Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East. History nerd, linguistic geek, and devoted news junkie.
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‘Raise the Black’: Former U.S. Special Forces fundraise for the families of fallen Iraqi comrades

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‘Raise the Black’: Former U.S. Special Forces fundraise for the families of fallen Iraqi comrades

Former Green Beret Loren Schofield is watching with pride as the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) — nicknamed the Golden Division — fights for the liberation of Mosul. Six years ago, he would have been fighting right next to them. He helped train the Iraqi counterterrorism troops in 2007 and 2008. The force of about […]
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hannahdraper
2 hours ago
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What's In The Health Care Bill Changes Unveiled Late Last Night

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Late last night, after scuttling a planned vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans huddled behind closed doors in the basement of the Capitol to attempt to hash out their difference. What resulted was the release of a new amendment to the bill and the ultimatum that Republicans must vote for the legislation Friday or suffer the political consequences.

Passage is far from certain, as conservative and moderate Republicans alike express deep misgivings about the original bill and its last-minute changes—which will allow states gut the rule that insurance companies cover 10 Essential Health benefits, delays a Medicare tax on the wealthy for five years, and allocates an additional $15 billion for states to help cover maternity, mental health, and substance abuse costs.

The House plans to pass the bill after just four hours of debate on Friday, having already waived a rule that they take at least an entire day to read a revised bill before holding a vote. Though the Congressional Budget Office released an updated score of the bill on Thursday that took into account previous amendments—and found they would achieve $186 less in deficit reduction while still leaving 24 million people without health insurance—there is no way lawmakers will see an analysis of the final legislation by the time they vote.

Here are the changes released late Thursday night:

1. The amendment would roll back the Affordable Care Act's Essential Health Benefits mandates. This one is the biggie, and it was what conservatives were pushing for before President Trump put an end to negotiations. It tampers with the law's requirement that insurers offer plans that include 10 broad coverage areas and turns the responsibility over to the states to establish their own essential health benefits standards for the purposes of what plans are eligible for the GOP bill's tax credits.

However, as health care experts like University of Michigan Law School professor Nicholas Bagley and Washington and Lee health law specialist Timothy Jost have pointed out, the text appears riddled with errors and hasty policy-making. For one, it sets this transition for 2018, meaning states would have only a few months to establish their own essential health benefits before insurers must submit their plans. The amendment also appears to create for Republicans their own King v. Burwell problem, in that, if read plainly, consumers could only use tax credits on plans that adhere to states' essential health benefits standards, leaving no back-up for consumers if states fail establish their own standards.

"If [the amendment] becomes law, the individual insurance market will likely collapse nationwide in 2018," Bagley said.

2. The amendment throws more money, to the tune of $15 billion, at the legislation's Patient and State Stability Fund for states to set up coverage for maternity, mental health, and substance abuse care. It is believed those areas of care, all mandated by the ACA, would be the first to go if the Essential Health Benefits were dismantled. Republicans were already beginning to see nasty headlines that they were stripping away the federal requirement for that care.

3. As the major pay-for for all these changes, the amendment delays the repeal of the so-called Medicare tax -- a 0.9 percent tax on those making $200,000 or more individually -- by six years, which would raise an additional $50 billion in revenue, according to Jost. Republicans will need this, not just for the $15 billion for maternity and mental health services but for the changes to Essential Health Benefits mandate. By removing those standards, it is believed that insurance will get a lot cheap because plans will be much more meager. The upshot is that more people will be able to afford it, even with Republicans' paltry tax credits, and the government will be spending more on the tax credits than anticipated under the original legislation.

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hannahdraper
4 hours ago
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Welcome to Yiwu: China's testing ground for a multicultural city

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Unlike Guangzhou’s African community – who have faced prejudice and hostility – Yiwu’s foreign residents enjoy an ‘unusual freedom of worship’, with the municipal government even consulting international traders on city business

After dark on Exotic Street in China’s eastern city of Yiwu, three Yemeni boys crowd round a large charcoal barbecue rack selling lamb kebabs and baked breads. They order in confident Mandarin, chatting rapidly between themselves in Arabic.

Inside the adjoining Erbil restaurant, two Jordanian men share a plate heaped with barbecued meat and vegetables, while on the street corner two men sit smoking shisha pipes. The Zekeen supermarket sells both instant noodles and halal meat, and an African woman wearing a hijab carries out bags of shopping. Opposite, two young Russian women emerge from a shop that sells the unlikely combination of trainers and sex toys.

Continue reading...
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hannahdraper
22 hours ago
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'Egypt's Jon Stewart' is trying to rebuild his comedy career in the US. It’s hard.

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Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef is now living in exile in the United States. In Egypt, the surgeon-turned comedian hosted the hugely popular satirical news program, Al-Bernameg, from 2011 to 2014. The program dared to mock Egyptian society and politics and proved too controversial for Egyptian authorities.  [field_credit]





Download audio: https://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/cdn.pri.org/sites/default/files/pris-world/segment-audio/0322201708.mp3
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hannahdraper
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The other March Madness: A rush for vasectomies during NCAA tournament

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Number of operations rises during U.S. college tournament.
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hannahdraper
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acdha
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River Declared a Person

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“[S]ome people will say it’s pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality,” said New Zealand’s Treaty Negotiations Minister, “but it’s no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies.” Well, it’s a little stranger than that, but I agree with his point.

