Blogs

Finally, Nigeria's Kidnapped Schoolgirls Are Coming Home

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 12:24 PM EDT
Some of the schoolgirls Boko Haram kidnapped in mid-April.

On Friday, Nigeria's government announced it had reached a deal with Boko Haram to release the approximately 200 schoolgirls held captive by the Islamist terror group since April.

The agreement, announced by the country's defense minister, also involves a cease fire between Boko Haram and Nigeria's military. The government expects the terror group will not back out on the deal. "Commitment among parts of Boko Haram and the military does appear to be genuine," an official with Nigeria's security forces told Reuters Friday. "It is worth taking seriously."

Boko Haram militants abducted more than 300 schoolgirls from Chibok boarding school in northern Nigeria in mid-April, sparking a worldwide outcry and propelling the group onto to the international stage for the first time. Over fifty of the girls escaped early on. The rest have remained in captivity ever since.

Boko Haram, whose name roughly means "Western education is sinful," has been terrorizing Nigeria since 2009 in an effort to return the country to the pre-colonial era of Muslim rule. Over the past half-decade, the Islamist group has killed approximately 5,000 Nigerians the group regards as pro-government in attacks on schools, churches, and mosques, as well as military checkpoints, police stations, highways, and a bus station in the capital city of Abuja.

 

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Hurricane Gonzalo Is Going to Slam Bermuda Today

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 11:47 AM EDT

The photo above was taken yesterday by an astronaut on the International Space Station. It shows Hurricane Gonzalo barreling across the Atlantic Ocean toward Bermuda.

Gonzalo, currently a Category 3 hurricane, is expected to make landfall in Bermuda this afternoon before veering back out to sea and away from the US East Coast. AccuWeather.com meteorologists are warning that the damage could be severe, with "a large and life-threatening storm surge [that] could exceed 10 feet and cause a major rise in water levels over coastal areas and causeways."

Stay safe, Bermudans.

WHO Admits That It Failed Utterly In Its Response to Ebola

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 11:39 AM EDT

The Guardian has a fairly chilling story today about an internal report from the World Health Organization that basically concludes WHO completely botched its response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa:

The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr Margaret Chan.

....At a meeting of WHO’s network of outbreak experts in June, Dr Bruce Aylward, who is normally in charge of polio eradication, alerted Chan to the serious concerns being raised about WHO’s leadership in west Africa. He wrote an email that some of the agency’s partners including national health agencies and charities believed the agency was “compromising rather than aiding” the response to Ebola and that “none of the news about WHO’s performance is good.”

Five days later, Chan received a six-page letter from the agency’s network of experts, spelling out what they saw as severe shortcomings in WHO’s response to the deadly virus.

Click the link for more details. A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with someone about why everyone was freaking out about Ebola, and I mentioned that distrust of government experts was part of the reason. And that's hardly unreasonable. The CDC has now admitted that its response was slow and inept in many respects, and WHO was apparently just flatly incompetent. So when CDC experts tell us, for example, that stopping flights from west Africa would be counterproductive, is it any wonder that lots of people don't believe them? The truth is that I'm not sure I believe them either. After all, what have they done over the past couple of weeks to earn my trust?

Maybe this is unfair. And I'm hardly here to defend the media's insane, panic-promoting coverage of Ebola. Still, you can't publicly screw up over and over and then act bewildered when the public no longer trusts anything you say.

Mitch McConnell Flips-Flops on an Ebola Flight Ban—Within 24 Hours

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 10:52 AM EDT
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Many Ebola experts think that banning travel to the US from West Africa, where an outbreak of the deadly virus has killed thousands of people, would do more harm than good. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree. But Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can't seem to settle on a position. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he stumped both for a ban and for letting the experts decide—a flip-flop within 24 hours.*

In an interview with NBC News, McConnell was asked if he thought the US should ban flights from West Africa. "I'd leave that up to the CDC to determine what the techniques ought to be in trying to contain the disease," he said. He added, "I think we ought to listen to what the CDC thinks they need either in terms of financing or certainly they'll decide the procedures for travel and all the rest. I think we need to follow the advice of the experts who know how to fight scourges like this."

