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

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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump pauses as he talks to members of the media after a meeting with Pentagon officials at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach

    President-elect Donald Trump pauses as he talks to members of the media after a meeting with Pentagon officials at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Week by week, country by country, the Pentagon is quietly seizing more control over warfighting decisions, sending hundreds more troops to war with little public debate and seeking greater authority to battle extremists across the Middle East and Africa.

    This week it was Somalia, where President Donald Trump gave the U.S. military more authority to conduct offensive airstrikes on al-Qaida-linked militants. Next week it could be Yemen, where military leaders want to provide more help for the United Arab Emirates’ battle against Iranian-backed rebels. Key decisions on Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are looming, from ending troop number limits to loosening rules that guide commanders in the field.

    The changes in Trump’s first two months in office underscore his willingness to let the Pentagon manage its own day-to-day combat. Under the Obama administration, military leaders chafed about micromanagement that included commanders needing approval for routine tactical decisions about targets and personnel moves.

    But delegating more authority to the Pentagon — and combat decisions to lower level officers — carries its own military and political risks. Casualties, of civilians and American service members, may be the biggest.

    The deepening involvement in counterinsurgency battles, from the street-by-street battles being fought in Iraq right now to clandestine raids in Yemen and elsewhere, increases the chances of U.S. troops dying. Such tragedies could raise the ire of the American public and create political trouble with Congress at a time when the Trump administration is trying to finish off the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and broaden efforts against similarly inspired groups.

    [Watch Video]

    Similarly, allowing lower level commanders to make more timely airstrike decisions in densely populated areas like the streets of Mosul, Iraq, can result in more civilian deaths. The U.S. military already is investigating several bombings in Mosul in mid-March that witnesses say killed at least 100 people. And it is considering new tactics and precautions amid evidence suggesting extremists are smuggling civilians into buildings and then baiting the U.S.-led coalition into attacking.

    Alice Hunt Friend, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, cited yet another concern: Military operations becoming “divorced from overall foreign policy” could make both civilian leaders and the military vulnerable to runaway events.

    “Political leaders can lose control of military campaigns,” she warned.

    But top military leaders say they need to be able to act quicker against U.S. enemies. And they’ve been staunchly supported by Trump, who has promised to pursue Islamic extremists more aggressively and echoed the view of Pentagon leaders that the Obama administration’s tight control over military operations limited effectiveness.

    Explaining his request for more leeway in Somalia against al-Shabab militants, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command, told Congress this month that more flexibility and “timeliness” in decision-making process was necessary.

    Approved by Trump on Wednesday, it was hardly the first military expansion.

    The Defense Department has quietly doubled the number of U.S. forces in Syria. It has moved military advisers closer to front lines in Iraq. It has publicly made the case for more troops in Afghanistan.

    The White House is tentatively scheduled this coming week to discuss providing intelligence, refueling and other assistance to U.A.E. as it fights Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to officials who weren’t authorized to speak about a confidential meetings and demanded anonymity.

    READ NEXT: As Syrian civil war stretches on, U.S. sends more troops

    Some changes are happening with little fanfare. While there is limited American appetite for large-scale deployments in Iraq and Syria, additions are coming incrementally, in the hundreds of forces, not the thousands.

    The result may be confusing for the public. Trump hasn’t eliminated Obama’s troop number limits. Thus, the caps of 503 for Syria and 5,262 for Iraq are still in effect.

    But the military is ignoring them with White House approval and using an already-existing loophole to categorize deployments as temporary. For example, several hundred Marines and soldiers were recently sent to Syria to assist U.S.-backed Syria forces, including in the fight to retake IS’ self-declared capital of Raqqa. All were deemed temporary so not counted against the cap.

    On Friday, the Pentagon said that officially there are 5,262 U.S. troops in Iraq even as officials privately acknowledge at least a couple thousand more there.

    It’s still early in the Trump administration. And as the White House juggles complex details of several military campaigns, it is dealing with tax reform, its health care repeal failure, partisan infighting and expanding investigations into possible Russian ties to his presidential campaign. Observers say the expanding military power may reflect the administration’s limited “bandwidth” at the moment.

    But the military wants some decisions quickly.

    Iraqi forces are trying to complete the recapture of Mosul, IS’ stronghold, and more American advisers closer to the battle can help. U.S.-backed fighters are closing in on Raqqa and the Pentagon is pushing to accelerate the effort. Conducting both operations at the same time, the Pentagon argues, will put a lot of pressure on IS.

    Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

    The post With Trump approval, Pentagon expands warfighting authority appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives at a news conference Feb. 13 in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives at a news conference Feb. 13 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn has disclosed that he earned more than $1.3 million for work for technology firms, political groups and government contractors as well as for speeches to Russian companies and lobbying for a firm owned by a Turkish businessman.

    The new disclosures contained two filings, one made last February and a second dated Friday. The earlier disclosure omitted payments to Flynn for three speeches that he made to Russian companies, while the second filing disclosed those payments. In response to questions about the differences in the filing, Flynn’s lawyer said the first filing included the speaking fees in bulk. He noted that the initial filing was a draft and was not followed by consultations with federal ethics officials because Flynn left the administration just days after turning it in.

    Flynn’s recent financial history, made available Saturday by the White House, comes amid his effort to win immunity from congressional probers in exchange for his cooperation with official inquiries into contacts between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.

    The disclosures detail Flynn’s business and financial activities dating back to 2014, including 2015 payments from Russia’s state-supported television network and paid speeches to two other Russian companies. The filing includes the activities of Flynn Intel Group Inc., a consulting firm that he and partners set up in 2015. The company filed as a foreign agent last month with the Justice Department, acknowledging that its lobbying work last year likely benefited the government of Turkey even as Flynn was advising Trump’s campaign.

    Flynn’s ties to Russia have been scrutinized by the FBI and are under investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees. Both committees are looking into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.

    [Watch Video]

    The two filings came more than a month after Trump asked Flynn to resign as national security adviser, saying he had misled the vice president about a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the transition.

    The first filing was turned in on Feb. 11, just a few days before Flynn stepped down. It doesn’t include an itemized listing of his speaking engagements including the payments from RT, the Russian television network that U.S. intelligence agencies have described as a propaganda outlet. The later disclosure, filed Friday, cites RT and other Russian clients and breaks out the payments and provides more details on Flynn’s paid speeches.

    Flynn attorney Robert Kelner said that Flynn’s first filing was a draft that normally would have been revised through a consultation between the White House counsel’s office and the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

    “Because he resigned, that usual consultation process was suspended. When the White House contacted him this week, and asked him to complete the process, he did so,” Kelner said, noting the second filing is the finalized version.

    An OGE document obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press showed that there were no written communications between the agency and Flynn’s lawyers about his financial disclosure and ethics agreement between the November election and March 17.

    The White House on Friday released scores of disclosures from Trump administration officials.

    READ NEXT: White House wealth: Trump employees disclose their finances

    Flynn declared last month in a filing with the Justice Department that his company’s lobbying for a Dutch-based firm owned by a Turkish businessman “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” Flynn’s client, Ekim Alptekin, told the AP that the decision to file as a foreign agent had come under pressure from Justice Department officials.

    The Daily Caller reported Friday that Justice Department officials contacted Flynn on Nov. 30. A document obtained by the media site under the Freedom of Information Act quoted Justice Department concern about a pre-election op-ed that Flynn authored stressing Turkish government aims and “potential ties between Lt. Gen. Flynn and others who might be acting on behalf of the government of Turkey.”

    Flynn reported that he served as a consultant for the FBI and received more than $5,000 in compensation from the bureau. Kelner said the FBI compensation was for a speaking event in 2015 and training Flynn provided to the bureau.

    Flynn reported between $750,000 and $1.5 million in mortgage debt related to his personal home and a rental property. He also had a line of credit between $15,000 and $50,000, the filing shows.

    In a separate filing to the Justice Department last month, Flynn and his business, Flynn Intel Group Inc., detailed $530,000 worth of lobbying work for Inovo BV, the Turkish firm owned by Alptekin. On his new disclosure, Flynn said only that he personally earned compensation in excess of $5,000 from Inovo BV.

    As part of his firm’s lobbying, Alptekin invited Flynn last September to meet at a New York hotel with a group that included Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and energy minister Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Another participant, former CIA director James Woolsey, said the group discussed a plan for the covert removal of a political foe of Erdogan’s, a Muslim cleric based in Pennsylvania. Flynn acknowledged he attended the meeting, but a Flynn spokesman said Woolsey’s claim was false and that “no such discussion occurred.”

    Flynn’s new disclosure also details a $10,000 payment for a speech in New York last October paid by Ibrahim Kurtulus, a New York financial adviser who is also listed as an advisory board member for the Turkish American National Steering Committee. The group’s website says it aims to “promote and amplify a unified Turkish American voice on issues that affect the Turkish American community and Unites States.”

    But Kelner said Saturday that the speech paid by Kurtulus was made to an audience of Korean-Americans. Kurtulus did not immediately reply to phone calls by the AP to several numbers associated with him in New York.

    The new disclosure also details several Flynn speeches for conservative groups and think tanks. Flynn was paid $15,000 for a speech to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Los Angeles group headed by a longtime conservative activist. Flynn was also paid $10,000 for a speech to the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonprofit think tank promoting libertarian ideals.

    The post Flynn made $1.3 million for lobbying, speeches, other work appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Billy, the blue power ranger. Courtesy: Lionsgate

    Billy, the Blue Power Ranger, who is on the autism spectrum. Courtesy: Lionsgate

    Sesame Street will add a new friend to the neighborhood next month when it debuts Julia, the first muppet with autism.

    And when the “Power Rangers” movie hit the box offices Friday, it offered a new take on some of the characters in the superhero series — including Billy, the blue ranger, who is also on the autism spectrum. (The franchise also sought to broaden the diversity of its roster through Trini, the yellow ranger questioning her sexual orientation.)

    The two new fictional children’s characters are garnering widespread praise from autism advocates who have long criticized Hollywood’s portrayals of the disorder.

    Sesame Street first created Julia as an online character in 2015 as part of a broader initiative to provide parents with educational resources on autism. She was so well-received that the television show decided to bring her to life. The first episodes with Julia will air April 10 on PBS and HBO.

    “Our goal was to try to help destigmatize autism and increase awareness, understanding and empathy,” said Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s executive vice president of global social impact and philanthropy.

    Power Rangers’ creator Haim Saban expressed a similar goal in his decision to place Billy on the autism spectrum.

    “With the feature film, we wanted to continue to reinforce core brand messages of inclusivity, diversity and empowerment,” Saban said in an emailed statement to the NewsHour.

    In both portrayals, writers were careful to avoid caricatures. Billy’s signs of autism are at times as subtle as expressing anxiety in new situations or shouting when his peers are trying to stay quiet.

    Autism awareness advocates say television has been doing a better job of portraying autism on screen. NBC’s hit television show Parenthood, for example, was praised for a featuring a character who was diagnosed with Asperger’s.

    “Parenthood,” Sesame Street and Power Rangers, though, remain rarities.

    “Autism has been portrayed in the media inaccurately and in largely damaging ways,” said Mark Osteen, a professor at Loyola University Maryland who teaches a course on neurodiversity in film. He is also the parent of 27-year-old son with autism.

    One of the most prominent examples, he said, is “Rain Main,” the 1988 movie starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, who plays his autistic older brother. Like many portrayals of people with autism in the 1980s and 90s, Hoffman’s character is also a savant.

    “The characters then, nearly all of them were freakish and had some amazing skill. There was very little interest in exploring the nature of autism,” Osteen said.

    More recent depictions have also come under scrutiny. Disability advocates criticized the TV show “Glee’s” attempt at a character with autism as insensitive, and said the 2016 film “The Accountant” with Ben Affleck once again fell into the savant stereotype.

    Sesame Street executives said they recognized how difficult it was to accurately depict autism because children can have varying degrees of autism and as a result often act in unique ways. That is why Sesame Street’s team consulted with members of the autism community before launching Julia’s character.

    Julia’s creators said they took certain characteristics from children in the moderate range on the autism spectrum. As a result, Julia often does not respond to her friends immediately and speaks less often than her peers. In one interaction, another muppet, Abby Cadabby, notices Julia likes to flap her arms—a common characteristic of kids with autism—and makes a game out of it, pretending they are butterflies.

    “The hope is that children with autism will be able to identify with Julia and feel less alone,” Westin said. “I think the biggest opportunity is to use Julia with the other characters to help explain autism.”

    Disability advocates say the thoughtfulness put into both the Sesame Street and Power Rangers’ characters paid off.

    “To show people with disabilities in the light of power, that is something extraordinary,” said Charles Archer, CEO of the THRIVE NETWORK.

    In the case of the Power Rangers, Archer pointed out that Billy finds his power in interacting with his fellow power rangers. Julia, who has a multitude of friends, is generally happy in contrast to other fictionalized people with autism who are often depicted as depressed or lonely.

    Archer said helping children understand autism at an early age provides exciting prospects for the next generation.

    “It means they are going to grow up into teens and adults understanding that if someone has social anxiety and might learn differently or work differently than you do, that doesn’t mean that they cannot have productive lives,” Archer said.

    As a parent, Osteen called the new shows, which notably have broad appeal, “immense progress” and said he only wishes his own son, Cameron, could have grown up with similar characters.

    “That would have been wonderful, not only for the other kids in school to recognize ‘Oh yeah, that’s like Cameron,’ but also for him to be able to watch that and say, ‘he’s like me’ or ‘she’s like me.’”

    Osteen said that would have helped his son realize he was not alone.

    The post How these new Sesame Street and Power Rangers characters are changing Hollywood’s portrayal of autism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The dome of the US Capitol is pictured i

    Photo of the U.S. Capitol by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

    NEW YORK — Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer is urging President Donald Trump to veto a resolution that would kill an online privacy regulation, a move that could allow internet providers to sell information about their customers’ browsing habits.

    The New York senator and 46 other Senate Democrats signed a letter calling on Trump to “tell us whose side he’s really on.”

    The Federal Communications Commission rule issued in October was designed to give consumers greater control over how internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon share information. But critics said the rule would have stifled innovation and picked winners and losers among internet companies.

    Both the House and the Senate voted this week to pass the resolution, sending it to Trump.

    “If President Trump clicks his pen and signs this resolution, consumers will be stripped of critical privacy protections in a New York minute,” Schumer said. “Signing this rollback into law would mean private data from our laptops, iPads, and even our cellphones would be fair game for internet companies to sell and make a fast buck.”

    [Watch Video]

    The Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broadband privacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back. He and other Republicans want a different federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to police privacy for both broadband companies like AT&T and internet companies like Google, which do not have to ask users’ permission before tracking what websites they visit.

    Trump is expected to make his decision soon.

    The post Dems urge Trump to veto bill blocking online privacy rule appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaks at the National Press Club in Washington

    South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will deliver the GOP response following President Obama’s final State of the Union address. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says there’s no question Russia was involved in the U.S. presidential election and insists President Donald Trump would fully support strong action against the Kremlin once investigations are complete.

    Speaking in television interviews broadcast Sunday, Nikki Haley contended there is no contradiction between her tough stance and Trump’s repeated public statements seeking to minimize Russia’s role. She said Trump “has not once” told her to stop “beating up on Russia.”

    She joins Defense Secretary James Mattis as Trump administration officials who have forcefully called out Russia for its actions during the 2016 U.S. campaign.

    “We don’t want any country involved in our elections, ever,” Haley said. “We need to be very strong on that.”

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied his country meddled in the 2016 contest between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. While Trump himself has said he believes Russian operatives hacked Democratic Party emails during the election, he has repeatedly lambasted as “fake news” any suggestion that he or his staff had connections to Russia.

    Trump continued his attacks over the weekend, tweeting: “It is the same Fake News Media that said there is ‘no path to victory for Trump’ that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam!”

    He added on Sunday: “The real story turns out to be SURVEILLANCE and LEAKING! Find the leakers.”

    U.S. intelligence agencies report that Russia tried to help Trump’s campaign effort. The FBI as well as congressional committees are investigating whether the Russian government coordinated with Trump associates during the campaign. The White House is also trying to quell a firestorm over its behind-the-scenes role in helping the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, view secret intelligence reports that he says pointed to inappropriate leaking.

    [Watch Video]

    Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, went to the White House on Friday to view materials that he said were “precisely the same.” He declined on Sunday to describe the contents, but criticized the unorthodox disclosure to Nunes, suggesting that the material was more likely an “effort to deflect attention” and “create a cloud through which the public cannot see.”

    “Whenever they see the president use the word ‘fake,’ it should set off alarm bells,” Schiff said. “I think that’s really what going on here.”

    Trump as president persuaded Haley to leave the governorship of South Carolina to represent the U.S. at the United Nations. She said she was “beating up on Russia” over issues such as its actions in Crimea and its dispute with Ukraine.

    When asked if she believes Trump should publicly take a harder Russia stance, she said: “Of course, he’s got a lot of things he’s doing.”

    “There’s no love or anything going on with Russia right now,” Haley said. “They get that we’re getting our strength back, that we’re getting our voice back and that we’re starting to lead again, and, honestly, at the United Nations, that’s the No. 1 comment I get is that they’re just so happy to see the United States lead again.”

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said it was indisputable that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election, reiterating his call for a special select committee.

    But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he didn’t think another review was necessary, citing the bipartisan work from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    “I think they clearly laid out that they’re going wherever the facts take them,” McConnell said, referring to Republican chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel. “We don’t need yet another investigation. We know the FBI is looking at it from their perspective.”

    READ NEXT: The biggest questions yet to be answered in the Russia probe

    Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, said Russia was not worried about what any U.S. investigation might reveal. “We insist that any blaming that Russia could have been interfering in domestic affairs of the United States is slander,” he said.

