Cost of transgender medical services in military, minimal; cost of an imbecile as commander-in-chief, incalculable

The New York Times reports: The president, Ms. Sanders said, had concluded that allowing transgender people to serve openly “erodes military readiness and unit cohesion, and made the decision based on that.”

Mr. Mattis, who was on vacation, was silent on the new policy. People close to the defense secretary said he was appalled that Mr. Trump chose to unveil his decision in tweets, in part because of the message they sent to transgender active-duty service members, including those deployed overseas, that they were suddenly no longer welcome.

The policy would affect only a small portion of the approximately 1.3 million active-duty members of the military. Some 2,000 to 11,000 active-duty troops are transgender, according to a 2016 RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon, though estimates of the number of transgender service members have varied widely, and are sometimes as high as 15,000.

The study found that allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military would “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs” for the Pentagon. It estimated that health care costs would rise $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year, representing an infinitesimal 0.04 to 0.13 percent increase in spending. Citing research into other countries that allow transgender people to serve, the study projected “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness” in the United States.

Lt. Commander Blake Dremann, a Navy supply corps officer who is transgender, said he found out his job was in danger when he turned on CNN on Wednesday morning. Commander Dremann came out as transgender to his commanders in 2015, and said they had been supportive of him.

He refused to criticize Mr. Trump — “we don’t criticize our commander in chief,” he said — but said the policy shift “is singling out a specific population in the military, who had been assured we were doing everything appropriate to continue our honorable service.”

He added: “And I will continue to do so, until the military tells me to hang up my boots.”

The announcement came amid the debate on Capitol Hill over the Obama-era practice of requiring the Pentagon to pay for medical treatment related to gender transition. Representative Vicky Hartzler, Republican of Missouri, has proposed an amendment to the spending bill that would bar the Pentagon from spending money on transition surgery or related hormone therapy, and other Republicans have pressed for similar provisions.

Mr. Mattis had worked behind the scenes to keep such language out of legislation, quietly lobbying Republican lawmakers not to attach the prohibitions, according to congressional and defense officials. [Continue reading…]

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The military spends five times as much on Viagra as it would on transgender troops’ medical care

Christopher Ingraham writes: On Twitter this morning, President Trump announced a ban on transgender people serving in the military, citing “medical costs” as the primary driver of the decision.

“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” the president wrote.

While Trump didn’t offer any numbers to support this claim, a Defense Department-commissioned study published last year by the Rand Corp. provides exhaustive estimates of transgender servicemembers’ potential medical costs.

Considering the prevalence of transgender servicemembers among the active duty military and the typical health-care costs for gender-transition-related medical treatment, the Rand study estimated that these treatments would cost the military between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.

The study didn’t include estimates of these costs for reservists, because of their “highly limited military health care eligibility.” It also didn’t include estimates for retirees or military family members, because many of those individuals may also have “limited eligibility” for care via military treatment facilities.

“The implication is that even in the most extreme scenario that we were able to identify … we expect only a 0.13-percent ($8.4 million out of $6.2 billion) increase in health care spending,” Rand’s authors concluded.

By contrast, total military spending on erectile dysfunction medicines amounts to $84 million annually, according to an analysis by the Military Times — 10 times the cost of annual transition-related medical care for active duty transgender servicemembers.

The military spends $41.6 million annually on Viagra alone, according to the Military Times analysis — roughly five times the estimated spending on transition-related medical care for transgender troops. [Continue reading…]

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We’ve been here before: Discriminating against those who volunteer to serve

Bishop Garrison writes: On the anniversary of the day President Harry Truman desegregated the military, President Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, that the United States military would no longer welcome or support the service of transgender American citizens. As a nation, we have been here before. For generations, the military marginalized minorities, forcing them to serve separately or even in secret, before it finally got it right. And even in those tumultuous times, they still served and did so with honor and dignity. My family’s history and its service in the military is a testament to this. We have watched, over three generations, as the military stamped out discrimination and internalized this lesson: Your race, class, gender or sexual orientation has nothing to do with your fitness to serve.

