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

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    South Sudanese refugee woman, displaced by fighting, holds her child on arrival at Imvepi settlement in Arua district, northern Uganda, April 4, 2017. Picture taken April 4, 2017. REUTERS/James Akena - RTX35467

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: This week, we’ve brought you three reports from inside South Sudan, a nation ravaged by war, famine, and a place where rape is used as a weapon. Tonight, we turn our focus to neighboring Uganda, which has an open door to refugees. But with hundreds, sometimes thousands each day pouring across the border, Uganda’s openness is being put to a test.

    Special correspondent Fred De Sam Lazaro reports.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On a recent afternoon, refugees from South Sudan sang songs of praise and thanks. These are the newest arrivals from the brutal civil war in their young country.

    The South Sudan border is just about a mile down this road here. Some 500 people walk in each day into Uganda. There’s no sign indicating they’ve arrived. The first evidence they’ll have a safe night to sleep are these white tents here put up by the United Nations.

    Water is provided but no food. That will have to wait for at least another day when they reach settlement centers to be registered. Some people told us they hadn’t eaten for days. These women arrived after a five day walk through the bush, found an open spot on the floor and quickly collapsed in complete exhaustion.

    Some refugees tell harrowing stories about the violence they’ve seen, much of it ethnically based.

    EMMANUEL KENYI, Refugee: The Dinkas is killing us. They are killing the civilians.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They are killing you just because you are not a Dinka?

    EMMANUEL KENYI: Yes.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nearly 600,000 refugees have entered Uganda since July when new fighting from the civil war erupted, and the flow continues unabated. Bidi Bidi, the world’s largest refugee settlement with 300,000 residents, about the size of Pittsburgh, was closed to new arrivals in December to prevent overcrowding.

    Invepi, about 30 miles from the border, was opened two months ago. Already 62,000 people have moved in, a number expected to reach the 110,000 capacity by late May or June.

    The overwhelming numbers are straining relief efforts. People wait in line for hours, occasionally days on end just to get registered. And tensions are rising between the newcomers and Ugandans from nearby communities.

    We arrived at Invepi shortly after a skirmish broke out between refugees and locals. This young refugee was bloodied and eventually taken away by ambulance.

    U AYE MAUNG, Field Director, U.N. High Commission for Refugees: We’ll take good care of him.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: U Aye Maung is field director the U.N. High Commission for Refugees at Invepi.

    Is that a concern for you, the tensions between the local communities and the refugees?

    U AYE MAUNG: Yes, we have seen some tensions arise between people. The concerns are valid. There are protection issues. We have a large number of children, women and single boys, young girls. They need protection. They need space, safe space so they can be able to go to school, they can able to do their basic rights in the settlement area.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Such hostility is relatively new in a country whose official policy has been to integrate refugees.

    It looks like any other African village rather than a refugee camp, and that’s the point. Uganda’s open door policy insists that refugees be placed in settlements, and not camps, acknowledging that most families will stay for some time, and given a small plot of land that they can start to cultivate, build a small dwelling on it, and they’re free to seek opportunities anywhere else in the country.

    SHABAN BANTARIZA, Uganda Government Spokesman: As a people who have suffered before, we do not think that we should shut out anybody who is running away for security.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Shaban Bantariza is a spokesman for the Ugandan government. He says his country was itself once an exporter of refugees when it was wracked for years by war. Uganda will continue to provide what it can, he says, but the anger expressed by some of Ugandans is understandable.

    SHABAN BANTARIZA: They feel disadvantaged and they have expressed that. They feel that their inability to get sufficient drugs, their inability to have enough food is because of the influx of refugees. So, naturally, they feel agitated. But we are trying to work on that.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the settlements, food is still available to the newest arrivals. But rations have been cut in half for people who have been here for several weeks.

    Water must be trucked in at huge expense. The onslaught has been so abrupt, there hasn’t been time to survey land and drill wells for clean water.

    The rationing of food was apparent when we talked with James Ken. He and his family of seven walked for three weeks to reach the safety of Uganda. They now live in this tent constructed of tarps.

    He’s grateful for the welcome he’s received but says there isn’t enough food to go around.

    You run out sometimes?

    JAMES KEN, Refugee: I run out completely. Even now, as you have seen, there’s nothing on the fire.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s nothing cooking today?

    JAMES KEN: Yes.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So what will the children eat today?

    JAMES KEN: Then I have to run and I see other solution where I can borrow from the neighbors.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Apparently, the neighbors did help, with this maize flour for the next family meal.

    The U.N. estimates it will cost $840 million to deal with the refugee crisis in Uganda this year. But El Khidir Daloum of the U.N.’s World Food Program says agencies like his are facing a severe shortfall.

    EL KHIDIR DALOUM, World Food Program: We are only 40 percent of what we need. We appreciate all the support we have received from or donors so far. But we appeal to all the donors that they need to increase their pledges to us and to other actors, so that we address especially the life-saving needs for the refugees in the settlements.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government and U.N. officials say things are approaching a breaking point.

    SHABAN BANTARIZA: The strain is definite, no doubt about that. And that’s why we try to engage everybody, in and out of Uganda, the international community. Refugees cannot be the responsibility for Uganda alone.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a global responsibility.

    SHABAN BANTARIZA: It’s a global responsibility.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ultimately, of course, the Ugandan government and the refugees say the solution is for conditions to stabilize in South Sudan so the refugees can return. That’s certainly the hope of James Ken.

    So, you could live here for a long time?

    JAMES KEN: Forever. Unless we go back to South Sudan, when peace comes back.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Do you think peace will come back to South Sudan?

    JAMES KEN: Well, we don’t know.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What he does know is a strong sense of deja vu. The 32-year old Ken actually came to Uganda as a child, fleeing earlier strife. He returned to South Sudan 12 years ago when peace arrived, only to flee again just weeks ago. Now, he fears it could take a generation in his family and thousands of others to make the trek back.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro at the Invepi refugee settlement in northern Uganda.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Undertold Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

    And you can watch all of our stories from inside South Sudan on our website at pbs.org/newshour.

    The post Long welcoming to refugees, hostility toward newcomers is growing in Uganda appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: But, first, the story of what happened to Janesville, Wisconsin, after its biggest employer shutdown. It’s the hometown of House Speaker Paul Ryan.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports. It’s part of the series Making Sen$e which airs Thursdays on the NewsHour.

    PAUL SOLMAN: At Janesville, Wisconsin’s Parker High School, there’s a room that’s unmarked, and usually closed.

    WOMAN: The Parker Closet is a resource area for students that are struggling financially. And so, we offer food, toiletries, clothing, school supplies.

    PAUL SOLMAN: All free. All donated. A larder for the hungry begun surreptitiously by teacher Deri Eastman in 2008, when this proud industrial town of 63,000 was knocked for a loop.

    General Motors idled the Janesville assembly plant, for nearly a century, the area’s largest employer.

    AMY GOLDSTEIN, Author, “Janesville: An American Story”: This was the oldest operating plant in the United States when it shut down.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Journalist Amy Goldstein.

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: In 1919, it started making tractors. And in 1923, it began turning out Chevrolet trucks.

    MUSIC: On Wisconsin! On Wisconsin!

    PAUL SOLMAN: For decades thereafter, a job at the plant was a ticket to the middle class.

    Dave Vaughn went to the plant straight from high school, retired after 35 years.

    DAVE VAUGHN, Retired GM Worker: When I hired in in 1967, there were approximately 7,200 people that worked there. It was like a small city. It was security. It was good benefits. I had a vested pension.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Even by the time the last Chevy Tahoe rolled off the assembly line, there were still 1,200 workers making $28 an hour, all laid off, along with thousands of others at local GM suppliers.

    DAVE VAUGHN: I knew a lot of the people down there — families, friends, neighbors. That’s a lot of people in one little city of Janesville.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Vaughn’s son and daughter-in-law both lost their jobs at Lear, which made seats for GM vehicles.

    MIKE VAUGHN, Former Lear Worker: I was shocked. Then I guess I was scared. What’s next? All of a sudden, we’re both unemployed. Financially, what are we going to do?

    PAUL SOLMAN: Mike Vaughn’s wife Barb felt the same, even though the job had taken quite a toll on her.

    BARB VAUGHN, Mike Vaughn’s Spouse: I was working with bolts about that big around and that long, torquing them into the seat. I had surgery on my shoulder. And then I ended up with a surgery on my wrist.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So, some relief for Barb; none at all for Mike.

    MIKE VAUGHN: At the time I was the labor leader for almost 900 people, and ultimately I had to be a part of giving the news that the plant is closing.

    PAUL SOLMAN: What was that process like?

    MIKE VAUGHN: They were angry, they were upset, they were hurt, and they were scared.

    PAUL SOLMAN: It was shortly after this that Deri Eastman started slipping day-to-day essentials to formerly middle- class students, now struggling, stressed and often embarrassed.

    DERI EASTMAN, Social Studies Teacher, Parker High School: Some of the kids were, “Wow, I can’t believe this all is in here” and some of them would be very open to taking things, others would be like, “Nope, we’re OK.”

    PAUL SOLMAN: About 250 kids made use of the closet, including two brothers who asked for soap and shampoo after their mother’s daycare business went bust.

    DERI EASTMAN: When the plant closed, the parents were home. They didn’t need a daycare anymore and so Carrie’s Day Care Center kind of washed up. And I remember realizing this was going to be a huge ripple effect for Janesville.

    PAUL SOLMAN: In all, the region lost some 9,000 jobs. Amy Goldstein’s book, “Janesville: An American Story,” is about what came next.

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: This is a story of what choices people made when there were no good choices left, because it was impossible to keep your income and stay working here. Some people chose to stay here and make less money, and some of the GMers chose to work farther away and keep up their standard of living.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Thus the term “GM Gypsies,” workers who accepted a transfer to other GM plants hundreds of miles away.

    MAN: Good morning, transferees! How many of you all this is the first move you’ve ever made?

    There will be difficulties. I’m living experience of it. I’ve got one failed marriage behind me.

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: Indiana was the closest place you could work, and Lordstown, Ohio. So, these families were very split up, and to this day, some of the families are still split up with workers coming home, depending on how far away they are, once a week, once a month.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But other workers took the path so often pushed in de-industrializing America these last few decades — stay in town and go back to school for retraining — in Janesville, at highly-respected Blackhawk Technical College, tuition paid by the federal government. It was here that the Vaughns trained to reinvent themselves.

    MIKE VAUGHN: It was obviously it was scary. It was something that was uncharted and unknown.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Mike stuck it out and finished an associate’s degree in human resource management.

    MIKE VAUGHN: Because I’d been unemployed, I took the first job that was offered to me, which was a second shift human resources position at Seneca Foods Corporation.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And what was the difference in pay?

    MIKE VAUGHN: It was a lot less pay. Yes, a lot less pay.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Barb, long ashamed that she’d dropped out of high school, quickly got her diploma and then a criminal justice associate’s degree and after that, her bachelor’s.

    MIKE VAUGHN: I can’t even describe how focused she was.

    BARB VAUGHN: I couldn’t have anything less than a 4.0.

    MIKE VAUGHN: She couldn’t. She was a perfectionist. She had to have straight A’s.

    BARB VAUGHN: I received an A-minus and it just threw me for a loop.

    MIKE VAUGHN: She was angry. I thought something really bad might’ve happened, and she got an A-minus, and I was thinking, “That’s not bad. That’s pretty good, you know?”

    PAUL SOLMAN: The Vaughns are success stories. Mike has worked his way back up to the salary he earned at Lear. Both have found new work they like locally. But they turn out to be stunning exceptions. Fully two-thirds of those who went to Blackhawk Technical College never finished.

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: This was a heartbreaking thing that I heard over and over from some of the people who work at the college, that people started a course, but they need to grab any job they could because they just didn’t have the money.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But even more heartbreaking: the minority who did get a degree fared worse than those who did not.

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: The people who retrained ended up less likely to have steady work. They had bigger drops in their wages than the people who hadn’t gone back to school. So, the question is, why?

    You know it’s possible that those few jobs that were around in the community were absorbed by the people who didn’t retrain.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So that if you were retraining, you were stepping out of line.

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: Exactly.

    Another possibility is that if you were successful at retraining and you managed to shift into a new line of work, it’s very likely that you were starting at the bottom of the ladder.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But whatever the reasons, job retraining, one of the precious few economic policies pretty much everyone lauds, simply fizzled.

    MIKE VAUGHN: I’ve seen a lot of people that are potentially still struggling or not where they may have wanted to have been as a result of the re-schooling, the training, if there’s no jobs available after retraining, now what do you do?

    PAUL SOLMAN: In the years since the plant left, there’s been a big push to attract new businesses to Janesville. Even Janesville native Paul Ryan has courted potential employers to the area.

    So, will the town come back?

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: There are some jobs that have come back. They aren’t the kind of jobs that used to be here. I mean, the unemployment rate here in early 2009 rocketed up to more than 13 percent. It’s now down to just under 5 percent. So, if you look just at that number, you can say this community has really come back.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Rebounded just as America has.

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: Just as America has. But if you look at other things, it’s a more complicated picture. Manufacturing jobs have not come back and in terms of real wages, factoring inflation into account, this area is running behind where it was in 2008. So, people are working again, but they’re not working making the kind of money they were before.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Which may explain why Deri Eastman still has almost 200 students using the Parker Closet.

    For the PBS NewsHour, this is economics correspondent Paul Solman reporting from Janesville, Wisconsin.

    The post It’s a slow, painful recovery for this former manufacturing town appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: There are at least three major investigations underway into what role Russia played in the presidential election, and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that process. Today, two of the nations top national security officials held a closed-hearing with congressional investigators.

    William Brangham has more.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The House Intelligence Committee is one of those investigative bodies looking into Russia’s role in the election. And today, the director of the FBI, James Comey, and the director of the NSA, Mike Rogers, briefed that committee on Capitol Hill.

    Joining me now is the top Democrat on that committee, Representative Adam Schiff from California.

    Congressman, I can hear in the background, there are some protesters there. I take it protesting the GOP’s passage of their health law. We’ll talk about that in a minute. But before we get to that, I’d like to talk a little bit this hearing today.

    You heard from the head of the NSA, the head of the FBI, I know this was a confidential, closed door hearing. Can you share a little bit with us about what you heard today?

    REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-Calif.: Certainly. While I can’t go into the contents, I can tell you the three areas of focus for us, and that is who we have this very public assessment by the intelligence committee — community, rather, that the Russians intervened. They did so to hurt Secretary Clinton, to help Donald Trump. And we are investigating to make sure that the conclusions reached in that report are an accurate reflection of the raw intelligence.

    We also want to look at the U.S. government response. Did the FBI, for example, bring the necessary urgency to the task when it discovered the Russians were into computers at the Democratic National Committee and elsewhere?

    And then finally, and probably most public interest, we continued to investigate the issue of whether there were U.S. persons, particularly those involved in the Trump campaign, that were somehow colluding or coordinating with this Russian hacking into our democracy.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yesterday, FBI Director Comey testified before the Senate, and he gave a very impassioned testimony, arguing that his investigation both of Hillary Clinton’s email server and of the Russia investigation was absolutely fair. And he argues he would do it exactly the same way again.

    Are you confident, from what you heard yesterday and what you heard today, that Director Comey is the right man for this investigation?

    REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I have serious questions about the director’s testimony yesterday. I disagree strongly with the conclusions and the argument that he was making. I don’t think it was at all a choice between speaking or concealing. And the fact the director used such a loaded term like “conceal,” I think really demonstrated the weakness, frankly, of that argument.

    The real choice was whether he would abide by the Department of Justice policy of not discussing pending matters right before an election. He violated that policy.

    And he also treated the Clinton investigation and the Trump investigation in very different ways. And I don’t think his argument that one investigation was in the early stage, that he disclosed the Clinton investigation only three months after it had begun, and somehow it was different for the Trump investigation holds up after all. In October, the Trump investigation, by his own accounting, had gone going on for three months.

    So, I don’t agree with what he said yesterday. At the same time, in terms of going forward, I have to hope he will do a thorough investigation of these allegations concerning the Trump campaign. We, for our part, are determined to follow the facts wherever they lead, and we’re going to have to expect him to do the same.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Congressman, a few months ago, you said there was more than — that there was a good bit of evidence that there had been collusion by the Trump campaign. Later, you seem to indicate that perhaps that wasn’t as clear.

    Is there anything more you can tell us today about the evidence that does or doesn’t exist about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

    REP. ADAM SCHIF: Well, what I have said is that I think the evidence of coordination or collusion is not purely circumstantial. Unfortunately, I’m not able to go into the particulars of the evidence. But I thought it fair to characterize, at least initially, of where we’re starting out in the investigation.

    I do think that the FBI was justified in opening an investigation last year. I think that’s not something, when it involves a major presidential campaign, that they do willy-nilly. And I think they’re justified in continuing that investigation. But, unfortunately, I can’t go into the particulars.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s turn to, obviously, that big ruckus that we hear behind you. A huge piece of news today, that the GOP was successful in passing their piece of health care legislation. What was your — I know you voted against it. What was your reaction to what happened today?

    REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, my predominant reaction is it’s a sad day, I think, for this institution when we would vote and effectively cut off millions of people from access to health care. And when you have the kind of massive cuts to Medicaid that are in this bill, when you’re essentially telling states they can do away with protections for people who have pre-existing health conditions, you’re voting for legislation that you know or should know will mean that millions will lose their access to health care.

    We ought to be sad about it. I don’t think the Republicans should be celebrating at the White House about it.

    And I will say this, too — it’s not that this is some abstract desire to cut people off from health care. The real motivating force behind my GOP colleagues and the vote today is they want to take the money out of health care system and they want to give it out in the form of a tax cut that will benefit predominantly wealthy people. That’s the tragedy of what we did today. And I don’t think it’s going to pass muster in the Senate. I think that celebration will be short-lived and for good reason.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lastly, Congressman, the president seemed to indicate today at the White House that Obamacare was dead. Do you believe that’s true?

    REP. ADAM SCHIFF: No, I don’t believe that at all. And what we have seen throughout the country is states that have wanted to make it successful, like my own home state of California, have, and millions of more people now are covered by insurance. The marketplaces work reasonably well, not perfect, and we can still improve it.

    But in other states where they wanted it to fail it, willed it to fail, tried to deter people from enrolling. They have largely succeeded in doing that.

    The president, for his part, is also determined to try to bring downtown the Affordable Care Act. That’s why they have cut off outreach to young people. They want only older, sicker people to enroll and to raise costs so they can make the case for a repeal. It’s a cynical strategy. I think at the end of the day, the Republicans won’t be able to do this on their own, and shouldn’t.

    And I hope it will get us to a place where we can work together on a bipartisan basis to improve the existing system and not do away with in favor of cutting millions of people off from health care.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right. Representative Adam Schiff, thank you very much.

    REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you.

    The post Schiff talks Comey testimony, ‘sad day’ for health care appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s dive a little deeper into the bill passed by the house, what it would change when it comes to coverage and cost, and the politics moving forward.

    Our own Lisa Desjardins joins us for that, just back from Capitol Hill. And Julie Rovner is with Kaiser Health News.

    Lisa, let’s start with pre-existing conditions. That became the phrase that pays all week long and even today. Who is going to get left out of this?

    LISA DESJARDINS: It is a very serious concern, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, as Julie talk more in a second, some 52 million Americans have pre-existing conditions, adults, and could have their insurance affected.

    The way this works, Hari, is that each state would decide if they want a waiver so that their insurers could opt out of the preexisting protections, as they’re called. Now, Republicans say that this should not affect those with pre-existing conditions because if their premiums get too high, they’ve created what’s called high-risk pools. They say that will help them.

    But I spent a lot of time talking to Republicans about this today. They do not guarantee that your premium won’t go up if you have pre-existing conditions. Insurers can raise those premiums. The question is, will states actually opt in to do this?

    And also important, Hari, it’s easy to get these waivers under this particular version because if the state applies for it, if the government does nothing, it happens. The government has to actually block the waiver.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, a lot of this seems to depend on a state-by-state basis on who decides to continue?

    JULIE ROVNER, Kaiser Health News: Well, absolutely. You know, this is one of the things Republicans said. They don’t like that health care is being basically governed from the federal government. They want to turn it back to the states.

    Now, we should say states already have a lot of power in the insurance market. They do — they still regulate individual insurance. They still regulate insurance for small businesses, insure — businesses that operate in multiple states are regulated by the federal government. But that wasn’t the Affordable Care Act. That’s been the case.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the things that the Republicans have said is, “one of our methods to deal with this is creating these high-risk pools.” Let’s talk about that. I mean, how would they work?

    JULIE ROVNER: Well, basically, 35 states used to have these high-risk pools, and these are people who have very expensive conditions, with an ongoing — normally, an ongoing problem. And they basically get shunted off into a different pool, that’s why they’re called high-risk pools. And the reason is that the healthier people in the regular pool would then have lower premiums because they’re not paying for those expensive people.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But does that mean that the sicker people have higher premiums?

    JULIE ROVNER: That’s exactly correct. The sicker people could get insurance but they had higher premiums. Sometimes they had pre-existing condition exclusions so you wouldn’t get coverage for the very thing that got you into the high-risk pool, sometimes for up to a year. And also, a lot of them were underfunded. So, they would close to new entrants. There was a pool in Florida that was closed for decades.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Lisa?

    LISA DESJARDINS: And that’s where this money comes in that Republicans added at the last minute, another $8 billion that could go to the high-risk pools to try and help stabilize those premiums, but we have no idea if that’s enough money. There is not a CBO score on this bill. We don’t know — there is not a CBO score for how much is needed in that kind of national, potential high-risk pool. It’s a huge question mark. There are many people who say $8 billion is not going to cut it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And we have tried to supplement these high-risk pools in the past few years, and it’s come up short.

    JULIE ROVNER: There was a federal high risk pool in the transition to the Affordable Care Act, and it closed I think more than a year early because it ran out of money.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. Let’s talk a little bit about the essential health benefits. That’s also something that has been discussed, on something that could really strain the average household or the average family.

    First, to set the table, what are some of the essential health benefits that have been guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act that are under threat now?

    LISA DESJARDINS: It’s sort of an unseen skeleton of American health care. We’re talking about things like hospital care, being able to do to go to the hospital. Emergency care, the ER, maternity care, preventive care, that could be anything from cancer screenings to, right now, contraception, depending on how the health agency goes forward. It is — also, prescription drugs.

    Ten basics that the Congress under Obamacare said must be in every plan. Now, the way Republicans in the House want it, they want states to be able to waive out of those essential benefits.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, now, you’re creating a market on a state-by-state basis saying, I’m going to have an essential health package that’s different from my neighboring state, right?

    So, this is one of the things Donald Trump confidently said today that, we’re going to drive down premiums. We’re going to drive down these costs. Is it likely that states will start to offer up these different packages for employers from other places?

    JULIE ROVNER: Well, actually, already, states get to pick which — you know, which kind — they’re called a benchmark plan. It does have to have those benefits, but states can decide on a state-by-state basis what the plan should be modeled as.

    What this is saying is that it would give insurers the ability to just jettison some of those benefits. Now, they probably wouldn’t jettison hospital care and doctor care. But they might, you know, say, we’re not going to cover maternity care. We’re not going to cover mental health care. We’re only going to cover generic prescription drugs and not brand name prescription drugs.

    So, then, probably, premiums would go down, but people who needed that coverage wouldn’t have it anymore.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But people would be making that choice, Republicans argue. They say you could choose to have a bare-bones plan.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Instead of a Cadillac plan.

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: One the biggest numbers in this: $880 billion in cuts to Medicaid. How does that go forward?

    JULIE ROVNER: This is really sort of the — has been hidden in the debate. This is a tremendous change to Medicaid. For the first time since Medicaid was created in 1965, there would no longer be open-ended federal funding. And we’re not just talking about the medication expansion that was in the Affordable Care Act. That would be phased out. We’re talking about the basic Medicaid program that pays for maternity care, child birth for almost half the children born in the United States and the majority of nursing home care.

    So, that’s where the Congressional Budget Office suggested that much of the declining coverage would come from where states losing money for Medicaid.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And when you look at the politics of this, is there are senators and there are governors who are not in favor of this.

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. And I think we’re going to pay a lot more attention to the Senate now. They have a real problem in the Senate. In fact, you talk too some senators who have been around for a long time, including the chairman of the HELP Committee, the HELP Committee, as it’s called, Alexander, his office sent me an email tonight. He said the Senate is going to write its own bill. They’re going to start and go in their own direction.

    Medicaid is a big problem. And states with some of the highest Medicaid rates are also states with Republican senators. They are taking that very seriously.

    Also, Hari, today, nine of those Republicans who voted no on this bill had districts where Hillary Clinton won the presidential election. So, there are real issues for 2018 here.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the things that we’re also hearing today is that this could affect people who are not in need of the Affordable Care Act or a government plan, people who have private insurance through their employers, which is the bulk of the population.

    JULIE ROVNER: That’s right. And, you know, this is a very good example of how complicated this all is. These things are tied to each other. And when you pull one piece of it out, you could inadvertently touch another piece. This is an example.

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reported that people who have now — employers are required not to offer coverage that have lifetime limits that say once you have $1 million in claims, you can’t do it anymore, you can’t cover it anymore. It’s tied to those essential health benefits. So, if the essential health benefit goes away —

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

    JULIE ROVNER: — then, once again, employer coverage could have lifetime limits.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Julie Rovner and Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Thanks.

    JULIE ROVNER: Thank you.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: To help you keep track of the many details, we have a guide to the GOP health care bill on our website. That’s pbs.org/newshour.

    The post How health care cost and coverage might change for everyone under GOP bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: In the day’s other news, the Senate approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill, to keep the government running through September. It had already passed the House. The Senate vote sends the bill to President Trump. There’s more defense spending, as he wanted, but no funding for the promised border wall.

    There’s word the Trump administration is talking with Iraq about having U.S. troops stay longer. Some 7,000 are deployed there now. Reports today say Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants some or all of them to remain, even after Islamic State forces are defeated.

    Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed today to establish four non-conflict zones in Syria. Representatives of the three nations signed an agreement at peace talks in Kazakhstan. Some Syrian opposition delegates protested and walked out. Russia, Turkey and Iran worked out a Syrian cease-fire deal in December, but it collapsed after a few weeks.

    President Trump signed an executive order today to let churches be more politically active. The White House said it eases enforcement of a ban on tax-exempt religious groups participating in politics. And, it mandates unspecified “regulatory relief” for groups citing religious objections against covering contraception for employees.

    In a White House Rose Garden ceremony, the president said he’s re-affirming a commitment to freedom of religion.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: For too long, the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith. Bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs. It’s been happening. That is why I am signing today an executive order to defend the freedom of religion and speech in America.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The American Civil Liberties Union said later that the order does not actually change much of anything. So, the group will not bother to challenge it in court.

    The president is back in New York this evening, for the first time since his inauguration. Hundreds of protesters turned out as he met with the prime minister of Australia, before speaking at the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier. The White House also announced he’ll travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican this month, his first overseas trip as president, concludes at a NATO summit in Belgium.

