In this Feb. 2, 2011 photo provided by The New York Times, Times journalist Anthony Shadid, middle right, interviews residents of Embaba, a lower class Cairo neighborhood, during the Egyptian revolution.
Ayman Mohyeldin writes
Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict, including long stints at the Washington Post and the New York Times, died on Thursday, apparently of an asthma attack, while on an assignment in Syria.
Ayman Mohyeldin, an NBC News correspondent currently based in Cairo, Egypt, offers this appreciation of Shadid, a mentor, colleague and friend. Prior to joining NBC News Mohyeldin was a Middle East a correspondent for Al Jazeera and CNN, covering events including the Iraq War, the Arab Spring in Egypt, and Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
CAIRO – To many, Anthony Shadid was a notable byline, a name that you knew would capture a story like no one else. His accolades and body of work speak volumes about his skills as a journalist.
But for me, it was as much about Anthony the person, who inspired by his example and came with a professional and personal kindness possessed by no one else.
Over the past decade of wars, sieges and revolutions in the Middle East, our paths crossed numerous times. It started in the spring of 2003 when I arrived in Baghdad as a journalist with very little international experience, let alone time in a war zone. I knew very few journalists there, but there was one I was determined to meet: Anthony Shadid.
The first time I spotted him, I quickly walked over to introduce myself. “Mr. Shadid, my name is Ayman.…” “Call me Anthony,” he said, smiling. It was a simple exchange but very telling of the type of person Anthony was.
In 2005, a few years after Baghdad, I was covering my first tumultuous Cairo protest when I bumped into Anthony again. It was my first time among thousands of Egyptian demonstrators and I was flat-out nervous.
Anthony sensed it, called out my name and told me to stay close. He graciously and protectively let me shadow him as he navigated his way between protesters, police and thugs, never losing focus on his reporting task.
Morning Joe panel remember New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died Thursday in Syria of an apparent asthma attack.
In doing so, he took the time and care to show me that even in the most acute moments of tensions and work, there is always time for humanity. It was a profound moment of selfless collegiality in an industry often characterized by hyper-competitiveness.
Over the years, as Anthony’s successes grew and his work received more and more of the accolades it deserved, he never became inaccessible to those he mentored along the way, always offering us advice and wisdom. He raised the bar for journalists the world over, and particularly for Arab-American journalists.
We looked up to Anthony as the highest example of what hard work and humility achieve. He became an inspiration and role model for cadres of aspiring Arab-American journalists wanting to make a difference in their country and communities. He made it possible for us to tell our parents that we, too, wanted to be journalists, just like Anthony. And he made it possible for us to believe that one day we, too, could work for the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major American media outlets.
A few days before his death, Anthony was featured in an article about Arab-American journalists. That evening, after reading the article, my dad called me in Egypt to talk about it. “I hope one day to see you like Anthony,” he said at the end of the conversation.
On his last trip to Egypt, just a few weeks ago, I missed the chance to see Anthony one last time. It is something I will always regret.
Investigators say the man accused of plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol never had any explosives. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
NBC News and msnbc.com staff writes
Updated at 5:31 p.m. ET: WASHINGTON — The FBI and Capitol police arrested a man who thought he was going to carry out a suicide bombing Friday at the U.S. Capitol as part of a larger al-Qaida terror campaign but who was in fact dealing with undercover operatives, federal officials told NBC News.
The man, Amine El Khalifi, 29, a Moroccan who has been living in the U.S. for 12 years, was arrested about noon ET near the Capitol after he received what he thought was a MAC-10 automatic weapon and a vest packed with explosives from people he believed were supporters of al-Qaida, sources told NBC News. In fact, the gun was disabled, the vest had inert material and the people were FBI agents.
"At no time was the public or congressional community in any danger," Capitol Police said in a statement.
As outlined in a Justice Department press release, El Khalifi was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property that is owned and used by the United States. The office of the U.S. attorney for Eastern Virginia said he could face life in prison if convicted.
The Associated Press, quoting a counterterrorism official, reported that police were close to arresting an associate of El Khalifi's on charges unrelated to the conspiracy. Like El Khalifi, the associate was said to be a Moroccan living in the U.S. illegally.
James McJunkin, assistant director of the FBI's Washington field office, stressed that El Khalifi allegedly "followed a twisted, radical ideology that is not representative of the Muslim community in the United States."
Yearlong investigation The criminalcomplaint alleges that a confidential source told the FBI that El Khalifi attended a meeting on Jan. 11, 2011, in Arlington, Va. — a suburb of Washington — where one of the participants produced an AK-47 assault rifle, two revolvers and ammunition. The informer said El Khalifi agreed that the "war on terrorism" was a "war on Muslims" and said the group needed to be ready for war.
On Dec. 1, El Khalifi was introduced by a man he knew as "Hussien" to a man he knew as "Yusuf," who was actually an undercover law enforcement officer. Through December and January, El Khalifi plotted a bombing attack, the complaint alleges, proposing U.S. military offices, a synagogue, Army generals and a restaurant frequented by military officials as targets, it says.
The complaint says El Khalifi "indicated his desire" to "kill people face-to-face," conducted surveillance to determine the best time and place for the bombing and bought materials as part of the operation.
El Khalifi understood that his attack would be part of a larger al-Qaida operation that would include his bombing and a second attack against a military installation by others in al-Qaida, according to the charges.