During my first deployment in Iraq, I was stationed at Al Asad airbase in Anbar Province in Iraq. Part of my unit’s mission was to maintain security along one of the main supply routes so that convoys, which mostly traveled under the cover of darkness at night, could safely operate. We worked well with local police and sheikhs, and for many months things remained generally quiet. Then we began finding bombs on the side of the road. We didn’t have a name for them then, but later the technical term of Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, would emerge, and our time in the desert would never be same. After my first tour, almost a full year in the Iraqi desert, my father wanted to discuss what my time was like there.

My dad, Bishop Sr., or “Big Bishop,” was a gregarious, funny, and charming man. He was drafted into the Army to fight in Vietnam in the late 1960s, and was forced to leave early from, what was then, South Carolina State College. For his service in Vietnam, he received a Bronze Star as a young Specialist with the First Calvary Division. Given his abilities and performance, he was asked to remain in the Army and become an officer. My father respectfully declined. At that time, the Army was a very different place, and the U.S. was only a few years removed from the signing of the Civil Rights Act. He also wanted to get home to his family and marry his high school sweetheart, my mother, whom he’d left behind to go to Vietnam. He eventually would go on to serve as a veteran employment specialist with the state of South Carolina for the next 32 years, helping veterans transition to civilian jobs as they exited military service.

After I returned from Iraq, and was alone with my father, we began sharing stories we’d never told any of our family members about our military experiences. We discussed our fears, our concerns, and the issues we had to deal with as young men deployed to combat zones. There was one thing we both had learned during our time at war: Nothing was more important than the ability to trust the person fighting next to you. Given what was going on in the U.S. in the 1960s, my father told me it was hard for an enlisted black man from the Deep South to trust that the white men serving next to him had his best interests at heart, and that they would have his back. Our country was just beginning to recognize people of color as full-fledged citizens at the same time my father fought to protect its interests and the interests of its allies. As time progressed, he matured and his beliefs evolved thanks to his experience fighting and training with those same men he first met with suspicion. He learned they were no different from him. They all feared not making it home. They each had parents, wives, and high school sweethearts waiting for them. If you could zero your rifle, or drive a jeep, or work on a towable Howitzer fire team, or man the door gun on a Huey, no one had the time or the interest to worry about the rest. That focus and dedication led him to making lifelong friends, who still occasionally send me their condolences on his passing in 2012. Those same experiences taught him that at the end of the day, it was character and shared values that drives us as soldiers and Americans. [Continue reading…]

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Liu Xiaobo’s fate reflects fading pressure on China over human rights

The New York Times reports: Liu Xiaobo, China’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, catapulted to fame in 1989, when the Communist Party’s violent crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square created an international uproar.

Now, nearly three decades later, Mr. Liu has died of cancer while in state custody, a bedridden and silenced example of Western governments’ inability, or reluctance, to push back against China’s resurgent authoritarians.

Mr. Liu’s fate reflects how human rights issues have receded in Western diplomacy with China. And it shows how Chinese Communist Party leaders, running a strong state bristling with security powers, can disdain foreign pleas, even for a man near death.

“It’s certainly become more difficult,” said John Kamm, an American businessman and founder of the Dui Hua Foundation, who for decades has quietly lobbied China to free or improve the treatment of political prisoners. He said his attempts to win approval for Mr. Liu to leave China for treatment, as Mr. Liu and his wife requested, got nowhere.

“I tried my best. I did everything I could,” he said before Mr. Liu died. “Things are pretty difficult right now. It’s hard for me to get the kinds of responses I need.” [Continue reading…]

Nicholas Kristof writes: The Mandela of our age is dead, and Liu Xiaobo will at least now find peace after decades of suffering outrageous mistreatment by the Chinese authorities.

Liu, 61, is the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in custody since the Nazi era, and his death is an indictment of China’s brutal treatment of one of the great figures of modern times.

Even as Liu was dying of cancer, China refused to allow Liu to travel for treatment that might have saved his life. In a move that felt crass and disgusting, the Chinese authorities filmed the dying Liu without his consent to make propaganda films falsely depicting merciful treatment of him.

