Friday, October 8, 2010

Website: Jihadist from Hamburg killed

 Officials say Shahab Dashti, known as Abu Askar al-Almani, is an Iranian-German who left Hamburg in 2009.A German militant was killed with three others in a drone attack, a website saysThe German government says the militant left Hamburg with 10 other suspected militantsThe drone strike occurred Monday in northwest Pakistan
(CNN) -- A jihadist from Hamburg suspected of being part of an al Qaeda plot against Europe was killed by a drone strike in northwest Pakistan this week, according to a statement Thursday on a Turkish-language jihadist website.
The website said a fighter named Abu Askar al-Almani and three other Jihadists had been "martyred" by the missile strike against a base in Waziristan, where German and Tajik fighters were living.
German officials say al-Almani is the nom de guerre of Shahab Dashti, an Iranian-German who left Hamburg, Germany, with 10 other suspected militants in the spring of 2009.
Earlier this week, Pakistani officials told CNN that a drone strike Monday near Mir Ali in North Waziristan killed five German militants. They were alleged to be part of an Al Qaeda plot to target European cities with attacks styled after the one on Mumbai, India, in 2008.
The alleged conspiracy prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory Sunday to Americans traveling in Europe.
The jihadist website described al-Almani as "one of the colorful faces of the German mujahedeen" and included video in which he was holding a long-bladed knife.
The images of al-Almani first appeared in October 2009 in a German-language recruitment video released by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has close links to al Qaeda. Dashti joined the movement after arriving in Pakistan, German intelligence officials tell CNN.
Intelligence experts with the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy told CNN that the website has in the past carried messages from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The website -- Jihad Media -- said another German and two Tajiks were killed in the drone strike: Imran al-Almani, Abdul Aziz Taciki and Hattab Taciki.
A European counterterrorism official said that Western intelligence agencies are working to verify the website's information, but are treating it as serious and credible.
One member of the Hamburg group -- Ahmed Sidiqi, a German Afghan, was detained in Kabul in July and is said to have revealed details about the al Qaeda plot against Europe while under interrogation at the U.S. airbase at Bagram, Afghanistan.
According to a European counterterrorism official, Sidiqi claimed that Dashti would return to Europe as a "foot soldier" in the attack, and that two other members of the group -- Naamen Meziche and Asadullah M. -- had planning roles in the plot.
Their whereabouts are unknown, but German officials believe they are still in the Pakistan-Afghan border region. Meziche, a French citizen of Algerian descent, was the chief recruiter of the Hamburg group, according to the official.
Last weekend, Dashti's family in Hamburg told CNN they were extremely concerned about their son's safety. The family said they believed their son had been brainwashed by extremists at Hamburg's Taiba mosque. German authorities shut down that mosque in August, alleging it had growing ties to extremist activity.
The mosque was once attended regularly by Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker in the 9/11 attacks. All the members of the Hamburg group had attended the mosque, according to German intelligence officials.
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Mom arrested in '84 abduction

