Sanders Defends Campaigning For Anti-Abortion Rights Democrat

Sen. Bernie Sanders is campaigning for Omaha, Neb., mayoral candidate Heath Mello Thursday night, and he’s not apologizing for it.

“Absolutely, and I want him to win,” Sanders, I-Vt., told NPR Thursday, after a rally in Grand Prairie, Texas.

The Thursday event with Mello, a Nebraska state senator who’s running as a Democrat in the mayoral race, is one of several rallies Sanders is holding across the country this week. It’s part of a Democratic National Committee-organized unity tour with DNC Chair Tom Perez.

The Omaha event wasn’t that notable – just one of several red state visits on the DNC itinerary — until Thursday morning. That’s when Ilyse Hogue, the president of abortion rights advocate NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued a statement blasting Sanders and Perez for spending time and resources campaigning alongside a Democrat who opposes abortion rights.

“The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women – one of the most critical constituencies for the party – of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid,” Hogue said. “Today’s action makes this so-called ‘fight back tour’ look more like a throw-back tour for women and our rights.”

Mello has co-sponsored several bills in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature that would restrict abortion rights, including a 2009 measure requiring doctors to inform women seeking abortions about the availability of an ultrasound.

Sanders pushed back against the criticism. “The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That’s what politics is about,” Sanders told NPR.

“If we are going to protect a woman’s right to choose, at the end of the day we’re going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation,” he said. “And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”

But that call for pragmatism doesn’t mesh with the main message Sanders has been delivering this week: a call for a more aggressive and progressive Democratic party. In the same interview, he blamed Republican gains at the state and federal level on “the failure of the Democratic Party to have a progressive agenda, to bring people into this party, to mobilize people.”

The DNC is doing its best to distance itself from the Mello endorsement. Party staffers were quick to tell reporters that it was Sanders’, and not the DNC’s, idea to hold a rally for Mello.

Perez issued a statement emphasizing the DNC’s strong support for abortion rights, but staying away from the central question of whether or not Mello should be the beneficiary of a DNC rally. “The Democratic Party’s platform states clearly our support for every woman’s right to make their own choices about their reproductive health and to have access to safe abortion services,” Perez said in the statement. “As DNC Chair, I stand by that position unequivocally, as I have my entire life.”

Perez will not be at the Omaha rally, because he stepped away from the unity tour Thursday to attend fundraising events in Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff is competing in a June 20 runoff to fill the suburban Atlanta House seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. He nearly won the seat outright this week.

Ossoff will face Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who also resigned from the Susan G. Komen Foundation amid a controversy over that group’s decision to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood, a decision that was later reversed.

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Maine's Immigrants Boost Workforce Of Whitest, Oldest State In U.S.

The economy of Milbridge, Maine, has revolved around the seafood industry for generations.

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A demographic crisis looms over Maine, the oldest and whitest state in the U.S. with one of the country’s lowest birth rates.

Employers are already feeling the effects on Maine’s workforce as they struggle to fill positions with “old Mainers” — long-time residents in a state where many take pride in their deep family roots, especially along the shores of Washington County.

Here in the rugged, eastern edges of the U.S., dotted with evergreens and wood-shingled houses, many make a living from the waters of Down East Maine, including Annie Sokoloski, an office manager in Steuben, Maine, for Lobster Trap, a wholesale lobster dealer. Working in seafood goes back generations in her family.

“My grandmother forced me to go into the fish factory and pack sardines,” says Sokoloski, who recalls working as a sardine packer while on break from school. “She told me anytime that I thought about not having an education I needed to remember that day.”

These days, Sokoloski says she still remembers other lessons: “You need to get away from here to make anything for yourself” she remembers her grandparents telling her when she was growing up.

Top: A job fair in Milbridge (left) was organized by Maine’s Department of Labor and (right) Annie Sokoloski and her daughter Natasha Davis meet with job seekers. Sokoloski is an office manager with Lobster Trap. Bottom: Residents leave job postings and other flyers on a bulletin board by the entrance of the local supermarket.

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“I think to a certain degree I do it with my own daughter,” she says.

Her 23-year-old daughter, Natasha Davis, was also raised in Washington County. She wants to be a veterinary technician and has California in her sights.

“There seems to be more job opportunity out of Maine,” Davis says.