The crucial turn came on Jan. 15, when El Khalifi announced that he had changed his plans and wanted to carry out a suicide bombing at the Capitol, according to the complaint, which said that as part of the sting, El Khalifi "detonated" what he believed was a real bomb at a quarry in West Virginia, using a cell phone as the trigger. He said he wanted a bigger explosion and chose Friday as the day of the operation, according to the affidavit.
Over the next month, El Khalifi conducted surveillance of the Capitol Building and asked "Hussien" to remotely detonate the bomb he would be wearing if he was stopped by security, it alleges.
Jonathan Dienst of WNBC in New York contributed to this report by NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams and M. Alex Johnson of msnbc.com. Follow M. Alex Johnson on Twitter and Facebook.
"We don't have money...Now our only target is to have food to survive," Greek shopkeeper Michael Ipermahos says about the gravity of the financial crisis. "My advice to my children is to leave Greece, throw away their Greek passports and be a citizen of another country."
Andy Eckardt writes
ATHENS – Shock was a common sentiment in the heart of Athens this week.
Athinas Street, the colorful shopping mile in the Greek capital, is known for its lively fish and meat markets, where spice salesmen mix with traditional shoemakers and sidewalks are packed with commodities for sale.
But at one corner earlier this week shoppers and residents stopped to look at the ugly face of growing public anger in the Greek crisis.
Workers were removing broken glass, burnt wood and other rubble from the Bank of Cyprus building, one of at least 48 Athens buildings that were torched by protesters during riots two days earlier.
Two blocks up the road, 50-year-old Michael Ipermahos stood outside his small clothing store and looked on in despair.
"Once, we were proud to be Greeks. Now, I am ashamed. Ashamed not of myself, but of the Greek politicians and what they have done to this country," he said.
'Work, work, work' Ipermahos said he has been to several of the public demonstrations outside of the Greek parliament in the past months to peacefully protest the harsh austerity measures and to voice his anger over what he calls "injustice.“
"I work, work, work, day and night, 16 hours every day, sometimes in temperatures below freezing, sometimes in brutal heat," said Ipermahos, a father of two children – ages 20 and 23 – who still live at home with him and his wife.
"We are not lazy," he said. "But while my income is shrinking, the taxes are going up, fuel prices are skyrocketing and even basic food is becoming more expensive."
On this cool morning, only a few people stopped to look at the tee-shirts, jackets and other garments that Ipermahos sells.
But he does have one item that sells briskly.
"Gas masks," Ipermahos said, as he pointed to the prominently displayed protection gear.
"Because tear gas is regularly used at the protests, we now also offer gas masks. It is one of our best selling products," he said.
But it may not be enough, over the course of the past two and a half years, Ipermahos said the little shop that he owns with his brother-in-law has seen a 60 percent decline in business.
Courtesy Chris Manolitsis
Chris Manolitsis, a 52-year-old freelance sound engineer, is feeling the crunch of the Greek economic crisis.
And, hope for a better future is fading.
"It is almost certain that we will lose our jobs; we are only counting the days,“ he said.
Tightening the belt Of course, it’s not just retail businesses that are feeling the crunch in Greece.
Chris Manolitsis, a 52-year-old freelance sound engineer who has been working with Greek artists for over 30 years, said he had been struggling ever since the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers in New York.
"The Greek music industry has generally deteriorated because people do not have the money to go out to nightclubs or events anymore, one of the first things everybody saves on is entertainment," he explained.
In recent years, the father of two grown-up children had to cope with a 50 to 60 percent reduction in his income, though he still feels somewhat financially independent because he has been receiving money from other sources, including rent from a house that he bought in better economic times.
However, his alternative income sources are far from secure.
"The woman who is renting my house is a civil servant who had her salary already cut three times and she is now facing a fourth cut," Manolitsis said. "I agreed to reduce her rent by 20 percent, otherwise the mother of a young child would have moved out and I would have been left with more uncertainty.“
And his 27-year-old son Terry, who finished college with a degree in media and communications, was recently fired from a job as a security guard, the only employment he could find after finishing his studies. As a result, the young man left for Scotland, looking for job opportunities outside Greece.
Broken promises Manolitsis blames the current financial crisis on two decades of financial mismanagement, which has resulted in broad public anger and deeply rooted mistrust towards politicians.
"Greeks had the wool pulled over their eyes, so to speak," he said.
"When former Prime Minister Papandreou won the elections in 2009, for example, he received overwhelming support on a platform that there is plenty of money," he said. "Two days later, the politicians said sorry, we made a mistake, there is no money.“
Today, most Greeks feel that they have been pushed to the limits, leading to growing despair and rising suicide rates.
"The situation is a tragedy and a shame for a nation with such a powerful heritage," Manolitsis said. "Of course I am worried about my future, but we have to keep going and I am not afraid to get my hands dirty or explore new routes."
Next week, the Greek sound engineer has signed up for a training seminar, which will teach him how to sell insurance.
Willie Geist, Mike Barnicle and the Morning Joe panel remember New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died Thursday in Syria of an apparent asthma attack.
Richard Engel, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent writes
Anthony Shadid, the New York Times correspondent who died in Syria on Thursday, was better than the rest of us. He wasn’t the fastest to a story, or the biggest daredevil or the most technical with a satellite phone. Sure, he was good at all those things. But he was absolutely brilliant at something else. Shadid could hear the story.