    On other topics, Haley said the U.S. is also pressing China to take a firmer stand regarding North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump is scheduled to meet later this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping over a range of issues. While China provides diplomatic and economic support to its neighbor, it claims that its influence over Kim Jong Un’s government is limited.

    U.N. resolutions have failed so far to deter North Korea from conducting nuclear and missile tests. Last year, the North conducted two nuclear tests and two dozen tests of ballistic missiles.

    “They need to show us how concerned they are,” Haley said. “They need to put pressure on North Korea. The only country that can stop North Korea is China, and they know that.”

    Asked what the U.S. would do if China doesn’t cooperate, Haley said: “China has to cooperate.”

    Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, however, said he doubted that Beijing will cooperate.

    “I’ve been working on the North Korea problem since 1994,” he said. “And we have consistently asked Chinese leaders … because they uniquely have the historical and the economic relationship with North Korea to make a difference.

    “They haven’t used that influence, and so it’s hard for me to be optimistic with that,” he said.

    Haley, Peskov, McCain and Carter appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” Haley also was on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Schiff spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and McConnell appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

    AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and AP writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

    The post U.S. ambassador calls for ‘very strong’ stance on Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Sgt. 1st Class Michael Rodriguez (Ret.)

    Sgt. 1st Class Michael Rodriguez (Ret.), featured in our series “War on the Brain.”

    Late last week, the PBS NewsHour reported on the challenges associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for our series “War on the Brain.” In the series, special correspondent Soledad O’Brien sought to answer three questions:

    Why are veterans and military personnel not seeking treatment if they believe they show symptoms of PTSD? In her first report, O’Brien talked to military veterans who struggled with the idea that they had PTSD. For some people, the lack of a physical injury, along with military culture and a resistance to showing weakness, contributed to feelings of stigma.

    Is there a way to more accurately diagnose PTSD? We heard from Sgt. First Class Michael Rodriguez (Ret.) and Sgt. First Class Kelly Rodriguez, a husband and wife who struggled for years to get an accurate diagnosis of PTSD. “If there was a tangible test, I think it would make it easier on the patients, because it will validate” the diagnosis, Michael Rodriguez said.

    Is there a connection between traumatic brain injury and PTSD? In our third story, O’Brien talked to researchers at the Defense Department’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. They are studying whether brain injuries due to exposure to explosive blasts contribute to PTSD.

    On Monday, learn more about our series and hear from the people we talked to during a Twitter Chat. Join O’Brien (@soledadobrien), Michael Rodriguez (@Monsterzdad), Kelly Rodriguez (@klr68w) and Kate Hoit of the “Got Your 6” campaign (@GotYourSix), at 5 p.m. EDT to discuss our series and what more can be done. Take part in the conversation on Twitter by following @NewsHour and using the hashtag #NewsHourChats.

    The post Twitter Chat: Why some veterans struggle with PTSD, and what they need appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Michael D. Regan

    More than 100 years ago, industries began dumping toxic waste into the Gowanus Canal. Photo by Michael D. Regan

    More than 100 years after industries began dumping toxic chemicals into New York City’s Gowanus Canal, a long-awaited cleanup through the federal Superfund program is underway.

    The first phases of the $506 million remediation project are set to begin this year after the Environmental Protection Agency declared the 1.8-mile canal a Superfund site in 2010 and as the neighborhood undergoes a period of rapid development.

    Formally referred to as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the federal Superfund program was implemented nearly 40 years ago to clean up or contain hazardous waste at the worst-contaminated sites across the country, many in or near thousands of communities.

    But local project managers last week said the Gowanus cleanup could soon run out of funding, raising questions over whether the project would be delayed and casting light on the difficulties that Superfund projects may be facing under President Donald Trump’s administration.

    Among the cache of cuts to the EPA proposed in March under Trump’s 2018 “skinny budget” would be a significant reduction to the Superfund program. The proposal calls for slashing the program’s $1.1 billion budget by about 31 percent and transferring the burden of some of the EPA’s functions to states.

    While Trump has lauded the move as a way to cut the federal deficit, scientists, environmentalists, and some state and federal officials say potential reductions would further dilute the effectiveness of an already-underfunded program, which is charged with remediating more than 1,300 sites across the country.

    “It’s already been cut by 50 percent,” said Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, about the federal Superfund budget. “Far fewer sites are getting cleaned up as a result of that.”

    The EPA did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

    Photo by Michael D. Regan

    New developments are springing up along the Gowanus Canal. Photo by Michael D. Regan

    What happened to the Superfund tax?

    Kimmell said that in 1999 the yearly Superfund budget was set at $2 billion before it was downsized over the course of the next decade. In 1995, a Republican-controlled Congress eliminated a nine-year-old tax on petroleum and chemical industries, which had created a multibillion-dollar trust for Superfund cleanups. The trust is now dissipating.

    Efforts by Democrats to reinstate the tax have failed, while funding for Superfund projects now relies largely on appropriations from the general tax fund along with a lesser pot of money from companies deemed “responsible parties” by the EPA. Kimmell said the absence of a well-funded trust and a robust legal mechanism have slowed the pace of cleanups.

    “The idea of it originally was that if you give the EPA the tools to make private parties who were responsible for the sites to clean them up,” Kimmell said. “But as is often the case, sometimes the sites got contaminated 20, 30, 60 years ago and so there’s no one left to hold responsible and so they still need to get cleaned up.”

    At least 53 million people live less than three miles away from a Superfund site, including about 18 percent of all children in the country under the age of five, a 2015 EPA report found. Approximately 46 percent of those living near Superfund sites are minorities and 15 percent live below the poverty line.

    Michele Roberts, co-director of the advocacy group Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform and a former scientist for the Delaware state government, said those communities also tend to have lower education levels, literacy rates, household incomes and housing values, based on her organization’s 2014 report that looked a chemical spills at more than 3,400 industrial facilities.

    She said that hundreds of toxic waste sites not listed as Superfunds are often found in low-income neighborhoods.

    “This cut to the Superfund program, the cuts to the EPA, would create a spiraling ripple effect in our communities,” Roberts said. “Making it a political football, making communities really having to push [for Superfund designation].”

    Gowanus Canal

    The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, N.Y., is one of more than 1,300 Superfund sites currently listed in the U.S. President Donald Trump called for slashing the program by 31 percent in his 2018 budget proposal. Photo by Michael D. Regan

    Can states handle the cleanup?

    Lois Gibbs, founder and executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, said reductions to the Superfund program would weaken the EPA’s environmental enforcement and legal reach to dissect the tangle of issues that come along with the designation.

    “A lot of that money goes for litigation and for abandoned sites,” Gibbs said. “So the chances of them pursuing lawsuits against responsible parties are pretty slim.”

    As a mother living in Niagara Falls, N.Y., in the 1970s, Gibbs led the fight against one of the country’s first Superfund sites called Love Canal, after 20,000 tons of toxic waste were discovered buried beneath her neighborhood and a school her child had attended.

    But much of the process of addressing the massive environmental catastrophe began at the state level before the federal government stepped in.

    “I think the people on the Hill are forgetting the states are the ones that said, ‘Take this dog and walk it,’” Gibbs said. “States have already said, ‘We can’t handle this,’ that’s why they’re on the [Superfund] list in the first place. They want the blight removed, they want sites cleaned up.”

    In his budget proposal, Trump called for reducing the number of EPA employees by more than 3,000 and stressed the importance of the state role in “implementing the nation’s environmental laws.”

    As the former head of a state environmental department, Kimmel said the idea that states could take more control over cleaning up contaminated sites would only go so far, given the size and complexity of some Superfund projects.

    But overall, “More sites would sit there longer, more people including the most vulnerable people would continue to be subjected to the risks of living near these sites,” Kimmel said. “More property would be taken out of out economic commission. That’s what the impact of cutting the Superfund beyond what it’s already been cut will be.”

    In Brooklyn, Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s Executive Director Andrea Parker said the promise of a cleaner canal has already fueled considerable development in the surrounding neighborhood, even as the amount of affordable housing in the area decreases and some residents worry about displacement. But other locals remain optimistic that the project will be completed despite the threat of cuts to the Superfund program.

    Several companies that the EPA deemed responsible for the pollution have committed funding and New York City is preparing to address years of sewage overflow into the canal.

    “This has been a long time coming and we certainly want to avoid anything holding it up,” Parker said.

    The post As hundreds of toxic sites await cleanup, questions over Superfund program’s future appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A man casts his vote in a school used as a polling station during the presidential election, in Guayaquil

    A man casts his vote in a school used as a polling station during the presidential election, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on April 2, 2017. Photo by Henry Romero/Reuters

    QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador’s presidential vote Sunday is expected to be a close race that could either further tilt Latin America toward the right following a series of conservative election victories or reinforce President Rafael Correa’s “Citizens’ Revolution.”

