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

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    Inmates Bruce Ward(top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason Mcgehee  are shown in these booking photo provided March 21, 2017.  The eight are scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas, beginning April 17, 2017.  Courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

    Top row, left to right: Bruce Ward, Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones, bottom row left to right: Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason Mcgehee are shown in these booking photo provided March 21, 2017. The eight were scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas, beginning April 17, 2017. Courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters

    A federal judge has blocked Arkansas from executing six men in 11 days, which was scheduled to start the day after Easter Sunday.

    U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker released her decision Saturday morning, concluding: “The Court finds that plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction based on their method of execution claim under the Eighth Amendment.”

    Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge plans to appeal the federal judge’s decision, Judd Deere, Rutledge’s communications director, said in a written statement.

    “It is unfortunate that a U.S. District Judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice,” Deere said. “This decision is significantly out of step with precedent from the Eighth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney General Rutledge plans to immediately appeal to the Eighth Circuit and ask that today’s injunction imposed by the district court be lifted.”

    Earlier this month, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson planned to execute eight men in 11 days, before the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs expired. The men were scheduled to die two per day, on April 17, April 20, April 24 and April 27. No state has executed so many men so quickly in the last four decades, Robert Dunham from the Death Penalty Information Center told the NewsHour.

    Before Saturday’s decision, the executions of two men — Jason McGehee and Bruce Ward — were blocked in separate decisions. The latest ruling from Baker applies to the eight originally scheduled to die, plus one more man whose execution had not yet been scheduled.

    Six out of 10 Arkansans favor the death penalty, according to an April 4 poll of 550 Arkansas voters conducted by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College. And among those respondents, half said they supported the state’s original plan to execute eight men in 10 days, while an additional 17 percent said it made no difference if Gov. Asa Hutchinson rushed the executions before the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs expired this month. Hendrix College political scientist Jay Barth designed the poll and said the results didn’t surprise him.

    “Arkansans have shown a consistent commitment to the death penalty, although Arkansas has employed the death penalty less than surrounding states,” Barth said. “This polling is pretty clear that Arkansans across the board are supportive.”

    Nationwide, half of Americans are in favor of the death penalty, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, but public support has declined since the Supreme Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) reinstated capital punishment.

    On Friday, the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty organized a protest on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock. Roughly 100 demonstrators showed up and heard remarks from Damien Echols, who was convicted and sentenced to die by age 19, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, for the brutal 1993 murder of three Boy Scouts in West Memphis, Arkansas.

    Nearly two decades later, DNA testing proved Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley played no role in the killings. They all were released from prison, and Echols moved out of state.

    “When I heard about the conveyor belt of death that the politicians were trying to set in motion, I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t come back and try to do something,” Echols said Friday.

    The post Federal judge blocks executions in Arkansas appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Casa Alitas has all the hallmarks of a daycare.

    The four-bedroom house in Tucson, Arizona, is stocked with stuffed animals, spare car seats and a small shelf of children’s books. Pantries are meticulously labeled in English and Spanish — latas de comida for canned food and leche en polvo for dry milk. A closet holds all the diapers and towels. Toys are scattered in the backyard.

    Artwork drawn and colored by children hang in almost every room of the house, thanking Casa Alitas (Spanish for “wings”) for its charity.

    Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    But this isn’t a daycare; there are no children.

    Instead, it’s a safe house, set up 2014 by Catholic Community Services to help address the record waves of Central Americans seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. An array of flags hang above the dining room, representing the many homelands of the families, largely mothers and their children, that are dropped off — many of them from Guatemala and Nicaragua, fleeing violence and poverty in their countries.

    The latest family to come through this Tucson safe house left the day before I arrived last month. Co-coordinator Maritza Black, 19, said Casa Alitas has received only five families in the weeks since then. The slowdown is unusual for a safe house that used to host, on average, four families a day.

    Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Black, along with co-coordinator Dora Haydee Lopez, 66, pointed to the Trump administration’s rhetoric and overall conversation around immigration as a direct factor in the noticeable dip they’ve seen in the number of families Immigration and Customs Enforcement drops off at their doorstep.

    In January, when Trump signed an executive order to step up deportations, the program coordinator contacted ICE to ask whether policy changes were going to directly affect the agency’s arrangement with Casa Alitas. According to coordinators, the agency said it was not doing anything different in regards to its policy. Later, when coordinators started to see a decline in the number of families sent their way, they checked in again. The agency maintained its position.

    ICE didn’t immediately respond to PBS NewsHour’s request for comment on whether it is changing its policy for asylum-seekers.

    But numbers appear to be down. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the number of immigrants apprehended at the Southwest border as well as the number of those considered “inadmissibles,” immigrants who present themselves to agents at ports of entry, have been down for the past few months. In March 2017, CPB reported that 16,600 immigrants were apprehended or classified as inadmissible. The agency said this is a 64 percent drop from the same month in the fiscal year 2016.

    But it’s hard to say whether the drop in numbers so far in 2017 can be attributed to the strong rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration or to the wait-and-see approach families may be adopting, said Doris Meissner, who heads the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Families may be waiting to see whether the communicated plans about stepped up deportations and enforcement actually take place, she said.

    During his tour of the U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday in Arizona, Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a drop in border apprehensions this year, linking the decline to President Donald Trump.

    “This is a new era. This is the Trump era,” Sessions said, before outlining new plans to enforce the country’s immigration laws.

    But while Sessions spent a large amount of his time on immigration prosecutions, there was no mention of any policy changes on how to address Central American asylum seekers, who are processed differently from Mexican nationals. As described in this Council for Foreign Relations explainer, asylum seekers are granted a hearing before being possibly deported to their home country.

    Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    “There’s so much uncertainty, a fear of not knowing,” co-coordinator Dora Haydee Lopez told the NewsHour in March, nodding to the broad but strongly worded immigration plans signaled by the Trump administration.

    Last month, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said he doesn’t intend to separate mothers and children at the border, though he eventually walked back that statement.

    Casa Alitas, too, is in a wait-and-see position.

    Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Before the house existed, border officials dropped off families at a Greyhound bus depot in the city after they were processed and had a scheduled court date. Black said CSS began to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement after Greyhound complained to the agency about people being left at the depot overnight.

    With families now being redirected to the safe house, volunteers offer immediate assistance. Among their first tasks is to help families arrange phone calls and bus rides to their relatives in the U.S, until their court date. Volunteers also make sure a homecooked meal is waiting for the families when they arrive, along with a shower, clothes and a bed, should they need to rest or stay the night.

    Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    There was a time when volunteers were in short supply for the safe house. Two shelters opened up elsewhere in the city to help with overflow at Casa Alitas.

    With fewer families being dropped off at Casa Alitas, that’s no longer the case. Volunteers haven’t been as needed; the two shelters are still open, but sometimes on a shorter schedule, depending on demand.

    Despite the lack of families seen this year, though, the coordinators said Casa Alitas will remain flexible as a program.

    It has also expanded its operation to taking in people with special needs, like a man with a feeding tube, and providing long-term shelter to those with complicated cases.

    Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    A woman from Cameroon, who has 3-month-old twins, has been at the house for about four weeks now. She and her husband presented themselves to Border Patrol agents and requested political asylum at the port of entry in Nogales, Arizona. The woman was granted a deportation hearing and dropped off at Casa Alitas with her twins. Her husband, however, was taken to a detention center in Eloy, Arizona, a city approximately halfway between Tucson and Phoenix.

    Even if numbers continue to drop, Black said, Casa Alitas’ organizers want the safe house to remain open.

    “We believe that no matter how much the numbers are down, there will always be a handful of people entering [the U.S.] on political asylum,” Black said.

    See more of the PBS NewsHour’s dispatches from Arizona:

    The post Inside Casa Alitas, the Arizona safe house for Central American families seeking asylum appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speaks during the League of Women Voters' candidate forum for Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services, in Marietta, Georgia, U.S. April 3, 2017. Picture taken April 3, 2017. Photo by Bita Honarvar/Reuters

    Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speaks during the League of Women Voters’ candidate forum for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services, in Marietta, Georgia, U.S. on April 3, 2017. Photo by Bita Honarvar/Reuters

    MARIETTA, Ga. — Republicans in Georgia’s conservative 6th district don’t agree which of their party’s 11 candidates should represent the area in Congress. They’re united on one thing: it won’t be the Democrat trying for a massive upset fueled by anti-Trump sentiment and millions of dollars from around the country.

    “I don’t care what party you’re from,” said Marty Aftewicz, a 66-year-old Republican voter from Marietta. “If the money’s coming from outside the district, it’s dirty.”

    Democrats in the area, though, see the flood of donations as a sign they’re not alone in opposing the president.

    “It gives me some hope, even though Georgia is a heavily red state,” said Barbara Oakley, a 65-year-old retired pharmacist. “I think Democrats got surprised by Trump in November and they’re ready to work.”

    Approaching Tuesday’s primary, Republicans are trying to prevent victory by a previously unknown former congressional staffer, 30-year-old Jon Ossoff. His bid to replace Health Secretary Tom Price in Congress carries implications beyond the northern suburbs of Atlanta as both major parties position themselves for the 2018 midterm elections.

    [Watch Video]

    Five Democrats will appear on the ballot, but Ossoff is considered the greatest threat to the GOP. Two independent candidates also are running.

    The 18-candidate “jungle primary” comes a week after Republicans sweated out a single-digit special congressional victory in Kansas. Republican winner Ron Estes had previously coasted to easy statewide victories as state treasurer, but won a House seat based in Wichita by just 7 percentage points, with little outside investment from national Democrats.

    In Georgia, by contrast, both parties have dispatched paid field staffers, and a Republican political action committee backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan has spent more than $2 million pounding Ossoff. President Donald Trump underperformed other Republicans in the suburban district, making it a soft target for Democrats.

    “Jon is being bankrolled by the most extreme liberals,” said Republican candidate Karen Handel, referring to Ossoff’s fundraising haul that exceeds $8 million, most of it from outside the district. “No one is naive enough to think that he will not be beholden to those who are bankrolling him.”

    The message sank in for Aftewicz, who cast an early ballot for Republican candidate Dan Moody. Unprompted, Aftewicz echoed the barrage of campaign ads attempting to tie Ossoff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

    “Anyone raising that much outside money can’t represent me,” Aftewicz said.

    For his part, Ossoff pledges to be an “independent voice” in Congress, and he defends his campaign as a grassroots success powered by small and medium donors.

    Republicans essentially concede Ossoff will lead the voting Tuesday. That leaves 11 Republican candidates hoping the investigative filmmaker fails to reach a majority. If he doesn’t, Ossoff and the top GOP vote-getter would meet in a June 20 runoff.

    The Republican leaders appear to be Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state; technology executive Bob Gray; and two former state senators, Moody and Judson Hill — all of whom national Republicans say could defeat Ossoff in a second round.

    From the outset, Trump has loomed large in the contest.

    Ossoff has used the anti-Trump windfall to blanket the expensive television market with advertising that tries to stoke liberal angst but also woo disaffected Republicans in a district Trump barely won in November.

    Oakley, who cast an early ballot for Ossoff, moved to Georgia about six years ago and often feels “like a fish out of water” as a staunch Democrat in the red state. She considers her vote a small indicator of her disapproval toward Trump.

    “The environment, women’s rights, even the forest service are going to be affected by Trump’s actions,” Oakley said. “Pretty much everything he’s done worries me.”

    Ossoff pledges to fight Trump when he “embarrasses” the country. But he tells voters in one ad, “I’ll work with anybody in Washington who respects your tax dollars.”

    For her part, Handel said in a recent interview that she will work with Trump “on issues where we agree, but my job is to be a voice for people of the 6th district.”

    That’s a far cry from Gray, the businessman who calls himself a “willing partner” for the president. Gray offered particular praise for Trump’s recent address to a joint session of Congress. “There was not a single proposal in that speech that I don’t agree with,” Gray told The Associated Press.

    Tom Goodwin, a business owner from Roswell, voted early for Hill on Thursday and said the large number of candidates in the race made him feel “my vote really matters.”

