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NAACP Sues CT Over Inmate Count Practice for Legislative Districts

By Clarice Silber, ctmirror

The NAACP sued Connecticut on Thursday over its method of counting inmates where they are incarcerated when creating legislative districts, arguing the practice dilutes the voting power of urban communities.

The civil rights organization said the lawsuit is the first salvo in what could be a national effort to challenge the practice.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in New Haven alleges the state’s legislative redistricting plan scheduled for use in the 2018 and 2020 elections equates to “prison gerrymandering,” a practice that counts those incarcerated as residing in the areas they are imprisoned rather than where they originally came from.

The NAACP said the practice is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and its “one person, one vote” principle.

The suit states “many (African-American and Latino) individuals are incarcerated in correctional facilities that the State has located primarily in rural, lightly populated, predominantly white parts of Connecticut.” Most inmates cannot vote under state law and don’t have contact with local representatives in the areas they are incarcerated, it adds.

The state attorney general’s office will “review the complaint and respond at the appropriate time in court,” spokeswoman Jaclyn Severance said.

The counting method falls under a larger issue of voter suppression and weakens legislative representation of minority communities, NAACP General Counsel Brad Berry said. The NAACP would have preferred for Connecticut to fix the problem legislatively, but several previous stalled attempts left the organization no choice but to go to the courts, Berry said.

“It’s really a fiction that the prisoners are residents of where they are incarcerated. The representatives aren’t popping in asking what can be done to make their lives better,” Berry said. “There’s no way to say with a straight face inmates in these prisons, particularly the ones in northern Connecticut, these largely African American and Latino prisoners, are residents of those communities.”

Four other states—New York, Maryland, Delaware, and California—have enacted laws that require counting prisoners at their home addresses rather than their prison locations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Aleks Kajstura, the legal director for the non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative, said states started engaging in prison gerrymandering in the 1990s and that’s largely caused by their dependence on figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Those numbers count inmates by where they are incarcerated.

“It shifts legislative priorities in a way that goes against criminal justice reform and communities that are burdened by high incarceration,” Kajstura said. “If they are successful it could mean an end to prison gerrymandering in the U.S.”


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It’s Been a Lousy Week in Politics, and Some of It Is Obama’s Fault

By Jason Johnson, The Root

It’s been a horrible week in politics, and it just keeps getting worse. Now, I don’t entirely agree with my colleague Terrell J. Starr’s assessment from yesterday.

We all know where this is going.

Donald Trump will appoint a maniac, right-wing justice who will be 15 minutes out of law school, which means he or she will serve on the bench for 50 years, help end abortion rights and civil rights, but, most important, will rule—sometime around 2019 or 2020—that the president has the right to PARDON himself (which was always the endgame). Right now I don’t care about what’s coming; I’m mad about how we got here.

In a little over a week, the Supreme Court upheld voter purges, effectively defunded unions and upheld the white nationalist Muslim ban. After all of that, Justice Anthony “Swing Vote” Kennedy looks around at everything Trump has done, says “I’m good with this” and chucks the deuces to his lifetime appointment.

There’s a lot of blame to go around, and I’ll tell you now, all of your faves are problematic. However here are the top five people to blame for our current crisis of constitutionality, in descending order of terribleness.

5. President Barack Obama

Blame rating: “What had happened was”

I know nobody wants to hear this; I know that Obama, Ava DuVernay and Blue Ivy are the sacred cows of black folks and liberals in America. Nevertheless, some of this falls squarely on the shoulders of our former “father in chief” (I know firsthand about Barack backlash because I tweeted about this).

Way back in the optimistic year of 2016, I wrote that once Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wouldn’t even hold hearings to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia until after the election, essentially trying to steal a Supreme Court justice, Obama should have just put someone on the court. And he wouldn’t do it. Obama naively believed that the Republicans wouldn’t be willing to handicap a third of the federal government just to spite him.

In 2016 I wrote:

Obama’s refusal to take advantage of Congress being at recess by appointing someone to the Supreme Court to replace Antonin Scalia without its approval is one of the most cowardly, embarrassing and shameful abdications of power of any president in American history. And, without a doubt, history and Americans should judge him harshly for it.