Here's video of the NBC interview:

But less than 24 hours later, McConnell abruptly changed course. Asked by a Kentucky TV station about containing Ebola, McConnell said the US needs to "do everything we can to try to contain the problem where it is." He went on, "I'm not an expert on this, but it strikes me that it would be a good idea to discontinue flights into the United States from that part of the world."

Here's that video:

There are currently no direct flights from the Ebola-affected countries to the US, the New York Times' Jonathan Weisman reported Friday.

Correction: The original version of this post stated that the NBC News and Kentucky interviews occurred on the same day.

Chart of the Day: Inflation Is Down, Down, Down

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 10:33 AM EDT

Sometimes it's worth posting the same chart over and over in order to elbow it firmly into the public consciousness. So here's the inflation chart again. This version comes via Matt O'Brien, and it covers four of the biggest economies in the world. The message is simple: inflation is down everywhere. There are blips from month to month, but ignore them. The big picture couldn't be clearer.

Bottom line: Nobody knows what will happen in the long term, but for now we simply shouldn't be worrying about inflation. We should be worrying about growth and unemployment. Inflation just isn't a problem.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 17, 2014

Fri Oct. 17, 2014 9:37 AM EDT

US Marines watch explosives detonate from afar in the Philippines during a training exercise. (US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph DiGirolam)

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Film Review: "The Hand That Feeds"

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 6:50 AM EDT

The Hand That Feeds

JUBILEE FILMS

At the beginning of The Hand That Feeds, Mahoma López, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, records a coworker counting out the $290 he's just received for a 60-hour workweek in a deli on New York City's ritzy Upper East Side. The film feels like a familiar tale of exploitation and wage theft, until López and his Hot & Crusty coworkers stand up and fight back. In this behind-the-scenes look at the ensuing labor dispute, directors Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick lead us through the struggles and eventual triumph of López & Co. as they enlist the help of activists and, notably, a group of Occupy Wall Street-influenced twentysomethings. Despite the film's narrow focus—which leaves out some much-needed context about the treatment of immigrants in the restaurant biz—it's an inspiring tale.
 

Correction: The original version of this review, which appeared in our November/December issue, misidentified the person counting out money at the start of the film.

Talk, Talk, Talk to Your Kids

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 1:01 AM EDT

I've long been sort of interested in the ongoing research that shows the importance of building vocabulary in children. This is famously summarized as the "30 million word gap," thanks to findings that high-income children have heard 30 million more words than low-income children by age 3. But apparently new research is modifying these findings somewhat. It turns out that quality may be more important than quantity:

A study presented on Thursday at a White House conference on “bridging the word gap” found that among 2-year-olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words — the use of shared symbols (“Look, a dog!”); rituals (“Want a bottle after your bath?”); and conversational fluency (“Yes, that is a bus!”) — were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard.

....In a related finding, published in April, researchers who observed 11- and 14-month-old children in their homes found that the prevalence of one-on-one interactions and frequent use of parentese — the slow, high-pitched voice commonly used for talking to babies — were reliable predictors of language ability at age 2. The total number of words had no correlation with future ability.

In practice, talking more usually leads to talking better, so there's probably a little less here than meets the eye. Still, it's interesting stuff. Regardless of parental education level, it turns out that simply interacting with your newborn more frequently and more conversationally makes a big difference. So forget the baby Mozart, all you new parents. Instead, just chatter away with your kids. It's cheaper and it works better.

Flooding the Zone on Ebola

| Thu Oct. 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

For the record, I want to note that the top five stories currently featured on the Washington Post home page are about Ebola. If you count related pieces, it's the top nine. That is all.

Watch Jon Stewart Try to Explain White Privilege to Bill O'Reilly

| Thu Oct. 16, 2014 5:31 PM EDT

Last night, Bill O'Reilly went on The Daily Show and Jon Stewart asked him to admit that there is such a thing in the world as white privilege. What followed was a pretty entertaining shouting match!

Watch: