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

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    U.S. Surgeon General Murthy participates in roundtable discussion at Howard University in Washington

    U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy appears at Howard University in Washington, D.C., on April 7, 2015. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has relieved Dr. Vivek Murthy of his duties as U.S. Surgeon General.

    A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services says Murthy was asked to resign after “assisting in a smooth transition” under President Donald Trump.

    Murthy was a holdover from the Obama administration.

    Murthy’s deputy, Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, is serving as acting surgeon general and leader the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps until the Senate confirms a replacement. Her previous positions include being a nurse officer in the U.S. Army.

    Health department spokeswoman Alleigh Marre says Murthy will remain a member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

    Murthy says on Facebook that he was humbled and honored to serve. He says serving was the “privilege of a lifetime.”

    The post Trump Health Dept. dismisses Obama appointed surgeon general appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    death penalty

    Photo Illustration by Getty Images

    The last time anyone saw Julie Heath alive was Oct. 3, 1993, when the 18-year-old set out to visit her boyfriend in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

    A week later, a hunter discovered Heath’s body, less than eight miles from where her broken-down car was found. She wore a black shirt, socks and underwear, but they were inside-out. Her black jeans were partially unzipped. Her throat was slashed.

    Police later arrested Eric Randall Nance for Heath’s murder. Investigators said he picked her up near her vehicle, before DNA evidence proved he raped and killed her. In 1994, he was handed the death penalty. At the time, 80 percent of Americans nationwide favored of the death penalty, according to a Gallup poll. But the only reason Belinda Crites needs to support the death penalty is “what Eric Nance did to my cousin.”

    “She wasn’t just my cousin, she was my best friend,” Crites told the NewsHour. “He tore my whole family apart.”

    “He tore my whole family apart.”

    Nance’s execution in 2005 marked the last time Arkansas put a prisoner to death. This week, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee, the first of eight men the state had originally planned to put death in the 11 days after Easter Sunday. No state has executed so many people so quickly since 1976 when the Supreme Court reinstate capital punishment, said Robert Dunham with the Death Penalty Information Center.

    The conflict in Arkansas is the latest to politicize the death penalty — but for families of the victims and the prisoners, it also resurfaces the complicated issues of closure and the long-reaching effect of these executions on their communities.

    Arkansas justified its unusually swift schedule by saying the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs were about to expire, and pharmaceutical companies have refused to replenish stocks. A series of judicial rulings blocked the scheduled executions of the first four men: Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Don Davis and Stacey Johnson. The three men who remain are, at the moment, still scheduled to die before the month is out.

    The idea of closure is powerful. It’s something Arkansas invoked in an April 15 motion that tried to fight a temporary restraining order that McKesson Medical Surgical, Inc., has used to block the use of its drug vecuronium bromide in state executions. (The drug is typically used as general anesthesia to relax muscles before surgery).

    “The friends and family of those killed or injured by Jason McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, Bruce Ward, Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Don Davis, and Terrick Nooner have waited decades to receive some closure for their pain,” it read.

    But even when executions take place, a surviving family’s pain doesn’t disappear with the perpetrator’s pulse.


    It’s been more than two decades since Heath’s death. But Belinda Crites, a 41-year-old caregiver who still lives in her hometown of Malvern, Arkansas, finds laughter in her sweet memories of her cousin. A high school cheerleader, Heath wanted to be a police officer one day. She worked two jobs — at Taco Bell and a blue jean factory — and before she died, she earned enough money to buy a beat-up 1957 black Mustang. With each paycheck, Julie bought a new part, and she and her father, William Heath, restored the car together.

    “She ran her fingers through Crites’ hair, long like her dead cousin’s; she held her tight … as if she were “just trying to get a piece of Julie back.”

    Whenever Crites visited her cousin’s house, they’d pile into bed together and watch episodes of their favorite television sitcom, “Family Matters.” For Christmas, Crites, Heath and both of their mothers dressed in matching outfits — nice jeans, ties or whatever was the latest fad — and baked cookies. The two mothers were inseparable, working and raising their families together. Crites and her cousin “always said we’d be just like them,” Crites said.

    But after Heath’s murder, Crites said her family fell apart. Her mother, aunt and grandmother were all diagnosed with depression and needed medication. When Nancy Heath — her aunt and Julie’s mother — hugged Crites, she ran her fingers through Crites’ hair, long like her dead cousin’s; she held her tight, Crites said, as if she were “just trying to get a piece of Julie back.”

    The family watched as Nancy Heath wasted away. They cried and hugged each other on March 31, 1994, when a jury sentenced Nance to death. But after the family left the courtroom and got into their cars to drive home, Heath became incoherent. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where doctors observed her overnight, Crites said.

    Nancy Heath’s psychologist later begged her to at least eat bananas and watermelon, but she refused food. If she left Crites’ house to go to the store, her family knew to follow her — often, she drove instead in the direction of the cemetery where Julie was buried. Crites’ mother once found Nancy Heath there overdosed on pills. Crites said her aunt attempted suicide at least four times before she killed herself on Christmas morning in 1994, 15 months after her daughter’s murder.

    “Some people wanted to judge [Nancy for her] suicide,” Crites said. “But my aunt — she couldn’t cope. She couldn’t go on. She wanted to go on so bad. She tried so hard.”


    In 2015, the FBI reported nearly 15,700 homicides nationwide. And a 2007 study suggested that for every homicide victim, six to 10 family members are “indirectly victimized.” That figure excludes the many friends, colleagues, neighbors or other people who also suffer when a person they know is murdered. When they grieve, survivors must not only figure out how life goes on without their loved one in it, but also process the violence behind that person’s death.

    “They’ll tell you over and over and over again that there’s no such thing as closure.”

    Death penalty advocates and politicians, including Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, argue that when the state executes a person who has committed a terrible crime, the act brings closure to victim’s family. But it’s not that simple.

    If you ask murder victims’ families, “closure is the F-word,” said Marilyn Armour, who directs the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue at the University of Texas at Austin. She’s researched homicide survivors for two decades. “They’ll tell you over and over and over again that there’s no such thing as closure.”

    In 2012, Armour and University of Minnesota researcher Mark Umbreit interviewed 20 families of crime victims in Texas — a state which regularly uses the death penalty — and 20 more families in Minnesota, which instead offers life without parole. They were curious about how families in both states coped with the sentences.

    The 2012 study concluded families in Minnesota were able to move on sooner; because their loved ones’ killers were sentenced to life without parole, rather than the death penalty, they weren’t retraumatized in the multiple appeals that often precede an execution. Armour cautions their sample was small. But over the last two decades, murder victims’ families have received better treatment and far more rights, Armour said. Rather than listen to the families homicide victims leave behind, society often uses these people and their pain to score political points in the death penalty debate, Armour said.

    “Murder victims families are cast aside,” Armour said. “Nobody is giving survivors voice value.”

    What Armour sees unfolding in Arkansas is political, she told the NewsHour. She doesn’t think it should be.

    Arkansas State Representative Rebecca Petty, on the other hand, has made her mission to bring the issue to politics. In 1999, Petty’s 12-year-old daughter, Andria Brewer, was kidnapped from her younger sister’s birthday party by her uncle, Karl Roberts. He raped and strangled her, covering her body with leaves on an old logging road near Mena, Arkansas.

    Andria Nichole Brewer, 12, was attending her youngest sister's fourth birthday party when Brewer's uncle, Karl Roberts, abducted her. He then raped and killed her, hiding her body near an old logging road near Mena, Arkansas, about 10 miles from her home. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Petty

    Before that happened, Petty said her family had never experienced crime, so she never gave the death penalty much thought. “When it happens to your own child you gave birth to, you taught to walk and talk and [lived with] 12 years, that’s the point — it makes up your mind for you.”

    In June 2000, Roberts waived his right to appeal the case in court. He confessed and was convicted for murdering his niece; he was sentenced to die on Jan. 6, 2004. Petty said she and her family prayed and decided to go watch Roberts’ execution. But shortly before he was supposed to be lethally injected, Roberts said he changed his mind and wanted to appeal after all. Petty left the prison that bitterly cold night in disbelief. Roberts still sits on death row, but his execution remains unscheduled.

    Since then, Petty entered politics and has advocated for victims’ rights. She secured funding to expand the witness area attached to the execution chamber on Arkansas’ death row. When she considered what would result from Arkansas’ original plan to execute eight men in 11 days, Petty said it won’t offer closure, but could “will close chapters” for these families.

    “In your life, you have chapters,” Petty said. “This is going to be a chapter for these families they can close. It’s not going to be an easy chapter. For some of them it could be one of the last chapters of their life.”

    But Judith Elane, a lifelong death penalty abolitionist and former attorney who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, doesn’t see it that way. The 72-year-old said because the death penalty is not applied to all homicides, it leaves surviving family members with the impression that the justice system values some victims more than others.

    Her principles were put to the test after her brother, Gene Schlatter was shot and killed in November 1968 in a Denver bar with four witnesses. He was 36. Elane drove from western Canada, where she lived at the time, to his funeral, where she mourned with his three children and widow. Four decades later, in 2009, detectives traced evidence to a woman they believed was guilty of the crime. But witnesses disappeared, changed their story or suffered dementia and couldn’t testify in court. Despite other evidence, the woman walked away, and no one was prosecuted for the murder.

    “The governor likes to say he does this because victims’ families deserve closure,” she said. “Every time I hear that, I think, ‘you’re not doing it for me. It didn’t help me.’”