Don’t be confused; it was well within Obama’s authority to put someone on the bench. A rare quirk in congressional scheduling gave Obama about a week to make a special recess appointment for the Supreme Court. He should have picked one of the half-dozen women or people of color available.

The appointment would have stayed on the court until 1) Republicans voted the person out, which would have been a real mess during an election year (especially if it were a black woman on the bench); or 2) until the end of the calendar year, in which case, whoever the next president was would have replaced the justice (even if Hillary Clinton had won, she would have been under no obligation to keep Obama’s recess pick).

I hear you Obama defenders now. You Obama hater! Trump won, so Merrick Garland would’ve been gone by the end of 2016 and we’d still be here! That’s true, but there were two critical decisionsUnited States v. Texas, which was about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; and Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which was about union fees—that ended in a 4-4 tie in 2016.

A tie on the Supreme Court is basically a judicial shoulder shrug that leaves the lower court ruling in effect. If an Obama appointee had been on the court, those rulings would have gone 5-4, and Trump would have had more trouble dismantling DACA today, and this week’s rulings about employee union fees would have been tougher to pull off, given that it would have been reversing a very recent precedent. So yeah, I put some blame on Obama.

4. Hillary Clinton

Blame level: Coulda, shoulda, woulda

I give Hillary Clinton credit. She had to face off against a biased press, her husband’s baggage, a Democratic infrastructure decimated at the state level after years of neglect by Obama, Russian intervention, and she still won the popular vote by nearly 3 million. Unfortunately, the popular vote wins you support, but it doesn’t win the White House, and like Brandy told us, “Almost Doesn’t Count.”

Clinton lost the election. And ultimately that falls on her well-padded shoulders and her staff. It’s not Sen. Bernie Sanders’ fault; it’s not those annoying, idiotic Jill Stein voters; it’s not even Obama’s fault. Clinton lost against a beatable candidate. Which means she bears some responsibility for us getting Neil Gorsuch, and for whatever nightmare person Trump selects to replace Kennedy.

3. Mitch McConnell

Blame level: [Shaggy voice.] “It Wasn’t Me”

One hundred years from now—after the devastation of the Trump administration, the Alt-Handmaid’s Tale presidency of Mike Pence and, finally, the Founding Fathers’ Purge presidency of Don Jr. – when America finally comes to its senses from our soon-to-be-dystopian nightmare and reflects on how the hell all of this happened—there will be one name that stands out.

Patient zero for the cancer that ate away at American democracy will be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell’s constant obstructionism, commitment to white nationalist policies, and willingness to destroy any norms or procedures of American democracy, while at the same time claiming innocence or, worse, playing the victim, have done more to ruin our union in the last 12 years than anything done by any other sitting politician.

So why isn’t he No. 1 on this list?

McConnell had help. Yes, he refused to hold hearings for Garland, paving the way for Gorsuch on the bench and whatever 37-year-old maniac Trump is about to pick, but other people had to play along. Democrats had to fail to see what he was up to. Republicans had to go along with him and vote the way he wanted. The press had to cover how his behavior played “politically” instead of addressing the legitimacy of McConnell’s actions. So he’s only partially to blame. His biggest co-conspirators might be the next group.

2. White Women

Blame level: Rosanne on Ambien

Fifty-three percent of white women in America voted for a man who repeatedly cheated on his wife, was accused of raping his ex-wife, routinely sexually harassed women, was caught on tape bragging about a sexual assault and said he believed that women who get abortions should be punished. And y’all voted for him anyway.

I am so tired of the occasional news story about white female Trump voters who “regret” their decision, or can’t understand why their health care costs are skyrocketing, or are amazed when their husbands get deported. You didn’t regret voting for a habitual sexual predator and accused rapist—you’re just regretting it now that it’s hurting you. They must’ve been on that Ambien in 2016.

So in 2020, when newest Supreme Court Justice Corey Lewandowski pens the majority decision ruling that abortions are a “state issue” and women have to start sneaking across the border from Kentucky to Ohio for contraception and prenatal care, it’s all your fault. This is what you voted for.

