STUDY: House GOP O’Care Repeal Bill Cuts $43B From Children’s Medicaid

from May 18, 2017 at 02:12AM

The major overhaul of Medicaid House Republicans passed with their bill to repeal Obamacare earlier this month would cut $43 billion in Medicaid funding for non-disabled children over 10 years, a study by the consultant firm Avalere found. The study also broke down the cuts by states, finding that Texas, Florida and New York would be the biggest losers in Medicaid funding for children’s health care coverage.

The House GOP bill, the American Health Care Act, transforms the traditional Medicaid program from an unlimited match rate to what is known as a per capita cap, meaning the feds would set a limit on the funding offered to states on a per enrollee basis. Because the metric Republicans use to raise the caps overtime is slower than the inflation rate of Medicaid, the cuts to the program would grow bigger over time.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the original version of the legislation would cut $880 billion from the program over the next decade.

The GOP Senate is in the process of writing its own bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that they said will include an overhaul of Medicaid. So far, they have signaled that they will embrace the House’s per capita cap’s approach, but are tinkering with the nuts and bolts of how the caps would work.


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Report: Trump Told His Advisers He Favors Move To Sabotage Obamacare

from May 19, 2017 at 06:16AM

President Donald Trump told advisers in an Oval Office meeting Tuesday that he favored ending crucial Affordable Care Act payments to insurers, Politico reported, a move that would almost guarantee chaos in the individual health insurance market.

A White House official said in a statement that the administration had made a commitment to Congress to make the payments only for the month of May. “No final decisions have been made at this time, and all options are on the table,” the official said.

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Iowa Just Showed Us What Defunding Planned Parenthood Under Trumpcare Would Look Like

from May 18, 2017 at 07:38AM

In a harbinger of what’s to come if the Obamacare repeal bill becomes law, Planned Parenthood has announced that it will close four health clinics in Iowa next month that serve nearly 15,000 patients.

The move is a direct result of a defunding measure signed into law by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad last week that will go into effect on July 1. The new law rejects federal Medicaid dollars and replaces them with a state-run family planning program that will prohibit low-income patients from using their publicly funded insurance for care at providers, like Planned Parenthood, that also offer abortions.

“What is happening in Iowa is what we could see across the country if Congress passes this dangerous law to defund Planned Parenthood,” said Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “This is hardest on people who already face barriers to accessing health care—especially people of color, young people, people with low to moderate incomes, and people who live in rural areas.”

The defunding measure enacted by Iowa is similar to the one attached to the Obamacare repeal bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), that passed the House earlier this month and must now head to the Senate. That proposal would undo a federal statute that allows Medicaid patients to use their coverage broadly, prohibiting states from excluding abortion providers in doling out Medicaid reimbursements for nonabortion care. (The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for most abortions.) Iowa’s new law rejects federal Medicaid funding and replaces it with state money so as not to run afoul of this federal requirement.

A number of other states have attempted to exclude abortion providers from their Medicaid programs, but only Texas has ever done so successfully, doing in 2011 exactly what Iowa did last week. Texas’ state-funded program promised to maintain the same level of care for patients without Planned Parenthood, through community health clinics, federally qualified health centers, and more. In reality, there was a significant drop in care for low-income patients: A number of clinics closed. Other health centers attempted to step in, but nearly 26,000 fewer women received reproductive health care. Medicaid contraception claims declined by 35 percent, suggesting that fewer low-income women were obtaining contraceptive care. There was also an increase in childbirths among women receiving Medicaid who’d previously received contraception from Planned Parenthood clinics. The areas that saw the largest drops in women served were those where Planned Parenthood clinics had to close.

The Iowa counties that will be losing Planned Parenthood clinics are poised for a similar decline in access to care: In three out of the four counties with health centers closing—Burlington, Keokuk, and Sioux City—Planned Parenthood served at least 80 percent of the family planning patients using publicly funded insurance, according to 2015 data. 

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

Nigerian women are being trafficked into Sicily at a rapidly increasing rate

from May 18, 2017 at 03:25AM

Disheveled, barefoot and bleary-eyed, the Nigerian girls are some of the first to walk off the boats. A dream realized; they arrive in Europe — though the scene is anything but romantic. 

Caskets are carried off, carrying those who didn’t survive the two-day journey across the Mediterranean, from Libya to the Sicilian port of Palermo. Babies wail and those sick and burned from the effects of the gasoline mixed with saltwater stumble towards the medical tent.