 Nancy Dunsavage Fiedler is accused of abducting her 6-year-old daughter in 1984.Authorities were tipped off after girl, now 32, applied for a marriage licenseHer mother is being held in Nevada pending extradition to New JerseyPolice say she at first gave another name but later admitted her identity
(CNN) -- A former New Jersey woman now living in Nevada was arrested on suspicion of abducting her daughter during a custody struggle more than 25 years ago, authorities said.
Nancy Dunsavage Fiedler, 57, of Incline Village, Nevada, was arrested Tuesday, according to the Somerset County, New Jersey, Prosecutor's Office and the Washoe County, Nevada, Sheriff's Office. She is accused of fleeing a courthouse in Somerville, New Jersey, with her then-6-year-old daughter, Eva Marie Fiedler, during a custody hearing on August 23, 1984.
At the time, the girl's father had full custody of her, according to New Jersey prosecutors. On June 28, 1985, Nancy Fiedler failed to appear for an arraignment on charges of interference with custody, and a warrant was issued for her arrest.
The case resurfaced Tuesday, when Eva Marie Fiedler, now 32, attempted to change her name to Melissa Reed in order to obtain a marriage license in Washoe County, Somerset County prosecutors said in a release. A background check found a listing in the National Crime Information Center for Eva Marie Fiedler as a missing child out of New Jersey.
"Investigating deputies determined that [Nancy Fiedler] had changed her name to Debbie Reed and was living in Incline Village," near Lake Tahoe, the Washoe County Sheriff's Office said in a release.
Washoe County authorities contacted Somerset County prosecutors, who asked the sheriff's office to locate Debbie Reed. They did so Tuesday night.
"Deputies noted that 'Debbie Reed' displayed the same descriptors as noted in the NCIC warrant for defendant Fiedler," New Jersey prosecutors said. After a brief interview, the woman admitted to authorities that she was Nancy Fiedler, Nevada authorities said, and was arrested.
Eva Marie Fielder apparently had no idea she had been abducted or that her mother was sought by police, according to CNN affiliate KRNV. It was unclear why she was attempting to change her name.
Capt. David Nikoley of the Washoe County Sheriff's Office told CNN Thursday that authorities aren't sure whether the girl knew of her abduction or why she sought the name change. Investigators in Nevada have not interviewed her yet, he said, and are awaiting a request to do so from New Jersey. "The dust hasn't settled yet," he said.
Washoe County authorities issued a statement saying the girl is now 31, but a flyer posted on a "Protect Your Kids" internet forum lists her birthday as May 9, 1978, meaning she would now be 32.
The same forum, in a thread marked "Parental Abduction," has a posting dated January 2010 from a person self-identified as Eva Marie Fiedler's cousin.
"Myself and our whole family would love more than anything to have her back," the posting says. "... Please Eva Marie we all want you to come back and we all promise you will be safe with us we all love you ... if you or your mom are just afraid to come back, we promise you will be safe."
New Jersey prosecutors will extradite Nancy Fiedler from Nevada, according to the statement. Washoe County said she was being held at the county detention facility on a no-bail warrant pending that extradition.
"Throughout the years, detectives from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office have followed dozens of leads, both domestic and international, in an attempt to locate defendant Fiedler and her daughter," with the assistance of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the statement said.
"Detectives have stated that throughout the years defendant Fiedler was able to remain undetected by obtaining a number of identities for her and her daughter," prosecutors said.
According to the Asbury Park Press newspaper in New Jersey, authorities charged Nancy Fiedler's sister and the sister's husband with conspiracy to interfere with a custody order and contempt of court in the case, three years after the girl's disappearance. Prosecutors claimed the two, who were living in California, helped Nancy Fiedler keep the girl from her father.
The couple was acquitted following a weeklong trial in 1988, despite admitting Nancy Fiedler and the girl had stayed with them for several months, the newspaper said. The couple claimed they had had no contact with the two since they moved out.
The girl's father, identified as Greg Fiedler, testified during the trial, the Asbury Park Press said. Attempts by CNN to contact Greg Fiedler on Thursday were unsuccessful.
CNN's Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.
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Source: Drill 100 meters from miners