    Former President Obama has weighed in on the French presidential election. He endorsed centrist Emmanuel Macron over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, in a video message posted today on Macron’s Twitter account.

    FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’ve admired the campaign that Emmanuel Macron has run. He has stood up for liberal values, he put forward a vision for the important role that France plays in Europe and around the world, and he is committed to a better future for the French people. He appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Polls suggest Macron is well ahead in Sunday’s run-off vote.

    The governor of Puerto Rico is vowing no new taxes, and no new austerity measures, as the territory seeks debt relief. Puerto Rico filed Wednesday to restructure part of the $73 billion it owes.

    Today, Governor Ricardo Rossello said he’ll negotiate with creditors. But he insisted, quote, “I am not going down a road that would force the people of Puerto Rico to make more sacrifices.”

    And, on Wall Street, energy stocks sank, and canceled out gains elsewhere. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost six points to close at 20,951. The NASDAQ rose two points, and the S&P 500 added just one point.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump (C) turns to House Speaker Paul Ryan (3rdL) as he gathers with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican healthcare plan, in Washington, U.S., May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTS157QX

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The White House, and House Republicans, are celebrating tonight. Today, they pushed through a bill to remake the health care system, something they failed to do back in March. The vote was 217 to 213.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Make no mistake: this is a repeal and a replace of Obamacare, make no mistake about it. Make no mistake.

    LISA DESJARDINS: A dramatic day ended at the White House as President Trump and House Republicans celebrated wrestling out a hard-fought first win in the fight over the affordable care act.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to get this passed through the Senate. I feel so confident. As much as we’ve come up with a really incredible health care plan, this has brought Republican Party together.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Just an hour earlier, the Republican’s American Health Care Act squeaked through with a single vote to spare. As the vote count was read, supporters erupted in cheers.

    MAN: The bill is passed and without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

    (CHEERS)

    LISA DESJARDINS: Twenty Republicans and every Democrat voted “no”. Democrats, who’ve said support of the bill would cost Republicans their seats, responded with taunts of “hey, hey, goodbye.”

    DEMOCRATIC MEMBERS: Hey, hey, goodbye!

    LISA DESJARDINS: It was the culmination of days of tension and hours of heated debate. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who just six weeks ago was forced to pull an earlier version of the bill, made an emotional plea.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: A lot of us have been waiting seven years to cast this vote. Are we going to meet this test? Are we going to be men and women of our word?

    MEMBERS: Yes!

    REP. PAUL RYAN: Are we going to keep the promises that we made?

    MEMBERS: Yes!

    REP. PAUL RYAN: Or are we going to falter?

    MEMBERS: No!

    REP. PAUL RYAN: No.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Democrats summoned emotion too, insisting the vote was rushed, short-sighted and will hurt millions of Americans.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: Does Trumpcare protect seniors and families?

    MEMBERS: No!

    REP. NANCY PELOSI: Does Trumpcare — is Trumpcare good for our veterans?

    MEMBERS: No!

    REP. NANCY PELOSI: Is there any caring in Trumpcare at all?

    MEMBERS: No.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Just 24 hours earlier, a vote, much less passage, was uncertain. In the end, enough conservatives and a few moderates got on board to put the bill over the top. How did Republicans get those votes?

    Two changes. First, a rescue amendment from New Jersey Republican Tom MacArthur. It allows states to waive out of essential benefits like hospital care, spending caps and requirements surrounding pre- existing conditions. States can only drop those things if they show it would improve the market. That brought some conservative votes, but raised other concerns about people with pre-existing conditions.

    The answer? Another amendment, from Michigan’s Fred Upton, to add $8 billion to a $115 billion pot of money states can use to help the highest-risk patients. Democrats today called that amount a pittance.

    REP. JIM MCGOVERN, D-Mass.: It is a lie. It is a lie. And let’s be honest about it: this does not cover people with pre-existing conditions and to come on a floor and say it does, to try to fool people — well, you may get away with it in the short term, you may get a headline. But I’ll tell you, people will figure out soon enough.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Republicans countered, charging their opponents were ill-informed.

    REP. DOUG COLLINS, R-Ga.: I believe probably the reason they won’t vote for it is they don’t understand it, because pre-existing conditions are covered. If you have coverage now, nothing in our bill, no matter what would come from the state or anyone else, would lose the pre-existing conditions. But I guess it’s just easier to talk your talking points.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The bill would have sweeping other effects. Repealing Obamacare taxes and adding tax credits of a few thousand dollars, based on age and income.

    But the most dramatic changes may be to Medicaid. The bill would cap benefits and phase out the expansion, for estimated cuts of $880 billion over a decade. That’s one reason the Congressional Budget Office concluded it would mean 24 million more uninsured Americans.

    CROWD: Shame! Shame! Shame!

    LISA DESJARDINS: As House members debated the measure inside the capitol, protesters gathered outside. The bill now goes to the Senate where it faces an extensive potential makeover and concerns from members of both parties.

    As for House Republicans, they left the Capitol en masse, with smiles, headed to a one-week recess.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Lisa will be back, as we explore the politics and particulars of the Republican bill, after the news summary.

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    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s choice for Army secretary withdrew his nomination on Friday in the face of growing criticism over his remarks about Muslims, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

    Mark Green, a Republican state senator from Tennessee, said in a statement that “false and misleading attacks” against him had turned his nomination into a distraction.

    “Tragically, my life of public service and my Christian beliefs have been mischaracterized and attacked by a few on the other side of the aisle for political gain,” Green said, expressing “deep regret” over the decision.

    Green is the second Trump nominee for Army secretary to withdraw.

    Photo of Sen. Mark Green

    Photo of Sen. Mark Green

    The move to step aside comes after a video began circulating of a remarks Green gave in September to a tea party group in Chattanooga. Green, who is opposed to gay marriage, said being transgender is a disease. He urged that a stand be taken against “the indoctrination of Islam” in public schools” and also referred to the “Muslim horde” that invaded Constantinople hundreds of years ago.

    Several Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, declared they would oppose Green’s nomination over what they said were intolerant and disturbing views. Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a combat veteran who lost her legs and partial use of her right arm during the Iraq war, said in a statement Friday that Green wasn’t fit to lead the service.

    Schumer welcomed Green’s move to step aside.

    “Mark Green’s decision to withdraw his name from consideration as Army secretary is good news for all Americans, especially those who were personally vilified by his disparaging comments directed toward the LGBTQ community, Muslim community, Latino community and more,” he said in a statement.

    Also on Friday, a coalition of 41 organizations led by the Human Rights Campaign called on the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee to reject Green’s nomination. The letter to Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Jack Reed of Rhode Island said Green’s “shameful rhetoric” is at odds with the Army’s core values and will affect recruiting.

    Green’s withdrawal underscores the challenges Trump has faced in filling two of the service secretary posts. The president’s first pick to be the Army’s top civilian, Vincent Viola, dropped out in early February because of financial entanglements, and about three weeks later Philip B. Bilden, the Navy secretary nominee, withdrew for similar reasons.

    The GOP-led Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on the nomination of Heather Wilson to be Air Force secretary.

    Trump’s decision to tap Green in early April represented a stark contrast to President Barack Obama’s choice of Eric Fanning for the post. Fanning, who’d been a senior Pentagon official, was the first openly gay leader of one of the military branches.

    Green graduated from West Point in 1986 and served as an Army physician. Green is the CEO of Align MD, which provides leadership and staffing to emergency departments and hospitals, according to the White House. He served in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment where he made three combat tours to the Middle East.

    As a Tennessee state senator, Green sponsored legislation last year that his critics have said would make it easier for businesses to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

    During his remarks before the Chattanooga tea party group, Green said the Obama administration has “bred general officers who are afraid of their shadow.” He also said that “if you poll the psychiatrists, they’re going to tell you that transgender is a disease.”

    Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

    READ MORE: The Heritage Foundation ousts Jim DeMint after power struggle

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    President Trump speaks Thursday at a press conference with members of the GOP in the Rose Garden of the White House. Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

    President Trump speaks Thursday at a press conference with members of the GOP in the Rose Garden of the White House. Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

    BRANCHBURG, N.J. — President Donald Trump signed his first piece of major legislation on Friday, a $1 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating through September.

    The bill cleared both houses of Congress this week and Trump signed it into law behind closed doors at his home in central New Jersey, well ahead of a midnight Friday deadline for some government operations to begin shutting down.

    But other budget battles lie ahead as the White House and Congress hammer out a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

    Republicans praised $15 billion in additional Pentagon spending obtained by Trump, as well as $1.5 billion in emergency spending for border security, though not for the wall he has vowed to build along the U.S.-Mexico border to deter illegal immigration.

    READ MORE: Who are the winners and losers in the $1.1 trillion spending bill?

    Trump also wants a huge military buildup matched by cuts to popular domestic programs and foreign aid accounts.

    Republicans and Democrats who negotiated the measure Trump signed Friday had successfully defended other accounts Trump had targeted for spending cuts, such as foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, support for the arts and economic development grants, among others.

    The sweeping, 1,665-page bill also increases spending for NASA, medical research, and the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies.