    “I’m a little overwhelmed by how much people are talking about this race,” Goodwin, 52, said. “I think it’s a sign of how divided our country is right now.”

    The post Anti-Trump sentiment, ad blitz motivate Georgia voters appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    trump tax

    Thousands of demonstrators gathered in New York City on Saturday during the Tax March to call for President Donald Trump to release his taxes. Photo by Michael D. Regan

    Demonstrations took place Saturday in U.S. towns and cities to call for President Donald Trump to release his tax returns, just days before Americans file their own taxes by the April 18 deadline.

    The idea for the demonstrations, called the Tax March, began with a tweet by Vermont Law School professor Jennifer Taub, the day after millions of demonstrators met around the world for the Women’s March in January, in what was widely viewed as a reproach to Trump on his first full day in office.

    The tax protests, which were planned in at least 40 states and five countries, were organized mostly by progressive groups and with the support of some Democratic lawmakers and members of the Working Families Party.

    The demonstrations come as Trump prepares to release a plan for the country’s first major overhaul of the U.S. tax system since the 1980s. After an initial deadline was set for August, Trump has indicated that he would unroll the plan late this year.

    tax march

    Crowds of people congregated in New York on Saturday for the Tax March. Photo By Michael D. Regan

    Americans from both sides of the political aisle view the tax system as unfair, and the majority of people in the country believe that Trump should release his taxes, according to the Pew Research Center.

    Trump has so far declined to release his taxes, citing an ongoing audit by the Internal Revenue Service, after stating on the campaign trail that he would make his personal tax information available to the public. Tax experts say there is no law barring Trump from from releasing his returns during an audit.

    Trump’s aide, Kellyanne Conway, raised new questions over the issue when she stated in January that the president would not release his tax returns, a disclosure of financial information made by every president for nearly 40 years and one that advocates and voters believe is important to guard against possible corruption.

    Presidential tax disclosures are not required by law, but at least 24 state legislatures have introduced legislation aimed at forcing future presidents to release their personal tax information before taking office. Similar efforts by Democratic lawmakers in Congress have failed to gain traction.

    Delvone Michael, an executive committee member for the Tax March and a senior political strategist for the Working Families Party, told the NewsHour Weekend that the country should know more about Trump’s financial information to avoid conflicts of interest.

    “They’re about to overhaul taxes and we don’t even know whether the taxes will be targeted for the benefit of the country or pleasing his friends and families and those on Wall Street,” he said. “We should know what’s in his taxes if he’s going to reform the tax code.”

    Mohammed Naeem, 26, a first-generation American who helped organize Saturday’s march in New York City, said the march was not just about the president releasing his tax returns, but “this is also about economic justice.”

    “At the end of the day this march is about the American people and about making sure that everyone has a fair chance,” he said. “My father works at Popeyes in Brooklyn, he makes maybe $12 an hour. It’s unfair for my father to be taxed at a higher percentage than someone who make $250,000 a year.”

    Demonstrators march toward Mar-a-Lago Saturday in Palm Beach, Florida with many calling on Trump to release his tax returns.

    Demonstrators march toward Mar-a-Lago Saturday in Palm Beach, Florida with many calling on Trump to release his tax returns. Photo By Michael Mathes/AFP

    The largest march was planned for Washington, D.C., amid dozens taking place across the country. Thousands there called for Trump to release his taxes before marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. Demonstrations also took place in Florida outside the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he spent the weekend.

    In New York City on Saturday, upwards of 5,000 people congregated to listen to a stream of government officials, advocates and actors who railed against the president’s first few months in office, before the crowd marched to Trump Tower.

    The demonstration seemed to be as much about overall dissatisfaction with the first few months of Trump’s presidency as it was a call to release his taxes, with speakers and protesters also criticizing his actions toward immigrants, recent military actions and his frequent trips to Florida.

    New York Democrat Rep. Hakim Jefferies told the crowd the purpose of the rally was “to force Donald Trump to release his tax returns to the American people.”

    “This is not a dictatorship, this is a democracy,” he said.

    Others called for the country to press for more transparency from Trump.

    “This is a moment of reckoning in America,” said Beau Willimon, the creator of the Netflix series House of Cards, to a cheering crowd. “A reckoning between those who seek the truth and those who bury the truth.”

    Gary Schippy, 63, of New Jersey, said he decided to attend the march to express his displeasure over Trump’s presidency.

    “I’m here today because I just think Trump is a very dishonest man,” Schippy said, adding that calls for Trump to release his taxes “seem reasonable to me.”

    trump tax

    Harry Arline, 89, and his wife, Karin Arlin, 85, both of Long Island, attended the Tax March in New York City on Saturday. Photo By Michael D. Regan

    Karin Arlin, 85, of Long Island, said she fled Holland during the start of World War II before landing in the U.S. Her husband of 63 years, Harry Arline, 89, said he moved to the U.S. in 1946 after “fleeing the Nazis.”

    “I lived briefly under Hitler,” he said. “I’m too old to run from Trump.”

    Francois Dongo, of Connecticut, said he traveled to New York for the march because he’s upset that Trump has not released his taxes, just as every president has since the 1970s.

    “Why is he the only one that won’t do it?” he asked.

    The post Tax March protests call for the release of Trump’s returns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    For weeks, biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has been taking to social media to portray himself as a valiant warrior against cancer, unfairly maligned by the press.

    He and his diagnostics company, NantHealth, have strenuously denied reports that they reaped benefits from a $12 million gift he made to support medical research at the University of Utah.

    But emails and documents obtained by STAT make clear that executives at NantHealth and officials at the university viewed the deal through a transactional lens, intended, at least in part, to boost Soon-Shiong’s commercial interests.

    The deal with Utah — which gave Soon-Shiong’s team access to genetic and health data on hundreds of patients — “will help us with our product,” Larry Fitzgerald, a NantHealth vice president, wrote in an email.

    STAT reported last month that the university sent $10 million of Soon-Shiong’s $12 million gift right back to NantHealth to pay for genetic sequencing of blood, tissue, and tumor samples. Soon-Shiong, a showy entrepreneur who has vowed to “solve cancer,” denied that the contract had been set up to funnel money to his company or that he had benefited from the arrangement.

    But those denials are contradicted by more than a dozen documents STAT obtained from critics of the deal, including email chains and internal memos that circulated at the university and at NantHealth as the deal was being planned and executed. They show that the plan to steer business back to Soon-Shiong and give him access to patient data to improve his product was baked into the deal from early on. Among the findings:

    • A university memorandum from September 2014, days before the donation was made official, stipulates that the genetic analysis to be paid for by Soon-Shiong’s gift would be done by Soon-Shiong’s team.
    • Another document circulated within the university noted that one of Soon-Shiong’s companies would for a time keep copies of the patient data involved in the sequencing job — and would use it to develop its “sequencing and bioinformatics platform.” Internal emails from NantHealth executives also indicated that they explicitly saw the deal as a means to boost their business.
    • Though the deal was built around the idea that Soon-Shiong’s lab would do the genetic sequencing, the company was not yet prepared to do that work when the contract was signed. Emails show at least one NantHealth executive was scrambling to try to delay the university from visiting the lab because the company had not yet formally confirmed that its new DNA sequencing machines were working properly.

    The documents offer new details about the way Soon-Shiong’s philanthropic and business interests intertwine. They deepen ethical and legal questions surrounding his donation to the University of Utah. And they raise new questions about why the university agreed to accept a gift on the understanding that it would send most of the money back to the donor’s company — especially when that company wasn’t yet ready to do the work.

    READ NEXT: Soon-Shiong’s promotion of ‘breakthrough’ cancer therapy raises questions

    NantHealth spokeswoman Jen Hodson said the documents in no way proved that the deal was structured to send money back to Soon-Shiong’s company, even though they repeatedly show early evidence of plans to do just that.

    Hodson said the university was free to pay any qualified company to do the sequencing — though the university told its own scientists early on that “a bioinformatics team associated with the Donor” would be doing the work. (That memo was dated four and a half months before the university inked its research contract with NantHealth.)

    Hodson also denied that Soon-Shiong reaped gains from the deal and said his companies did the work for Utah at a loss.

    “There was no commercial benefit,” she wrote in response to STAT’s questions. “However there was a significant benefit to the learning system of mankind.” She referred to a recent paper about early-onset menopause that came out of the scientific research funded by Soon-Shiong’s donation.

    Both Hodson and University of Utah spokeswoman Julie Kiefer said that NantHealth was transparent with the university that it was still getting its genetic sequencing machines ready for prime time, though the emails STAT reviewed suggest that at least one executive was worried about how much they still had to do.

    “I worked to put them off a bit to later in March—so not to disclose we still have work to do on the validation front of samples,” NantHealth executive Laura Beggrow wrote to the company’s president in February of 2015, referring to the University of Utah team.

    A defiant stance on social media

    Soon-Shiong, NantHealth’s majority owner and CEO, has repeatedly used Twitter in recent weeks to dismiss his critics and to suggest that they’re out to derail him as he pursues the noble goal of curing cancer.

    In his most recent tweets, Soon-Shiong blames the critical coverage on the fact that he met at least twice with President Trump prior to the inauguration. In January he was said to be in talks for a senior role in the administration overseeing the US health care system. That buzz has since quieted.

    STAT’s previous coverage of Soon-Shiong included the finding that his ballyhooed moonshot initiative, which aims to cure cancer by 2020, achieved little scientific progress in its first year, and instead became mostly a marketing tool for NantHealth’s pricey new diagnostic test, called GPS Cancer.

    The STAT investigation of the Utah deal found that the arrangement could put Soon-Shiong and his foundations in violation of tax rules against indirect self-dealing. Since the publication of that investigation, NantHealth’s stock price has sunk 46 percent, to $3.86 per share, and at least three investors have filed suit against Soon-Shiong and NantHealth, alleging violations of federal securities law.

    A Politico investigation last weekend found other examples of Soon-Shiong’s charitable foundations operating in a way that benefited his business interests.

    NantHealth lost $184 million last year, the company reported last month.

    ‘It will help us with our product’

    In the days before Soon-Shiong formalized his donation to the University of Utah, the university wrote up the terms in an informal memorandum of understanding, dated early September 2014.

    The memo, circulated at the university, said academics could participate in research funded by the donation, so long as they agreed to various stipulations, such as that genetic analysis would be carried out “by a bioinformatics team associated with the Donor.”

    The memo also says that “Donor-affiliated Scientists shall have the right to analyze the sequence data for any or all of the Heritage 1K projects,” which was the university’s umbrella term for the research funded by Soon-Shiong’s donation. (The memo indicated Soon-Shiong’s team would be able to keep that data for two years.)

    READ NEXT: Soon-Shiong made ‘implicit threat’ to spur investment in NantHealth, media company says

    Kiefer, the university spokesperson, said the memorandum did not commit the university to awarding the sequencing contract to NantHealth. She previously told STAT that the university looked around to see whether other facilities could meet the very detailed specifications in Soon-Shiong’s gift contract, but none of them could — except NantHealth and its associated lab, NantOmics.

    The deal gave NantHealth access to lots of valuable data associated with the hundreds of samples it sequenced and analyzed for Utah scientists. The company learned which diseases ran in each patient’s family. Whether they were affected by certain medical conditions. And how closely they were related to other people who provided samples for analysis. (The patients’ identities were not disclosed.)

    The contract prohibited Soon-Shiong’s team from using the data for purposes beyond the work it had been contracted to do. But it did allow a crucial exception: The owner of any algorithm could retain all improvements made to the algorithm in the course of performing the job.

    That was a boon for Soon-Shiong’s business, because the algorithms that sift through large quantities of genetic data to identify patterns for researchers also power his commercial products, like his GPS Cancer diagnostic tool. He was also working on developing a second product, GPS Heritage, meant to assess a patient’s risk of inherited and rare diseases.

    Soon-Shiong has denied that the Utah deal had anything to do with the development of GPS Heritage. But a company statement to investors belies that assertion; it explicitly says that the deal with University of Utah “will enable the development” of the new GPS Heritage product.