The Nigerian girls are given a plastic bag containing a liter of water, a piece of fruit and a sandwich. They’re ushered to a vinyl tent for “vulnerabili” — the vulnerable ones. 

For at least 30 years, Nigerian women have been trafficked into Europe for sex work, but numbers have spiked recently. In 2014, the trickle of a few hundred women a year grew to nearly 1,500. The following year, it increased again to 5,600. In 2016, at least 11,009 Nigerian women and girls arrived on Italian shores.

These women used to arrive on planes with visas. Now, they come the “back way” — the smuggling route that has developed across Africa to bring hundreds of thousands of Africans to Europe.

Women make up a smaller percentage of total African arrivals to Europe, and aid response for them has been slow and misguided. Although the International Organization of Migration estimates that 80 percent of Nigerian females coming to Europe are trafficked, aid workers have no way of telling those seeking opportunity from those forced against their will. They hand out flyers warning against trafficking.

Time is of the essence: If officials can establish trust, girls who have not been trafficked may be less likely to become ensnared in sex work once they are in Europe. And those who were trafficked are more likely to supply details that reveal that they have been trafficked, allowing the IOM to refer them to Italy’s national anti-trafficking network, or local prosecutors, who can help them get international protection.

In the best-case scenario, they are placed in a safe house run by nuns or an NGO, which is supposed to house them for up to three years and try to integrate them into European life with school and job training, with the goal of becoming independent. 

That’s the ideal scenario — but it rarely happens. Safe houses are built for a dozen women — there aren’t nearly enough to take in the thousands of women arriving.

Traffickers know this.

Before leaving for Italy, Nigerian traffickers give the girls and women a phone number for a madam, and tell them to call as soon as they arrive. Madams are older Nigerian women, sometimes former prostitutes themselves, who have climbed the organizational ranks. A younger male is also involved, working for the madam by following, watching and accompanying the young women.

After arriving, the Nigerian women are taken with other asylum-seekers to facilities around Italy, built to house them as they await their documents. Teeming with people from Nigeria, The Gambia, Eritrea and elsewhere, many of whom have been there more than a year, they’re allowed to come and go, and use cell phones.

“Madams actually recruit inside the big immigration centers,” explains Tiziana Bianchini, who works for Lotta Contro l’Emarginazione, a Milan-based organization with an anti-trafficking mission. This means that girls who may not have been trafficked run the risk of falling into criminal networks once they are in Italy.

Peace is one teen girl who, in 2013 at the age of 17, migrated by boat to Sicily and was brought to CARA of Mineo, the largest refugee camp in Europe. Located in Sicily’s eastern province of Catania, the center, once an American military base, houses more than 3,000 men and women. It has become notorious for its dubious finances and for giving residents cigarettes instead of the payments they are entitled to under Italian law.

While she still lived in the camp, Peace stopped a Nigerian man on a street nearby, and asked to borrow his phone. She dialed the number she had been told to, and spoke to the Nigerian woman on the other line. Within days she was a sex worker. “Once you make the call, you’re off. You never go back to the camp,” she says.

I met her earlier this year in a small room in Sicily where church services are held, several months after she left the street.

She’s an energetic, fast-talking, smiley young woman, whose youthful stature is nonetheless marked by a distinct confidence. She wears her hair up high, with a long braid hanging down her back, bouncing as she walks and talks in the glaring Sicilian sunlight.

Peace isn’t her real name — it’s an alias we agreed to use because she still lives in fear of her traffickers, or that she’ll be deported. Or of repercussions for her family because she didn’t finish repaying her debt.

Trafficking officials would call her a typical victim: She grew up in Benin City, in the heart of Nigeria’s poor, rural southwestern Edo State, a major source of trafficked sex workers in Europe. She’s the eldest girl from a large family — and older girls are the most likely to be trafficked. Her mother died when Peace was 16, and her father “was not caring.”

She decided to leave, feeling the pressure of needing to help her family financially, and escaping from a situation that was hurting her. 

When a woman approached her, telling her she was beautiful and asking if she wanted to go to Europe, Peace agreed. She knew she’d have to work on the street, and she knew she would need to pay the woman 30,000 euros once she arrived in Europe. She completed what Nigerians call the “juju oath,” an animist, spiritual contract in which the girl agrees to be brought to Europe, and binds herself to her debt with bits of her pubic hair and blood.

The ritual is taken extremely seriously — and violation is considered justification for murder of a girl or her family.

