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Trump White House Refuses to Give Key Flynn Documents to Congress

Mother Jones - 5 hours 56 min ago

The White House is refusing to provide congressional investigators with some of the documents they're requesting as part of an investigation into potential Trump campaign connections to Russia, and whether former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn disclosed payments from Russian companies when applying for his security clearance.

The news comes as Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) announced Tuesday that Flynn might have broken the law by failing to disclose the foreign payments on official documents filed as part of the security clearance review process. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is conducing one of two congressional investigations into links between the Trump campaign and Russia (the Senate intel committee is conducting the other).

"I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law," Chaffetz, the chair of the committee, told reporters Tuesday.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the White House is refusing to provide documents related to Flynn.

"Despite all of these very troubling developments...we received a response from the White House refusing to provide any of the documents we requested," Cummings told reporters Tuesday. "So we received no internal documents relating to what Gen. Flynn reported to the White House when they vetted him to become National Security Adviser, and we received no documents relating to his termination as National Security Adviser for concealing his discussion with the Russian ambassador."

CNN reported Tuesday morning that White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short told the House committee in a letter that some of the documents originated with other agencies and therefore would have to be provided by them. He added that concerning the relevant White House documents, "we are unable to accommodate" the request.

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Mother Jones.

Ivanka Trump Gets Booed at Women's Panel in Germany While Defending Father

Mother Jones - 5 hours 57 min ago

She was there to celebrate the business successes of women, alongside some of the world's most powerful female leaders—but Ivanka Trump's comments drew open derision instead.

During a panel discussion on women's entrepreneurship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump on Tuesday provoked boos and hisses as she described her father, President Donald Trump, as a an advocate for families and working women.

"I'm very proud of my father's advocacy," she said. "He's been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive."

The remark was immediately met with groans from the female-heavy German audience, and prompted the moderator to address the crowd's chilly reaction:

Boos and hisses from female delegates as Ivanka mentions her father pic.twitter.com/EwmYZqTJmt

— jenny hill (@jennyhillBBC) April 25, 2017

"You hear the reaction from the audience," Miriam Meckel, editor-in-chief of WirtschaftsWoche, a German business magazine, said. "I need to address one more point: some attitudes towards women your father has publicly displayed in former times might leave one questioning whether he's such an empowerer for women."

"I've certainly heard the criticism from the media that's been perpetuated," Trump responded, prompting laughter from the crowd. "But I know from personal experience. The thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women and their ability to do the job as well as any man."

Ivanka Trump gets a frosty reception at women's panel in Berlin -- @joejohnscnn has the details https://t.co/ApQcSe80nu

— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) April 25, 2017

Trump was in Berlin as a US representative to the third annual W20 Summit, which focuses on promoting women's economic empowerment and advancing women in leadership roles. As the panel took off, President Trump took to Twitter to praise his daughter:

Proud of @IvankaTrump for her leadership on these important issues. Looking forward to hearing her speak at the W20! https://t.co/e6Uajrm8zp

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2017

Two More Men Were Executed in Arkansas Last Night

Mother Jones - 6 hours 6 min ago

Last night Arkansas became to first state to conduct a double execution in the United States in 17 years, but not without questions about whether or not the first inmate suffered before he died. A spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the procedures "flawless."

The state of Arkansas planned to execute eight men in 11 days because its supply of the controversial sedative, midazolam, which has been behind several botched executions in recent years, is set to expire at the end of the month.

Jack Jones, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Mary Phillips in 1995, was administered the lethal drug cocktail and was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m. The second execution, which was scheduled to take place two hours later, was temporarily put on hold by District Judge Kristine Baker after Williams' lawyers claimed that after the midazolam was administered, Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air, evidence that he was not completely sedated. A media witness to the execution also said that Jones' lips were moving for one to two minutes.

Andrew tells us that curtain in the death chamber opened at 7:04. Injection took place 7:06. Jones' lips moved for 1-2 mins.

— julieturkewitz (@julieturkewitz) April 25, 2017

However, the state denied claims that Jones suffered, calling them "utterly baseless." The stay on the second execution was lifted, and Marcel Williams, who was convicted of the kidnap, rape, and murder of Stacy Errickson in 1994, was dead approximately three hours later.

Arkansas original plan suffered from a series of legal setbacks in the last two weeks. The execution of Stacey Johnson was stayed after the state's Supreme Court ruled that he should be given a chance to prove his innocence using DNA testing, but the state put Ledell Lee to death late Thursday night. While both Jones and Williams appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for reprieves, the high court refused to halt Monday night's back-to-back executions. Justice Sonya Sotomayor was the only member of the court to dissent.

Death penalty advocates asked for clemency, charging that both of the inmates who were ultimately put to death received insufficient counsel during trial and suffered severe abuse during their childhoods. Jones suffered from bipolar disorder and depression and had vivid hallucinations of being attacked by bugs as a child. He also attempted suicide twice. Jones was also physically abused by his father and sexually assaulted by three strangers. However, Jones' lawyers failed to provide jurors with any of this mitigating evidence. They also used an expert who surrendered his medical license for a year to enter substance abuse treatment. He told the jury that since he was bipolar himself, he knew that Jones wasn't bipolar. In a lengthy final statement, Jones apologized to the daughter of the woman he killed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I am not a monster. There was a reason why those things happened that day."

Williams' story is similar. Starting at age nine, his mother began letting adult woman sexually abuse her child in exchange for food and shelter. He also suffered from severe physical abuse at the hands of his mother and grew up in crushing poverty; his home was filled with roaches and rats and the utilities were often turned off. Williams' lawyers failed to provide this information to jurors during trial and a federal judge found the evidence compelling enough to reverse his death sentence. However, an appellate court reinstated his death sentence saying that because of a procedural error, Williams should never have received a hearing.

After both men were dead, Gov. Hutchinson released a statement after the executions saying, "Justice has prevailed."

Now three men have been executed in Arkansas, three have received stays, and one inmate received a stay after the parole board recommended clemency. Arkansas still has one man awaiting execution before the deadline of the drug expiration. Kenneth Williams, an intellectually disabled man who killed Cecil Boren in 1999 after escaping from prison where he was serving a life sentence for the murder of Dominique Hurd in 1998, is scheduled to die on April 27.

Chaffetz says Michael Flynn probably took money from Russia and there will be “repercussions”

VICE News - 6 hours 13 min ago

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Tuesday it appears that Trump’s former national security advisor retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn broke the law and received money from Russia.

“As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey, or anybody else,” Chaffetz said in a joint statement with Rep. Elijah Cummings on CNN. “And it appears as if he did take that money, it was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for the violation of law.”