    And the emails reviewed by STAT show that at least two top NantHealth employees saw the deal through a commercial lens.

    “I know this research project is taking place with NantOmics and more to refine our algorithms. It will help us with our product,” Fitzgerald, the NantHealth vice president, wrote in an email dated in April 2015 and sent to colleagues.

    “Larry is correct,” responded Beggrow, the company’s chief commercial officer.

    (Hodson told STAT that, in fact, “the algorithms themselves were not affected or improved by the addition of these data.”)

    In the earlier email to NantHealth’s president about the research project, Beggrow had suggested there was room for Soon-Shiong’s team to achieve even greater commercial gain, though she provided few specifics.

    “I believe we all need to work collectively with effective communication throughout all of our Nant Families,” she wrote in February 2015, “and to optimize these opportunities for upselling along the way.”

    Both Fitzgerald and Beggrow have since left NantHealth and are both now employed at a different biotech company. Neither returned STAT’s repeated requests for comment on their emails.

    ‘The ethics are messy’

    Another University of Utah document, circulated in December 2014, underscored the point that that Soon-Shiong’s team planned to use the research data for commercial gain: “NantOmics will retain the data and DNA sequence for development of their sequencing and bioinformatics platform,” the document reads.

    That document gave academics suggestions on revising their research protocols so as to allow Soon-Shiong’s team access to the patient data.

    READ NEXT: He vowed to cure cancer. But this billionaire’s moonshot is falling far short of the hype

    It’s common for scientists to ask their institutional review board to approve changes to their research protocol mid-way through a study. They must generally do so, for instance, any time they want to interrogate a new question.

    But two experts who study institutional review boards and reviewed the University of Utah documents at STAT’s request saw potential ethical land mines in the deal.

    Karen Maschke of the Hastings Center said it raised questions about what patients were originally told would happen to their samples when they agreed to provide them: Did they know, for instance, that their genetic and health data might be shared with a for-profit business?

    Jennifer Miller, founder of the nonprofit Bioethics International, said that while the deal seemed to pose minimal privacy risks to patients, “The optics are bad and the ethics are messy.”

    A lab not yet ready to carry out its work

    Not long before the University of Utah deal was signed, Soon-Shiong’s team bought a new brand of sequencing machine, called the HiSeq X10 and sold by Illumina.

    When a lab buys new machines, it can’t just start performing work for clients right away. There’s an involved process of developing new protocols, ensuring they work robustly, and then validating the performance of machines with a formal test, according to Heidi Rehm, medical director of the clinical sequencing research platform at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

    Soon-Shiong’s team wasn’t using its machines to commercially diagnose patients at that point — they were just for research — so the validation wasn’t as complex. But it likely still would have involved running benchmarked samples through a start-to-finish process to ensure the machines were sequencing the DNA properly, Rehm said.

    Beggrow’s February 2015 email indicates that NantOmics was at that time not yet ready to do the sequencing for Utah, even though the university had been planning for at least five months to have Soon-Shiong’s team do the work.

    The NantOmics lab “hasn’t yet even begun to do validation work on samples,” Beggrow wrote.

    She added that she “did NOT want to disclose this to this account [at the University of Utah] that we aren’t ready to accept their actual 1000 retro samples.”

    Kiefer said the university knew “that this was a new state of the art facility and that the new equipment would require validation testing.” She added that the university did not start paying NantHealth “until it had been verified that the sequencing met the high standards documented in the contract.”

    Hodson said that “nothing was hidden from the University of Utah.” The validation work Beggrow mentions in her email, Hodson said, “refers specifically to the University’s demand that NantOmics validate the accuracy and quality of the sequencing data against the University of Utah’s own work with other external vendors, by performing analyses of test samples.”

    When it came to delaying the University of Utah’s lab visit, Hodson said, “This timing was openly communicated by NantOmics to the University scientists and it may be that NantHealth and NantOmics employee were not communicating the timely information back to one another.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on April 14, 2017. Find the original story here.

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    A man who says he is from Bangladesh, is confronted by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer as he exits a taxi at the U.S.-Canada border leading into Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    LISA DESAI: Much of the four thousand mile American border with Canada is wide open and unsecured. In the first three months of this year, a steady stream of immigrants from all over the world braved the bitter cold to reach a country where they believe there’s less risk of detention and deportation.

    Just north of Minnesota and North Dakota lies the Canadian province of Manitoba. The town of Emerson is a main entry point. An hour’s drive north is the provincial capital, Winnipeg, a city of 700-thousand. That’s where I met this woman from Somalia.

    For her safety, we agreed to shield her face and call her “Nasra.” She settled in Minneapolis on a U.S. medical visa to get treatment for her six-year-old autistic son. Her family is part of a minority clan persecuted in Somalia’s civil war.

    NASRA: I faced a lot of problems in Somalia. During the war, my father and my brother were attacked, and my mother and I endured so much pain — we left and never went back.

    LISA DESAI: After President Trump listed Somalia as one of the countries whose citizens would be blocked from entering the U.S. Nasra decided that although she was legal, it wasn’t safe to stay.

    NASRA: I heard that they were going to arrest people and take them back to Somalia and that they were going into people’s homes and they were going to separate families, mothers from children.

    LISA DESAI: What would happen if you were deported back to Somalia?

    NASRA: If I go back to Somalia I won’t stand a chance there, I would be killed.

    LISA DESAI: In February, she left Minneapolis and became one of nearly 1,000 migrants, according to the Canadian Government, to cross from the U.S. into Canada this year. She paid a driver to take her and her son most of the way.

    NASRA: We walked for hours, the snow was falling, we couldn’t see. It was cold, it was dark and if it wasn’t for God we would have died.

    LISA DESAI: Under Canadian law, people like Nasra, who cross the border illegally, are arrested and taken in for a background check. If they don’t have a criminal record, they are often released within 24 hours. They’re appointed a government lawyer to represent them in their asylum hearing which usually takes place in two months. They are also connected with nonprofits that provide food and housing.

    YASMIN ALI: Well, these are donations that’s been given to the organization for the newcomers.

    LISA DESAI: Yasmin Ali heads up the Canadian Women Muslim Institute, a Winnipeg nonprofit that helps refugees like Nasra. Since January, Ali says she’s received a surge in clients crossing from the U.S.

    YASMIN ALI: We help them with finding places to live, with finding, getting places, things to fill their apartment, so they have because when they come they are very limited in income.

    LISA DESAI: With only a few paid staff members and no government funds, the institute relies on volunteers and donations.

    YASMIN ALI: It’s very hard to be wandering the world with families and children and not know where you’re going to live, not know you’re going to be settled down and be safe. So they’re just looking for a safe place where they can raise their families and live.

    LISA DESAI: Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council is another nonprofit that provides settlement and legal services to refugees and asylum seekers in Winnipeg.

    RITA CHAHAL: Hi, I just wanted to say hi. I’m Rita. And your name is?

    KASEEM: Kaseem.

    LISA DESAI: Rita Chahal is the Executive Director.

    RITA CHAHAL: Just in this month alone we’ve had four unaccompanied minors.

    LISA DESAI: Chahal says the people seeking asylum come from all over the world, not just the countries included in President’s Trump’s proposed travel ban. They are coming from places like Bangladesh, China, Germany.

    RITA CHAHAL: We’ve certainly seen a number of them in the last little while, last few weeks coming from Central America, from Guatemala, Nicaragua.

    LISA DESAI: One of those undocumented migrants from Honduras is Alexanco. He says he left for the U.S. 5 years ago because drug cartels had threatened to kill him. Last month he left Florida for Canada with his wife and baby.

    LISA DESAI: Why did you decide to move to Canada?

    ALEXANCO: We started to become very afraid, because every morning and every day we watched the news, we watched many friends with their kids. People who were deported, separated from their families, and that was one of my biggest fears that we had about living in the United States.

    LISA DESAI: Fears Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been trying to calm, even during a recent visit to the White House.

    JUSTIN TRUDEAU: We continue to pursue our policies of openness towards immigration, refugees, without compromising security

    LISA DESAI: That policy is now being criticized in Emerson.

    GREG JANZEN: This is the actual international border right in front of us.

    LISA DESAI:Emerson Mayor Greg Janzen says the the border crossings are putting a strain on the town’s less than 700 residents. Volunteer firefighters rescued migrants stuck in snowstorms, and since last November, half the town’s medical calls have been to help asylum seekers.

    GREG JANZEN: That is concerning for us in Emerson and the Canadians just because we’re not detaining anyone, we’re not punishing anyone for breaking the law. So our border right now is at risk of kind of being a joke.

    LISA DESAI: Currently, under The SAFE Third Country Agreement between the U.S. and Canada, refugees must apply for asylum in the first country they enter. Refugees who’ve already applied in the U.S. and present themselves at an official Canadian border crossing are supposed to be turned away. But anyone who sneaks across the Canadian border has the right to apply for asylum.

    LISA DESAI: A poll last month found Canadian support for welcoming refugees is slipping. 48 percent said Canada should send these migrants back to the U.S. 36 percent said Canada should accept them.

    LISA DESAI: The illegal border crossings are starting to wear thin on some Emerson residents.

    JACQUELYN REIMER: I think Trudeau should have to come and spent two weeks here in Emerson in one of the houses and see how his wife and children feel with these people crossing the border and banging on his door and windows at all hours of the night.

    DALE PELKIE: If they’re already settled in the States, why can’t they go back to the States? Right? I don’t understand it. I really don’t, but I hope something gets done soon so that we can live in peace again.

    LISA DESAI: One of the volunteers at the Canadian Women Muslim Institute in Winnipeg is Ahmed Osaa, a refugee who fled the United States, and is originally from the West African nation of Ghana. Osaa is gay, and in Ghana, homosexuality is a crime.

    LISA DESAI: Why did you decide to leave Ghana?

    AHMED OSAA: I was afraid for my life and I knew if I stayed maybe somebody, one day somebody might kill me. And I don’t want to die now.

    LISA DESAI: Osaa left Ghana in 2013 for Ecuador, but it rejected his asylum claim. Three years later, he made it to Mexico and paid smugglers to take him to Brownsville, Texas, where he turned himself into the Border Patrol.

    AHMED OSAA: I presented myself and told them, ‘Oh, I’m here to seek asylum.’ They started chaining my hand, my waist, and my legs. Then I started crying.

    LISA DESAI: Osaa spent six months in an immigration detention center in Pennsylvania, and his asylum claim was denied. Released from custody but subject to a deportation order, Osaa made his way to Minneapolis to live with a friend.

    LISA DESAI: Osaa planned his trip to Canada right after President Trump was elected — fearing even then he’d be forcibly sent back to Ghana.

    AHMED OSAA: If I’m sent back to Ghana for example I can even go to jail, and I don’t want to go to jail.

    LISA DESAI: Osaa crossed the border and Canada granted him asylum, making him a legal resident. He’s now receives a government stipend equivalent to 540 American dollars a month until he receives a work permit.

    AHMED OSSA: I would say in Canada I’m treated with dignity and respect but in the United States no I wasn’t, I wasn’t treated with dignity. Now I have been accepted as a refugee in Canada. I’m OK now. I’m happy to be part of the Canadian people.

    LISA DESAI: Nasra, the Somali refugee who snuck across the border with her son two months ago, is waiting for their asylum hearing.

    LISA DESAI: So what’s your hope now for your future for you and your son in Canada?

    NASRA: What I hope for is to live in a place of peace. Where I can be healthy, a place where there is no war, no fighting, no killing, God willing, I pray for that.

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    Partial view of lesbian couple holding hands on couch

    Making a serious effort to reduce loneliness offers an almost entirely overlooked way to rein in health care costs. Photo via Getty Images

    The Republicans’ controversial effort to repeal the perhaps optimistically named Affordable Care Act because of rising premiums may be fatally stalled. But there are other ways to rein in health care costs that have been almost entirely overlooked. Making a serious effort to reduce loneliness could make a real difference.

    Lonely people put heavy demands on our health care system. Loneliness impairs immune response and makes people more likely to develop serious medical problems like heart disease and stroke.