He could feel it in the tips of his fingers. He could do what may be impossible. He could make war subtle.
This is what I mean. During the often overlooked, ferociously dangerous 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, reporters in southern Lebanon generally rushed to the bombing sites. The faster we got there, the fresher and more compelling our stories and pictures would be. And there were incredibility compelling stories. In the first three weeks of the conflict, Israel dropped as much tonnage of explosives on southern Lebanon as it used in the 1973 Mideast war.
Hezbollah fired rockets indiscriminately into Israeli cities, driving thousands into shelters. We rushed and ran and sometimes even dodged and the world watched and read. Anthony covered it differently. He’d go out in the morning and find some tiny village, tucked away on a hillside, where none of us thought to go. He’d find his story in the details, not the fireballs. It takes a sensitive ear to do that. War is a loud place, full of emotions, explosions, gore, fatigue, pity, outrage and rage. But Anthony managed to pick out the quiet notes, and hear the melody playing sotto voce under the cacophony.
I say "us" because there is an "us" in the business, which is really more of a life than a career. There is a small – tragically, dwindling – brotherhood and sisterhood of reporters who cover conflict, specifically conflict in the Middle East. Anthony was one of our founding members. When I first moved to Cairo in 1996, the first person I was told to look up was Anthony. “He’s got a good feeling of what’s going on over there,” I was well advised. Anthony and I were together in Baghdad during the 2003 US bombing. Baghdad for all of 'us' was a defining period, an extended nightmare of car bombings, flag ceremonies, kidnappings and military acronyms. I last saw Anthony a few months ago. He looked great. He was in a good place.
Rachel Maddow reports the sad news of the passing of New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid.
He was relaxed and happy. We were at the airport in Tunisia. We’d just covered a year of the Arab Spring. It was different from all those years in Baghdad. It was interesting. It was complicated. It was big history. It needed a subtle ear. It was perfect for Anthony.
It was his time. I am so sorry his time was cut short. I’ll miss his voice. I’ll miss his compassion. There’s so much more to reporting than just bullets, bombs, rebels and ballots, and nobody knew that more than Anthony. Rest in peace, brother.
Talking with an elderly parent, spouse or friend about turning in their car keys can be a sensitive issue for many families. But with 600 U.S. drivers over age 65 involved in car accidents each day, it's a conversation everyone should be prepared to have. What are the warning signs that someone may need to stop driving? And how should you approach a conversation with your loved one?
"Nightly News" held a web chat with experts from the AARP Driver Safety Team on Thursday night. We accomodated as many people as possible. Thank you to everyone who submitted a question. You can read the questions and answers by clicking on the box below.
Grabbing the spotlight at this year's toy fair is the power surge of touchscreens, apps and other tech-based toys. NBC's Clare Duffy reports.
By Janelle Richards and Janae Frazier NBC News
NEW YORK -- At this year’s American International Toy Fair Showroom, classic toys got a new spin.
A major theme throughout the Hasbro exhibition, which featured hundreds of toys, was a new convergence between games and digital technology.
"I think kids today have grown up in a digital world, they are digital natives. They have known nothing else, they have grown up with iPhones and iPods," said John Frascotti, Chief Marketing Officer of Hasbro. "What we're doing - we're also giving them the social aspect - it is no longer an isolated activity when they are playing with iPhones and iPads."
The list of games that have been fused with technology is long. Monopoly, Life and laser tag are just a few.
"We have a new line of products called zapped which takes your iPad and puts it inside the game board and allows you to see all kinds of great video and play all types of games while you're playing face to face gaming," said Frascotti.
And after you set up your iPhone when playing Monopoly, you can now tap the Monopoly game card against your phone and collect $2 million dollars electronically every time you pass ‘Go.’
Hasbro isn’t the only company integrating the latest technology into their toys.
Popar Toys has created books for children ages 4-13, that have animations and objects that pop from the pages. This causes a 3D experience for the child while sitting in front of a computer screen.
“It combines the best of both worlds with aspects of a video game and a book,” said Scott Jochim, president of Popar Toys. “Books become more than just a reading experience but an interactive experience as well.”
Jochim said that as a child, he struggled with reading and paying attention to his teachers. He wanted to create something for kids like him. “You got to be able to reach them in different ways,” Jochim said.
Bossa Nova Robotics also integrates the latest technology in their products. At the toy fair, the robotic company screened mechatars, which are remote controlled robots that gamers can fight with physically and digitally.
“Essentially what we did is put a robot chip in a toy using cloud technology,” said Michael Walker, chief marketing officer at Bossa Nova Robotics. “That technology allows you to exchange data between the toy and the video game, so how you play with one can affect the other. You can change the content of the game and the toy by the way you play.”
Upgraded weapons called Power Packs and smaller characters called Exomorphs can also be purchased to assist the robots.
But some classic toys will have a place in consumers' hearts, even without digital technology upgrades. Hasbro's Mr. Potato Head, the Easy Bake Oven and Play-Doh are still stacked on the shelves.
"We will never get rid of the classics," said Frascotti. "They can always be reinvented, but they are games for people of all ages."
While designer Tracy Reese was putting the final touches on her models before her show on Sunday, hundreds of fashion aficionados streamed in to find their seats. The house lights dimmed, the music kicked up in volume and the crowd quickly grew quiet.
Once the tarp was removed from the runway, the lights flew up and the first model stepped out in her stilettos and commanded the attention of the room. The near deafening thunderous snapping from the media cameras at the end of the runway made it clear the show had begun.