Firefighters stand by near the San Diego mine at Copiapo, Chile, Thursday as rescuers closed in on 33 trapped miners.NEW: "Plan B" drill has just another 89 meters to go to break throughNEW: Engineers still have to decide whether to put casing in rescue shaftNEW: With casing, it may be up to 10 days before miners are freedNEW: Chile's first lady is expected to meet with miners' families Friday
Copiapo, Chile (CNN) -- Rescuers in Chile have just another 89 meters (292 feet) left to drill and are expected to break through into the area where 33 miners are trapped by Saturday, Chilean Mines Minister Laurence Golborne said Thursday.
Depending on whether engineers decide to encase the rescue shaft with steel casing, the 33 miners could be extracted from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine within two to 10 days after breakthrough, Golborne added.
The miners have been trapped in a chamber since August 5. They are in contact with the outside world through a small bore hole that is being used to send them food, water, supplies and other necessities.
Rescue crews have been drilling three separate, wider holes to send down a rescue capsule that will bring the men to the surface. Those rescue attempts have been labeled Plans A, B and C.
"We're advancing pretty well in Plan B. We restarted the drilling process and are hoping we can get contact more or less this Saturday. Depending [on] if we have to change the drill hammer or not it could be a bit earlier, but we're predicting [the] date for Saturday," Golborne said.
Mine engineers will have to decide whether they need to encase the shaft with steel tubing to prevent rockfalls and further collapses as they extract the miners.
"We have to wait two, three or four days if we do not encase and eight to 10 days if we do the encasing. That will be based on technical matters decided by technical experts," he added. .
The so-called Plan B drill, a Schramm T-130 rig, hit a depth of 535 meters by 8 a.m. Thursday following a 20-hour stoppage to change drill hammers and to survey the rescue shaft with a miniature camera.
Earlier this week, the Plan B drill cut through 53 meters in just 12 hours, which means technically it could cover the remaining 89 meters down to the miners in just 20 hours.
One of the rescue coordinators, Rene Aguilar, an engineer for state copper company CODELCO, said earlier this week they may encase the first 100 meters of the shaft, a process that could take just 10 hours.
Once the miners are extracted they will undergo about two hours of health checks at a field hospital that has been set up at the mine. They will then be reunited with one or two immediate family members.
Next, all 33 will be flown by military helicopter to the regional hospital in the city of Copiapo -- approximately a 15-minute flight.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Sept. 19 during his last visit to the mine that he planned to personally hug each of the 33 miners as they were pulled from the rescue shaft. He is due to depart on a government tour to Europe mid-month.
First lady Cecilia Morel de Pinera is expected to arrive at the San Jose mine sometime Friday, Golborne said.
"Her plan is to spend some time with the miners' families," he said.
Maria Segovia, sister of trapped miner Dario Segovia, said relatives would begin a vigil Thursday night that they will keep until a drill breaks through to the miners.
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Largest public works project in United States killed

 This is an artist's rendering of a new New York Penn Station expansion cavern.NEW: Decision will hurt New Jersey, analyst saysGovernor: The project was expected to exceed its budgetThe tunnel project was put on hold last month$600 million already spent on the project may not be reimbursed
(CNN) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie killed plans for a new train tunnel to connect his state with New York's Manhattan island Thursday, saying billions of dollars in possible cost overruns made the project "completely unthinkable."
The $8.7 billion tunnel beneath the Hudson River was the largest public works project in the United States, but Christie said it was likely to cost up to $5 billion more than estimated. In a statement announcing his plan to withdraw from the project, he said the tunnel "costs far more than New Jersey taxpayers can afford, and the only prudent move is to end this project."
"I have made a pledge to the people of New Jersey that on my watch I will not allow taxpayers to fund projects that run over budget with no clear way of how these costs will be paid for," said Christie, a Republican elected in 2009. "Considering the unprecedented fiscal and economic climate our state is facing, it is completely unthinkable to borrow more money and leave taxpayers responsible for billions in cost overruns."
The tunnel, dubbed the Access to the Region's Core project, was aimed at doubling the number of commuter trains between New York and New Jersey and increasing the number of Amtrak trains serving the Northeast Corridor. It would have included an expansion of New York's Penn Station, created 6,000 jobs and taken 22,000 cars off the road, according to New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Thomas Wright, the head of the Regional Plan Association, said Christie's decision "is really going to take a hit on New Jersey's economic growth." He said the $5 billion estimate for overruns that Christie cited is overstated, with the actual number being closer to $1 billion.
"This is a potential overrun that's many years down the road. It should not have been used as the excuse to kill this project," he said.
The Port Authority and the Federal Transit Administration each put up $3 billion for the Access to the Region's Core project, with the state of New Jersey adding in $2.7 billion. The project also was partially funded by federal stimulus money.
"New Jersey definitely has extreme financial burdens that they are dealing with," said Wright, the executive director of the transportation and urban planning think tank. "However, Access to the Region's Core was one project that was very well funded from federal and bi-state sources. Very little of the money was actually coming from New Jersey citizens."
Opponents of the planned tunnel said they would rather see New Jersey's share of the money go to the state's Transportation Trust Fund, which is rapidly running out of money.
Supporters of the project proposed covering any budget shortfalls with a surcharge on train tickets or an increase in New Jersey's gasoline tax, the third-lowest in the country. But Christie has said he's opposed to raising gasoline taxes.
Christie said he has asked his state transportation commissioner and the head of the New Jersey Transit agency to work with federal and regional officials to find other ways to boost commuter capacity. "However, any future project must recognize the regional and national scale of such an effort and work within the scope of the state's current fiscal and economic realities," he added.
Christie had put a 30-day hold on the project in September to re-evaluate it. Wednesday, Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Farber said that Christie and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had spoken by telephone and "agreed to have staff work together to further refine the estimated cost of the entire project, and those conversations are ongoing."
Now that the project has been killed, the Federal Transit Administration could redirect its funds to other projects across the United States. The $600 million already spent on the project may not be reimbursed.
CNN's Steve Kastenbaum, Eden Pontz and Brian Todd contributed to this report.
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French burqa ban clears legal hurdle

