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Analysis, background reports and updates from the PBS NewsHour putting today's news in context.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Short-term interest rates are going up again in the United States for the second time in three months. The Federal Reserve announced another quarter-point increase today. Policy-makers suggested in a statement that economic growth is improving, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen said that makes it more likely there will be two additional rate hikes this year.

    JANET YELLEN, Federal Reserve Chair: The simple message is the economy is doing well. We have confidence in the robustness of the economy and its resilience to shocks. It’s performed well over the last several years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Fed is predicting growth at a rate of 2.1 percent this year and next. President Trump has talked of 4 percent growth.

    We will have more on the potential economic effects of the rate hike later in the program.

    In the day’s other news: Two Russian intelligence officers and two cyber-hackers now face U.S. criminal charges in a Yahoo data breach that compromised 500 million accounts. The acting assistant attorney general, Mary McCord, announced the action today. It’s the first to implicate Russian officials directly in cyber-crime.

    MARY MCCORD, Acting Assistant Attorney General: We will not allow individuals, groups, nation states or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies, or the security of our country. There are no free passes for foreign state-sponsored criminal behavior.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the hackers is in custody in Canada. The others remain at large, and it’s not clear if they will ever see an American courtroom, since Russia has no extradition treaty with the United States.

    In Syria, suicide bombers killed at least 31 people in twin attacks in Damascus, this as the country enters its sixth year of civil war. The state news agency says the first attacker blew himself up in the main judicial building as police started to search him. A second bomb went off inside a nearby restaurant.

    Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the death toll from an assault on a military hospital rose to 50 today. The attack, a week ago, was claimed by the Islamic State group. Officials said a suicide bomber blew up his car, and gunmen disguised in lab coats stormed the hospital in Kabul. Investigators have detained 24 people, including medical staffers.

    A disaster at a landfill outside Ethiopia’s capital has now claimed 113 lives. The death toll rose again today, as search-and-rescue efforts continued in mountains of garbage which collapsed on Saturday and buried makeshift huts at the site.

    Voting has ended in the Netherlands, and exit polls show Dutch voters have rejected a bid for power by an anti-Islam party. Geert Wilders and his far-right followers did worse than expected against center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who’d warned against electing Wilders.

    MARK RUTTE, Prime Minister of the Netherlands: Having a political leader wants to take away the Koran from Muslims in the Netherlands, who wants to close our mosques, the wrong sort of populism is not addressing the real issues of the people, only making them bigger, instead of solving them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wilders acknowledged that he’d lost, but he vowed that he’d be back.

    Back in this country, the U.S. Senate confirmed former Indiana Senator Dan Coats as director of national intelligence. He will oversee 16 intelligence agencies, and could be a key player in probes of Russian meddling in last year’s election.

    President Trump moved today to dial back federal rules on auto fuel economy. Just before President Obama left office, the EPA finalized a standard that automakers reach an average of 54 miles a gallon by 2025. That’s double the current standard. The industry strongly objected.

    And today, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Mr. Trump said the EPA is going back to the drawing board.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The assault on American auto industry, believe me, is over. It’s over. Not going to have it anymore. If the standards threatened auto jobs, then commonsense changes could have and should have been made.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Environmentalists have argued the higher standard would promote use of hybrids and electric vehicles and cut carbon dioxide emissions.

    The White House signaled again today that it’s open to changing the Republican replacement for Obamacare. A spokesman said the president is working with House Speaker Ryan and other leaders. There was also word that more than 12 million people signed up for coverage this year under Obamacare and enrolled on federal and state exchanges.

    A portion of one of the president’s federal income tax returns has surfaced for the first time. The leaked document shows that for the 2005 tax year, Mr. Trump reported earnings of $153 million, and paid $36 million in taxes. He wrote off more than $100 million in business losses. The White House criticized the leak, but didn’t challenge the document’s authenticity.

    In a tweet today, the president called it — quote — “fake news.”

    Reports of sexual assault rose at two of the U.S. service academies this year. According to the Associated Press, they were up at the Naval Academy and the military academy at West Point. The Air Force Academy saw a sharp drop. The AP says a separate anonymous survey found sexual misconduct is actually rising at all three schools.

    And on Wall Street, stocks took the latest interest rate hike in stride. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 112 points to close at 20950. The Nasdaq rose 43 points, and the S&P 500 added nearly 20.

    The post News Wrap: Russian officials, hackers charged in Yahoo case appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the American Center for Mobility for American Manufactured Vehicles in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan on March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    GREENBELT, Md. — Hours before it was to take effect, President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban was put on hold Wednesday by a federal judge in Hawaii after hearing arguments that the executive order discriminates on the basis of nationality.

    The ruling came as opponents renewed their legal challenges across the country, asking judges in three states to block the executive order that targets people from six predominantly Muslim countries.

    More than half a dozen states are trying to stop the ban, and federal courts in Maryland, Washington state and Hawaii heard arguments about whether it should be put into practice early Thursday.

    U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson decision prevents the executive order from going into effect, at least for now. Hawaii had requested a temporary restraining order.

    Hawaii also argued that the ban would prevent residents from receiving visits from relatives in the six countries covered by the order. The state says the ban would harm its tourism industry and the ability to recruit foreign students and workers.

    President Donald Trump blasted the court for halting what he’s calling a “watered-down version” of his travel ban.

    Trump told supporters Wednesday at a campaign-style rally in Nashville, Tennessee, that the ruling is unprecedented judicial overreach” and “makes us look weak.”

    He says he’s going to fight the decision and take it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. And he says, “We’re going to win.”

    In Maryland, attorneys told a federal judge that the measure still discriminates against Muslims.

    Government attorneys argued that the ban was revised substantially to address legal concerns, including the removal of an exemption for religious minorities from the affected countries.

    “It doesn’t say anything about religion. It doesn’t draw any religious distinctions,” said Jeffrey Wall, who argued for the Justice Department.

    Attorneys for the ACLU and other groups said that Trump’s statements on the campaign trail and statements from his advisers since he took office make clear that the intent of the ban is to ban Muslims. Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller has said the revised order was designed to have “the same basic policy outcome” as the first.

    The new version of the ban details more of a national security rationale. It is narrower and eases some concerns about violating the due-process rights of travelers.

    It applies only to new visas from Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen and temporarily shuts down the U.S. refugee program. It does not apply to travelers who already have visas.

    “Generally, courts defer on national security to the government,” said U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang. “Do I need to conclude that the national security purpose is a sham and false?”

    In response, ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat pointed to Miller’s statement and said the government had put out misleading and contradictory information about whether banning travel from six specific countries would make the nation safer.

    The Maryland lawsuit also argues that it’s against federal law for the Trump administration to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States this year by more than half, from 110,000 to 50,000. Attorneys argued that if that aspect of the ban takes effect, 60,000 people would be stranded in war-torn countries with nowhere else to go.

    In the Hawaii case, the federal government said there was no need to issue an emergency restraining order because Hawaii officials offered only “generalized allegations” of harm.

    Jeffrey Wall of the Office of the Solicitor General challenged Hawaii’s claim that the order violates due-process rights of Ismail Elshikh as a U.S. citizen who wants his mother-in-law to visit his family from Syria. He says courts have not extended due-process rights outside of a spousal relationship.

    Neal Katyal, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Hawaii, called the story of Elshiskh, an Egyptian immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, “the story of America.”

    Wall told the judge that if he is inclined to issue an injunction, it should be tailored specifically to Hawaii and not nationwide.

    In Washington state, U.S. District Judge James Robart — who halted the original ban last month — heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which is making arguments similar to the ACLU’s in the Maryland case.

    Robart said he is most interested in two questions presented by the group’s challenge to the ban: whether the ban violates federal immigration law, and whether the affected immigrants would be “irreparably harmed” should the ban go into effect.

    He spent much of Wednesday afternoon’s hearing grilling the lawyers about two seeming conflicting federal laws on immigration — one which gives the president the authority to keep “any class of aliens” out of the country, and another that forbids the government from discriminating on the basis of nationality when it comes to issuing immigrant visas.

    Robart said he would issue a written order, but he did not say when. He is also overseeing the challenge brought by Washington state.

    Attorney General Bob Ferguson argues that the new order harms residents, universities and businesses, especially tech companies such as Washington state-based Microsoft and Amazon, which rely on foreign workers. California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon have joined the claim.

    Washington and Hawaii say the order also violates the First Amendment, which bars the government from favoring or disfavoring any religion. On that point, they say, the new ban is no different than the old. The states’ First Amendment claim has not been resolved.

    The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the original ban but did not rule on the discrimination claim.

    Judge Jay Bybee of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in court documents filed Wednesday that his appeals court colleagues were wrong when they refused to immediately reinstate Trump’s original travel ban.

    Bybee, a nominee of President George W. Bush., says judges cannot investigate the president’s motive for the ban as along as he provides a bona fide and legitimate reason for it. Bybee says the president had done that.

    –BEN NUCKOLS AND GENE JOHNSON, ASSOCIATED PRESS 

    Johnson reported from Seattle. Associated Press Writer Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed from Honolulu.

    The post Federal judge in Hawaii puts Trump travel ban on hold appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Brother Andres Rivera, a volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans, carries a handmade cross in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    Brother Andres Rivera, a volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans, carries a handmade cross in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    As part of an ongoing reporting trip, the PBS NewsHour’s Joshua Barajas joined members of a group called the Tucson Samaritans in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert on Tuesday, March 14. Read Barajas’ dispatch: 

    After spending Tuesday morning laying out water for migrants in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, Alvaro Enciso turns to me and says, “This beautiful desert has a secret.”

    Every week, Enciso makes four crosses to represent a fallen migrant. Using data provided by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office and the help of handheld GPS devices, Enciso and a handful of other volunteers head into the desert to then approximately mark the spot where each migrant’s remains were found.

    The deaths are represented by the red dots on the group’s maps.

    “It’s the end of the American dream,” Enciso says.

    Enciso, 71, is part of the Tucson Samaritans, a faith-based group of volunteers who offer humanitarian aid — jugs of water, food and blankets in the winter — to migrants making the deadly journey north through the desert.

    There has been a drop in Border Patrol apprehensions and in the wave of migrants who cross the Southwest border, but those who perish in the desert continues to climb. Enciso says the remains of around 3,000 migrants have been found by immigration enforcers or ranchers since 1999. This doesn’t account for those still missing, he says.

    “It’s like a commercial airliner going down every year, and no one knows about it,” Ron Kovatch, 63, another longtime volunteer, says.

    Alvaro Enciso (left) and Ron Kovatch (right), two longtime volunteers with the Tucson Samaritans, a faith-based group of volunteers who offer humanitarian aid to migrants journeying to the United States. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    Alvaro Enciso (left) and Ron Kovatch (right), two longtime volunteers with the Tucson Samaritans, a faith-based group of volunteers who offer humanitarian aid to migrants journeying to the United States. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    For these weekly hikes, Enciso also handcrafts crosses that are planted out in the desert. They’re decorated with what Enciso calls “migrant-handled” items, including tuna fish cans, discarded license plates, colorful paper left behind.