Just another day at New York Fashion Week.
As the glitz and glamour comes to an end today, it’s hard to imagine a time when the star-studded event didn’t exist. But New York City wasn’t always the style icon it is today.
“Fashion Week developed slowly – first in Paris, and then in New York,” said Dr. Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology.
There are more dramatic shows on the European circuit, but New York has become one of the most important shows of the bunch. For anyone who was privileged enough to grab a ticket to this year’s fall 2012 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, they could certainly call the styles sauntering down the runway pieces of art.
Lucas Jackson / Reuters
A model presents a creation from the Tracy Reese Fall/Winter 2012 collection during New York Fashion Week February 12, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: FASHION)
Eleanor Lambert, known by many in the industry as the Empress of Fashion, was indeed the driving force behind New York Fashion Week, as well as many other major milestones in the industry.
“It was much later in the 1940s that Eleanor Lambert realized, ‘If we really focus it on a week and bring in journalists and buyers we can get much greater attention for fashion.’ And now of course they're dozens and dozens of Fashion Week's everywhere from Johannesburg to Mumbai from Rio to Copenhagen,” Steele said.
Lambert is credited with propelling the careers of Norman Norell, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein and Halston to the level of prominence they enjoy today. During the 1940s and 50s big fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar primarily focused on Paris as the epicenter of fashion.
Lambert’s belief that American fashion was important put her at odds with editors initially, but as she made more American designers known, they slowly came around. While serving as director of the New York Dress Institute during the same time period, she introduced the concept of two centralized fashion weeks, one fall and one spring, in an effort to try and organize uncoordinated showings by designers.
From those efforts, New York Fashion Week was born.
“I think for a lot of people in the industry, fashion week is like the crème-de-la-crème of fashion,” said Deena Campbell, Associate Editor of Uptown Magazine. “I also think it's like an industry get together. You get to see a lot of the editors and designers. It's just a fun way to kind of see and be seen for me. And I think a lot of that translates into our pages as well when we send our stylists to the shows.”
What started as a small and concentrated effort to give American designers a voice in the industry has transformed New York into the capital of the fashion industry. Organizations like the Council of Fashion Designer of America , also a creation of Lambert’s, have brought philanthropic efforts to fashion and recognition among the industry with the CFDA Awards – considered the Oscars of fashion.
Now that fashion week is such a large scale event, it draws a different audience.
“Ten years ago, fashion week was a very exclusive, very private affair where buyers and stylists and the press would come in to a very closed environment, look at something, choose which images would be portrayed to the world, and then you'd have to go buy a magazine in order to see what was being favored,” said Simon Collins, Dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons The New School for Design. “That was how it worked.”
“That's all different now. Everyone knows that Style.com has the runway shows 10 minutes after they show. In fact, you can see them simultaneously,” Collins said.
There are live shows streaming from YouTube and many of the major fashion sites have slideshows up within minutes of a show ending. Some groups like MADE, an arm of fashion show sponsor the Milk Group, have an app that lets users attending their fashion shows instantaneously view images of looks that walk down the runway and get buying information for them.
After New York Fashion Week ends today, designers will go back to work making new styles for the upcoming season and consumers will be waiting anxiously.
“Fashion's become not just a major socio-economic force, but a kind of popular obsession for people,” Steele said. “Kind of like big-time sports.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is urging patients who were treated with the popular cancer drug Avastin to contact their physicians, as the agency investigates a counterfeit version of the product. Avastin is the best-selling cancer medication in the country, according to Associated Press, and is used to treat brain, colon, kidney and lung cancers.
The counterfeit drug, made without the key ingredient in Avastin, was distributed to health care centers in the U.S., but it’s unclear how long the fake drug has been on the market, where it originated, what it actually contains, or how much of it is in circulation, Shelly Burgess, FDA spokesperson, told NBC News. Contents of the counterfeit vials are still being analyzed.
“We are still evaluating the situation,” Burgess said. “It’s evolving, so there is a lot we still don’t know.”
Avastin was the 14th best-selling drug in the U.S. in 2010, according to IMS Health, the Associated Press reported. It works by choking off the blood supply that feeds tumors.
A spokesperson for Genentech told NBC News that it is impossible to track exactly how many patients are treated with Avastin, but said that company sold 5 million valves of the product last year.
Only a limited number of patients could have been given the counterfeit medication, Burgess said. "This affects a small subset of cancer patients in the U.S. -- only those whose doctors were obtaining their products from illegitimate sources of non-FDA approved drugs."
The FDA has sent letters to 19 medical practices it believes may have purchased fake versions of the drug, most of which are located in California. Genentech, which makes Avastin and is owned by Roche, is warning doctors and hospitals that the counterfeit version lacks the active ingredient in their drug and should not be used.
Labels of FDA-approved Avastin are printed with the “Genentech” name, along with a six-digit lot number with no letters. According to the FDA’s statement, the fake version is labeled with Roche as the manufacturer, and has the lot numbers, B6010, B6011 or B86017.
Although the origin of the counterfeit version is unknown, the FDA told NBC News the drug is produced overseas and was distributed in the United States by a foreign supply company called Quality Specialty Products. The company also operates under the name Montana Health Care Solutions.
Burgess said that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK first alerted the FDA to the counterfeit operation on February 7th.