    To manage her grief, Elane joined support groups and now leads Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation in Arkansas. She scoffed at politicians who offer closure through capital punishment. “The governor likes to say he does this because victims’ families deserve closure,” she said. “Every time I hear that, I think, ‘you’re not doing it for me. It didn’t help me.’”

    Six out of 10 Arkansans favor use of the death penalty, according to a recent poll of 550 Arkansas voters from Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College, bolstering Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s call for expedited execution. But nationwide, support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in four decades, with half of U.S. adults saying states should not execute their worst criminals, according to Pew Research Center.

    When states use capital punishment, the decision has consequences not only for the murder victims’ families, jurors and the person sentenced to die, but also for the prison personnel responsible for carrying out death sentences and the families of people who sit on death row.

    Unlike politicians, correctional officers who work on death row are also “going to go home and live with the psychological consequences for the rest of their lives and so will their families,” said Patrick Crane, who worked on Arkansas’ death row from 2007 to 2008. Turnover is high, he said. And the state’s series of executions has taken advantage of prison staff who live in rural farm communities with few jobs, where households “still have an old way of thinking and doing and being.”

    “Metaphysically, I think it’s going to be a cloud over the state, especially over the area in which it happens,” Crane said. “Clouds last a long time down there.”

    In Arkansas’ expedited schedule to execute people on death row, the voices of victims families and the victims themselves are lost in sensationalism, Elane said. If politicians and policymakers care about homicide victims and their families, she said those voices need to be heard. The money saved by issuing life without parole sentences — which tends to have fewer appeals — could improve law enforcement and investigations, she said.

    For now, she campaigns on behalf of murder victims families, bringing attention to their needs immediately following the death of a loved one.

    “Regardless of how we feel about the death penalty, we all experienced the same suffering and the same dilemmas,” Elane said.


    For 12 years, Nance sat on “The Row” in the Varner Supermax penitentiary near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, while his attorneys tried to appeal his execution. For years, they argued he had the mental capacity of a third grader, and that the state would be cruel to kill him because he did not fully understand rape and murder were wrong. His case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the justices decided not to spare Nance’s life.

    Members of the Nance family who testified on his behalf did not return NewsHour’s request for comment.

    For his final meal before his Nov. 28, 2005, execution, Nance asked for two bacon cheeseburgers, French fries, two pints of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and two cans of Coca-Cola. More than a decade later, Crites still resents that Nance had a chance to choose that meal.

    “My cousin died with tater tots and a Coke on her stomach,” she said.

    READ MORE: Painter immortalizes last meals of 600 prisoners put to death

    Crites and her family drove a van to the prison and were escorted to the warden’s office, where they watched the execution chamber on a tiny closed-circuit television set. On the screen, Crites saw Nance strapped flat on his back to a gurney with a white sheet pulled up to his neck. He said nothing.

    Prison staff injected Nance with a lethal cocktail. He closed his eyes, remained silent, and then died, Crites said.

    “You have to teach your family how evil people are.”

    But the memory of what he did to her cousin — and how life then changed — still haunts Crites. She knows Nance’s execution didn’t change how things had turned out.

    “When he was gone, it gave us a relief,” she said. “Did it make things better? I don’t know. We think of him everyday.”

    Crites, the mother of three sons and one daughter, said she only recently allowed her 16-year-old daughter to spend the night at a friend’s house and never permitted her daughter to sit on the porch of their home without someone sitting with her.

    “You have to teach your family how evil people are,” she said.

    The post Does the death penalty bring closure to a victim’s family? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A sign is photographed outside of a CVS Pharmacy in New York

    A sign is photographed outside of a CVS Pharmacy in New York, U.S., April 29, 2016. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    Cherokee Nation is suing CVS Health, Walgreens, and other drug companies and retailers, alleging the companies didn’t do enough to stop prescription painkillers from flooding the tribal community and creating a crisis of opioid addiction.

    The lawsuit, filed in tribal court on Thursday, alleges that the companies failed to properly monitor opioid prescriptions and orders. The tribal government alleges that those patterns should have raised red flags that the companies are legally responsible for reporting to federal officials.

    “These drug wholesalers and retailers have profited greatly by allowing the Cherokee Nation to become flooded with prescription opioids,” the lawsuit alleges. “They have habitually turned a blind eye to known or knowable problems in their own supply chains.”

    The rate of drug-related deaths among American Indian and Alaska Native people has nearly quadrupled since 1999, according to the Indian Health Service. It’s now double the rate in the US as a whole. Oklahoma — home to most of the 120,000 citizens of Cherokee Nation — leads the country in prescription painkiller abuse.

    Cities and counties across the US have filed similar lawsuits against drug companies. West Virginia included several pharmacy chains as well in a case brought against opioid distributors. But this is the first case brought by a tribal nation seeking to hold those dispensing prescriptions responsible for an epidemic of opioid addiction.

    READ NEXT: ‘It can tear a family apart’: The opioid crisis sweeps through Cherokee Nation

    In a statement to STAT, CVS Health said it has “stringent policies, procedures and tools to ensure that our pharmacists properly exercise their corresponding responsibility to determine whether a controlled substance prescription was issued for a legitimate medical purpose before filling it.”

    Walgreens declined to speak on pending litigation.

    Under the Controlled Substances Act, pharmacies and drug distributors are legally responsible to flag federal officials when they see suspicious orders or prescriptions for controlled substances such as opioids.

    Those suspicious orders can take several forms. They could involve patients filling multiple opioid prescriptions from different doctors — known as “doctor shopping” — or an order for opioids that’s disproportionately large for the local population.

    “Pharmacists have a duty only to fill scripts that are for a legitimate medical purpose,” said Richard Fields, a D.C.-based lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the tribe. “If a doctor is engaged in prescribing opioids illegally, that doesn’t relieve the pharmacy of liability.”

    In 2015, an estimated 845 million milligrams of opioids were distributed in the 14 counties that span Cherokee Nation, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. That averages out to between 360 and 720 pills per year for every prescription opioid user in the Cherokee Nation, the lawsuit says.

    By 12th grade, nearly 13 percent of American Indian teens have used OxyContin, according to the American Drug and Alcohol Survey. And 2.6 percent of American Indian students in 12th grade have used heroin, nearly double the rate of the general population.

    READ NEXT: No opioids, please: A growing movement lets patients refuse prescriptions

    “As we fight this epidemic in our hospitals, our schools, and our Cherokee homes, we will also use our legal system to make sure the companies, who put profits over people while our society is crippled by this epidemic, are held responsible for their actions,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a statement.

    There have been a slew of lawsuits filed by local governments accusing drug makers of contributing to the opioid epidemic by downplaying the addictive properties of painkillers and improperly encouraging doctors to prescribe the drugs.

    In February, for instance, Erie County, N.Y., sued four companies — Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Endo International — for costing the county government millions of dollars each year to fight the opioid crisis.

    “The goal is to get justice for the Cherokee Nation and to recover the extraordinary losses they’ve suffered as a result of the opioid epidemic,” said Fields.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on April 20, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post Cherokee Nation files lawsuit targeting CVS and other pharmacies in opioid crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump awards a Purple Heart to Army Sgt First Class Alvaro Barrientos

    U.S. President Donald Trump awards a Purple Heart to Army Sgt First Class Alvaro Barrientos at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on April 22, 2017. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    BETHESDA, Md. — President Donald Trump on Saturday awarded a Purple Heart to an Army sergeant recently wounded in Afghanistan.

    “When I heard about this and I wanted to do it myself,” Trump said during a brief ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington. He awarded the medal to Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos, who was wounded in Afghanistan on March 17. The White House did not release Barrientos’ hometown.

    It was Trump’s first visit as president to the military hospital. He was joined by his wife, first lady Melania Trump.

    Barrientos, whose right leg below the knee had been amputated, was wheeled into a hospital atrium in a wheelchair, accompanied by his wife, Tammy.

    Trump, who is also commander of the U.S. military, kissed Barrientos’ wife before pinning the medal on the sergeant’s left shirt collar. The Purple Heart is awarded to service members who are wounded or killed in action.

    Besides Barrientos, Trump was expected to meet privately with about a dozen service members who are receiving care at the medical center.

    Before leaving the White House, the president tweeted that he looked forward to “seeing our bravest and greatest Americans.”

    The post Trump awards Purple Heart at Walter Reed military hospital appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Robert W Scherer Power Plant, operated by Georgia Power in Juliette

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For a closer look at the environmental policies of the Trump administration — what it’s done and what it plans to do — I’m joined from Washington by “New York Times” reporter Coral Davenport.

    Coral, there’s been a strong perception that the Trump administration wants to undo the Obama legacy, starting with the clean power plant.

    CORAL DAVENPORT, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, President Obama, sort of the centerpiece of his environmental agenda was the clean power plant, a set of Environmental Protection Agency regulations that were designed, essentially, to shut down coal-fired power plants, the number one contributor to greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., and slowly shut them down and replace them.

    And so, just last month, we saw President Trump put out an executive order directing his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the legal process of essentially totally rolling that back.

    SREENIVASAN: You know, one of the things that people point out is there’s — it’s great to have an intention and a proclamation, but there is a totally different reality on the ground when it comes to market forces, that this doesn’t automatically bring coal jobs back or turn these plants back on, or in any way crease the roll out of solar and wind that’s happening around the country right now.

    DAVENPORT: That’s true. Before these regulation were put out, they still haven’t actually ever been implemented, we had already seen a shift in the marketplace as electric utilities were choosing, due to market forces not to invest in new coal, to start shutting down old coal plants and to turn towards natural gas, which is both cleaner than coal, about half the carbon pollution, but more importantly for electric utilities, it’s also a lot cheaper. And in the long run, a lot of electric utility CEO say, first of all, we’re making these changes because of the market. What happens with regulations in Washington is not really going to change that. This doesn’t mean that we’re going to go start building new coal plants, far from it.