    Trump: U.S. ‘needs a good shutdown’ in September to fix Senate ‘mess’

    Trump took to Twitter earlier this week to complain about the bipartisan process that produced the measure but later changed his tone and began highlighting the spending that was added for the military and for border security. He advocated in one tweet for a “good shutdown” in September to fix the “mess” that produced the bill, but then appeared in the White House Rose Garden hours later to boast that the measure amounted to a big win for him.

    In other areas, retired union coal miners won a $1.3 billion provision to preserve health benefits for more than 22,000 retirees. House Democrats won funding to give Puerto Rico’s cash-strapped government $295 million to help ease its Medicaid burden.

    MORE: The biggest spending bill trade-offs for Republicans and Democrats

    Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

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    The Bears Ears buttes, located in Utah. The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of two designations President Barack Obama made at the end of his term, granting protection to land considered to be sacred. Photo by Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images

    The Bears Ears buttes, located in Utah. The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of two designations President Barack Obama made at the end of his term, granting protection to land considered to be sacred. Photo by Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The Interior Department has released a list of 27 national monuments it is reviewing under a presidential order, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine.

    A list released Friday includes 22 monuments on federal land in 11 states and five marine monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The review includes a huge reserve in Hawaii established in 2006 and expanded by President Barack Obama.

    The reviews were expected under an executive order issued last month by President Donald Trump, but the White House had not released a list of specific projects.

    Trump’s April 26 order could upend protections put in place under a 1906 law that authorizes the president to declare federal lands and waters as monuments and restrict their use.

    Here’s a list of all the national monuments up for review, per the Interior’s website:

    1. Basin and Range in Nevada
    2. Bears Ears in Utah
    3. Berryessa Snow Mountain in California
    4. Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado
    5. Carrizo Plain in California
    6. Cascade Siskiyou in Oregon
    7. Craters of the Moon in Idaho
    8. Giant Sequoia in California
    9. Gold Butte in Nevada
    10. Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona
    11. Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah
    12. Hanford Reach in Washington
    13. Ironwood Forest in Arizona
    14. Mojave Trails in California
    15. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico
    16. Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico
    17. Sand to Snow in California
    18. San Gabriel Mountains in California
    19. Sonoran Desert in Arizona
    20. Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana
    21. Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona
    22. Katahadin Woods and Waters in Maine
    23. Marianas Trench in the CNMI/Pacific Ocean
    24. Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean
    25. Pacific Remote Islands in the Pacific Ocean
    26. Papahanaumokuakea in Hawaii/Pacific Ocean
    27. Rose Atoll in American Samoa/Pacific Ocean

    Associated Press write Matthew Daly wrote this report.

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    President Donald Trump (left) and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (right) deliver brief remarks to reporters as they meet ahead of an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, aboard the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, U.S. May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    President Donald Trump (left) and Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (right) deliver brief remarks to reporters Thursday in New York. President Donald Trump’s praise of Australia’s government-funded health care system has raised the ire of some lawmakers. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

    BRANCHBURG, N.J. — President Donald Trump’s praise of Australia’s government-funded health care system has raised the ire of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading advocate of such single-payer systems.

    Republicans have strongly opposed calls by Sanders and others to create a similar “universal” health care system in the U.S.

    Trump’s praise for the Australian system came as he met Thursday in New York with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hours after the U.S. House narrowly passed a bill to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law enacted by former President Barack Obama.

    Listen to Democrats’ taunts and Republicans’ cheers as health care bill passes

    Trump described the U.S. health system as failing, and added that “I shouldn’t say this to a great gentleman and my friend from Australia because you have better health care than we do.” He said the U.S. would have “great” health care very soon.

    Sanders, the Vermont independent who sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, tweeted in response Friday: “Yes, Mr. Trump, the Australian health care system is a lot better than ours and infinitely better than the disastrous bill you supported.”

    White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders cautioned Friday against reading too much into the president’s comment. She said he was complimenting a foreign leader on the “operations of their health care system” and that he “didn’t mean anything more than that.”

    WATCH: President Trump celebrates after GOP health care vote win

    Trump seemed to contradict his spokeswoman a short time later, tweeting “Of course the Australians have better healthcare than we do – everybody does. ObamaCare is dead! But our healthcare will soon be great.”

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    Australia has a government-funded system that provides free or subsidized care for all Australian citizens and permanent residents, which is partially funded by income taxes.

    In an earlier tweet Friday, Trump said his “Big win in the House” was “very exciting!”

    “But when everything comes together with the inclusion of Phase 2, we will have truly great healthcare!,” Trump added in the tweet sent from his home on his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Trump was likely referring to regulatory and other changes the administration can make to the Obama-era law.

    Trump was spending an extended weekend at his central New Jersey home, about 40 miles west of New York.

    “Rather than causing a big disruption in N.Y.C., I will be working out of my home in Bedminster, N.J. this weekend. Also saves country money!” he tweeted.

    The White House said he was holding meetings and making calls, but didn’t say with whom. Trump also signed a $1 trillion bill funding the government through September.

    Trump spent just a few hours in his New York City hometown Thursday, but avoided his Trump Tower home, where security has been tightened and the costs for it have mounted since he became president. He had not been back to the city since leaving for his Jan. 20 inauguration.

    Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Australia, contributed to this report.

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    HOUSTON – An arriving passenger uses a biometric scanner at George H. W. Bush Intercontinental Airport February 1, 2008 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images

    Under President Donald Trump, technology companies have started cashing in on a little-noticed government push to ramp up the use of biometric tools — such as fingerprinting and iris scanners — to track people who enter and exit the country.

    Silicon Valley firms that specialize in data collection are taking advantage of a provision tucked into Mr. Trump’s executive order on immigration, which included his controversial travel ban, that called for the completion of a “Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System” for screening travelers entering and leaving the United States. The tracking system was mandated in a 1996 immigration law passed by Congress but never fully implemented by Trump’s past three predecessors.

    In Trump’s first months in office, federal courts blocked the sections of his original and revised immigration orders that called for a temporary travel ban on visitors from seven majority Muslim countries. But the rulings did not affect the provision on biometric tracking.

    As the legal fight over the travel ban has continued — dominating the debate over Trump’s immigration policy and the proposed border wall — tech companies have quietly raced to snatch up lucrative government contracts from multiple agencies to develop law enforcement tools that are highly controversial in their own right.

    “This marks an important milestone” for the biometric industry, said Melissa Ho, the managing director of the Silicon Valley Innovation Program, an initiative the Department of Homeland Security launched in 2015. “We’re committed to real investments in startups” working on creating biometric security tools, she said.

    The growth in the industry is part of a worldwide trend. The global biometric system market is projected to grow from about $11 billion in 2015 to roughly $32 billion by 2022, according to an industry report by the firm Research and Markets. In North America, government spending is expected to account for 40 percent of the biometric industry’s market share by 2020, up from just 12 percent in 2016.

    The boom in biometrics in the U.S. didn’t happen overnight. It’s the product of years of lobbying by a politically connected industry that sees an opening in a new president eager to use the latest technology to advance his immigration agenda. Yet as the industry grows, its facing fresh scrutiny from critics and Congressional lawmakers who are calling for stricter regulations on how biometric data is collected and used by the government and private sector.

    Last month, on the same day the Trump administration called for bids for the construction of a wall along the border with Mexico, it also put out a request for proposals for what the White House officially labeled the “Other Border Wall,” a digital barrier requiring travelers to undergo biometric screening.

    The border wall plan has stalled, after Congress did not include money for the project in its bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. Still, plans to implement biometric tracking along the southern border are underway, prompting the government to start awarding contracts to high-tech companies who are poised to benefit from the administration’s immigration crackdown.

    Trump is “using the best technology” as part of his immigration enforcement push, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a briefing Wednesday. “[Department of Homeland Security] Secretary John Kelly says it’s the most effective way to keep people out,” he added.

    Jennifer Gabris, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the agency is preparing to deploy new technology to verify travelers’ identities. “Biometric technology could possibly transform how travelers interact with airports, airlines” and customs officials, she said.

    A long history of opposition and delays

    Not so long ago, biometrics was the stuff of sci-fi films. But the technology is quickly becoming mainstream, said Jim Albers, a former vice president of MorphoTrust, a company that specializes in helping state motor vehicle agencies build secure databases. Albers noted that many people have grown more comfortable with biometric identification since Apple started allowing customers to unlock their iPhones with a fingerprint.

    “We’ve seen it really evolve quite a bit,” Albers said. In the future, “you’ll see biometrics and identity management in big transactions” with increasing regularity, he added. “Those things are going to happen because the younger generation is going to demand it.”

    In fact, biometric technology — from palm print readers and face recognition software to iris scanning and DNA tests — has already been around for years, in both the public and private sectors.

    Many countries use biometric tools to identify people. But when it comes to biometrics in U.S. law enforcement, the technology has advanced in fits and starts.

    In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security launched a biometric entry program that digitally fingerprinted some travelers entering the U.S. The agency has continued to test the technology in immigration enforcement, at times using temporary inspectors to perform biometric tests.

    But an exit program — to match the existing entry program — has yet to be implemented, though Congress mandated a comprehensive biometric entry-exit tracking system in the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act,” which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

    Neither Clinton nor his successors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, went ahead with the exit tracking system, despite mounting pressure — especially in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — from Congress to act.

