

More to Mohammed’s point, Francis answered: “No, when the time comes, the world will not be as it was. It will be far better than it was in the past.“

Once the pope agreed to participate in the project, Loyola reached out to priests and lay people around the world to connect the publisher with children to write the letters.

The 30 kids in the book range in age from 6 to 13. In all, about 250 letters were received in 14 languages from 26 countries around the globe. The pope wound up with about 50 letters from which to choose.

“He loved the project right from the beginning,“ McGrath said. “He has this great affection for children, who have a great affection for him. He was surprised at the depth of the questions.“

There was no condensing or editing of the pope’s responses. In a 90-minute session with Spadaro last August in Rome, Francis responded verbally in a mixture of Italian and Spanish. Spadaro served as transcriber in addition to connecting Loyola Press with the Vatican.

“These are the pope’s exact words,“ McGrath said. “At one point he mentioned, ‘These are tough.‘ He realized that he owed the kids a deeper answer than right off the top of his head.“

Spadaro said via email that the pope truly pondered when answering the children.

“Often he looked off into space and tried to imagine the child in front of him,“ he said. “And in his gaze I saw care, love.“

Loyola will publish the book in English and Spanish. As an international Jesuit project, it will also be published simultaneously around the world, including in Brazil, Indonesia, Slovenia, Mexico and India.

Arrangements were still being made but Loyola Press plans to bring 10 of the children included in the book to Rome to meet the pope in person, hopefully in February before its March publication date.

“The pope is eager to meet them,“ McGrath said. “He was quick to say he would like to make that happen.“

They’ll be traveling with their parents from China, Ireland, Argentina, India, Canada, Kenya, Singapore, Australia, the United States and the Philippines.

Mohammed will not be among them, but 8-year-old Natasha from Kenya will make the trip to Rome. She asked the pope in her letter: “I would like to know more about Jesus Christ. How did he walk on water?“

The pope’s response?

“You have to imagine Jesus walking naturally, normally. He did not fly over the water or turn somersaults while swimming,“ he wrote. “He walked as you walk! ... Jesus is God, and so he can do anything!“

While one child wanted to know why parents fight and another why the pope wears such a tall hat, 7-year-old William of the United States asked: “If you could do one miracle what would it be?“

“Dear William,“ the pope said. “I would heal children. I’ve never been able to understand why children suffer. It’s a mystery to me. I don’t have an explanation.“

►   Drone schools spread in China to field pilots for new sector

BEIJING — Joysticks at their fingertips, the mostly male students packing the classroom lift their virtual helicopters into the air, part of a new cottage industry that’s sprung up in China: drone pilot schools.

China is already the world’s biggest drone manufacturer, churning out remote-controlled flying machines that range from 3-D urban mappers to tear-gas spraying models for police. But it lacks qualified pilots to fly them.

Young men in particular are flocking to drone schools such as TT Aviation Technology Co., one of more than 40 in China, hoping to land a potentially lucrative job in an exciting new field.

TT Aviation offers a two-week intensive course for $1,200 where students learn regulations and how to pilot using simulators and real drones. At the end of the course, they can try to earn the license required by China’s Civil Aviation Administration to operate drones that are heavier than 15 pounds and fly higher than 400 feet.

Xu Honggang, 24, believes the license will open doors to piloting jobs that make at least $780, higher than average. Some experienced pilots bring in double that amount, he said.

“I want to build my own company with drone services,“ Xu said one recent afternoon next to a grassy field where his instructor demonstrated basic moves with a small radio-controlled helicopter. “I like to work for myself. This is a new and popular line of work.“

The opportunities appear promising. More than 10,000 new pilots are needed this year across all industries in China, but only 1,000 pilots now hold licenses, said Yang Yi, the general manager of TT Aviation, which also manufactures and sells drones to private and public sector customers.

“The drone pilot and the car driver are the same: They both need systematic skill training and regulated studying to make sure everyone knows the rules before the real operation,“ she said.