1. Donald Trump

Blame level: Benedict Arnold

Ultimately, in addition to the white nationalism, the border crisis, the pending financial crisis (it’s coming), the environmental crisis (it’s coming), the erosion of our national image and the trade wars, among fifty-eleven million other things, it’s Trump’s fault we’re about to get one of the worst justices in Supreme Court history. Just remember all the screwup it took for us to get here.

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CT Dems ‘Shocked’ About Condition of Immigrant Detentions at Border

WASHINGTON — Connecticut lawmakers at the U.S.-Mexico border this weekend said they were moved, and even shocked, by what they saw up close as the effect of  the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

“It was worse than we ever thought,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District.

DeLauro and Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Jim Himes, D-4th District and Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, were part of a group of 25 Democratic lawmakers who toured a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in McAllen, Texas, and the Port Isabel immigration processing center in Brownsville, Texas on Saturday.

The Connecticut Democrats spoke of sobbing mothers who did not know where their children were and pleaded for help, families in holding centers ringed with barbed wire, and children sleeping on concrete floors under mylar heat-resistant blankets.

“It was very emotional,” Courtney said.

Many of the immigrants caught up in the drama at the border are Central Americans who are fleeing drug-related and gang violence in their countries. Some have traveled to Mexico, on foot much of the time, for a month or more to reach the United States.

At the Brownsville detention center, the Connecticut lawmakers met with 10 Central American mothers who had been separated from their children.

With Himes, who speaks fluent Spanish, acting as translator, the lawmakers determined that only one of the mothers had been able to contact a child.

She had spoken to her daughter, who was taken to New York by the Department of Health and Human Services. It is the federal agency that takes charge of immigrant youth who arrive in the United States by themselves or who were separated by their parents since the Trump administration imposed its “zero tolerance” policy.

Under the policy, parents were jailed and children were taken to DHS -contracted shelters.

Courtney said the detention center where the mothers were held “is like a prison where they have to pay to use the phone.” But he said few had any money when they reached the border and others had their money confiscated.

“The most disturbing thing without question was spending time with this group of moms,” Himes said.

“The president of the United States,” said Esty, “should come down and speak to these women.”

The Customs and Border Patrol personnel were “trying to do the best they can, as humanisticaly as they can, under an insane flip-flop at the White House,” Himes said.

He described a scene where 20 or 30 little girls emerged from “mounds of silver Mylar” they were given to sleep under. “They were scared. Some had been crying,” Himes continued. “But what is the worst aspect of what we have seen today is that this President calls those little girls that stood up from those mounds of Mylar, calls them MS-13, calls them criminals. Wants Americans to believe that the hundreds of people we saw in this facility behind us are a danger to them and to this country.”

DeLauro said she met a woman from Honduras held at the processing facility in McAllen with her two teenage daughters. The mother begged the lawmakers to “please, please help.”

She said the detainees wore prison garb and were held in facilities where the walls were reinforced with double rows of razor wire.

“When you think about it, these are misdemeanors we’re talking about,” DeLauro said.

The lawmakers were not allowed to take photos, or bring cell phones or recording devices into the facilities they toured. They were ferried from place to place by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention bus.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes’ comment about riding in an ICE detention bus: “Suspect most passengers don’t get boxed lunches.”

Himes joked on Twitter: “(I) suspect most passengers don’t get boxed lunches.”

Reacting to scorching criticism about the separation of more than 2,300 children from their immigrant parents, President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to end the practice of separating families.

But the order also called for the continued jailing of all undocumented immigrants, even many seeking asylum and first-time border crossers who would be charged with a misdemeanor.

That executive order has added to the chaos at the border, the Democratic lawmakers said.

“There is still a lot of confusion and a lot of panic,” Himes said.

Since a 1997 consent decree forbids keeping children in ICE detention centers for more than 20 days, Customs and Border Protection agents have interpreted the executive order as allowing them to freeze criminal referrals for migrant parents who cross illegally with children, just as they did before the “zero tolerance” policy went into effect.