In the past, problems with counterfeit drugs have been mostly in poor countries with looser regulations, but now, as more medications are being made overseas, authorities are afraid more will arrive into the U.S.
“We do know there are counterfeits continuing to try and make their way onto the U.S. supply chain," Connie Jung, an associate director in the Food and Drug Administration's office of drug security told the Associated Press.
For the most updated information on the investigation, visit the FDA’s Web site.
The Doors sang about "lingering long on Love Street." Six couples, each married for more than half a century, have lived on their own Love Street. NBC's Boyd Huppert, KARE 11 Minneapolis, with a Valentine to the residents of Holt Ave and 5 Street.
Six couples on Holt Avenue and 5th Street Northwest in Elk River, Minn., stuck to their promise of for better or worse and have been married for more than 50 years. They spoke with NBC affiliate KARE about the many factors contributing to their marital bliss.
Tens of thousands of mainland Chinese women travel every year to Hong Kong to give birth so their children can enjoy the former British colony's benefits. NBC's Adrienne Mong reports on the growing tension the trend has fueled between Hong Kong locals and mainlanders.
Adrienne Mong writes
HONG KONG & SHENZHEN, China – Anchor babies. Birth tourism. Cross-border births.
It’s a growing global phenomenon driven by Chinese with wherewithal and wealth. Chinese from a China that – even as it continues to grow and open up to the rest of the world – still faces a restrictive enough present and an uncertain enough future that they choose to give birth outside of China.
Some do it to avoid the one-child policy. Many do so for the benefits the child will receive as a citizen of the country into which it’s born: free or better education, the freedom to travel, good social services, a safe haven.
The United States is overwhelmingly the most popular destination for wealthy Chinese, a phenomenon covered by NBC News.
But a close second is Hong Kong, the tiny former British colony of 7 million people.
Since its return to Beijing’s oversight in 1997, and as China has made it easier for its people to travel, tens of thousands of mainlanders regularly head over the border to book up maternity wards at Hong Kong’s good quality and affordable public hospitals.
Of the 88,000 births in Hong Kong in 2010, roughly 45 percent were delivered by mainland Chinese women, according to Hong Kong's government.
The growing number of cross-border births isn’t just straining health care resources and the local population’s goodwill. It’s also helped to provoke an identity crisis that 15 years after the handover has alienated local residents from their northern neighbors.
A business catering to pregnant mainlanders For four years, Gordon Li has been running a business from Shenzhen, southern China, arranging travel to Hong Kong for pregnant mainland Chinese women.
Many Hong Kong locals believe their quality of life is being eroded by mainland China---including the air.
(*Gordon Li is not his real name; he did not want to divulge his identity. Just last week, another agent from mainland China pleaded guilty to breaching Hong Kong immigration laws for helping mainland women give birth in the city. It was Hong Kong’s first prosecution of its kind and, given the current mood, may not be the last.)
“We work like a travel agency [and] the fee depends on the client –whether they want to stay in a luxury hotel or a small hotel, etc.,” said Li, who charges his clients between a few thousand yuan and 20,000 yuan ($3,200) to navigate the system. Most of his customers are from the mainland’s wealthiest regions like Guangdong, Zhejiang, Beijing, and Shanghai.
Li estimates that he has helped at least a few hundred mainland women to have babies in Hong Kong. “Last year was the most,” he said.
His early clients were trying to get around the mainland’s strict one-child policy, but today most of his new customers travel to Hong Kong because, Li says, there are “a lot of conveniences.”
The public health system in freewheeling capitalist Hong Kong is considered better and safer than it is in its communist neighbor. Maternal mortality ratio statistics collected by organizations like the World Health Organization support Hong Kong’s reputation for good quality health care for mothers and newborn babies.
Every day, more than 10,000 students who live in mainland China cross the border to go to school in Hong Kong.
Other benefits for newborns include being automatically eligible for “the right of abode” in Hong Kong, which means becoming permanent residents. Which in turn means unfettered access to free public education considered superior to that in the mainland; political freedoms; and ease of travel anywhere in the world.
And they are entitled to all of this without giving up their China citizenship.
In fact, more than 10,000 mainland Chinese children who were born in Hong Kong, but live in China, go across the border every day to attend school in the former British colony.
Hong Kong is fed up Huang Lijuan is a 27-year-old kindergarten teacher from Guangdong Province. She and her husband, Tsing Ho Nan, a 32-year-old engineer from Hong Kong, met in Shenzhen and moved to Hong Kong after getting married.
“I’m three months pregnant, and the due date is August 5,” Huang told NBC News one afternoon in a community center in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong. “But I haven’t been able to book a hospital bed in a maternity ward. All of the public hospitals are fully booked.”
“There are 80 to 100 [mainland women married to Hong Kong men living here] who are pregnant, but they failed to book any hospitals to deliver their babies,” said Koon Wing Tsang, an organizer with the Mainland-Hong Kong Families Rights Association. Like Huang, they are all casualties of recent restrictions on non-local women.
Under popular pressure, the Health Authority (HA) in Hong Kong has instituted quotas for non-local residents. Currently, only 3,400 births by non-local women are permitted at public hospitals this year – down from 10,000 in 2011. Private hospitals are allowed 31,000 births by non-local women.
“The government and the HA are committed to ensuring that local pregnant women will be given priority in the use of the services over non-Hong Kong residents (non-eligible persons, NEPs),” said a Health Authority spokesman in a written response to NBC News requests for an interview.