“Back then, I just thought, f*** it,” said Peace.

Languishing in the camps

The lax oversight at these migrant centers has led to calls for a different response to migrant arrivals in Italy. The centers, which Italians call “welcome homes” and the people inside call “camps,” were Italy’s stop-gap solution to provide recent arrivals with housing as they awaited their documents or the result of their applications for international protection.

A process that was supposed to take a couple of months now lasts years, while applicants languish in overcrowded centers, often in the middle of nowhere.

“Italy was completely unable to create a national program to deal with the arrivals from Africa,” said Bianchini, explaining that the responsibility lies with understaffed and underfunded local governments, who end up outsourcing the oversight of these camps to private organizations, “making contracts with whoever.”

This means there is little oversight or transparency. Much of the staff operating these centers speak little to no English (nor French nor Arabic for that matter), the centers are overcrowded, and the people inside of them tend to be given little access to information on Italy’s legal system.

When I visited one center, many people asked me if they should try to get to France. Rumor has it that it’s increasingly tough to cross the borders out of Italy.

“The Italian system of housing asylum-seekers is completely inadequate for victims of trafficking,” Bianchini added, noting that women in general, but especially victims of trafficking, require specific psychological and educational support that these centers are unable to provide.

Every so often, law enforcement officials in Italy decide it’s time for a sweep and deport Nigerian women back to Nigeria, where they run the risk of being re-trafficked.

“Forcibly returning the girls to Nigeria would be another heavy violence against them,” explains Sister Valeria Gandini, a missionary nun who eight years ago founded Palermo’s Street Unity, a group of lay and religious volunteers who visit the women on the street each week. “Sooner or later, they will meet the same people who betrayed them and brought them to Europe the first time around.”

Deportation rumors often spur more women to run away.

Impossible to pay

Another young Nigerian woman who ran away from her camp, only to wind up on the street, is Favor — again, not her real name. When I met her, she had a big, warm smile beneath a fashionable knit cap. 

Like Peace, Favor is from Edo State, though from the more rural area, outside of the city. Before she agreed to seal the oath, Favor asked the woman who approached her if she was going to Europe to “do prostitution.” It was only once the woman assured her that she would be working in a shop that Favor agreed.

She was told the money would be easy to come by once she was in Europe.

When she first arrived at the madam’s house, Favor was exhausted. She slept for two days. On the third day, the woman said it was time to go to work.

In addition to the 30,000 euros she had to pay off, she would have to pay 80 euros a week for food, 250 euros a month for the rent, as well as the gas and electric bills. Favor was ready: OK, no problem. Just show me the shop, she said.

First, the woman took her shopping. They bought clothes that Favor says she “didn’t understand.” A few days later, the woman said she was ready for work. They took bus after bus, and then they walked. She found herself in the “bush,” standing on the side of the road. She was told to put on different clothes, clothes she had bought earlier with the woman, and that were now tucked inside the bag she had brought.

When it finally dawned on her what she would have to do, Favor cried. She cried all day, and for many days she refused to work. When she went home with nothing, the woman would beat her. After some time, she felt she had no choice, and she gave in.

In Palermo, women and underage girls like Peace and Favor work the streets among the trees lining the busy road of La Favorita, or along the trash- and urine-ridden streets around the port. 

They are there six nights, or days, a week, depending on their shifts. As the months get warmer, the clothes get skimpier: see-through tights that reveal a lacy thong, shirts open to reveal naked breasts. They wear wigs directly from Nigeria that cost 20 euros each. Blessing (not her real name), a woman of tiny stature and boundless energy who works on a Palermo street, shows off her fake eyelashes, which can stay on for several weeks

Peace now shares an apartment with an Italian woman whom she helps around the house. In her room, she brushes her hair, smiles often and laughs a lot. She is candid but guarded about her experience working on the street.

“It all depends on the client,” she says. “Sometimes, those clients don’t even want sex so much as they want company, and with them, you try to be jovial, you make them laugh. But then there are the clients who don’t want to pay you, the clients who are aggressive. Those are the bad clients.” Peace can talk about it without showing too much emotion, but she is reluctant to go too deep. She would like to go back to Nigeria eventually, but for now, she feels pressure to make money, either for herself or her family — she wasn’t clear. 