    According to one meta-analysis, loneliness increases the risk of early death as much as smoking or being 100 pounds overweight. The risk is highest in people younger than 65. But lonely people don’t go to doctors just for medical care. They’re also dying for social contact.

    Although loneliness is now recognized as a major public health problem, there hasn’t been much discussion about how to address it.

    As a clinician who treats mental health issues caused by loneliness, I’ve come to believe that we can’t develop effective interventions for loneliness without first understanding what causes it.

    [Watch Video]

    More than social isolation

    Although isolation is an important risk factor, having company doesn’t always prevent loneliness – and being alone doesn’t always cause it.

    Someone in a bad marriage may feel lonely in the presence of a distant or rejecting spouse, for example. Loneliness is the experience of being not alone but without the other in a way that feels meaningful. What matters is the internal experience.

    Some people are content on their own. As the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott explained, people like this never actually feel alone internally.

    What protects them is the early experience of having what he called “a good-enough mother.” A good-enough mother isn’t perfect, but she cares deeply for her child and values him for who he is. Wherever these contented souls go, they carry with them an ongoing sense of the mother’s caring and attentive presence.

    But many people are not that lucky. It’s well-known that people who were abused as children are at higher risk of getting into abusive relationships as adults. Similarly, people who suffered from emotional neglect as children have a high risk of reliving that experience as well. They felt lonely and uncared for as children, and they feel that way as adults too.

    Chronic loneliness can be the aftermath of early emotional neglect. This kind of neglect is often invisible to others. A child may grow up in a family where everything seems normal on the outside, but still feel lonely if he can’t get from his mother the love and attention he needs to thrive.

    A depressed, withdrawn mother is not likely to be emotionally available to her child, even if she goes through the motions of doing what’s needed. Sometimes a mother may feel so depressed and deadened herself that she deadens the relationship with her child, as described by the French psychoanalyst Andre Green.

    In other cases, the mother may be distant and rejecting – or so oblivious to her child’s thoughts and feelings, and so out of touch with who he is, that she leaves the child feeling stranded emotionally and alone.

    Fathers are very important too, of course; they can mitigate or worsen the effect of mothers in this regard. But since mothers are usually the primary caretakers, particularly of very young children, they usually have the greatest effect when it comes to providing a buffer from loneliness or leaving children vulnerable to it.

    Anyone who tried to get close to his mother as a child and failed may well feel hopeless about developing close relationships later in life. Sometimes hopelessness has a neurological basis: Severe early neglect impedes development of neurons responsible for optimism.

    Lessons learned from neglect can harm for decades

    But, sadly, people who suffered from emotional neglect as children may also act in such a way as to make the expectation of loneliness a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Children who feel uncared for generally blame themselves. As adults, they may hang back from others because of a lingering sense of shame about feeling unwanted, or because they feel they don’t deserve to be loved.

    Some people do more than hang back. They almost seem to cling to loneliness and to the social isolation that feeds it. Neurobiological mechanisms may play a part in this, because loneliness activates the fight-or-flight response, making people hypersensitive to threat and more likely to respond to others in a fearful or defensive manner.

    But psychological factors are important too. If loneliness was the most powerful feeling you had with your mother, you may cling to the feeling of loneliness because that’s what connects you most closely to her. Without realizing it, some people may be reluctant to relinquish isolation and the loneliness it creates because loneliness feels like a kind of private space which is shared with a distant and rejecting mother.

    Of course, we could all ask, “Why would you want to hold onto that?”

    Well, we’re not always rational! We all bear the imprint of early relationships with parents; most of us replay even painful parts of those relationships over and over again. Freud called this the repetition compulsion. We fall into old patterns in part because they’re familiar, and in part perhaps as a way of showing loyalty to parents who were once everything to us.

    According to the Scottish psychoanalyst W.R.D. Fairbairn and others, nothing motivates us more powerfully than the longing for intimate connections with others. All else being equal, nobody would choose a painful relationship, but if that’s what he’s given as a child, that’s what he has – and that’s what he holds tight to. Painful relationships are better than nothing.

    This can be seen in a highly controversial experiment by American psychologist Harry Harlow. Harlow first deprived baby monkeys of maternal affection, causing them to become panicky, and then offered each monkey a choice between a cloth mother and a bare wire mother that held a bottle with food. The monkeys preferred the more huggable cloth option; each baby monkey became attached to its own cloth mother, and would cling to this inanimate surrogate even though it offered no food.

    Children have a need to love, even when they’ve been harmed

    Children love their parents even when they’ve been abused. The same holds true for children who’ve been neglected. If a child’s relationship with his mother leaves him feeling profoundly lonely, that’s what he has, and that’s what he holds tight to.

    Paradoxically perhaps, the less emotional nourishment someone gets from her mother, the more tightly she may want to hold on. It’s a lot easier to separate from a mother who makes you feel loved and secure in the world than it is to turn away from a mother who seems to be on the brink of disappearing emotionally herself.

    Some people may cling to social isolation because isolation is what most closely reflects their emotional experience as children. Longstanding loneliness may signal what is perhaps best understood as a kind of attachment disorder, with ongoing attachment to a depressed, withdrawn or rejecting mother.

    When chronic loneliness comes from childhood neglect, social outreach programs are not likely to be sufficient. We need to think more carefully about what causes loneliness, and what seems to be the peculiar attachment of some people to a condition which they find deeply painful. Then we can tailor interventions to address the cause, rather than just the condition of being alone.

    This column was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original column.

    The Conversation

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    A Picture and its Story: North Korea on parade

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Turning to the situation in North Korea, I am joined via Skype by Jean Lee, a correspondent for “The Associated Press” on the Korean peninsula, and now a fellow with the Wilson Center. She is in the South Korean capital city of Seoul.

    So, Ms. Lee, this morning, we’ve had pictures of the big parades. The thing that everyone was very concerned about, any sort of a test of a nuclear missile — that did not happen.

    JEAN LEE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I think it’s not a matter of whether it will happen. I’m fairly confident that it will happen at some point.

    North Korea has made it very clear that they are going to push ahead with their illicit ballistic missiles and weapons program. And certainly what we saw in the parade here, in Pyongyang, earlier this morning, showed us that they are continuing to build some pretty fearsome-looking weapons despite U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban them from building these weapons.

    SREENIVASAN: How tense was the situation over the last 24, 48 hours? I mean, in some ways, South Koreans, they’ve been through this drill before.

    LEE:South Koreans are largely unfazed. The people of South Korea are largely unfazed. You’d be hard pressed on the streets of Seoul today to tell that there was this kind of a crisis going on.

    It was — they’re really concerned about a political upheaval right now. They impeached their president. They’ve got a presidential election coming up in a few weeks. And actually, they were out in the streets today. It was one of the first beautiful spring days.

    That said, certainly within the government and among the presidential candidates, there was a lot of concern about some of the language coming from Washington, particularly President Trump saying that the U.S. would deal with North Korea on its own if China didn’t jump in. That is the type of language that South Korea does not want to hear, and every single one of the presidential candidates addressed this and said the U.S. really needs to consult with South Korea. That this — they need to be in the loop on anything to do with North Korea because this is the country that would bear the brunt of any kind of military action.

    SREENIVASAN: The Vice President Pence is on his way to the region starting tomorrow. As you mentioned, if the South Korean government is kind of in a state of flux, who does he meet with? How does the region resolve issues with the leadership in South Korea, knowing that that’s going to change in a few weeks?

    LEE: This certainly puts Seoul at a disadvantage to have this type of a political vacuum at such a crucial time when the Trump administration is developing its North Korean policy. But part of what he wants to do is reassure Seoul and Tokyo and other partners in the region that the U.S. stands firm, despite some of the language coming out of Washington. And he will be meeting with the acting president on Monday.

    So, he is trying to make a point that, yes, they realize that South Korea is in political transition, but that they remain — they remain committed to this long-standing, U.S.-South Korean alliance.

    SREENIVASAN: And while South Korea is directly in the crosshairs if there was any sort of military action from North Korea, we are also seeing reports that Japan is, in a way, trying to take measures and trying to figure out contingency plans.

    LEE: Japan is nervous as well. We have to remember that one of the recent ballistic missile launches was targeted toward Japan. A number of these ballistic missiles landed within a few hundred miles from the Japanese shores. So, this is certainly sent to — was meant to send a message to Japan but has Tokyo nervous as well. So, I did see those reports that Japan was perhaps practicing to evacuate its citizens and certainly one of the things Pence wants to do by coming is to show that he has confidence in the region.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. Jean Lee from “The Associated Press” joining us via Skype from Seoul — thanks so much.

    LEE: Thank you.

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    Demonstrators protest in response to President Donald Trump's refusal to make his tax returns public in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: In the nation’s capital and other cities today, thousands of demonstrators called for President Trump to release his personal tax returns. The marches occurred on the day that’s usually the deadline for all Americans to file their returns — that’s Tuesday this year, due to the Easter holiday weekend.

    No president is required to release his taxes, but every major party nominee for president has done so since the ’70s. Beyond the marches, about half of the nation’s state legislatures have seen bills introduced to require all future presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to be placed on the state’s ballot. Most proposals are in states that voted Democratic last year, but no state has adopted such a law yet, and they would likely face constitutional challenges. There’s a similar bill pending in Congress as well.

    Pepperdine University Law School professor Derek Muller is following this issue, and joins me now from Los Angeles to discuss it.

    You study election law. What are — what’s the chance of one of these laws in one of these states passing?

    DEREK MULLER, PEPPERDINE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: Well, I think there’s a decent chance that they’ll get enacted. You know, when you have enough states with enough proposed laws, surely in a place like California, New York, I think there is decent odds that they’ll pass one of the legislatures. There is one enacted in New Jersey and it’s sitting on the governor’s desk and we’ve seen substantial movement in places like Massachusetts, Connecticut and elsewhere around the country.

    SREENIVASAN: So, what’s the likelihood that even if one of these laws are passed, that the president actually has to do this?

    MULLER: So, I think that’s where there are some interesting constitutional challenges. On the one hand, I think it’s very difficult to say that states can add qualifications to the office of president. We’re very familiar with those qualifications — you have to be 35 years old, a natural-born citizen, 14 years a resident of the United States.

    And so, proponents are saying, we’re not adding qualifications. All we’re doing is regulating access to the ballot and I think that’s a challenge as well, because in a lot of cases that handle ballot access, they say, look, you want to make sure that the ballot separates serious from frivolous candidates. So, keeping frivolous candidates off the ballot requires them to, say, get 500 petitions signed — or 500 signatures on a petition, to get 1 percent of the state’s registered voters to sign a petition.

    And no court has ever sort of authorized the use of the ballot as sort of a tool to achieve some preferred policy outcome. So, I think there’s a real constitutional challenge to some of these issues that I think proponents would face, if such bills are enacted.

    SREENIVASAN: You also argued in a recent op-ed that it shouldn’t happen as sort of a blunt instrument. There could be unintended consequences.

    MULLER: That’s right. So, I think we forget that for a lot of candidates, they haven’t disclosed their taxes. Ross Perot hasn’t — didn’t disclose his taxes, or Gerald Ford didn’t disclose all this taxes. There are disputes about whether candidates’ wives should disclose their tax returns. John Kerry didn’t disclose his wife’s tax returns or John McCain.

    And there are disputes about how many tax returns you’re supposed to disclose. Ronald Reagan disclosed I think 30 tax returns. John McCain and Mitt Romney each decided to only disclose two.

    So, there’s a lot of sort of political fights we’ve had about this, and over the years, it’s sort of ebbed and flowed, and sort of reached kind of an equilibrium where we expect it. And I think that the challenge is, you know, if (ph) Donald Trump has not met the expectations of many people, and I think it’s a question about whether or not we want to codify this in to a statute for 2020 and going forward.

    SREENIVASAN: Are there other ways to resolve this issue or create an incentive for him or anyone to reveal their taxes?

    MULLER: Right. So, I think the political process is where that usually happens, but we see that the political process has its limitations, right? You can try to ask questions of the candidates. You can ask at town hall meetings or public forums. You can have media sort of press the issue.