“If that money was received by General Flynn and we believed that it was, that money needs to be recovered,” he said.

Trump’s White House has denied the Committee’s request to provide documents on Flynn related to his security clearance and foreign payments.

Rep. Cummings called for a “thorough and robust investigation,” the House Oversight Committee said in a tweet, using the hashtag #protectourdemocracy.  

.@RepCummings .@RepCummings: We need a thorough and robust investigation. #protectourdemocracy #Flynn #Russia pic.twitter.com/tCAZsSDRX9

— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) April 25, 2017

The conclusions of unlawful behavior by both House Oversight Committee leaders comes after reviewing classified memos and Flynn’s financial disclosures in a private briefing on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.

Rep. Cummings called the documents “extremely troubling” and said he believed they should be declassified, according to a prepared statement.

In March, Flynn offered to testify to the House and Senate committees investigating the Russian interference in last year’s presidential election in exchange for immunity.

“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit,” his lawyer said. The Senate committee denied the request at the time, saying it was premature. While it’s unknown if Flynn’s “story” would be relevant to the committees’ investigations, the latest revelation shows why immunity could be very valuable to Flynn.

Flynn resigned from the Trump administration after only 23 days following revelations that he had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia with the country’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration.

Trump administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence had backed up Flynn’s claim he did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak. Flynn’s conversation, however, was picked up by the intelligence community and contradicted Flynn’s account.

President Trump ultimately asked for Flynn’s resignation, saying he had lied to the Vice President.   

Trudeau opens door to helping pot convicts

VICE News - 6 hours 13 min ago

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t ruled out issuing pardons for those convicted of cannabis-related offences, but said that any remediation will come after his government legalizes the drug next year.

The comments, made at an exclusive talk on legal weed with VICE Canada, mark the first time Trudeau, as prime minister, has opened the door to doing something for those with pot criminal records — something that’s at odds with recent statements made by members of his cabinet.

“Our focus is on making sure we’re changing the legislation to fix what’s broken, a system that’s hurting Canadians,” Trudeau said Monday, in response to a question from Malik Scott, a 22-year-old who is currently facing possession charges after allegedly getting caught with a small amount of pot.

And then we will take steps to look at what we can do for those people who have criminal records for something that will no longer be criminal.”

Trudeau made the remarks after acknowledging the inherent unfairness baked into a justice system that favors the elite. He said his own family had been confident his younger brother would be able to get out of a possession charge thanks to his father’s resources and “connections.”

“How am I going to become the next Prime Minister if I can’t get a decent job because of these charges?”

Scott — who sat on a panel that also included Jodie Emery, a former dispensary owner charged with marijuana trafficking and Zoë Dodd, a harm reduction worker who pressed Trudeau on his response to the opioid crisis — told the audience about how he was worried that if he ends up getting convicted for his current marijuana charge, he would be barred from leaving Canada to visit family members abroad.

“In addition to that, how am I going to become the next Prime Minister if I can’t get a decent job because of these charges?” Scott continued. “Given that all of this is going to be legalized in about a year, what would you say to someone in my position?”

Trudeau then delved into the story of his younger brother, Michel, who died in an avalanche 20 years ago at the age of 23.

“Six months before, he was driving back home from the west coast across the country, and he got in a terrible, terrible accident,” the prime minister explained. “And his truck tumbled and a Sucrets box went flying across the highway and when the police were helping him clean up and tow, they opened the Sucrets box and there was a couple of joints inside, so he was charged with possession.”

“My dad said ‘ok, don’t worry about it,’ reached out to his friends in the legal community.”

But after Michel returned home to Montreal, Trudeau said his that his father — former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau — helped make it all go away.

“My dad said ‘ok, don’t worry about it,’ reached out to his friends in the legal community, got the best possible lawyer, and was very confident that we were going to be able to make those charges go away,” Trudeau admitted. “We were able to do that because we had resources, my dad had a couple connections, and we were confident that my little brother wasn’t going to be be saddled with a criminal record for life.”

Trudeau had previously, while campaigning in 2015 to be prime minister, suggested his government would look at overturning the criminal records held by people convicted of marijuana crimes.

Trudeau’s retelling of the story of his brother on Monday has further fueled criticism of his government’s refusal to halt new marijuana possession charges.

As usual, articulate, with a clear awareness of how criminalization targets the vulnerable. But no logic in continuing charges of possession https://t.co/Ljy3LBBmCR

— Neil Boyd (@NeilBoydSFU) April 25, 2017

However, Scott was never confident his question would result an in immediate change, and told VICE News before the event that he would continue pushing for broader decriminalization of cannabis and raising awareness about its medicinal benefits.

I’m also pretty calm about my charge because I’ve been to court six times now, and I still haven’t received any disclosure from the cops,” he said. “I’m confident that my charges will be dropped in the future, but I know that not everyone in my case will be as lucky.”

Trudeau’s pledge, which didn’t specify when or how the government would review the hundreds of thousands of criminal records held by Canadians previously convicted of cannabis crimes, comes after his public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, told reporters last week that the Liberals had no plans to issue blanket pardons of past convictions for marijuana possession, and that the transition would not be a “free-for-all.” Nor will it allow for a moratorium on new possession charges laid in the lead-up to the implementation of recreational cannabis market.

Under the proposed legalization bill, people in Canada will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, and grow up to four plants per household. However, there are still hefty penalties for those who break the law and operate outside of the regulatory framework, with maximum punishments for some offences reaching 14 years in jail.

This week, VICE News revealed new numbers that show more than 5,000 Canadians were prosecuted for cannabis possession in 2016, the year the Liberals announced their plans to introduce their legalization bill.

Canada will likely sell legal weed online

VICE News - 6 hours 17 min ago

There will be a way to purchase legal weed “in every corner of this country” — likely through a federally regulated system online — regardless of any limitations provinces may decide to put in place, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a live conversation with VICE Canada on Monday night.  

In a forum on cannabis legalization that included former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, the government’s point person on the issue, Trudeau said provinces and territories that might choose different approaches to selling marijuana much like different regimes around alcohol were “important” partners.

That leaves provinces to figure out whether weed will be sold in dispensaries or by liquor control boards.

“The provinces have well over a year now,” he said. “Fifteen months to put in place their system that suits them. If a province chooses not to, there will still be a way through the federal regulated system for people in every corner of this country to purchase marijuana.”

The much-anticipated legalization bill tabled last Thursday puts the federal government in charge of licensing producers and making sure the supply is safe.