“They pretty much told us the separations were over,” Courtney said.

Reconnecting separated children with their parents is not going to be easy.

All detained immigrants – even immigrants — are assigned “A’’ or alien numbers, only to be given different identification numbers by other federal agencies. Many of the children have been taken to other states, among them New York, Florida and Michigan, and placed with family members or other court-appointed guardians. There are reports that parents have been deported without their children.

Esty said “intense pressure” must continue to be brought to bear on the Trump administration to reunite immigrant children with their parents.

Democrats believe they have reaped a political gain from the immigration crisis that was created by the Trump administration’s imposition of the “zero tolerance” policy, a move made to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base.

In the midst of the controversy last week, House conservatives were unable to gain enough support to pass a hardline immigration bill. A more moderate Republican version is expected to be voted on next week, but approval of that measure is not guaranteed.

A frustrated Trump undercut GOP efforts to pass the more moderate bill by tweeting that Republican leaders should give up on immigration until a “red wave” ushers in more congressional Republican lawmakers in November’s midterm elections.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., made a separate trip to the border this weekend with New Mexico’s Democratic senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.

Like the House members, Blumenthal was limited in what he was able to see. He visited a detention center where about 250 immigrant boys were housed in tents. “One of the questions we kept asking is ‘Where are the girls?’“ he said. “And nobody seems to know.”


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#MeToo Founder: Do Better

Don’t know what to do in the face of the scrutiny brought to bear by the #MeToo movement? Founder Tarana Burke offered a suggestion: Use some common sense.

The civil rights activist and sexual assault survivor brought straight talk and no-nonsense candor to a packed Yale Law School auditorium Monday evening for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven’s convening of the annual meeting of the Community Fund For Women & Girls.

The event was sponsored by the Community Foundation and the Yale University Office of Diversity and Inclusion along with the New Haven Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta and the Theta Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sororities.

Burke founded the movement 12 years ago to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly those survivors who are women of color. The movement became a national conversation when the hashtag #metoo went viral on social media.  As celebrities like Alyssa Milano added their voices and star power to the movement to expose the prevalence of sexual violence in the entertainment industry the careers of powerful men like former film producer Harvey Weinstein and former actor/comedian Bill Cosby have been toppled. In the cases of both Weinstein and Cosby, criminal charges have been brought to bear.

Burke sat down Monday for a conversation with Khalilah Brown-Dean, associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University and vice chair of the Community Foundation board. She told audience members that if they believe that the movement is about these bad actors losing their jobs, their reputations, their power and possibly their freedom then they’d missed the point.

“MeToo” is about survivors, not perpetrators.

“This was not a plot to ruin his career,” Burke said of Weinstein. “In fact, the women that spoke up thought their careers would be ruined. It was about every day regular people around the world … making a declaration and saying, ‘I’m a victim of sexual violence.’

“There’s never been a movement to say, ‘Me too, take him down,’” she added. “That’s not what it’s about.”

She said the movement has always been about helping survivors find space for healing and connecting them with resources for that healing so that they can be advocates who help disrupt and dismantle the systems that perpetuate sexual violence. Burke noted that in the case of Harvey Weinstein the corporate response of the Weinstein Company has been to distance itself from him and his alleged actions. It has yet to acknowledge that people inside the company likely enabled him to commit his alleged crimes, she said.

Brown-Dean asked Burke about a recent exchange that she had with Tony Robbins, a life coach with millions of Twitter followers who dismissed the movement by suggesting that it was about victimhood and that it had created an environment where men didn’t know how to conduct themselves in the workplace. Robbins ultimately apologized after a video of his interaction with a survivor of childhood sexual abuse went viral.

“It makes my blood boil,” Burke said recalling the exchange. “It’s such cowardice. And it’s not just cowardice but callousness. You’re going to watch millions of people saying, ‘My life has been touched by this thing,’ and your response is, ‘Aww man, now what am I supposed to do?’

“This is the kind of thing women are dealing with,” she said. “We can’t have a conversation. I’m speaking English. and you’re speaking Klingon.”