    Eventually, they assume that there will be some kind of tax or regulation or government restrictions on carbon pollution because that’s the number one cause of climate change and that problem is not going away.

    SREENIVASAN: And speaking of climate change, Scott Pruitt claims that he is not interested in participating in the Paris Accords, but he’s not exactly the person that can make that decision. It’s not a unilateral one. That takes quite a bit of time.

    DAVENPORT: Yes, it’s really interesting the debate that is happening within the White House over what to do on the Paris Accords — first, because for President Trump, that was a signature campaign promise. He said — his exact words were that he would cancel the Paris Climate Change Accord. That’s technically not possible to do. You can’t rip up a multilateral accord that’s been legally ratified and signed by over 190 countries.

    But the U.S. could withdraw, could legally withdraw, and that would be a huge blow to the accord. What’s happening right now, though, a lot of President Trump’s sort of core base supporters and advisers have urged him to go ahead and act on that, to announce he’s going to withdraw.

    He’s got another set of advisers who are saying, “Look, the diplomatic fallout globally from withdrawing the United States, the world’s largest economy, the world’s historic largest climate emitter, had been a central broker of the Paris Accord, it would send a message to the rest of the world that the U.S. doesn’t keep its word, and that could come up again and again and again.”

    And so, there is a push from leading advisers like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, leading foreign policy adviser, and we’re also hearing that this could be coming from the president’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared, who are very influential within the White House, to saying, “Look, maybe we can negotiate a middle ground where we stay in the accord but — the accord but just don’t do everything Obama said we were going to do.”

    SREENIVASAN: All right. Coral Davenport of the “New York Times” — joining us from Washington — thanks so much.

    DAVENPORT: Great to be with you.

    The post Trump grapples with campaign promises on environment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    march for science

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    By Megan Thompson and Mori Rothman

    MEGAN THOMPSON: On Thursday morning, around 80 people filled a hall in Washington, D.C., for lessons in campaigning for local school board, state legislature, and even U.S. Congress.

    PANELIST: When you’re running for office for the first time…

    The agenda covered fundraising, messaging, and recruiting volunteers, with political veterans like Joe Trippi, a high-profile Democratic campaign consultant.

    JOE TRIPPI: The hunger’s definitely there, the energy’s definitely there.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But this crowd wasn’t typical activists. They were scientists and engineers who say the trump administration and republican-led congress have a hostile attitude toward science, especially when it comes to addressing climate change.

    SHAUGHNESSY NAUGHTON: We really need people with pro-science backgrounds to get involved.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The group that organized this session is 314 Action. That’s 3, 1, 4- as in the first three digits of the number Pi. For now, it’s supporting only behind Democrats. Shaughnessy Naughton is the founder.

    SHAUGHNESSY NAUGHTON: I’m a chemist. I worked in breast cancer research and in drug discovery.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Naughton, who now runs her family’s printing business, also knows about running for office.

    NAUGHTON CAMPAIGN AD: For years, I was a laboratory chemist developing drugs to fight deadly diseases. As a scientist, I know there’s more Washington can do to help families.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: She’s run twice for Congress and lost, in 2014 and 2016, in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania’s 8th district, north of Philadelphia.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Why did you run for office?

    SHAUGHNESSY NAUGHTON: Well, one of the reasons was I was really concerned about the anti-science rhetoric we hear out of so many politicians and the cuts to basic research funding that I think are putting us behind, as well as hurting us economically.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Naughton believes scientists like her can inject a fresh point of view into a Congress where a majority of members have backgrounds in law, politics or business.

    SHAUGHNESSY NAUGHTON: They certainly bring something to governing, but I think that we would benefit by having more people with these diverse backgrounds. Scientists are taught to solve problems. And we certainly need more problem solving and less bickering. You know, taking a fact-based approach to decision making, looking at what’s presented and basing your decisions on that rather than some preconceived notion.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But so far, the group hasn’t found a Republican it can support.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: You are, at this point, only supporting Democrats. Why is that?

    SHAUGHNESSY NAUGHTON: Well, although we do want to see more Republicans act on combating climate change, currently the difference in the two parties’ platforms is hard to ignore. And so we did feel that we had to pick a team.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: A role model for these politically-inclined scientists is Rush Holt, a physicist who represented his New Jersey district for 16 years in the House of Representatives. He’s now the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which has 110,000 members.

    RUSH HOLT: They’re beginning to say, “Well, have we really entered an evidence-free era? A post-fact era? Why is so much policy made apparently on ideological assertion rather than scientifically validated evidence?”

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Holt, who was one of just a handful of scientists on Capitol Hill, believes scientists can improve public policy, even on less obvious issues like national security and transportation. Or the rollout of paperless touchscreen voting machines after the election in 2000- many of which turned out to be unreliable.

    RUSH HOLT: They never bothered to talk to the computer scientists. Who said, who quickly, after this bill was passed said, “Oh, wait a minute. These, this procedure for voting is, is unverifiable and un-auditable. Having a scientist in the office you might identify some technological aspects in the legislation that otherwise you’d miss.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: One engineer hoping to head to Washington is Joseph Kopser. He’s a tech executive from Austin, Texas, who’s considering a run for congress. Kopser spent 20 years in the army after studying Aerospace Engineering at West Point.

    JOSEPH KOPSER: As a kid, I was so inspired by NASA, and the idea of being in space was just fascinating.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Kopser is exploring a run against Texas Republican Lamar Smith, a 30-year incumbent who’s chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

    LAMAR SMITH: Most climate science today appears to be based more on exaggerations, personal agendas and questionable predictions than on the scientific method.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Kopser says he’s motivated in part by Smith’s skeptical views of climate change science.

    JOSEPH KOPSER: Lamar Smith is a nice gentlemen. He has a view toward science and technology that is not helpful in terms of where our economy is going. His views on climate change are not in step with where the body of the science is.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Smith also supported president trump’s recent executive order rolling back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

    JOSEPH KOPSER: The whole discussion of the Clean Power Plan and repealing so much of that work over the last eight years is not only not smart in terms of market forces and what’s happening and the actual trends in science and what’s happening in their energy industry.

    Solar and wind are actually adding jobs to the economy faster than coal right now. But if we come out with a rhetoric that is anti-new technologies and favoring one industry, picking and choosing winners and losers then we’re gonna not only be investing in industries that are on the decline, but we also won’t be able to unleash the potential that wind and solar have.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Congressman Smith’s office did not respond to PBS NewsHour Weekend requests for an interview.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: If Kopser runs and he wins the Democratic primary in this conservative district, he plans to stress his military and business experience. He created a transportation app that he sold to Daimler, which owns Mercedes Benz. Kopser will also focus on education and jobs.

    JOSEPH KOPSER: If we don’t get science and technology policy right, what’s at stake is even more people falling out of the economy. So a good example of that looks at what’s gonna happen to society when autonomous vehicles, when machine learning, when advanced materials eat away at even more jobs? And if we continue this anti-science or anti-STEM rhetoric we’re just gonna leave people behind, it’s just gonna make it worse.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: By running, would you risk sort of politicizing some of these issues more?

    JOSEPH KOPSER: Yes, unfortunately. But that should not be a determinant that would keep you out of the race.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But some scientists say, maybe it should be.

    ROB YOUNG: I think it is problematic when scientists are lumping together scientific issues with other points of advocacy that may be viewed as having a party affiliation or a particularly political bend.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Rob young is a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University in North Carolina who’s seen his own research politicized. When he co-wrote a 2010 report predicting a three-foot sea level rise along the Carolina coast due to climate change, developers were outraged. The state’s Republican-led legislature then passed a law barring agencies from making policies based on the findings.

    ROB YOUNG: I absolutely agree that we need to be speaking out. I’m not advocating silence, but we need to do it in a way that’s strategic and that’s effective.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Young doesn’t like the idea of marching for science, and worries about scientists aligning with partisan efforts like 314 Action supporting only one party.

    ROB YOUNG: It would baffle me why that would be the case. What you’re doing, once again, is playing into this narrative that scientists are liberal Democrats. And scientists are not just liberal Democrats.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Young thinks scientists should get involved locally, rather than engaging in national partisan politics, which he worries could jeopardize valuable work being done by career scientists inside federal agencies.

    ROB YOUNG: And we also need to remember that the federal government is full of dedicated scientists and engineers who will be spending the next few months bringing their political appointees up to speed on what it is that their agencies do and why science matters within those science and regulatory agencies. And we need to give those people our support, and we need to give them the space to work.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: 314 Action founder Shaughnessy Naughton understands these concerns, but she says to elevate science’s place in government, politics can’t be avoided.

    SHAUGHNESSY NAUGHTON: What we don’t want to see is science under attack from politicians, and I think the way we combat that is to get more people with science a seat at the table.

    The post Scientists consider running for office appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    General view of the U.S. Capitol dome in the pre-dawn darkness in Washington

    Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Lawmakers returning to Washington this coming week will find a familiar quagmire on health care legislation and a budget deadline dramatized by the prospect of a protracted battle between President Donald Trump and Democrats over his border wall.

    Trump’s GOP allies control Congress, but they’ve been unable to send him a single major bill as his presidency faces the symbolic 100-day mark on April 29 — the very day when the government, in a worst-case scenario, could shut down.

    Feeling pressure to deliver results, Trump wants to revive a troubled health care measure from House Republicans to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Trump also hopes to use a $1 trillion catchall spending bill to salvage victories on his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, a multibillion-dollar down payment on a Pentagon buildup, and perhaps a crackdown on cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement by federal authorities.