Favor’s experiences were worse. Once, a client knifed her. Another time, two men who approached her gave her a bad feeling. “Via,” she told them. “I’m not working tonight.” “You must,” they replied, before slapping her and dragging her into a room in a local train station. She cried a lot as she told her story. When she came to, she said she asked the first person she found to bring her to the hospital.

After that, she decided to get out. 

Getting out

The Street Unity group in the town where she was working had been asking her for months if she wanted out. Street Unity groups, like that established by Sister Valeria in Palermo, approach the girls offering medical support, and in the case of the religious groups, prayer.

The Nigerian women are extremely religious (there is no one in Nigeria, Peace once said, who can honestly say that they don’t believe in God), and prayer is often a source of bonding. Once the connections have been established, the groups can be a way off of the street — a difficult and uneasy step. 

Sicily has a 22-percent unemployment rate, high even by Italian standards. The only jobs available to Nigerian women are in cleaning or taking care of the elderly or children. But these jobs require Italian language skills, and they don’t come with guarantees of good payment or treatment.

As Sister Valeria sees it, “the women who are victims of trafficking, who have been forced into sex work for years, who are in the end destroyed, physically and psychologically — what future can they have here?”

Against all odds, Peace one day decided she would leave. It was a scary decision, because of the juju oath she had made back in Nigeria. Article 18 of Italy’s Consolidated Immigration Act provides protection and temporary residence permits to victims of trafficking who denounce their traffickers or madams, or who show visible signs of being in immediate psychological or physical danger.

But Peace, like many of these women, refused to take this route. Denouncing her madam or her trafficker would be the biggest violation of her oath. “I’m protected, in Europe,” she explains, “but I have to think about my family.”

Back in Nigeria, it would be easy for them to be killed or badly hurt. And, there is the fear of going crazy. She talks about her friend, Mary, who convinced a whole group of girls to denounce their madam. Mary has since gone “totally wacko” — a problem, Peace explains, that is not psychological but spiritual, linked directly to the effects of the juju oath.

Peace and Favor are moving on with their lives. Peace attends classes in Italian, sewing and cooking. She sings in her town gospel choir, and helps organize meetings in her church’s community, where she leads discussions about work opportunities and community empowerment.

Favor lives in a safe house in northern Italy. She is also taking Italian classes, and the operators taking care of her are working hard to find her job opportunities so she can be independent one day. Peace says she’s thankful for her experiences. She feels she has grown, and says it’s for this reason that she does not think of herself as a victim (though she admits that she can say this only because she is no longer on the street).

Favor, for her part, calls herself “a very big victim,” but she is looking forward, too. 

Maggie Neil is a writer and researcher based in Italy, focusing on trafficking and migration thanks to a Fulbright research grant. She reported this story with the assistance of The Fuller Project for International Reporting.

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A Private Prison Company Put This Immigrant Detainee in Solitary. 19 Days Later He Was Dead.

from May 17, 2017 at 08:23PM

A Panamanian man held in an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center died in an apparent suicide Monday after being held for 19 days in solitary confinement. Jean Jimenez-Joseph, 27, had spent two months in the Stewart Detention Center, a for-profit facility run by the private prison company CoreCivic, prior to his death on May 15.

While the investigation into the circumstances around Jimenez’s death is ongoing, according to Danny Jackson, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations special agent in charge of southeast Georgia, a recently released report on the Stewart Detention Center sheds light on some of the conditions he may have endured in the weeks leading up to his death.

ICE took Jimenez into custody in March, after he served time in North Carolina for stealing a vehicle. The agency began deportation proceedings and transferred him to Stewart. In late April, Jimenez broke the the facility’s rules when he jumped from a second-floor landing to the first. "You’re supposed to take the stairs down," Jackson says. "He decided he was going to jump over the rail." For this infraction, Jimenez was given 20 days in disciplinary segregation—otherwise known as solitary confinement. (A United Nations expert on torture has called for the "absolute prohibition" of solitary confinement for longer than 15 days, citing studies that show just a few days in isolation can cause lasting mental damage.)

Stewart detainees have been put in segregation for less, according to allegations in a report released earlier this month by Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants‘ Rights Clinic and the advocacy group Project South. Drawing on interviews with more than 40 immigrants who had been held at the facility, the report’s authors found that men had been sent to solitary for talking too much, not tucking in their shirts, or arguing during soccer matches. Others were put in segregation because they filed complaints, or simply because Stewart’s other housing areas were full.