    But at the end of the day, it’s really left to the voters to decide how much it matters. And in places like California, New York, and New Jersey, I’m sure it hurt Mr. Trump. But in places like the Midwest, where it appeared that voters didn’t particularly care.

    So, we have a political process that would allow this to play out. But, again, maybe some people are just not as happy with how it played out in 2016.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. Derek Muller from the Pepperdine University School of Law — thanks so much.

    MULLER: Thank you.

    The post Bills requiring candidates to submit tax returns face obstacles appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    north korea

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people attending a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father Kim Il-Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. Photo by Damir Sagolj/Reuters

    North Korea attempted to test a missile that blew up as it was launched early Sunday morning local time near the country’s eastern city of Sinpo, U.S. and South Korean officials said.

    U.S. Cmdr. Dave Benham said U.S. officials are still determining what kind of missile was launched.

    “The North attempted to launch an unidentified missile from the Sinpo region this morning but it is suspected to have failed,” South’s Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Reuters in a statement.

    The launch comes as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have escalated and a day after the country celebrated the 105th birthday of Kim Il-Sung, who founded the country. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was set to visit South Korea hours after the failed launch to discuss North Korea’s arms program.

    [Watch Video]

    “The president and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said in a statement Saturday night. “The president has no further comment”

    The post North Korean missile explodes during failed test appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during an Easter fellowship dinner at a military base in Seoul

    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during an Easter fellowship dinner at a military base in Seoul, South Korea, April 16, 2017. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Donald Trump asserted on Sunday that China was working with the United States on “the North Korea problem,” and his vice president told American and South Korea service members that the North’s latest “provocation,” a failed missile launch shortly before his arrival in Seoul, laid bare they risks they face.

    While the North did not conduct a nuclear test, the specter of a potential escalated U.S. response trailed Pence as he began a 10-day trip to Asia amid increasing tensions and heated rhetoric. Trump’s national security adviser cited Trump’s recent decision to order missile strikes in Syria after a chemical attack blamed on the Assad government as a sign that the president “is clearly comfortable making tough decisions.”

    But at the same time, H.R. McMaster said, “it’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully.”

    In a broadcast interview that aired on Sunday, McMaster said the U.S. would rely on its allies as well as on Chinese leadership to resolve the issues with North Korea. “I mean, North Korea is very vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese,” McMaster said on ABC’s “This Week.”

    The bottom line, McMaster said, is to stop the North’s weapons development and make the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free: “It’s clear that the president is determined not to allow this kind of capability to threaten the United States. And our president will take action that is in the best interest of the American people.”

    After a two-month policy review, officials settled on a policy dubbed “maximum pressure and engagement,” U.S. officials said Friday. The administration’s immediate emphasis, the officials said, will be on increasing pressure on Pyongyang with the help of Beijing.

    The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the results of the policy review and requested anonymity.

    Pence will be tasked with explaining the policy in meetings with leaders in South Korea and Japan at the start of his trip, which will also include stops in Indonesia and Australia. He will also aim to reassure allies in South Korea and Japan that the U.S. will take appropriate steps to defend them against North Korean aggression.

    Pence was aboard Air Force Two flying over the Bering Sea when a North Korean missile exploded during launch on Sunday, U.S. and South Korean officials said. The high-profile failure came as the North tried to showcase its nuclear and missile capabilities around the birth anniversary of the North’s late founder and as a U.S. aircraft carrier neared the Korean Peninsula.

    A White House foreign policy adviser traveling with Pence said no U.S. response to the missile launch was expected because there was no need for the U.S. to reinforce the failure. The adviser spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s initial understanding of the launch.

    Trump, spending the Easter weekend at his Florida resort, reinforced his commitment to the armed forces under his control. “Our military is building and is rapidly becoming stronger than ever before,” he tweeted.

    More directly on North Korea, the president returned to a theme of placing much onus on China for reining in the North. Last week, he said he would not declare China a currency manipulator, pulling back from a campaign promise, as he looks for help from Beijing, which is the North’s dominant trade partner.

    “Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.

    Into this tense environment, Pence made his first trip to the region since taking office in January. After arriving in the South Korean capital, he placed a wreath at Seoul National Cemetery and then worshipped with military personnel at an Easter church service at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan.

    [Watch Video]

    During a fellowship meal after the services, he said the tensions on the Korean peninsula had put into sharp focus the importance of the joint U.S.-South Korean mission.

    “This morning’s provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world,” said Pence. “Your willingness to step forward, to serve, to stand firm without fear, inspires the nation and inspires the world.”

    Along with the deployment of the U.S. aircraft carrier and other vessels into waters off the Korean Peninsula, thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops, tanks and other weaponry were deployed last month in their biggest joint military exercises. That led North Korea to issue routine threats of attacks on its rivals if they show signs of aggression.

    The White House foreign policy adviser traveling with Pence told reporters that the type of missile that North Korea tried to fire on Sunday was medium-range, and that it exploded about 4 to 5 seconds after it was launched.

    The North regularly launches short-range missiles, but is also developing mid-range and long-range missiles meant to target U.S. troops in Asia and, eventually, the U.S. mainland.

    The failed launch will sting in Pyongyang because it came a day after one of the biggest North Korean propaganda events of the year— celebrations of the 105th birthday of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.

    According to the White House adviser, the test had been expected and the U.S. had good intelligence both before and after the launch. The official said, without elaborating, that had it been a nuclear test, “other actions would have been taken by the U.S.”

    North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, including two last year. Recent satellite imagery suggests the country could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.

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    Stickers are seen on a table at a polling stations for the Wisconsin presidential primary election in Milwaukee

    Stickers are seen on a table at a polling stations for the Wisconsin presidential primary election in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Donald Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists during his presidential campaign angered Heidi Sainz, whose family is from Mexico and who has close friends who are immigrants. She was also upset that she couldn’t do anything about it at the ballot box because she was a year shy of being able to vote.

    Sainz favors a bill in the California Legislature that would lower the voting age to 17, which she thinks would give a voice to more people affected by the outcome of elections.

    “Looking at all the protests throughout this year throughout all the high schools across the nation, we could see a lot of the minors were protesting because they felt as if they didn’t have a voice,” said Sainz, a senior at Inderkum High School in Sacramento.

    Lawmakers in more than a dozen states are trying to increase voter participation by targeting young people. Their bills are among nearly 500 pieces of legislation introduced around the country this year to make voting easier, according to a March analysis by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

    While Republican-leaning states have moved to tighten voting rules — nearly 90 such bills have been introduced — those efforts have been outstripped by the number of bills seeking to expand access to the polls.

    “A lot of young people last year wanted to make their voices heard but were unable to do so because the rules prohibited them,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel with the nonpartisan Brennan Center Democracy Program.

    “That has certainly renewed interest in making the system more accessible,” Brater said.

    Democrats and Republicans have supported efforts to expand access, particularly online registration. But it’s mostly Republicans who are pushing restrictions such as requiring photo identification at the polls.

    Roughly 20 states are considering voter ID laws this year that supporters say prevent fraud and boost public confidence in elections. Critics say such laws target minorities and the poor, who might not have driver’s licenses and find it difficult to obtain them.

    Recent voting expansion efforts include automatic registration and extending absentee voting opportunities.

    Republicans control the governorship and legislature in 25 states and so far have been relatively successful in pushing through the more restrictive laws. Democrats control just a half-dozen states.

    In California, where Democrats command a supermajority in the Legislature and control the governor’s mansion, lawmakers say they want to take the lead in expanding voting access as other states move to restrict it.

    The bill to lower the voting age to 17 proposes an amendment to the state Constitution. Passage would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and approval by voters.

    Assemblyman Evan Low, the bill’s author, believes now is a good time to lower the voting age. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the ouster of South Korea’s president have shown people the importance of voting and holding public servants accountable, Low said.

    The Silicon Valley Democrat also pointed to the election of Trump, whom Low and his Democratic colleagues routinely censure.

    “We’ve realized that democracy is relatively fragile,” Low said.

    Lowering the voting age could help foster a sense of civic duty before teens move away from home to attend college or start a job and become less motivated to vote, he added.

    Tyler Christensen, one of Sainz’s classmates at Inderkum High School, said he’s torn on the issue.

    “I liked the idea when I was 17,” said Christensen, who turned 18 in February. “But now that it doesn’t matter for me anymore, I feel like a lot of people are still too immature.”

    Sen. Joel Anderson, a Republican from the San Diego area, said he supports encouraging young people to vote but opposes some approaches pushed by Democrats.

    He voted against a 2014 bill that legalized preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds because he worried it would make voter rolls less accurate and lead to voter fraud. He thinks Low’s proposed amendment to lower the voting age is simply an effort to get more Democratic votes.

    “Every poll that I’ve seen says that young people tend toward voting for Democrats, so I believe that it’s self-serving,” he said. “It can’t just be about gaming elections for your own support.”

    In Iowa, two Republicans introduced bills this year to expand teen voting. One bill would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they turned 18 by the general election. The other would have allowed Iowans to preregister to vote when they turn 16. Both bills stalled, but the primary voting provision has since been added to a voter ID bill advancing through the Legislature.

    The same reforms were proposed by Democrats in Minnesota, but they have since stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate. Jack Joa, a high school student who suggested letting 17-year-olds vote in primaries, said he was preregistered but was turned away at his polling place during Minnesota’s August primary because he was not yet 18.

    Joa said he spent hours a day for months researching policies in other states and studies on teen voter participation before he took his proposal to lawmakers. Joa is a Democrat but has worked on multiple campaigns for Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature, as well as the Democratic presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

    “I felt that the people that turned 18 by the general but weren’t able to vote in the primary would feel disenfranchised,” he said.

    The Nevada Legislature is also considering letting 17-year-olds preregister to vote.

    “Early pre-registration is one way of getting youth and teens more engaged in the civics process early on,” said state Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, a Las Vegas Democrat who proposed the bill.

    Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, declined to comment on the measure.

    He has previously vetoed proposals to establish same-day voting registration and automatic registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

    Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta; Alison Noon in Carson City, Nevada; Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis; and Linley Sanders and Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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    The U.S. Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    The U.S. Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    WASHINGTON — Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first week on the Supreme Court bench features an important case about the separation of church and state that has its roots on a Midwestern church playground. The outcome could make it easier to use state money to pay for private, religious schooling in many states.

    The justices on Wednesday will hear a Missouri church’s challenge to its exclusion from a state program that provides money to use ground-up tires to cushion playgrounds. Missouri is among roughly three dozen states with constitutions that explicitly prohibit using public money to aid a religious institution, an even higher wall separating government and religion than the U.S. Constitution erects.

    Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, says its exclusion is discrimination that violates its religious freedoms under the U.S. Constitution.

    If the justices agree, “the decision could have implications far beyond scrap tires and playgrounds,” said Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice, which is backing the church. “It has the potential to remove one of the last legal clouds hanging over school choice.”

    That prospect worries groups of public school teachers and others who oppose vouchers and other forms of public aid for private schooling.

    Adding to the intrigue is the long delay between when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Trinity Lutheran’s appeal, a month before Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, and the argument. The span of more than 15 months suggests the justices were concerned they might divide 4-4. Indeed, the case wasn’t scheduled for argument until after President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch for the seat.

    The timing of the argument “heightened our concern that the court has held this case for so long,” said Alice O’Brien, general counsel of the National Education Association, which opposes state aid to private schools.

    Missouri’s new governor, Republican Eric Greitens, injected some uncertainty into the high court case on Thursday, when he directed state agencies to allow religious groups and schools to receive taxpayer money for playgrounds and other purposes. The court on Friday asked both the church and the state to tell it whether the governor’s announcement affects the case.

    A lawyer for the church said in an interview with The Associated Press that the case would be unaffected because Greitens’ policy change does not resolve the legal issue. But a top aide to state Attorney General Josh Hawley told the AP that state lawyers were evaluating whether the new policy would affect the case.

    Should the court decide to go forward, Gorsuch’s votes and opinions in religious liberty cases as a judge on the federal appeals court in Denver would seem to make him more inclined to side with the church, and potentially provide the decisive, tie-breaking vote if the rest of the court is divided between liberals and conservatives, Bindas said.