    Congress faces a midnight Friday deadline to avert a government shutdown. But negotiations on the spending measure, a huge pile of leftover business from last year that includes the budgets of almost every federal agency, have hit a rough patch.

    Rank-and-file Republicans received few answers on a Saturday conference call by top House GOP leaders, who offered little detail and said deals remained elusive on both health care and the catchall spending measure, with no votes scheduled yet.

    It’s looking like a one- or two-week temporary measure will be needed to prevent a shutdown and buy time for more talks. Negotiations have faltered because of disputes over the border wall and health law subsidies to help low-income people afford health insurance.

    Trump’s Capitol Hill allies had been tempering expectations that the president will win much in the budget talks. Democratic support will be needed to pass the spending measure and Republicans fear taking the blame if the government shuts down on their watch.

    “We have the leverage and they have the exposure,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told fellow Democrats on a conference call Thursday, according to a senior Democratic aide. Pelosi wants the spending bill to give the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico help with its Medicaid obligations, and Democrats are pressing for money for overseas famine relief, treatment for opioid abuse, and the extension of health benefits for 22,000 retired Appalachian coal miners and their families.

    [Watch Video]

    An additional Democratic demand is for cost-sharing payments to insurance companies that help low-income people afford health policies under Obama’s health law. The payments are a critical subsidy and the subject of a lawsuit by House Republicans. Trump has threatened to withhold the money to force Democrats to negotiate on health legislation.

    Trump’s presidential victory makes it “completely reasonable to ask and to insist that some of his priorities are funded,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview. “We are more than happy to talk to the Democrats about some of their priorities but we encourage them to recognize that they are a minority party.”

    Both the White House and Democrats have adopted hard-line positions on Trump’s $1 billion request for a down payment on construction of the border wall, a central plank of last year’s campaign. Talk of forcing Mexico to pay for it has largely been abandoned. But in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Trump stopped short of demanding that money for the project be included in the must-pass spending bill.

    Health care is on a separate track and facing trouble, too. The White House is pressing House Republicans to rally behind a revised bill so GOP leaders can schedule a vote this coming week that could let Trump fulfill a 100-days promise.

    A quick vote, let alone approval, seems unlikely.

    READ MORE: Column: Why do so many American families feel so financially insecure?

    GOP leaders have shown no desire to revisit the issue until they’re assured there’ll be no replay of the legislative train wreck from March. The failure of that earlier attempt stung Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. The measure would have repealed much of Obama’s 2010 overhaul and replaced it with fewer coverage requirements and less generous federal subsidies for many people.

    As part of the White House drive to resuscitate the bill, members of Trump’s team including Vice President Mike Pence and chief of staff Reince Priebus have made multiple calls to Republicans.

    Two leaders of the House GOP’s warring moderate and conservative factions devised a compromise during Congress’ recess to let states get federal waivers to ignore some requirements of the health law. Those include one that now obligates insurers to cover specified services such as for mental health, and one that bars them from raising premiums on seriously ill patients.

    But there are widespread doubts that the new attempt has achieved the support it needs.

    Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., an opponent of the bill, said last week that “it doesn’t cure the issues that I had concerns” about the bill. The moderate said his objections included changes to Obama’s law that would still leave people with excessive out-of-pocket costs.

    The potential amendment was brokered by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the moderate House Tuesday Group.

    Ryan called off a March 24 House vote on the measure after realizing that objections by conservative and moderate Republicans would have assured its defeat. Democrats were uniformly against the legislation.

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    International Monetary Fund logo is seen

    The International Monetary Fund logo is seen during the IMF/World Bank spring meetings in Washington, D.C., on April 21, 2017. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Global finance leaders on Saturday dropped a sharp condemnation of trade protectionism and references to climate change from a closing statement that wrapped up the spring meetings of the 189-nation International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

    This year’s meetings were dominated by a debate over how to respond to a rising tide of anti-globalization sentiment evidenced in the United States by the election of President Donald Trump, who pledged during last year’s campaign that he would reduce America’s huge trade deficits which he blamed for the loss of millions of good-paying factory jobs.

    In its communique, the IMF urged nations to avoid “inward-looking policies,” but it did not include tougher language the IMF had used in an October statement in which it had called on all countries to “resist all forms of protectionism.” The new statement also dropped any mention of the threat of climate change.

    Trump has threatened to impose punitive tariffs of up to 45 percent against Mexico, China and other nations he believes are competing unfairly with American workers. During his presidential campaign he called climate change a hoax.

    At a closing news conference, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Agustin Carstens, head of the Bank of Mexico and chair of the IMF’s policy committee, sought to downplay the changes. Lagarde noted that strong language condemning protectionism and promoting efforts to combat climate change, while taken out of the communique, remained in a separate document setting out the IMF’s policy agenda.

    Carstens said that it was important on the issue of trade to recognize the viewpoints of different countries.

    “We all want free and fair trade and that is what is reflected in the communique,” he told reporters when asked why the language on protectionism had been dropped.

    A similar change on the issue of protectionism was made in a communique that the Group of 20 major economies issued last month in Baden-Baden, Germany. Steven Mnuchin, attending his first international gathering as Trump’s Treasury secretary, had defended the change in the G-20 communique by saying, “The historical language was not really relevant.”

    Throughout the presidential campaign last year, Trump pointed to closed factories around America and said they represented a failure of past presidents to be tough enough in negotiating trade agreements to protect U.S. jobs. Since taking office, Trump has pulled the United States out of a 12-nation Pacific trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and just this week ordered the Commerce Department to speed up an investigation into whether steel imports posed a national security threat. His action could lead to higher tariffs on steel imports.

    The spring IMF and World Bank meetings took place against the backdrop of an improving global economy, helped by better performances in the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, and in a rise in commodity prices which has helped many developing nations. The IMF’s latest economic forecast projects global growth of 3.5 percent this year, which would be the fastest pace in five years and up from 3.1 percent last year.

    Despite the brighter outlook, the IMF’s closing communique warned of a number of risks ranging from weak productivity growth to high debt levels and “heightened political and policy uncertainties.”

    The world economy has struggled to regain millions of jobs lost after a devastating financial crisis hit in 2008 and the finance leaders acknowledged the adverse effects the deep-downturn, playing a major role in the rising pressures against free trade and immigration.

    German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that if more was not done to deal with growing income inequality “we will see more protectionism and countries retreating from globalization.”

    Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso sought to downplay concerns about rising protectionism, saying that he believed free trade, which has fueled global growth since the end of World War II, would be upheld but perhaps with some changes.

    In his remarks to the IMF’s policy committee, Mnuchin repeated a call for the IMF to police the currency markets and call out countries that undervalue their currencies to gain an unfair price advantage for their exporters.

    Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.

    The post Global finance leaders grapple with globalization fears appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Voters wait to cast ballots for French elections, in Toronto

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Dijon is in the Burgundy wine growing region, a two hour train ride east from Paris.

    But here there are reminders that even picture postcard France lives with terrorism. Strategically placed concrete blocks protect the pedestrian area from jihadis, who consider trucks as weapons of mass destruction. Fear of Islamic extremism could help Marine Le Pen. But she scares lawyer Guillaume Byk.

    GUILLAUME BYK: France has to have its own place in Europe, and it’s very important for me that we still have like French playing a full role in the European Union.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: But according to opinion polls, a third of all voters under the age of 25 will be opting for Marine Le Pen. Edouard Cavin campaigns for the National Front in Dijon.

    EDOUARD CAVIN: I think that the young people, some of them might even have voted for François Hollande in 2012, and they were totalling deceived. These young people have had enough with the Left.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Unemployment is hovering around the 10 percent mark, and is one of the key issues in this election. Promises to help the disadvantaged are boosting the far left candidate Jean Luc Melenchon. One of his supporters is Mohamed Amin Medjkoune, who has Algerian heritage.

    MOHAMED AMIN MEDJKOUNE: For us, what matters is work, employment, and training. We don’t want to be rich at all cost. We want better work access for the young people, because we can work and get rid of racism.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Christian Frescard runs an organic food shop. He’s alarmed by the rise of the extreme right and hard left. And is opting for the centrist candidate.

    CHRISTIAN FRESCHARD: At the first round, I’ll vote for Macron. If I had listened to my heart, I would have most certainly voted for Mélenchon, but one has to know when the worst has to be avoided. I think he still has some good ideas, but mainly, it’s to avoid the worst.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The original frontrunner — the centre right Francois Fillon, has been dogged by financial scandals. This election has been very unpredictable.

    The post Eleven candidates vie for the French presidency appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Mattis boards a U.S. Air Force C-17 for a day trip to a U.S. military base in Djibouti from Doha, Qatar

    U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (R) greets an airman as he boards a U.S. Air Force C-17 for a day trip to a U.S. military base in Djibouti from Doha, Qatar April 23, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    DJIBOUTI — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Sunday visited Djibouti to bolster ties with the tiny and impoverished African country that is home to an important base for U.S. counterterrorism forces, including drones.

    Mattis, the first Trump administration official to visit Djibouti, planned to meet with President Ismail Omar Guelleh and greet U.S. and French troops. He was accompanied by Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command.

    The U.S. operates drone aircraft from Djibouti for surveillance and combat missions against al-Qaida-affiliated extremists in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.

    China is building a military base in Djibouti, a former French colony in the Horn of Africa.

    For years the U.S. has operated a fleet of armed drones, initially from Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier, where French troops also are based, and now from a separate airfield. Djibouti took on added importance to the U.S. military after the Sept. 11 attacks, in part as a means of tracking and intercepting al-Qaida militants fleeing Afghanistan after the U.S. invaded that country in October 2001.