Once inside, segregation was "like hell," one Nigerian immigrant told the report’s authors. Each day, they had to chose between making a phone call or getting an hour of recreation outside. They were not allowed to shower and had to be handcuffed and escorted each time they needed to use a toilet. Without windows, they couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Their meals were smaller than the usual rations.

Five days into solitary, Jimenez "exposed himself" to a nurse, Jackson says, and his sentence was extended to 23 days. He got through 19. "He was in a cell all by himself, in an isolation cell," Jackson says. At approximately 12:45 a.m. on May 15, a detention officer found him hanging by a sheet inside the cell, unresponsive. It had been an hour since a guard had walked by his cell door, Jackson says. "They took him down from the position he was in, put him on the floor, and started lifesaving measures." Jimenez was pronounced dead at a local hospital less than two hours later. The preliminary cause of death was "self-inflicted strangulation."

Jackson warns that investigators can’t yet say for sure what led to Jimenez’s death. But if Jimenez was suffering from mental-health problems, there’s a good chance it would have gone undiagnosed and untreated at the facility, according to Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South’s legal and advocacy director, who oversaw the report released earlier this month. While Stewart offered counseling, most detainees interviewed by the report’s authors didn’t know about it, Shashahani says—or they were too afraid that seeking mental-health care would lead to them being placed in segregation. Expressing suicidal thoughts could land a detainee in solitary, she says. Those with "serious mental afflictions," according to the report, were "given pills and then are placed in handcuffs and helmets and put in segregation."

In its press release about Jimenez’s death, ICE noted that fatalities under its custody are "exceedingly rare," and that no detainees had died in Stewart in more than eight years. Jimenez’s death was one of eight that have taken place in ICE custody since last October, and the second suicide in the past two months.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

Turkish President’s Personal Security Force Beats Up and Bloodies Kurdish Protesters in Washington, D.C.

from May 17, 2017 at 09:31AM

At least nine demonstrators were hospitalized following the melee.

A violent clash between Kurdish protesters and the bodyguards of visiting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan prompted the State Department to issue a response Wednesday after reviewing footage of the incident. 

"We are concerned by the violent incidents involving protesters and Turkish security personnel Tuesday evening," read the statement. "Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest."

News reports the previous day captured Turkish security agents assaulting protesters outside of Turkey’s embassy. The demonstration was held in opposition to Erdogan’s "crackdown on dissent and his consolidation of power," as well as Turkey’s prosecution of pro-Kurdish leaders, reported the Washington Post. 

Of the two-dozen protesters, nine were taken to the hospital following the melee and two Americans were arrested. 

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser also weighed in on the incident, which she called "an affront to D.C. values and our rights as Americans." 

"The Metropolitan Police Department will continue investigating the incident and will work with federal partners to ensure justice is served," she added.

Meanwhile, District police have vowed to work with the State Department and United States Secret Service to "identify and hold and hold all subjects accountable for their involvement in the altercation." 


Read more at: Alternet

CNN Reporter Says State Department Staffer Demanded She Name Sources

from May 17, 2017 at 09:02AM

CNN reporter Michelle Kosinski on Wednesday alleged that a State Department communications adviser demanded that she reveal her sources or else be cut off from further access to the agency.

Kosinski wrote in a Facebook post she headlined “This Is How Your Government Responds to Unfavorable News Coverage” that R.C. Hammond (pictured above), communications adviser to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, leveled personal attacks against her and ultimately resorted to threats when she refused his demands.

“He kicked off the conversation with a venomously irate ‘What the hell are you doing??!!’” Kosinski wrote.

She said Hammond then asked her to “at least tell him what jobs” her sources held at the State Department.

“I had to explain to him that wasn’t how it worked,” Kosinski wrote. “This, mind you, is someone employed by the US government to act as a communications professional.”

She went on to say Hammond then told her she was losing the “shred of credibility” she had left, and subsequently threatened to cut her off from State Department information and responses.

Kosinski wrote that she asked Hammond to “name one time he had ever shared information” with her or responded to an email she sent.

According to Kosinski, Hammond explained his unresponsiveness like so: “WE don’t think you’re smart enough to HANDLE OUR information!!!!”

The State Department did not immediately respond late Wednesday to TPM’s request for comment.

This is How Your Government Responds to Unfavorable News CoverageMonday night, as the story of the President giving…

Posted by Michelle Kosinski on Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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New Hampshire Lawmaker Behind Misogynistic Reddit Forum Resigns

from May 17, 2017 at 04:21AM

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The founder of a misogynistic online forum resigned from the New Hampshire House on Wednesday, shortly after his Republican colleagues recommended that no action be taken against him.