    He started making crosses four years ago. He’s made around 400 crosses since then. Enciso says the crosses take the abstractions of the red dots on the map and “bring it out here.”

    The first cross of the day is bright purple. A red dot is affixed at the top, and at the center is a scuffed-up lid. Green slips of paper, which was found at a soup kitchen for recently deported migrants in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, complete the decoration.

    After Kovatch consults GPS to pinpoint an approximate location of the first red dot, he digs a hole in the ground with a shovel that Enciso was using as a walking stick. Meanwhile, Enciso rattles off the information known about the dead migrant for the other four volunteers to hear. Normally, he reads out the person’s name, age, year remains were found and cause of death.

    But there’s no name available.

    Skeletal remains were found in this spot on Nov. 14, 2016, Enciso says. Nearby, a small piece of black plastic is found, possibly used for sleeping, Kovatch says.

    When Kovatch is done shoveling, the hole is several inches deep.

    Ron Kovatch, a volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans, digs a hole to plant a handmade cross in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    Ron Kovatch, a volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans, digs a hole to plant a handmade cross in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    Brother Andres Rivera (shadow), a volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans, carries a handmade cross. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    Brother Andres Rivera (shadow), a volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans, carries a handmade cross. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    The cross is lowered into the shallow hole. Quick-setting cement carried in a white bucket is then emptied into the gaps around the cross’ end. Water is then poured onto the mix. They have five minutes to orient the cross correctly before the cement hardens. Rocks are placed at the base to make sure cows don’t easily disturb the cross.

    Brother Andres Rivera, another volunteer, then drapes a yellow and white rosary over the cross.

    A handmade cross in Arizona's Sonoran Desert representing where a fallen migrant's remains were found. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    A handmade cross in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert representing where a fallen migrant’s remains were found. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    Enciso says these unnamed deaths are the “saddest cases of them all because the family has no closure.”

    Two gallons of water are then usually situated under or in desert trees nearby. With a black marker, Rivera writes a message on one of the jugs for each stop. At the second stop, he writes: “¡Es Para Ti! ¡Que Dios Te Bendiga!” or “It’s for you! God bless you!” in Spanish.

    A water jug left by the Tucson Samaritans in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. The message reads,

    A water jug left by the Tucson Samaritans in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. The message reads, “It’s for you! God bless you!” in Spanish. Photo by Joshua Barajas.

    The post Photos: Remembering fallen migrants in the Arizona desert appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks with reporters during a daily press briefing Feb. 27 at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

    President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would boost spending for defense, border security and law enforcement while making major cuts from a number of domestic government programs, including the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency — a plan that reflects promises from the campaign and early in his presidency to make the government cheaper and more efficient.

    The proposal asks Congress for a $54 billion increase for the Pentagon — 10 percent more than its budget last fiscal year — and a 6 percent boost for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes $2.6 billion for Trump’s promised wall along the Mexican border, a signature campaign promise.

    To offset that spending, Trump is seeking a 28 percent cut in State Department funding, much of it from foreign aid, along with a 31-percent reduction from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The Trump administration took an ax to the State Department and the USAID — cutting more than $10 billion across those agencies combined. This guts climate change policy work with foreign nations and is designed to “reduce foreign assistance” and “free up funding for critical priorities here at home and put America first,” according to the proposal.

    In absolute dollars, the White House made its deepest cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services, reducing funding by $15 billion. The White House says it wanted to eliminate “programs that are duplicative or have limited impact on public health and well-being.” The White House wants to slash $5.8 billion from National Institutes of Health, which would involve a major reorganization of the agency. The budget also cuts nurse training and low-income home energy and emergency food assistance programs.

    The Congressional Budget Office projected a $488 billion deficit in the next spending year. Trump’s budget as proposed would not add to the deficit, Office of Budget and Management director Mick Mulvaney said.

    Mulvaney characterized the cuts — which would also affect the Department of Housing and Urban Development — as some of “the most inefficient, most wasteful, most indefensible programs” in the federal government.

    But critics said Trump’s plans would leave the budget “possibly emaciated,” and they also didn’t address other long-term deficit issues he’d encounter down the road.

    Mulvaney said he assembled the $1 trillion spending outline for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 by drawing directly from Mr. Trump’s campaign speeches, interviews and other statements. “We turned his policies into numbers,” he told reporters at a news briefing Wednesday. “If he said it in the campaign, it’s in the budget.”

    The document, which will be released later Thursday, covers only the spending that’s determined each year by Congress — what’s called “discretionary spending”– and not the other $3 trillion in annual federal spending that’s set by permanent law, known as “mandatory spending.”

    Mandatory spending includes such so-called entitlements as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Those details will come in a bigger budget document due in May.

    The White House budget blueprint also does not reflect possible tax cuts or the passage of the health care bill currently working its way through Congress.

    READ MORE: Beyond the top-line numbers, what else was in CBO’s report on new health care bill?

    The document is a request to Congress, which decides the actual spending through the annual appropriations process. It proposes overall spending for federal agencies, while giving Cabinet secretaries and agency heads wide latitude in how to spend it, Mulvaney said.

    Earlier this week, Trump ordered a review of every executive department and agency, an effort to improve efficiency, cut waste and “eliminate unnecessary agencies.” Department heads will submit their proposals to Trump in six months.

    Mulvaney said Trump arrived at $54 billion for the Pentagon through conversations with Defense Secretary James Mattis to ensure that it could be spent effectively. “We are not just throwing money at a problem and saying that we have solved it,” the former South Carolina congressman said.

    In addition, the administration is asking Congress for an additional $30 billion in the current spending year for the Pentagon and Homeland Security, Mulvaney said. Included in that request is $1.5 billion for the border wall. The design of the wall and where construction will begin has yet to be determined, the budget director said.

    Much of the reduction in State Department funding reflects big cuts in foreign aid. “We believe we have protected the core diplomatic function of State,” Mulvaney said. “This is a ‘hard-power’ budget” that shifts money from “soft-power” functions like economic aid to other countries to “hard-power” like military weaponry and troops, he said.

    At the EPA, Mulvaney said cuts would reflect the president’s world view by reducing spending in areas such as climate change and alternative energies. The Associated Press reported last week that HUD could face as much as $6 billion in cuts.

    While seeking a 1 percent cut in the NASA budget, Trump is also calling for an increase in spending on space exploration by making other savings at the agency, Mulvaney said.

    In addition, Mulvaney said the administration wants to end federal support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the current spending year, which ends Sept. 30. The chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts told staff Wednesday the budget would also eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, according to the New York Times.

    Trump’s proposal is sure to land with a thud on Capitol Hill, and not just with opposition Democrats outraged over cuts to pet programs such as renewable energy, climate change research and rehabilitation of housing projects.

    READ MORE: Trump’s budget cuts drastically into science and health programs

    Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts is slamming proposed budget cuts to the IRS, an agency that is down more than 17,000 employees since 2010.

    “We have seen in recent years that when IRS funding goes down, call wait times rise for taxpayers,” the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee said.

    “Congressional Republicans have been saying they want the IRS to be more focused on customer service, but slashing funding for the agency by hundreds of millions of dollars would result in the exact opposite outcome,” he added.President Donald Trump proposed budget would cut the agency’s funding by $239 million from this year’s spending level. The agency’s budget of about $11 billion is about $1 billion less than it was in 2010.

    Republicans like Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio are irate over planned elimination of a program to restore the Great Lakes. Top Republicans like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee are opposed to drastic cuts to foreign aid. And even GOP defense hawks like Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas aren’t satisfied with the $54 billion increase for the military.

    Before the two sides go to war over Trump’s 2018 plan, they need to clean up more than $1.1 trillion in unfinished agency budgets for the current year. A temporary catchall spending bill expires April 28; negotiations have barely started and could get hung up over Trump’s request for the wall and additional border patrol and immigration enforcement agents, just for starters.

    Some of the most politically sensitive domestic programs would be spared, including food aid for pregnant women and their children, housing vouchers for the poor, aid for special education and school districts for the poor, and federal aid to historically black colleges and universities.

    But the National Institutes of Health would absorb a $5.8 billion cut despite Trump’s talk in a recent address to Congress of finding “cures to the illnesses that have always plagued us.” Subsidies for airlines serving rural airports in Trump strongholds would be eliminated. It would also shut down Amtrak’s money-losing long-distance routes and kill off a popular $500 million per-year “TIGER Grant” program for highway projects created by Obama.

    Data Producer Laura Santhanam and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

    The post Trump budget seeks to boost defense spending, slash State Department and EPA appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump holds a rally at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    WASHINGTON — As a new president who has vowed to keep his campaign promises, Donald Trump knows he’ll be judged on whether he can repeal the so-called Obamacare law and replace it with something new.

    Dealing with skepticism from conservatives and moderates alike, the White House is considering changes to the bill that might reassure conservatives, all in an effort to muscle through the GOP-backed health care plan in the House next week. Trump, who is not steeped in policy, has signaled that he’s open to negotiation in his first attempt working with Congress.

    “The House has put forward a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, based on the principles I outlined in my joint address, but let me tell you we’re going to arbitrate, we’re going to all get together, we’re going to get something done,” Trump told a Wednesday night rally in Nashville, as supporters waved signs that read “Promises Made, Promises Kept.”

    “The House has put forward a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, based on the principles I outlined in my joint address, but let me tell you we’re going to arbitrate, we’re going to all get together, we’re going to get something done.”

    Trump is focused on delivering his “repeal and replace” promise and is likely to be flexible on the fine print dividing moderate and conservative Republicans in the policy fight, said a person familiar with the president’s thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share private discussions.

    Speaking to reporters on Air Force One Wednesday night after the rally, Trump said he expected to get a health care bill through, adding: “It’s going to get all mixed up and we’re going to come up with something. We always do.”

    The approach reflects a keen awareness within the White House of how much is riding on the effort. Trump made repealing and replacing his predecessor’s health care law a core campaign promise, although he has acknowledged he was surprised at how complex the task would be. Failing to pass a bill while his party controls both the House and Senate would be a devastating blow to his party and the premise of his presidency — that he was a dealmaker the country needed.

    Still, Trump keeps stressing the legislation is far from finished, telling Fox News Wednesday that “We will take care of our people or I’m not signing it, OK, just so you understand. This is very preliminary.”

    That approach also has made some allies nervous that the transactional president may be more committed to striking a deal, than passing the legislation as crafted by House Republican Speaker Paul Ryan. A bruising, independent analysis of the bill has underscored the political risks involved for some moderate Republicans. It’s a risk they’re unlikely to take without a commitment from the president.