    The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri’s scrap tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church’s application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.

    But the state’s Department of Natural Resources rejected the application, pointing to the part of the state constitution that says “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

    A recycled scrap tire is not religious, the church said in its Supreme Court brief. “It is wholly secular,” the church said.

    Leslie Hiner, vice president of programs at Ed Choice, a school voucher advocacy group said, “It is difficult to understand that a little school could not participate in a safety measure determined by the state because somehow safety of children is conflated with religious purpose.”

    But the question of where the dividing line should be between church and state is complicated, said the NEA’s O’Brien.

    The Supreme Court has upheld some school voucher programs and state courts have ratified others. But “in many instances challenges to voucher programs have succeeded based on state court views that their constitutions draw a different line than does the federal constitution,” O’Brien said.

    Thirty states and the District of Columbia have some form of school choice, including vouchers, tax credits and education savings accounts, according to Ed Choice.

    The justices could themselves draw a line that decides the case in Missouri without saying anything more broadly about school choice.

    But that issue already is looming at the court in appeals from a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that blocked the nation’s first county-initiated voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado.

    The Missouri church and some of the groups backing it have invoked what they describe as anti-Catholic bias that motivated the adoption of the Missouri provision and similar measures in other states in the late 1800s. They are similar to the proposed 1875 Blaine Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have prohibited the allocation of public school funds to religious institutions.

    “Both the Colorado and Missouri Blaine Amendments share discriminatory, anti-Catholic origins that make their contemporary use to compel religious discrimination particularly unacceptable,” lawyer Paul Clement wrote on behalf of the Colorado county.

    But 10 legal and religious historians said in a separate court filing that there is no evidence that “anti-Catholic or anti-religious animus” played a role in the adoption of the Missouri constitutional provision. And they said anti-Catholicism was a minor factor behind the Blaine Amendment. The broader debate was about the future of American education, they said.

    Associated Press writer Katie Kull in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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    File photo of a driver displaying Uber and Lyft ride sharing signs on his car windscreen in Santa Monica

    A driver displays Uber and Lyft ride sharing signs in his car windscreen in Santa Monica, California, on May 23, 2016. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Files/Reuters

    If any service best reflects the new economy, it may be hailing rides on demand from big companies like Uber and Lyft. They let riders avoid the hassle of flagging down a taxicab by simply tapping a mobile application on a smartphone. A driver arrives within minutes to take them to their destination.

    But unlike old-economy taxicab companies, the new ride-hailing services often pay little to none of the license fees or taxes that taxi businesses hand over to cities, counties and states for the right to operate. If anything, their appearance on the scene reduces the taxes and fees that government counts on by taking customers away from the old-economy taxis.

    That’s changing. Some states and localities are starting to tax the ride-hailing services. It’s not just an attempt to replace the revenue they’ve lost from the taxicab industry as a result of the new competition. Taxing the transportation network companies also is a sign of how governments are seeking to overhaul their tax structures in response to a rapidly changing economy that relies more on internet-based services than manufacturing and traditional bricks-and mortar retail shopping.

    “When we see the economy evolving this quickly in front of our eyes, it can be a wake-up call to lawmakers that times are changing and a tax code written decades ago needs to change with it,” said Carl Davis, transportation analyst for the progressive Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

    By simply imposing ordinary sales taxes on the ride-hailing industry, the institute estimates state and local governments could raise $300 million a year in revenue.

    So far, barely more than a handful of states — including Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Pennsylvania and South Carolina — have subjected ride-hailing services to existing sales taxes or imposed extra taxes or fees on them. Pennsylvania, for instance, assesses a 1.4 percent tax on all rides under a new law approved in November. New York’s budget, passed just last week, includes a 4 percent tax on the transportation network companies as part of an overall regulatory scheme.

    Most of the new taxes and fees are included in new regulations, as states move to tame the upstart industry, set legal standards for drivers and protect passengers.

    But establishing a new regulatory and tax framework isn’t always easy. An effort to do so failed in Georgia this year after a barrage of criticism from the ride-hailing services, which mounted a campaign to oppose any new taxes.

    Part of the problem is that in most states, sales taxes do not apply to taxi rides, although many taxis pay “medallion” or “hack licenses” fees. The patchwork approach to taxing ride services or taxis is just one example of how state tax codes in many cases have not kept up with all the ways the economy has changed.

    “Most states don’t tax taxi rides under their sales tax,” Davis said. “That’s largely a historical accident. The states exempted services in general — lawn care, pool cleaning — and taxi rides fall into that category, as well.”

    State tax codes, just like the federal one, have not been overhauled in decades and no longer match the behavior of consumers, who increasingly are buying their goods online and turning to fuel-efficient hybrid or electric cars.

    The change in behavior has upended two pillars of state and local tax codes: Taxing purchases at bricks-and-mortar stores, and taxing fuel at the pump. Because many internet sales elude sales taxes (despite Amazon’s agreement to start collecting the taxes), state and local treasuries are suffering. And because most highway and street repair is financed by taxes on the amount of fuel sold, states have less money to make those repairs.

    The Pennsylvania Experience

    When Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation to regulate and tax ride services across Pennsylvania, he put to rest a yearslong battle over their operation in Philadelphia that illustrated the difficulty of devising a regulatory and taxation framework for the new-economy industry.

    For several years, ride-hailing services operated in Philadelphia, with their legality in question. (The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission charged Uber in 2014 with operating without a license. That dispute was settled only earlier this month for $3.5 million.)

    Two years ago, the Legislature gave the services temporary authority to operate in the city. (That authority expired in January for Uber and in February for Lyft, putting the legality of the services in jeopardy without further legislation.)

    But even with that permission, whether and how the services could operate was marred by controversy with the local regulating authority and court action brought by licensed cab drivers, who claimed unfair competition. The legality of the companies’ operations was an on-again, off-again matter of dispute.

    When thousands of out-of-towners descended on Philadelphia in July for the Democratic National Convention, for instance, Wolf signed legislation to let the ride-hailing services operate without legal repercussion in the city for two and a half months.

    The temporary action pointed up the usefulness of the transit-on-demand companies, and the pressing need to end the disputes and establish a permanent framework to govern them. Adding to the urgency was Uber’s investment of millions of dollars in an experimental facility in Pittsburgh to test self-driving cars — an experiment the city welcomed.

    Under the new law, Philadelphia can now assess a 1.4 percent tax on the rides, two-thirds of which will go to help city schools, with the rest going to the city’s parking authority. Philadelphia International Airport also can assess a fee on rides originating there, to go to Delaware County, where the airport is located.

    There is no similar assessment on the services in the state’s other counties, where state regulations — including background checks, insurance requirements and vehicle safety standards — now allow them to operate.

    The ride-hailing services welcomed the regulation, as it got them out from under lawsuits and the Philadelphia moratorium. Lyft called the law a “win for drivers, passengers and communitiesb across Pennsylvania.”

    Regulations for All of New York

    New York City began adapting its regulations to cover ride-hailing services when they started operating in the city in 2011. But local regulations and insurance requirements have hampered expansion of the services to other cities in the state, such as Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. And that prompted upstate lawmakers to seek a statewide law.

    Republican state Sen. James Seward, who represents a district near Syracuse, said the ride-hailing services needed standard insurance requirements across the state to make it easier to operate.

    On Sunday, they got their wish as part of a budget bill that subjects all rides to a 4 percent state sales tax. Although the law allows big cities to opt out, none have so far expressed an interest in doing so. The regulations will take effect in about 90 days.

    What does the state get? “By making this option available throughout New York state, there will be more options for safe, affordable, reliable transportation service,” Seward said.

    New York also is expected to collect $24 million annually from the tax. Proceeds will pay for the state Department of Motor Vehicles to regulate the industry and provide money for infrastructure programs.

    Resisting Taxes

    The new industry doesn’t always welcome regulation and taxation. Take Georgia for instance.

    The Georgia House this session passed a bill to apply the state’s 4 percent sales tax, plus any local sales taxes, to transportation services including ride-hailing.

    But the bill foundered in the Senate when some lawmakers were worried about being tagged with a tax increase, egged on by the ride-hailing services, which mounted an anti-tax public relations campaign.

    “Tell your Representative to vote NO on increasing the cost of your Uber ride,” the company wrote in a blog post. “If protecting your hard-earned money is important to you, this is your chance to speak out against this tax hike.”

    Republican Rep. Jay Powell, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means and sponsor of the bill, said taxing the services was a matter of fairness because taxi and limousine services already pay the taxes. “We did not see any difference between them and Uber and Lyft,” he said. But anti-tax politics won out.

    New state regulations and taxes can have a real downside for the new-economy services.

    In January, for example, Massachusetts began enforcing new standards for ride-hailing drivers. Since then, more than 8,000 drivers were suspended from driving because they failed background checks. The drivers’ infractions ranged from suspended driver’s licenses to sexual offenses.

    (Maryland has booted more than 4,000 of the state’s ride-hailing drivers off the road since December 2015 because they failed to meet the state’s screening requirements.)

    The Massachusetts law imposes a 20-cent-per-ride fee on the app-based ride services, with 5 cents of that going to upgrade ordinary taxis, 10 cents going to local governments and 5 cents going to a state transportation fund.

    The fees can add up, as Lyft and Uber alone have a combined 2.5 million rides a month in the state. And they show how important it is for states to keep pace with the evolving economy.

    This story was produced by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. You can view the original report on its website.

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    A counter-protester appears at a protest by the far-right Workers’ Party of Social Justice (DSSS) in Duchcov, Czech Republic, on June 22, 2013. Screenshot from film by Tomáš Rafa

    Before you see artist and filmmaker Tomáš Rafa’s exhibit “New Nationalisms,” you can hear it down the hall at the Museum of Modern Art PS1: a mix of screams, police sirens, pleas for help and children laughing.

    Those sounds are all part of the story for Rafa, who in 2009 began documenting the rise of far-right nationalism in Central Europe amid a growing refugee crisis and years of economic stagnation. For the project, Rafa filmed protests and public demonstrations — both those by far-right groups and the counter-protests against them — in his native Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere in the region. The work focuses on the role that borders play in the lives of minorities and refugees.

    These stories have taken on particular urgency in the U.S. following November’s presidential election, and as President Donald Trump continues to assert that he will build a continuous wall between the U.S. and Mexico, Rafa told the NewsHour Weekend in an email. “My project is a message to American audience how far-right populism can dramatically change social identity,” he said.

    The two-room exhibit consists of Rafa’s films, mounted on the walls surrounding the viewer all while playing at full volume. The result is a loud, unforgiving cacophony — one that fits the subject matter, said Oliver Shultz, curatorial assistant at MoMA PS1. “There’s something about the chaos of this experience, standing here, that seemed appropriate,” he said.

    The project began with a focus on one wall in particular: one built to isolate Romani neighborhoods in Michalovce, Slovakia.

    The Romani, an ethnic minority in Slovakia whose ancestors migrated from India, continue to face discrimination in both employment and housing, forcing many of them to live in poor, tightly-clustered communities that lack running water and electricity. International human rights groups have said that discrimination persists in education as well — a report released earlier this year by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and Amnesty International said that segregating Romani children in low-performing schools maintains a “cycle of poverty and marginalisation.”

    In 2009, a group of families in Michalovce built a wall meant to deter Romani people from walking through non-Romani land, a structure that has been reproduced in other Slovakian cities. Two years later, Rafa returned with cans of paint and local children who helped him paint a colorful mural on the 9-foot wall, a move meant to highlight the “absurdity of segregation,” he said. He repeated the project on several other cities’ segregation walls in the following years, including in Sečovce and Ostrovany.

    The Economist reported in 2013 that about 14 similar segregation walls had been built in Romani neighborhoods during the five previous years. European Union officials have decried the walls: in 2013, EU Commissioner for Culture Androulla Vassiliou wrote a letter to the mayor of Kosice, Slovakia, saying that the city’s segregation wall violated the EU’s commitment “to fighting all forms of racism and homophobia.”