Drones are touted as game-changers in a range of industries, including agriculture, logistics, film production and law enforcement.

The sector has gotten support from the central government, which is keen on promoting robotics and automation to sustain economic growth as labor costs rise. Chinese firms are making inroads producing unmanned machines beyond industrial use as well. Baidu, the Beijing-based search engine, is developing a self-driving car while DJI, a Shenzhen-based drone maker valued by U.S. investors at $8 billion, has cornered more than half the world consumer drone market.

So far, more than half of TT Aviation’s products are used in agriculture. China has vast farmlands, and there is a high demand for drones to be used in pesticide spraying because the labor force is shrinking even as labor costs rise, said Yang.

The company said police will use drones for patrols, while utilities use them for maintaining electricity infrastructure or mapping pipelines.

The Shandong Qihang Surveying and Mapping Technology Company has used photographs taken by its drones to build vast urban databases and 3-D models of cities. Every building can be catalogued, with information about the people and businesses behind every window stored in a database – a valuable technology for government bodies like the census bureau, urban planners and public security agencies, said company vice president Wu Haining.

“With oblique photograph technology and through cooperation with the government, people will be able to check any uploaded personal information in a room from any building in our 3-D map,“ said Wu, whose company also produces surveillance drones with five cameras.

The rapid development of new types of drones requires a pool of trained and specialized drone operators, Wu said.

Even as drones offer law enforcement sharply expanded capabilities, authorities in China, as in many other countries, are scrambling to regulate their use. The country is now beginning to set nationwide regulations on where they can fly, which are applauded by many in the Chinese industry.

“We need pilots with licenses, because safety is the biggest concern in the operation of drones. Although we have insurance, we still need strict regulations for studying and training to avoid any incidents,“ Wu said.

On a recent afternoon, a group of drone-flying aficionados tried out their models in the outskirts of Beijing near the city’s 6th Ring Road, a highway around the city about 8 to 12 miles from the city center. The capital requires permission to fly a drone inside that ring.

“This is only a toy for entertainment, I won’t use this for any other purpose,“ said Sun Xiaoqiang, a Beijing resident who has been flying drones for two years, when asked about the regulations.

“I have no bad intentions, it’s only for entertainment, so I think they should open a certain airspace for us.“

►   Over 100 missing, 14 dead as strong quake rattles Taiwan

TAINAN, Taiwan — Rescuers were searching late Saturday for more than 100 people still missing after a powerful, shallow earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn, causing a high-rise residential building to collapse and killing at least 14 people and injuring hundreds.

More than 340 people were rescued from the rubble in Tainan, the city hit worst by the quake. About 2,000 firefighters and soldiers scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the ruins of the 17-floor residential building, which folded like an accordion onto its side after the quake struck.

The spectacular fall of the building immediately raised questions about its construction, and Taiwan’s interior minister said there would be an investigation.

The official CNA news agency reported that the quake killed 14 people and injured 484 others, according to statistics by Taiwan’s rescue authorities. Most of the injured had been released from hospitals by Saturday night.

CNA said 153 people remained missing and that rescuers were racing to find them. Taiwan’s SETV reported that 101 adults and 41 children were missing. The number of missing was expected to drop because some of those listed might have been listed twice, hospitalized or not in the building at the time of the quake.

President Ma Ying-jeou visted a hospital and the emergency response center in Tainan before rushing back to the capital, Taipei, to attend a briefing on the situation.

Rescuer Jian Zhengshun said the rescue work was difficult because part of the high-rise building was believed to be buried underground, with the quake loosening the earth. He said rescuers had to clear rubble for passages to reach people who were trapped.

The quake came two days before the start of Lunar New Year celebrations that mark the most important family holiday in the Chinese calendar. The collapsed building had 256 registered residents, but far more people could have been inside when it fell because the population might have swelled ahead of the holiday, when families typically host guests.

Local media said the building included a care center for newborns and mothers, and a newborn was among those confirmed dead in the disaster.

