Snowden Just Joined Twitter. Guess Who His First Follow Is.

 

Fugitive leaker Edward Snowden has bunkered down in Russia, but he has remained in the public eye via media interviews, Skype chats, and the like. And now he's taken another step at increasing his profile: He's joined Twitter.

On Tuesday, he put out his first tweet.

And, in a way, he trolled the former government agency he once worked for as a contractor: His first and, initially, only follow was an NSA Twitter account.

Within half an hour of being a tweeter, Snowden had nearly 65,000 followers. As of now, the NSA has 74,000 followers.

Update: Snowden's first Twitter exchange was with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who welcomed Snowden to Twitter. Snowden replied:

This week, the Congressional controversy over Planned Parenthood could come to a head as investigations continue through the House of Representatives. Today, Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, will testify before the House Oversight Committee, one of several committees conducting an investigation in the wake of videos from anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, who is also expected to testify in the continuing discussion.

Most of the clinics listed don't even appear to have a certified OB-GYN on staff.

One of the claims they may address has been neatly presented in a map circulating on social media. The graphic claims that there are 13,540 clinics where women can find comprehensive health care, as opposed to a mere 665 Planned Parenthood locations. It has become a popular talking point in the conservative push to defund Planned Parenthood—most notably mentioned by Jeb Bush in the GOP debate earlier this month. The map in question seems to be referring to a list of clinics, organized by state, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.

But what the graphic doesn't mention is that most of the clinics listed don't even appear to have a certified OB-GYN on staff. The clinics are mostly general practice, meaning they may lack equipment and expertise to deliver reproductive health care to women. It's not clear what criteria the groups circulating the map used to define viable options to replace Planned Parenthood's services, and the groups did not respond to requests for comment.

While the clinics on this list do accept Medicaid, they are not set up to take the massive influx of patients that would result from a shutdown of Planned Parenthood. What's more, many private reproductive health care clinics—those that aren't represented on the list—don't take Medicaid at all. That's because the program pays just a fraction of what private insurers will reimburse.

The claim that community clinics could replace Planned Parenthood represents "a fundamental misunderstanding of how the health care system works."

Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, is set up to handle large numbers of Medicaid patients. Nearly half of all Planned Parenthood patients use Medicaid coverage, and more than a third of women who receive publicly funded family planning care rely on Planned Parenthood.

Mark DeFrancesco, president of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, says it's common for practitioners not to accept Medicaid patients, because the reimbursement rates can't come close to offsetting the operating costs of their clinics. "The reimbursement is such that Medicaid just by definition doesn't pay anywhere near what private insurers pay for OB-GYN visits," says DeFrancesco.

Sara Rosenbaum, a health law professor at George Washington University, agrees. In a blog post for Health Affairs, she writes that the claim that community clinics could replace Planned Parenthood represents "a fundamental misunderstanding of how the health care system works."

Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in a report issued earlier this month that if Planned Parenthood were defunded, as many as 650,000 women "in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations" would lose their reproductive health care. And a survey by the Guttmacher Institute found that women often value specialized family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood over primary care clinics for reasons such as affordability, increased confidentiality, and a greater range of contraceptive options. Guttmacher also reports that in 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only "safety net" family planning service, meaning that a large portion of their patients are either uninsured or reliant on Medicaid.

If Planned Parenthood were to lose a third of its entire budget, DeFrancesco warns, "these patients won't have anywhere else to go."

Over the weekend, George Zimmerman retweeted an image of Trayvon Martin's dead body. The image was first tweeted to him by a fan who wrote, "Z-Man is a one man army."

After the tweet was deleted, apparently by Twitter, Zimmerman posted a tweet directing media inquiries to the phone number of a car audio shop. When I called it, a disgruntled man said it was not affiliated with Zimmerman. I asked what he meant, and he said, "It's pretty cut and dry, dude. Do you understand English?" Then he hung up. The number, it turns out, belongs to a man Zimmerman has been waging a social media campaign against.

Twitter would not comment on why they took down the photo, but the company directed me to its policy, which states that users "may not publish or post threats of violence against others or promote violence against others."

Previously, Zimmerman's tweets have referred to black people as primates and "slime."

In August, Zimmerman teamed up with the owner of a gun store with a no-Muslims-allowed policy to sell prints of his Confederate flag art, which he says "represents the hypocrisy of political correctness that is plaguing this nation."

In the modern-day fight against racial inequality, activists and policymakers alike should look to the past to change the present.

That's the message Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent on Sunday in a stirring speech at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston. Warren called for wide-ranging civil rights reforms to combat racial inequality, from the restoration of voting rights to changes in policing practices.

