Nigerian women at a protest Wednesday calling on the government to rescue the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
Update, Tuesday, May 6, 2014: On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry offered to send a team to Nigeria to help search for the kidnapped girls, MSNBC reports.Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan accepted.
Two weeks ago, 234 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from a boarding school in the country's northernmost state of Borno by the al Qaeda-linked group Boko Haram. Today, most of them are still missing, and Nigerian lawmakers are calling on the international community to step in to help the rescue effort.
"Nigeria should seek international help," says Rep. Eziuche Ubani, who sits on the country's house of representatives' committee on defense. "The Nigerian armed forces are not in a position to defeat the insurgency in the northeast."
The schoolgirls were captured during a predawn raid on April 15 in the town of Chibok by members of Boko Haram, which the Obama administration recently designated as a terrorist organization. The group, whose name means "Western education is sinful," believes the Nigerian government has been corrupted by Western ways. In an effort to return the country to the pre-colonial days of Muslim rule, the group has terrorized the country over the past four-plus years, targeting schools in many of its killing sprees, and attacking churches, military checkpoints, highways, the UN building, and, recently, a bus station in the capital city of Abuja.
Though the abduction happened weeks ago, international press coverage of the missing girls has shot up in recent days after Nigerians criticized the foreign media's initial silence on the issue and launched the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has vowed to rescue the girls, but two weeks after the kidnapping, many of the victim's parents are losing faith in the government's efforts, especially as reports have emerged that many of them have since been married off to the Boko Haram militants.
"Nigeria has one of the best armed forces" on the continent, says Kyari Mohammed, a professor of security studies at Modibbo Adama University of Technology in northern Nigeria, "but they are not trained for asymmetric warfare." The militants disguise themselves easily amongst their fellow Nigerians in Borno, and often escape to bordering countries or hideouts in the dense northern forests.
So elected officials in the country are calling for outside aid. The government must do "whatever it takes, even seeking external support to make sure these girls are released," Nigerian Sen. Ali Ndume told the Associated Press Wednesday. His colleague, Sen. Bukola Saraki, tells Mother Jones the international community should lend a hand to Nigeria in the same way it did to families of the victims of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370.
The US gives about $1 million a year in aid to the Nigerian military and soon plans to start training Nigerian special forces to fight the insurgency in the north, but American forces would not be able to enter the country to help search for the kidnapped girls unless Nigeria officially requests that the US do so. A spokeswoman for the US State Department says that the department is "in discussions with the Nigerian government on what we might do to help support their efforts to find and free these young women."
Not everyone buys into the argument that Nigeria needs outside help. "What has happened to the girls is not what is beyond the capability of the Nigerian security forces to handle," says Mausi Segun, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Borno state. "The reports we're getting out of the North is that nothing much is being done on the part of the security forces. They are not using information provided to them by residents and locals in that region." Parents have been searching the forests near Boko Haram camps in the north on their own for over a week, but they can only do so much, as they are in danger themselves of being killed by militants. Segun says the Nigerian military should make a good faith effort to find the girls before asking for international help.
The Nigerian military doesn't have a great track record when it comes to stemming attacks by the Islamist militants. Jonathan has promised to defeat Boko Haram, but the insurgency has become bloodier than ever over the past few months. One reason for that, Ubani says, is that the military does not coordinate with security forces in the countries that border Borno state—including Chad, Cameroon, and Niger—where Boko Haram members have been known to hide out. And the Nigerian military's expenditures are not tracked, Mohammed explains, so even though the country spends about $6 billion a year on its military, it is hard to determine how much of that money goes toward fighting Boko Haram and how it's used.
Human rights advocates contend the military is not only ineffectual, but that Nigerian security forces' response to the insurgency, including the indiscriminate killing of northern Muslim men, is worsening Boko Haram violence. The terrorist group has killed some 5,000 Nigerian men, women, and children since it emerged in 2009. In the the first few months of 2014, it has already killed 1,500 people. Boko Haram has abducted school children before, but this time the scale is unprecedented.