    READ MORE: Concerned about health care reform? The PBS NewsHour wants to hear from you

    The White House this week has sought to ease such concerns, launching a full-court press. Trump touted the bill at his rally, saying “the House legislation does so much for you.”

    Trump added: “The bill that I will ultimately sign — and that will be a bill where everybody is going to get into the room and we’re going to get it done — we’ll get rid of Obamacare and make health care better for you and for your family.”

    A senior administration official said Wednesday that the White House was actively working with members and leadership to push the House bill through. The official called Trump very committed, saying he frequently reminds Republican lawmakers that they all campaigned on repeal and replace.

    Republican leaders’ task of striking a balance on a bill that will appeal to both conservative and moderate Republicans is proving difficult. Republicans hold a 44-seat margin in the House with five vacancies, meaning that if every Democrat opposes the measure, as expected, the GOP could lose 21 votes and still pass the bill.

    The findings by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that 14 million people would lose health care coverage in the first year alone and 24 million in all by 2026 applied pressure to moderate Republicans wary of being accused in the 2018 mid-term elections of ripping away health insurance.

    After the CBO released its findings, House Republicans such as Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Leonard Lance of New Jersey said they couldn’t back the current House plan because it would leave too many people uninsured and they were worried it would not pass the Senate.

    The findings by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that 14 million people would lose health care coverage in the first year alone and 24 million in all by 2026 applied pressure to moderate Republicans wary of being accused in the 2018 mid-term elections of ripping away health insurance.

    But if Republicans try to make improvements to help moderate members, that could alienate conservatives. The White House has been courting about 40 conservative House members who are part of the “Freedom Caucus” and have raised objections to the bill’s use of tax credits — which they liken to another government entitlement — and the timing on curtailing the expansion of Medicaid to states.

    GOP Rep Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus that is demanding changes to the bill, said that contrary to claims by GOP leaders that Trump helped craft their bill and fully supports it, the president is open to alterations.

    “I think he is looking for amendments to be made to make it better,” Meadows said, adding that he’s been working directly with the administration, not with congressional leadership.

    Meadows and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, co-authored an opinion piece published online Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, outlining steps to be taken to repeal the health law.

    Republicans, however, do not expect wholesale changes to the bill before it reaches the House floor next week. “I don’t think there’s enough room for him to cut and run from Ryan and do his own deal because the bill sits on a tight-rope,” said former Rep. Thomas Reynolds of New York, a Republican lobbyist. “There’s not a lot of room. They may be able to make some adjustments, but it’s more adjusting about how they cobble together” enough votes to pass the bill.

    The post High stakes for Trump on GOP health care bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of federal government forms for applying for health coverage by Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

    An estimated 12.2 million people signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act for 2017, federal officials reported Wednesday, down slightly from the 12.7 million who signed up for 2016.

    It was also fewer than the 13.8 million people the Obama administration predicted would sign up last fall.

    But supporters of the law argue that final enrollment was held down by Republicans when they took over the White House in January. They also maintain that the law is not in danger of collapse, as both President Donald Trump and GOP leaders in Congress claim.

    The administration had no immediate comment on the enrollment numbers.

    “I think the discrepancy from last year is almost entirely explained by the lack of a final push in marketing and outreach and promotion,” said Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. “We were on track to exceed enrollment,” he said, referring to a late rush to sign up in December for coverage that began Jan. 1.

    “I think the discrepancy from last year is almost entirely explained by the lack of a final push in marketing and outreach and promotion. We were on track to exceed enrollment.”

    However, the Trump administration, which took over just 10 days before the end of the three-month enrollment period for the health law, immediately canceled most of the final round of ads encouraging people to sign up. In each of the health law’s previous enrollment periods, a huge rush came at the end, particularly among the younger, healthier adults whom insurers covet. That did not happen this year.

    Still, enrollment among those ages 18 to 34 held basically steady, at 27 percent, down from 2016’s 28 percent.

    READ MORE: Beyond the top-line numbers, what else was in CBO’s report on new health care bill?

    Despite that, enrollment remained strong in states that were already doing well under the program, including California, which signed up more than 1.5 million people for coverage. Even Arizona, which had some of the largest premium increases in the nation, saw enrollment drop only slightly, from 203,000 in 2016 to 196,000 this year.

    As in previous years, the vast majority of those who signed up on the health exchanges — 83 percent — had incomes low enough to qualify for tax credits to help them pay their premiums. More than half — 58 percent — got additional subsidies to help cover deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.

    Even before the numbers were released, the Congressional Budget Office, in its report on the Republican replacement for the bill, found that the individual market “would probably be stable in most areas under either current law or the [GOP] legislation.”

    Spiro said he agrees with that but worries that the continual dire predictions being made by Trump and Republican leaders could become “a self-fulfilling prophecy” by creating so much uncertainty for both insurance companies and consumers.

    “You have to ask how many more would have enrolled if there weren’t this cloud hanging over the law and if the president was not saying that the markets are imploding or collapsing. If you’re a consumer, that does not sound like something you want to be a part of,” he said.

    The post Health exchange enrollment misses Obama administration’s goal, but stays steady appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    NASA’s budget for STEM education falls under the knife in the White House’s budget proposal for 2018. Photo by Hero Images/via Getty Images

    The White House’s budget proposal for 2018, released Thursday, seeks cuts in science and health agencies across the board. Congress has final approval on this request from the president. Some budgetary wallets would be lightened more than others. Here is the breakdown.

    Environmental Protection Agency: 31 percent cut
    2017: $8.2 billion
    2018: $5.7 billion

    Mary Workman holds a Jar of undrinkable water that came from her well in October 1973. This photo is part of the Documerica Project (1971-1977), wherein EPA hired freelance photographers to capture images relating to environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life in the 1970s. Photo by Erik Calonius

    Mary Workman holds a Jar of undrinkable water that came from her well in October 1973. This photo is part of the Documerica Project (1971-1977), wherein EPA hired freelance photographers to capture images relating to environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life in the 1970s. Photo by Erik Calonius

    The Environmental Protection Agency gets hit with the largest reduction in terms percentage. The move eliminates more than 50 programs, including infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native Villages and the Mexico Border as well as Energy Star, which sets efficiency standards for consumer products. While the budget promises “to finance high priority infrastructure investments that protect human health,” it would also slash $330 million for Superfund cleanup programs, which remove pollution from some of the nation’s most contaminated land. The proposal also eliminates funding for the regional restoration efforts across the nation. Those projects keep human runoff from contaminating waterways like the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. As some expected, the Clean Power Plan is discontinued. The EPA’s grants and research divisions lose about half their funding. Overall, the proposed budget would clear out 3,200 jobs.

    National Institutes of Health: 19 percent cut
    2017: $31.7 billion
    2018: $25.9 billion

    Red blood cells infected with malaria. Photo by Rick Fairhurst and Jordan Zuspann, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

    Red blood cells infected with malaria. Photo by Rick Fairhurst and Jordan Zuspann, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

    The federal agency responsible for funding the training of doctors and scientists as well as developing treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, mental health disorders and a range of other maladies would face a $5.8 billion cut under the proposed budget. The budget calls for a major reorganization of the NIH’s institutes and centers. The move would close the Fogarty International Center, which creates partnerships between American and international research centers. The NIH budget has has been stagnant for years and has failed to keep pace with inflation since 2003. The Department of Health and Human Services, which encompasses the NIH, faces the largest monetary cut — $15.1 billion — of all the departments and agencies mentioned the White House budget proposal. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which handles some but not all national programs geared toward tackling the opioid epidemic, would witness a $500 million increase above 2016 enacted levels.

    U.S Department of Agriculture: 21 percent cut
    2017: $22.6 billion
    2018: $17.9 billion

    Farms and workers in the Pajaro Valley benifit from the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency (PVWMA) sanitized wastewater is used by growers as is or in blends with salty ground (well) water to reduce the salt content for agriculture use, in Watsonville, CA, on Thursday, August 27, 2015. Photo and caption by U.S. Department of Agriculture

    Farms and workers in the Pajaro Valley benifit from the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency (PVWMA) sanitized wastewater is used by growers as is or in blends with salty ground (well) water to reduce the salt content for agriculture use, in Watsonville, CA, on Thursday, August 27, 2015. Photo and caption by U.S. Department of Agriculture

    The agricultural department’s programs for wastewater management and food aid for the impoverished living in foreign countries hits the chopping block in the proposed budget. The Water and Wastewater loan and grant program — $500 million — provides funds for water infrastructure in rural communities. The White House budget stated these services can be replaced by private sector financing or through EPA support. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education, which claimed to have fed 3 million children and their families overseas in 2015, loses its $200 million support. Wildfire preparedness would receive full support to the tune of $2.4 billion, but the National Forest System would lose an unspecified amount. Food stamps would not be cut, though the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would see a $200 million reduction.

    Department of Energy: 6 percent cut
    2017: $29.7 billion
    2018: $28.0 billion

    Heavy seas engulf Rhode Island's Block Island wind farm, the first U.S. offshore wind warm. Photo by Energy.gov/Flickr

    Heavy seas engulf Rhode Island’s Block Island wind farm, the first U.S. offshore wind warm. Photo by Energy.gov/Flickr

    The Department of Energy’s Office of Science loses $900 million under the proposed budget for projects directed toward innovations in energy efficiency and infrastructure. For instance, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, which has provided support to companies like Tesla, gets axed. The office backs research at 300 universities and 10 national labs. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility would receive $120 million.

    NASA: 1 percent cut
    2017: $19.2 billion
    2018: $19.1 billion

    A NASA staff member describes the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission at the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. Photo by NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

    A NASA staff member describes the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission at the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. Photo by NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

    While a 1 percent cut represents the smallest slash among the field of science agencies, NASA would shutters its $115 million Office of Education. So long to space camp and a long list of classroom projects geared toward engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math. NASA’s Earth Science branch faces a $102 million reduction, with most cuts targeting climate change research. Robotic satellite refueling missions lose $88 million, but the budgets for deep space exploration, including for the the Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System, remain well-funded.

    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: 1 percent cut
    2017: $5.8 billion
    2018: $5.6 billion

    A school of anthias (Pseudanthias bartlettorum) and a school of white tip sharks at Jarvis Island. Photo by Kelvin Gorospe/NOAA/NMFS/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Blog

    A school of anthias (Pseudanthias bartlettorum) and a school of white tip sharks at Jarvis Island. Photo by Kelvin Gorospe/NOAA/NMFS/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Blog

    NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce, sees a relatively small reduction of $250 million for grants and programs that target coastal and marine management, research and education. The budget maintains funding for national weather surveillance, including for polar and environmental satellites already in the process of construction. But the proposal appears to cut funds for two Polar Follow On satellites, dues to launch in 2024 and 2026.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Unclear

    The budget listed no specifics for the CDC, except for $500 million to help the public health agency respond to state emergencies like last year’s Zika outbreak in Florida.

