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Twitter dustup, apology not firsts for Minnesota Rep. Omar

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Amy Forliti, The Associated Press


Published Tuesday, February 12, 2019 2:00AM EST

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar has relished the attention attached to becoming one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, eagerly engaging with supporters and critics on social media.

But Omar’s quick thumbs also have caused problems for herself and Democratic leadership. On Sunday, she suggested on Twitter that members of Congress are being paid to support Israel — a comment that drew swift criticism on social media as being anti-Semitic and led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to condemn the statement and demand an apology.

Omar apologized, saying she is “Listening and learning, but standing strong.” She then reaffirmed what she called “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics.”

She and Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib won November elections to become the first Muslim women elected to Congress, a status that has brought extra scrutiny of their public statements on Israel and Palestinians. Omar also is the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber, after floor rules were changed to allow the head scarf.

Omar replaced Democrat Keith Ellison, who ran for state attorney general, in representing a Minneapolis-area district that is heavily liberal and includes thousands of Somali-Americans as well as significant Jewish populations.

Omar’s family fled Somalia when she was just 8 as civil war tore the country apart. They spent four years in a Mombasa, Kenya, camp with tens of thousands of other refugees. At age 12, the family was sponsored to move to the United States, eventually settling in Minnesota.

Her interest in politics was sparked by her grandfather, and she used his Qur’an for her swearing-in ceremony.

As she was heading to Washington for the event, she tweeted a picture of herself at the airport with her father, writing, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”

Omar has also had to contend with allegations from conservative bloggers that she married her brother to carry out immigration fraud, claims that were picked up in an ad campaign against her last fall by Minnesota Republicans. Omar broadly denied those allegations, calling them “disgusting lies,” but declined to provide documents or answer specific questions about them. She said it would only “further the narrative of those who oppose us.”

Omar is part of a freshman class of women who went to Washington with the goal of shaking things up. A recent “Saturday Night Live” skit parodied them as action heroes, giving Omar the nickname, Ilhan “Get the Hi-Job Done” Omar. The congresswoman retweeted the video along with an emoji of a bicep flexing.

Monday’s dustup isn’t the first time Omar has come under scrutiny for her Twitter posts. She apologized just last month over a 2012 tweet in which she wrote, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She said she had intended to criticize an Israeli military action and didn’t realize that the “hypnosis” imagery was regarded as an anti-Semitic trope.

She was also criticized after tweeting last month that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, was “compromised” — something that she later admitted to CNN was based on her opinion, not on any evidence.

Omar sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees foreign assistance and foreign policy issues. She has been named to the House Education and Labor Committee.

In her first month in Congress, she has joined with colleagues to introduce the Freedom of Religion Act, designed as a challenge to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and she has spoken out against the administration’s immigration policies.

Omar’s political career took off in 2016 when she made history as the first Somali-American to serve in a state Legislature in the U.S. Her tenure in the Minnesota House was brief but still came with national exposure, appearing on a Time magazine cover and in a Maroon 5 music video.

She also had a run-in with a Washington, D.C., taxi driver who she said called her “ISIS.”

Stuck in a Republican-controlled chamber, her legislative portfolio in Minnesota was relatively thin. She repeatedly sought money to help combat a 2017 measles outbreak that impacted the Somali community. She also worked to renovate a popular community centre in her district.

After Omar was elected to Congress, she said she was looking forward to going to Washington and planned “to hold this administration accountable and be a true check and balance.”

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Ottawa one of the most expensive cities in the country to ride public transit

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With a long anticipated fare hike set to kick in on Tuesday, Ottawa remains one of the most expensive cities in the country for public transit.

On October 1st, the price for a monthly transit pass will rise another 2.5%, from $116 per month, to $119.

A survey of monthly transit fare passes across the country, confirms that riding the bus or the rails in Ottawa is more expensive than similar sized cities with much larger transit systems.

An east-bound OTrain pulls in to Rideau Station on the Confederation Line of the Light Rail Transit system in Ottawa, ON.

A 2.5% fare increase that was set to come into effect in January officially kicks in October 1, 2019. The fare was frozen until after the LRT launched.

Edmonton LRT system includes 18 stations on two different lines for a total of 24 kilometres of track, more than double Ottawa’s current distance

For instance, Edmonton’s monthly transit pass currently costs riders just $97 a month.