On Wednesday afternoon, anti-safety-net crusader Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in an attempt to make amends after he said on a radio show last month that urban poverty is caused by the lack of a work ethic in inner cities. At the meeting, Ryan admitted he didn't "know everything about poverty," and agreed to sit down with CBC members in the coming months to discuss specific solutions proposed by black lawmakers to address the needs of historically disadvantaged communities.
"The sky didn't open up," says CBC member Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.), who was at the meeting. "But there were some productive things that happened."
In a conversation with conservative talk show host Bill Bennett on March 12, Ryan said, "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."
At the time, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a member of the CBC, called Ryan's remarks "a thinly veiled racial attack." Ryan denied the comments had anything to do with race. He said he was merely criticizing the fact that inner city men are "isolated" from economic opportunity. This isn't the first time Ryan has used racial rhetoric when talking about poverty. In a 2005 speech, he associated the "victimization class" with minorities, and in 2012, he said inner-city poverty and crime was a cultural problem.
At the Wednesday gathering, CBC members pounced on that walk-back by pointing out that if Ryan wants to prevent the isolation of inner-city men, his most recent federal budget proposal certainly doesn't reflect that; it drastically cuts social programs designed to support them. CBC members introduced Ryan to the caucus' alternative federal budget plan, which would require that 10 percent of all federal agencies' funds be directed to areas that have had a poverty rate of at least 20 percent for the last 30 years. CBC lawmakers say the plan would do much to improve socio-economic conditions in inner cities and other areas that struggle with persistent poverty.
"[Ryan] said he doesn't know everything about poverty and how to alleviate it," Moore says, and so he agreed to sit down with the CBC's budget writers to discuss the lawmakers' plan in more detail. (The CBC and Ryan have not yet pinned down a date for the upcoming meeting.)
Moore says that despite Ryan's offensive remarks a few weeks ago, the face-to-face meeting went over pretty well. "We were very cordial," she says.
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that thousands of federal inmates serving time for certain non-violent crimes will soon be able to apply for clemency.
Those eligible to be set free will be prisoners convicted of low-level nonviolent crimes—mostly drug offenses—who have already served 10 years of their sentence, don't have a significant criminal history, and are serving out a sentence the would likely be shorter had they been convicted for the same crime today. The rule change could apply to some 2,000 of the 200,000 inmates in federal prison, and is part of a wider effort by the Obama administration to make sentencing laws more fair. Last year, the DOJ changed sentencing guidelines to give judges the freedom to determine whether or not to apply mandatory minimums for certain drug charges.
Weldon Angelos: Angelos is serving 55 years for selling a few pounds of marijuana while in possession of a gun. In his early 20s, Angelos founded a successful Utah-based rap label called Extravagant Records, where he wrote and produced songs with artists like Snoop Dogg. In 2002, the Salt Lake City police, who suspected Angelos was part of a local gang, arranged for an informant to purchase marijuana from him. The informant claimed that Angelos had firearms with him during both buys. When the judge in the case was forced to sentence Angelos to a mandatory 55 years, he called the punishment "unjust, cruel, and even irrational," noting that repeat child rapists and airplane hijackers get shorter sentences.
Sherman Chester: Chester is serving life without parole for selling cocaine and heroin as part of a drug ring. Chester started selling small amounts in his 20s and soon got involved in a drug conspiracy headed up by a family friend near Tampa, Florida. After an undercover detective bought from him on several occasions, Chester was indicted in federal court in 1992 along with nine others involved in the ring. He was 25. Chester was sentenced as if he had been in possession of nearly the entire amount of heroin and cocaine found on all members of the conspiracy. The judge who meted out Chester's harsh punishment said, "This man doesn’t deserve a life sentence, and there is no way that I can legally keep from giving it to him."