    For Rafa, the walls were physical evidence left by the recent rise of far-right nationalism in Central Europe. Though nationalist parties have long existed throughout Europe, journalist Simon Shuster wrote for TIME, “the resurgence of nationalism across the E.U. has become so powerful that parties from the political mainstream have been forced to tilt sharply to the right as well.”

    Rafa, who is now based in Warsaw, argues that these movements’ recent popularity is a warning both in Europe and the U.S., and that his project “has a universal message.”

    Rafa began filming at demonstrations of far-right groups against the Romani people and soon expanded the project to surrounding areas, documenting the relationship between nationalism, xenophobia and the growing Syrian refugee crisis. The result is a vivid catalog of the rise of far-right extremism in Central Europe in recent years. “I would like to define borders, boundaries, between patriotism and nationalism, nationalism and xenophobia, in everyday life in Central Europe,” Rafa said.

    One film chronicles the fallout after the border closed between Greece and Macedonia on March 8, 2015, preventing thousands of Syrian refugees at the makeshift camp in Idomeni, Greece, from continuing their journey. Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia had recently issued new restrictions making it more difficult for migrants to enter the country. Shortly afterward, police forced families out of the camp, busing them to government shelters and bulldozing the homes where some had lived for months or years.

    Sometimes grainy or shaky, the films place the viewer in the center of the action — and in the exhibit, surrounded on all sides by the videos, the viewer must also experience them simultaneously. “There’s a real urgency around getting this footage out there and that’s the dominating logic of how they’re cut and how they’re shot,” Shultz said.

    The work also issues a challenge to viewers to consider their own role in this political moment, Rafa said. “Six years ago, this far-right ideas and racism, it was at the boundaries of society,” Rafa said. “After six years, we’ve got these ideas everywhere.”

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    FILE PHOTO - Trump announces Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his National Security Adviser at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida

    Newly-named National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster listens as U.S. President Donald Trump makes the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S. February 20, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/File Photo/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser is expressing doubt the U.S. will send more ground troops to Syria. His comments come as rebel forces appear close to launching an assault to capture the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa.

    H.R. McMaster spoke to ABC’s “This Week” from Afghanistan. He says it “remains to be seen” whether additional troops are needed, but he doesn’t “think so.” McMaster says the U.S. will support its “partner forces” in Syria.

    The U.S. has been expected to provide additional arms to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces for the Raqqa offensive. But it hasn’t been clear about troops.

    Last week, Trump appeared to rule out deeper American military intervention in Syria beyond retaliatory strikes if Syria’s president continued to attack civilians with chemical weapons.

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    death penalty Photo via Getty Images

    After an uprising in a Delaware prison, lawmakers and human rights groups are casting blame in different directions. Photo via Getty Images

    Just after 10 a.m. EDT on Feb. 1, a group of inmates took four staff hostage as they seized control of Building C at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, with 120 prisoners inside.

    By the end of the 18-hour standoff, Sgt. Steven Floyd Sr. was dead.

    The state has shared little information about the attack and now, “All 120 are considered suspects,” said Jayme Gravell, a corrections spokeswoman. But lawmakers and human rights groups tell completely different stories about what led to the uprising and how to move forward.

    “We have been begging for help for years.” — Correctional Officers Association of Delaware union president Geoff Klopp

    Republican Rep. Steve Smyk said corrections officers had recently been on the receiving end of a one-two punch. The first came in August, when the state Supreme Court ruled that Delaware’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it allowed a judge’s sentence to supersede a jury’s. One month later, the state settled a lawsuit, agreeing to improve mental health care for inmates and significantly reduce how much time they spend in solitary confinement.

    Correctional officers were already overworked and understaffed, Smyk said, and the settlement piled on more responsibility while empowering inmates, many of whom claim mistreatment by the officers.

    “The reality is that inside the facility you have people that are very dangerous and that’s why they are in the facility and they have nothing to lose,” he said. “And now they can make a great statement by taking the life of one of the [correctional officers].”

    At the same time, national and local human rights lawyers who are in collaboration say that such a narrative is detached and dismissive of the people most affected by prison policies: inmates.

    A ‘combustible’ situation in Delaware prisons

    Delaware is the country’s second-smallest state, with a population of just under 1 million, but incarcerates at a rate about 15 percent higher than the national average. It houses approximately 7,000 inmates across four state facilities that have been understaffed for many years, a key focus in annual reports by the Delaware Department of Correction. In 2015, there were 86 staffing vacancies among the prisons — an improvement from the previous year, when there were 132.

    death penalty Delaware Corrections

    Graphic courtesy of Delaware’s Department of Correction 2015 annual report. “While staffing levels have increased incrementally since 2011, it should be noted that the Department continues to operate at a substantial vacancy rate,” the report notes.

    Starting salaries for corrections officers are in the low thirties, which contributes to a high rate of staff turnover — the work is too stressful to accept these wages, said Correctional Officers Association of Delaware union president Geoff Klopp.

    “We have been begging for help for years,” Klopp said. “A lot of basic security operations are overlooked and superseded and when it goes on for so long, it’s a cancer that continues to eat at you.”

    This also has a direct effect on how people on the inside are treated, says a swath of human rights lawyers who started comparing notes as soon as they heard about the uprising. The National Lawyers Guild assembled a team to sift through summaries of hundreds of letters written to local groups by inmates over the years and is talking to people documenting what is going on inside the prisons.

    “The focus of discussions of the Vaughn uprising thus far has been misplaced,” said Stanley Holdorf, supervising attorney for the guild’s Prisoners Legal Advocacy Network. “The emphasis should be on the conditions that preceded the uprising: what factors precipitated the incident, and how conditions of confinement at Vaughn can be improved.”

    Holdorf said he has entered more than 500 letters into a database from just the last year, documenting whether they include complaints about discrimination, excessive force or one of 17 other forms of mistreatment.

    “Staff was underpaid and overworked … You mix that up, you have a combustible kind of situation.” — Rev. Christopher Bullock of the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice

    “We are receiving consistent and widely-corroborated reports of flagrant and ongoing abuses inside the facility, to include physical abuse of prisoners by staff and other serious rights violations,” Holdorf said. “Such acts can only worsen the situation.”

    These stories are decades old to the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice, which includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and political officials.

    One Sunday morning in 2003, an elderly woman told Rev. Christopher Bullock, who founded the Canaan Baptist Church and the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice, that her grandson in prison had a headache, but the prison refused to give him Tylenol.

    “I said, ‘OK, I’ll pray for him,’” Bullock said. “Then she came back the next week and said the same thing.”

    Bullock started talking to inmates and hearing that people with serious medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS were being neglected.

    “Inhumane violations of human and civil rights, not to mention moral rights,” he said.

    Then in 2004, a prisoner at the Vaughn facility held a counselor hostage in her office and raped her. After nearly seven hours, officers shot and killed the offender.

    The correctional officer sued the state, saying it willfully ignored staffing shortages and security lapses that contributed to the incident. The state settled in 2005 for $1.65 million.

    Amid damning news reports, the state started issuing a series of recommendations to improve safety that highlighted understaffing and the lack of mental health resources in prisons.

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    In 2006, after being called on to investigate some of the problems, the U.S. Department of Justice signed an 87-point agreement with the state, agreeing to overhaul the prison healthcare system. In 2012, the department confirmed that Delaware had complied with the terms of the agreement.

    But Bullock said the letters continued to get grislier and more frequent – people wrote that they were being beaten, prevented from using hot water or having hot meals withheld in the dead of winter. Instead of getting one or two letters from inmates a month like he did in 2003, he started getting as many as 10 every month.

    “Staff was underpaid and overworked,” he said. “You mix that up, you have a combustible kind of situation.”

    In 2015, the ACLU with another human rights group filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than 100 prisoners with mental illness being held in solitary confinement, which the lawsuit said exacerbated their ailments.

    Their settlement announced in September required that they hire more mental health staff, increase out-of-cell time from three hours a week to 17.5 hours a week for most held in solitary and limit the amount of time people could be held in solitary.

    And then the Supreme Court, after finding the death penalty unconstitutional, ruled that the 12 inmates on death row at Vaughn would not be executed.

    Smyk said this is why, “the inmates know they have the upper-hand.”

    Some lawmakers want to bring back the death penalty

    Regardless of the cause, Bullock says that the uprising has made a bad situation worse. His church held a town hall meeting with hundreds of people who were either formerly incarcerated or related to people who are. He likened some of the complaints he heard to torture.

    Inmates are being rounded up by people in masks, pepper-sprayed and not just beaten, he said, but humiliated.

    “I know that certain corrections officers have asked men to put their hand in their rectum and put their hand back in their mouth,” he said.

    A Delaware Department of Correction spokeswoman said the latter complaint was untrue, but did not provide comment on the former. Gov. John Carney’s office declined to comment on specific claims citing pending litigation.

    An inmate who was present during the takeover also filed a 14-page, handwritten federal lawsuit claiming that inmates who tried to help during the takeover were beaten, stripped and banned from their religious meals in the aftermath.

    The attorney representing Floyd’s wife and family as well as the other hostages also said he is planning to file a federal lawsuit on their behalf this coming week.

    Bullock has written two letters to the U.S. Department of Justice, asking it to intervene again, to which it has said it will use consider whether to open another investigation.

    Then on March 27, even though Carney said during his campaign last year that he opposed capital punishment and would let the Supreme Court’s ruling stand, he revised his stance.

    Delaware Governor John Carney speaks during a news conference about a hostage incident and killing of a prison guard in Glasgow

    Delaware Governor John Carney speaks during a news conference about a hostage incident and killing of a prison guard in Glasgow, Delaware, on Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Doug Curran/Reuters

    “I wouldn’t rule out, however, supporting a death penalty that applied only to those convicted of killing a member of law enforcement,” Carney said in a statement responding to reports about reviving the death penalty. “In some cases – specifically behind prison walls – capital punishment may be our only deterrent to murder.”

    Seven days later, Smyk introduced House Bill 125, calling it the Extreme Crimes Protection Act, to ensure the state’s capital punishment process abides by constitutional standards. If it passes and Carney signs it into law, it would revoke Delaware’s status as the 19th and most recent state to abolish the death penalty.

    No one interviewed for this piece disagrees that prison workers in Delaware are underpaid and overworked, nor did anyone say they support abuse or retaliation either by the inmates or the correctional officers.

    But now Smyk, who had planned to support a bill to reinstate capital punishment ever since the state Supreme Court ruling, says he thinks the uprising has given some state lawmakers who initially opposed the death penalty a new outlook.

    “What I am hearing is that they’ve had a change of heart, so I think that this bill has a great chance in the House and the Senate,” he said.

    Holdorf, however, was nearly speechless when asked about whether the elimination of the death penalty could have encouraged people to participate in the uprising.

    “It sounds like nonsense. I really can’t, I don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

    Delaware’s Chief Public Defender Brendan O’Neill, whose lawyers successfully argued against the death penalty at the Supreme Court, said that the Vaughn uprising does not change that capital punishment is expensive, error-prone and racially discriminatory.

    “We’ll make the same arguments we’ve been making for a long time,” he said. “Despite supporter claims, there’s no evidence that the death penalty works.”

    READ NEXT: Resistance builds against social media ban in Texas prisons

    The post Delaware returns to death penalty debate after prison uprising appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Members of the clergy gather outside The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach

    Members of the clergy gather outside The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida, as President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend Easter Sunday service on April 16, 2017. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump attended Easter service at the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea near his estate in Palm Beach, Florida on Sunday — an annual ritual that provided a break from a host of foreign policy crises, including escalating tensions with North Korea.

    The president attended the service with his wife, Melania, his two younger children, Barron and Tiffany, and the first lady’s parents. It’s the same church where he and the first lady were married in 2005.

    The president is expected to spend the rest of the afternoon with his family participating in annual Easter festivities at Mar-a-Lago, his private club, including brunch and an Easter egg hunt, spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.

    It will be a test run of sorts. He and the first lady are set to host the official annual Easter egg roll at the White House on Monday.