    The post Trump’s budget cuts drastically into science and health programs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Coolcaesar

    WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities may now be in a better position to figure out if Russian hackers and Russian spies swayed last year’s presidential elections.

    A scheme uncovered during a federal investigation into a huge Yahoo security breach may have opened a window into other hacks potentially instigated by foreign governments, according to computer security experts.

    That includes a separate FBI investigation into whether the Russian government hired hackers to interfere with the November election that put President Donald Trump into the Oval Office.

    “This makes you more optimistic that they will get to the bottom of what has been going on,” said Robert Cattanach, a former Department of Justice attorney now in private practice.

    In the Yahoo case unsealed Wednesday, the Department of Justice alleged that two Russian intelligence agents hired a pair of hackers to engineer a heist that affected at least a half billion user accounts.

    In a scheme that prosecutors say blended intelligence gathering with old-fashioned financial greed, the four men targeted the email accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, Russian journalists and employees of financial services and other private businesses, U.S. officials said.

    Using in some cases a technique known as “spear-phishing” to dupe Yahoo users into thinking they were receiving legitimate emails, the hackers broke into at least 500 million accounts in search of personal information and financial data such as gift card and credit card numbers, prosecutors said.

    “We will not allow individuals, groups, nation states or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies or the security of our country.”

    “We will not allow individuals, groups, nation states or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies or the security of our country,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division.

    The case, announced amid continued U.S. intelligence agency skepticism of their Russian counterparts, comes as U.S. authorities investigative Russian interference through hacking in the 2016 presidential election. Officials said those investigations are separate.

    U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Trump should take both investigations serious. “We cannot trust Russia, we should never trust Russia,” she said on NBC’s “Today show in an interview broadcast Thursday. Haley has been tougher on Russia than Trump, who has expressed hope for better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    One of the Yahoo-related defendants, a Canadian and Kazakh national named Karim Baratov, has been taken into custody in Canada. Another, Alexsey Belan, is on the list of the FBI’s most wanted cyber criminals and has been indicted multiple times in the U.S. It’s not clear whether he or the other two defendants, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, will ever step foot in an American courtroom since there’s no extradition treaty with Russia.

    The indictment identifies Dokuchaev and Sushchin as officers of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. Belan and Baratov were paid hackers directed by the FSB to break into the accounts, prosecutors said.

    Dokuchaev has been in custody in Russia since his arrest on treason charges in December, along with his superior and several others. Russian media have reported that Dokuchaev and his superior were accused of passing sensitive information to the CIA. The media reports also have contended that Dokuchaev was arrested by the FSB several years ago and offered a choice: serve a long prison sentence on hacking charges or sign a contract to work for the agency.

    The FSB hasn’t commented, and the Justice Department did not confirm that.

    Yahoo didn’t disclose the breach until last September when it began notifying hundreds of millions of users that their email addresses, birth dates, answers to security questions and other personal information may have been stolen. Three months later, Yahoo revealed it had uncovered a separate hack in 2013 affecting about 1 billion accounts, including some that were also hit in 2014.

    U.S. officials said it was especially galling that the scheme involved officers from a Russian counterespionage service that theoretically should be working collaboratively with its FBI counterparts.

    U.S. officials said it was especially galling that the scheme involved officers from a Russian counterespionage service that theoretically should be working collaboratively with its FBI counterparts.

    “Rather than do that type of work, they actually turned against that type of work,” McCord said.

    Paul Abbate, an FBI executive assistant director, said the bureau had had only “limited cooperation with that element of the Russian government in the past,” noting that prior U.S. demands to turn over Belan had been ignored.

    Though the U.S. government has previously charged individual Russian hackers with cybercrime — as well as hackers directly linked to the Chinese and Iranian governments — this is the first criminal case to name as defendants sitting members of the FSB for hacking charges, the Justice Department said.

    U.S. intelligence authorities have concluded that Russian intelligence agencies were behind hacking efforts of Democratic email accounts in last year’s election. Officials say this case is separate from that investigation, though one of the defendants in the Yahoo case, Belan, was among the Russians sanctioned last year by the Obama administration.

    The indictment, which includes charges of economic espionage, trade secret theft and unauthorized access to protected computers, arise from a compromise of Yahoo user accounts that began at least as early as 2014.

    The Justice Department’s assertion that the FSB was directing the hacking likely provides political and legal cover for Yahoo, which saw its multibillion-dollar deal with Verizon teeter after it was forced to warn consumers that their private information might have been exposed.

    Companies are more likely to be blamed for security incompetence when their networks are compromised by thieves or wayward teenagers than when they become the targets of sophisticated espionage carried out by foreign governments.

    But Yahoo probably wouldn’t have been targeted in the first place if it hadn’t been viewed as easier prey than other major tech companies, including Google and Microsoft, that also oversee email services with hundreds of millions of users, said Avivah Litan of Gartner Inc. “The criminals always go to the place of least resistance,” she said.

    “We’ve come to expect that you don’t really figure out who performs these attacks. It will be very interesting to see what comes up in court, and how they tie those two together.”

    In a statement, Chris Madsen, Yahoo’s assistant general counsel and head of global security, thanked law enforcement agencies for their work.

    Rich Mogull, CEO of the security firm Securosis, said the indictment “shows the ties between the Russian security service and basically the criminal underground,” something that had been “discussed in security circles for years.”

    Cyber criminals gave Russian officials access to specific accounts they were targeting, and in return, Russian officials helped the criminals to evade authorities and let them keep the type of information that hackers that hack for money tend to exploit such as email addresses and logins and credit card information.

    “We’ve come to expect that you don’t really figure out who performs these attacks,” Mogull said. The fact that the indictment ties together the FSB and criminals is a new development, he said. “It will be very interesting to see what comes up in court, and how they tie those two together.”

    The post Yahoo breach indictments may shed light on other hacks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    (L-R)U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, and U.S. Representative Greg Walden hold a news conference on the American Health Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

    WASHINGTON — The House Budget Committee voted narrowly Thursday to advance the troubled Republican health care bill, with defections by three GOP conservatives underscoring the obstacles party leaders face in maneuvering to avoid a stinging setback to their showpiece legislation.

    The vote was 19-17, with Democrats unanimously voting no. Had one more Republican joined them, the measure would have failed in what would have been a damaging, embarrassing — but not fatal — blow to the measure, despite its backing by President Donald Trump.

    The committee planned to debate a slew of non-binding proposals suggesting changes in the measure, with some expected from Republicans. Those may provide clues about the types of changes GOP leaders believe the legislation will need for it to win House approval, which top Republicans hope will occur next week.

    Before the vote, panel Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn., appealed to fellow Republicans to back the legislation, calling it “the conservative health care vision we’ve been talking about for years.” The measure would strike down much of former President Barack Obama’s 2010 overhaul and reduce the federal role, including financing, for health care consumers.

    “Don’t cut off discussion. Stay with this effort,” she said., calling the measure “a good first step.”

    Three members of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus — Reps. Dave Brat of Virginia, Gary Palmer of Alabama and Mark Sanford of South Carolina — opposed the measure.

    Democrats said the legislation would strip coverage from millions who gained it under Obama’s 2010 overhaul and would bestow a massive gift on the wealthy by repealing many of that law’s tax increases.

    “This is Robin Hood in reverse, but far worse,” said the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Citing lawmakers’ town hall meetings that have been jammed with activists opposing the GOP bill, he said, “This bill is not what the American people want.”

    The White House and Republican leaders are already talking to rank-and-file Republicans about revising the bill to nail down support.

    READ MORE: Beyond the top-line numbers, what else was in CBO’s report on new health care bill?

    The committee vote came four days after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the legislation would boot 24 million people from health coverage. That includes 14 million who’d lost it next year — a scary scenario for lawmakers facing re-election next year, and overt GOP opposition has grown since that report was released.

    The bill would eliminate the tax penalty that pressures people to buy coverage and the federal subsidies that let millions afford it, replacing them with tax credits that are bigger for older people. It would cut Medicaid, repeal the law’s tax increases on higher earning Americans and require 30 percent higher premiums for consumers who let coverage lapse.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Wednesday that leaders could now make “some necessary improvements and refinements” to the legislation.

    At a late rally in Nashville Wednesday, Trump said: “We’re going to arbitrate, we’re all going to get together, we’re going to get something done.”

    Vice President Mike Pence met with House GOP lawmakers and pressed them to unite behind the legislation.

    “‘It’s our job to get it out of here and get it to the Senate,'” Pence told Republicans, according to Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla. That would let Trump pressure “Democrats in these red states to come on board,'” Ross said, referring to Republican-leaning states where Democratic senators face re-election next year.

    But insurgents still abound.

    Conservatives want to end Obama’s expansion of Medicaid to 11 million additional low-income people next year, not 2020 as the bill proposes. They say a GOP proposed tax credit to help people pay medical costs is too generous, and they want to terminate all of Obama’s insurance requirements, including mandatory coverage of specified services like drug counseling.

    Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, continued pushing for changes. He claimed at least 21 members of his group would oppose the measure as written; the bill would fail if 22 Republicans join all Democrats in opposing it.

    But underscoring the push-pull problem GOP leaders face in winning votes, moderates feel the tax credits are too stingy, especially for low earners and older people. They oppose accelerating the phase-out of the Medicaid expansion and are unhappy with long-term cuts the measure would inflict on the entire program.

    Terminating the Medicaid expansion in 2020 and not 2018 “is sacrosanct to me,” said moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J.

    In a new complication, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the measure lacked the votes to pass in the Senate, where Republicans hold a precarious 52-48 majority. That left House members angry over being asked to take a politically risky vote for legislation likely to be altered.

    Moderates “don’t like the idea of taking a vote in the House that may go nowhere in the Senate,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

    The post House panel approves troubled GOP health care bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the PVV Party takes part in a meeting at the Dutch Parliament after the general election in The Hague, Netherlands, March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

    Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party held off populist Geert Wilders and his anti-European Union, anti-Islam party in Wednesday’s election, marking a major victory for the European establishment.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel called it “a good day for democracy.”

    “The Netherlands are our partners, friends, neighbors,” Merkel said Thursday. “Therefore I was very happy that a high turnout led to a very pro-European result, a clear signal.”

    The Dutch election was the first major test in 2017 for Europe where populist agendas are gaining support after the U.K’s decision to leave the EU and the U.S. election of Donald Trump.

    With record voter turnout, more than 80 percent of eligible Dutch voters cast ballots. Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD Party, captured the largest share of the votes, earning 33 of 150 seats in the lower house of Parliament. Wilders’ Party for Freedom finished in second with 20 seats.

    “This is an evening in which the Netherlands, after Brexit and after the American elections, said ‘stop’ to the wrong kind of populism,” Rutte, who will serve a third term as prime minister, said in a victory speech.