Most people were asleep when the magnitude-6.4 earthquake hit at about 4 a.m., 22 miles southeast of Yujing. It struck only 6 miles underground, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Shallow earthquakes generally cause more damage than deeper ones.

Tainan resident Lin Bao-gui, a secondhand car salesman whose cars were smashed when the building collapsed across the street from him, said his house first started “shaking horizontally, then up and down, then a big shake right to left.“

“I stayed in my bed but jumped up when I heard a big bang, which was the sound of the building falling,“ he said.

Authorities in Tainan said that of the 14 people killed in the quake, 11 were found at the ruins of the fallen building.

Rescuers found the bodies of a 10-day-old infant, three other children and six adults at the collapsed building, Taiwan’s emergency management information center said. One other death was reported at the site, but details were not immediately available.

Authorities said two people were killed by falling objects elsewhere in Tainan. No details were available on the 14th death, reported Saturday night.

Rescuers pulled out at least 247 survivors from the collapsed building, the emergency management information center said. Throughout Tainan, 334 people were rescued, the city government said.

The Taiwanese news website ET Today reported that a mother and daughter were among the survivors from the building, and that the girl drank her urine while waiting to be rescued, which happened sooner than expected.

Rescuers went apartment to apartment, drawing red circles near windows of apartments they already had searched.

“I went to the top floors of the middle part of the building, where we found five people, one of whom was in bed and already dead,“ said Liu Wen-bin, a rescuer from Taichung. “Some people were found in the shower, some in the bedroom.“

Elsewhere in Tainan, dozens of other people were rescued or safely evacuated from damaged structures or buildings declared unsafe following the quake, including a market and a seven-floor building, authorities said. A bank building also careened, but no one was injured or trapped.

All told, nine buildings collapsed and five careened in Tainan, the emergency management information center said.

As dawn broke, Taiwanese TV showed survivors being brought gingerly from the high-rise, including an elderly woman in a neck brace and others wrapped in blankets. The trappings of daily life – a partially crushed air conditioner, pieces of a metal balcony, windows – lay twisted in rubble.

People with their arms around firefighters were being helped from the building, and cranes were being used to search darkened parts of the structure for survivors.

Men in camouflage, apparently military personnel, marched into one area of collapse carrying large shovels.

The emergency management information center said 1,236 rescuers from outside Tainan were deployed, including 840 from the army, along with six helicopters and 23 rescue dogs.

Tainan’s municipal government said it mobilized nearly 600 professional and volunteer firefighters.

The quake disrupted bullet train service during the busy Lunar New Year holiday period on the main north-south route from Taipei to Tainan. By late Saturday, some tracks had been repaired and trains were able to travel as far south as Chiayi, with shuttle buses available to those traveling on to Tainan.

The quake was felt as a lengthy, rolling shake in the capital, Taipei, on the other side of the island. But Taipei was quiet, with no sense of emergency or obvious damage just before dawn.

On Saturday night, Madonna performed before thousands of fans at Taipei Arena, offering her condolences to those affected by the quake, CNA reported.

Residents in mainland China also reported that the tremor was felt there. The Beijing government offered to help as needed.

Because of the collapse of the residential high-rise, questions surfaced about whether the 1989 structure had shoddy construction. Tainan’s government said the building was not listed as a dangerous structure before the quake, and Taiwan’s interior minister, Chen Wei-zen, said an investigation would examine whether the developer had cut corners during construction.

Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, but most are minor and cause little or no damage. However, a magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.

►   Austrian police: 5 skiers killed in ‘massive’ avalanche

BERLIN — Five people were killed Saturday when a “massive” avalanche in the Austrian Alps struck skiers from the Czech Republic taking part in a freeriding camp, police said.

Two other skiers were injured and ten were rescued unharmed, Tirol police spokesman Helmut Schuetz said.

He said the skiers were moving in two separate groups of twelve and five when the avalanche hit them around noon Saturday in the Wattener Lizum region, 20 miles southeast of Innsbruck.