    Polls showed a neck-and-neck vote between Correa’s hand-picked successor, Lenin Moreno, and conservative former banker Guillermo Lasso. Correa is urging voters to pick the candidate who will continue his policies in support of the poor while the opposition candidate is promising to deliver a well-needed jolt to the nation’s beleaguered economy.

    Correa cast his vote shortly after polls opened early Sunday, saying that the contest would be “very important” for determining whether the small Andean nation of 16 million takes a turn for the right or if “progressive tendencies resume their force.”

    With Ecuador’s economy slated to shrink by 2.7 percent this year as oil prices remain low and with a majority of citizens stating in surveys that they are eager for change after 10 years of Correa’s iron-fisted rule, analysts had been anticipating that Ecuadoreans would back Lasso and join the growing list of Latin American nations shifting to the right.

    Yet in the final weeks of the race, Moreno has inched ahead amid an aggressive campaign led by Correa to cast Lasso as a wealthy, out-of-touch politician who profited from the country’s 1999 banking crisis.

    “We know how to put ourselves in your shoes, understand your dreams and wishes,” Moreno said in a final campaign announcement.

    A March 21 poll by firm Cedatos, which accurately predicted the first-round result, put Moreno ahead with 52 percent of the vote for the first time since its runoff surveys began. Yet as many as 16 percent of Ecuadorians report they are still undecided and the leads in the polls are within the margins for error.

    READ NEXT: Lawmakers call for protected status for Ecuadorians living in U.S.

    Authorities are deploying thousands of officers to beef up security at vote-processing centers around the country after a contentious first-round election on Feb. 19, in which Moreno fell just short of the required threshold to avoid a runoff.

    The vote count dragged on for several days before the official results were announced, provoking accusations of fraud from both sides and angry protests that have injected an unusual degree of volatility in the election results.

    Fearing a contested election, church leaders have appealed to both campaigns to accept whatever the results.

    Lasso has put forward a pro-business agenda aimed at attracting foreign investment, reducing taxes and generating more jobs and in recent days drew comparisons between continuing a Correa-style government and going down the same path as socialist Venezuela.

    After casting his ballot in his native Guayaquil, Lasso said he is vote “for change, so Ecuador can recover its freedom.”

    Lasso has benefited from ongoing corruption allegations related to bribes Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht paid to officials in Correa’s government and a $12 million contracting scandal at state-run PetroEcuador, but analysts say he has not connected with lower-income voters.

    The election results are also being watched for a sign whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be able to remain at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Lasso has said he’ll evict the Australian activist within 30 days of taking office while Moreno says he’ll allow him to stay.

    The post Ecuadoreans vote in closely watched presidential election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    AMY GUTTMAN: Gibraltar is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. Tourists flock here to stand at the top of The Rock, 14-hundred feet above sea level, with tunnels carved into it which housed Allied troops during World War Two. For centuries, this peninsula jutting out of Spain’s southern coast has been a strategic military and trading post.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Today, it’s the only British territory on the European continent. The mild climate, relaxed lifestyle, and mix of languages make Gibraltar feel culturally a lot like neighboring Spain.

    AMY GUTTMAN: While 30-thousand people live in Gibraltar, 13-thousand Spaniards and other European nationals commute to work here every day. Most park their cars on the Spanish side and walk across an area known as “The Frontier.”

    AMY GUTTMAN: George Bassadone employs 70 Spanish workers converting SUV’S into ambulances used by the United Nations and aid organizations all over the world.

    GEORGE BASSADONE: The work that we do is very specialized, involving a lot of electronics, mechanical work. So, we tend to find that expertise in Spain.

    AMY GUTTMAN: His business is dependent on one of the cornerstones of the European Union, free movement of people and goods across open borders. Gibraltar imports almost everything from its food to timber over its one mile land border with Spain. Bassadone was among the 96 percent of Gibraltar residents who voted to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum, when the overall majority of voters in the United Kingdom voted to leave.

    GEORGE BASSADONE: The biggest fear we have is a potential closure of the border. We would have to reevaluate our Spanish workforce and look at possibly getting rid of the majority of our Spanish workers and trying to train up locals, which would be very disruptive and take up a huge amount of time to do.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Are there locals who want to do these jobs?

    GEORGE BASSADONE: That would be one of the big challenges finding 70-plus technicians and engineers that are able to do this kind of work. One of our unique selling points is to react quickly to international demand and disasters in different parts of the world. Having that agility and flexibility is very much based on the existing workforce that we have.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Just as Gibraltar depends on Spanish workers for 40 percent of its workforce, residents of the closest Spanish city, La Linea de Concepcion, depend on jobs in Gibraltar. Despite that, more than a-third of La Linea’s population is unemployed, like Marga Sanchez.
    She’s worried that uncertainty about Brexit could make it even more difficult to find a job.

    MARGA SANCHEZ: The people are trying to sell their houses, but they don’t find buyers, because nobody wants to invest right now. We are in limbo, basically.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Would it be possible for you and your partner to support yourselves with jobs in La Linea?

    MARGA SANCHEZ: There are no jobs in La Linea. We only have Gibraltar as our main factory. Either you work there or you have to find another way to survive.

    AMY GUTTMAN: La Linea’s economy also gets a big boost from the 175 million dollars Gibraltar residents spend every year in Spain…

    PERSON CHANGING MONEY: 150 pounds, please.

    AMY GUTTMAN: …on shopping, restaurants, and services like this auto body repair shop, where 40 percent of the customers come from over the border. La Linea Mayor Juan Franco says his constituents and Gibraltar residents are already feeling one negative effect from Brexit, the decline in the value of the British pound, Gibraltar’s currency.

    MAYOR JUAN FRANCO: Now the pound has a rate of about 15 percent lower than six or seven months ago. That affects the salaries of the Spanish workers and Europeans. It’s like a chain effect, because people spend less money in La Linea.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Juan Jose Uceda, who represents a union for Spanish workers employed in Gibraltar, estimates 25 percent of La Linea’s economy comes from the neighboring peninsula.

    JUAN JOSE UCEDA: We export a lot of stuff to Gibraltar. What is going to happen with all the groceries and the fruits and vegetables and shoes and other things we export from spain to UK?

    AMY GUTTMAN: You can see those exports moving every day before dawn, as three hundred trucks line up on the Spanish side of the border waiting for customs checks before making deliveries to warehouses in Gibraltar.

    IDAN GREENBERG: The frontier is very important. It needs to be open for Gibraltar to survive, I think.

    IDAN GREENBERG: Idan Greenberg owns a cafe and bakery in Gibraltar. He says it would be impossible to run his business without those daily deliveries.

    IDAN GREENBERG: You need chickpeas from Spain and tahini, which happens to be imported via London over road and coming over the border with Spain.

    AMY GUTTMAN: A short airstrip and a border crossing are all that separate the peninsula of Gibraltar from mainland Spain. The relationship with its nearest neighbor has been tempestuous in the past, at times making Gibraltar practically an island. For decades, Spain has exerted pressure to regain sovereignty over Gibraltar, for example, intentionally slowing passport and vehicle checks at its border, leading to traffic jams of up to 12 hours.

    AMY GUTTMAN: The worst confrontation came in 1969, when Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco closed the border entirely to assert Spain’s claim over the territory. The border remained shut for 15 years, causing massive job losses for La Linea residents who worked in Gibraltar and dividing families.

    JUAN JOSE UCEDA: Almost a third of the population had to leave. It was really difficult for us to survive psychologically that situation. Many people of Gibraltar and La Linea are mixed. They are families. They are grandparents here that go there to Gibraltar to meet their grandchildren or vice versa.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Ed Macquisten, who heads the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, says the hardening of the border would also hurt Gibraltar’s economy.

    EDWARD MACQUISTEN: There are a number of people who live in this town who have experienced that before, when the Spanish Government shut the frontier in 1969. For the business owners that were running businesses in those days, they had two weeks notice and two weeks later they didn’t have their staff. How can you run a business like that?

    AMY GUTTMAN: Macquisten says today he’s concerned about the position of the current Spanish government.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called for joint sovereignty over Gibraltar. If Gibraltar wants to remain in the EU after Brexit, saying last December:
    “It’s impossible for Gibraltar to be in the European Union if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and if there are no legal changes.”

    AMY GUTTMAN: Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, the highest ranking government official in Gibraltar, says residents oppose Spanish rule of any kind.

    FABIAN PICARDO: There’s only one option on the table as far as the people of Gibraltar are concerned. We’re going to stay entirely and exclusively British for exactly the same reason as the people of the United States would today not be prepared to countenance joint sovereignty with Canada or Mexico.

    AMY GUTTMAN: The British Government has already said it won’t negotiate with Spain on sovereignty over Gibraltar or cede Gibraltar to Spain. Picardo advocates a special status for Gibraltar with the EU, to at least maintain freedom of movement for goods and people.