That leaves provinces to figure out whether weed will be sold in dispensaries or by liquor control boards, and to set a minimum age for someone to purchase it. The minimum age must be no less than the federal legal age of 18, however.

All this will have to be figured out before legalization comes into effect, which will likely be on or before July 1, 2018.

Ontario’s Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has said there’s “lots of work ahead” for the provinces. His government has, in the past, suggested that selling marijuana alongside alcohol in provincial liquor stores may be the best approach.

“Social responsibility is going to be a very important aspect of our deliberation.”

“Social responsibility is going to be a very important aspect of our deliberation,” he told reporters last week. “Just like alcohol and tobacco, even though they’re legal, we know they’re products with harmful consequences and we spend a lot of time and resources in getting that message across.”

Alberta’s Attorney general Kathleen Ganley said the timeline was “definitely ambitious,” and Premier Rachel Notley agreed the deadline would be tough to meet.

The Alberta government plans to get public input on the age of majority, and where it will be sold.

“We’re going to try very hard to meet those time limits, and if we don’t, we’ll have to go back and say, ‘You know what? We need more time,’” said Notley.

The Quebec government, meanwhile, has taken issue with Ottawa’s strategy on the file, and have asked for a pledge of support — and money — from the federal government on the issue.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba have both taken issue with being saddled with the responsibility for actually putting in place the distribution model. They remain vague about how they intend to actually make the drug available — but are the two likeliest suspects to impose stifling restrictions on how marijuana can be made available.

Trump decides border wall funding isn’t worth shutting down the government

VICE News - 6 hours 32 min ago

Congressional Democrats called President Trump’s bluff; and on Monday night, he folded.

The Trump administration decided to delay asking for Congress to include border wall funding as part of a spending bill, averting a showdown that threatened to shut down the government as soon as Friday.

Instead, Trump told a group of conservative journalists Monday that he’s planning to make his request in September when his administration hopes to pass its first budget.

Over the past week, the Trump administration had pushed a much harder line, insisting that $1.5 billion must be dedicated to the border wall in this week’s spending bill. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told the Washington Post Sunday that “this is what the president ran on” and described their commitment to border wall funding as “strong.”

“My base definitely wants the border wall,” Trump told the Associated Press Friday. “You’ve been to many of the rallies? The thing they want more than anything is the wall.”

But at least eight Senate Democrats are needed to pass this week’s spending bill or the government will shut down Friday night and Democrats have stated they will not vote for the bill with border wall funding included. With Republicans in charge of all three branches of government, many conservatives believes their party will bear the blame if the government shuts down.

The Trump administration scrambled to find a point of leverage over the last two weeks, even threatening to suspend $7 billion in insurance subsidies provided under Obamacare. But Democrats were confident that voters would hold Republicans responsible for taking away health care aid and Republicans seemed to agree as they were unwilling to follow through on their threat.

Trump also may have been feeling resistance from within his own party. Despite claiming the Republican nomination last year with a promise to build a wall, many congressional Republicans are either opposed or squeamish about the idea.

“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Grahamof South Carolina told the Washington Post. “I think it’s become symbolic of better border security. It’s a code word for better border security. If you make it about actually building a 2,200-mile wall, that’s a bridge too far — but I’m mixing my metaphors.”

No member of Congress along the border from either party publicly supports the wall either, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis Friday.

On to the next hand.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlxThomp


British woman held in Iran on spying charges loses final appeal and will spend five years in jail

VICE News - 6 hours 48 min ago

A British-Iranian woman sentenced to five years jail in Iran on undisclosed national security offences has lost her final legal appeal, quashing her hopes of overturning the sentence and prompting calls from her family for the British government to do more to help.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a London-based project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested by elite Revolutionary Guards at Tehran airport in April 2016 as she and her daughter were about to return home from a visit to family in the country.

The 38-year-old was found guilty on unspecified charges relating to national security in September. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told VICE News Tuesday that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had still not seen the charges against her, although her lawyer had said they related to membership of organizations working against Iran’s national security. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have publicly accused her of attempting to orchestrate a “soft overthrow” of the Iranian government.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always denied that she has done anything wrong, and her husband has said he believes the Iranian government may be seeking to use her as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the British government.

Now that Iran’s Supreme Court has rejected her last appeal against the sentence, exhausting her final legal avenue, Ratcliffe and the family’s supporters are calling on the British government to do more to help, including publicly declaring that she is not a spy.

“What they haven’t done is ever make a public statement to say, ‘Listen, these charges are nonsense’,” he told VICE News.

“She was a mum on holiday, who works for a development charity in London, whose crime seems to be that it gets funding from the U.K. government. That is not espionage, that is not attempting to overthrow a regime, and it is not working against national security.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable arm, carries out journalism training, but does “not operate in Iran directly or indirectly,” the foundation’s CEO, Monique Villa, said in a statement.

Villa said she was “entirely convinced of Nazanin’s innocence” and that Zaghari-Ratcliffe  had “never had dealings with Iran whatsoever in her professional capacity at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.” The court ruling, she said, “extinguishes the last hope we have had of legally overturning a punishment where the crime remains a mystery.”

She called for Iran to grant clemency and immediately release her, saying Zaghari-Ratcliffe had “suffered terribly over the past year.”

Ratcliffe said that while his wife was now in the general population in Tehran’s Evin prison, she had spent a large part of her time behind bars in solitary confinement, which had taken a huge toll on her physical and mental health. She had suffered a slipped disc in her back which impeded the use of her arms, and had been prescribed sleeping pills, anti-depressants and a neck brace. At one stage, in December, she had considered taking her own life.

He said her situation has been made even more difficult by the fact she holds both British and Iranian citizenship. Iran refuses to recognise dual nationals, and has repeatedly refused British diplomats access to her in prison.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s supreme court appeal has been rejected, while Iran continues to refuse the U.K. access to her,” a spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth office said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had both raised her case with their Iranian counterparts, the statement continued, adding that the government would “continue to do all we can for her.”

Ratcliffe, who has been able to speak to his wife only ten times since her arrest, said her mood had been slightly buoyed by the fact that she could now be visited twice a week by their two-year-old daughter Gabriella. Gabriella has been cared for by her Iranian grandparents since Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest, after the Iranian government confiscated the child’s passport.

“I spoke to Nazanin on the phone in February and she cried during the whole phone call. It was really quite traumatic,” said Ratcliffe.

“When I next spoke to her, in April, she was angry. But anger is better than crying.”