    Figuring out the technology itself has been a stumbling block for the government.

    Capturing images of faces, eyes and fingerprints has proven to be a challenge, particularly outdoors at land and sea ports of entry. To help solve the problem, Customs and Border Patrol took the lead in 2013, deploying four pilot programs designed to ensure that the agency’s identity-matching algorithms were capable of accurately identifying individuals.

    The Obama administration took other steps to beef up biometric tracking. In March 2015, for example, Customs and Border Protection officers tested facial recognition technology at airports as a way to verify that individuals with a U.S. passport were who they claimed to be.

    In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security established an official presence in Silicon Valley with the Silicon Valley Innovation Program, headed by Ho, designed to better cultivate relationships with technology innovators.

    New focus on biometrics

    Under Trump, the government is accelerating the deployment of a biometric exit system, while continuing its outreach to the tech industry.

    Customs and Border Patrol is planning to test kiosks with facial recognition technology at departure gates at additional airports “over the course of the next few months,” said Gabris, the agency’s spokesperson. She added the push was based on a “successful biometric exit pilot” using facial recognition at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta last year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s website says “As part of the testing, travelers will present their boarding pass while their digital photo is taken. The process will take less than three seconds before travelers proceed to the passenger loading bridge to board their flight.”

    What’s more, Trump has expressed support for a nationwide “E-Verify” tracking system to allow businesses to vet their employees’ immigration status and right to work in the U.S legally. As a candidate, Trump promised to create an “extreme vetting” system as part of his pledge to reduce illegal immigration.

    The White House included funding for the E-Verify program in its budget proposal to Congress. The president’s budget request called for $44.1 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, a $2.8 billion increase from current spending levels. The budget deal Congress reached to avoid a government shutdown did not include many items the White House had requested, including the funding for the border wall.

    Trump’s executive order on immigration called for enhanced vetting standards for immigrants, including “a database of identity documents” to make sure “applicants are who they claim to be.”

    In February, Homeland Security’s innovation program in Silicon Valley awarded nearly $1 million in grants to five companies like Kiana Analytics, Inc., which processes biometric data including Wi-Fi fingerprints to predict behavior. Kiana received $179,800 from the government in March to advance its passenger screening technology.

    And though Trump has spoken little of the virtual border wall, tech providers have already performed initial biometric data collection on the southern border.

    As part of the federal push to expand biometrics, the Department of Homeland Security set a goal of processing 500,000 identity screenings a day nationwide, up from the current number of 300,000 screens per day, with a new program that can process each screening in less than 10 seconds.

    Meanwhile, government agencies working with Silicon Valley to advance the nation’s biometric capabilities are issuing requests for proposals almost weekly.

    DHS has expressed interest in testing iris capture — believed to be the most accurate way to quickly distinguish individuals — more broadly. The agency put out a call to tech companies to outline the costs of expediting biometrics to “a broader range of services to state and local law enforcement agencies.” The agency’s Silicon Valley innovation program is also seeking to purchase drones with infrared cameras and facial recognition hardware.

    The Department of Homeland Security isn’t the only federal agency looking at biometric technology.

    In March, the State Department put out a request for proposals for individual mobile biometric sensors, weighing three pounds, that could better handle tough terrain and last longer without a charge. In another released last month, the department encouraged tech vendors to apply for high paying contracts for new biometric scanners that are compatible with document readers. The State Department is also working to develop biometric tracking technology for the government of Mexico.

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, another federal agency, launched a six-month mobile biometrics pilot program in Hawaii this month that uses smartphones to process individuals’ identities, instead of in-person immigration appointments. In Hawaii, immigrants are required to travel to Honolulu on Oahu for biometric intake and in-person interviews. The six-month pilot will equip neighboring islands – Maui, Hawaii Island and Kauai – with mobile biometric services. For these six months, immigrants of the state can travel not only to Oahu but three other islands for required biometric screenings.

    And as the Trump administration pushes ahead with biometric program, state and local law enforcement groups have gotten on board.

    “While a border wall or fence is a viable solution in some locations, it is only part of the solution,” said Joe Frank Martinez, the chairman of the Southwestern Border Sheriffs’ Coalition. “Our courageous, committed and well-trained men and woman must be armed with the right technologies.”

    Lobbying effort pays off

    The biometric industry has been building up to this moment for years, in part through a successful lobbying effort on Capitol Hill.

    For instance, NTT Data, a global technology solution provider headquartered in Tokyo with an office 30 minutes outside of Washington, D.C., spent $130,000 last year lobbying members of Congress on issues related to border security and immigration. In March, the company secured a potential five-year, $34.5 million contract to assist the Justice Department in modernizing the Executive Office of Immigration Review.

    Another company, Cross Match Technologies, spent $2,175,000 on lobbying between 2001 and 2014, according to the latest available data. Last month, Crossmatch, a leading biometrics firm, received a $5.8 million dollar contract from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to advance research in behavioral biometrics.

    Ben Ball, the government market director for Crossmatch, said the company began collecting and developing electronic fingerprint recognition in the 1990s,and has helped the Transportation Security Administration develop the fingerprinting technology used in its PreCheck program.

    The fingerprints collected through TSA PreCheck are sent to the FBI, run through a criminal database, and given to contractors and consultants working on security issues for the Department of Homeland Security.

    More than four million people have signed up for the program, which for $85 allows travelers to speed through security without removing their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or jackets for five years. Thirty airlines have also signed up for the program so far. The system took time to perfect through work with the private sector, Bell said.

    “We worked with [Customs and Border Patrol] and changed optics in our readers so now they can read those prints much more reliably,” Ball said. Today, “every fingerprint reader at every point of entry in the U.S. is a Cross Match reader. If you are a foreign national, you’re putting your finger on our reader.”

    A regulatory wild west

    As the industry has grown, regulations in Washington haven’t kept pace. But there are signs that is starting to change, as congressional lawmakers have become increasingly worried in recent months about the government’s use of biometric information.

    A sign of the growing concern came last month, when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee met to discuss law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology.

    At the hearing, a Georgetown University biometric expert shared a report showing that 16 states allow the FBI to store data on individuals’ faces without their consent. Several Republicans and Democrats on the panel appeared taken aback by the information.

    Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the committee’s outgoing chairman, went so far as to accuse the FBI of violating federal privacy laws. “You’re required by law to put out a privacy statement, and you didn’t, and now we’re supposed to trust you with hundreds of millions of people’s faces,” Chaffetz said.

    “You’re required by law to put out a privacy statement, and you didn’t, and now we’re supposed to trust you with hundreds of millions of people’s faces.” — Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)

    Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said he had “zero confidence” in government’s ability to protect the biometric data of U.S. citizens.

    Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who represents a district of upstate New York on the border with Canada, questioned Trump’s call for a national biometric system to track all travelers regardless of where they enter or exit the country. In a letter to John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Collins wrote that a comprehensive entry-exit system could hurt trade between the U.S. and Canada.

    “I strongly support increased national security measures across our nation and commend President Trump for his swift action. However, I am concerned that an expedited implementation of this system will not take into consideration the differences in security interests at our northern and southern borders,” Collins wrote.

    At the moment, there’s no federal law regulating how businesses handle the collection and use of biometric data. But some states are considering creating their own guidelines — paving the way for a tense showdown outside of Washington.

    A bill under consideration in Alaska’s House of Representatives would prohibit the collection of biometric data without an individual’s consent, among other restrictions. In Connecticut, a state bill would make facial recognition illegal for marketing purposes. In Illinois, lawmakers are pushing for changes that would require entities that collect biometric data to destroy the information after a certain period of time.

    The concerns point to a coming fight over biometrics that could help decide the fate of Trump’s immigration agenda.

    In the meantime, despite the opposition, federal agencies are forging ahead with more biometric pilot programs. “Biometrics offer a greater degree of assurance,” said Gabris, the Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson.

    The post Silicon Valley jumps into biometric gold rush for Trump’s ‘other border wall’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally: We are headed into commencement season, and each week seems to bring a new fight over whose ideas should be heard.

    Tonight, Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney shares her Humble Opinion that universities are exactly the place for these difficult conversations.

    Have a listen.

    JOANNE BERGER-SWEENEY, President, Trinity College: These days, you can’t miss the criticism aimed at higher education.

    We hear it: We’re a bunch of intolerant elites. Our students are precious snowflakes. As educators, we’re stifling speech and thought, and we’re not preparing students for the real world.

    Frankly, I get it. Lately, some campus protests around the country have gone awry in truly ugly ways. Now it’s commencement season. Are controversial speakers going to be uninvited and ceremonies halted by protests?

    If so, all of us in higher education should be ashamed. It’s our job as educators to uphold free speech and to teach the responsibilities that come with that freedom. And, yes, we must provide safe spaces, spaces that are safe for speech, not from it.

    But it seems more than ever that we’re just refusing to hear one another. Maybe that’s because listening to the other side can hurt. Let me tell you, as an African-American woman, I have heard it all, and a lot of it has hurt.