    FABIAN PICARDO: Geographically, politically, and socio-economically, we have different realities. We have a land border with the European continent. That means that there are going to have to be slight differences between what is agreed for us and what might have to be agreed for the rest of the United Kingdom.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Economically, Gibraltar has touted its EU access and relatively low corporate taxes to lure industries that don’t export physical products, like insurance, financial services and online betting companies. Now, some of those companies say they’re exploring relocating offices elsewhere in the EU. Amidst the uncertainty over its political future, Chamber of Commerce president Ed Macquisten sees economic opportunity.

    ED MACQUISTEN: We’ve always sought to diversify our economy and get it to develop in various different ways so you’re not reliant on any single sector. If one market or two markets shut down, people in this town will get up and go out and find five new markets.

    AMY GUTTMAN: Even with well thought out plans, George Bassadone fears a hardened border will hurt his bottom line.

    GEORGE BASSADONE: These contingencies would come with additional costs to the business, and those costs we would not be able to pass on to the customer. We’re already playing in a market that’s very price sensitive. We would want the frontier to stay open to allow for the freedom of movement of goods and personnel for our business moving forward.

    The post In Gibraltar, British citizens worry about effects of Brexit appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last week endorsed a proposal to close the jails on Rikers Island, which are notorious for their history of violence among inmates and brutality at the hands of guards. The facility has been the subject of multiple investigations by the city and federal government. The plan calls for Rikers to close over the next decade and its 7,500 prisoners to be placed in new jails in the city’s five boroughs.

    Joining me now to discuss the feasibility of all this is “Crain’s New York Business” reporter Rosa Goldensohn.

    So, you know, this is a national program but Rikers is a nationally famous jail.

    ROSA GOLDENSOHN, CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS REPORTER: Yes, you know, there aren’t a lot of island penal colonies left. I was in San Francisco recently and we took the ferry to Alcatraz. It’s a tourist site.


    GOLDENSOHN: And same in South Africa.

    So, it’s really rare and the — in the study that just came out, they call it a 19th century solution to a 21s century problem.

    SREENIVASAN: So, what were the things that actually finally tipped it over the edge? Because it’s had a long history of problems.

    GOLDENSOHN: It has. And I think there’s a consensus that built in the last year, that there was a story about Kalief Browder, the 16 year old who spent three years on Rikers and later killed himself. He spent a year in solitary confinement. And that drew a lot of attention to the court delays and the sort of systemic problems there, like why, why are people spending so much time there.

    So, that story and his death in 2015 drew a different kind of momentum. “The New York Times” editorialized that the place should close last year and the speaker of the city council came out saying this was her goal.

    SREENIVASAN: How much does it actually matter in terms of the money spent on keeping people on this island? Because it is where it is, if the crimes are in the boroughs, they have to kind of go back and forth.

    GOLDENSOHN: That’s exactly right. It’s $80,000 a day just transporting people to the courts and back. And 85 percent of the people on Rikers are pretrial detainees, or people who have to go to the court. They are not people serving out sentences for misdemeanors. So, a lot of people think it’s a prison, it’s a jail and that means people are — you know, they spend a lot of money bringing people back and forth to the courts.

    And it’s also the physical plant of Rikers, just the layout and its age, the age of the building. The head of the Department of Corrections has said it’s that physical layout that actually is what makes the staffing requirements so high there. So, there are 10,000 correction officers for fewer than 10,000 total inmates in the system.

    SREENIVASAN: So, you know, one of the things of New York City is struggling with and this happens around the country is that if you close this down, where are you going to move it? And everyone says not in my backyard.

    GOLDENSOHN: The report that came out today, or was released Friday, announced today, called for the facilities to be near the courts. And so, you know, there are already some holding facilities like Brooklyn House of Detention, they’re in Manhattan, what are called The Tombs. So there are jails next to the courts in some of the boroughs. These would have to be built out.

    So, there could be opposition but it’s not like you’re going to need to have a jail in the middle of a residential neighborhood on your block. You know, this —

    SREENIVASAN: Right. All right. Rosa Goldensohn from “Crain’s New York Business” — thanks so much for joining us.

    GOLDENSOHN: Thank you.

    The post NYC mayor endorses Rikers shutdown plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (unseen) at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will visit the White House tomorrow. The administration has said President Trump is looking to reboot the bilateral relationship and build on the connection the two presidents established when they first met in New York last year. The visit raises questions about U.S. foreign aid to Egypt and al-Sisi’s human rights record since he overthrew Egypt’s first democratically-elected president in 2013.

    “New York Times” White House correspondent Peter Baker joins me now from Washington for a preview.

    Peter, you had a chance to sit down with officials in the White House last week. But, first of all, regardless of what happens at the meeting, the very act of the U.S. president meeting him at the White House, that’s kind of a win for Egypt right there?

    PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, the picture is what President Sisi wants more than anything, that along with the money, of course. But the picture is really important, a picture of him with the president of the United States, in the Oval Office, in the White House, something that no Egyptian president has had since 2009. President Obama, you know, he went back and forth on how hard to push on human rights but he kept a distance from President Sisi, never invited him to the White House. And this is something as you say as a victory for President Sisi to come and be with the president of the United States.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. Let’s talk about the people he overthrew to take the spot, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt considers them basically a terrorist organization, but they want the world to see that as well. What’s the likelihood the U.S. moves in that direction?

    Well, that’s exactly right and when President Sisi met or his people met with people from President Obama’s administration, they brought up every single time, you need to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, they said. And the Obama administration consistently refused.

    The Trump administration is debating this. They’re not sure about this. There are some people within the administration who agree, who think that the Muslim Brotherhood is essentially equivalent to radical Islamic groups like the Islamic State, like al-Qaeda, like Shabaab.

    But there are many others inside the Trump administration and many outside the Trump administration who say, no, that — you shouldn’t conflate the two. They’re not like that. They are more moderate. They have officially renounced violence and they are a much more amorphous organization anyway that would cause all sorts of unintended consequences if you call them a terrorist organization because suddenly you wouldn’t be allowed it deal with people who are in governments in places line Tunisia and other places.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. And Egypt has cracked down hard to put it mildly on the Muslim Brotherhood. And your piece recently talked about their human-rights record. And a lot of people are pushing the United States to take a stand on it. But what’s the Trump administration going to do.

    BAKER: According to Human Rights Watch, tens of thousands of people have been put in prison by President Sisi’s administration for largely political reason, the Muslim Brotherhood. But not just Muslim Brotherhood, also, you know, some non — some people who are not related to them, including a few Americans.

    What the Trump White House is saying is, look, human rights are important to us. We are going to raise it but we’re going to do it in private. We’re not going to talk about this publicly. We don’t think that’s the constructive way to approach this.

    But then you have the critics outside who are saying, if you don’t raise it publicly, it sends a signal to not just Egypt but the whole region that it’s not important to you.

    SREENIVASAN: Now, speaking of the region, the president or the king of Jordan is supposed to visit on Wednesday. And the Trump administration has said their priority is to fight ISIS. And in that context, what about the aid the United States gives to Egypt? Does that increase or decrease especially with what the budget is?

    BAKER: What, of course, we’ve seen President Trump has sent Congress a budget proposal that cuts foreign aid very drastically, very dramatically. And they have said other than Israel basically, everybody’s aid package is on the table. Well, second to Israel is Egypt. $1.3 billion a year in military aid.

    But the Trump administration is saying, look, we’re going to give them enough money but we’re not telling you how much yet because of the whole budget process going on. So, the Egyptians are very nervous about that, that’s one of the top priorities that President Sisi has in coming to Washington is to see if he can’t preserve their rather, you know, generous aid levels that they’ve had now going back to the Camp David Accords in the 1970s.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. “New York Times” White House correspondent Peter Baker joining us from Washington — thanks so much.

    BAKER: Thanks. Good talking to you.

    The post Trump looks to reboot bilateral ties with Egypt appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — A top adviser to President Donald Trump has urged the defeat of a Michigan congressman and member of a conservative group of U.S. House lawmakers who derailed the White House on legislation to repeal and replace the Obama-era health care law.

    Government ethics lawyers said the tweet by White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. violated federal law that limits political activity by government employees. The White House denied Scavino had run afoul of the law.

    Two days after Trump himself tweeted a threat to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, a group of fellow Republicans, Scavino followed up Saturday by singling out Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., for criticism and urging Trump supporters to defeat the congressman in next year’s primary election.

    Scavino tweeted that Trump “is bringing auto plants & jobs back to Michigan” and Amash “is a big liability,” adding: “#TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary.”

    Amash, who began serving his fourth House term in January, responded by retweeting Scavino and adding: “Trump admin & Establishment have merged into #Trumpstablishment. Same old agenda: Attack conservatives, libertarians & independent thinkers.”

    Another Freedom Caucus member criticized by Trump, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, said the GOP health care legislation was not only poorly done, but rushed, broadly unpopular and opposed by moderates as well as conservatives. “Tweets and statements and blame don’t change facts,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

    “Let’s start over,” he said. “Even the president said we can get a better bill after it was postponed a week ago.”