In a year marked by public outcry over police brutality, Warren echoed the sentiments of the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing connections between the group's push for social-justice reforms and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

"None of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets," Warren said. "This is the reality all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and ugly as that reality may be. It comes to us to once again affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter." 

Here are five issues Warren covered in her speech, which starts at the 12:25 mark in the video above:

On violence against African Americans:

Fifty years later, violence against African Americans has not disappeared. Consider law enforcement. The vast majority of police officers sign up so they can protect their communities. They are part of an honorable profession that takes risks every day to keep us safe. We know that. But we also know—and say—the names of those whose lives have been treated with callous indifference. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. We've seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air—their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protestors have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets. And it's not just about law enforcement either. Just look to the terrorism this summer at Emanuel AME Church. We must be honest: Fifty years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared.

On voting rights:

And what about voting rights? Two years ago, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates ever wider for measures designed to suppress minority voting. Today, the specific tools of oppression have changed—voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and mass disfranchisement through a criminal-justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black citizens. The tools have changed, but black voters are still deliberately cut out of the political process.

On economic inequality:

Violence. Voting. And what about economic injustice? Research shows that the legal changes in the civil rights era created new employment and housing opportunities. In the 1960s and the 1970s, African American men and women began to close the wage gap with white workers, giving millions of black families hope that they might build real wealth.

[...]

Today, 90 percent of Americans see no real wage growth. For African Americans, who were so far behind earlier in the 20th century, this means that since the 1980s they have been hit particularly hard. In January of this year, African American unemployment was 10.3 percent—more than twice the rate of white unemployment. And, after beginning to make progress during the civil rights era to close the wealth gap between black and white families, in the 1980s the wealth gap exploded, so that from 1984 to 2009, the wealth gap between black and white families tripled. 

On policing:

Policing must become a truly community endeavor-not in just a few cities, but everywhere. Police forces should look like, and come from, the neighborhoods they serve. They should reach out to support and defend the community—working with people in neighborhoods before problems arise. All police forces—not just some—must be trained to de-escalate and to avoid the likelihood of violence. Body cameras can help us know what happens when someone is hurt. 

On housing discrimination and predatory lending:

The 2008 housing collapse destroyed trillions in family wealth across the country, but the crash hit African Americans like a punch in the gut. Because middle class black families' wealth was disproportionately tied up in homeownership and not other forms of savings, these families were hit harder by the housing collapse. But they also got hit harder because of discriminatory lending practices—yes, discriminatory lending practices in the 21st century. Recently several big banks and other mortgage lenders paid hundreds of millions in fines, admitting that they illegally steered black and Latino borrowers into more expensive mortgages than white borrowers who had similar credit. Tom Perez, who at the time was the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, called it a "racial surtax." And it's still happening—earlier this month, the National Fair Housing alliance filed a discrimination complaint against real estate agents in Mississippi after an investigation showed those agents consistently steering white buyers away from interracial neighborhoods and black buyers away from affluent ones. Another investigation showed similar results across our nation's cities. Housing discrimination alive and well in 2015.

You can read Warren's full remarks here.

President Barack Obama issued a strong condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin's use of force in Ukraine in an address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, warning world leaders of "dangerous currents" that stand to threaten international stability.

"We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated," Obama told world leaders at the 70th annual session at the United Nations.

"Imagine if instead Russia had engaged in true diplomacy and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected," Obama said. "That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia and better for the world. This is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved."

Obama's criticism of the Kremlin comes ahead of a scheduled meeting with Putin later today, where the two leaders will sit down to discuss their approaches to Syria.

In his remarks on Monday, Obama also focused his attention on Syria, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a "tyrant."

"We're told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder, that it's the only way to stamp out terrorism and prevent foreign meddling," he said. "In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children because the alternative is surely worse."

The president's speech pressed for international cooperation to help the United States combat rising dictatorships around the world. In appealing for peaceful negotiations, he touted the Iran nuclear deal and recent steps by the United States to ease relations with Cuba as examples of diplomacy's triumph over the use of force.

Donald Trump is pandering to some social conservatives today, so naturally he brought up the nonexistent War on Christmas:

"The word Christmas, I love Christmas," Trump said. "You go to stores, you don’t see the word 'Christmas.' It says 'happy holidays' all over. I say, 'where's Christmas?'"

"I tell my wife, don’t go to those stores," he continued, as the crowd began cheering. "I want to see Christmas. You know, other people can have their holidays, but Christmas is Christmas. I want to see 'Merry Christmas.' Remember the expression, 'Merry Christmas?' You don’t see it anymore. You’re going to see it if I get elected, I can tell you that right now."

Trump did not explain how he would, as president, compel business owners to promote Christian expressions.