    I didn’t have to agree with it, like when I was told a black girl couldn’t be a scientist, but I didn’t have the option of not hearing it. And now I’m the first woman, the first person of color, the first neuroscientist to be president of Trinity College.

    But guess what? I’m not representing just African-Americans, or women, or neuroscientists. I’m representing Trinity College, a community with a variety of points of view.

    I have to be true to myself, but I can’t be a responsible leader without teaching students this important lesson: Silencing voices and refusing to listen harms us all.

    That’s why, for my first commencement as president in 2015, I awarded honorary degrees to both a retired Air Force general and a renowned peace advocate.

    And that’s why, this year, we will hear a commencement speech from philosopher Daniel Dennett, a well-known atheist, beside the statue of our founding president, an Episcopalian bishop, exposing students to different perspectives and helping them bridge divides.

    This work is deeply personal to me. It may be the most important work I will do as president. When we teach students how to analyze an opposing argument and sharpen their own, how to relate across differences, how to listen and be heard, we are preparing our students for the real world. In fact, we’re giving them the tools to make our world a lot better.

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    The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has played a leadership role in the nation's efforts to fight the heroin epidemic. Photo from New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab

    Supporters argue the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has played a leadership role in the nation’s efforts to fight the heroin epidemic. Photo from New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab

    The Trump administration is considering drastic cuts that would all but eliminate the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a White House official and agency email confirmed to the NewsHour Friday.

    According to a draft proposal obtained by NewsHour, the Office of Management and Budget, led by Mick Mulvaney, has proposed cutting nearly all of the agency’s funds — from $388 million in fiscal year 2017 to $24 million in 2018 — to “streamline the organization and to shift focus from duplicative and burdensome administrative tasks.”

    The White House did not immediately reply to NewsHour’s request for comment.

    During Friday’s White House press conference, Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the draft plan.

    “When it comes to the opioid epidemic, I think the president’s been extremely clear. This is a top priority for him,” Sanders told reporters. “I wouldn’t get ahead of conversations about the budget. We haven’t had a final document.”

    Without White House confirmation, it’s impossible to confirm whether or not the cuts will become policy. The floating of draft proposals, especially for potentially controversial ideas, has been a repeated tactic in the first months of the Trump Administration. A number of such drafts have not been enacted and the administration has at times later disavowed association with them. Here is the draft proposal obtained by the NewsHour.

    The office, created in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan and Congress, has coordinated a national strategy to fight drug abuse. Since then, the office has worked to “to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences,” according to the Federal Register. Still, in 2015 alone, more than 33,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The proposal to gut the drug czar’s office echoes past criticism, saying the office duplicates efforts found elsewhere in federal government.

    READ MORE: Here’s what Trump’s new executive order means for opioid addiction

    Richard Baum, the office’s acting director, sent an all-staff email on Friday morning to confirm that the “drastic proposed cuts” are under consideration. The message was provided to the NewsHour by a White House official who asked not to be identified.

    Richard Baum, the office’s acting director, sent an all-staff email on Friday morning to confirm that the “drastic proposed cuts” are under consideration.
    “I have been encouraged by the Administration’s commitment to addressing the opioid epidemic, and the President’s personal engagement on the issue, both during the campaign and since he was sworn into office,” Baum said in the email. “However, OMB’s proposed cuts are also at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combating [sic] Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.”

    “These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking … I don’t want to see this happen,” Baum added.

    The cut would kill two programs the office oversees: High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, which coordinates information between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement to stop the flow of drugs, and the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, which works with all levels of government to reduce substance abuse among youth.

    The office would be funded at the current levels through Sept. 30, according to the emails.

    Since February, following a report from the New York Times, rumors have swirled about whether the Trump administration planned to eliminate the national drug control policy office.

    In March, President Donald Trump chose New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead a new national opioid commission.

    READ MORE: In the war on heroin, Baltimore drug programs face an uncertain future

    In a February interview with the NewsHour, Michael Botticelli, who directed the national control policy office during the Obama administration, said he found initial reports that the office was under threat “disturbing” and surprising after Trump “said he is going to continue to focus on this opioid issue and quite honestly was supported in large part in parts of the country that have been significantly impacted by the opioid epidemic.”

    “It’s short-sighted,” he told the NewsHour. “It would diminish the administration’s focus on substance abuse issues. It would not save money, because without a single office who’s coordinating drug policy across the federal government, it will only create a very haphazard, inefficient approach.”

    Here is the full text of the all-staff email sent by Richard Baum, acting director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

    Dear ONDCP FTE,

    I’m afraid I have some news to share with you that is very discouraging for our Nation’s effort to address drug abuse, but more directly, to the dedicated staff of ONDCP. The information that is being shared with you is considered pre-decisional and should not be shared with anyone outside of the agency, including agency reps, detailees, contractors, interns, etc.

    As you know, we are funded at our current level through September 30 of this year. However, the passback that was uploaded to MaxCollect by OMB reflects a nearly 95% reduction in ONDCP’s budget for FY 2018.

    In addition to zeroing out our HIDTA and DFC programs, this passback allocates only $12,400,000 for Salaries and Expenses (S&E) – a decrease of $6,874,000 from FY 2017 – meaning we would be facing a Reduction in Force (RIF) and could lose up to 33 FTEs when factoring in lump sum payments for unused annual leave, severance pay, and unemployment benefits. OMB has proposed eliminating the Intelligence, Research, and Budget functions at the agency, as well as the Model State Drug Laws and Drug Court grant programs.

    I have been encouraged by the Administration’s commitment to addressing the opioid epidemic, and the President’s personal engagement on the issue, both during the campaign and since he was sworn into office. However, OMB’s proposed cuts are also at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

    These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking and, if carried out, would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to ONDCP’s mission and core activities.

    I don’t want to see this happen.

    I want you to know that senior ONDCP staff have engaged, and continue to engage, with senior leadership in the White House Office of American Innovation and in OMB to address our agency’s budget concerns. These conversations are ongoing. We hope to turn this around.

    As I have said, this news is discouraging, and there is nothing I can say that will lessen its effect. At this point, I would encourage you not to panic, since these events are still unfolding. You are a highly trained and experienced group of professionals committed to dealing with a critical issue facing our country, and I am proud to have the opportunity to lead you. I know that you will continue to engage with our stakeholders and not lose sight of our core mission to address drug use and its consequences in the United States. I cannot say enough about how important each of you is in this regard, and I am very sorry about these developments.

    I will keep an open dialogue with you and I plan to answer any and all questions and concerns, to the best of my ability, at Monday’s staff meeting.

    Please accept my apologies for not delivering this difficult message in person. Do not hesitate to reach out to me directly between now and Monday, day or night, I will respond individually. I considered canceling the visit to NJ to meet with Governor Christie’s team, but I felt it was best to move forward with the work of the Commission to turn this epidemic around, as we concurrently work with our WH partners to preserve ONDCP and our programs, which will be critical in implementing the Commission’s recommendations. Additionally, today at 12:45pm, I will hold a conference call in the 5th floor conference room to discuss this issue and take questions.

    Sincerely,

    Rich

    The post Draft proposal shows the Trump administration may gut the drug czar’s office appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Tomorrow night here in Washington, the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction will be given.

    Jeffrey Brown talks with the winning author, the latest in our NewsHour Bookshelf series.

    JEFFREY BROWN: An immigrant couple from West Africa working for a wealthy New York family as the great recession is about to hit in 2008.

    The novel “Behold the Dreamers” is a story of the contemporary American dream through the lens of class, race and immigration.

    Author Imbolo Mbue came to the U.S. from Cameroon in 1998 and became a citizen in 2014. This is first nurse novel.

    And because of that, even more congratulations to you.

    IMBOLO MBUE, Author, “Behold the Dreamers”: Thank you, Jeffrey.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You’re working here in a great American fiction tradition about immigration. What did you want to bring to that story? What did you want to tell?

    IMBOLO MBUE: Well, when I start writing this novel, it wasn’t very much about immigration. It was about the financial crisis.

    I was very interested in how the financial crisis affected the lives of New Yorkers from different economic statutes. So I wanted to write about an immigrant from my country who gets a job as a chauffeur (INAUDIBLE) executive, but, of course, an immigrant coming here for the American dream and facing the financial crisis, I wanted to write about how that affected him and how — and also explore like the dreams and hopes he has himself when he came to America.

    So, I ended up writing about the immigrant experience, coming here, realizing what America really is like, and also deciding whether it is really worth staying here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, these characters, the main characters, Jende and Neni, from Cameroon, they’re experiencing both sides of the American dream.

    They tell us that they see it as both wonderful and awful at the same time.

    IMBOLO MBUE: Yes.

    It’s very complex, this idea of the American dream, because, on one hand, when we’re back in our countries, we especially, when I was growing up in Cameroon, we had this image of American being the sort of promised land, and this country where you go to and you work hard and you get to achieve this life, a lot of material success, a house and nice cars and (INAUDIBLE) accounts.

    And that is what they came for, Jende and Neni. And then they got here, and they see the realities of social — a lot of social issues, economic inequity, and racism and sexism, and all of those issues.

    And they have to deal with it. And they also have — see what it’s like for people who achieve the dream.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But by doing that and by setting it in that period, you’re also raising question of class, right?