Rep. Robert Fisher of Laconia had come under fire after a recent article on The Daily Beast revealed him as the creator of a Reddit forum called “The Red Pill,” which bills itself as a discussion of sexual strategies for men and includes a post in which users debate whether “every woman wants to be attractive enough to be raped.”

He resigned less than an hour after the Republican-led Legislative Administration Committee voted 8-6 along party lines to recommend that the full House take no action against him.

A phone number for Fisher was out of service Wednesday, and he did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.

The panel simultaneously recommended no action against Democratic Rep. Sherry Frost of Dover, who wrote on Twitter that men telling her to calm down makes her homicidal and that white Christian men represent a terrorist problem.

Rep. Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, made the motion that the committee recommend no action against either lawmaker, saying he didn’t believe the committee could recommend they be censured, reprimanded or expelled based on the constitutionally protected right of free speech.

“I will stand here and sit here forever and defend their freedom of speech no matter how reprehensible I find it, and I find it reprehensible in both cases,” he said.

The panel’s investigation was limited to reviewing the lawmakers’ activity this year. Fisher said at a hearing last week that he no longer moderates the forum. Democrats on the House Legislative Administration Committee disputed that, and Democratic House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said he would ask the attorney general’s office Wednesday to investigate whether Fisher committed perjury. He said he no longer planned to do so given Fisher’s resignation.

Democrats strongly objected to the committee chairman’s insistence that they take just one vote and reach the same conclusion on both lawmakers. But Rep. Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, who also denied Democrats a chance to put their objections on the record via a minority report, said the panel was instructed to provide the full House with one report, not two.

Fisher, 31, said that in his early 20s he went through a “nightmare situation” where “false rape accusations became a very real concern.” He told the committee last week that he doesn’t hate women or condone rape, and he believes it’s a waste of lawmakers’ time to dig into his past comments. But in a recent piece he wrote for his local newspaper, Fisher defended and doubled down on some of his statements. In one past comment, he said videotaping sexual encounters with women may be the only way for men to defend themselves against fake rape allegations.

The committee’s vote elicited shouts of “Shame!” from women in the audience. Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, members of the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet, Action Together New Hampshire, Granite State Progress and Rep. Debra Altschiller held a news conference arguing that Fisher should be expelled. Some dressed as characters from the book and television series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which imagines a dystopian republic in which women have lost their rights and even their identities.

“When you plant seeds of hate, when you nurture those seeds, when you grow a garden of toxic weeds that spread across the state and our country, at harvest time, you must reap what you’ve sown,” said Altschiller, D-Stratham.


Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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The Chibok girls are still in custody, and their parents are still desperate

from May 17, 2017 at 03:09AM

After the release of 82 girls from Boko Haram captivity was announced this month, several of the missing girls’ parents set off from their remote hometown in northeast Nigeria to Abuja, the capital, to see the girls in person. The three represented parents of more than 200 girls kidnapped in April 2014, who have formed an association to work with the government and others for their release.

A few days later, the parent representatives headed back to Chibok — a journey that takes more than 24 hours by road — with a stack of photographs. The last time a group of the girls was released, in October, spelling errors misidentified some of them, which led to parents turning up in Abuja when their daughters were not actually among the freed.

This time, families of the missing girls will first identify their daughters with the aid of the photographs sent to Chibok. Those certain that their relatives are among the released will then leave for Abuja this Friday to be reunited with them.

But the reunion will be brief. The girls still can’t go home. They are being kept in government custody for ongoing debriefing, and there’s no word yet on when they may be let out.

Hundreds of relatives in Chibok have now been waiting years for word on their daughters and sisters.

Yana Galang is one of the parent leaders who met with the released girls in Abuja earlier this month, tasked with carrying their photos back to Chibok. Galang is doing this work in the midst of deep disappointment that her own daughter, Rifkatu, was not among the released.

“We will gather the parents together … to show them the photographs,” she said last week. “They all live in different villages that are far apart so we can’t reach all of them immediately.”

Zannah Mustapha, the 57-year-old lawyer who has been negotiating between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, recently told the media that some of the kidnapped girls still held by the terror group don’t want to return home.

Galang says she also heard this from some of the released girls she met with — but she’s hopeful the captives who want to stay with Boko Haram will change their minds.