This Republican blocked Trumpcare, and he doesn’t care that it could end his career

VICE News - 7 hours 19 min ago

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Rep. Mark Sanford knows what it’s like to be a political dead man walking. Maybe that’s why the threat of a primary challenge backed by the president of the United States doesn’t exactly faze him, at least on the outside.

As a member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, the South Carolina congressman helped stop Trump’s favored Obamacare replacement, the American Health Care Act, in its tracks despite feverish attempts by the president and House Speaker Paul Ryan to get them on board.

The move stopped Trump’s legislative momentum in its tracks, prompting threats of primary challenges from the president to a handful of Freedom Caucus members — including Sanford, according to the congressman.

“It doesn’t make your day when the president of the United States says I’m going to take you out the next primary,” Sanford told a group of AP Government students at North Charleston’s Fort Dorchester High School during a visit there last week. But he goes on to joke: “As best I can tell, his attention span is relatively short. And so, you know, I’m hoping that maybe he’ll forget about that and go on to something else.”

Last week, back in his district during Congress’ recess, he had to explain that call to his constituents — who voted about 54 percent for Trump — for the first time. But that didn’t mean apologizing for his opposition to the AHCA. At nearly every stop during one busy Wednesday, constituents expressed frustration with the Republicans’ health-care efforts.

“One of the most important things that we can do in any legislative process is, at times, stop things,” he said in an interview with VICE News.

At one stop in Charleston, a blue spot in his otherwise red-leaning district, Sanford calmly confronted a woman irate over GOP efforts to cut Planned Parenthood funding at a morning “Coffee with your Congressman” event, before encountering a man angrily railing against Republicans for opposing single-payer health care at a tech startup meeting.

As the man rattled off a list of countries he says have better health care than the U.S., Sanford cut him off, visibly frustrated: “All I’ve heard over the last week is health care! I got it!”

Sanford is careful to point out he was one of three Republicans on the House Budget Committee to vote against the AHCA. “Doing nothing is better than having a bill go in that doesn’t impact people’s premiums, yet the box has been checked, the political energy is gone,” he said, warning that such a scenario would cause significant political repercussions for Republicans in 2018.

But while he’s confident the House will eventually move forward on a bill, Sanford called the idea the Senate would pass that bill in its entirety “a complete fiction.”

“It will be, again, as good a reference point as we can get to in the House…and the Senate’s going to come up with some different stuff and then we’ll go to conference and we’ll argue it all over again,” he said.

At his district events, Sanford rarely strayed from his critique of President Trump, which is decidedly harsh for a fellow Republican. He called the president’s budget proposal a “make-believe budget,” and said Trump’s numerous policy reversals “makes people that much more cynical about the political process.”

In one instance, seemingly taking no heed of Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Nazi gaffe the same week, Sanford compared the current political atmosphere to the rise of Hitler. Summarizing economist Friedrich Hayek’s book, “The Road to Serfdom,” he described a situation in which a “strongman” offers citizens fed up with inefficient government more safety in exchange for more freedom.

“I think we better be careful in our country — and I’m not liking Trump to Hitler or anything like that, I want to be very clear. But I’m saying some of those phenomena are at play in our country, in that people are really hurting, in some cases, and they’re very frustrated in the way that they feel like their government is not listening to them,” Sanford says.

Most politicians who’ve survived as long as Sanford know to steer clear of Hitler-anything, but Sanford is enjoying a third life in politics and he’s clearly playing it by his own rules. This is his second stint in Congress after two terms as governor where he was made a national media figure with an odd disappearance and an extramarital affair with an Argentine journalist in 2009. Now he’s back in Congress and becoming better known for his outspoken advocacy for fiscal conservatism, delivered in frank and accessible terms, and an easy affability with voters from across the spectrum.

At this point in his career, he’s circumspect about his political survival, even that possible primary challenge. “You take it all seriously, and so I’m doing all the things that you gotta do to prepare for a race, and we’ll see what comes,” he said.

While Sanford’s bullish on prospects for Republicans progressing on health-care reform, he’s got a much gloomier view of the overall political climate in Washington. Recounting his town hall last Tuesday, which opened with one man “flipping the bird to another guy,” Sanford says the vitriol in Washington didn’t necessarily start there.

“We live in a very fractured political environment right now. And what you see in Washington at times is very much representative of what’s happening at home,” he says.


Migrants are hiding deep in forests as they attempt to enter Europe

VICE News - 7 hours 22 min ago

Fierce anti-migrant rhetoric, the construction of a second border fence in March and the installation of motion censors have done a lot to deter asylum seekers attempting to cross illegally into Hungary, but it hasn’t stopped a desperate few.

Small groups of asylum seekers, mainly from South Asia, are hiding in the woods of northern Serbia in the hopes of crossing the Hungarian border and traveling onwards into the greater European Union. In February, hundreds gathered on the border in the hope that they might sneak past the guards and further their dream of reaching western Europe. Most have now admitted defeat – fearful of harsh beatings and the possibility of being detained in closed container camps.

The Croatian and Romanian borders are now seen as the only viable entry points into the EU, and dozens of makeshift camps have sprouted up across the borders as a result, most notably in Šid on the Croatian border of western Serbia. But on the Hungarian border near the town of Subotica, around 50 unregistered asylum seekers hold out hope that a new entrance point will reveal itself.

The few remaining migrants on the Hungarian border are difficult to find, having taken to hiding deep in the woods. Behind a disused factory on the outskirts of the Serbian city of Subotica, a dirt track leads past train tracks and into the woods, opening out onto newly sown fields and dense trees.  When VICE News visited the area in early April, evidence of recent food consumption led straight to the demoralized few holding out in the woods hoping for a better life.

In the forests near the Serbian-Hungarian border, refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan play a game of cards to pass the time. Credit - Edward Crawford.

Spring brings relief — the group doesn’t have to deal with freezing temperatures anymore, but they still battle strong winds and occasional torrential downpours.

Under the shelter of the trees, some asylum seekers from Pakistan play cards around a fire. Two tents, bracketing a square of blankets used as a cooking and socializing space, flap helplessly in the wind.

“First we lived in the Barracks in Belgrade, then we came here to try for the Hungarian border. Things are different now,” say two Pakistani asylum seekers, Anam and Bisma. “We have been here three months now and people did make it across, but the last three to four weeks it’s impossible.”

The conversation turns to the Hungarian border guards’ alleged cruelty. “It was deep, deep snow last time we tried. We got past the fence and around 10km [6 miles] into Hungary. Then we saw the lights of police cars. In an open field of snow, we were fucked. What could we do. They could find us even if we ran. The police lined all 40 of us up and took turn[s] to beat us on the legs, arms, and stomach.”