But even the new quotas may not be enough. As Huang found out, all the maternity wards in Hong Kong’s public hospitals – and many private clinics – are fully booked until September.
Moreover, the quotas don’t prevent mainland women from using the emergency wards as a last resort. More than 1,600 such births last year were delivered in Hong Kong’s emergency rooms – an unnecessary medical risk since such wards are not equipped or staffed properly for deliveries.
Some Hong Kong government officials have raised the possibility of an outright ban on mainland Chinese women giving birth in the city, but critics have argued enforcement is problematic.
Others have suggested ending the practice of granting automatic permanent residency status to babies born to non-local parents. To do so, according to legal experts as well as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang, would mean having to reinterpret the Basic Law – the territory’s mini-constitution.
Any such action would require consultations with Beijing, which could prove to be a political minefield for Hong Kong, which prides itself on its Western-style democratic values.
'Locusts' & 'running dogs' Adding fuel to the fire is a recent series of tense confrontations between local and mainland residents.
Last month, Hong Kong citizens were outraged over a report that a Dolce & Gabbana boutique had banned local shoppers from taking photographs of its shop, but allowed mainland Chinese tourists and other visitors to snap away. A Facebook campaign days later galvanized more than a thousand people to protest outside the shop, forcing it to shut early.
Barely a week later, a heated dispute broke out on the Hong Kong subway when a mainland Chinese child was asked to stop eating on the train – a practice banned in the territory. The argument between locals and mainlanders was captured by a cell phone camera, and the video went viral on the Internet.
Tensions were further inflamed by comments from a Peking University professor, who when shown the video of the subway dispute, called the territory’s residents “running dogs of the British imperialists.”
This month, a group of concerned Hong Kong citizens bought a full-page ad in a popular mainstream Chinese-language Hong Kong daily newspaper that called mainland visitors “locusts.” The term refers to the large numbers overrunning the territory to consume all its resources.
The "Locust" song, which features anti-mainland China lyrics, has gone viral on the Internet in Hong Kong.
A “locust” song even made the rounds on the Internet, with spiteful lyrics poking fun at mainland Chinese, and inspiring at least one group of young Hong Kong men to roam around singing the song at visiting mainland Chinese.
An identity crisis “I think the real reason that Hong Kong people are upset is because they feel helpless politically,” said Wen Yunchao, a mainland blogger and activist now living in the territory. “The rules they believe in are being broken by all these mainland visitors, and yet they still have to rely on China economically.”
Dr. Elaine Chan at the Center of Civil Society and Governance at Hong Kong University agrees the tension is “a manifestation of something deeper.”
“Hong Kong people do not have a very positive view of mainlanders,” she said. “Not just because they are buying properties and not just because they are buying all the luxury goods. But also because of how they carry themselves.”
Both Wen and Chan argue there’s an underlying sensitivity to and awareness of the fact that Hong Kong is bound up with China –culturally, historically, politically, and economically – and yet there remains a gap in fundamental values between the two: in terms of the rule of law or basic civility. That tension makes some people in the territory uncomfortable.
For now, Beijing has remained silent at least on the cross-border births issue, although authorities in neighboring Guangdong province have promised to find a solution.
But another hot-button topic may soon eclipse that of birth tourism. The main topic of conversation last week was a government proposal to open up the border to mainland Chinese drivers and their vehicles. Concern over road safety issues is so great in Hong Kong that an online petition has already gathered 7,000 signatures.
After a convoluted journey through many hands, a piece of Martha Washington’s dress that once belonged to the alleged mistress of Warren Harding, the 29th President of the United States, can now be yours – for a mere $40,000.
The piece of silk is now associated with a scandal. Before Harding took office, the soon-to-be president allegedly had an affair with a woman named Nan Britton. When Britton gave birth to her illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Ann, she claimed that Harding was the father, revealing the secrets of her reported affair in her 1927 self-published book, “The President’s Daughter.” At the time, she was looked down upon as an unwed mother and became the target of much criticism for her claim, which was never verified.
About three months ago, a descendent of Britton’s family, who wishes to remain anonymous, found the almost 300-year-old 9” by 5” swatch of fabric and contacted the Raab Collection, a Philadelphia-area dealer of American historical documents, which has put it on sale.
“It was sitting in some file in someone’s basement, and when they first contacted us, they wanted to know if it was of value,” Nathan Raab, the collection’s vice president, told msnbc.com.
Tracing the history of the dress
After months of studying family genealogies, photographs and historical documents, the Raab Collection verified that the piece of cloth originated from one of Martha Washington’s dresses, made in the 1700s.
Since Martha and George Washington never had children together, many of the Washington family’s heirlooms were passed down to Martha’s children from her first marriage to Daniel Custis, who left her a widow. The family treasured these heirlooms, including one of Martha’s silk dresses.
“We don’t know what this specific dress was used for. It could have been from a number of occasions,” Raab said. “But the dress is well-recognized.”
A handwritten letter from philanthropist Alden Freeman will also be included along with the dress fabric.
In 1932, a member of the Custis family cut a piece of the dress and gave it to philanthropist Alden Freeman as a gift. However, it didn’t remain in Freeman’s possession for very long. Instead, Freeman gave it to Nan Britton, accompanied with a heart-felt, handwritten letter.
Freeman, acknowledging the hardships that Britton faced as an unwed mother, apparently wanted to show his appreciation for her strength.