A woman in Tours wears a niqab during protests over efforts to ban Islamic face coverings.Court rules the law does not violate the French ConstitutionIt bars Islamic face coverings in public placesThe ban is due to come into effect in the springIt would fine women for wearing a veil or forcing a woman to do so
(CNN) -- France's law banning the burqa and other Islamic face coverings in public places is legal, top constitutional authorities in France ruled Thursday, clearing the final hurdle before the ban goes into effect.
The ban passed both houses of the French legislature by overwhelming margins earlier this year, and is scheduled to come into effect in the spring.
The law imposes a fine of 150 euros ($190) and/or a citizenship course as punishment for wearing a face-covering veil. Forcing a woman to wear a niqab or a burqa will be punishable by a year in prison or a 15,000-euro ($19,000) fine, the government said, calling it "a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil."
Lawmakers also cited security reasons for forbidding people from covering their faces in public.
The French Constitutional Council said the law did not impose disproportionate punishments or prevent the free exercise of religion in a place of worship, finding therefore that "the law conforms to the Constitution."
A panel of French lawmakers recommended a ban last year, and lawmakers unanimously passed a non-binding resolution in May calling the full-face veil contrary to the laws of the nation.
"Given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place," the French government said when it sent the measure to parliament in May.
French people back the ban by a margin of more than four to one, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found in a survey earlier this year.
Some 82 percent of people polled approved of a ban, while 17 percent disapproved. That was the widest support the Washington-based think tank found in any of the five countries it surveyed.
Clear majorities also backed burqa bans in Germany, Britain and Spain, while two out of three Americans opposed it, the survey found.
Amnesty International has repeatedly urged France not to impose the ban, saying it violates European human rights law.
The ban pertains to the burqa, a full-body covering that includes a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a full-face veil that leaves an opening only for the eyes.
The hijab, which covers the hair and neck but not the face, and the chador, which covers the body but not the face, apparently are not banned by the law.
However, a 2004 law in France bans the wearing or displaying of overt religious symbols in schools -- including the wearing of headscarves by schoolgirls.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that France has about 3.5 million Muslims, or about 6 percent of the population.
France does not keep its own statistics on religious affiliation of the population, in keeping with its laws requiring the state to be strictly secular.
-- CNN's Alanne Orjoux, Pierre Meilhan and Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.
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Toxic spill hits Danube River

Red toxic sludge coats neighborhoodNEW: Hungary asks European Union for assistance in cleanup"It is a huge tragedy for the whole country," a disaster official saysOfficials think the pH level has dropped, but is still above neutralThe sludge flowed from a aluminum plant reservoir that burst on Monday

Devescer, Hungary (CNN) -- The Hungarian government Thursday made an urgent request to the European Union for help in the cleanup effort after a reservoir holding industrial waste burst earlier in the week.

The government wants expert assistance in three villages left covered by the toxic red sludge after the accident Monday, the official news agency MTI reported.

Meanwhile, the sludge from an aluminum plant reached the Danube, Europe's second largest river, on Thursday as emergency officials worked to contain as much of the leak as possible.

"It is a huge tragedy for the whole country," said Anna Nagy, a Hungarian Disaster Management offical. "We love the Danube, we're very proud of the Danube and we tried to protect it."

"I hope we can save the life in the river," she said.

Hungary needs time to calculate the cost of the disaster, saying that the government's first response had been to try to save lives and clean homes.