    Ethics lawyers who worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents said Scavino violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that limits political activity by government employees. They said it didn’t matter that Scavino tweeted from an account marked as “personal” and not from his official government Twitter account.

    Daniel Jacobson, a White House lawyer under President Barack Obama, tweeted that White House staff “can’t use an official or de facto govt Twitter acct (which this is) to call for defeat of a candidate. De facto means that if you tweet only about WH work from your account, it’s an official account. Labeling ‘personal’ doesn’t change that.”

    Richard Painter, who at one time was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, called attention to the description beneath the photo on the account Scavino has designated as personal. It shows Scavino in the Oval Office, and he is identified as director of social media and a senior adviser to Trump.

    “This is use of official position to influence an election,” Painter tweeted. “Look at the photo and description underneath. Bush WH would have fired him.”

    The White House said in a statement that the tweet did not violate federal law “as it clearly comes from his personal account and not his official White House account.” It said Scavino created an official account after he started working at the White House “to ensure compliance with the Hatch Act and he has taken the necessary steps to ensure there is a clear distinction between both Twitter accounts.”

    House Freedom Caucus members helped derail a vote last month on legislation long sought by Republicans to repeal and replace the health care law known as Obamacare. Its members argued that the bill didn’t go far enough to undo the law. Some moderate Republicans also objected to the legislation, but for different reasons.

    About a week after House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., pulled the bill from the House floor, Trump directed his Twitter fire on fellow Republicans.

    “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump said Thursday. In follow-up tweets, the president singled out three Freedom Caucus members – Jordan, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho and the caucus chairman, Mark Meadows of North Carolina. Trump said if they “would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform.”

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    Trump delivers remarks at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township

    U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan, on March 15, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    POTOMAC FALLS, Va. — President Donald Trump says that the United States is prepared to act alone if China does not take a tougher stand against North Korea’s nuclear program.

    Trump’s comments in an interview with the Financial Times come just days before he is set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida. The two are expected to discuss a number of issues, including North Korea, trade and territorial disputes in the South China Sea during their meeting on Thursday and Friday.

    “Yes, we will talk about North Korea,” Trump told the newspaper for a story that appeared Sunday on its website. “And China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone.”

    Trump said trade was the incentive for China to work with the United States. Still, he said the United States could “totally” handle the situation in North Korea without China’s help.

    Asked how he would tackle North Korea, Trump said: “I’m not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East.”

    While China provides diplomatic and economic support to its neighbor, it claims that its influence over Kim Jong Un’s government is limited.

    The relationship between the United States and China has been uncertain since Trump’s election. During his campaign he accused China of unfair trade practices and threatened to raise import taxes on Chinese goods and declare Beijing a currency manipulator, though it is unclear whether Trump will follow through with either threat.

    [Watch Video]

    Trump told the newspaper that he doesn’t “want to talk about tariffs yet, perhaps the next time we meet.”

    Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, also offered tough talk on China, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that the U.S. is pressing China to take a firmer stand regarding North Korea’s nuclear program.

    U.N. resolutions have failed so far to deter North Korea from conducting nuclear and missile tests. Last year, the North conducted two nuclear tests and two dozen tests of ballistic missiles.

    “They need to show us how concerned they are,” Haley said. “They need to put pressure on North Korea. The only country that can stop North Korea is China, and they know that.”

    Asked what the U.S. would do if China doesn’t cooperate, Haley said: “China has to cooperate.”

    Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, however, said he doubted that Beijing will cooperate.

    “I’ve been working on the North Korea problem since 1994,” Carter said on ABC. “And we have consistently asked Chinese leaders … because they uniquely have the historical and the economic relationship with North Korea to make a difference.

    “They haven’t used that influence, and so it’s hard for me to be optimistic with that,” he said.

    The post Trump says U.S. is prepared to act alone on North Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner (left) speaks with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before departing for Iraq from Ramstein Air Base in Germany on April 3. Photo by DoD/Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Handout via Reuters

    President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner (left) speaks with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before departing for Iraq from Ramstein Air Base in Germany on April 3. Photo by DoD/Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Handout via Reuters

    BAGHDAD — President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, flew to Iraq with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford on Monday.

    Kushner’s travel plans initially were revealed late Sunday by a Trump administration official who said Kushner wanted to see the situation there for himself and show support for Baghdad’s government.

    The official said Kushner had already arrived. But when presented with information indicating that was not accurate, the official said the timing of his arrival was unclear but confirmed that Kushner was scheduled to be in Iraq Monday. Such visits from high-ranking officials are typically kept secret out of security concerns.

    The administration official who provided the information late Sunday wasn’t authorized to speak about confidential meetings by name and demanded anonymity.

    Kushner’s arrival in mid-afternoon Monday, local time, with Dunford and Thomas P. Bossert, a presidential assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, was announced by Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for Dunford.

    The trip begins against a backdrop of an ongoing investigation into civilian deaths in an area of Mosul near the site of an air-strike by U.S.-led coalition forces last month.

    “Gen. Dunford invited Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bossert to meet with Iraqi leaders, senior U.S. advisors, and visit with U.S. forces in the field to receive an update on the status of the counter-ISIS (an acronym for the Islamic State group) campaign in Iraq and Syria,” Hicks said. The spokesman added that Kushner was “traveling on behalf of the president to express the president’s support and commitment to the Government of Iraq and U.S. personnel currently engaged in the campaign.”

    Kushner’s West Wing portfolio is robust. He has been deeply involved with presidential staffing, recently launched a task force meant to modernize government using lessons drawn from the private sector, and has played the role of shadow diplomat, advising on relations with the Middle East, Canada and Mexico.

    And though Kushner had no previous diplomatic or government experience, Trump also tasked him with trying to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

    “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump told Kushner at a gala a few days before his inauguration.

    Kushner was also the latest Trump associate to be swept up into the ongoing probe into contacts with Russian officials. The White House confirmed last week that he had volunteered to be interviewed by the Senate intelligence committee. North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman, said that Kushner would likely be under oath and would submit to a “private interview” about arranging meetings with the Russian ambassador and other officials.

    Kushner is married to Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka. He was expected to have a major role in meetings later this week between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s winter retreat in Palm Beach, Florida.

    His visit marks an early foray for the Trump administration into the situation in Iraq and came just two weeks after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he was assured by the president the U.S. will accelerate its support for his country’s struggle against the Islamic State group.

    Al-Abadi met with Trump and Kushner in Washington recently and said he had the impression that the United States would take a more aggressive approach, although he did not say what that might entail.

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently presented Trump with the outlines of a comprehensive approach to defeating IS and other extremist groups on a global scale, but specifics have yet to be worked out. Officials have indicated that the approach is unlikely to depart radically from the Obama administration’s strategy, at least with regard to ongoing efforts in Iraq and Syria.

    Iraq was part of the Trump administration’s original travel ban but was removed from the revised version after a request from the Pentagon and the State Department highlighting Iraq’s key role in fighting the Islamic State. The second travel ban, which restrictions immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, has been halted by a federal court. The U.S. Justice Department has announced an appeal.


    Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Lolita C. Baldor, Vivian Salama and Catherine Lucey in Washington contributed to this report.

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    Security forces guard the area around an explosion at a subway station in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 3. Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Security forces guard the area around an explosion at a subway station in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 3. Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    An explosion on a train at a St. Petersburg, Russia, subway station killed at least 10 people and injured dozens on Monday, Russia’s health minister said.

    President Vladimir Putin, who was in St. Petersburg at the time, said the cause of the blast wasn’t yet clear but authorities were investigating.

    Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said live on television that seven people were killed at the location, another died in an ambulance heading to the hospital, and two more died at the hospital, reported the Associated Press.

    Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said it found and deactivated a bomb containing shrapnel at Vosstaniya Square station, also in St. Petersburg, according to the AP.

    Russian law enforcement agencies were hunting for two suspects, said the Interfax news agency.

    In a statement, U.S. State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. condemned the attack. “We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those who were killed, and our thoughts and prayers are with those injured in the attack and with the Russian people,” he said.

    The post Blast on metro in St. Petersburg, Russia kills at least 10 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch the Senate panel vote on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court at 10 a.m. EDT Monday.

    WASHINGTON — A deeply divided Senate panel favorably recommended Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Monday, sending the nomination to the full Senate for what is expected to be a partisan showdown — and eventual confirmation.

    The 11-9 committee vote for President Donald Trump’s nominee, strictly along party lines, came shortly after Democrats secured enough votes to block the nomination in the full Senate. But that Democratic success was virtually certain to be a short-lived political victory, as Republicans vowed to change Senate rules to put Gorsuch on the court and score a much-needed win for their party.

    Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said before the vote that he would vote with his fellow Democrats to block the nomination later this week, giving them the 41 votes needed. Once they do block it, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is likely to change Senate rules so that Gorsuch can be confirmed with a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber instead of the 60 votes now required.