In the coming weeks, China will probably try to dispose of Liu’s remains in a way that will prevent his grave from becoming a democratic pilgrimage spot. The authorities no doubt will attempt to bully and threaten Liu’s brave widow, Liu Xia, and perhaps confine her indefinitely under house arrest to keep her silent.

Will Western leaders speak up for her? I fear not, any more than they forcefully spoke up for Liu Xiaobo himself. [Continue reading…]

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A leading PR firm in the U.S. is working directly for one of Egypt’s top spy services

The Atlantic reports: On a Tuesday night in early May, all the big players in the public relations industry gathered at Cipriani 42nd Street, a lavish restaurant in Manhattan, for the annual “Superior Achievement in Branding Reputation & Engagement” awards. The event, where winners were selected by a panel of industry insiders, was billed by its organizers as a “showcase for the best that public relations has to offer”—it was like the Oscars, but for the titans of PR. #CupFusion, a hashtag designed to build buzz around a new Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, won a best in show award for Ketchum. Edelman took home a trophy for a Starbucks video campaign focusing on “normal” people doing “extraordinary” things.

The New York-based Weber Shandwick was also a big winner, taking home three trophies: one for North American agency of the year, another for a social-media campaign celebrating a body-positive Barbie Doll, and one more for a science-education program sponsored by Lockheed Martin. One of its campaigns, however, did not attract much notice: a $1.2 million-a-year deal with Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS). The agency, roughly the country’s equivalent of the CIA, is part of a constellation of infamous intelligence services known as the mukhabarat. Perhaps most notorious in the United States for collaborating with the CIA in the torture of suspected al-Qaeda members after 9/11, GIS has been accused of working in secret with Egypt’s domestic intelligence to manipulate elections and suppress internal dissent since the coup that installed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president in 2013.

Weber’s contract with the Egyptians is not, in itself, unconventional. But the firm’s decision to do business with a foreign-intelligence service known for torture and repression, one that has been instrumental to Sisi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, is unorthodox. And it comes at a key moment. Four years after Sisi toppled Egypt’s elected government, he’s eager to cement ties with a new U.S. administration that’s willing to overlook his authoritarianism, and at the same time win friends in Congress who oversee Egypt’s massive aid package. In Weber Shandwick, it would appear that the Sisi regime has found a PR firm willing to apply its considerable messaging prowess to the cause of funneling U.S. taxpayer money and goodwill towards the increasingly brutal leadership of the world’s largest Arab country.

Weber and the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates—a “specialty” firm that’s part of Weber (both are owned by InterPublic Group, a public company)—signed deals with Egypt in late January, eight days after Donald Trump’s inauguration. According to paperwork filed with the Department of Justice, the firms would be reporting directly to General Naser Fahmy of the GIS. They would be promoting Egypt’s “strategic partnership with the United States,” and emphasizing its “leading role in managing regional risks.” The firm, in other words, would be amplifying the Egyptian government’s own message: that arming and backing up an increasingly authoritarian Egypt state is necessary to keep the peace. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis warns G-20 against ‘dangerous alliances’ damaging poor, migrants

Reuters reports: Pope Francis warned leaders of the world’s top 20 economies meeting in Hamburg against forming dangerous and distorting alliances that could harm the poor and migrants, in an article in Italian daily la Repubblica on Saturday.

“The G20 worries me, it hits migrants in countries in half of the world and it hits them even more as time goes by,” the Pope was quoted as saying in a conversation with the paper’s founder Eugenio Scalfari.

Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, said he was afraid of “very dangerous alliances among (foreign) powers that have a distorted vision of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, (Vladimir) Putin and (Bashar al-)Assad in the war in Syria.”

He said the greatest danger concerned immigration, with “the poor, the weak, the excluded and the marginalised” juxtaposed with “those who… fear the invasion of migrants”. [Continue reading…]

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Deportation a ‘death sentence’ to adoptees after a lifetime in the U.S.

The New York Times reports: Phillip Clay was adopted at 8 into an American family in Philadelphia.

Twenty-nine years later, in 2012, after numerous arrests and a struggle with drug addiction, he was deported back to his birth country, South Korea. He could not speak the local language, did not know a single person and did not receive appropriate care for mental health problems, which included bipolar disorder and alcohol and substance abuse.