    The U.S. has a long-term agreement with Djibouti for hosting American forces; that pact was renewed in 2014.

    Djibouti has a highly prized port on the Gulf of Aden. The country is sandwiched between Somalia and Eritrea, and also shares a border with Ethiopia.

    Mattis is using the early months as defense secretary to renew or strengthen relations with key defense allies and partners such as Djibouti, whose location makes it a strategic link in the network of overseas U.S. military bases.

    Djibouti also has been instrumental to international efforts to counter piracy over the past decade.

    Mattis’ predecessor at the Pentagon, Ash Carter, never visited Djibouti during his two years as President Barack Obama’s defense secretary.

    Over the past week Mattis has met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Qatar. In Doha, Qatar’s capital, he told ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Saturday that he would personally tend to the relationship.

    “Your highness, relationships get better or weaker, and I’m committed to making it better from our side,” Mattis said.

    The U.S. has a fleet of fighter, bomber, transport, surveillance and refueling aircraft at Qatar’s al-Udeid air base, which also is home to an operations center that coordinates U.S. air missions throughout the Mideast and in Afghanistan.

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    A vial of Naloxone and syringe are pictured at a Naloxone training class taught by Jennifer Stepp

    A vial of Naloxone and syringe are pictured at a Naloxone training class taught by Jennifer Stepp and her daughter Audrey for adults and children to learn how to save lives by injecting Naloxone into people suffering opioid overdoses at the Hillview Community Center in Louisville, Kentucky, November 21, 2015.Photo by John Sommers II/Reuters

    Confronting an opioid overdose epidemic that is killing at least 90 people every day, two federal agencies this month gave more than 700 nurse practitioners and physician assistants the authority to write prescriptions for the anti-addiction medication buprenorphine.

    The goal: To let them help treat as many of the more than 2.5 million people addicted to painkillers or heroin in the nation as they can.

    Tens of thousands more nurse practitioners and physician assistants could be helping, too, by applying for a federal license to prescribe the potentially life-saving medicine. But laws in more than half the states are likely to prevent nurses from using their licenses in rural areas that need it most.

    Twenty-eight states prohibit nurse practitioners from prescribing buprenorphine unless they are working in collaboration with a doctor who also has a federal license to prescribe it. The problem is, half of all counties in the U.S. do not have a single physician with a license to prescribe buprenorphine.

    In addition, laws in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming explicitly prohibit nurse practitioners from prescribing buprenorphine — one of three anti-addiction medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — with or without a doctor’s supervision. And a law in Kentucky prohibits physician assistants from prescribing the safe and effective drug.

    “We’re losing people every day, and governors are asking how long it will take before this additional group of clinicians is able to get out there and start providing medication-assisted treatment,” said Maureen Cahill, senior policy adviser at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

    But some of those governors should blame their own “scope of practice” laws. Those laws restrict what nurse practitioners and physician assistants can do, including providing buprenorphine to people with opioid addictions to help them kick their habit.

    Graphic courtesy of Pew Charitable Trusts

    Big Need, Little Licensing

    Treating opioid addiction with buprenorphine can be highly effective. It prevents withdrawal symptoms and curbs cravings. But a federal license is required to prescribe it for addiction treatment.

    Only one in 10 people in the U.S. with an addiction receive treatment. In large part, that’s because of a shortage of trained treatment providers, especially ones who can prescribe buprenorphine.

    To help address that, Congress last year enacted the Comprehensive Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. One of the law’s most significant provisions allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to apply for a federal license to prescribe the medicine.

    Until now, only doctors could prescribe buprenorphine, and in the 15 years since the drug was approved, fewer than 39,000 doctors have sought a license to do so.

    Meanwhile, there are more than 222,000 nurse practitioners and about 109,000 physician assistants in the nation, and many of them offer primary health care in rural parts of the nation where the opioid crisis is most acute.

    The two federal agencies that issue licenses — the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration — have so far approved them for 560 nurse practitioners and 184 physician assistants.

    Mitra Ahadpour, who oversees buprenorphine licensing at SAMHSA, said she expects applications to increase as more health care professionals learn about the new law and take a free, three-day online training course.

    Scope of Practice Laws

    Applications for licenses to prescribe buprenorphine may not surge, however, unless states change their scope of practice laws to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to use their prescribing power on their own.

    Some have. West Virginia, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in overdose deaths, last year changed its scope of practice law to allow nurse practitioners to diagnose, prescribe and treat patients without a doctor’s supervision, with the exception of prescribing schedule II drugs such as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin. South Dakota granted nurse practitioners full practice authority in February.

    Oregon is updating its rules to authorize nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine for addiction. Nurse practitioners in Oregon already have authority to prescribe schedule III drugs, including buprenorphine, for pain management. But previous state rules, which reflected federal law at the time, prohibited prescribing it for addiction.

    Changing the laws isn’t easy, though, despite the training that nurse practitioners and physician assistants have.

    In addition to an undergraduate nursing degree, nurse practitioners must complete a graduate program to be certified. Physician assistants, who work directly with doctors, must complete at least two years of advanced studies after obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

    A 2010 Institute of Medicine report cited nearly 50 years of academic studies and patient surveys in concluding that primary care provided by nurse practitioners has been as safe and effective as care provided by doctors.

    But state medical societies, which represent doctors and wield significant influence in most legislatures, are reluctant to cede professional turf to nurses. Arguing that nurse practitioners lack the necessary level of medical training, they insist that it is unsafe for patients to be treated by nurse practitioners without a doctor’s supervision.

    Some doctors also have a financial incentive to limit nurses’ independence. Often carrying heavy medical school loan debt, they can be loath to see their revenue diverted by competing health care services, particularly those with lower fees.

    The Federal Trade Commission has weighed in on legislative efforts to give nurse practitioners more autonomy in several states, arguing that physician groups have no valid reason for blocking such laws other than to thwart their competition.

    Still, getting state lawmakers to update their scope of practice laws has been a slow process, said Taynin Kopanos, vice president of state government affairs for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

    “Although nurses care very much about getting more treatment to people who need it, and governors and lawmakers do as well, scope of practice laws are not likely to be changed overnight just because of the opioid epidemic,” Kopanos said.

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

    The post Nurse licensing laws block treatment for opioid addiction appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    north korea

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. Photo By Damir Sagolj/Reuters

    North Korea detained a U.S. citizen on Saturday, according to Park Chan-mo, chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

    Tony Kim, who also uses his Korean name Kim Sang-duk, was taken into custody as he was preparing to leave Pyongyang International Airport, according to the Associated Press.

    Martina Aberg, deputy chief of mission at the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, confirmed to CNN that he was being held, though no reason was given for the detention.

    Kim is a Korean-American who had previously taught at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology, which is based out of China.

    north korea

    A man, center, who identified himself as Kim Dong Chul, previously said he was a naturalized American citizen and was arrested in North Korea in October, leaves after a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 25, 2016. Photo By Kyodo/Reuters

    His detention follows the arrests of two other Americans since 2015, including Korean-American pastor Kim Dong Chul, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage, and 21-year-old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner.

    The detention comes as the Trump administration has taken a hard line against the country and a week after North Korea attempted to test a missile, shortly before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the region.

    The post North Korea detains third American appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks at a signing ceremony at the Treasury Department

    U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks at a signing ceremony at the Treasury Department in Washington, U.S., April 21, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is heading into one of the most challenging weeks of his presidency, juggling a renewed health care push and a looming budget deadline. It’s all complicated by a potential showdown with Democrats over paying for a border wall.

    The symbolic 100-day mark for the administration is April 29. That’s the same day government could shut down without a budget deal. Trump has announced a rally in Pennsylvania that day.

    Aides stressed on Sunday talk shows that funding a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and a vote on an effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law were priorities. But they also expressed optimism that a shutdown could be avoided.

    “I don’t think anyone foresees or expects or would want a shutdown,” said budget director Mick Mulvaney on “Fox News Sunday.”

    Trump would like to revive a failed effort by House Republicans to replace the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” He also hopes to use a $1 trillion catchall spending bill to salvage victories on his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, a multibillion-dollar down payment on a Pentagon buildup, and perhaps a crackdown on cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement by federal authorities.

    But so far, negotiations have proven difficult, with disputes over the border wall and health law subsidies to help low-income people afford health insurance. House members received little information from leaders on a conference call Saturday. A one- or two-week extension might be needed to prevent a shutdown.

    White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he believes the spending bill will include “something satisfactory” to reflect Trump’s desire to build a wall, without risking a shutdown.

    “We expect the president’s priorities to be reflected,” Priebus said, citing ongoing talks with the House and the Senate. He added that “it’ll be enough in the negotiation to move forward either with construction or the planning, enough for us to move forward through the end of September, to get going on the border wall and border security.”

    [Watch Video]

    House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California described a border wall as “immoral” and “expensive” when asked if there was any scenario in which Democrats will agree to money for a wall to avoid a shutdown.

    “Democrats do not support the wall,” she said, speaking also on NBC. “Republicans on the border states do not support a wall.”

    “The burden to keep the government open is on Republicans,” Pelosi said, citing the GOP-controlled Congress and White House. She noted that when Trump promised to build a wall during his campaign, he never indicated he would “pass along billions of dollars in cost to the taxpayer.”

    On Obama’s health law, Priebus said he’d like to have a vote on the GOP replacement bill in the House this coming week. But he insisted it didn’t make too much difference to the White House whether the vote came next “Friday or Saturday or Monday.”

    “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.