    The starkly divided Senate panel weighed Gorsuch’s nomination, with Republicans casting the Denver-based appeals court judge as fiercely independent and Democrats complaining that his ambiguous testimony makes him the wrong choice.

    Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, strongly defended Gorsuch as a fair and independent man. He said Democrats had worked to try and find fault with him, but “that fault will not stick.”

    “He’s a mainstream judge who’s earned the universal respect of his colleagues on the bench and in the bar,” Grassley said. “He applies the law as we in Congress write it_as the judicial oath says, without respect to persons. And he refuses to compromise his independence.”

    However, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the panel, said Gorsuch’s answers during two days of questioning before the committee were “diluted with ambiguity.” She announced her opposition to the nominee.

    “Judge Gorsuch’s views were difficult to discern because he refused to answer questions, even basic questions that had been answered by previous nominees,” Feinstein said.

    Democrats are angry in part because McConnell and Grassley last year blocked President Barack Obama’s pick for the job after the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Even before Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, McConnell said the next president should choose the nominee, and Grassley’s committee never held a hearing on Garland.

    “This action by my colleagues was unacceptable and has scarred this process and this body,” Coons said before announcing his opposition. Coons said he hoped the Senate could still find agreement on a way to avoid the rules change, but the chances of such a deal were slim.

    With Coons’ announcement, 40 Democrats and one independent have announced they will vote to block the nomination on a procedural cloture vote — a parliamentary step to advance the nomination — and oppose the choice.

    Sens. Coons, Feinstein, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Mark Warner of Virginia all said for the first time Monday that they’d vote to block. On Sunday, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is up for re-election next year in a state Trump won handily, announced his opposition.

    File photo of Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    File photo of Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    But another Democrat in a Republican-dominated state up for re-election next year, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, announced he would support the president’s nominee Sunday. Donnelly called Gorsuch, 49, “a qualified jurist who will base his decisions on his understanding of the law and is well-respected among his peers.”

    Donnelly is one of three Democrats who is supporting the nomination. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have also said they will vote for him.

    The majority of Senate Democrats have vowed to support Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has led the effort to block the nominee. Republicans argue the action is exceedingly rare for Supreme Court choices.

    Although a change in Senate rules might seem procedural or obscure, it is known on Capitol Hill as the “nuclear option” because it would amount to a dramatic departure from Senate norms of bipartisanship and collegiality. It could also mean that Trump and future presidents will not have to be as concerned about compromising with the minority party when nominating Supreme Court justices.

    It would not be unprecedented. In 2013, Democrats were in the majority and upset about appellate court nominees being blocked by Republicans. They pushed through a rules change lowering the vote threshold on all nominees except for the Supreme Court from 60 votes to a simple majority.

    In addition to Gorsuch, the Judiciary Committee approved two other nominations — Rod Rosenstein to be deputy attorney general and Rachel Brand to be associate attorney general. If confirmed, they will be the No. 2 and No. 3 officials at the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    — By Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press

    The post WATCH: Senate panel favorably recommends Gorsuch for Supreme Court appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Girl begging. Related words: kid, child, children,  Photo by Aurora Rodriguez via Getty Images

    Your child doesn’t have to be a monk, shunning all material goods. She’s just got to know the tricks to help her save those dollars for something she really wants. Photo by Aurora Rodriguez via Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: Even if you’re not that great at saving your money or investing it for the future, your kid can be. That’s the premise of Beth Kobliner’s new book “Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You’re Not).”

    We first met Kobliner on Sesame Street, where she taught Elmo the three S’s: saving, sharing and spending. In the following excerpt, Kobliner focuses on that first S, offering six tricks to help kids delay gratification and save for what they really want. For more, watch the Making Sen$e report in the text below, and read the first excerpt we published, “The 5Cs to follow when setting your kids’ allowance,” here.

    — Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor

    Your child doesn’t have to be a monk, shunning all material goods. He doesn’t even have to be super disciplined. He’s just got to know the tricks to help him avoid frittering away his money and instead save those dollars for something he really wants. Here are six smart strategies, inspired by the research of Walter Mischel, the brilliant psychology professor who created the Marshmallow Test decades ago, among other experts.

    READ MORE: What the marshmallow test really tells us

    1. Inoculate yourself. Before you enter a place with temptations, have a game plan. For little kids, you can keep it simple. As you prepare to walk into a store, you can say, “Today we are buying underwear for your brother, and that’s it. So if you see something you want, remind yourself that we are not going to buy it today.” You can add that you will do the same. Letting a child know what to expect and how to react prepares him to resist the urge to make impulse purchases (or throw tantrums about them). By rehearsing his response to the lure of a candy bar or a toy, your kid is (slowly) training his mind to ignore temptation.

    2. Think about tomorrow. It’s hard to remember how cool the thing you’re saving for is when you’re staring at a bag of cheesy chips at the checkout line. But focusing on the long-term negative outcome has been shown to be surprisingly effective. “If I spend money on a bag of chips today, then it’ll take me longer to get those Legos that I really want.” When your kid is wavering, commiserate about how tough it can be to wait for something you really want, and give an example of a situation where you had to wait for something. Then praise her after you see her resist an impulse purchase.

    READ MORE: Self-Controlled Kids Prosper as Adults: ‘Fatalistically Depressing’?

    3. Distract yourself. When your child throws a fit at the checkout line in a store because he will “die if I don’t have gum you have to get me gum buy me gum you don’t love me buy me gum gum gum,” be ready with a story, a joke, an awesome funny cat or crazy roller coaster video on your phone, or a special secret that you want him to hear, but must swear him to secrecy first. Once you’re out of the store, point out how you really admire that he was able to get it together even though he wanted the candy so badly. Even if he is still a little mad at you, he will realize that the distraction did help make the feeling pass.

    4. Use your imagination. This is a quirky one, but it’s been shown to work. Encourage your child to think of whatever temptation she is encountering as not real, but just a photo or a picture that she can put a “frame” around in her mind. Turns out, some of the most successful waiters in the Marshmallow Test did this naturally. It’s a little abstract for young kids, but some can get into it. Another strategy is to pretend that a treat she wants is covered in ants or worms. In a store, if a kid tells herself that a tempting toy is broken or junky or that a candy is spicy or booger covered, it can work.

    5. Habits can help. Make saving automatic. Be consistent with this message: “The minute we get any cash — whether we earn it or get it as a gift — it goes right into our savings jar or piggy bank.” Don’t just rely on willpower; that’s the hard way. Instead, make it routine. But build fun splurges into that routine, too. (“We get ice cream after school on Fridays, so no need to ask to buy candy on Wednesday, because the answer is no. We buy special treats only on Fridays. That way we can save the rest of our money for the bigger stuff we want.”)

    WATCH MORE: ‘Sesame Street’ Tells You How to Get to Sunnier Days Financially

    6. Ask “What would a smart kid do?” Sometimes it helps your kid to remove herself emotionally from a tempting situation by “stepping outside” it and asking what someone else would do. Let her decide who that person might be — perhaps a classmate, or her favorite cartoon hero or just a hypothetical kid who’s smart. Kids like to give advice, and this technique allows them to think more coolly about their choices rather than act on impulse.

    The post 6 tips to help your kids through a checkout candy meltdown, and learn a financial lesson as well appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    File photo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    File photo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Updated at 1:47 p.m. EDT | Senate Democrats have enough votes to block Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with a filibuster, setting up a showdown with Republicans who plan to change Senate rules to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick.

    The crucial 41st vote came from Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware who announced his decision Monday.

    Coons’ opposition will prevent Republicans from reaching the 60 votes they need to move Gorsuch over procedural hurdles to a final Senate vote. Determined to confirm him despite Democratic objections, the GOP will likely change Senate rules later this week to reduce the threshold from 60 to a simple majority.

    All 52 Republicans back the nominee.


    Democrats and one independent who have announced their opposition to Gorsuch and willingness to block the nominee (total 41):

    Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin

    Sherrod Brown of Ohio

    Tom Carper of Delaware

    Bob Casey of Pennsylvania

    Kamala Harris of California

    Ed Markey of Massachusetts

    Jeff Merkley of Oregon

    Bernie Sanders of Vermont

    Chuck Schumer of New York

    Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island

    Jack Reed of Rhode Island

    Tom Udall of New Mexico

    Patty Murray of Washington

    Ron Wyden of Oregon

    Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

    Bill Nelson of Florida

    Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

    Al Franken of Minnesota

    Debbie Stabenow of Michigan

    Dick Durbin of Illinois

    Gary Peters of Michigan

    Chris Van Hollen of Maryland

    Chris Murphy of Connecticut

    Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire

    Kirsten Gilibrand of New York

    Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota

    Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire

    Tim Kaine of Virginia

    Martin Heinrich of New Mexico

    Cory Booker of New Jersey

    Maria Cantwell of Washington

    Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada

    Tammy Duckworth of Illinois

    Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut

    Brian Schatz of Hawaii

    Claire McCaskill of Missouri

    Jon Tester of Montana

    Dianne Feinstein of California

    Mark Warner of Virginia

    Patrick Leahy of Vermont

    Chris Coons of Delaware


    Supporting Gorsuch (3):

    Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota

    Joe Manchin of West Virginia

    Joe Donnelly of Indiana


    Still unannounced:

    Michael Bennet of Colorado says he will vote for cloture, no word on whether he will support or oppose the nominee.