    Rutte and the center-right VVD now begin the long process of forming a coalition government, which will likely exclude Wilders’ party. Earlier polls had suggested the Party of Freedom would become the ruling party in Dutch politics, but it lost popularity in the last weeks leading up to the election.

    Wilders nevertheless touted the group’s expanding influence.

    “We were the 3rd party in the Netherlands. We are now the 2nd party in the Netherlands. And next time we’ll be the No. 1!” Wilders tweeted.

    During the campaign, Wilders took a hardline stance against immigration and Islam, labeling the religion “an existential threat” to the Netherlands. He has also called for a ban on mosques and the Koran.

    To fend off the far-right’s growing support during campaign, Rutte adopted some of its more conservative views on immigration and assimilation. A recent diplomatic row between Turkey and the Netherlands helped Rutte by allowing him to take a strong stance against a majority Muslim nation and appease some on the right.

    France holds elections in April, with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen hoping to shake up that country.

    Germany faces federal elections in September, where Angela Merkel seeks a fourth term as chancellor.

    The post Dutch reject far-right Geert Wilders in national election for prime minister appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A growing number of states are fining slow drivers. Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Maybe you’re a bit of a lead-foot. Maybe you don’t like driving behind trucks. Or maybe you just really like the view from the left lane. Well, an increasing number of states have a message for you: Get over. Or pay up.

    Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia are racing to become the latest in a wave of states that have imposed higher fines and more restrictions on driving in the left lane of multilane highways. The crackdown is an attempt to enforce what legislators say drivers should already know: the far left lane of a highway is for passing, and only passing.

    Since 2013, at least five other states — Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey and Tennessee — have also stiffened penalties for “slowpoke” driving or “left-lane camping.” While all states require slow vehicles to keep right, they do not all specifically require drivers to get out of the left lane after overtaking another motorist or set penalties for failing to do so.

    “Left-lane cruisers, besides being dangerously oblivious to the other drivers around them, are annoying as heck,” said Kaye Kory, the Democratic Virginia state delegate who co-sponsored the legislation in her state.

    “Left-lane cruisers, besides being dangerously oblivious to the other drivers around them, are annoying as heck.”

    Her bill, written to take effect during summer vacation traffic in July, was passed by the House with a $250 fine for left-lane motorists driving slower “than the normal speed of traffic” and for drivers staying in the left lane when they are not passing another vehicle. But Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe wanted the fine reduced to $100, which Kory agreed to.

    In Oregon, the bill now making its way through the Legislature would impose a $250 fine for driving in the left lane except when passing.

    “People who hog the left lane lead to road rage and frustration, tailgating, passing on the right,” said Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, a Democrat who previously championed Oregon’s ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving. “All of these are unsafe behaviors.”

    Slowpoke driving bills are popular with constituents and attract media attention.

    “I can’t tell you how many people come up to me from all walks of life, including ‘gun nuts’ who are just totally opposed to everything I’m doing on guns and say, ‘I hate everything you’re doing on guns but I love your left-lane bill,’ ” Burdick said.

    But the measures aren’t always popular enough to become law. Since 2015, left-lane bills have been proposed in Mississippi, North Carolina and Ohio without winning approval. Questions remain about whether they really work to improve highway safety.

    Dangerous or Just Annoying?
    Burdick said stricter left-lane laws are needed in part because traffic fatalities are on the rise. Traffic fatalities have increased sharply: in 2015, traffic deaths rose by 7.2 percent over the year before, the largest jump in 50 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic deaths rose 8 percent in the first nine months of 2016 over the first nine months of 2015, the agency estimates.

    Traffic safety experts say there’s no specific research on the danger of left-lane driving. Speed and distracted driving, by contrast, are clearly identified threats to safety.

    “It is not something that comes to the top of the list when it comes to traffic safety concerns,” said Andrea Bill, traffic safety engineer research program manager at the University of Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory.

    “I have not seen any research that says that hogging the left lane is a major safety issue,” said Charles Farmer, vice president of research and statistical services at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by the auto insurance industry. “We definitely know that speeding is a major safety issue. The evidence is overwhelming on that.”

    “I have not seen any research that says that hogging the left lane is a major safety issue. We definitely know that speeding is a major safety issue. The evidence is overwhelming on that.”

    States have been raising speed limits in recent years. The national 55 mph speed limit, enacted in 1973 during a fuel crisis, was officially repealed in 1995, by which time many states had already raised the speed limit to 65 mph.

    Now, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., are the only places where the maximum speed limit is less than 65 mph. Eleven states still have a top speed limit of 65 mph, and 38 states have higher speed limits on some roads. A handful of western states have an 80 mph limit. Texas has an 85 mph limit.

    Legislators and police say that the danger of left-lane lingering is obvious. In Oregon, for instance, state police list “lane usage” as one of five main factors leading to serious injuries and fatal crashes. The others are speed, impaired driving, distracted driving and “occupant safety,” for example wearing seat belts.

    Proponents of left-lane laws argue that slowpoke drivers cause unnecessary lane changing as faster traffic weaves around to pass on the right.

    But the underlying problem is still speed, Farmer said. “Lane changing is a problem if you’re going too fast,” he said. “At normal speeds, and if you’re careful and you’re looking out, it’s not a problem. That’s why we have multilane highways.”

    Choking Already-Congested Roads
    Regardless of whether it is dangerous, left-lane driving impedes the smooth flow of traffic — and for commuters on often overcrowded roads, that is infuriating. Being a “left lane hog,” as Burdick calls it, has been among the top five most annoying driver behaviors for two years according to a survey commissioned by the travel booking site Expedia.

    A left-lane law is a “relatively easy way” of curbing road rage, said Kory, the Virginia state delegate.

    “Road rage is a very real phenomenon that is exacerbated by the increasing congestion on our major roads and highways,” she said. “Curbing left-lane cruising is a step towards smoothing the flow of traffic and reducing likely instances of road rage.”

    In Washington state, Democratic Sen. Guy Palumbo introduced a left-lane bill after he was elected last year and started driving 80 miles to the state capital, Olympia, from his home in Snohomish. He saw plenty of left-lane drivers holding up traffic, he said. “They’re affecting mobility and they’re causing congestion where there doesn’t need to be.”

    His bill died in committee, but Palumbo says he’ll try again. “It’s not a panacea by any means,” he said of the bill. “But if people drove like they were trained to drive in drivers ed, we would have less traffic because people would get out of the way.”

    Just drawing attention to left-lane road hogging can have beneficial results, some advocates of cracking down on the practice say.

    “Road rage is a very real phenomenon that is exacerbated by the increasing congestion on our major roads and highways,” she said. “Curbing left-lane cruising is a step towards smoothing the flow of traffic and reducing likely instances of road rage.”

    In Michigan, 1st Lt. Chris McIntire, a state police post commander, has launched a two-month crackdown on left-lane drivers. A similar initiative last year, in four counties, resulted in 639 traffic stops and 56 tickets. Fines are set by the jurisdiction’s court and not by the state, but McIntire estimates they are about $100.

    “It causes accidents, but one of the biggest things we see is it causes road rage,” he said of left-lane lingerers. “Right or wrong,” he said, “people are traveling faster than they are and they [the speeders] get mad.”

    The crackdown last year was largely to educate drivers about staying out of the left lane except when passing, McIntire said. “We weren’t writing a lot of tickets unless it was so egregious we had to.” But, he said, the state police did get fewer calls from furious drivers reporting left-lane lingerers.

    Burdick, the Oregon state senator, said she noticed a similar drop during two previous attempts to pass a “left-lane hog” bill, thanks to media coverage of the proposal. “I would notice an improvement. I think a lot of the value of this is educational,” she said. “People know: Hey, we’re on to you.”

    In Indiana, which in 2015 passed a slowpoke law with a maximum fine of $500, warnings far outpace citations: 2,448 to 165 since July 2015. But the warnings have an effect, said Indiana State Police spokesman 1st Sgt. Richard Myers.

    “Anytime someone is stopped, issued a ticket or warning, and given an explanation of the violation, we as law enforcement officials are educating the public — which in turn reduces accidents, congestion and road rage incidents,” Myers said.

    Educating drivers on what is acceptable highway driving behavior can sometimes be as important as legislation, said Rich Jacobs, spokesman for Drive Smart Virginia, an insurance industry-funded safety advocacy group. His group has not taken a position on the Virginia left-lane bill and has instead focused, so far unsuccessfully, on stricter laws on distracted and impaired driving.

    “You can’t just legislate it, you’ve also got to shift public opinion,” he said. “That’s the challenge.”

    The post Growing number of states fine slowpoke drivers in highway fast lanes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An  air traffic control tower is seen at LAX in 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

    An air traffic control tower is seen at LAX in 2016 in Los Angeles, California. President Donald Trump is calling for privatizing the nation’s air traffic control operations in his budget proposal. Photo by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is calling for privatizing the nation’s air traffic control operations in his budget proposal, a top priority of the airline industry.

    The proposal says spinning off air traffic operations from the Federal Aviation Administration and placing them under an “independent, non-governmental organization” would make the system “more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety.”

    There are about 50,000 airline and other aircraft flights a day in the United States. Both sides of the privatization debate say the system is one of the most complex and safest in the world. The FAA would continue to provide safety oversight of the system under a congressional privatization plan.

    Airlines have been lobbying vigorously for the change, saying the FAA’s NextGen program to modernize the air traffic system is taking too long and has produced too few benefits. Industry officials say that privatization would remove air traffic operations from the uncertainties of the annual congressional budget process, which have hindered the FAA’s ability to make long-term procurement commitments.

    The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents the FAA’s 14,000 controllers, backed an unsuccessful congressional attempt at privatization last year. The union said it will evaluate Trump’s plan. Union officials have complained that the FAA has been unable to resolve chronic controller understaffing at some of the nation’s busiest facilities, and they say they’ve become discouraged by the modernization effort’s slow progress.

    Read more: Study shows chronic fatigue among air traffic controllers

    But FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told an aviation industry conference earlier this month that the agency has made “tremendous progress” over the past decade in updating its computers and other equipment in order to move from a radar-based to a satellite-based control system. The modernization program has already delivered $2.7 billion in benefits to airlines and other users of the system, and the FAA expects to produce another $13 billion in benefits by 2020, he said.

    Airlines have an important ally in Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the House transportation committee chairman. The committee approved an aviation bill sponsored by Shuster last year that would have removed air traffic operations from the FAA and placed them under the control of a private, nonprofit corporation. The bill would also have protected the controllers’ wages and benefits and continued their union representation.

    Opposition to the bill from other powerful House committee chairmen who oppose ceding Congress’ oversight of the air traffic system to a private entity prevented Shuster from bringing the bill before the entire House for a vote. Lobbying groups representing business aircraft operators, private pilots and small and medium-sized airports also oppose privatization. They say they fear airlines will dominate the corporation’s board and that they’ll be asked to pay more to support the system while facing reduced services.