On May 21, Mr. Clay ended his life, jumping from the 14th floor of an apartment building north of Seoul. He was 42.

To advocates of the rights of international adoptees, the suicide was a wrenching reminder of a problem the United States urgently needed to address: adoptees from abroad who never obtained American citizenship. The Adoptee Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, estimates that 35,000 adult adoptees in the United States may lack citizenship, which was not granted automatically in the adoption process before 2000.

Mr. Clay is believed to be just one of dozens of people, legally adopted as children into American families, who either have been deported to the birth countries they left decades ago or face deportation after being convicted of crimes as adults. Some did not even know they were not American citizens until they were ordered to leave. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration targets parents in new immigration crackdown

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration has begun a new tactic to crack down on illegal immigration, this time arresting undocumented parents suspected of having paid to have their children ushered into the country by smugglers.

When unaccompanied children are apprehended at the border — often after having been taken there by smugglers — immigration officials initiate cases for their deportation, a process that can take months or years. In the meantime, many of those children are placed with parents or relatives who crossed earlier to establish a foothold in the United States and earn money to send back home.

Until recently, those adults have not been priorities for arrest, even if they are in the country illegally.

But in February, President Trump’s Homeland Security secretary, John F. Kelly, signed a memo promising to penalize people who pay smugglers to bring their children to the United States, saying that the agency had “an obligation to ensure that those who conspire to violate our immigration laws do not do so with impunity.” This past week, Jennifer D. Elzea, the deputy press secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed that arrests had begun. [Continue reading…]

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Myanmar says it will refuse entry to UN investigators probing Rohingya abuses

Reuters reports: Myanmar will refuse entry to members of a United Nations probe focusing on allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims, an official said on Friday.

The government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had already said it would not cooperate with a mission set up after a Human Rights Council resolution was adopted in March.

“If they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come,” said Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital, Naypyitaw.

“Our missions worldwide are advised accordingly,” he said, explaining that visas to enter Myanmar would not be issued to the mission’s appointees or staff.

Suu Kyi, who came to power last year amid a transition from military rule, leads Myanmar through the specially created position of “State Counsellor”, but is also minister of foreign affairs.

Although she does not oversee the military, Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to stand up for the more than 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.

She said during a trip to Sweden this month the UN mission “would have created greater hostility between the different communities”. The majority in Rakhine are ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who, like many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. travel ban will kick off ‘summer of litigation’, advocates warn

The Guardian reports: Human rights advocates have warned of a “summer of litigation” in response to the US supreme court’s decision to partially reinstate Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The ban applies to people from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees, but one clause in the court’s order has raised more questions than it answers about who will actually be allowed entry into the US.

People from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and all refugees are not allowed to enter the US unless they have “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States”, according to the court.

Naureen Shah, the director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program, said that even as trained lawyer she had difficulty interpreting its meaning.

“As a bare minimum it introduces uncertainties into life-and-death decisions for people,” Shah said. “It’s so brazenly dismissive to that chaos it is going to unleash.”

For instance, if one American doctor agrees to provide medical care to a child injured in a refugee camp, does the child have a bona fide relationship with the doctor, or the hospital the doctor works at?

In addition, it is not yet clear how the departments of state and homeland security will explain the definition of a bona fide relationship to airports abroad.

Conservative supreme court Justice Clarence Thomas warned in his opinion on the case that the court’s decision “will invite a flood of litigation”.

Human rights advocates agreed. [Continue reading…]

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At 15 I was tortured in Assad’s prisons. I escaped, but thousands still suffer

An anonymous Syrian torture victim writes: For the 10 months I spent as a detainee in the prisons of Bashar al-Assad, I only saw my family in my dreams. At night, the screams would stop for an hour or two, and I could close my eyes and remember what it was like to be human. When I slept, I would return to my life.

Today is the UN’s International Day for Support of Victims of Torture. Unfortunately in Syria, there is no shortage of victims of torture. Tens of thousands of us have been thrown in Assad’s prisons and tortured beyond what our bodies and minds can take. Many of us die there. Those of us who have survived will spend the rest of our lives being reminded of just how evil humanity is capable of being.