And Edmonton’s LRT system is much larger than Ottawa’s new Confederation Line.  Edmonton includes 18 stations on two different lines for a total of 24 kilometres of track, more than double Ottawa’s current distance.  

Edmonton’s population is roughly the same as Ottawa’s, about one million people.

Calgary, is slightly more expensive at $106 per month.  

But Calgary’s system is much larger and more spread out, reaching all four quadrants of the city including over 45 stations, and 60 kilometres.  

Ottawa’s new price for a monthly pass will be slightly less than Vancouver’s. Riders there pay $131 a month for “two zone” access, which covers all trains and buses in Vancouver proper and the major suburbs.

The most expensive transit pass in Canada is the TTC in Toronto. Riders there pay $151.15 a month.

The public transit bargain in Canada remains Montreal.  Regular riders there pay just $86.50 a month for a pass.

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Ottawa woman creates Facebook group to connect new moms online and in person

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An Ottawa mom who started a social media group to connect with other new parents after having her first child now has a growing group of new friends.

Brianna Chapman says she decided to found the Facebook group Dope Moms of Ottawa to combat the isolation she felt even before her baby was born.

“When I found out I was pregnant, it kind of really started to hit home for me that I was gonna be alone on maternity leave,” Chapman said.

Becoming a new parent can bring about feelings of loneliness, she explains, as your daily routines suddenly revolve around feedings, naps and diaper changes rather than business meetings or social gatherings.

Whether you’re the first of your friends to have a child or a veteran parent, Chapman says some moms find it tough to make time for friends when there is a little one to care for. Story continues below advertisement

With their partners away for the majority of the day in some cases, it can be tough for parents to find someone with whom to share ideas or concerns, Chapman says.

While there are dozens of Ottawa groups for new parents to join when looking for advice, Chapman says she noticed there were very few that actually looked to get people out of the house to meet up.

“It was more of a forum for Q&A, specific training questions, developmental questions, that kind of thing,” Chapman says. “But there wasn’t really anyone that was spearheading women to actually get out and meet in person.”

WATCH (Aug. 1, 2017): New app aiming to create social network for moms 3:24 New app aiming to create social network for moms New app aiming to create social network for moms

While there is little research about new parents and isolation, a recent survey of 2,000 moms by the website ChannelMom.com found that more than 90 per cent of moms in the U.K. admitted to feeling lonely, with 54 per cent of them feeling “friendless.”

When it comes to moms and their mental health, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) says a social media group might just be the thing that helps.

“Some of these social media platforms can be used to tap into the wisdom of others with similar experiences — a type of crowdsourcing of knowledge,” said Nikki Hudson, program and project management officer at OPH. Story continues below advertisement

“Social support is a key coping strategy during difficult transitions. Talking about problems or worries in a safe and moderated environment may help parents and caretakers feel better and someone may be able to assist — knowingly or unknowingly — by sharing experiences and offering suggestions.”

Chapman says one of the other aspects of these groups, especially online forums, is the tendency for members to get “cliquey.” Chapman says she has a zero-tolerance policy for judgmental moms and strives to make the group inclusive.

She also believes the main goal of getting these moms to meet in person really takes away the disconnect people tend to have on the internet, which can lead some to make comments they wouldn’t necessarily make in person.

“I think that’s really understood when you join,” said Chapman about her policy. “You can read through the posts and see that it’s just a super encouraging and really supportive environment.”

While meeting in person is the point of Chapman’s group, Hudson says that even if some moms aren’t comfortable with the public meetups, the online forums are still helpful, especially if some moms have difficulty accessing other forms of support.

“People with similar experiences can better relate, offer more authentic empathy and validation,” said Hudson.

“Sometimes, this support isn’t always easily accessible or for some. It may be difficult to share in person, hence social media is a nice alternative and fairly accessible channel for most parents and caregivers to stay informed, engaged and connected with their peers and health professionals.” Story continues below advertisement

The group will celebrate its three-month anniversary on Oct. 6 and has grown to more than 1,100 members — way more than the initial 50 who came to the first meetup.

“I literally started it because I just wanted to make a couple of friends that were close to me that I could go for coffee with,” Chapman says.