Burke said in moments like these, allyship is important, particularly from men.

“This is not new,” she said. “Women have not just started talking about their treatment in the workplace. They’ve not just started talking about sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s just we usually talk to each other.

“Now people are asking what can we do,” Burke said. “Stop this type of nonsense.”

She said when men hear remarks like Robbins’, or suggestions that women should just be eliminated from a workplace, men must stand up and push back.

“Men can say, ‘That’s bullshit,’” she said. “We have to confront the problem.”

She suggested that workplaces start addressing the problem at the beginning instead of at the end. She suggested that they use a little common sense.

“Common sense tells me if you’re dealing with this issue after you’ve hired people … you’ve already messed up,” she said. “My question to corporate people is what are you doing to vet people? What kind of culture do you have at your job where Bob feels it’s OK to take his penis out and get promoted again and again?”

This story first appeared in the New Haven Independent.

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LimeBike Launches in Hartford

HARTFORD — LimeBike, a bike share program based in California, is now in Hartford.

The company launched its pilot program in the capital city on Wednesday.

Lime provides affordable, dock-free pedal bikes to cities and college campuses across the United States. And Lime is coming to Hartford at no cost to the city, officials said.

“Bringing this bikeshare pilot program to Hartford is part of our overall effort to make Hartford a more accessible, bike-friendly city – and also a greener, more sustainable city,” said Mayor Luke Bronin.  “LikeBikes will make it easy to get around Hartford quickly and conveniently, and I’m excited for Lime’s launch here in Hartford.”

Lime will be placing 300 of their bicycles throughout Hartford on Wednesday and Thursday, initially stationing them at hot spots they’ve identified across the city. Residents can download the Lime app, pick up a bike, ride at a rate of $1 for every 30 minutes, and lock and leave the bike anywhere for someone else to pick up.

All LimeBikes are GPS and 3-G enabled, allowing riders to find nearby bikes using the app.  Watch a tutorial here.

“Lime will dramatically increase Hartford’s access to affordable, sustainable mobility,” said Darrin Rees, Lime’s Hartford Operations Manager. “As a Hartford resident for nearly 22 years, I have seen a lot of changes to the City over time, but I am extremely excited about this change that will have such a positive impact on the community. I look forward to continuing our work with the City and the local Lime team to ensure a successful and equitable program.”

The Lime Access program, which includes a text-to-unlock feature and discounted rates, is available for residents without smartphones and who are enrolled in a state or federal assistance programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Lime Access members can purchase 100, 30-minute rides for just $5.

Hartford has been named a Bike-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists

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Connecticut Advocates Blast DeVos For Saying Schools Can Welcome ICE

Immigration advocates in the state and the Connecticut office of the ACLU blasted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for saying that a school can chose to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on students believed to be undocumented.

“Children should be able to trust and learn from their teachers, not face the prospect of educators becoming deputized informants for ICE,” said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “Any Connecticut school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution and contribute to fear and disruption in the classroom and wider community.”

During a U.S. House of Representatives education committee hearing on Tuesday, DeVos said whether a school reports a student to ICE is “a school decision, it’s a local community decision.”

“I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate,” DeVos said. “I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this.”

DeVos’ statements caused a furor among advocacy groups, who pointed out that under the Supreme Court case Plyler v Doe, all children — undocumented or not –are entitled to a free public education.

Last year, Gov. Dannel Malloy sent the state’s school superintendents a letter urging them to protect their students from ICE officials.

“We encourage you having a plan in place in the event that an ICE agent comes to your school requesting information about or access to a student,” the governor said. “In developing a plan for your district, you should consult with your district’s attorney.”

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) also has a protocol for interacting with ICE.

Lucas Codognolla, an immigrant advocate and director of CT Students for a Dream, a group of young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children by their parents, said DeVos’ statement “is a message meant to produce fear in our communities.”