“It was one massive avalanche, several hundred yards wide and long,“ Schuetz told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that the tear point, where the slab of snow broke off from the mountain, was 3 feet deep. “It was many tons of snow.“

Authorities had warned that the risk of avalanches in the region was “considerable,“ the third highest on a five-point scale.

DHHR Announces Energy Assistance Program for Low Income Residents

The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV – The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources today announced applications for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) will be accepted beginning Monday, February 08, 2016 and ending Friday, February 12, 2016. The federally funded program assists eligible state residents in paying home heating bills.

Eligibility for LIEAP benefits is based on income, household size and whether or not the household is responsible for paying its home heating bill.  Income must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline for the household size.  In situations where a heating emergency exists, applicants must be seen by a DHHR worker.
The maximum allowable gross income levels for LIEAP FY 2016 are listed below:

      1 Person                                                 $1,276
      2 Person                                                 $1,726
      3 Person                                                 $2,177
      4 Person                                                 $2,628
      5 Person                                                 $3,078
      6 Person                                                 $3,529
      7 Person                                                 $3,980
      8 Person                                                 $4,430
      9 Person                                                 $4,881
    10 Person                                                 $5,332

For each additional person, add $451.  Households whose countable income exceeds the maximum amount are not eligible.  However, some types of income may be excluded for LIEAP.

Applications may be obtained at local DHHR offices, community action agencies, or senior centers operated by any Area Agency on Aging.  Applications are also available online at  Completed applications should be delivered or mailed to the DHHR office located in the applicant’s county of residence.

All applications must be received by DHHR or postmarked by February 12, 2016.  Applications received after this date will not be approved.  Mailing the application to any other office or to a utility company may delay receipt by DHHR and prohibit processing of the application. 

The program is limited to the amount of federal funding allocated to West Virginia under the LIHEAP Block Grant. 

In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►   Governor Tomblin Issues Statement Following Passage of Right-to-Work Legislation

CHARLESTON, WV – Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued a statement following the passage of right-to-work legislation.

“I remain committed to growing West Virginia’s economy, but I do not believe right-to-work legislation is the best way to do that.

“We can continue to improve our state’s business climate by strengthening our workforce, combatting substance abuse and creating new sites for development, all of which continue to be my top priorities in the coming year. I have submitted proposals to address these issues, and I urge the Legislature to consider them during the session.

“I will veto the legislation passed today, which received bipartisan opposition but only partisan support.”

►   Attorney General Morrisey Announces Multistate Settlement with Mortgage Provider

CHARLESTON, WV — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey today announced a multistate agreement with banking and financial services provider HSBC that will change the company’s servicing standards and provide restitution to affected consumers.

The agreement was the result of a joint civil action filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, 49 states and the District of Columbia for misconduct related to their origination and servicing of single-family residential mortgages.

“We are pleased to once again partner with a large, bipartisan coalition to protect consumers against unscrupulous business practices.” Attorney General Morrisey said.

The West Virginia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division received 21 complaints against HSBC since 2011. Of those filings, five were resolved, 12 closed and four remain pending.

This settlement will allow 355 West Virginia consumers to receive up to $1,400. Another 1,928 state consumers will be eligible for a rate reduction, modification and/or some decrease in their loan.

HSBC, as part of the broader settlement, will pay a $40.5 million fine to the Justice Department with an additional $59.5 million placed in escrow for consumers affected by its practices.

The complaint alleged HSBC’s conduct resulted in the issuance of improper mortgages, unfair and deceptive loan servicing practices, premature and unauthorized foreclosures, violation of homeowners’ rights and protections, use of false and deceptive documents and wasted taxpayer funds.

HSBC will be monitored until December 31, 2016 and will be required to issue a final quarterly report, the agreement states.

►   Commissioner dies after heart attack during snowstorm

A Harrison commissioner has died nearly two weeks after suffering a heart attack while helping shovel snow.

Harrison County Commissioner Ron Watson tells media outlets that 67-year-old commissioner Frank “Chunki” Angotti died Thursday at Ruby Memorial in Morgantown.