A group of refugees from Pakistan take refuge in the forests of northern Serbia waiting for their chance to cross the border into Hungary. Credit - Edward Crawford.

“After 2–3 hours of beating and insults they drove us to the border with Serbia and just kicked us out shouting ‘Go on fuck off’ and other bad things in their language,” says the pair. “Our group was lucky. I had a friend who was with another group and the Hungarians beat him, put water on him then took one shoe. Imagine walking back, beaten and with one shoe in the snow.”

Anam’s and Bisma’s stories were similar to others who shared their stories with VICE News. These stories of abuse and cruelty have spread unabated across Serbia, scaring many would be asylum seekers away from Hungary. Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have documented several cases of brutality eked out by Hungarian border guards against refugees, though government officials have consistently rejected these claims.

The men say they left Pakistan because of the country’s problems with terrorism, corruption, unemployment and a disregard for human rights.

“When will the borders open?” was the one pressing question asked by all the asylum seekers with whom VICE News spoke.

There are currently an estimated 8,000 asylum seekers in Serbia alone and more are expected to arrive in the coming months. April has seen Serbian police rounding up hundreds of unregistered migrants along the borders and placing them in official camps. But with the legal process of asylum taking many months or even years, many pin their hopes on crossing illegally into countries like Italy.

“Once we are in Italy we can get the papers, no problem. Then no one can deport us back to Bulgaria. We stay in Italy and then after a few years can go anywhere.”

A Pakistani man waits on the train line leading to Hungary. Two days later he boarded a cargo container and made it across the border. Credit - Edward Crawford.

The journey to Italy from Serbia is fraught with danger. Hiding in container compartments of trains and underneath lorries is difficult and dangerous, and many have died from being crushed — recently two people were electrocuted as they tried to climb atop moving trains. Even if they make it to Croatia’s capital Zagreb,  there is no certainty they will pass on to Italy. People have been deported back to Serbia from Zagreb and Ljubljana only to try again the next week.

“We will not go back, not deport, not live in Serbia or Bulgaria. We will keep trying and inshallah one day I will be in Germany, France or even Belgium.”

The borders can get tighter, fences can get higher, border security forces can use more aggressive tactics, but none of this will successfully end the flow of asylum seekers attempting to come to the EU. The average person from Pakistan or Afghanistan claims to have invested around €10,000 to get to Serbia and they refuse to consider giving up on their European dream.

In an increasingly divided Europe, there still appears to be no workable solution to the ongoing refugee crisis. The only certainty is that thousands more will arrive each month this summer and wait on the European Union’s door for their chance to gain asylum in a western European country. The woods on the Hungarian border may not empty for some time yet.

Trump Caves On Border Wall

Mother Jones - 7 hours 25 min ago

White House aides "signaled" yesterday that instead of money for a wall, they might accept money for tighter border security in the upcoming budget bill:

With a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

But apparently that wasn't good enough for Trump. He just went ahead and surrendered completely:

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

Quite a negotiator, our president.

Facebook video of man killing his infant daughter was live for almost 24 hours

VICE News - 7 hours 34 min ago

A 20-year-old man filmed himself killing his baby daughter in an abandoned hotel in Thailand while streaming the incident live on Facebook, before taking his own life. The horrific footage – posted in two videos that lasted over four minutes – remained accessible on the man’s Facebook page for almost 24 hours.

The crime took place Monday on the island of Phuket, and the alarm was raised by the baby’s mother who contacted police to say her boyfriend had posted a video on his Facebook page which showed him tying a noose around his daughter’s neck before lowering her body over the edge of the third floor of the abandoned hotel.

“You can hear the girl crying [on the video] and finally the crying stops. Then he pulls her up onto the rooftop and unties the rope from her neck,” a local police officer said Tuesday, describing the contents of the videos. Before they were removed Tuesday, the two clips had been watched 370,000 times.

“This is an appalling incident and our hearts go out to the family of the victim,” a Facebook spokesman told VICE News. “There is absolutely no place for content of this kind on Facebook and it has now been removed.”

Facebook took down the videos following a request from Thailand’s ministry of digital economy. “We contacted Facebook today and Facebook removed the videos,” a spokesman said. The ministry added it will not be taking any action against the company. “We will not be able to press charges against Facebook, because Facebook is the service provider and they acted according to their protocol when we sent our request. They cooperated very well.”

However because the clip was available online for so long, it has been widely shared on social media in Thailand – one TV station even broadcast the clip. While it blurred the faces of those involved, this decision was strongly criticized.

The man, who has been named as Wuttisan Wongtalay, had an argument with his girlfriend in the early hours of Monday morning, threatening to kill her because he believed she was having an affair, according to multiple media reports of his partner’s own account of the incident. She then fled the house, but when she returned on Monday afternoon, Wuttisan left with the child, saying he would be home later. Soon after, the video footage was posted on Facebook.

Facebook is still reeling from a controversy earlier this month when footage of Steve Stephens killing Robert Godwin in Cleveland on Easter Sunday was posted to the social network and remained there for hours before finally being taken down. At the time Facebook said it was “constantly exploring ways that new technologies can help us make sure Facebook is a safe environment.”

A new wave of state bills could allow public schools to teach lies about climate change

VICE News - 8 hours 15 min ago

Legislation proposed across the country since Donald Trump’s election threatens to bring climate change denial into the classroom under the guise of “academic freedom.”

Currently, six states have legislative measures pending or already on the books that would allow anti-science rhetoric, including the rejection of global warming, to seep its way into schools’ curricula. While these types of proposals have become fairly routine in certain states, some of the most recent crop have advanced farther than in the past.

Senate Bill 393 in Oklahoma, for example, would permit teachers to paint established science on both evolution and climate change as “controversial.” The “controversy,” however, doesn’t really exist — more than 97 percent of actively publishing, accredited climate scientists agree that global warming trends over the past century are directly attributable to human activity. And some teachers might already be misleading students.

Since its initial proposal in early February, the bill passed out of the Senate and into the House, where it circumvented the House Education Committee and now heads for a full House vote.

“It’s important to note that this exact bill in Oklahoma has been proposed in the past seven times, and it’s only this year, at a time when there’s federal policy that’s egregiously anti-science, that the bill made it so far,” said Lisa Hoyos, the director of Climate Parents, a Sierra Club–affiliated organization that supports climate change education. In fact, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Josh Brecheen, has introduced similar legislation every year since 2011. He’s said he wants “every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution.”