“It never occurred to me that it would get so popular.” Tweet This

Chapman encourages any moms who may feel shy about meeting with a group of people to come out anyway. She says she strives to make the group a safe place for moms to come with their babies, meet other moms, share some advice or even spend some time venting about their partners.

“I’ve been in that situation where it’s really hard to get out and meet new people,” said Chapman.

“And if a mom’s not comfortable coming in because she feels like she’s not going to talk to anyone, I will personally go up and talk her. The sense of community really matriculates from the group in these meetups.”

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Education workers begin work-to-rule in Ottawa area

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Hundreds of Ottawa-area school support workers are set to stop participating in extracurricular activities Monday morning as part of a work-to-rule campaign after weekend contract talks failed to reach a deal.

Bargaining between unions representing Ontario’s education workers, the government of Premier Doug Ford and school boards had been taking place throughout the weekend.

The province said late Sunday afternoon, however, that talks with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) had broken down.

CUPE had said that while its workers were hoping to strike a deal, if the contract talks didn’t pan out, a work-to-rule campaign would begin Monday. The union says job security and wages are key issues in the negotiations.

Work-to-rule means staff will only do tasks they’re explicitly required to do. Office staff won’t supervise students, and education assistants will refuse to be left in classrooms without a teacher present.

There are about 55,000 school support staff in Ontario. They include clerical staff, school custodians and educational assistants. 

Student safety won’t be compromised, says union

“It’s become harder and harder to do more with less,” said Sherry Wallace, a former educational assistant and the president of CUPE Local 2357.

The local represents about 2,500 permanent and casual education workers in the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

“It used to be one educational assistant [for] sometimes to two three students, max. We’re now looking at, sometimes, it’s one educational assistant [for] five to seven,” Wallace said.

Even if its members begin work-to-rule Monday, they won’t compromise the safety of any students, Wallace pledged.

Sherry Wallace is a former educational assistant and the president of CUPE Local 2357, which represents about 2,500 permanent and casual education workers in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

‘This is very challenging’

Under work-to-rule, staff won’t take on extra activities for students — like leading choir practices, for example, or organizing sports — on their breaks or after school, Wallace said.

“We wouldn’t be staying later, volunteering and doing the extra things that we have been doing and essentially [have been] taken for granted, unfortunately,” she said.

For the Catholic board, all school support workers aside from custodial staff could begin reducing their workload Monday. That includes educational assistants, early childhood educators, sign language interpreters, developmental education staff, clerical staff, library technicians and some technical and central administrative staff.

“They are scared, and for so many reasons. Mostly because they don’t want this to look badly on them. So that’s the biggest fear,” Wallace said.

“They love, they’re very passionate about what they do. This is very challenging for them.”  

Government focused on reaching deal 

The Ford government has said it’s focused on reaching a deal that keeps kids in the classroom. 

“It is deeply disappointing that CUPE has decided to end talks this weekend, and proceed with a partial withdrawal of services, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table,” said Minister of Education Stephen Lecce in a statement Sunday.

Lecce said the province offered proposals to address compensation, job security and funding for additional staffing.

“We remain fully committed to resuming discussions with CUPE to reach an agreement quickly to provide predictability to parents and students. On my direction, through our mediator, we have asked for additional bargaining dates to bring everyone back to the table so that we can ensure our kids remain in class,” said Lecce. 

In a statement Sunday evening, Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the “other side pushed matters to the brink” despite having it within their power to reach “a fair deal” for students.

“Parents, teachers and communities can be assured that no CUPE member will ever do anything to make a school unsafe or put any student at any risk,” Walton said. “As always, CUPE members will exercise their professional judgment when it comes to the health and safety of students.”

French boards, English Catholic board affected

For the French public school board in Ottawa, the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario, custodial and clerical staff, library technicians and IT employees would be working to rule. The support staff for students and teachers inside the classroom are under a different union and wouldn’t be working to rule.

For the French Catholic school board, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, only custodial staff would be working to rule.

The Catholic board’s other high schools, administrative offices, Académie catholique Notre-Dame, Éducation Permanente, and the Centre professionnel et technique Minto will not be affected by a work-to-rule campaign.

No support workers with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board are unionized under CUPE.

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