Tibor Dobson, a top disaster management official, told CNN that the sludge -- which flowed from an aluminum plant reservoir that burst on Monday -- is less dangerous than it was when it spilled.

Officials believe pH levels have dropped to within an acceptable range, making the river safe, Dobson said. They are monitoring the Danube for sign of toxicity, such as dying fish.

Nagy said pH levels had fallen to 9.1. That's more alkaline than neutral, which is 7 on the scale, but much less than it was originally, at 13, the Catastrophic Protection Unit said Thursday.

Emergency workers were pouring plaster and fertilizers in hopes it would bind with the sludge and counter its alkalinity.

The exact chemical composition of the sludge has not been revealed, but aluminum processing normally involves compounds that include cyanide, cadmium and chromium.

The environmental disaster -- which occurred nearly 100 miles west of Budapest near the town of Ajka -- has killed two children, ages 1 and 3, an elderly woman and a 35-year-old man whose SUV overturned in the sludge.

About 250 people have been evacuated from their homes, said Gyorgi Tottos, a spokeswoman for Hungary's Catastrophe Protection Unit.

The reservoir has since been repaired and the flow from the pool halted. But the material that flowed out of the reservoir continues to pose a threat.

The plant received an operating permit in 2006, he said. The European Commission is studying a copy of the permit and sees nothing wrong with the paperwork so far, he added.

The aluminum factory has said it will pay for the victims' funerals.

It has property and liability insurance, insurer Allianz Hungaria Biztosito told CNN, but would not say how much.

Residents were advised not to eat produce from gardens that were covered when the dam burst.

It was not clear when residents evacuated from affected areas in the villages of Kolontar, Devecser and Somlovasarhely would be able to return home. The long-term consequences of the leak were also unclear.

In some villages, police with guns patrolled some of the villages to keep looters at bay.

A state of emergency has been declared in three counties, the State Secretariat of Governmental Communications said.

CNN's Nic Robertson, Tommy Evans, Jim Boulden and Eileen Hsieh contributed to this report.

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'I like it' campaign sweeps Facebook

Women on Facebook are using the "I like it on ..." status as a rallying cry to raise breast cancer awareness.Women on Facebook are using the "I like it on ..." status as a rallying cry to raise breast cancer awareness.October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Women are actually referring to where they like to place their purses
Part of the reason this meme has gone viral is due to its heavy sexual connotations

(Mashable) -- If you're confused because your Facebook News Feed is filled with women saying that they "like it on" the floor or the kitchen counter, you're not alone. It's all part of a new Internet meme that has gone viral on Facebook to raise awareness for breast cancer.

First things first, though: These women are actually referring to where they like to place their purses, not to their favorite places to make love. Of course, part of the reason this meme has gone viral is due to its heavy sexual connotations.

The reason for all of these "I like it on" status updates is simple: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of women are using this meme as a rallying cry to raise awareness for cancer research.

The status updates naturally get their friends to ask them about their commentary, which is exactly the point of this meme.

Like any social platform, Facebook is susceptible to rapidly spreading memes. In January bra color status updates started dominating newsfeeds worldwide, again to raise awareness for breast cancer.

While we don't know where the campaign originated from, it's cute, fun and generating some buzz (especially useful, as the commenters point out, for getting women to go in for their medical examinations).

Still, we can't forget that this is a disease that will kill 10 million women in the next 25 years, so we also implore you to donate to breast cancer research if you can.

© 2010 All rights reserved.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Philly flight evacuated

Flight evacuated at Philadelphia airportNEW: There was no failure in airport security, official saysThe incident is not believed to be terror-relatedUS Airways Flight 1070 was bound for Bermuda with 102 passengers

(CNN) -- Authorities evacuated a Bermuda-bound flight at Philadelphia International Airport in Pennsylvania Thursday after one of three people loading the plane didn't appear to belong and suddenly left the area, police said.

It appeared that the man in question was properly credentialed to be in a secure area, but was working on a plane that he wasn't supposed to, FBI spokesman J.J. Klaver said. When he was questioned by the other baggage handlers, the person left in a baggage loading cart, he said.

US Airways Flight 1070 -- which police said was bound for Bermuda with 102 passengers and five crew members -- was towed to a secure part of the airport, where baggage was removed from the plane to be screened by bomb-sniffing dogs.

The plane tested negative for explosives, and the incident is not believed to be terror-related, said Klaver. The investigation was ongoing, he added.

In addition, no narcotics were found on board the plane, said Stephen Sapp of Customs and Border Protection.

"There's nothing explosive, nothing hazardous," Klaver said.

He also said that there was no apparent failure in airport security processes.

Federal and local police at the airport had been searching for a man in uniform who was not wearing identification on the tarmac, a law enforcement official told CNN.

"This could be a suspicious person or it could be nothing," the official said.

The rest of the airport was fully operational and not affected by the incident, said spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.

The passengers remained in the terminal, said Todd Lehmacher, spokesman for US Airways. The airline hoped to get them back on the plane and headed for Bermuda once authorities allow it, he said.

CNN's Carol Cratty and Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.

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Ex-NBA star: 'Like I gave life' to preemie

Former NBA star is committed to helping people in Democratic Republic of CongoHis foundation helps provide health care and education for many Congolese
Mutombo has been a part of CNN Heroes since 2007, when he served on the Blue Ribbon PanelEditor's Note: Voting is under way for the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs Thanksgiving night, November 25, at 8 p.m. ET. See the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2010 and and cast your vote.

(CNN) -- Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dikembe Mutombo came to the United States on an academic scholarship to study medicine at Georgetown University. But his career path soon changed after joining the school's basketball team. Mutombo would go on to play in the NBA for 18 years and become one of the league's all-time best defensive players.

Mutombo has always been involved in humanitarian work, particularly through the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation. He has been involved with CNN Heroes since 2007, when he served on the Blue Ribbon Panel that selects the top Heroes of the year.

Mutombo recently sat down with CNN producer Allison Blakely to talk about Heroes and his philanthropy. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Allison Blakely: What was your inspiration for starting the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation?

Dikembe Mutombo: After traveling so much in Africa, doing some work for different organizations, we [had] witnessed so much suffering and pain. The Democratic Republic of Congo [has suffered] more than 10 years of civil unrest, where more than 5.3 million people have died. People have [called it] the World War III of Africa. (shakes his head) People are left with nothing. I decided to create the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to change the living condition of my people in Africa.

Blakely: You originally intended to be a doctor. Now you've built a hospital in your homeland. Tell me about it.

Mutombo: [It] was my [hope] in building a hospital to let people know that things can be much better in the future. ... The Old Testament says, "People perish because of lack of education," and that's what we are trying to do. It's through education we will reduce the mortality rate: telling those moms how they can keep their babies away from mosquitoes, how they can get their baby vaccinated and deliver the baby in better circumstances.

There was a woman that delivered a premature baby; I think that baby was like the size of my hands. We were the only hospital that was well-equipped with the high technology. The baby was able to grow stronger until it was able to go home. To see that child every time I go home is like I gave life to somebody. I think each one of us in this world, we have a duty to fulfill our mission. God has blessed some of us in the position to touch many people, and so many people can hear our voices from distances away, and I think I am capable to do it.

Blakely: What is a hero to you, and what do you think inspires some of these people?

Mutombo: A hero is someone who inspires you with their voice or with their acts or with their hands. That's a hero.

Blakely: You were on the CNN Heroes Blue Ribbon Panel back in 2007. What was that like?

Mutombo: I think it's great. I [would] encourage more people who have the strength and the courage and the love and the commitment of going out and making a difference to go and try. ... You can't just live in a society where you think, "I don't have anything to contribute." It's all about the gift that you have. ... You can inspire so many people.

Blakely: You went out to the "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" last year, right? How was that?

Mutombo: I was just walking down the red carpet, able to meet Anderson Cooper and everybody who came from the different parts of the world, celebrating our work and our contribution to this world. It was amazing.

Blakely: So, you've met some of the CNN Heroes. How have you been inspired by them?

Mutombo: Oh, inspired a lot. To see some of the people -- how they have gone on with no money, with no mean[s] -- there's a lot of people out there who are contributing. We all have some obligation to fulfill something in this world we're living in. It doesn't matter how long your life [is]. It is about your contribution, how much difference you're making. That's what those people are doing. I thank them, and I compliment them, and I salute them for their effort.

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Brazile: Mystery funds hurt democracy

tzleft.brazile.cnn.jpg "Independent" political operations have spent $80 million so far on midterm electionsDonors of more than half of the money have not been disclosedDonna Brazile says U.S. Supreme Court rulings opened way for corporations to donateShe says foreign corporations' money could be used to support or oppose U.S. candidatesEditor's note: Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee, a nationally syndicated columnist and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000 and wrote "Cooking With Grease."

(CNN) -- Give them credit where credit is due: Republicans know how to spend big dollars. In this election, Republican political strategists and their rich, anonymous supporters are really thinking big.

The Washington Post reported that "independent" political operations have spent $80 million so far, five times as much as in the 2006 election. The vast majority of that money is being spent on behalf of conservatives to defeat Democratic candidates in the midterms.

More than half of the money is coming from undisclosed donors -- and now foreign corporations may be getting into the act. It's time for those of us who care about democracy to think big, too.

This week, more than 50 high-profile former government attorneys (including the Republican former attorney general of Arizona) and law professors told congressional leaders they need to take a serious look at amending the Constitution to give the people the power to limit corporate election spending. They're right.

Welcome to the new Wild West of campaign finance the Supreme Court has ushered in. Citizens United is Bush v. Gore on steroids: The 5-4 ruling by an activist, right-wing majority held that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as actual citizens.

The decision that corporations can use their general treasury funds for unlimited political expenditures, added to an earlier ruling striking down reasonable restrictions on "issue ads" that air close to elections, threatens not only the 2010 political landscape but our democratic core.

The real-world results of that decision are becoming clear. The new "super PACS," with friendly names like Americans for Prosperity, are the favored conduits for the torrent of unlimited corporate cash drowning out the voices of ordinary people.

A wave of investigations shows that much of this money comes from a small circle of very wealthy, conservative individuals and corporations. Their millions are being spent at the direction of political operatives such as Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, who are determined to buy what they cannot win.

And for the first time in decades, that money may be coming from foreign corporations, including some controlled by foreign governments. The Chamber of Commerce will spend $75 million this year to defeat Democrats.

And according to a new report from the liberal blog Think Progress, overseas corporations will underwrite that work through memberships on the Chamber's "Business Councils" in nations such as Bahrain and India.

Why would foreign interests support the U.S.-based Chamber? Presumably to help big business attack Democrats who have fought the outsourcing of jobs and supported free trade. And wasn't it the Chamber that suggested U.S. taxpayers should help pay for the BP oil spill?

Worse, voters have no way of knowing who's writing the checks. A new analysis by People for the American Way demonstrates that many of these groups are operating as 501(c)(4) "social welfare" or 501(c)(6) "trade association" organizations, which don't have to reveal their donors. The report, "After Citizens United," documents how these groups fund ads that are not only misleading, but mysterious.

Ads by the American Future Fund attacking Rep. Bruce Braley for refusing to be drawn into the Islamic cultural center debate, for example, prompted the editorial board of Iowa's Quad City Times to plead with AFF to tell the community "who you are."

At this point in 2010, all we can do is hope that the unbridled excesses that the Supreme Court has allowed will pave the way for reform. There are some promising signs.

Just last week, a House committee approved a congressional public financing bill for the first time ever. There is also hope that the Disclose Act and its transparency provisions will be adopted by the next Congress.

As recently as 2000, Democrats and Republicans could at least agree that "shadow donors" had no role in the political process; all Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted for disclosure requirements for so-called 527 political groups. Somehow, by last week, all Republicans in the Senate seemed to change their minds.

Disclosure and public financing are necessary -- but thanks to Citizens United, they will not be sufficient. That's why Sens. Max Baucus and Chris Dodd, along with Reps. Donna Edwards and Paul Hodes, have each proposed constitutional amendments designed to restore the First Amendment to its original intent.

This isn't a partisan issue for the American people. A People for the American Way poll this past summer found that 84 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents and 69 percent of Republicans support a constitutional amendment if it's needed to curb corporate influence on elections.

For the sake of the American people, I hope that our next Congress takes up these measures with their constituent's best interests -- and not the interests of mystery group "Americans for ___________" -- at heart.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

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