A bill similar to Oklahoma’s is currently working its way through the Texas Legislature. And Florida has two bills pending aimed at letting local residents object to the use of certain instructional materials, such as textbooks that teach human-induced climate change, in public schools.

Some states are passing resolutions, which have a less direct influence but send strong signals about where the state Legislature stands on climate change. In February, Indiana successfully passed its Senate resolution supporting teachers “who choose to teach a diverse curriculum,” giving climate denial and creationism the chance to enter classrooms. A similar “academic freedom” resolution has already made its way through the Alabama House. Finally, Idaho locked in a legally binding Senate resolution in March that deletes material about climate change and human impact on the environment from the state’s science standards.

Teenage environmental activist Aji Piper, 15, holds up a tee shirt he was symbolically presenting to Bill Gates.

“Academic freedom bills are the new normal,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education. According to him, state legislators across the country have filed over 70 academic freedom bills since 2004. That’s when state-level legislation began using vague language to protect teachers’ “academic freedom” by permitting educators to teach about the “strengths and weaknesses” of existing scientific theories. The bill pending in Texas, for example, includes “climate change, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning” among its controversial theories.

“We’re very familiar with this type of language, and it has clearly morphed from the anti-evolution education perspective into the anti-climate change perspective,” said David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teacher Association, which played a key role in shaping the Next Generation Science Standards. The standards, adopted by 18 states and Washington, D.C., since 2015, included the first-ever recommendations for students to learn about human-induced global warming.

These old proposals are being made new again along with a stark ideological switch at the federal level. The president has called climate change a “hoax.” The EPA administrator doesn’t believe carbon dioxide contributes to global warming. And the White House’s continued rollback of environmental regulations reflects those viewpoints. In fact, a series of Pew studies shows 2016 marked the largest gap yet between Republicans and Democrats over belief in human-caused global warming. 

“It’s no coincidence when you have an administration banning climate science material from federal websites that science deniers in states would feel emboldened. But at the end of the day, it’s our kids that get shortchanged,” Hoyos said. Her organization, Climate Parents, is circulating a petition — with over 2,250 signatures so far — that urges Republican Gov. Mary Fallin to veto Oklahoma’s bill and stand by the science standards she passed in 2014.

While groups like Climate Parents, the National Science Teachers’ Association, and the American Association for Advancement in Science have all openly opposed the passage of Oklahoma’s bill, no group has promised a legal challenge — mostly because no one quite knows what that would look like.

“Laws like these aren’t easy to litigate against, unfortunately,” Branch said. “If [Oklahoma’s bill]  were enacted, it would be hard to argue — between its vagueness and its not requiring anybody to do anything — that on its face, it is unconstitutional.” The laws permit, rather than require, teachers to miseducate students on the grounds of scientific “controversy.”

These new “academic freedom” bills cast the word “controversy” precisely in such a way that they’d be able to withstand a court challenge, according to Evans. Now, as conflicts over science education have expanded beyond just evolution and creationism, legislation purposely doesn’t explicitly ban or endorse either side to avoid violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

“I’m not uncomfortable with teaching science controversy, but I am uncomfortable with teaching a controversy where there isn’t one in the science. If you want to debate the evidence for and against dark matter versus a modified theory of gravity, that’s a good controversy to bring up in the classroom,” Evans said.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to students at Montgomery Blair High School about climate change, the Oceans, and energy issues.

As these bills continue to move forward, the lack of legal weapons worries many educators, especially after free-market think tank The Heartland Institute has vowed to send anti-climate change books and DVDs to every public school in the country.

“There’s a very clear anti-science threat right now that’s in practice,” Evans said. His organization, with around 100 others, endorsed the March for Science in Washington, D.C., and more than 400 satellite events on Earth Day last Saturday. Thousands poured into the streets with a mission to uphold and protect scientific integrity and transparency for the common good.

With voices on both sides of the climate debate growing louder than ever, how far this spate of new bills will travel remains to be seen. But parents and teachers won’t stop fighting.

“Students need to learn everything they can as innovators and solution finders,” Hoyos said. “And you don’t do that by putting them in the dark or actively misleading them.”

An 80-year-old chemist is not happy his drug is being used in Arkansas’ execution spree

VICE News - 9 hours 50 min ago

The state of Arkansas executed two death row inmates Monday night, the first double execution in the United States since 2000. Among the many people all over the country opposed to the killings was 80-year-old Armin Walser, the retired Swiss chemist who first synthesized one of the key drugs Arkansas used in the lethal injections.

While working for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey in 1974, Walser invented midazolam as a safer, more comfortable sedation alternative to injectable Valium. Today the drug is listed on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines needed in a health system because of its utility in sedating patients before medical procedures. But it is also the first drug administered during the three-drug protocol Arkansas and many other states use to conduct lethal injections.

Midazolam is meant to sedate the prisoner prior to the injection first of vecuronium bromide, which causes paralysis, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart. To date, midazolam has been used in 21 executions in the United States, including botched killings in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Alabama.

Arkansas and other states that conduct lethal injections have had a hard time getting access to midazolam since most pharmaceutical companies that distribute the drug refuse to allow it to be used in executions. Gov. Asa Hutchinson had planned to execute eight death row inmates in 11 days before the state’s current supply of midazolam expired at the end of April. So far, four of the eight scheduled executions have been stayed by courts, three executions have been carried out, and one is scheduled for Thursday.

We asked Walser, who retired in 1994, what he thinks about his drug being used to kill. (The transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

What was midazolam originally intended for?
Armin Walser: There were some difficulties with injectable Valium because it’s not water-soluble by itself, and the formulations they tried had some problems at the injection site that precipitated and caused pain…. So we were happy to find midazolam. They thought it would be perfect for sedation before anesthesia or for sedation for minor procedures; dentists, I think, like to use it also. And it was used on myself when I had a colonoscopy later in life and I found it very convenient. Very good.

Do you consider it to be the biggest success of your career?
Oh, well, midazolam was maybe the most successful venture of my chemist career. Not every medicinal chemist is in the situation to bring a drug to the market.

How is midazolam supposed to be used today? It’s used as a sedative, not an anesthetic, correct?
Yeah. It is a sedative, like, it is similar to Valium…. In Europe, it was also introduced as a sleeping aid, as a hypnotic, and many people use this also on airplanes to get some sleep. So, it’s a short-acting oral sleeping aid as well, but it was never introduced in the U.S. as an oral form.