    Shuster received $148,499 in airline industry campaign contributions in the 2016 election, making him the industry’s top recipient in the House, according to the political money tracking site Opensecrets.org. Shuster was also an early House backer of Trump’s presidential campaign, and campaigned with him in Pennsylvania three times. Since the election, he has pressed Trump and White House officials to back privatization.

    READ MORE: Busy air traffic control facilities lack enough controllers

    In 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired the nation’s air traffic controllers after they went on strike. The current privatization debate is unrelated to that labor dispute.

    President Donald Trump is calling for the elimination of subsidized air service to rural communities, many of which supported his election last year after he promised to create jobs.

    Trump’s proposal is part of his budget plan. Officials in those communities say it would sever an economic lifeline that enables them to attract and keep businesses and jobs.

    The program has long been a target of conservatives who say the subsidies are too expensive for the relatively small number of passengers served. The administration says elimination of the program would save about $175 million a year.

    An Associated Press analysis of budget data shows Trump got more than 50 percent of the vote in 86 of the 111 communities in the lower 48 states that receive subsidies under the program.

    Trump is also calling for the elimination of subsidized air service to rural communities, many of which supported his election last year after he promised to create jobs.

    Trump’s proposal is part of his budget plan. Officials in those communities say it would sever an economic lifeline that enables them to attract and keep businesses and jobs.

    The program has long been a target of conservatives who say the subsidies are too expensive for the relatively small number of passengers served. The administration says elimination of the program would save about $175 million a year.

    An Associated Press analysis of budget data shows Trump got more than 50 percent of the vote in 86 of the 111 communities in the lower 48 states that receive subsidies under the program.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Reaction from lawmakers to President Trump’s America first budget ranged from strong support to tough criticism.

    We have two different points of view of the president’s budget proposal.

    First up, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He’s a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committees.

    And I started by asking for his overall reaction.

    SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-Md.: Well, this budget tells me that Donald Trump is already getting very out of touch with the American people.

    It’s the kind of budget you might expect from somebody who jets off to Mar-a-Lago every other week. And, by the way, that costs taxpayers $3 million each time, which is the amount usually in the budget for the Meals on Wheels program to help feed over two million elderly.

    He wipes that out of the budget. And if you look at the overall budget, it really is an attack on working people and on educational opportunity in the country.

    It is a recipe for cleaner — dirtier air and contaminated water. It’s really a bad deal for the American public.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president tweeted, Senator, you probably know, that this is a budget that puts America first. It’s a budget that makes safety the prime consideration.

    SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, actually, it makes America last in terms of investing in our people, investing in our economy, investing in our national infrastructure, something that candidate Trump talked a whole lot about, yet they cut the infrastructure budget here by over 13 percent.

    So, a lot of what he talked about on the campaign trail is actually under attack in this budget, including, I have to say, important economic development programs and infrastructure programs for rural America.

    He does dramatically increase Pentagon spending, but he cuts the funding for the State Department. And the State Department funding is designed to help keep us out of wars and to save lives and money. And that’s what Secretary Mattis, his own defense secretary, has had to say.

    So, this doesn’t help America. In fact, it really erodes American influence around the world.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what they’re saying is the Pentagon budget, the defense spending in this country has been cut back so much that the United States is vulnerable, and that this is a critical moment for the United States to restore the spending for defense that should have been there for the last number of years.

    SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, actually, that’s just another alternative fact coming out of this administration.

    We have had robust defense spending. I can support additional investment in our national security, but we just saw a few months ago reports out of the Pentagon about over $120 billion in wasteful spending.

    In fact, Donald Trump has talked about these huge cost overruns on Pentagon projects. So we’d be much better off managing those resources better, than simply writing a new check to the Pentagon, which, by the way, is the one federal government agency that has not been able to pass an audit.

    So, look, I’m all for investing on our national security. We have to do it, but we also have to recognize our national strength includes making sure our kids get a good education. And he cut the Department of Education by close to 15 percent. It includes making sure we have a healthy population. And he dramatically cut funding for medical research to help develop cures and treatments.

    So, this is really something that’s going to hurt most of the country. You know, the folks at the very top who just got a big tax cut as part of the Trumpcare plan aren’t going to be hurt, but everybody else is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, again, I’m sure you know, but what the — I just heard the budget director making this argument today.

    He was pressed on some of these cuts, for example, in education. He said the administration has looked very closely at so many of these domestic spending programs, and he says where there is no evidence that people are actually being helped, these programs cannot continue.

    SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, we certainly shouldn’t be asking taxpayers to invest in programs that don’t help.

    But the reality is that the after-school programs to try to make sure that kids are in a productive environment after school hours and not out on the streets, that actually is an important program. It’s been underfunded in the United States.

    There are other career and training programs that have shown good results, and they’re cutting them. The same is true with respect to some of our manufacturing programs. I mean, here’s a president who says he wants to restore American manufacturing, and yet he cuts the manufacturing extension program, which helps take innovations and make sure that they’re available to industry throughout the United States.

    So, this is a very short-sighted budget. I have to say that Donald Trump said he was going to be there for the forgotten people. In this budget, he forgets those people. I mean, they’re not even an afterthought.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, we thank you, sir.

    SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And for an opposing view, we turn now to Representative Todd Rokita. He’s a Republican from Indiana and he is vice chairman of the House Budget Committee.

    Congressman Rokita, welcome to the NewsHour.

    I think you just heard at least part of what Senator Van Hollen said, and that is, in this budget proposal, the president is forgetting some of the very people he said he wanted to be elected to help.

    REP. TODD ROKITA, R-Ind.: Yes, I heard that. And Chris is a friend from the House Budget Committee. He was ranking member when I was vice chairman there last Congress.

    And, you know, I heard some of the same rhetoric. He’s a good man, but let me just say this. The president, with the budget that he put forward today, recognizing that it’s his request, it’s not the budget — we still have our Article I powers under the Constitution, and we will use them, as congress men and women, to reconcile different priorities and make sure that we’re continue to march forward for the American people.

    But I would say that the forgotten man that President Trump campaigned for should be proud of what was done in the budget. First of all, the one thing, Judy, that the federal government does constitutionally and does well is our national defense.

    And I will quibble with Mr. Van Hollen if he says that our national defense has been taken care of. It only makes up about 20 percent of our budget historically, but it took 50 percent of the sequester cuts. So, fair is fair. And we’re getting back to rebalancing that.

    Otherwise, Judy, this is a traditional — as you would see in a economic textbook of some kind, traditional guns vs. butter argument. And for eight years or so, we have been doling out a lot of butter, a lot of domestic programs.

    And what Mr. Trump is suggesting here is that we rebalance and put a little bit more into our guns to make sure that we’re protected from a military standpoint, that we’re safe, and…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me just interrupt you there, if you don’t mind.

    REP. TODD ROKITA: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Because I want to ask you about that.

    We did hear Senator Van Hollen say, yes, it’s good to spend more on defense, but he said there are problems with defense spending, that it hasn’t — he said we haven’t even seen a serious audit.

    But I do want to ask you about some of the domestic cuts, education down 15 percent, medical research, major cut, a 20-some percent cut in the environment, 21 percent.

    How — what are these cuts? What is going to be cut?

    REP. TODD ROKITA: Well, I have been in a budget hearing all day repealing and replacing Obamacare. So, you know, I don’t have all the details, and I didn’t write the document.

    Like I said, we are going to digest that all in the Budget Committee. But let me just, from an overview perspective, say that what I’m seeing so far is that what is being — quote, unquote — “cut” are really duplicative programs and programs that shouldn’t be in the agencies that they’re in.

    And we see this throughout government, 10, 20, 30 programs that pretend to do the same thing, but don’t do it well. And so that’s what I see Mr. Trump and Mick Mulvaney, the OMB director, doing here, is really streamlining government.

    And he’s also making good on other campaign promises. I’m the kindergarten through 12th grade education chairman in the House, subcommittee education chairman. And what we’re seeing here is Mr. Trump making good on school choice, the idea that the property of parents, the tax dollars, are actually following the child more to a school that fits them, not being shackled to a school that doesn’t work for them.

    And that’s an important point. And that’s not new money. That’s reprogrammed money. So, it’s money being reprioritized. And that’s exactly, Judy, what a budget is about, and that’s what he’s doing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So the cuts in medical research, for example — and I didn’t mention cuts in agriculture.

    We heard Senator Van Hollen speak about extension programs in agriculture. You’re comfortable with all the cuts the administration is proposing?

    REP. TODD ROKITA: Well, like I say, I haven’t looked at the whole document. I have been in an eight-or-so-hour markup on repealing and replacing Obamacare, but we will look at all that.

    And what I’m saying that I’m comfortable with is getting rid of the duplication, getting rid of programs that are outside the agency’s jurisdiction. I’m for streamlining. I’m for the president keeping good on his promises to the forgotten man and all the rest of us.

    And that’s what I’m seeing in the budget so far. And then, again, also, Judy, I will say that we will go through the budget process. The budget — the president’s budget is just a budget request. The real budget is going to come through the House Budget Committee. It’s going to come through Chris’ committee.

    And it doesn’t even have to be signed by the president. It goes into effect without his signature. So, that’s our Article I powers. And you can be assured that we’re going to look at every item, because that’s our job and we will do it no matter who the president is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s a reminder of the way the process really works.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Todd Rokita of Indiana, vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, we thank you.

    REP. TODD ROKITA: Thank you, Judy.

    The post Does Trump’s budget defend America or erode American power? Lawmakers weigh in appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A federal judge in Maryland became the second in as many days to block President Trump’s revised travel ban nationwide. The other ruling came last night in Hawaii. Both judges concluded Mr. Trump’s earlier public remarks suggest that it’s still intended to be a Muslim ban. The White House vowed to appeal. We will explore the court rulings, and what comes next, later in the program.

    Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee are the latest to dismiss President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama. They, along with House Speaker Paul Ryan, said today that they have seen — quote — “no indications of that.” House intelligence leaders said much the same thing yesterday.

    But White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued today that nothing is clear until the Justice Department reports next week.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: The Department of Justice asked for an additional week. So, the statement clearly says that at this time that they don’t believe that. They have yet to go through the information. The Department of Justice, as you know, has not supplied this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Spicer also said the president still stands by his claim.

    The House Budget Committee narrowly approved the Republican health care bill today. Three GOP conservatives voted no, putting dissent in Republican ranks clearly on display. And, for the first time, House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged parts of the bill may have to be changed to shore up support.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: Clearly, the main parts of this bill are going to stay exactly as they are, but we’re making those improvements and refinements based upon the feedback that we’re getting from our members, and the president of the United States is the one who’s been mediating this.