    Trump tweeted a warning at Democrats on Sunday, saying: “ObamaCare is in serious trouble. The Dems need big money to keep it going – otherwise it dies far sooner than anyone would have thought.”

    Trump is also planning to outline a tax cut plan on Wednesday. He told The Associated Press on Friday that it would include a “massive” tax cut for both individuals and corporations.

    On Fox, Mulvaney said to expect “some specific governing principles, some guidance, also some indication on what the rates are going to be.” He added: “I don’t think anybody expects us to roll out bill language on Wednesday.”

    Speaking to the AP, Trump dismissed 100-day markers as “artificial.” Still, his White House is eager to tout progress on the litany of agenda items he promised to fulfill in his first 100 days, despite setbacks including court bans on his proposed immigration limits and the high-profile failure in repealing and replacing Obamacare.

    The president said Friday he spent his first 100 days laying the “foundation” for progress later in his administration, including by building relationships with foreign leaders.

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    Mattis and Waldhauser hold a news conference at Camp Lemonnier in Ambouli, Djibouti

    U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, left, and U.S. Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser, right, hold a news conference at Camp Lemonnier in Ambouli, Djibouti April 23, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    DJIBOUTI — Pirates have returned to the waters off Somalia, but the spike in attacks on commercial shipping does not yet constitute a trend, senior U.S. officials said Sunday.

    The attacks follow about a five-year respite for the region, where piracy had grown to crisis proportions during the 2010-2012 period, drawing the navies of the United States and other nations into a lengthy campaign against the pirates.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at a military base in the African nation of Djibouti, near the Gulf of Aden, that even if the piracy problem persists, he would not expect it to require significant involvement by the U.S. military.

    At a news conference with Mattis, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said there have been about six pirate attacks on vulnerable commercial ships in the past several weeks.

    “We’re not ready to say there’s a trend there yet,” Waldhauser said, adding that he views the spurt of attacks as a response to the effects of drought and famine on the Horn of Africa.

    He said he was focused on ensuring that the commercial shipping industry, which tightened security procedures in response to the earlier piracy crisis, has not become complacent.

    Navy Capt. Richard A. Rodriguez, chief of staff for a specially designated U.S. military task force based in Djibouti, said piracy “certainly has increased” in recent weeks. But he said countering it is not a mission for his troops, who are focused on counterterrorism in the Horn of Africa and developing the capacities of national armies in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.

    Anti-piracy patrolling is among several missions China cited for constructing what it calls a naval logistics center in Djibouti. The base is under construction, and U.S. officials say they don’t see it as a major threat to interfere with American operations at Camp Lemonnier.

    Several other countries have a military presence on or near that U.S. site, including France, Italy, Germany and Japan. This reflects Djibouti’s strategic location at the nexus of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

    Mattis made a point of spending several hours in Djibouti during a weeklong trip that has otherwise focused on the Mideast. As a measure of his concern for nurturing relations with the Djiboutian government, he flew four hours from Doha, Qatar, and then flew right back.

    At his news conference, Mattis praised Djibouti for having offered U.S. access to Camp Lemonnier shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    “They have been with us every day and every month and every year since,” he said.

    The U.S. rotates a range of forces through Lemonnier and flies drone aircraft from a separate airfield in the former French colony. U.S. special operations commandos are based at Lemonnier for counterterrorism missions in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.

    During Mattis’ visit, elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, including V-22 Osprey aircraft and Harrier attack jets were visible on Lemonnier’s airfield.

    The U.S. military presence has grown substantially in recent years, as reflected by construction of a new headquarters building, gym, enlisted barracks and other expanded infrastructure.

    Djibouti has a highly prized port on the Gulf of Aden. The country is sandwiched between Somalia and Eritrea, and also shares a border with Ethiopia.

    Mattis is using the early months as defense secretary to renew or strengthen relations with key defense allies and partners such as Djibouti, whose location makes it a strategic link in the network of overseas U.S. military bases.

    Djibouti took on added importance to the U.S. military after 9/11, in part as a means of tracking and intercepting al-Qaida militants fleeing Afghanistan after the U.S. invaded that country in October 2001.

    The U.S. has a long-term agreement with Djibouti for hosting American forces; that pact was renewed in 2014.

    Over the past week Mattis has met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Qatar.

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    Police officers prepare to deploy a skirmish line after a student protest turned violent at UC Berkeley during a demonstration over right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, who was forced to cancel his talk, in Berkeley, California, U.S., February 1, 2017. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    A legal brouhaha at the University of California, Berkeley over rescheduling conservative author Ann Coulter’s speech shines a spotlight on an unanswered question from a similar First Amendment trial in 1969.

    University administrators announced on Wednesday that they could not accommodate Coulter’s April 27 event that the Young America’s Foundation, a national organization, paid $17,000 to support, citing concerns about public safety after recent violence on campus. On Thursday, the school offered to instead host her on May 2, but a lawyer representing conservative students who helped organize the event threatened to sue if university officials did not maintain the original date.

    “If UC Berkeley continues to insist on violating the constitutional rights of its students and our clients by marginalizing or banning Ms. Coulter’s speech, we will seek relief in federal court,” lawyer Harmeet Dhillon wrote to the university.

    “You can’t kill a fly with a sledgehammer when it comes to these constitutional rights.” — Dave Roland, the director of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri

    The letter was met with even more resistance by the school, capping a tense week that put it at the center of a classic debate about whether liberals on the campus, who have a legacy of promoting free speech, can maintain their standards for conservatives. As some pundits latched onto this narrative, some even arguing that inviting Coulter was a deliberately divisive maneuver, a First Amendment lawyer in Missouri started to pay close attention.

    Dave Roland, the director of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri, said that public universities do have discretion over which speakers they host, but the Constitution requires a few things: All approved speakers have to be treated equally, and any restrictions on the time, place and manner of the event have to be justified.

    Moving the event to a quiet week before finals and to a venue that requires a shuttle, like Berkeley offered to do, could reduce the access students might have and may affect their right to hear Coulter speak, he said.

    “The school has got a really heavy burden to show why it’s justifiable,” Roland said. “You can’t kill a fly with a sledgehammer when it comes to these constitutional rights.”

    But if Dhillon files a suit and the school continues to argue it was necessary to change the date in order to keep everyone safe, then such a case could address a hole in existing First Amendment litigation.

    In 1969, students and faculty at Auburn University in Alabama requested that the chaplain Rev. William Sloane Coffin at Yale University come to speak on campus. Auburn’s president denied the request because Coffin had been convicted of conspiring to encourage draft evasion of the Vietnam War and, the president said, might advocate breaking the law.

    The Fifth Circuit ruled that the president, even if his intentions were good, made the decision based on what he anticipated Coffin would say, which encompassed a violation of the student rights at a state university.

    “The right of the faculty and students to hear a speaker … cannot be left to the discretion of the university president on a pick and choose basis,” the opinion reads. “[The president] was denying them their First Amendment right to hear the speaker.”

    However, the court did not address the president’s fear of violence.

    “There was no claim that the Reverend Coffin’s appearance would lead to violence or disorder or that the university would be otherwise disrupted,” the ruling reads. “There is no claim that [the president] could not regulate the time or place of the speech or the manner in which it was to be delivered.”

    This is exactly what Berkeley is testing.

    In a public response to Dhillon’s threat on Friday, the school’s lawyers reaffirmed that security, not speech, is why they made their decision, and that it offered the best it could, given time restraints.

    “Differences in the management of event security have nothing to do with the University’s agreement or disagreement with the opinions of the speakers,” the letter reads.

    Dhillon reaffirmed her stance to the NewsHour on Sunday, saying unless the school accommodates Coulter on Thursday, she will file a lawsuit.

    Roland said the school could use recent events, one involving a far-right speaker, as evidence to support its claim.

    In February, the Berkeley canceled a speech with former Breitbart News editor and agitator Milo Yiannopoulos after people, some dressed in all black, interrupted a campus protest against him, throwing rocks, setting fires and breaking windows.

    READ MORE: Trump suggests Berkeley could lose federal funds over violent protests at university

    Pranav Jandhyala was attacked. Jandhyala is the president of BridgeCal, the local chapter of BridgeUSA, which is a group run by students to help blur party lines and had a hand in organizing Coulter’s speech.

    “It’s a personal issue for me,” said Jandhyala. “I really wish the campus police would work to do their job to protect the community more and also protect free speech.”

    And on April 15, fights broke out during what has been described as competing protests between white nationalists and anti-fascist protesters, though the violence hijacked any attempt at making political statements.

    These clashes are the basis for legitimate concerns leading up to Coulter’s event, Roland said.

    “That is really the linchpin for how the court will resolve the issue,” he said.

    He referred to another case in 1969, when students wanted to host Vietnam Moratorium Day Observance at Clemson University in South Carolina and had hoped 3,000 people would join.

    The administration rejected the request, citing a prior event that led to unrest and concerns that it might become a riot — but they said they would approve a smaller event focused only on the university’s students. The court ruled in favor of the university, stating that the school had the right to protect itself against the possibility of violence and disruption.

    Still, it was a district court that does not have jurisdiction over California and the decision may not necessarily influence a federal judge. The Auburn University case was the only federal court of appeals case that resembles Berkeley’s situation, but it is also non-binding on federal courts in California.

    “Amazingly enough, very few courts have dealt with this particular issue,” said Roland. “Since there is really only one federal court of appeals decision … and particularly since that case is a half-century old, the courts dealing with this situation will have a lot of flexibility to find whatever balance they think is appropriate.”