I was only 15 when I was arrested and subjected to months of physical and psychological torture.

I am lucky to have survived. There were times I wished for death. As happy as I am to return to life again, I am equally gripped by sadness and pain knowing more than 200,000 prisoners are still there. My freedom feels incomplete as long as my Syrian brothers and sisters suffer behind those high walls. I am a hostage of my memory.

Aleppo is my home. I was forced to leave there in 2013 to try to escape the barrel bombs and besiegement of the city by Assad and his allies. My mother, siblings and I fled to Lebanon. At the age of 14, I had to leave school and begin working to try to sustain our family. At the end of 2014, we were forced to return to Syria because we could not afford Lebanese residence and working permits.

On the way home, I was arrested by members of a political security branch in Damascus. They accused me of taking part in the peaceful demonstrations at the beginning of the popular Syrian revolution against Assad.

This is a regime known for its oppression, its tyranny, and its corruption. But it is also a regime that stands against humanity. It is a regime that could arrest a 15-year-old, a kid, and subject him to months of torture and starvation and psychological trauma. And I am not by any means a unique story in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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In Yemen’s secret prisons, UAE tortures and U.S. interrogates

The Associated Press reports: Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.

The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials. All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years.

The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present. [Continue reading…]

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Trump targets illegal immigrants who were given reprieves from deportation by Obama

Reuters reports: In September 2014, Gilberto Velasquez, a 38-year-old house painter from El Salvador, received life-changing news: The U.S. government had decided to shelve its deportation action against him.

The move was part of a policy change initiated by then-President Barack Obama in 2011 to pull back from deporting immigrants who had formed deep ties in the United States and whom the government considered no threat to public safety. Instead, the administration would prioritize illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes.

Last month, things changed again for the painter, who has lived in the United States illegally since 2005 and has a U.S.-born child. He received news that the government wanted to put his deportation case back on the court calendar, citing another shift in priorities, this time by President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has moved to reopen the cases of hundreds of illegal immigrants who, like Velasquez, had been given a reprieve from deportation, according to government data and court documents reviewed by Reuters and interviews with immigration lawyers.

Trump signaled in January that he planned to dramatically widen the net of illegal immigrants targeted for deportation, but his administration has not publicized its efforts to reopen immigration cases.

It represents one of the first concrete examples of the crackdown promised by Trump and is likely to stir fears among tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who thought they were safe from deportation. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration moves to conceal report on CIA torture by permanently placing it in Senate vaults

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration has begun returning copies of a voluminous 2014 Senate report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program to Congress, complying with the demand of a top Republican senator who has criticized the report for being shoddy and excessively critical of the C.I.A.

The Trump administration’s move, described by multiple congressional officials, raises the possibility that copies of the 6,700-page report could be locked in Senate vaults for good — exempt from laws requiring that government records eventually become public. The C.I.A., the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the C.I.A.’s inspector general have returned their copies of the report, the officials said.

The report is the result of a yearslong investigation into the C.I.A. program by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, telling the story of how — in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — the C.I.A. began capturing terrorism suspects and interrogating them in secret prisons beyond the reach of the American judicial and military legal systems. The central conclusion of the report is that the spy agency’s interrogation methods — including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other kinds of torture — were far more brutal and less effective than the C.I.A. described to policy makers, Congress and the public.

It is the most comprehensive accounting of the Bush-era program that exists, and a declassified executive summary of the report was made public in December 2014 — with the support of some Republicans on the committee.

The committee, which was then run by Democrats, also sent copies of the entire classified report to at least eight federal agencies, asking that they incorporate the report into their records — a move that would have made it subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act. That law, which allows citizens, the media and other groups to request access to information held by the federal government, does not apply to congressional records. [Continue reading…]

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Human rights workers investigating conditions at company producing Ivanka Trump brands arrested and missing

The Associated Press reports: A man investigating working conditions at a Chinese company that produces Ivanka Trump-brand shoes has been arrested and two others are missing, the arrested man’s wife and an advocacy group said Tuesday.