But if President Trump really wants to defend Christmas, he's going to have to explain his earlier flirtations with the enemy:

 

Pope Francis issued a stark warning to the United Nations on Friday morning, telling world leaders assembled for the General Assembly that "large-scale destruction of biodiversity can threaten the very existence of the human species." His speech urged leaders to tackle the unfettered capitalism that he believes is the root cause of environmental destruction, and outlined a religious duty to protect the planet. He also declared a "right of the environment" alongside other fundamental rights like education, work and religious freedom.

"The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species," he told the General Assembly. "The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man."

Francis went on to commend the United Nations for its sustainability efforts, calling the upcoming summit an "important sign of hope” for climate action. Every speech the pope has made so far in the United Stats has touched in some way on taking action to protect the planet.

The leader of the Catholic Church also touched upon the church's stance on "moral laws" on issues such as abortion, saying that "absolute respect for life in all its stages" was part and parcel of the moral fight against inequality.

Francis' address on Friday marks the fifth time a pope has spoken before the General Assembly. For the remainder of his stay in New York, the pope is scheduled to visit the 9/11 Memorial and tour Central Park in his motorcade.

John Boehner to Resign From Congress

House Speaker John Boehner is reportedly planning to resign from his post at the end of October, according to the New York Times on Friday. See a full statement from one of his aides below:

Speaker Boehner believes that the first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution and, as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all. 

The Speaker’s plan was to serve only through the end of last year. Leader Cantor’s loss in his primary changed that calculation.  

The Speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. 

He is proud of what this majority has accomplished, and his Speakership, but for the good of the Republican Conference and the institution, he will resign the Speakership and his seat in Congress, effective October 30.

The announcement comes amid mounting pressure due to an impending government shutdown and pressure to defund Planned Parenthood. A sharply divided House of Representatives will elect his successor.

This is a breaking news post.

 

Pastora Spraus organizes her pocketbook after paying for groceries with an EBT card in West New York, New Jersey.

On October 1, if Congress fails to pass a budget to keep the government running, some 46 million low-income Americans will lose out on billions of dollars in federal food assistance benefits.

The ongoing fight over a budget provision to block Planned Parenthood funding for one year has cast doubt on future short-term funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps. (On Thursday, the Senate halted Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and it appears a vote on a clean budget bill is approaching.) Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, told the Huffington Post this week that Democrats concerned about food stamp funding should support the GOP's resolution to keep the government running and gut Planned Parenthood.

The US Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, warned state agencies in a letter on September 18 to hold off distributing funds to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards for October "until further notice," potentially delaying grocery money for millions of Americans.

Two years ago, when the government shut down for 16 days, the USDA kept benefits flowing to families thanks to contingency reserves from the 2009 stimulus bill. But those funds have since been depleted. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told Politico that, after a conversation with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, it was clear that "there is not enough money in the SNAP contingency fund to prevent millions of Americans from going hungry should the government shutdown on Oct. 1."

But just how would the loss of food stamp benefits affect SNAP beneficiaries? Well, last year, the federal government invested $76 billion on the food stamp program. More than 90 percent of it went toward providing benefits to families below the poverty line. To put that in perspective, of the 22.7 million households participating in the program in the fiscal year 2014-2015, the average household received almost $256 dollars each month in benefits, or $126 per person.

What's more, the SNAP program acted as a financial catalyst for low-income Americans and boosted the economy. The latest Census Bureau report found that the SNAP program kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2014. And for every five dollars spent using food stamps, about $9 went toward boosting the economy, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank. Research has shown that low-income families spending SNAP benefits on groceries under a credit incentive program purchased more produce.

Graphic by Jaeah Lee

California, Florida, New York, Illinois, and Texas, which together dish out 38 percent of the country's total SNAP benefits, would likely be most affected by the stoppage. Here's a breakdown of benefits for each state.

As expected, Pope Francis implored Congress to protect refugees and other migrants in an address at the Capitol on Thursday. But before he did, he took a step to acknowledge the nation's (and the church's) often horrific treatment of American Indians. America, he argued, should demonstrate a sense of compassion it so rarely showed during the colonization of the continent:

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our "neighbors" and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

This language is particularly significant because of what the Pope was up to yesterday—at a service at Catholic University, he formally canonized Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish missionary who played an important role in the conversion of American Indians to Catholicism in California. Serra wasn't by any stretch the worst European to visit the New World (the bar is very high), but the missions of California were deadly places for American Indians, cursed with high mortality rates (from disease and abuse) and forced labor. The core purpose of Serra's work was to purge the region of its native culture and install the church in its place. For this reason, some American Indian activists were fiercely opposed to the canonization; Francis didn't meet with any of them until yesterday afternoon—after he'd made it official. Consider Thursday's allusion to past transgressions something of an olive branch.