“This little souvenir has special interest at this time as February 22, 1932, will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of our first President and the Father of our country,” he wrote.
A gift for a little girl ‘cast aside’
“I wish to here record my admiration and respect for the character of a perfect mother, Nan Britton, and for her united, devoted, and loyal family… . I wish to record also my affection and admiration for that clever and precocious child, the daughter of our 29th President, Elizabeth Ann Harding.”
In his letter, Freeman expressed his hope that Nan Britton would pass the historical piece of fabric to her daughter. And according to researchers at The Raab Collection, she did just that.
“It’s been with the Britton family since 1932. It’s amazing that something that Martha Washington wore still exists and was sitting in someone’s basement,” Raab said. “Someone felt bad for Nan and her daughter. It was a gift to a small child who was cast off and the story of the passing of Martha Washington’s dress by someone who had been cast aside.”
ESCONDIDO - On a sunny, crisp January morning in Southern California, 16 young veterans gathered to learn the finer points of organic farming: how to brew "compost tea" (an organic liquid fertilizer), irrigation, planting techniques and urban crop production.
As they pounded freshly ground compost in a plastic container, one of the students, Anthony Rohrbaugh, stopped to adjust his wool beanie. Rohrbaugh, 27, had completed two deployments with the Marines to Iraq where he fought in the Battle of Fallujah. He credits the farm’s program, Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT), for helping him deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder and transitioning back to civilian life.
"Coming out of the military, it's kinda like a shock," Rohrbaugh said. "[VSAT] is very therapeutic …coming from a combat environment -- I was under a lot of stress. And I suffered from brain trauma. Working with plants and soil really helped me connect not only to myself but also the environment around me."
VSAT, founded by Colin Archipley and his wife Karen, has taught agribusiness skills to more than 60 veterans since it was first established in 2006. These vets are all still working in the agriculture and farm industry.
"The military community has such great talents and work ethic," he said. "And it's not being realized once they leave the military."
Archipley, 30, should know. As a decorated Marine sergeant with multiple combat tours in Iraq, he grew increasingly frustrated with the number of fellow warriors who had honorably served their country only to come home to a nation lacking in opportunities and a coherent strategy to re-integrate these vets back into society.
"They are so much more than just trigger pullers," Archipley said, gesturing to a group of students learning about bioponic farming, an organic method of sustainable farming that recycles water using high-tech greenhouses. "If the American public knew how good these guys are-- I mean, they were in charge of millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment and leading men in the most extreme environments under massive stress."
At the end of VSAT’s six-week "full impact" training course on the six acre farm known as Archi's Acres, each student must come up with a viable business plan as to how they will utilize their new skills.
Decorated Marine Mike Hanes, a graduate of Archi's Acres, now owns his own hot sauce company. He told NBC News about the challenges he faced after coming home from the frontlines.
"VSAT's idea is to train returning combat vets in agribusiness skills. We want to be an agribusiness incubator that allows these vets to create small businesses across the U.S.," Archipley said. "This not only helps them get back on their feet and make a living, it also contributes to the well-being of our country. It allows them to be a part of something bigger than themselves again."
It's an idea that has taken root across the country with similar programs sprouting up in San Antonio, Texas and Boston, Mass. With more farmers retiring than entering the profession, America's agriculture industry is looking for fresh recruits. According to a 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, nearly 66 percent of small farm operators are over 55 years old and only 4.1 percent are younger than 35 years old. The USDA estimates about a million new farmers are needed over the next 10 years.
"We need this program and other programs like it to create food in this country,” said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “The risk is, if we can't produce our own food, we'll be more dependent on importing food."
Coming home after combat: ‘We really struggled’
The journey from dusty Fallujah, Iraq to sunny Escondido, Calif., was a rough one for Colin Archipley. After three combat tours where he experienced some of the war's most brutal battles, Archipley said he felt lost and out of place upon leaving the Marine Corps in 2006 .
"I didn't have a mission anymore and everything I did in the military was mission driven," said Archipley, who suffers from PTSD. "Job opportunities when I got out were few and far between and the skills I learned as an infantryman didn't always translate directly into civilian life."
Getting the proper medical treatment also proved challenging.
"Colin had a lot of stuff from coming back from war," Karen Archipley said. "There were big issues with health and trying to get proper healthcare. We really struggled."
Archipley recalled, "Here you were, living in a ditch, getting shot at and making all these sacrifices and people here didn't even know anything about it. It brought a lot of anger, a lot of frustration. I had to find an outlet, something I could engage in that was bigger than myself."
In 2006, he found that outlet via Karen's lifelong dream: to live on (and own) a farm. Originally, she had wanted to settle in the idyllic Italian countryside of Tuscany. But after spending so much time abroad, Colin wanted to stay at home.
By trading mortgages on Karen's home in Los Angeles, they bought a fixer-upper avocado farm in Escondido about 30 minutes north of San Diego on a bluff overlooking Camp Pendleton, a major Marine Corps base. Here, the young couple created Archi's Acres -- an organic hyrdoponic farm that was environmentally safe using 90 percent less water than a comparable conventional farm. They expanded their produce from avocados to kale, lettuce, and their signature product, basil.
But Archi's Acres was more than just a profitable source of income. Colin found solace in the soil and the farm's tranquil surroundings.
"The farm gave me a mission statement," Archipley said. "It allowed us to feel good at the end of the day-- we were helping to feed America."