When did you find out that the drug was being used in executions?
For the use of the execution drug, I was called I think about two years ago from a reporter from Oklahoma, and she told me that they [are] thinking of using or they [were] using midazolam for execution or sedation before execution. And, of course, I was surprised, and I was not pleased, because if your drug is used for executions, it’s not a successful drug. But the doctors, I guess, can do with it what they want to do [but] any drug company doesn’t want their drug to be used for pre-execution. And I don’t see why they couldn’t use Valium or triazolam or anything else for that purpose.

How did you feel when you found out?
I was disappointed. I did not work on the drug to kill people. On the contrary, it’s to help them. I didn’t raise a campaign to stop using midazolam, that’s not my job. But I was pleased to know that the company that introduced it was fighting against its use as a sedative for execution. They should do away with executions, anyway. I mean, there are many countries [that] don’t have life [sentences] or executions. And they’re doing all right, as far as the law is concerned and all.

The Arkansas executions were expedited because there’s an expiration date on the state’s supply of midazolam. Can you explain what that means exactly?
Well, I don’t know how long those solutions they prepare… can be kept without any changes. So I guess expiration date means after a certain time, maybe a year or half a year, some of the integrity of the drug is lost. And of course in a case for execution, you don’t want to use any drug that is expired. I’m sure it’s still good, but it’s not 100 percent, maybe just 98 percent.

Do you think that pharmaceutical companies need to be stricter about their distribution so that this doesn’t happen again?
I don’t know why they choose midazolam. I mean, this is a mystery. Why don’t they use Valium, which is an older drug and veterinary medicine uses it? Why they switched to midazolam, I have no idea. Maybe it’s a patent — of course these expire so they can use it, when they can get it on the market somewhere. This just happened to me, and I’m sorry that they use it.

Phil Klay's Resistance Reading

Mother Jones - 12 hours 27 min ago
Courtesy of Phil Klay

We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from author Phil Klay, who served in Iraq prior to landing on the New York Times bestseller list for his riveting fictional stories of war and the experience of coming home.

Latest book: Redeployment
Reading recommendations: I've been reading A. Scott Berg's anthology World War I and America, a fascinating collection of essays, articles, diary entries, and speeches from 1914 to 1921. Among the riches there are several articles by W.E.B. Du Bois and James Wheldon Johnson, showing first-rate minds grappling with which political course to advocate in a world gripped by a massive war abroad while black Americans routinely faced horrific acts of domestic terrorism. 

I've also been thinking increasingly about Teddy Roosevelt's 1883 speech "The Duties of American Citizenship." Though some of his positions are dated—"the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children"—so much of it holds up as solid, practical advice in how to go about creating political change. Roosevelt continually stresses the hard work of building up organizations and institutions as the key component of American political life. "A great many of our men in business," he says, "rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties." (Sadly, he has little to say on the possibility of tweeting your way to a greater democracy.) 

Few things make me happier than reading Sandra Boynton's Muu, Bee, Así Fue to my 14-month-old son. I don't know if there's any direct link between that book, which is mostly an excuse to make animal noises, and our current moment of political rancor, but I'd like to believe that the process of reading to my child is slowly teaching me to be a kinder person.

So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Phil Klay, Bill McKibbenRabbi Jack Moline, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith, Gene Luen Yang. (New posts daily.) 


Health Care Premiums Have Gone Down Under Obamacare

Mother Jones - April 24, 2017 - 11:55pm

Someone asked me on Twitter if health care premiums had spiked after Obamacare went into effect. That turns out to be a surprisingly hard question to answer. There's loads of data on premiums in the employer market, where premium growth has slowed down slightly post-Obamacare, but not much in the individual market, which is where Obamacare has its biggest impact. However, a pair of researchers at the Brookings Institution rounded up the best evidence for pre-Obamacare premiums and compared it to premiums in 2014-17, when Obamacare was in effect. Here it is:

Premiums dropped in 2014, and are still lower than the trendline from 2009-13. So no, premiums didn't spike under Obamacare.

Now, there are lots of caveats here. The pre-Obamacare estimates are tricky to get a firm handle on. What's more, the Obamacare premiums are for the baseline coverage (second-lowest silver plan), while average pre-Obamacare policies might have been more generous in some ways (for example, deductibles and copays).

However, most of the pre/post differences suggest that Obamacare policies are better than the old ones. The old plans had an actuarial value of only 60 percent, while Obamacare silver plans have an actuarial value of 70 percent. The old plans were also limited to very healthy individuals. Obamacare plans are open to everyone. Finally, Obamacare plans mandate a set of essential benefits and place limits on out-of-pocket costs. These and other things suggest that premiums should have gone up under Obamacare.

But even with all these improvements, premiums still went down, and they haven't caught up yet. Bottom line: Average premiums in the individual market went down after Obamacare took effect, and they're still lower than they would have been without Obamacare.

New York Times Updates Its 2015 Hillary Clinton FBI Investigation Story

Mother Jones - April 24, 2017 - 8:55pm

In July 2015 the New York Times reported that the Justice Department had opened a "criminal inquiry" into whether "Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information." This was apparently a mistake, and the article was quickly rewritten to say only that DOJ had opened an "investigation" into whether sensitive information had been mishandled "in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state." A few days later the Times' public editor wrote a scathing summary of the paper's scoop:

Aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online....From Thursday night to Sunday morning — when a final correction appeared in print — the inaccuracies and changes in the story were handled as they came along, with little explanation to readers, other than routine corrections....Eventually, a number of corrections were appended to the online story, before appearing in print in the usual way — in small notices on Page A2. But you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle — they ripple through the entire news system.

So it was, to put it mildly, a mess....“We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong,” [editor Matt] Purdy told me. “That’s an explanation, not an excuse. We have an obligation to get facts right and we work very hard to do that.”

A few days later I wrote about this too, suggesting that the Times owed us a better explanation of what happened. This weekend they went some of the way there in an aside buried in their big story about James Comey, co-authored by two of the same reporters who wrote the original piece. Here's what they say:

On July 10, 2015, the F.B.I. opened a criminal investigation, code-named “Midyear,” into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information....There was controversy almost immediately. Responding to questions from The Times, the Justice Department confirmed that it had received a criminal referral — the first step toward a criminal investigation — over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information.

But the next morning, the department revised its statement. “The department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information,” the new statement read. “It is not a criminal referral.”

At the F.B.I., this was a distinction without a difference: Despite what officials said in public, agents had been alerted to mishandled classified information and in response, records show, had opened a full criminal investigation.

If this is correct, it was a criminal investigation, and the Times didn't get it wrong. Rather, the Justice Department put up a smoke screen after news of the investigation had been leaked.