“No student should feel at risk or threatened when seeking to pursue their education,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen, Richard Blumenthal on Wednesday joined a group of Democrats who wrote to DeVos about the dismissal of more than 500 disability rights complaints by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

“These dismissals are the result of OCR’s new protocol for addressing complaints as outlined in the recently updated Case Processing Manual,” the Democrats wrote. “We fear this standard may be used to dismantle students’ civil rights throughout the department.”


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Latino Fund to Host Discussion on Impact of Hurricane Maria

HARTFORD — The Latino Endowment Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving will be hosting a discussion on the local impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria have had on the Greater Hartford region.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be on May 31 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The Lyceum at 227 Lawrence St. in Hartford.

The event will feature a panel discussion with individuals who have been working with displaced residents from Puerto Rico and the Islands including: Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriquez, Superintendent, Hartford Public Schools; Aura Alvarado, Director of Communications and Community Relations, Capitol Region Education Council; Dr. Charles Venator-Santiago, University of Connecticut,  El Instituto for Latino Studies and Wildaliz Bermudez, Councilwoman, City of Hartford

In November 2017, the Hartford Foundation established the Respond-Rebuild-Renew Fund in response to the growing needs faced by individuals and families relocating to Greater Hartford following natural disasters.

In response to the lack of data on the long-term impact of displaced individuals and families relocating to Greater Hartford, the Hartford Foundation awarded a $47,280 grant to the University of Connecticut’s El Instituto: Institute for Latina/o Caribbean and Latin American Studies and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College to launch a survey to better understand the long-term impact of displacement on the Greater Hartford region.

University of Connecticut Professor Charles Venator-Santiago will present some of the key findings of this survey at the event.

This event is open to the public but those who would like to attend must RSVP at<> and enter the code LEFReliefUpdate. Seating is limited and registration will be closed on May 29.

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Pulitzer Prize Board Will Review Junot Díaz Sexual-Misconduct Claims

By Anne Branigin, The Root

Author Junot Díaz is stepping down from his role as chairman of the Pulitzer Prize board following allegations of sexual misconduct. The board says that it will investigate allegations of harassment against Díaz, who remains on the board.

As The Guardian reports, the 49-year-old writer, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner, was elected Pulitzer Prize board chairman in April, the same month the New Yorker published an essay in which Díaz revealed that he was raped as a child.

In that essay, Díaz also disclosed—to varying degrees—the harm he caused women as a result of his rape, which happened at the hands of a “grownup [he] truly trusted.”

Last week, on a Sidney Writers’ Festival panel, writer Zinzi Clemmons publicly confronted the revered Dominican-American writer over the harm he caused her when he forcibly kissed her six years ago while she was a graduate student at Columbia University.

Clemmons, who was 26 at the time, had invited Díaz to speak at a campus workshop on representation in literature when, she says, he cornered her and kissed her without her consent. After the May 4 panel, Clemmons repeated the allegations on Twitter, where they were quickly shared and discussed.

“I’m far from the only one he’s done this to, I refuse to be silent anymore,” Clemmons wrote. Sure enough, more women spoke up with stories about Díaz, saying that the writer had made misogynistic comments and acted aggressively or inappropriately toward them.

In a statement made to the New York Times, Díaz said that he “took responsibility for [his] past,” adding that it was the reason he “made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath.”

“This conversation is important and must continue,” read the statement. “I am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.”

The Pulitzer’s board said that Díaz welcomes the review and will cooperate fully with its investigation, according to The Guardian.

MIT, where Díaz works as a professor, says it’s also looking into the recent allegations.

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Redesigning Maternal Care: OB-GYNs Are Urged to See New Mothers Sooner and More Often

By Nina Martin, ProPublica

This story was co-published with NPR.

Doctors would see new mothers sooner and more frequently, and insurers would cover the increased visits, under sweeping new recommendations from the organization that sets standards of care for obstetrician-gynecologists in the U.S.

The 11-page “committee opinion” on “Optimizing Postpartum Care,” released today by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, represents a fundamental reimagining of how providers, insurers and patients can work together to improve care for women after giving birth. “To optimize the health of women and infants, postpartum care should become an ongoing process, rather than a single encounter, with services and support tailored to each woman’s individual needs,” the committee opinion states.