    Jandhyala said he had initially worried about bringing Coulter to campus, describing her as “polemic” and a “pundit” but had hoped to provide a platform for her opponents to engage in a respectful conversation. BridgeCal committed $3,000 to the event in addition to the $17,000 provided by the foundation.

    “She’s someone who represents something that a lot of people in this nation believe,” he said. “There’s no denying the fact that if we disagree with her it’s something we need to confront eventually.”

    After Coulter said she would still speak in Berkeley on April 27, despite the school declining to host her, BridgeUSA’s director for chapter development said in an email it would pull its support, denouncing her assertion as a publicity stunt.

    “We were actually one of the organizations to push for a reschedule in which security concerns could be met — which would have taken place on May 2nd,” Roge Karma wrote. “However, we are disengaging from the attempt to still host Ann Coulter on the original date outside of the University.”

    The post UC Berkeley reschedules Ann Coulter talk — and raises thorny legal question appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Wider Image - Ferguson - Points Of Protest

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    Chasing the Dream CtD-Logo21

    This is part of an ongoing series of reports called ‘Chasing the Dream,’ which reports on poverty and opportunity in America.

    By Saskia de Melker and Laura Fong

    CHRIS BURY: Fast food workers such as Frances Holmes are caught in a tug of war between Democratic-majority cities and the Republican-controlled states where they live. The 54 year old, who is primary caretaker to a one-year-old, earns $9 an hour in a state where the minimum wage is $7.70. Her annual earnings last year: $13,000

    FRANCES HOLMES: Even though I make $9 an hour, it’s not enough money. My rent is $840 a month, and it’s two incomes in my house, but we both work fast food jobs, so it’s still, it’s a struggle.

    CHRIS BURY: Holmes lives in St. Louis, where she is engaged in a movement to get higher pay for workers in the city, because living here is more expensive than in other parts of Missouri. Under a bitterly contested local ordinance that passed in 2015, the city’s minimum wage was set to gradually rise from $7.65 to $11 an hour by January 2018.

    CLERK: 16 aye votes, 8 nay votes.

    SHANE COHN: $7.65 an hour it’s not enough to survive…

    CHRIS BURY: Alderman Shane Cohn introduced the measure.

    Why did you want to raise the minimum wage here in St. Louis?

    SHANE COHN: I think it’s the right thing to do for working families and the economy as a whole. When we live in a consumer-driven economy, and when consumers don’t have money to spend, then our economy suffers as a result.

    JOHN CHEN: You want to do the green tea mango?

    CHRIS BURY: But some business owners in St. Louis opposed the move. At the Urban Eats café, in the working-class Dutchtown neighborhood, John Chen says hiking the minimum wage, even gradually, could convince some businesses to leave St. Louis or to cut employee compensation in other ways.

    JOHN CHEN: For many small businesses in the neighborhood, they may have to cut down hours and reduce the employee, the job count, simply because you have to bring your minimum wage from $7.70 to $10 an hour without a clear and certainty of sales increase. It will have a detrimental effect.

    CHRIS BURY: Business groups challenged the St. Louis ordinance in state court, and just hours before the first minimum wage hike was set to take effect in 2015, the judge sided with the businesses, saying the ordinance was “in conflict” with the state’s minimum wage law, which has gone up only a nickel an hour since then.

    Dan Mehan is the president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

    DAN MEHAN: If localities can do their own minimum wage, you’d have a patchwork of different wage rates that employers would be forced to adjust to whenever they’re in different areas of the state. So it’s a problem, and especially in the St. Louis area, where you have 96 municipalities in the St. Louis County alone, in addition to the city.

    CHRIS BURY: But in February, Missouri’s Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling and upheld the higher St. Louis minimum wage. Republicans immediately introduced new legislation to preempt the St. Louis ordinance, putting it on hold once more.

    PROF. TERRY JONES: Preemption is when a higher-level government tells a lower-level government, “You can’t do that.” Or, “You have to do it.”

    CHRIS BURY: University of Missouri political science professor Terry Jones says the first preemption laws here and in many other states block municipalities from enacting gun control laws. They were backed by the National Rifle Association starting in the 1980s and 1990s.

    TERRY JONES: It’s very forthright. It says everything dealing with guns are only the purview legally of the state legislature and the governor. Local communities cannot pass any kind of separate controls or regulations dealing with firearms.

    CHRIS BURY: In Missouri, legislators who represent suburbs, small towns, and rural areas — not cities — hold most of the power. State representative Dan Shaul, a Republican from the outskirts of St. Louis, sponsored a bill to preempt all cities in Missouri from setting their own minimum wage.

    DAN SHAUL: I think it comes down to consistency, having one basic set of rules across the whole state. It allows employers to have a consistency and reduce regulation. I think it’s just smart for business.

    CHRIS BURY: But doesn’t the city of St. Louis and their representatives, don’t they know better what’s good for St. Louis than you do?

    DAN SHAUL: I think, you know, I was elected for the betterment of the state of Missouri. And I think for us to remain competitive with other states, other geographical areas throughout the country, it’s our responsibility to make sure that Missouri has the best opportunity to bring jobs and grow our economy in Missouri.

    SHANE COHN: I believe that as one of the economic engines of the state, we have a right to set the precedent in terms of how we treat our employees. When the state is neglecting its own workers and wage-earners, I think that it’s incumbent on local municipalities to take on those issues.

    CHRIS BURY, Jefferson City, MO: Here in Missouri, Republicans dominate state government, controlling majorities in both houses of the legislature by wide margins and the governorship. In fact, Republicans hold unprecedented power in state capitals across the country. They enjoy majorities in 32 legislatures and hold the governor’s office in 33 states.

    CHRIS BURY: Missouri is one of 26 states to preempt local minimum wage ordinances. Another is Alabama, which blocked Birmingham’s minimum wage increase last year.

    According to Grassroots Change, a national group that tracks preemption, 15 Republican-controlled legislatures — and one with a Democratic majority — have adopted laws since 2010 that ban local requirements for paid sick days. Milwaukee voters approved a referendum for the benefit in 2008, and in 2011 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law a measure that preempts it.

    Other state preemptions have prevented city regulations on plastic grocery bags, pesticides, e-cigarettes, and sugary drinks.

    PROF. TERRY JONES: As a policy tool, preemption has been used primarily by the Republican Party, but even that’s a bit of an oversimplification, because it’s been at the urging of interest groups that are allied with the Republican Party. Those forces that want to fight the minimum wage find it very difficult to carry on that struggle in a progressive, highly Democratic community like a Kansas City or the city of St. Louis.

    CHRIS BURY: At least 35,000 St. Louis workers earning at or near minimum wage have lost about $35 million dollars in wages since the city’s proposed higher rate was blocked in 2015.

    CHRIS BURY: How much do you think you lost in those years by not having the $10 enacted?

    FRANCES HOLMES: The fast food workers and low-wage workers, we lost a lot of money. I’m like one check away from being homeless at any time, you know what I mean?

    CHRIS BURY: That frustration over lost wages led Holmes to Memphis where she joined a national protest seeking higher pay earlier this month.

    In Kansas City, Missouri’s second largest metropolitan area, where the City Council passed a higher minimum wage last month, local leaders are also fighting back with a grassroots approach.

    The Reverend Vernon Percy Howard Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Kansas City, helped to gather enough signatures for a ballot initiative set for this august to let Kansas City voters decide on an even higher minimum wage.

    REVEREND VERNON PERCY HOWARD, JR: The people of Kansas City have said, ‘Let us vote on $15 per hour this coming August 2017!”

    CHRIS BURY: Reverend Howard says the referendum is in response to years of unjust wages and a way to give Kansas city residents a bigger voice at the state capital.

    REVEREND HOWARD: We have people who are there making decisions that impact us directly, but that don’t share our interests, and that’s an undercut and undermining of the democratic principle.

    CHRIS BURY: They don’t live here.

    REVEREND HOWARD: And don’t share our interests. And that’s why we have tried our best to create avenues in which we can seek empowerment here, locally.

    CHRIS BURY: Some people in the cities would say this is Republicans who don’t live in the cities trying to dictate their values on us when we represent the people in the cities.

    DAN SHAUL: I’m very sympathetic to their concerns. I think we both want the same thing, it’s just a different way of going about it. I want to see better jobs, more jobs. I think that’s the same thing they want. It’s just a different path of going about it.

    CHRIS BURY: Frances Holmes, who’s seen her wages rise only one dollar an hour over the last three years, hopes state lawmakers will understand her point of view.

    FRANCES HOLMES: What I have to say to the legislators, I mean, just for one week try to live on what I live on.

    Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

    The post Missouri’s blue-city, red-state divide over minimum wage appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    french elections

    A combination picture shows portraits of the candidates who will run in the second round in the 2017 French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron (L), head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader. Pictures taken March 11, 2017 (R) and February 21, 2017 (L). Photo By Christian Hartmann/Reuters

    French candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will be heading for a runoff to decide the country’s next president after voters went to the polls in France’s first round of elections on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

    In a field of 11 candidates , the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is head of the National Front Party, and centrist Emmanuel Macron, held the two top slots on Sunday during a tight race.

    As the vote count continued Sunday evening in France, both Macron and Le Pen each appeared to capture roughly 25 percent of the vote. The conservative former Prime Minister François Fillon came in third, projections showed.

    Both Macron and Le Pen were viewed as favorites in an election that could serve as a referendum on the future direction of France, potentially tilting the country toward protectionism or further embedding France in a relationship with the European Union’s 28-nation bloc.

    Macron, 39, a former investment banker and economy minister who is a relative newcomer to French politics, would like to form a tighter bond with the EU to lower the country’s 10 percent unemployment rate.