The second part of this remains fuzzy. Was the investigation specifically aimed at Hillary Clinton or was it only "in connection with" Hillary Clinton? It's pretty obvious that Clinton was, in fact, the primary target of the investigation, but the FBI also investigated many others in her orbit. So I'm not sure how to score this.

Overall, though, despite what I wrote and what the Times itself wrote, it appears that this wasn't an enormous screwup at all. There might have been a minor detail or two that was slightly wrong, but nothing central to the story itself.

Jordan ready to scrap law shielding rapists who marry their victims from prosecution

VICE News - April 24, 2017 - 8:12pm

In Jordan, perpetrators of sexual assault have long had available a unique method to escape punishment: marrying their victim.

But Jordan’s cabinet moved to scrap that legislative loophole Sunday, endorsing the removal of a penal code article that currently drops all charges against rapists who marry their victim for a statutory minimum of three years.

“It’s 2017. How can a rapist be allowed to go free and at the same time make a girl or a woman’s life living hell?” Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a consultant for the feminist campaign group Equality Now in the Middle East and north Africa region, told the Independent last month after Jordan’s Royal Committee for Developing the Judiciary and Enhancing the Rule of Law first recommended getting rid of the law in February.

That recommendation, activist Laila Naffa told the Jordan Times at the time, was “a Jordanian dream that has come true.”

Last year, Jordanian lawmakers also narrowed the law to only apply if the victims were between 15 and 18 years old, and if the assault was regarded as “consensual.” The law was kept, officials said at the time, in order to keep victims from being harmed by their own families if they refused to marry her rapist.

Jordan is far from the only country to have such a law. A parliamentary panel in Bahrain recently agreed to remove a similar article from the country’s penal code, but Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia all still offered similar loopholes as of December 2016, according to Human Rights Watch. On Saturday, Lebanese activists protested their country’s version of the law by hanging wedding dresses from nooses alongside a Beirut beach.

The cabinet’s endorsement now heads to Jordan’s parliament, whose members must vote on the measure; they could still potentially block it.

Justin Trudeau called out on Canada’s opioid crisis

VICE News - April 24, 2017 - 8:12pm

A harm reduction worker with personal experience of Canada’s opioid crisis accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not going far enough to combat the overdose epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives across the country.

Zoë Dodd has lost five friends and 30 people she works with this year because of the opioid crisis, fuelled by contaminated street drugs across the country, she told the crowd at a VICE Canada exclusive talk with Trudeau on his plan to legalize weed.

Zoë Dodd asks a question of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo: Anthony Tuccitto/For VICE Canada

“We are here to talk about the legalization of cannabis, and yet we are in this national devastating crisis. It is a significant loss,” she said to Trudeau, adding that 1,400 people in B.C. alone have overdosed and died over the last 14 months. “So my question to you, Mr. prime minister is will you legalize all drugs so that we can end the overdose epidemic and save lives?”

Harm Reduction worker Zoe Dodd asks if PM @JustinTrudeau will legalize all drugs to combat the overdose crisis. #VICExTrudeauTalkWeed pic.twitter.com/yimGQWBBsA

— VICE Canada (@vicecanada) April 25, 2017

Trudeau held fast to his previous stance against legalizing or decriminalizing any other drugs beyond cannabis, and defended his government’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, including making it easier to open safe injection sites and import bulk quantities of prescription heroin for severe addicts.

“Be brave.”

“We made a commitment and we got a mandate to legalize marijuana to protect our kids, to protect Canadians, to make sure that we’re removing the criminal elements from that,” he told Dodd at the event, which also included a 22-year-old facing cannabis possession charges, and a former owner of an illegal dispensary.

But that didn’t satisfy Dodd, who repeated that Trudeau’s government isn’t doing enough. “The bodies keep mounting,” she said. “We need millions of dollars. I am a frontline worker who’s not been on her job the last 6 weeks because people keep dying around me and I am completely traumatized because we don’t have the resources to do our work.”

She also implored the prime minister to look to places like Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2000, as an example. “Be brave,” she said. “You talk about the safety of children, you talk about the safety of youth. It is young people who are dying and it’s young people who elected you.”

When pressed again about decriminalizing other drugs, Trudeau quashed any hope he would reconsider.

“I’m not there yet,” he said.

The event that also included Bill Blair, Toronto’s former police chief and the Liberals’ point person on the legislation they tabled earlier this month to make marijuana legal for recreational use. He also rejected the idea that decriminalization would work. “The evidence is not strong,” Blair said.

Anthony Tuccitto/VICE Canada

Dodd is among many critics who have been urging the Liberals to decriminalize other drugs as a harm reduction method, or if not, call for a moratorium on all new cannabis possession charges between now and when the drug is legalized sometime before July of 2018.

However, Trudeau has shut down that option, too, saying that providing amnesty for new criminal charges — and pardons for past cannabis possession convictions — would go against his goal of strictly regulating cannabis, and keeping it out of the hands of children and organized crime.

“The only people who are going to be growing and allowing to sell it will be criminals themselves,” he argued. “It’s still going to be organized crime, Hells’ Angels controlling the sale of marijuana and we don’t want that.”

Obamacare Is Doing Fine Unless Trump Kills It

Mother Jones - April 24, 2017 - 8:11pm

The Congressional Budget Office says that Obamacare is in good shape:

Under current law, most subsidized enrollees purchasing health insurance coverage in the nongroup market are largely insulated from increases in premiums because their out-of-pocket payments for premiums are based on a percentage of their income; the government pays the difference. The subsidies to purchase coverage combined with the penalties paid by uninsured people stemming from the individual mandate are anticipated to cause sufficient demand for insurance by people with low health care expenditures for the market to be stable.

Insurance companies are starting to make money on Obamacare. Nearly 20 million people have health insurance because of Obamacare. Premiums will probably go up next year, but not by a huge amount. And even if they do go up, federal subsidies will shield most people from having to pay any more than this year. Because of all this, CBO believes that Obamacare will stay stable and strong:

President Trump tweeted the opposite today, saying once again that Obamacare was on the verge of failing. This is a lie, one that he's repeated over and over. Obamacare will fail only if he cuts off its funding.

The reason for this post isn't so much to mention that Trump lied again today. The sun also rose in the east, and I didn't write about that. It's to remind everyone—including me—to stop writing tweets and blog posts that say something like this:

Trump says Obamacare is in a death spiral. He's wrong.

When we repeat the lie, we just give it more exposure. The end result is that people vaguely know something about Obamacare and death spiral and controversial, and that's it. They don't really know who's right, they just know that they keep seeing stuff about Obamacare being in trouble.

So don't do it. Instead, just write the truth and then mention that Trump has lied about it.


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