Angotti suffered a heart attack January 23 while clearing snow in his neighborhood during a storm that dumped more than 3 feet of snow in parts of West Virginia. It is the first death in West Virginia associated with the storm.

Angotti had served more than 20 years in public service in elected and appointed positions. He had recently filed to run for Harrison County circuit clerk.

►   WV Attorney General, 21 States Win Gun Rights Victory

CHARLESTON, WV — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hailed a federal appeals court decision as a crucial victory in protecting the rights of gun owners across the state and beyond.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a district court must adopt a strict standard when it reconsiders the constitutionality of a Maryland weapons ban, which prohibits sale, transfer and possession of certain firearms.

Attorney General Morrisey led 21 states in arguing for strict scrutiny. The appeals court adopted the states’ position and further agreed that semiautomatic rifles and standard capacity magazines subject to Maryland’s ban are protected by the Second Amendment.

“Singling out these firearms is akin to banning certain categories of speech – both would be unconstitutional,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “My office remains committed to defending every West Virginian’s Second Amendment rights.”

West Virginia and its partners filed a friend of the court brief in November 2014 as part of Kolbe et. al. v. Hogan et. al. Any 4th Circuit ruling sets case law governing West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia for any similar future state or federal laws

The Maryland ban would apply to semiautomatic rifles and many standard capacity handgun magazines. The appeals court, in ordering the stricter review, ruled such a ban infringed upon core Second Amendment rights and severely burdened one’s constitutional ability to keep commonly used weapons in the home.

Thursday’s ruling did not strike down the Maryland law, but returned the case to district court for a second look under the stricter standard. Attorney General Morrisey said his office will monitor the case as it proceeds.

West Virginia filed its friend of the court brief with Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►   Iowa Fight Song— on a Loop—Drives NY Town Batty

The beat goes on near the Niagara Falls bistro, Wine on Third. And on and on and on. What sounds like a marching band rendition of the University of Iowa fight song plays on a grating loop all evening, every evening from a vacant building across the street. Why remains anyone’s guess, even after a flurry of media attention last week had theories flying. It wasn’t the Iowa caucus. That came and went Monday with no change. It’s probably not a die-hard Hawkeyes fan’s stunt, given the 760 miles between the upstate New York city and the school, where a rep says there’s been no explanation. Besides, it’s not aimed at a sports bar: The restaurant patrons in question are interested in wines, not wins.

If “Smokin’ Joe” Anderson, the owner of the offending building, has a beef with Wine on Third, its owners say he hasn’t raised it. “We’re assuming ... he’s doing it to antagonize us, just because there’s really not anything else around,“ says Eamon Weber, son of co-owner Sean Weber. Anderson did not return messages from the AP or other reporters. The spirited serenade seemed to begin just as the restaurant expanded its patio for the summer crowd, Weber said, which includes tourists to the city’s namesake Niagara Falls. The timing, from 3-11pm seven days a week spans the restaurant’s prime time. “The problem is not that it’s excessively loud,“ says Mayor Paul Dyster of the music, which isn’t believed to violate the city’s noise ordinance. “It’s that it’s repetitious and annoying.“

►   Judge Won’t Throw Out Sex Assault Case Against Cosby

A judge refused to throw out the sexual assault case against Bill Cosby on Wednesday, sweeping aside claims that a previous district attorney had granted the comedian immunity from prosecution a decade ago, the AP reports. The case now moves to a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to try Cosby on charges he drugged and violated former Temple University athletic department employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. The TV star could get up to 10 years in prison if convicted. In 2005, the district attorney at the time decided the case was too flawed to prosecute. But his successors reopened the investigation last year after Cosby’s lurid, decade-old testimony from Constand’s civil suit was unsealed at the request of the AP.