Hua Haifeng was accused of illegal surveillance, according to his wife, Deng Guilian, who said the police called her Tuesday afternoon. Deng said the caller told her she didn’t need to know the details, only that she would not be able to see, speak with or receive money from her husband, the family’s breadwinner.

China Labor Watch Executive Director Li Qiang said he lost contact with Hua Haifeng and the other two men, Li Zhao and Su Heng, over the weekend. By Tuesday, after dozens of unanswered calls, he had concluded: “They must be held either by the factory or the police to be unreachable.”

China Labor Watch, a New York-based nonprofit, was planning to publish a report next month alleging low pay, excessive overtime and the possible misuse of student interns. It is unclear whether the undercover investigative methods used by the advocacy group are legal in China. [Continue reading…]

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The small Texas city fighting to remain a ‘safe haven’ for immigrants

The Guardian reports: When Texas passed a law this month banning so-called sanctuary cities and empowering police officers to ask the immigration status of anyone they detain, protests rippled through the state’s major cities. Politicians and activists vowed legal action.

The first place to sue was not liberal Austin, the hub of the fightback, but tiny El Cenizo, a city of 3,800 that nestles along a bend in the Rio Grande and faces Mexico to the north, west and south.

Here, where 99% of residents are Hispanic and 15% to 20% are undocumented, a “safe haven” ordinance has been in place since 1999, forbidding local authorities from making immigration inquiries. When the new state law goes into effect in September, the failure of Texas officials to cooperate with immigration authorities will become a criminal offence also punishable by fines.

The lawsuit argues that the Texas bill, known as SB4, unconstitutionally inserts the state into the federal government’s job of immigration enforcement. SB4 is the most hard-line immigration law passed by a state since Arizona introduced SB 1070, a rule dubbed “show me your papers” by detractors that has largely been neutered by litigation from civil rights groups.

While the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, claims SB4 promotes law and order and keeping dangerous criminals off the streets, it was opposed by sheriffs and police chiefs in the state’s major cities, who worry that it will erode community trust and discourage the reporting of crimes. Critics of the law also worry that giving individual officers the option to pose immigration questions invites racial profiling and will turn routine traffic stops into preludes to deportation.

El Cenizo is now back in the national news, 18 years after a flurry of attention when it decided to make life easier for most of its residents by holding city meetings in Spanish, generating criticism from conservative groups who felt that not using English was unAmerican.

The timing is unfortunate for the 33-year-old mayor, Raul Reyes. In the week of 8 May, when the suit was filed, he was studying for his finals for a master’s degree in public administration. He also runs two businesses; being mayor pays only $100 a month. [Continue reading…]

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French president calls on Putin to protect gay Chechens

CNN reports: French president Emmanuel Macron says he has urged Vladimir Putin to ensure that the rights of LGBT people are protected following allegations of a crackdown on gay men in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

The Russian president was in France for talks with Macron, two weeks after his election victory. Macron’s call comes after widespread reports of a brutal campaign by the authorities against gay men in Chechnya, including allegations of torture and murder.

“I emphasized to President Putin…how important it is for France to respect all people, all minorities,” Macron said during a news conference with the Russian leader.

“We spoke about the cases of LGBT people in Chechnya… I told President Putin what France is expecting regarding this issue, and we agreed to regularly check on this subject.”

Macron added that President Putin told him he had started a number of initiatives with regard to the Chechen LGBT community. Previously, Putin said he would talk to the prosecutor general and interior minister regarding an investigation.

The French president has added his voice to that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, also during a recent meeting with Putin, asked the Russian president to guarantee the rights of minorities in Chechnya. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: When they emerged from talks, which went on for almost an hour longer than scheduled, Macron said they had had a “frank exchange” and both men stressed they had agreed on the need to move forward on divisive issues such as Syria and Ukraine.

But at a joint news conference after their talks, ill-feeling came to the surface over past allegations made by Macron’s camp that state-funded Russian news outlets had sought to destabilise his campaign.

With Putin alongside him, Macron repeated the accusation in a reply to a journalist’s question, saying: “During the campaign, Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence which on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign.

“They behaved like organs of influence, of propaganda and of lying propaganda,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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