    The president of the United States is the one who is bringing people together, sitting around a table, hashing out our differences, so that we can get to a consensus document.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In a FOX News interview that aired last night, the president said of the bill — quote — “A lot of things aren’t consistent. But these are going to be negotiated.”

    European leaders congratulated Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte today, after his victory over anti-Muslim lawmaker Geert Wilders. In a victory celebration last night, Rutte called it a victory for stability and security.

    MARK RUTTE, Prime Minister of the Netherlands (through interpreter): This is also a night when the Netherlands, after Brexit, after American elections, has said stop to the wrong kind of populism.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wilders’ party finished second, but the other Dutch parties have said they will not work with him or include him in a governing coalition.

    Pirates in Somalia have released an oil tanker that they hijacked on Monday. They say they were not paid any ransom. The release came hours after a gunfight between the pirates and local security forces.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged North Korea today to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. Tillerson was in Japan, starting his first Asia trip. At a news conference with his Japanese counterpart, he called for a new strategy, but offered no specifics.

    REX TILLERSON: I think it’s important to recognize that the diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed. In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Today was the first time Tillerson had publicly fielded questions since assuming his post in early February.

    Back in this country, the head of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, resigned amid allegations that he ignored sexual abuse of girls training for the Olympics. The organization faces a brace of lawsuits charging that a former team doctor groped and fondled girls in training. They say Penny and other officials knew about it and did nothing.

    And on Wall Street, stocks ended the day with little change. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 15 points to close at 20934. The Nasdaq rose a fraction of a point, and the S&P 500 slipped nearly four.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Much more for the military, much less for many diplomatic and domestic programs, that’s the upshot of President Trump’s first budget unveiled today.

    John Yang begins our coverage at the White House.

    JOHN YANG: It runs just 53 pages, totals more than $1.1 trillion, and embodies stark changes in federal spending priorities.

    Budget Director Mick Mulvaney:

    MICK MULVANEY, White House Budget Director: We had America first — an America first candidate. We now have an America first president. And it shouldn’t surprise anybody that we have an America first budget.

    JOHN YANG: The big winners in the White House budget request? The Pentagon, with a proposed 10 percent increase, $54 billion. The Department of Homeland Security with a 7 percent hike, including $4 billion for the Mexico border wall. And the Department of Veteran Affairs, proposed to increase by 6 percent.

    MICK MULVANEY: We’re $20 trillion in debt. We’re going to spend money. We’re going to spend a lot of money, but we’re not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises they made to people.

    JOHN YANG: The biggest losers would include the Environmental Protection Agency with a proposed 31 percent cut, eliminating funding for international climate change programs and for cleanup efforts in the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes. The State Department would be cut 29 percent, mostly foreign aid and U.N. peacekeeping. And the Department of Health and Human Services is being asked to take an 18 percent cut.

    While the White House wants Congress to cut Justice Department spending by 4 percent, it wants more money to target criminal organizations and hire immigration judges, at the expense of civil rights programs.

    In Tokyo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the proposed cuts in his budget are fine with him.

    REX TILLERSON, U.S. Secretary of State: Clearly, the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past, in particular this past year, is simply not sustainable.

    JOHN YANG: President Trump tweeted that his budget proposal puts America first. “Must make safety its number one priority.”

    It represents the biggest military buildup since the 1980s and the most sweeping reductions in other spending since World War II.

    Democrats immediately condemned the budget request. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it takes from the middle class and gives to the rich.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: This budget is not a statement of values of anyone. President Trump has shown that he doesn’t value the future of our children and working families. This budget is really a slap in the face of the future.

    JOHN YANG: Overall, the administration wants to eliminate funding for 19 agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, AmeriCorps and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a major funder for public radio and television.

    Other points of contention are likely to be calls to eliminate community development block grants, and cut billions of dollars for teacher training, after-school and summer programs and almost $100 million from the Rural Business and Cooperative Service.

    House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry said today he wants even more money for the military. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the president’s budget is just an opening bid.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We will have a full hearing about how our priorities will be met. But do I think we can cut spending and get waste out of government? Absolutely.

    JOHN YANG: Today’s spending outline doesn’t address taxes or entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Those are to come in another budget document in May.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang at the White House.

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    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (C) visits with U.S. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and United States Forces Korea (R) at the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, South Korea, on March 17, 2017. Photo by Lee Jin-man/Pool/Reuters

    SEOUL, South Korea — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday it may be necessary to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea if the threat from their weapons program reaches a level “that we believe requires action.”

    Tillerson outlined a tougher strategy to confront North Korea’s nuclear threat after visiting the world’s most heavily armed border near the tense buffer zone between the rivals Koreas. He also closed the door on talks with Pyongyang unless it denuclearizes and gives up its weapons of mass destruction.

    Asked about the possibility of using military force, Tillerson told a news conference in the South Korean capital, “all of the options are on the table.”

    Trump weighed in on the matter Friday on Twitter: “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

    Tillerson said the U.S. does not want a military conflict, “but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten South Korean forces or our own forces that would be met with (an) appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option is on the table.”

    But he said that by taking other steps, including sanctions, the U.S. is hopeful that North Korea could be persuaded to take a different course before it reaches that point.

    Past U.S. administrations have considered military force because of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them, but rarely has that option been expressed so explicitly.

    North Korea has accelerated its weapons development, violating multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and appearing undeterred by tough international sanctions. The North conducted two nuclear test explosions and 24 ballistic missile tests last year. Experts say it could have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. within a few years.

    Tillerson met Friday with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se and its acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn on the second leg of a three-nation trip which began in Japan and will end in China. State Department officials have described it as a “listening tour” as the administration seeks a coherent North Korea policy, well-coordinated with its Asian partners.

    Earlier Friday, Tillerson touched down by helicopter Friday at Camp Bonifas, U.S.-led U.N. base about 400 meters (438 yards) from the Demilitarized Zone, a Cold War vestige created after the Korean War ended in 1953. He then moved to the truce village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ, a cluster of blue huts where the Korean War armistice was signed.

    READ NEXT: Defectors lift curtain on North Korea’s information blackout

    Tillerson is the latest in a parade of senior U.S. officials to have their photos taken at the border. But it’s the first trip by the new Trump administration’s senior diplomat.

    The DMZ, which is both a tourist trap and a potential flashpoint, is guarded on both sides with land mines, razor wire fence, tank traps and hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops. More than a million mines are believed to be buried inside the DMZ. Land mine explosions in 2015 that Seoul blamed on Pyongyang maimed two South Korean soldiers and led the rivals to threaten each other with attacks.”

    Hordes of tourists visit both sides, despite the lingering animosity. The Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, which means the Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war.

    President Donald Trump is seen as seeking to examine all options — including military ones — for halting the North’s weapons programs before Pyongyang becomes capable of threatening the U.S. mainland.

    Tillerson declared an end to the policy “strategic patience” of the Obama administration, which held off negotiating with Pyongyang while tightening of sanctions but failed to prevent North Korea’s weapons development. Tillerson said U.S was exploring “a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures.”

    Central to the U.S. review is China and its role in any bid to persuade Pyongyang to change course. China remains the North’s most powerful ally. Tillerson will meet with top Chinese officials including President Xi Jinping in Beijing this weekend.

    While the U.S. and its allies in Seoul and Tokyo implore Beijing to press its economic leverage over North Korea, the Chinese have emphasized their desire to relaunch diplomatic talks.

    Tillerson, however, said that “20 years of talks with North Korea have brought us to where we are today.”

    “It’s important that the leadership of North Korea realize that their current pathway of nuclear weapons and escalating threats will not lead to their objective of security and economic development. That pathway can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction, and only then will we be prepared to engage with them in talks,” he said.

    Six-nation aid-for-disarmament talks with North Korea, which were hosted by China, have in fact been stalled since 2009. The Obama administration refused to resume them unless the North re-committed to the goal of denuclearization, something that North Korea has shown little interest in doing.

    Tillerson urged China and other countries to fully implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

    He also accused China of economic retaliation against South Korea over the U.S. deployment of a missile defense system. He called that reaction “inappropriate and troubling” and said China should focus on the North Korean threat that makes the deployment necessary. China sees the system as a threat to its own security.

    Last week, North Korea launched four missiles into seas off Japan, in an apparent reaction to major annual military drills the U.S. is currently conducting with South Korea. Pyongyang claims the drills are a rehearsal for invasion.

    The post Tillerson: Use of pre-emptive force an option with North Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director, answered your questions about children’s mental health in war-torn Syria, during her recent visit to Washington, D.C.

    With bombs dropping around them among the stresses of six years of war, Syria’s children are hurting on the inside.

    “Children grow up fast, but children in conflict grow up even faster,” said Rolla H., head of the Gaziantep office of Syria Relief, using just her last name’s initial to protect her family and herself. “They live in an adult’s world.”

    A report released earlier this month from Save the Children and its partner organizations, including Syria Relief, describe the ways constant worry is manifesting in children.

    About 6 million children in Syria are affected by war, according to aid groups. Photo by Jonathan Hyams for Save the Children

    A girl sits with her father at an abandoned gas station in in the Raqqa Governorate of Syria. About 6 million children in Syria are affected by war, according to aid groups. Photo by Jonathan Hyams for Save the Children

    Children there face unusual upheaval — multiple moves as they go from home to refugee camps, along with hunger, lack of medicine and education — and they start behaving differently, such as bedwetting and refusing to talk.

    Some youth show up in child-friendly designated areas set up by aid groups, and will only talk to their dolls. “They won’t let others even look at their dolls. They’re very protective of them,” said Rolla H.

    Through activities with facilitators, such as art classes, intended to help them express their distress, the children gradually learn to relax and draw houses and blue skies, rather than tanks and bomb-dropping planes.

    Art therapy classes help young children in Syria express and work through their fears. Photo courtesy of Syria Relief

    Art therapy classes help young children in Syria express and work through their fears. Photo courtesy of Syria Relief

    Prescription drugs and psychiatrists are scarce in Syria, said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director. “We’ve tried to do trainings with general practitioners and other medical doctors to give them some of the specialized care skills.” But the doctors were overwhelmed with running their clinics, and dealing with injuries and diseases, so they couldn’t take on the specialized psychiatric interventions, she said.

    So at least the designated activity areas and makeshift classrooms provide a safe place to go. But “what they really need is for the bombs to stop falling,” Khush said.

    We asked for your questions in the comments section of this story and via Twitter. Khush answered them in the video above.

    The post You asked: Are Syrian children getting the help they need? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Pulling in different directions, Republicans are striving to get traction for a health care overhaul in danger of being dragged down by intra-party differences.

    Some GOP governors weighed in Thursday evening in a letter to congressional leaders saying the House bill gives them almost no new flexibility and lacks sufficient resources to protect the vulnerable. It landed as Republican moderates and conservatives in the House remained split, and senators expressed reservations. Democrats are united in fierce opposition.