At the hearing this week, Cosby’s lawyers tried to get the case thrown out by putting the former DA, Bruce Castor, on the stand. Castor testified that in deciding not to charge Cosby, he intended to forever close the door on prosecuting the comedian. He said he considered his decision binding on his successors. Similarly, Cosby’s lawyers said they never would have let the TV star testify in the civil case if they didn’t believe criminal charges were off the table. But current DA Kevin Steele questioned whether Castor ever made such an agreement, since it was never put in writing on a legal document and the Cosby attorney with whom Castor dealt is now dead. Steele argued that in any case, Castor had no legal authority to make such a deal. “A secret agreement that allows a wealthy defendant to buy his way out of a criminal case isn’t right,“ Steele told the judge.

►   More U.S. Exonerations in 2015 Than Ever Before

Netflix’s Making a Murderer has not only become a binge-watching addiction—it’s apparently turned the spotlight onto unjust convictions in the US. And exonerations are at an all-time high, reports Reuters: There were 149 in 2015, compared with 139 in 2014, according to a report from the National Registry of Exonerations. Of last year’s inmates, the average time spent in prison was about 14.5 years, per the registry, a University of Michigan Law School project. These newest exonerations involved everything from record numbers of false confessions (mostly from defendants who were minors, mentally handicapped, or both) and official misconduct to convictions produced via guilty pleas—and some cases in which no crime occurred at all. “There is a coming to terms that this is a regular problem, not just something that happens once in a while and unpredictably,“ the editor of the registry says.

Two types of crimes with a large number of exonerations: homicide (58 were convicted of this, including five people sentenced to death) and drug possession—a crime for which defendants often plead guilty just to avoid longer sentences, the report notes. Texas had the most exonerations in 2015 with 54, followed by New York (17) and Illinois (13). What helped secure many of these exonerations: the two dozen CIUs (Conviction Integrity Units) in the US dedicated to preventing and sussing out false convictions. Still, the report says that any progress is “a drop in the bucket.“ “There is a growing awareness that false convictions are a substantial, widespread, and tragic problem,“ the report notes. “We have no measure of the magnitude of the problem, no general plan for how to address it, and certainly no general commitment to do so. We’ve made a start, but that’s all.“

►   Beezow Doo-doo Zopittybop-bop-bop in Legal Hot Water Again

Pro tip: Don’t change your name to Beezow Doo-doo Zopittybop-bop-bop unless you’re prepared for your every alleged misdeed to make headlines. A Washington state 34-year-old who was born Jeffrey Drew Wilschke apparently legally changed his name to just that back in 2011, and since then, he’s made the news every time he’s had a run-in with the law. Most recently, Zopittybop-bop-bop was accused of tearing down fliers at the Evergreen State College library Sunday, then scuffling with a responding police officer (including allegedly trying to grab his gun, trying to stab him with a pen, and successfully biting his finger a few times and hitting him in the head with a handcuff case) and fleeing. He then allegedly threw rocks and a brick at a second officer who saw him running, all while somehow fighting off hits from Tasers, batons, and officers’ fists alike, the Tri City Herald reports.

A third officer had to get involved before Zopittybop-bop-bop was finally arrested. He’s been charged with two counts of first-degree assault, third-degree assault, third-degree malicious mischief, and malicious harassment. Zopittybop-bop-bop first made headlines in 2012, when he faced charges of drug possession, weapons violations, and probation violation in Wisconsin; the following year, he was arrested on drug charges in Iowa. In this most recent case, the prosecutor couldn’t verify that Zopittybop-bop-bop was the suspect’s legal name, although Zopittybop-bop-bop insisted in court he had legally changed it. Per KGW, he has said in the past that the name represents “the explosion of awareness of the interconnectedness of the infinite love in the universe.“

►   Prank Caller Gets Burger King Workers to Trash the Place

Employees at a California Burger King responded less than ideally to a prank call Saturday night, causing $35,000 in damage to the restaurant, KSBY reports. According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, someone called the Burger King in Morro Bay pretending to be with the fire department. They told employees there was a gas leak and they needed to break out the restaurant’s windows immediately for ventilation. The employees apparently did as they were told, with the shift manager going so far as to ram a car into the restaurant. The manager has been suspended, and police are continuing to investigate the incident. Officials remind residents that the fire department will rarely call you directly about an emergency.