It’s young people like her that have been leaving Maine in droves since the 1980s. Local officials say they’re worried about harder times ahead for Washington County, which faces the highest rate of unemployment of any county in Maine at 7 percent, according to the state’s Department of Labor.

“The situation is worse than it appears. We have a lot people who are at their prime earning years, in their 50s and early 60s, and they’re beginning to retire,” says Charles Rudelitch, executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council, named after Washington County’s nickname.

Crew members Robert Stanley (left) and Mike Bragdon of Lobster Trap prepare containers of salted herring as lobster bait. At right, Charles Rudelitch, executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council, says immigrants and other newcomers are key to sustaining the economy of Milbridge and its surrounding towns.

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He says he’s worried about who will be around to replace those retiring workers.

Nationally, the U.S. workforce is facing similar challenges with the decline of the baby boomer generation, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. It projects that new immigrants will be the main drivers of growth in the U.S. workforce through 2035.

Large communities of mainly Somali and Sudanese refugees have formed in Maine’s largest cities, Portland and Lewiston. Rudelitch says Washington County also needs more immigrants and other newcomers to help sustain the local economy.

“We’re making the argument that over time, there will be a much bigger economy for all of us to have a share of if we welcome people who choose to move here,” he says.

Newcomers have been moving to the county, specifically to the small town of Milbridge, with a population of just over 1,300, according to the 2010 Census.

Workers’ gear hangs inside Lobster Trap’s facility in Steuben, Maine.

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While Latinos make up just over 1 percent of Maine’s residents, about 6 percent of Milbridge’s residents are Latino, many of them families drawn by jobs in lobster processing, blueberry picking and wreath making.

Maria Paniagua Albor works in the office of a lobster processing plant, where she says most of the workers are Hispanic, either from Puerto Rico or Mexico. The white workers, she says, she can count on one hand.

Her father was one of the first workers from Mexico who put their roots down in Milbridge. She says he worked seasonal jobs in the area for years before he decided to move his family after they received their green cards.

Now a U.S. citizen, Paniagua Albor lives in her own mobile home in Milbridge with her husband and two-year-old son. She often volunteers with a local immigrant advocacy organization, Mano en Mano. Maine, she says, is just like what the welcome signs say along the highways here: “The Way Life Should Be.”

“I don’t want to be stuck in traffic like in New York,” she says. “It’s calm, and that’s good to raise kids.”

Victor Flores, his fiancée Mary Robbins and their children Manny, Leyla and Miranda. Flores says he has felt some of the backlash against newcomers in Milbridge.

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Victor Flores is raising four children in Milbridge with his fiancée. They met when they were working at the same seafood plant. She was the bookkeeper, while he processed sea cucumbers. Flores’ fiancée is white and has lived in the area for almost 30 years. He was born in Mexico and moved here from Florida almost two decades ago.

Flores says he’s felt some of the backlash against newcomers in town, including once outside the local supermarket when he parked next to a white man’s car.

“He thought I was too close to him, so he started getting mad. And the first thing, he’s like, ‘Go back to Mexico! Go back to where you came from! You don’t belong here!’ ” Flores recalls.

About a decade ago, tensions over new immigrants settling in Milbridge spilled over. There was a legal battle over building a small apartment complex for local farmworkers, most of whom are Hispanic, after voters approved a moratorium on multi-family units. The apartments were eventually built.

Sokoloski, the office manager from Lobster Trap, sees newcomers to Milbridge as a welcome addition, especially at job fairs and other recruiting events. Still, she says she is concerned about the future of Down East Maine’s economy.

“It’s disheartening,” she says. “It’s going to be more of a retirement-type area. There’s nothing to really sustain a long-term growth of a younger generation.”

She’s not sure how long she’ll live here year-round once her daughter leaves. After retirement, Sokoloski says, she’ll probably move away.

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Top Russian Court Bans Jehovah's Witnesses, Claiming 'Extremist Activities'

Russia’s Supreme Court Thursday banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization, classifying it an extremist group. The sect’s Russia headquarters as well as some 400 local chapters are to be seized by the state.

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Russia’s Supreme Court has banned the Jehovah’s Witness organization after the country’s Justice Ministry requested the group be labeled “extremist” and have their operation dissolved, a Russian state news agency reports.