While an ACOG task force began rethinking its approach several years ago, the guidelines arrive at a moment of mounting concern about rising rates of pregnancy-related deaths and near-deaths in the U.S. As ProPublica and NPRhave reported, more than 700 women die every year in this country from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth andmore than 50,000 suffer life-threatening complications, among the worst records for maternal health in the industrialized world. The death rate for black mothers is three to four times that of white women.

The days and weeks after childbirth can be a time of particular vulnerability for new moms, with physical and emotional risks that include pain and infection, hypertension and stroke, heart problems, blood clots, anxiety and depression. More than half of maternal deaths occur after the baby is born, according to a new CDC Foundation report.

Yet for many women in the U.S., the ACOG committee opinion notes, the postpartum period is “devoid of formal or infor­mal maternal support.” This reflects a troubling tendency in the medical system — and throughout American society — to focus on the health and safety of the fetus or baby more than that of the mother. “The baby is the candy, the mom is the wrapper,” said Alison Stuebe, who teaches in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and heads the task force that drafted the guidelines. “And once the candy is out of the wrapper, the wrapper is cast aside.”

The way that providers currently care for pregnant women and infants versus new mothers exemplifies this difference. During the prenatal period, a woman may see her OB-GYN a dozen or more times, including at least two checkups during her ninth month. Her baby’s first pediatric visit usually occurs a few days after birth. But the mother may not have a follow-up appointment with her own doctor until four to six weeks after delivery — and in many cases, insurance only covers one visit. “As soon as that baby comes out, [the mom] is kind of an afterthought,” said Tamika Auguste, associate medical director of the MedStar Health Simulation Training & Education Lab in Washington, D.C., and a co-author of the ACOG opinion.

For working mothers, having to wait four to six weeks makes it harder to arrange a check-up.

Some 23 percent of mothers employed outside the home are back on the job within 10 days of giving birth, a 2014 report for the U.S. Department of Labor found; another 22 percent return to work within 40 days. Lack of childcare and transportation can also present significant hurdles to accessing care. According to ACOG, as many as 40 percent of women skip their postpartum visit; for low-income women of color, the rates are even higher.

“You may have a woman that has asthma, is having problems lactating, and is obese, and when they come to see you at six weeks, we have missed the boat here,” Auguste said.

Nor is a single visit enough time to address a new mother’s questions and concerns, especially if she had a complicated pregnancy or is suffering from chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or a mood disorder. “We’re trying to address all of the issues that women are dealing with after having a baby in one 20-minute encounter,” Stuebe said. “And that’s really hard to do.”

Under the new ACOG guidelines, women would see their providers much earlier — from within three days postpartum if they have suffered from severe hypertension to no later than three weeks if their pregnancies and deliveries were normal— and would return as often as needed. Depending on a woman’s symptoms and history, the final postpartum visit could take place as late as 12 weeks after delivery and ideally would include “a full assessment of physical, social, and psychological well-being,” from pain to weight loss to sexuality to management of chronic diseases, ACOG says.

In another significant change, ACOG is urging providers to emphasize in conversations with patients the long-term health risks associated with pregnancy complications such as preterm delivery, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. “These risk factors are emerging as an important predictor of future [cardiovascular disease],” the recommendations state. “ … [B]ut because these conditions often resolve postpartum, the increased cardiovascular disease risk is not consistently communicated to women.”

Earlier, more frequent and more individualized care could be a step toward addressing the stark racial disparities in maternal and infant health, said ACOG’s outgoing president,Haywood Brown, who has made reforming postpartum care one of the main initiatives of his term. Black mothers are at higher risk for many childbirth complications, includingpreeclampsia, heart failure and blood clots, and they’re more likely to suffer long-lasting health consequences. They also have higher rates of postpartum depression but are less likely to receive treatment. Regardless of race, for women whose pregnancies are covered by Medicaid, the postpartum period may be their best opportunity to get help with chronic conditions before they lose insurance coverage.