    The president has yet to attend a church service in the nation’s capital since his inauguration weekend back in January. The church attendance of past presidents has been a topic of intense interest in Washington.

    Trump has been speaking more about faith in recent week, invoking God in his statements.

    In his weekly radio address, the president called Easter Sunday “a holy day of reverence and worship” and “a sacred time that fills the spirit of our nation with the faith of our people.”

    He also declared, “America is a Nation of believers,” adding that: “As long as we have faith in each other, and trust in God, we will succeed.”

    Trump described himself as a “religious person” during his campaign, but often appeared to struggle to affirm his Christian credentials as he worked to woo the Evangelical voters who helped drive him into office.

    He often carried a copy of his childhood Bible and a photo of his confirmation to provide evidence of his Presbyterian upbringing and made what were seen as several minor missteps, including mistakenly referring to Second Corinthians as “two Corinthians” during an appearance at the Christian Liberty University.

    The post Trump attends Easter service in Palm Beach appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    paid family leave

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    By Christopher Booker and Connie Kargbo

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Living and working in Rhode Island, Julie Moura hit the family leave lottery.

    JULIE MOURA: Not only did I get 20 weeks off, but I got 20 weeks paid. It’s like peace of mind, right. You’re going out and you know that you’re going to continue to get paid at the same pay, and so you’re not worrying about that piece. You’re focusing on bonding with the baby.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Her lengthy maternity leave was a combination of a rare state insurance program and her employer’s paid family leave policy. She works for the Rhode Island based toy company, Hasbro, the makers of Mr.Potato Head, My Little Pony, and some of America’s most well known board games.

    DOLPH JOHNSON: You know, we want to be an employer of choice and talent, for us, is everything.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Dolph Johnson heads Hasbro’s human resources team. He says paid family leave is a benefit that entices quality employees to work for the company.

    DOLPH JOHNSON: Not only are we recruiting great talent, but that great talent, they’re recruiting companies. So it’s really important for us to make sure that they understand how much immense value we put on raising kids, and how important that is, because, you know, that’s central to our business.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Johnson says companies like Disney, Google, and Netflix are models Hasbro has tried to emulate in offering paid family leave. Disney offers 12 weeks of maternity leave, Google, four months, and Netflix, up to a year of parental leave.

    But those companies and Hasbro are rare. Only 13 percent of American private sector workers have any kind of paid family leave.

    In fact, the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers only to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

    Companies with 50 or fewer employees are exempt, so only about 60 percent of American workers are covered.

    Rhode Island decided to go further than federal law. It requires employees to pay into a state fund so they can take paid family leave. So whether you work for retail giant, Urban Outfitters or a small vintage clothing store, you are eligible.

    Rhode Island’s program allows eligible employees to collect about 60 percent of their salary for four weeks to care for a newborn, an adopted or foster child. Employees can also the benefit to care for a seriously ill child, a parent, a spouse, a domestic partner, a parent-in-law or grandparent.

    The program, called Temporary Caregiver Insurance, or TCI, is an extension of the state’s long standing disability insurance. Funded by a 1.2 percent payroll tax on most Rhode Island employees, even part-time workers are eligible for the insurance program. The maximum benefit paid out is about $800 a week and workers who take it are guaranteed their job back

    When Rhode Island implemented the law in 2014, it became only the third state to mandate paid family leave, after California and New Jersey. Next year, New York is scheduled to join them.

    Julie Moura, who already had paid family leave offered by her company, got even more paid time off. And because of the state mandate, her husband was able to join her for four weeks when their last baby was born.

    JULIE MOURA: I think that my husband and I both were able to not stress as much as we did the first time and know that we had these additional weeks and the additional amount of pay. So it, I mean, invaluable time.

    GAYLE GOLDIN: There was certainly strong support from the public.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Rhode Island state senator, Gayle Goldin sponsored the family leave law. The Democrat was inspired by her personal experience. 16 years ago, a serious back injury left her on disability for several weeks.

    GAYLE GOLDIN: Thankfully, Rhode Island had this temporary disability insurance in place, and so I was able to use that to cover my own care. But my husband did not have access to that in order to care give for me. And that’s really when we realized what a stressor that was on a family when you need to be able to take care of somebody else.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Senator Goldin says in Rhode Island, the law is meant to fill the gap, especially in a state ranked 9th in residents over age 65.

    GAYLE GOLDIN: The reality is that most children have their parents in the workforce, and most people are trying to deal with aging parents and young children at the same time. It’s important that even if people who don’t have children, they do have loved ones that are going to get seriously ill at some point. It’s a reality we all experience. So this is a way that we can ensure that everybody has at least some minimum benefit when they need to be able to be out of work to deal with those issues.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: After the paid family leave law was implemented, the state Labor Department contracted University of Rhode Island sociologist Helen Mederer and psychologist Barbara Silver to study the program.

    BARBARA SILVER: The people who took TCI were more likely to endorse better physical health, they were more likely to initiate and sustain breastfeeding for new children, they reported less stress, and less family stress, which as we know is a major problem.

    HELEN MEDERER: We also found a significantly lower rate of absenteeism after returning to work, among people who use TCI.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: But the researchers did find a difference in just who was using the benefit. Across all income groups, loss of pay was the most frequently reported reason for not using the paid family leave program, but higher earners were more likely to use the benefit.

    BARBARA SILVER: So lower wage workers not only don’t have the ability to take what’s offered to them, from the state, but they don’t have any employer benefits, they can’t afford alternative care, and so they’re left with nothing, and they’re left with very unhappy choices. Do I leave my sick child at home, and go to work? Do I not go to work, and lose my job? Do I reduce myself to part time? Do I go on public assistance? Which is what a lot of people have to do.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Throughout the state, a majority of small and medium-sized employers support the program. Only a quarter oppose it. That opposition is strongest among small businesses.

    MICHAEL CHENEVERT: Mike Chenevert runs Swissline Precision, a manufacturing company that produces components of medical, aerospace, and other commercial products. Most of his 51 employees are highly skilled technicians who run complex machines.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: How much training does it take to get an employee up to speed to be able to respond to these orders?

    MICHAEL CHENEVERT: To get somebody where they can program and set up a machine, it does take some time and investment.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: So, six months or..?

    MICHAEL CHENEVERT: It can take upwards of a year.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Chenevert says that even though as an employer he doesn’t have to pay into the TCI program, there is a cost. Losing even one worker for four weeks of paid family leave can hurt the company’s productivity.

    MICHAEL CHENEVERT: We’ve always been a family-oriented company. We’ve always tried to work with our employees and give them the time that they need to take care of their families. It can really be devastating in some aspects. Especially if it’s a top-notch, someone that’s going to be setting up and programming the machines. I lose one person that does that, it definitely can put a lot of burden on the other employees that are in our facility.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: While the federal family leave law exempts companies with 50 or fewer employees, Rhode Island’s law does not.

    MICHAEL CHENEVERT: You do have big companies that are multibillion dollar companies, then you have smaller companies like ourselves. I mean it’s, it can be daunting to try to kind of put everybody in the same bucket. Some of the big companies have a lot more resources than we do. And they also offer different benefit packages that we may not be able to meet.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: We met with a small business owner, and while he is supportive of the effort, his criticism is that the productivity hit that he takes.

    GAYLE GOLDIN: The reality is, people have heart attacks whether or not you have temporary disability insurance in place. So businesses already have to deal with that, the loss of somebody being out of office or out of the manufacturing company or wherever they are. You know, I think what is important to know is this is at least giving relief to the employee. And to the employer, now they only have one thing that they have to deal with, which is how to fill up that space while the employee’s out.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: John Simmons would like the family leave insurance program to be optional. He’s executive director of the Rhode Island public expenditure council, a business-funded policy research organization.

    JOHN SIMMONS: So we believe the opt-out should be provided for employees. There is a whole market out there on short- and long-term disability that could replace it. Could be mobile, could be portable by the employee as well.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: While companies like Hasbro believe offering paid family leave beyond the state mandate gives it a recruitment advantage, Simmons worries the mandate to offer Temporary Caregiver Insurance hurts competition for jobs with neighboring states.

    JOHN SIMMONS: Massachusetts and Connecticut do not offer TCI, so we now are at a disadvantage because people thought that was the right approach to go Think of this as a market-driven question. The employer should be able to offer it or not offer it.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: About 15-thousand Rhode Island residents have taken paid family leave in the past three years. Now, senator Goldin is currently working on a bill to double the state paid family leave benefit from the maximum four weeks to eight.

    GAYLE GOLDIN: We can’t rely solely on the private sector to solve this. It’s certainly good when a company does step up, but it’s not the solution.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Because it is not enough?

    GAYLE GOLDIN: It won’t cover everybody, and this shouldn’t rely on winning the boss lottery in order to get the benefits that you need. This is something that we all should be invested in and making sure that everybody has it.

    The post Can Rhode Island’s paid family leave be a national model? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The administration of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is claiming victory in today’s referendum to expand the president’s executive powers. With 99 percent of the votes counted, Turkish election officials said 51 percent of Turks voted “yes” to amend the country’s constitution. It will result in abolishing the office of prime minister and allowing the president to draft the budget, issue decrees, and appoint judges without parliamentary approval.

    President Erdogan cast his ballot in Istanbul and called a “yes” vote, quote, “a choice for change and transformation.”

    Opponents charge the changes will lead to authoritarian, one- man rule, and they have already begun challenging the results.

    For more on the referendum, I’m joined via Skype from Istanbul by “New York Times” reporter Patrick Kingsley.

    Patrick, this is close. I’m sure you’ve been watching it all night. But one side is claiming victory and the other side says, not so fast.

    PATRICK KINGSLEY, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, exactly. The administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed victory. His prime minister, Binali Yildirim, who will be out of a job, thanks to this constitutional change, has just made a speech claiming victory. The main opposition party, however, is contesting what it says around 37 percent of ballot boxes and that could be well over 2 million votes in there.

    SREENIVASAN: What are the concerns that the opposition has?

    KINGSLEY: They’re claiming that that there had been ballot stuffing. There had been circulating unverified vides of individuals taking, for example, five ballot slips and placing them within a ballot box. And the main opposition party, the CHP, says there could be thousands of such instances, but this is yet to be proved.

    SREENIVASAN: How strong is the possibility that the opposition can mount enough of a challenge to take over the rule of president in a couple of years? I mean, it’s — for people watching in the United States, how competitive is it there?

    KINGSLEY: It feels very unlikely at the moment. President Erdogan is without doubt the most popular man in Turkey, even if he is a very divisive man and it seems to split the country in two. There is another figure within the main opposition party who is currently out of jail who could mount a particularly strong opposition to him, never say never, but he seems unlikely to win in 2019 and his political party seems likely to be the biggest party in parliament.

    The only means of writing a check on the president’s power would be if opposition party has managed to form a majority in parliament. But the way that the political landscape in Turkey looks right now, that also seems unlikely.

    SREENIVASAN: How much of a factor did the attempted coup play into this vote?

    KINGSLEY: I think it may have a major effect, because President Erdogan was able to show that there was a very real threat to Turkish democracy. He was able to say, we were elected and the faction within the army tried to surface from power. And for that reason, we need to create stability and you the electorate need to vote for this constitutional change that would centralize power in the hands of the president.

    SREENIVASAN: Was Turkey and was Erdogan conscious of what the rest of the world thought about this referendum and what happens tomorrow?

    KINGSLEY: They were very conscious because and the reason why President Erdogan and his allies stoked so many battles in particular with European and European politicians, he called the Europeans Nazis, in particular in Holland and Germany, the reason why he did all that was to create the illusion of a Turkey under siege, and had the effect of rallying nationalist voters to his cause. It made them to think that President Erdogan was the only person standing up for them and Turkey. And for that reason, they needed to vote for him. So, he was very aware of what people thought of Turkey and he would play on that and use that to his advantage.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. “New York Times” reporter, Patrick Kingsley, joining us via Skype from Istanbul tonight — thanks so much.

    KINGSLEY: Thank you.

    The post Turkey votes to expand presidential powers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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