As NPR has previously reported, the group’s literature and website has been subject to bans in Russia and members have been arrested or had their property seized. But Thursday’s ruling also means the sect’s Russian assets – including its St. Petersburg headquarters and nearly 400 chapters — will become state property, according to the Tass news agency.

The state-owned service adds, that the sect had been warned in October last year over “extremist activities.”

“Under Russian legislation the religious organization in question is to be closed down if it fails to eliminate the exposed violations within the required deadline or if new evidence of its extremist activities come to light,” Tass reports, adding that the Moscow city court upheld the warning earlier this year.

Reuters, citing an Interfax news report, adds that Justice Ministry attorney Svetlana Borisova said the Jehovah’s Witnesses “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security.”

But the sect contests the classification.

In a statement published Wednesday, the Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed the Russian Justice Ministry failed to specify a legal basis for the ban, which appears to be part of Russia’s anti-extremism law. That law classifies crimes “motivated by prejudice or, as stated in Russian law, ‘ideological, political, racial, national or religious enmity, as well as hatred or enmity towards a social group'” as extremist.

“Extremist activities as they are listed in the Extremism Law are subject to prosecution regardless of their consequences and the level of public danger. This allows for the application of restrictive measures to relatively insignificant offenses,” the law continues.

But as an official for the Jehovah’s Witness operation in Russia told NPR last May, the religion demands pacifism of its members and other behaviors the group maintains are contrary to the extremist charge.

“The main problem that we face now is misuse of the anti-extremism law. In the whole world, Jehovah’s Witnesses are known as peaceful, obedient, respectful citizens. We respect government, and we are politically totally neutral,” said Yaroslav Sivulsky.

Then-NPR correspondent Corey Flintoff went one to elaborate:

“Sivulsky says the accusation of extremism is based on a false understanding of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ assertion that theirs is the only true religion. Prosecutors have alleged that means they are promoting ‘religious discord.’

” ‘And of course, it’s totally wrong,’ Sivulsky says, ‘because every religion feels that they have the only true religion. This is the nature of any religion, otherwise, why are you following a false religion?’

“Some opponents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses say their claims are more than just polite disagreement, though.

” ‘In their literature, there are some very harsh statements and very insulting statements about other faiths,’ says Alexander Dvorkin, a former Russian Orthodox priest who now teaches the history of religion and cult studies at St. Tikhon University in Moscow. ‘Of course, every religion has the right to criticize other faiths, but that should be done in a non-insulting manner, especially if you are talking about the faith of the majority.’ “

The Jehovah’s Witness organization, which claims some 170,000 Russian adherents, plans to appeal the ruling, Tass reports.

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Georgia grants couple's request to give daughter surname 'Allah'

Georgia officials have granted a couple’s request to issue a birth certificate giving their toddler daughter the surname “Allah” after earlier refusing to do so because neither parent has that name, civil liberties advocates said on Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought a lawsuit, called the decision a victory for free expression, but a top official with the largest U.S. Muslim advocacy group criticized the choice to use the Arabic word for “God” as culturally insensitive.

ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah, who will soon turn 2, was born in Atlanta to parents Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk, who waited about a year before seeking a birth certificate for the child.

While they had no difficulties obtaining birth certificates for their older children, ages 3 and 17, who also have the surname “Allah,” a clerk for the Georgia Department of Health blocked the request for the youngest child.

Last month, the ACLU filed suit in state court against the leaders of the state department of health and the state office of vital records to compel them to allow the surname chosen by the parents, said Sean J. Young, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia.

Georgia law requires that clerks allow any name chosen by the parents as long as it is not provocative or offensive, Young said in a phone interview. The department relented on Friday, and the ACLU dropped the suit.

Nihad Awad, national director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that while many people have names that are derivations of Allah, such as Abdullah, which means “servant of God,” using “Allah” as a stand-alone surname was not culturally acceptable.

“You would never use just Allah. That would be considered very inappropriate,” Awad said in a phone interview.

Young said he did not know if the couple were Muslim but that he considered the question legally irrelevant.

Handy and Walk, who were not available for comment, live together in Atlanta and are expecting a fourth child, Young said.

“This is an important vindication of parental rights,” Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. “No one wants to live in a world where the government can dictate what you can and cannot name your child.”

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Health declined to comment on the matter.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

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A Flighty French Farce (Avec Flesh-Eating): 'Slack Bay'

Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) takes in (and takes to) the sea air in Slack Bay.