The new guidelines urge doctors to take a proactive approach, helping patients develop a postpartum care plan while still pregnant, including a team of family and friends to provide social and other support. According to ACOG, one in four new mothers surveyed recently said they didn’t even have a phone number of a health care provider to contact with concerns about themselves or their babies.

ACOG isn’t the only organization calling for a reinvention of postpartum care; patient-safety groups, researchers, nursesand midwives have also tackled the issue, recasting the three months after birth as akin to a “fourth trimester.”

“The postpartum period has become a priority,” said Debra Bingham, a professor of nursing at the University of Maryland and executive director of the Institute for Perinatal Quality Improvement who has participated in many of these initiatives.

Some providers, including Brown, who is affiliated with Duke University, are already incorporating some of ACOG’s ideas. Still, putting the reforms into common practice may take years. One of the biggest impediments is insurance reimbursement. Currently, payment for prenatal care, delivery and a single post-birth visit is bundled together into one global fee, creating a disincentive for doctors to see patients more than once, Auguste said.

The disincentives are greater for women on Medicaid, which pays for about half of U.S. births. What’s more, in many states Medicaid coverage ends at two months postpartum. The ACOG opinion didn’t estimate the cost of implementing its recommendations.

Brown agreed that revamping how postpartum care is reimbursed is critical, and insurance representatives — along with members of other medical specialties — were on the ACOG task force that drafted the new guidelines. “I want to make sure that I get some employee health plans and some health systems to adopt this nationally,” Brown said.

Indeed, although the guidelines are aimed at OB-GYNs, they would require changes throughout the maternal care system. That’s what ACOG is hoping for. “It’s really a societal call to action,” Stuebe said.

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When Bill Cosby Being Found Guilty is Too Much

By Kirsten West Savali, The Root

Bill Cosby has finally been found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand inside of his Philadelphia home in 2004.

Many people have voiced their anger and disappointment at the “unfairness” of it all. Why—Cosby apologists have wondered aloud—is Cosby facing consequences that powerful white men like Harvey Weinstein have not had to? The argument seems to be that Cosby’s inability to get away with sexual assault in a court of law proves just how much the judicial system is structured to discriminate against black men. These people really need us—and, by “us,” I mean, those of us who don’t support serial sex predators—to understand that black rapists matter.

They also claim that the guilty verdict against Cosby is all about the dismantling of his “legacy” and white society’s obsession with bringing down powerful black men.


Certainly, we must have nuanced conversations about the intersections of sexual violence and white supremacy. In fact, it’s critical that we do. But if the people introducing the “But-but-but Weinstein, Woody Allen, Bill O’Reilly, the guy from Party of Five!” comments to the conversation have never given any indication that they care about rape or rape culture—nor divesting from men who have harmed women, then it’s clear to me that they just don’t give a damn about women.

They do not care any more about Weinstein’s victims than they do about Cosby’s victims—and many of them are still stepping in the name of pedophilia with the Pied Piper of R&B. The conversations have not been, “Weinstein’s victims need justice, too!” They have been, “Why should Weinstein get away with assaulting women and not Cosby?”

What has also become more and more clear is that when state and sexual violence intersects and lands on black women, the nuance seems to disappear for some of these same people. It then becomes, “Let’s focus on black men, period. Why are y’all being divisive bringing up black women?!”

Until these Cosby apologists hold all of that nuance in conversations about black women who are victims of sexual and state violence—not conversations centered on the perpetrators/predators and the so-called unfairness of it all—then I will never believe they really care out justice. It’s impossible.

For the men defending Cosby, it’s about being free to be rapists without consequence like the rich white men they clearly want to be. As for the women defending Cosby? Get Out.

No, Cosby can’t get away (anymore) with rape like police officers get away with raping and murdering black people. No, he can’t get away with rape and sexual assault like white men get away with raping and murdering black people. He should have remembered that—or, better yet, just not sexually assaulted anyone at all. While this may seem like a novel idea to some, it’s not without precedence.

As I’ve repeated several times over the past few years since Bill Cosby has dominated headlines.

Defending a rapist does not make one revolutionary. It’s time to find another way.

Photo: Getty Image

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