    Angus King of Maine

    Bob Menendez of New Jersey

    Ben Cardin of Maryland has said he will oppose the nominee, but it’s unclear how he will vote on cloture.

    The post How Senate Dems have said they will vote on court pick appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump gives a thumb's up with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (right) at the White House on April 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    President Donald Trump gives a thumb’s up with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (right) at the White House on April 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signaled a new era in U.S.-Egypt relations on Monday, assuring his Egyptian counterpart that years of tepid relations will now give way to a “great bond” between their two nations.

    Trump reunited with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for talks ranging from collaboration against the Islamic State group to bolstering Egypt’s flailing economy.

    In Trump, el-Sissi sees new opportunity after years of lukewarm relations with President Barack Obama.

    “This is my first state visit to the United States since my inauguration and this is the first visit in eight years for an Egyptian president to the United States,” el-Sissi said.

    Obama never invited the Egyptian leader to the White House and Egypt’s government was repeatedly admonished over its human rights record. Obama even briefly suspended some U.S. military aid.

    It’s the second meeting for the pair. Reflecting on their first encounter in New York shortly before the general election, Trump said el-Sissi is someone “very close to me.”

    El-Sissi hailed Trump on Monday for his “unique personality” and said that after their first meeting, “I bet on you,” the latter being comments he made in Arabic that were not translated.

    For Egypt, the objective is clear: Help us help you.

    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will visit the White House on Monday after the Trump administration said the president is looking to reboot the bilateral relationship between Egypt and the U.S. But the visit raises questions about U.S. foreign aid to Egypt along with al-Sisi’s human rights record. Peter Baker, correspondent for The New York Times, joins Hari Sreenivasan for a preview.

    In recent months, U.S. and Egyptian officials have sought to stress commonalities.

    Like Trump, el-Sissi believes he can eradicate radical Islamic extremism.

    “Together, we will fight terrorism and other things and we’re going to be friends for a very, very long time,” Trump said, citing a “great bond with the people of Egypt.”

    El-Sissi vowed to work with the U.S. “to counter this evil ideology that is claiming innocent lives, that is bringing devastation to communities and nations and that is terrorizing the innocent people.”

    Since the military overthrew Egypt’s first post-revolution president, the popularly elected Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, el-Sissi has cracked down on political Islamists. El-Sissi also has taken a heavy hand on Egyptians who’ve deemed his presidency illegitimate, often relegating human rights concerns to national security.

    But el-Sissi’s government believes its success in fighting radicalism depends critically on U.S. aid.

    Egypt is among the top recipients of U.S. military and economic assistance, but the aid is being evaluated as part of the Trump administration’s push for dramatic budget cuts to diplomacy and development. It receives $1.3 billion annually in aid, plus hundreds of millions in economic assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and other programs potentially on the chopping block.

    Trump has vowed to work closely with Arab allies in the fight against the Islamic State group. As a neighbor to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Libya and Sudan, maintaining stability in Egypt is a high priority. But it has sometimes been a relationship from which the U.S. receives little in return, and Trump has said he won’t tolerate imbalances in other partnerships, as with China and many European allies.

    Egypt’s economy is forecast to grow by 4 percent this year, according to the World Bank, but the figure heavily accounts for capital gains in oil and gas.

    Conditions on the Egyptian streets tell a very different story.

    Unemployment hovers at 12.7 percent — a sore spot for millions of Egyptians who protested in 2011 to demand the removal of then-President Hosni Mubarak. Then, unemployment was 9 percent. Youth are hardest hit by job shortages, with about 30 percent out of work.

    Egyptians supporters of el-Sissi criticize the Obama administration’s handling of the Egyptian uprising six years ago, believing American complacency ushered in Muslim Brotherhood control.

    Since then, extremist attacks have spiked, particularly on the Sinai Peninsula which borders Israel and Gaza. Cairo — home to some 20 million people — has seen several militant attacks, including a December bombing at a church that killed more than two dozen people.

    Egypt’s minority Christians, who comprise about a tenth of the population, are particularly encouraged by Trump’s presidency, hoping the American president will team up with el-Sissi to more forcefully address Egypt’s growing extremism.

    For Trump and el-Sissi, it’s also a meeting of kindred spirits.

    Both maintain a contentious relationship with the media and believe “bad” or “evil” people are infiltrating their borders. Both whip up supporters with talk of victories and seek to project a mystic sense of inevitable success. They’ve both challenged whether their country’s judges are acting as roadblocks to democracy.

    El-Sissi, like Trump, is widely viewed as a polarizing figure in his country. That view manifesting itself on the streets outside the White House Monday, where rival protests for and opposing both Trump and el-Sissi swelled before the Egyptian’s arrival.

    In the sea of American and Egyptian flags, some chanted “We love el-Sissi, we love Trump!” Others held signs of el-Sissi and Trump and chanted “Illegitimate,” a cry harkening back to the Arab Spring.

    Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

    WATCH: Two veteran lawmakers worry global diplomacy is being undervalued

    The post Trump says U.S. will forge a ‘great bond’ with Egypt appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ecuadorean presidential candidate Lenin Moreno (center) celebrates alongside Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (left) and his wife Rocio Gonzalez in Quito on April 2. Photo by Mariana Bazo/Reuters

    Ecuadorean presidential candidate Lenin Moreno (center) celebrates alongside Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (left) and his wife Rocio Gonzalez in Quito on April 2. Photo by Mariana Bazo/Reuters

    Ecuador’s leftist ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno celebrated a narrow victory Monday following a contentious presidential run-off election, preserving the small, Andean nation’s status as one of South America’s remaining populist strongholds.

    As Moreno, 64, pledged to build on the polarizing, populist policies of outgoing President Rafael Correa’s decade-long “Citizens’ Revolution,” right-wing opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso called for a recount. Thousands of Lasso supporters, yelling “fraud,” overran barricades outside the nation’s electoral headquarters in the capital, Quito. Others clashed with police in a handful of cities across the country following the closest election in the nation’s recent, notoriously turbulent, political history.

    In addition to Correa, who’s eligible to run again in 2021, and pro-government supporters in Ecuador, Moreno’s win brought relief to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Correa granted Assange asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy in 2012a controversial move that Lasso vowed to undo and Moreno has said he would continue.

    Correa tweeted the early results Sunday night which showed Moreno winning by two points and sought to quell calls for a recount by adding it was an “irreversible trend” and that the “Citizens’ Revolution had returned to triumph in Ecuador.” After Moreno failed to win February’s first round of voting outright, Correa alluded to an old constitutional rule that could be used to dissolve both congress and the executive branch and call for new elections if a new leader threatened to make the country “ungovernable.”

    Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, a close ally of Correa’s who is currently fending off criticism after his country’s supreme court reversed a decision to dissolve the socialist state’s opposition-led congress, hailed Correa and Moreno’s “heroic victory.”

    With 99 percent of all votes counted, Lenin leads with 51.15 percent and Lasso,with 48.85 percent, has refused to accept the results, calling for a recount and urging the vigilance of his supporters.

    “We’re going to defend the will of the Ecuadorean people in the face of this fraud attempt,” he said Sunday night.

    Correa and Moreno painted Lasso, a former banker, as an out of touch elite who contributed to the country’s still painful 1990s banking crisis. And Lasso was unsuccessful in his attempt to sway a sizable bloc of undecided voters among the 13 million Ecuadoreans eligible to vote in Sunday’s contest by denouncing Correa’s long-standing bond with Venezuela’s former President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro. Lasso criticized Moreno as “the Nicolas Maduro of Rafael Correa,” a serious allegation in a country where, regardless of political affiliation, citizens clung to the common refrain “at least we’re not Venezuela” during the uncertainty that followed that country’s oil bust.

    But unusually strong flooding during the rainy season and a massive earthquake in 2016, which claimed more than 660 lives and injured 16,600 others, hit poor communities along the coast especially hard during the past several years. A strong voting bloc of Correa’s in the past, the region’s voters remained concerned about basic infrastructure. Since being elected on the heels of an economic crisis in 2006, Correa doubled social spending while tightening his control over opposing parties and public dissent as well as Ecuador’s press and judicial system during the oil boom. And in the runup to Sunday’s election, Correa touted the new schools, hospitals and other projects he brought to these coastal communities as successes of his self-proclaimed “21st century socialist revolution.”

    Following his win, Moreno, who is wheelchair-bound from being shot by robbers in 1998, said, “I will be the president of everyone, but especially the poor.”

    The post Ecuador’s ruling leftist party celebrates win as opposition alleges fraud appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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