    President Donald Trump, whose administration initially embraced the House health care bill, has lately called it “very preliminary,” adding that “we will take care of our people or I’m not signing it.”

    On Friday morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is scheduled to meet with the restive House Republican caucus.

    Although the House bill has cleared three committees, some lawmakers can visualize scenarios where things come apart. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, said it’s important to get the legislation passed before Congress leaves for a two-week spring recess next month.

    “That’s never healthy to let something sit out there too long because pretty soon you have a carcass left,” he said.

    The House bill — called the American Health Care Act — would repeal major elements of former President Barack Obama’s law, create a new, leaner system of tax credits for health insurance, and cap future federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people. It would also reverse tax increases on wealth Americans used to finance Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

    Critics say it would make health insurance more expensive for individuals, especially older adults and those with modest incomes. An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found 24 million people would lose their health insurance over a decade though the bill would also reduce the deficit.

    [Watch Video]

    In the Senate, meanwhile, Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the Portland Press Herald, “This is not a bill I could support in its current form.” She joins Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Utah’s Mike Lee in opposing the legislation, while other Republicans, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, have expressed deep misgivings. Collins’ opposition leaves the bill short of the support it needs in the Senate unless it changes, since GOP leaders can only lose two votes.

    In another warning signal, four GOP governors wrote congressional leaders Thursday saying the bill’s approach to Medicaid would not work for states. Medicaid covers more than 70 million people, and its future is expected to be a central issue in the Senate.

    “It provides almost no new flexibility for states, does not ensure the resources necessary to make sure no one is left out, and shifts significant new costs to states,” wrote Govs. John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

    Saying they represent most GOP governors, the four submitted a nine-page proposal that gives states more options to overhaul Medicaid and modifies the shift to federal spending limits envisioned by the House. The governors said they support the goal of repealing “Obamacare” but want to avoid collateral damage.

    Despite open turmoil, House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to strike an optimistic tone as he addressed reporters Thursday for his weekly press briefing.

    “We feel like we’re making great strides and great progress on getting a bill that can pass,” Ryan said. A White House official said the plan is for a House floor vote next Thursday — the seven-year anniversary of the Obama law.

    But Ryan did not commit to a timetable for passage, and he’s acknowledged that the bill needs changes to pass. Only last week, Ryan was pledging action sometime next week by the House Rules Committee — the precursor to a floor vote — and confidently predicting the bill would have the votes to pass.

    Instead, Ryan spent part of his news conference disputing suggestions that he and Trump are at odds over the health bill, rumblings that originate with Ryan’s very reluctant support for Trump during the presidential campaign.

    “There is no intrigue, palace intrigue, divisions between the principals … there really is no schism whatsoever,” Ryan insisted. “I’m excited at the fact that we have a president who likes closing deals.”

    But some conservatives, having ousted the last House speaker, were beginning to grumble openly about Ryan’s leadership.

    By many accounts Trump has been closely involved in negotiations on the health bill, including calling Budget Committee members ahead of Thursday’s vote. He is seen as focused on delivering his “repeal and replace” promise but flexible on the fine print.

    Failing to pass a bill while his party controls both the House and Senate would be a devastating blow to his party and the premise of his presidency — that he was a dealmaker the country needed.

    Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Erica Werner contributed.

    The post Wheels spinning as GOP looks for traction on health bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the American Health Care Act during a visit to the Harshaw-Trane Parts and Distribution Center in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 11, 2017. Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

    Republicans in Washington working to overhaul the Affordable Care Act say their strategy consists of “three buckets.” But it appears that all three may be leaking.

    The plan to dismantle and replace Obamacare emerged after the Republican congressional retreat in late January. The first bucket is a fast-track budget bill that needs only a simple majority to pass the Senate. Because of congressional rules, however, it can only address parts of the health law that have immediate impact on federal spending.

    The second consists of changes to regulations and other policies put in place by the Obama administration that could theoretically be undone by new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. And the third is separate legislation that would do things Republicans have been advocating for many years, such as imposing caps on medical malpractice damages and selling health insurance across state lines.

    All three are proving problematic at this point — among Republicans.

    “There is no three-phase process, there is no three-step plan,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday. “That is just political talk. It’s just politicians engaging in spin.”

    “Anyone who believes in the three-step process is believing in a fantasy,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) at a press conference Thursday.

    The first part, the so-called budget “reconciliation” bill, is already drawing fire within the GOP, not to mention among Democrats. Conservatives, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), derisively refer to it as “Obamacare Lite” and oppose the bill’s tax credits to help people buy insurance as a new entitlement. Moderates have been shaken by the estimate from the Congressional Budget Office that 24 million people could lose their health coverage if the bill passes.

    The bill has passed through several committees, but members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus say they might be able to stop the bill from passing the House, in spite of heavy pressure from Republican leaders and the Trump administration.

    “The question is: ‘Am I OK losing my election because I did the thing I promised I would do?’” said Freedom Caucus co-founder Labrador, referring to his promise to repeal the entire law. He said the answer to that question is yes: “I can live with myself if I do the things I promised I would do.”

    Complaints about the bill from a several Republican senators suggest that there are more than enough GOP “no” votes in that chamber to block its passage.

    READ NEXT: How would the American Health Care Act affect cost and access?

    Conservatives also question exactly how much of the law the administration can dismantle.

    Price said at a CNN Town Hall Wednesday that he is ready to plunge into the “hundreds” of regulations and “thousands” of guidance letters issued by the Obama administration to implement the health law.

    “If they hurt patients, they need to go away,” he said. “If they drive up costs, then they need to go away.”

    But undoing all those rules comes with its own set of dangers.

    “Step two requires us to believe that Tom Price is going to go outside the law,” Labrador said. He noted that conservatives often complain when an administration takes on authority not granted in legislation when devising rules.

    “And we think the courts are not going to stop him from doing that?” Labrador asked. Reversing policy on existing law can open up new rules and regulations to lawsuits.

    Cotton, in his radio interview, noted that whatever changes Price proposes are “going to be subject to court challenge, and therefore, perhaps the whims of the most liberal judge in America.”

    Finally, while Republicans tend to agree on step three, the legislation that would implement their preferred policies for the nation’s health care system, there is one big hurdle: It would need 60 votes to pass a filibuster in the Senate, and getting eight Democrats to join seems highly unlikely.

    “It’s not going to happen if you need 60 votes in the Senate,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on MSNBC Wednesday.

    Cotton agreed. “If we had those Democratic votes, we wouldn’t need three steps,” he said. “We would just be doing that right now on this legislation.”

    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. You can view the original report on its website.

    The post GOP’s 3-bucket strategy to repeal and replace health law is springing leaks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, or Abu Omar, 70, smokes his pipe as he sits in his destroyed bedroom listening to music on his gramophone in Aleppo's formerly rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood on March 9. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, or Abu Omar, 70, smokes his pipe as he sits in his destroyed bedroom listening to music on his gramophone in Aleppo’s formerly rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood on March 9. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    The image has spread quickly across the Internet: a man listening to a gramophone in what’s left of his bombed-out bedroom in Aleppo, Syria. The AFP photographer who captured the moment, Joseph Eid, says he thinks knows why it struck a chord with so many.

    “I’m a war photographer and I’ve seen lots of atrocities. This one is different,” Eid said this week from his office in Beirut. The image shows the tragedy of war, but it also shows someone rising above it through the transcendent power of music. “It talks about life.”

    The subject is 70-year-old Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, who is also known around town as Abu Omar. He owns a collection of 1950s vintage American vehicles that would make any auto aficionado drool.

    A 1958 Chevrolet Apache truck is parked in rubble from the fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    A 1958 Chevrolet Apache truck is parked in rubble from the fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    He inherited the two-tone 1957 Mercury Montclair, cherry red 1949 Hudson Commodore, canary yellow 1958 Chevrolet Apache truck and more than two dozen others from his wealthy father.

    Anis and his prized cars were first featured in a 2016 video by Karam al-Masri of the Agence France-Presse:

    A team from AFP, including Eid, a correspondent and videographer, went back to find the man earlier this month. The once rebel-held city had taken a beating when government forces regained control last year. The remaining Aleppo residents, all of whom seemed to know Anis, directed the team to his house — or what was left of it.

    When Anis came to the door, Eid said he felt moved by the man’s advanced age and determination.

    A 1947 Plymouth is parked in Mohammed Mohiedin Anis' garden, which holds other spare parts for his collection of cars. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    A 1947 Plymouth is parked in Mohammed Mohiedin Anis’ garden, which holds other spare parts for his collection of cars. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    “We didn’t think an old man like him would survive all that happened, especially in the last few weeks of the battle of Aleppo,” Eid said. The man greeted the reporters like old friends and took them into his garden, crammed with spare car parts for his beloved cars.

    The cars that line the block are now shattered remnants of their former selves. The upper level of Anis’ home is similarly demolished, but amid the debris is another lifeline – a manual gramophone which operates without electricity.

    An overhead view shows the bombed-out neighborhood in Aleppo where car enthusiast Mohammed Mohiedin Anis still lives. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    An overhead view shows the bombed-out neighborhood in Aleppo where car enthusiast Mohammed Mohiedin Anis still lives. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    A beat-up 1948 Buick is part of Mohammed Mohiedin Anis' car collection. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    A beat-up 1948 Buick is part of Mohammed Mohiedin Anis’ car collection. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    Anis likes his music like his cars: 1950s golden oldies. When asked if the old gramophone still worked, he put on one of his favorite recordings of Syrian singer Mohamed Dia al-Din. But not before retrieving his scotch-taped pipe. “I cannot listen to my music without smoking my pipe,” he told the reporting team.

    Anis crossed his legs and entered a meditative state, Eid said. “He forgot about us for a while. When I saw that, I told the others to leave. I took the pictures from the entrance of the room.”

    The Arabic music transported Mohammed Mohiedin Anis to better times. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    The Arabic music transported Mohammed Mohiedin Anis to better times. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    It took several moments for the man to awake from his reverie.

    He was intent on returning everything to what it once was.

    “‘I can start back from zero. I’m willing to rebuild my house, factory and cars,’” he told them, Eid recalled. “‘Nothing will break me or take me down or force me to surrender. Keep your spirits high no matter what.’”

    Eid said he left the house feeling elated. AFP may visit the man again in another year to see how he’s doing. “I’ll make sure to tell him what an inspiration he has been to thousands of people.”

    Despite the destruction all around him, Mohammed Mohiedin Anis smiles as he opens the trunk of his 1949 Hudson Commodore. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    Despite the destruction all around him, Mohammed Mohiedin Anis smiles as he opens the trunk of his 1949 Hudson Commodore. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

    The post Photographer says his image of a Syrian man listening to records in his bombed-out bedroom is about life, not war appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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