Sharanda Jones: Jones is serving life without parole for allegedly leading a drug ring. After high school, Jones worked as a restaurant manager and cosmetologist. Unable to support her family on her income, she began selling coke and crack in the Dallas area. In 1999, at age 32, Jones was found guilty of taking part in a conspiracy to sell crack, and sentenced to life. Jones received such a harsh sentence because she allegedly carried a gun when she went to buy cocaine from her supplier; because the court considered her a "leader" of the ring; and because she claimed innocence. Her co-conspirators got sentences that ranged between five and 19 years. Jones' daughter, who was eight when Sharanda went to prison, is now an adult.
Barbara Scrivner: Scrivner is serving 30 years in federal prison for participating in a drug ring. Scrivner was molested as a child, and later fell into drugs and a string of abusive relationships. At age 26, in order to make ends meet, Scrivner started selling small amounts of meth as part of a drug ring. The other participants in the conspiracy were arrested in 1992, but Scrivner initially was spared because she only played a bit part in the ring. A year later, after she refused to testify against the other members, Scrivner was indicted and held accountable for 109 kilos of meth. Once behind bars, Scrivner plunged into depression and attempted suicide by jumping from a 40-foot prison building. She survived, and has since undergone rehab.
Timothy Tyler: Tyler is serving a mandatory life sentence for selling LSD. After high school, Tyler traveled around the country following the Grateful Dead, doing drugs, and being hospitalized for mental health problems. He was arrested a couple of times for selling. In 1992, Tyler sold LSD and marijuana to an informant, and was later charged with possession and conspiracy to distribute along with three other codefendants, one of whom was his father. Partly because of prior convictions, Tyler went to prison for life, while his codefendants only got five to ten years. His father died serving out his term.
Last month, Shanesha Taylor, a homeless single mom in Phoenix, Arizona, was arrested for allegedly leaving her two children in her car while she went to a job interview. Taylor's story, and her tearful mug shot, have attracted national attention and an outpouring of donations. Debate the morals, but one thing is clear: child care is expensive. As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, infant daycare costs more than in-state college tuition in about two-thirds of the nation.
In 31 states, parents have to shell out more annually for infant child care than for a year of tuition and fees at a mid-priced state college, according to a report released last fall by Child Care Aware America, a national organization of child-care resource agencies. In New York, daycare for young children costs $8,000 more than in-state college tuition. Infant child care in Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska and Oregon also costs thousands of dollars more per year than a state college education. Check it out, via the Post. (In red states, daycare costs more):
The difference in the cost of daycare and higher education among states is due to variances in costs of living, differing state regulations, and disparities in state spending on higher education.
Democrats' chances of keeping control of the Senate in 2014 don't look great. FiveThirtyEight polling guru Nate Silver recently predicted that "Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber," and the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog gives the GOP an 80 percent chance of taking the Senate in 2014. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) isn't up for election this year. But the liberal darling is throwing her name—and her fundraising mojo—behind an effort to preserve the Dems' majority.
Warren has already raised $1.2 million this election season for 22 Senate candidates, including Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), according to Warren's political operation. That's a lot of dough. "Most members of Congress are not capable of raising that much for their colleagues…She's a rock star," says Viveca Novak, the editorial director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the influence of money on politics. And in late March, the Massachusetts senator expanded her 2014 efforts even further, joining up with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a liberal PAC, to endorse two lucky Senate candidates: Rick Weiland, who is running to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Rep. Bruce Braley, who is vying to take the place of retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
Landing a Warren endorsement is great news for candidates without a lot of name recognition at the national level, says John Halpin, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress. Weiland, the South Dakota candidate, says Warren's endorsement has been "extremely helpful" so far, adding that after Warren and the PCCC sent out their fundraising pitch, "there was quite a spike [in donations] in the first couple of days." (The Weiland campaign does not yet have final fundraising numbers for the initial Warren-PCCC push.)