Colin also wanted to give back to his fellow Marines and service members -- even more so now, after a 2011 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study that reported an unemployment rate of over 30 percent for veterans ages 18 to 24, double the comparable civilian rate.
"These guys were heroes and they were falling through the cracks when they came home," said Archipley. Loyal to his brothers (and sisters) in arms, Archipley and his wife, Karen, decided to take action and created VSAT by securing grant money from the Disabled American Veterans, a non-profit veterans organization through Mira Costa Community College where VSAT's curriculum is accredited and part of the school's agriculture program.
Success story: Mike Hanes, once homeless, finds his calling
One of the program's most memorable graduates is 36-year-old Mike Hanes, a highly decorated Force Reconnaissance Marine who had spent more than eight years engaging in hazardous special operations missions on the distant battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon coming home, Haines said he suffered from depression, a classic symptom of PTSD triggered by a traumatic brain injury sustained in combat.
"I had major anger issues. They were off the charts," Hanes said.
Unable to secure a job, Hanes became homeless for two years.
"I would avoid populated areas and go into the hills where I would find the thickest brush and camp out,” he said. “I would hear voices and animals at night -- it was scary at times. As a Recon Marine, I was used to sleeping with one eye open.”
When his wife divorced him and sought sole custody of his young daughter, Hanes said he knew he had to turn his life around: if not for him, then for his daughter.
While homeless, he enrolled himself in college and got his degree. One day in April 2009 , while walking through Balboa Park in San Diego, he stumbled upon an Earth Day Festival and came upon Archipley's VSAT booth. Hanes liked what he heard -- especially the words of encouragement coming from a fellow combat vet Marine. "But it took him nearly a year to actually come to the program," said Karen Archipley. "He really had trust issues."
"The farm definitely changed the direction of my life," said Hanes. "I mean, if it wasn't for the farm -- I honestly don't know where I would be right now."
After attending the VSAT course, Hanes came up with a business plan to bottle and market his own brand of hot sauce: Forager Mike's Dang!!! Raw Superfood Sauce. The concoction was so good that local Whole Foods grocery stores now stock it on their shelves.
"I never would have thought this would have happened," Hanes said. "I never thought -- sleeping out in the bush, being homeless -- I would have a product there sitting on a shelf in a store!"
Now, as a single father who runs his own company, "When I take my daughter to Whole Foods and I share with her my creation -- she looked up there on the shelves and see my picture next to the bottles and says, 'Hey! That's you!' You know, that definitely brought a smile to my face," said Hanes, his face lighting up. "Made me feel proud again, you know."
For Colin Archipley, that’s what VSAT is all about.
"If we can just help one person be better off than he was before -- then mission accomplished," he said.
There are three main categories of people who will be aided under the settlement, according to the site:
Homeowners who need loan modifications to stay in their homes. Loan servicers have agreed to write off some principal in these cases, which would help homeowners refinance at lower monthly payments.
Borrowers who are current on payments but underwater, meaning they owe more than their home is worth. Servicers will help some of these owners refinance at current rates, which are at or near record lows.
Borrowers who have lost their homes to foreclosure. Some of these former owners will be eligible for payments. $1.5 billion will be distributed to 750,000 borrowers, which works out to $2,000 per person.
Within the next 30-60 days, an administrator will be chosen to oversee the settlement. Eligible homeowners will be identified over the next six to nine months, and will be notified by mail.
The settlement largely affects borrowers whose loans are serviced by five big banks: Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Ally/GMAC. Loans owned by government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not affected. Borrowers from Oklahoma also will not be eligible because officials from that state did not join the settlement.
The program, currently in place in seven airports, allows approved fliers to pass through security without having to remove their shoes, belt and jacket. Laptops can also stay in their bags as can TSA-approved liquids placed in carry-ons.
“The expansion of [the program] to the nation’s busiest airports will increase our security capabilities and expedite the screening process for travelers we consider our trusted partners,”said Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano in a statement.
The TSA has already screened 336,000 fliers through the program, which began last year at seven airports. Eligible participants include U.S. citizens who are frequent fliers on selected airlines. Fliers interested in participating can apply via the government's Global Entry website.
Once a flier is approved, information is then embedded in the barcode of his or her boarding pass, which is scanned at the security checkpoint, where the flier may be directed to an expedited screening lane.
Michael Schneider, the Los Angeles-based owner of Mobile Roadie, a company that helps non-techies make apps, is an American Airlines Executive Platinum flier who was invited by the airline to join the TSA’s PreCheck program a few months ago.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John S. Pistole on Wednesday announced the expansion of TSA's passenger pre-screening program to 28 additional airports across the country.
Schneider was already a participant in Global Entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows pre-approved low-risk international travelers to pass through customs quickly. Schneider says participating in PreCheck only required filling out an online form.
Handing over additional personal information was worth the convenience at the airport. “I have nothing to hide," Schneider said. “And when you travel as much as I do -- 150,000 miles a year -- the little things [like] belt off, shoes off, laptop out add up to a drag.”
TSA spokesperson Greg Soule told msnbc.com that Salt Lake City, New York’s JFK, Washington’s Reagan National and Chicago’s O’Hare airports will be added to the program by the end of March. These remaining 24 airports will be added by the end of the year:
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
Denver International Airport (DEN)
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
Indianapolis International Airport (IND)
LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL)
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)