►   Woman Who Put Newborn in Closet Didn’t Know She Was Pregnant

A 21-year-old Pennsylvania woman told police she had no clue she was pregnant before she gave birth at home, put her unresponsive newborn into a shoebox and stored it in an upstairs closet. Kelsey Martin, of Springettsbury Township, was charged January 28 with concealing the death of a child, a misdemeanor. Her lawyer Christopher Ferro told the incident was a “horrible but explainable tragedy” and urged the public to withhold judgment on his client. According to police, Martin went to a hospital in April with abdominal pains and was told she had a urinary tract infection and given antibiotics. Later that day Martin was bleeding heavily and taken to a hospital in an ambulance. An examination there showed she had given birth, but police said she denied it.

►   Military Will Start Freezing Soldiers’ Eggs and Sperm

In an effort to keep young military enlistees from leaving to start a family, the Pentagon is going to start offering to freeze their eggs and sperm, the New York Times reports. According to the Military Times, nearly 72% of enlistees are 30 or younger—prime years for starting a family. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says freezing soldiers’ eggs and sperm—which will start as a two-year pilot program—will “provide greater flexibility for our troops who want to start a family.“ He says it will also give soldiers facing injury “additional peace of mind.“ As the New York Times notes: “Hundreds of veterans suffered injuries to their reproductive organs in Iraq and Afghanistan.“ Having a store of frozen sperm or eggs on hand means a genital injury wouldn’t keep soldiers from having a baby.

But the program brings up a host of issues—both moral and financial. The military will have to deal with numerous ethical questions surrounding the preservation of reproductive materials, such as whether the wife of a soldier who dies in battle can then use his frozen sperm. And the procedure to freeze eggs, a relatively new science, can cost up to $10,000. The Pentagon is still working out the details of the pilot program and estimates a cost of $150 million over five years. The program is part of the military’s “Force of the Future” initiative, which includes increased parental leave and child care. A major goal of the initiative is to increase retention among female enlistees. After 10 years of service, the number of women staying in the military is 30% lower than their male counterparts.

►   Worker Dies in Bakery’s Huge Mixer

A Utah grocery store worker is dead after what appears to be a gruesome workplace accident. Carmen “Jackie” Lindhardt, 45, was working at the bakery of a Ream’s Food Store in Sandy, outside Salt Lake City, around 10am Wednesday when police say she was dragged into an industrial-sized mixing machine. “It was possibly some loose clothing, or she might have reached into the machine for an unknown reason and gotten caught,“ a police officer tells NBC News.

Another employee heard the woman scream and turned off the mixer, though KUTV reports the machine’s augers aren’t designed to stop immediately. Lindhardt was pronounced dead on the scene; an autopsy is scheduled for Thursday morning. “We’re trying to determine the exact cause at this point,“ the officer says, though he adds police don’t suspect anything criminal occurred. A sign posted at the store Wednesday said the bakery was “temporarily closed.“

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►   Baby Slain in Drug Feud Outrages Mexico

In Mexico, they’re comparing it to the heartbreaking photo of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach. An image of a slain 7-month-old baby lying between his dead parents on a sidewalk has gone viral and caused outrage across the country, according to a New York Daily News report that includes the graphic photo. Officials say the boy, identified as Marcos Miguel Pano Colon, was being carried by his father, 24-year-old Juan Alberto Pano Ramos, in the city of Pinotepa in Oaxaca state when suspected drug traffickers opened fire, killing the boy, his father, and his 17-year-old mother, Alba Isabel Colon.