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Everything is a little off in the small French seaside town of Slack Bay — even gravity. Bruno Dumont’s period farce is punctuated by frequent pratfalls, and some of his characters can barely stand upright. Yet toward the movie’s end, several of them become lighter than air, and threaten to float away.

If they were to vanish, they’d be part of a trend. Set in a class-stratified 1910, Slack Bay is nominally about a police investigation of missing vacationers. Ungainly detectives Machin and Malfoy (Didier Despres and Cyril Rigaux), intentionally reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy, wander the beaches in search of clues. Dunes are a particular problem for the rotund Machin, who tends to roll down them like a sideways bowling pin.

The cops don’t solve the mystery of the disappearances until the final moments, but Dumont snitches to the viewer just 20 minutes into the leisurely two-hour tale: The visitors have been nabbed by the proletarian Brufort clan, who kill and eat them. Having salted the scenario with cannibalism, the writer-director can hardly avoid eventually peppering it with incest.

Like Dumont’s previous effort, Li’l Quinquin, Slack Bay is an oceanfront parody of a police procedural, named in French after its main character. The original title, Ma Loute (“My Lout”), refers to the oldest Brufort son, who has gnarly teeth and ears that protrude as far from the side of his head as his nose does from the front. His physiognomy, like much of the movie, seems designed for silent cinema.

Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville) soon has an aristocratic girlfriend, or boyfriend. Billie Van Peteghem (Raph), who switches frequently between dresses and suits, is as pretty as Ma Loute is homely. Billie’s mother calls her child a boy, but Billie says she’s “a girl in disguise.”

Lavieville, the pseudonymous Raph, and several others are nonprofessionals Dumont recruited in the Pas de Calais region, his home turf both personally and cinematically. (As usual, the director emphasizes local dialects, whose oddities can’t really be conveyed by subtitles.) The elder Van Peteghems, however, are played by well-known performers.

Juliette Binoche is Aude, Billie’s histrionic mom; Fabrice Luchini is Andre, her daffy and lurchingly humpbacked uncle; and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is Isabelle, who tumbles almost as often as Machin. They are all swooning aesthetes, regularly overwhelmed by the beauty of a world the locals see merely as a source of sustenance.

While the murderous Bruforts have a certain dignity, the Van Peteghems range from ridiculous to certifiable. Even their hulking vacation home, done “in the Ptolemaic style,” is absurd. Clearly, Dumont encouraged the troupe that impersonates this crew to play to the topmost seats. This may not be Luchini’s broadest performance, but it certainly is Binoche’s. Her Aude is operatic when happy and even more delirious while in the grips of the Christian piety that seems to have unhinged several members of the family.

While most of the story’s ingredients denote farce, the director takes the events at the same deliberate pace he used with such bleak earlier films as Humanite[acute]. Long takes, washed-out colors, distant camera placement and widescreen compositions detach the viewer from the madcap action, and thus discourage laughs.

Dumont is a former philosophy student, which may explain why Slack Bay is a comedy primarily in theory. More intriguing than involving, the movie uses the conventions of slapstick to undermine the rich as well as the poor. That both are so rickety suggests the filmmaker’s target is not French society but all of humanite[acute].

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Don't Give Kids Cough Syrup Or Pain Meds That Contain Codeine, FDA Says

The FDA expanded its warnings about prescription cough and pain medications that contain the narcotics codeine or tramadol.

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The Food and Drug Administration says children under 12 should not be given prescription medicines that contain codeine or another narcotic, tramadol, and that such drugs can also be dangerous to youth between 12 and 18.

On Thursday, the FDA said it will require that prescription drugs containing codeine or tramadol carry a warning on the label against using them in children under 12 or in women who are breastfeeding. The agency cited evidence that the drugs could lead to dangerously slowed breathing in some children, which could lead to death.

Multiple prescription drugs contain codeine and tramadol. For example, the painkiller Percocet contains codeine and Tylenol. Drugs containing codeine already carry a black-box warning against using it to treat pain in children who have their tonsils removed.

“This is something we’ve been watching for several years,” says Douglas Throckmorton, the deputy director for regulatory programs at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “They are powerful, effective medicines when used right, they can cause a lot of harm when they’re not.”