If corporations can have legal rights (and they do, especially the ones I represent), there’s no reason a society can’t give rights to any other non-human thing. It might or might not be a good idea, and people can and certainly do argue about which rights a thing should have, if any. But the basic theory is fine, and not especially new.

So it is okay, in my view, that the Whanganui River in New Zealand is now legally considered a person.

Here comes the part where I regale you with my extensive knowledge of the historical background to this dispute, knowledge I gained just now on Wikipedia. A Dutch person “discovered” New Zealand in 1642 (it’s named after Zeeland). Turned out there were already people on it—Polynesians called the Māori—although they had “only” been there for maybe four hundred years at the time. If it seems surprising any place on Earth was uninhabited for that long, look at a map and think about how long it’d take you to paddle to New Zealand. (The answer turns out to be “about 3,000 years.”) The next European visitors were James Cook et al., in 1769. Later, after the usual chaos, warfare, and mass death from disease, the British ended up in charge. They did, as usual, sign a treaty with the natives, and, again as usual, “there is no consensus as to exactly what was agreed.” Over the last few decades in particular, there have been a number of disputes and apologies and settlement agreements. This is one of those.

Māori is an official language in New Zealand, which is why if you look at the bill the first thing you see is:

Te Pire o Te Awa Tupua (mō Te Whakataunga o Ngā Kerēme e pā ana ki Te Awa o Whanganui)

which I think just means “The Whanganui River Claims Settlement Act.” It’s longer in Māori, but also sounds significantly more awesome. It looks like the legislation itself is in English only, but the commentary is in both languages. So you could choose, for example, either:

Ka whakaae mātou he huarahi mahi matawhāiti pai tēnei, ā, ka whakatau kia whakaurua atu he rara hou hei whakamana i tēnei.

or

We agree that this is a prudent course of action, and considered inserting a new clause to this effect.

Take your pick.

Anyway, the Whanganui, on the North Island, is the country’s longest navigable river. Most of it is now in a national park, and wow, is that gorgeous. But for several hundred years, it has been the home and eel-fishing grounds of several Māori tribes. According to the bill commentary, it “has a long history of providing physical and spiritual support to Whanganui iwi,” the people of the area, and they have a long history of wanting more control over it.

The Settlement Act does that in the novel way of making the river a person and assigning it guardians. Sections 12 and 14 make it a legal person called “Te Awa Tupua”—not just the river but “all its physical and metaphysical elements”—and that it “has all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person.” Of course, a river can’t actually do anything except flow, and so the bill creates the office of “Te Pou Tupua” to act in its behalf.

This has two officials, one nominated by the iwi and one by the government. The only requirement seems to be the nominator’s satisfaction that any nominee has the “mana, skills, knowledge, and experience to achieve the purpose and perform the functions” of the office. The bill doesn’t define “mana,” but I guess you know it when you see it. I, at least, would fully support making “mana,” or maybe “mojo,” a requirement for nominees here in the U.S. (and maybe the “necessary mojo” should also be a requirement for presidents?). If senators were debating whether Gorsuch “had the mojo” to serve on the Supreme Court, I’d probably watch those hearings.

Those with sufficient mana etc. to serve are given the power to take legal action in the river’s name. The river (and the office) is an entity for tax purposes, although it looks like it’s a charity. It has trademark rights. To the extent the Crown owned a “fee simple estate” (you too can know what that is, if you go to law school) in the riverbed, it is now vested in Te Awa Tupua—so the river now owns itself again, sort of, except for certain listed rights. It looks like fishing rights are not affected, so the river can’t keep people from throwing hooks in it, which seems like an important right for a legal person to have. But again, the actual humans involved in all this can define the rights however they like.

The bill also contains a quite lengthy apology by the Crown for various things, which is nice, and declares that the legislation is a final settlement of all historical claims. We shall see.

Again, while this may be the first time a river has been declared to be a legal person, and the reports say that it is, this is really no different than creating a thing called a “corporation,” giving it certain legal rights, and giving certain humans the right to act on its behalf. To some extent, obviously, there is a symbolic component to this bill, but that’s not a new thing for legislation, either. It appears to be a step forward in relations between the Māori and non-Māori, at least, and that can’t be a bad thing.

The Māori certainly seem happy about it in this parliamentary video, which I love for multiple reasons. First, it begins with a short statement in their language, so you can hear what it sounds like, at least when a white guy speaks it. Second, I love the contrast between the European parliamentary system, where they quietly and formally take care of business, and the response of the Māori in the gallery. The Speaker (who is, sadly, not wearing his feathered cape for this) just says “the ayes have it,” and then, after a pause, “I understand there is to be a waiata.” And then there is indeed a waiata, which is a traditional and in this case very lengthy Māori song. This isn’t the “haka,” the fierce warrior waiata, but there is a big bald guy waving a club. So that’s cool.

Again, I would watch a lot more hearings if they concluded with somebody saying, “I understand there is to be a waiata,” and then there was in fact a waiata. It doesn’t have to be ten minutes long, necessarily, but still.

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hannahdraper
1 day ago
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1 public comment
Aatch
1 day ago
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For a little more context, these kinds of things tend to just be formalising existing systems. Either for symbolic reasons, or to ensure that the existing systems can remain.
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