Investigators say the murdered couple had links to a suspected drug trafficker who was gunned down the same day, CNN reports. Four people have been arrested in the case. The photo led to renewed calls for the government to stamp out drug violence. “Do you remember the Syrian boy? Do you remember how you became indignant and put a flag on Facebook?“ asked the Solo Acapulco Facebook account, which uploaded the photo. “This is what happens in Mexico, to be precise in Pinotepa Oaxaca, where drug violence killed this family, including this little 7-month-old angel.“

►   Japan to Spend $107M on Tiny, Remote Island

A tiny island in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles south of Tokyo is about to get a pricey makeover courtesy of Japan. It’s all about allowing Japan to stake its claim to oil, rare metals, and lucrative fishing in the area around Okinotorishima, reports the Guardian. Japan plans to spend $107.5 million to build a deep-water pier, a lighthouse, and a road, and to update a three-story observatory used to monitor nearby ships, reports the South China Morning Post. The project could reignite a maritime territory dispute with China, which has been critical of Japan’s claim to sovereignty even while busily building artificial islands elsewhere.

“China’s response will be interesting, particularly given what is happening in the South China Sea,“ says a professor at Tokyo’s International Christian University. The UN stipulates that “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone,“ a line of attack that China could conceivably take about Okinotorishima. Beijing, however, often goes with historical arguments rather than legal ones in these disputes, notes the professor.

►   Ad in China Fights Back Against Insane Pressure to Marry

While the Panthers and Broncos face off at the Super Bowl this Sunday, young people in China heading home for the Lunar New Year have their own pressure to face: the badgering of well-meaning family members who want them to get married. Marriage and producing kids hold a lot of weight in the Chinese culture: Some singles even “rent” fake mates to go home with them for the holidays to appease probing relatives, the New York Times reports. But the term “bihun” (“must marry!“) has now become somewhat of a parody of itself, and one group of friends decided to take a rather public stand against wedded life by plastering a nearly $6,000 ad in a busy Beijing subway station, where it will stay up for a month. The ad looks to be the efforts of the Anti-Forced Marriage Alliance (based on the graphics and info found on the Women of China website), which looks to have crowdfunded some of the money for the ad.

The poster, which shows a smiling cartoon woman and advertises a singles hotline at the bottom, reads: “Dear Daddy, Mommy, don’t worry. The world is so big. There are so many different ways for people to live. Singletons can also be very happy.“ The group—made up of students, artists, and civil workers—originally had a stronger message and graphic: a slightly angrier-looking cartoon woman making an “X” to symbolize “no,“ with “bihun” crossed out on her T-shirt and text that read “Must marry, Back off! Scram! I’m a member of the non-marrying tribe.“ But the ad agency that made the poster for the friends, together with the city’s industry and commerce bureau, wouldn’t approve the original, so the group softened it. “[We] just thought, the pressure is too much,“ a woman who’d only go by “Coby” told the Times. “It’s at its worst at this time. So we thought we’d put up an ad in the subway where a lot of people would see it.“

►   Mexico Orders Actress in for Questioning About El Chapo

Mexican authorities have ordered that actress Kate del Castillo be located and presented for questioning about her encounters with cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Two security officials confirm that federal prosecutors issued the order after the movie and telenovela star did not appear at a previous appointment to give a statement. The officials said Thursday that the order applies only to Mexican territory. Del Castillo is a naturalized US citizen and has lived for years in Los Angeles.

They added that if del Castillo were found to be in Mexico, she would be detained to make a statement as a witness and then released after doing so. Del Castillo, who helped Sean Penn get access to Guzman for Penn’s Rolling Stone interview, recently said the Mexican government wanted to “destroy” her.

►   State Senate OK’s Raw Milk Bill After Veto Last Year

After a veto last year, the push to let West Virginians drink raw milk through animal-sharing agreements is regaining steam.

On Friday, the state Senate voted 22-12 on the raw milk bill, sending the proposal to the House of Delegates.

The bill would let people strike agreements to share milk-producing animals and drink raw milk. It would maintain a ban on selling or distributing raw milk.

People would also have to sign a document acknowledging the health risks. Animals would need to have passed health tests within the last year.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a similar bill last year.

Tomblin said it would pose a serious risk to public health, since raw milk can contain particularly dangerous bacteria for children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

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