The agency also warned against using the drugs in young people between 12 and 18 who are obese or have breathing problems such as sleep apnea or lung disease.

The new warnings did not further restrict over-the-counter medicines that contain codeine, such as popular types of cough syrup and medication marketed for cold and flu symptoms. The FDA recommends that parents talk to a doctor before giving their children such drugs, and notes that colds and coughs in kids “are generally mild and go away in a few days, so they may not need to take any medicine.”

Thursday’s announcement was a partial acceptance of 2015 recommendations by an independent advisory committee that recommended that the agency restrict prescription of codeine-containing drugs for children, and also voted overwhelmingly against sale of codeine-containing cough syrup over-the-counter for children.

At the time, pharmacist Maria Pruchnicki, an associate professor at the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, told NPR’s Rob Stein, “My concern, were I to be prescribing codeine in children, would be that I would, frankly, kill them.”

As he reported, the FDA is not required to follow the committee’s 2015 advice, although the agency generally acts in line with advisory committee recommendations.

In this case, the agency did act on prescription drugs, but did not act on the over-the-counter recommendation.

It was unclear why more than a year passed between the committee recommendations and their partial adoption by the agency. In a press briefing, Throckmorton said the agency had received “additional information.”

Diana Zuckerman, the president of the consumer group the National Center for Health Research, called the move a “long-overdue step to protect our children,” continuing:

“The science is clear, so why did it take almost 18 months since the FDA’s public meeting on the exact same issue? FDA needs to do more to warn patients about the known risks of medical products as soon as data are available. A change in the label is important, but unfortunately many doctors and patients don’t read these labels. We need a public education campaign to warn parents and nursing women about these risks.”

In 2015, the FDA acknowledged that although tramadol is not approved for use in children, it is used off-label to treat pain in kids. In that warning, the agency noted that some people are so-called ultra-rapid metabolizers of tramadol and codeine. Those people have a variant of a liver enzyme that breaks down the drugs more quickly, leading to a rapid and potentially dangerous spike in the level of active opioids in the bloodstream.

The drugs can make their way into breast milk in nursing mothers, and potentially harm infants, the FDA warns. The percentage of people with the enzyme variant is thought to be between 1 and 10 percent, and is genetically determined.

“Because we can’t easily determine which children or nursing mothers specifically are at greater risk of ultra-rapid metabolism of codeine or tramadol, we are requiring manufacturers… to make important labeling changes to protect those children who are at the greatest risk,” explains Throckmorton.

As for future action on over-the-counter medicines that contain codeine, the American Academy of Pediatrics has made its position clear.

In a report published last year in the journal Pediatrics, members of the academy’s committee on drugs wrote that, although over-the-counter cough and cold medicines containing codeine were available in 28 states and Washington, D.C., “neither the value of suppressing cough nor the effectiveness of codeine in children with acute illnesses has been shown.”

Regulators in Europe, Canada and Australia have all restricted the use of medicines containing codeine for children. According to the FDA’s public label database, more than 100 medications containing codeine are approved for sale without a prescription in the U.S.

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Australia Plans To Tighten Rules For Citizenship

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this month. He is proposing tougher requirements for citizenship.

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It may soon become harder for immigrants to become Australian citizens. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed sweeping changes Thursday.

Turnbull said applicants would need to be permanent residents for four years — three years longer than the current wait — show higher English competency and display even more evidence of integration through work or school and “respect for women and children.”

“There is no more important title in our democracy than Australian citizen, and Australian citizenship, the Australian citizen, that institution must reflect Australian values,” Turnbull said.

In followup remarks, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said the prospective citizen will have to show Australian values. How those values will be tested has yet to be determined, Dutton said, but the public will have the opportunity to weigh in.

In his speech, Turnbull tried to stress the importance of maintaining Australia’s diversity, “when an Australian can look like a person from any race, any background in the world, but what we share are those values. And our citizenship process should reflect that,” he said.

But The New York Times reports, “the moves put Australia at the forefront of a global movement to limit migration and to turn citizenship from something meant to help people integrate into what Mr. Turnbull called a ‘big prize’ — a reward for having assimilated.”

Senator Penny Wong of the opposing Labor party told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the changes appear to be designed for political purposes. She said, “If English grammar is the test, there might be a few members of parliament that may struggle.”

Before going into effect, the new rules must be approved by Parliament.

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