“The released girls told me the names of at least five girls who say they do not want to come back home,” she said. “They say that they are newly married. But, with God, all things are possible.”

Galang said she did not plan to share the names of the girls who don’t want to come home with their parents, so as not to upset them.

As soon as Philip Yama heard that the association officials had returned from Abuja, he rushed to Galang’s house. The 43-year-old tailor was eager to confirm whether his younger sister was among the released. Margaret, 21, had lived under his care before she was abducted. He paid her school fees, and she was like a big sister to his four young children.

Yama could hardly contain his delight when Galang handed him the photo of a tall, dark young woman, who was undoubtedly his sister. He and Margaret are spitting images of one another.

“I went to the market and bought flour to make some cakes for her, and also some groundnut cakes and chinchin [a fried snack], things I know she has not eaten in a while. My wife will cook it, and we will take it to her,” Yama said Friday, eager for the trip to Abuja this week that will reunite him the girl he last heard from three years ago when she phoned home to say Boko Haram had invaded her school.

But, there is an aspect of the reunion with his sister that worries Yama. Their mother died a year after Margaret was abducted, and he is reluctant to break the bad news to her.  

“I will tell her, but not this time around,” he said, explaining that he plans to fabricate a reason for why his mother could not make the trip to Abuja. “If I tell her now, the trauma will be too much. I will tell her after some months.”

Yama believes that the illness which led to his mother’s death was brought on by worry over the abduction of Margaret and his cousin, Asabe, who also lived in his house. Asabe was among the earlier batch of 21 girls freed by Boko Haram in October 2016.

“My mother was well before the kidnapping. Because of Margaret and Asabe, that is why she developed sickness,” he said.

Samuel Yaga and his wife Rebecca live in Abuja, but their daughter is also among the girls kidnapped from Chibok. They’ve seen photographs of the released girls published in the media. They were not able to identify Sarah among the faces but are confident that she will come home to them one day.

There have long been concerns that the Chibok girls might be radicalized while in captivity. The stigma of their ordeal could also be a factor for girls hesitant to return.

Yaga, however, dismisses accounts that some of the girls refuse to return home, insisting that this must be a rumor started by politicians with unknown motives. 

“How can the girls say they don’t want to return home?” he said. “If they really said that, then it means that their heads are not correct, that something is wrong with their thinking.”

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani reported from Abuja, Nigeria.

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Chelsea Manning Released After 7 Years In Military Prison

from May 17, 2017 at 12:24AM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier convicted of giving classified government materials to WikiLeaks, was released from a Kansas military prison early Wednesday after serving seven years of her 35-year sentence.

U.S. Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told The Associated Press that Manning was released from Fort Leavenworth military prison, but that she couldn’t provide any further details. Manning tweeted after she was granted clemency that she planned to move to Maryland. The Crescent, Oklahoma, native has an aunt who lives there.

Manning, who was known as Bradley Manning before transitioning in prison, was convicted in 2013 of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. President Barack Obama granted Manning clemency in his final days in office in January.

Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, has acknowledged leaking the materials, which included battlefield video. She said she wanted to expose what she considered to be the U.S. military’s disregard of the effects of war on civilians and that she released information that she didn’t believe would harm the U.S.

Critics said the leaks laid bare some of the nation’s most-sensitive secrets and endangered information sources, prompting the State Department to help some of those people move to protect their safety. Several ambassadors were recalled, expelled or reassigned because of embarrassing disclosures.

Manning, who was arrested in 2010, filed a transgender rights lawsuit in prison and attempted suicide twice last year, according to her lawyers.

Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence to about seven years, including the time she spent locked up before being convicted, drew strong criticism from members of Congress and others, with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan calling the move “just outrageous.”

In a statement last week — her first public comments since Obama intervened — Manning thanked that former president and said that letters of support from veterans and fellow transgender people inspired her “to work toward making life better for others.”

“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea,” she said. “I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine.”

Her attorneys have said Manning was subjected to violence in prison and argued the military mistreated her by requiring her to serve her sentence in an all-male prison, restricting her physical and mental health care and not allowing her to keep a feminine haircut.

The Department of Defense has repeatedly declined to discuss Manning’s treatment in prison.

The Army said Tuesday that Manning would remain on active duty in a special, unpaid status that will legally entitle her to military medical care, along with commissary privileges. An Army spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, said Manning will be on “excess leave” while her court-martial conviction is under appellate review.


Associated Press reporter Lolita Baldor in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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