    Le Pen, 48, who has drawn criticism for her anti-immigrant stance, has said she wants to exit the EU and impose protectionist trade policies for the country.

    The two will face off on May 7 to decide who will become France’s next leader, replacing the country’s outgoing Socialist Party President François Hollande, who chose not to run for reelection.

    The post Macron, Le Pen advance to runoff that will decide France’s next leader appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Taylor Payne Yarn Mission

    Taylor Payne of the Yarn Mission, a knitting collective. Photo by Patience Zalanga

    Taylor Payne was living a mile away from Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, 2014, the day that police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

    In the following weeks and months, Payne was among those who protested the killing and continued her work as a community organizer. That November, at an activist training, she met CheyOnna Sewell, an activist living in St. Louis at the time who “was always knitting,” Payne recalled.

    In October 2014, Sewell and Payne helped form the Yarn Mission, a knitting collective aimed at fighting racial injustice through community organizing and by supporting black creators’ work. The quiet setting of a knitting circle has helped them discuss difficult topics, Payne said. “A lot of times what we’re talking about is really traumatic,” she said. “It’s the only way I’m able to talk about a lot of the things that have happened in Ferguson and continue to happen in St. Louis.”

    Recent marches such as the Women’s March on Jan. 21 and the March for Science on Saturday have brought knitting into the international spotlight and lured newcomers to a symbol of activism that dates back hundreds of years.

    Academics and historians say that these new knitters are tapping into a long history of needle arts in the U.S. that is inextricably bound up in race, gender and class issues. Its recent popularity is only the latest chapter.

    Womens March

    Pink “pussyhats” appear at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2017. Photo by Flickr user Angela Sevin

    ‘Socks for Soldiers’ and ‘liberty caps’

    For much of American history, “Women were limited in lots of areas of public activity. They were not supposed to be visible in public,” Katherine Durack, former associate professor at Miami University, told the NewsHour Weekend. “It makes sense, then, that needle arts would be an important means of expression and that includes political expression.”

    Before the American Revolution in the 1760s, most clothing was homemade and needle arts were a vital part of women’s education. Sewing and knitting were not only necessary skills but also political tools for the women involved in resisting authority.

    In defiance of British taxes on textiles and other products, women in the colonies eschewed British-made clothing by creating homespun cloth. Families and churches would hold spinning bees, competing to see who could create the most cloth. During this era, “Women’s role as buyer of the family goods became pivotal in colonial resistance. … By boycotting British fabrics and reverting to intensive domestic textile manufacture, women stood ready to contribute equally toward the Revolution,” Laura Sapelly wrote in her in her Pennsylvania State dissertation “Pedagogies of Historical and Contemporary American Sewing Circles.”

    Women also used needlework to create uniforms for soldiers during the Revolution, though some found unexpected uses for the craft. As the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777, Molly “Old Mom” Rinker, a tavern owner in Philadelphia, reportedly hid information about their troop movements in balls of yarn. She would pretend to knit on a rock overlooking Wissahickon Valley and drop them to Gen. George Washington’s troops below.

    Neighborhood Fiber Co.

    This graphic was created for Neighborhood Fiber Co. following November’s presidential election. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Fiber Co.

    Meanwhile, the revolution in France was stirring, and along with it came a new era for women’s political involvement in the country. As leftist groups in France planned to overthrow the monarchy, they rallied around the red Phrygian caps, “liberty caps,” which were based on hats that emancipated slaves wore in ancient Rome.

    Though women were involved in political debate and many supported the Revolution, their male compatriots worried that fighting and donning liberty caps in public would upend gender roles, said Jennifer Jones, Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University. Scholar Bernard A. Cook wrote that at the time, the right for women to bear arms “was seen as an insult to the physical superiority and fashionable difference between men and women, because armed women, for reasons of comfort and gender subversion, often dressed like men and wore male symbols, such as the red cap of liberty.”

    Throughout the early days of the country, and throughout much of the 19th century, women’s approach to knitting and other needle arts also underscored existing class and racial divisions. Middle-class and wealthy white women were free to take up needlework selectively, and for either leisurely or political causes, while lower-income or marginalized women turned to it for income and survival.

    At the time, among the upper classes, knitting was “reduced to charity work by well-off women with excess time,” Tove Hermanson, a writer on fashion and culture, wrote. But it continued to provide an important source of income for many others, including freed slaves; Hermanson wrote that in 1864, the abolitionist Sojourner Truth taught “sewing, knitting and cooking” to refugee camps of emancipated slaves to help them financially support themselves.

    And during the movement for abolition, sewing circles continued to serve as a place for women to exchange ideas and talk about political work. The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison between 1831 and 1965, wrote on Dec. 3, 1847:

    “Sewing Circles are among the best means for agitating and keeping alive the question of anti-slavery. … A friend in a neighboring town recently said to us, Our Sewing Circle is doing finely, and contributes very much to keep up the agitation of the subject. Some one of the members generally reads an anti-slavery book or paper to the others during the meeting, and thus some who don’t get a great deal of anti-slavery at home have an opportunity of hearing it at the circle.”

    Women in the Confederacy also urged other women to contribute to political efforts through knitting. In her 1863 poem “Socks for the Soldiers,” Georgia-born Confederate poet Carrie Bell Sinclair wrote: “Oh women of the sunny South / We want you in the field; / Not with a soldier’s uniform, / Nor sword, nor spear, nor shield; / But with a weapon quite as keen— / The knitting needle bright— / And willing hands to knit for those / Who for our country fight.”

    Following the Civil War, and as reformist movements like temperance took hold in many parts of the country, women organized sewing bees to create quilts and other goods whose sale could support those causes. During this time, as women sewed overtly political messages and images on banners and quilts, “The quilt became a political agent for temperance women,” Sapelly told the NewsHour Weekend. “It expressed their support of the cause, even if it was on a bed [or] if it was hung on a wall.”

    ‘The great crochet question’

    For decades, knitting and sewing had provided a path to political involvement for women — but also one that maintained traditional gender roles.

    Those tasks were also used by anti-suffragists to mock women’s potential political participation, such as in a cartoon published in the Punch’s Almanack in 1853.


    This cartoon by John Leech was published in Punch’s Almanack in 1853. Photo courtesy of Project Gutenberg

    As women’s suffrage movements gained steam in the U.S., many of its leaders rejected traditionally “feminine” tasks. “Their stance was, these were radical women and they felt that they need to take a stance on sewing and knitting and any kind of needlework,” Sapelly said.

    In the meantime, women’s magazines in the U.S. “separated ‘real’ women – those who continued to sew or knit – from those wanting the vote,” Sapelly wrote in her dissertation. These publications excluded black and poor women, instead establishing the face of needlework as white and middle class.


    Alice Paul is shown seated, sewing stars on a suffrage flag. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

    But some suffragists used the imagery of needle arts to further their cause and appear non-threatening to anti-suffragists, who had decried them as “unsexed” and unwomanly. In 1920, after the 19th Amendment passed Congress and suffragists waited for individual states to ratify it, suffrage leader Alice Paul posed on the cover of Suffragist magazine as a modern-day Betsy Ross.

    Paul “appeared as a domestic archetype: woman seated, wielding just the familiar threaded needle, eyes dropped demurely on the household chore,” J.D. Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry wrote in “Alice Paul: Claiming Power.”

    The image projected a non-threatening stance by suffragists, Sapelly said. “It’s like communicating, we’re not going to stop being women if we get the vote,” she said. “We’ll still probably be sitting quietly in the sewing room and doing our needlework.”

    Drawing the line

    The Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement of the 1990s brought new political significance to DIY culture, encouraging feminists and others to take up crafting in order to resist corporations. “Personalized and unique hand-knit objects have been used to eschew mass production in favour of non-corporate, small-scale production, often in support of women-owned local suppliers, yarn shops, and designers,” Beth Ann Pentney wrote for the feminist journal “thirdspace.”

    Since then, a number of independent knitting projects have called attention to progressive causes. The 2005 Wombs on Washington project rallied people to create knitted wombs to support pro-choice legislation, and two years later, the Stitch for Senate initiative called on people to knit helmet liners for U.S. senators to call for withdrawal from Iraq.

    March for Science hats

    A knitting group works on hats for the March for Science at Cafe Zoe in Menlo Park, California. Photo by Michael Perez

    But knitters, particularly those critical of President Donald Trump’s administration, say they see a resurgence in people’s interest in knitting as a political tool in recent months, particularly around the Women’s March with the creation of “pussyhats,” and again before the Science March. Online, a number of groups — including “The Resistance Knitters” and a March for Science crafting group on Facebook — are encouraging people to use their work for political causes.

    For the Science March on April 22, Heidi Arjes, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, designed the “resistor” knit hat, which shows a battery and three electronical devices called resistors. Along with two other postdoctoral fellows, she also helped organize Project Thinking Cap, which encouraged March for Science attendees to knit hats in green or blue shades. Her design received thousands of shares online.

    “I never associated knitting with having as much power as my science and now I’m realizing that it really does,” she said. “Knitting is a way I can reach people.”

    Karida Collins, owner of Baltimore hand-dyed yarn store Neighborhood Fiber Co., was reluctant to address politics in her business for a long time. “There are certain things you don’t bring to the yarn store,” she said. “You don’t want your customers arguing with each other.”

    But after the election, she sent an email to her store’s listserv, saying that her business was “opposed to policies of homophobia and xenophobia and white nationalism.” She acknowledged that voicing the opinion could be risky for the business. But “I felt like I needed to draw a line in the sand,” she said.

    The post Stitch by stitch, a brief history of knitting and activism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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