    IMBOLO MBUE: Right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But, as a writer, you have to see this couple — you have to see everybody with some sympathy.

    IMBOLO MBUE: Right, right, right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Right?

    So, the Edwards family, which is wealthy …

    IMBOLO MBUE: Right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: … and the immigrant family, they get along. They don’t get along. There are all kinds of clashes.

    But for you, what? What are they?

    IMBOLO MBUE: Well, for me, it was, I had a lot of empathy for the immigrants, because I am an immigrant. I am from the same town where Jende and Neni come from.

    So I know those struggles. The struggles of the Edwards, the 1 percent, people who have that amount of privilege, is not something that I have dealt with during my life. So I had to push myself to think about, what are their struggles, and what does it take to hold this dream life together? Because they do have the dream life.

    They have a house in the Hamptons. They live on the Upper East Side. They have so many privileges. And yet they have their own struggles. So, on one hand, I had one family that was living the dream and that family growing after the dream. And when the recession happened, both families had to deal with the consequences.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You referred to your own background. How much is this your story?

    IMBOLO MBUE: In many ways, you know, I was like Jende and Neni, in the fact that, when I came here, I thought America would be a sort of promised land.

    And I do believe that it is a wonderful country. I think it’s a country that offers a lot of immigrants. But, at the same time, this American dream, what I have seen is that it’s not accessible, and that somebody like Jende, a black man without a good education, and he’s also dealing with not having papers, that somebody like that, the odds of moving out of poverty is very difficult.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You’re also dealing in this very difficult and divisive issue over illegal immigration, because they overstay what they’re allowed to.

    IMBOLO MBUE: Right, right, the visa.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They want to stay in the country. They’re facing deportation.

    So, you know there’s a great debate in the country over this.

    IMBOLO MBUE: Right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, you portray them as sympathetic characters who want to work hard.

    IMBOLO MBUE: Right. Right.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But you know that there are plenty of people who would say, well, I’m sorry, you’re not playing by the rules.

    IMBOLO MBUE: Right. Right.

    And it is a very, very complex issue. I think that, for me, as a writer, that my job is to tell the story and let the reader decide: Should I empathize with people like Jende who don’t have papers, or I should vilify them?

    I don’t — this is not a moralizing story. I think people can read my book and use it as pro-immigration or use it as anti-immigration argument. My place is to tell the story honestly and completely.

    But I think that it is important to understand each other’s stories. It’s so easy to put people in a box and say, oh, people without any papers, but who are these people, what are their stories?

    And I also am a citizen, right? So, I also understand the citizen perspective. I am an immigrant and I’m a citizen, and I know what it’s like to be both and to understand that desire to come here and work hard, but also that desire to, like, think about America’s future.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you finally, as I said, this is your first novel. And you won a big award. That’s got to be a bit of a surprise, a welcome surprise, right, for a young writer.

    IMBOLO MBUE: Yes. Yes, it is a good privilege.

    I started writing this book when I was unemployed. I had lost my job at the end of the financial crisis.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, this hit — that hit you personally?

    IMBOLO MBUE: Yes. Yes. Yes.

    And I thought that writing a story about people from my hometown and other New Yorkers who I have met in some ways and talk about their own struggles. And then I got a novel, and it got published. And to win an award like the PEN/Faulkner, it is a great honor.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    Well, the award-winning book is “Behold the Dreamers.”

    Imbolo Mbue, thank you very much.

    IMBOLO MBUE: Thank you, Jeffrey.

    The post In ‘Behold the Dreamers,’ the American dream and immigrant reality collide appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

    Let’s start with this little party that was on the Rose Garden yesterday. The beer cases were brought in. There was a celebratory atmosphere. President Trump rightfully brought the House Republicans there after they pushed their health care repeal and replace bill through the House.

    How did they manage to do this?

    MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, first of all, the event itself, the only thing more — or as unseemly as the self-congratulatory bus trip to the White House — it was like after you had won an office softball game and you break out the beer — were the Democrats on the House floor taunting bye, bye, bye to Republicans.

    This is trivializing a moral issue. And this — to me, that’s what health care is, whether in fact it is a right of a citizen in this country to health care. And I think it’s a serious question, whether we share our benefits and share our burdens, or whether in fact we’re all in this alone.

    And what the House passed yesterday was something that just had to be done. I mean, otherwise, you’re staring into the abyss of total political failure. Republicans had gone through four elections where the one unanimous position they had all taken as a party was the repeal of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

    Sixty-two times, they courageously and boldly voted to do, knowing it didn’t count, knowing it wasn’t going to go anywhere. The 63rd time was tougher, because what they passed yesterday has serious implications for them politically and certainly for the people of the country.

    MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: It’s a great moral issue. But this passed because Paul Ryan got granular. He identified who he needed and what they wanted and essentially gave it to them.

    So, moderates get the high-risk fund. The Freedom Caucus gets the waivers. He just put on the table what he needed to get across the finish line.

    Now, that doesn’t make it a good bill or even a coherent bill. But I think the trust here is that Ryan will hand this off to McConnell, McConnell has some rational process that the House can no longer produce, because of its own internal dynamics, and that they might get an improved product at the end.

    The other thing that’s worth noting that is really fascinating is the almost absence of presidential leadership in producing this victory. He was really not very engaged or involved.

    Paul Ryan is learning to live without the normal role of the president in the legislative process. But it is unique, his absence.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what happens by the time it gets to the Senate?

    Nancy Pelosi has already said, listen, this is the vote that’s going to be tattooed on you come reelection time. But more important, the Senate’s going to change it in some way shape or form, if they move forward at all.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes, they are.

    Just one quick point to Michael’s point. And that is the $8 billion fig leaf — and it was a fig leaf — that they’re going to cover people with a preexisting condition, which was the price to get Billy Long and Fred Upton, represents less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the cost of Medicaid. It’s not going to last beyond a couple of months.

    It was just something that they could go back and sell to their own constituencies and for their own purposes. It’s meaningless.

    But what’s going to happen in the Senate? I will say this. We have just seen the high watermark for this legislation. Every Republican in the House who voted for it will have to answer for it. And this is a stand-alone piece of it, whatever happens in the Senate. And nobody really knows.

    There are 11 Republican governors, don’t forget — and this is where this starts to count — who expanded, accepted the Medicaid expansion, and who have covered people in their state, and from John Kasich, to Rick Snyder in Michigan, to Gary Herbert in Utah, to Brian Sandoval in Nevada, across the country.

    And so it’s a different dynamic in the Senate. They have got states represented by senators like Rob Portman, a traditional conservative, who is going to fight for the preservation of Medicaid expansion.

    MICHAEL GERSON: The Senate is acting pretty much from scratch. They’re not going to the House bill and building on it. They’re taking away.

    Lamar Alexander has been charged to produce their own approach. There’s a small group of senators that is kind of diverse, at least within the caucus, that is working on this. And Senator McConnell has promised them some time for deliberation, unlike the way the House passed this.

    So, the probably — is exactly what you’re talking about. Senator Collins has already announced she will not support a bill that doesn’t include Planned Parenthood funding, OK? The bill will not include Planned Parenthood funding.

    That means that Republicans need 51 votes. They have got a margin of one in producing this piece of legislation. There’s no margin of error for them here.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let’s talk about another Rose Garden event that happened yesterday, really kind of talking about religion in politics, and the Trump administration bringing that to the fore.

    He signed an executive order easing an IRS rule limiting political activity by houses of worship. This was also on day that President Trump proclaimed a national day of prayer and had a statement saying — quote — “All human beings have the right to practice their faith in private and in the public square.”

    The public square portion, does that raise any concerns?

    MARK SHIELDS: It doesn’t to me, and it apparently didn’t to the American Civil Liberties Union either.

    I happen to believe that this was a strict political payoff, in symbolic terms, that evangelical white Christians had been his most supporters; 81 percent of them voted for him.

    And I, for one, will break with liberal ranks and make the case that America’s original sin existed until organized religion, namely, the American Methodists, the Anglican evangelicals, and Quakers led the fight to abolish slavery. There wouldn’t have been a civil rights bill, legislation in this country without the active involvement of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, particularly black Protestant leadership, so — as well as peace movement.

    So, I’m not as concerned about the involvement in the public square. Donald Trump’s religiosity has always been rather elusive to me.

    (CROSSTALK)

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Sorry.

    Is this a backdoor option or a possibility where this could be sort of Citizens United 2.0? Let’s just today build the church of Mark and Michael, totally tax-exempt organizations, raise as much money as you want, donate to whatever political party you would like?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I don’t know if it even accomplishes that.

    I mean, the Johnson amendment, you know, I have never seen anywhere, encountered someone complaining about rigorous enforcement of the Johnson amendment. I have been around this a long time. It’s a nonexistent issue. It’s a solution in search of a problem. And it is a sop. It is an empty symbol.

    The problem here that we’re seeing more recently is not that religion is hurting the public square too much. It’s that politics is undermining and invading the credibility of religion itself.

    People who support Donald Trump, many of them were people who said that Bill Clinton’s character mattered more than anything else. And now they’re embracing Trump. And people are looking at this and saying that this is a joke. This is hypocrisy.

    And so I think the risk here is actually to religion.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: To that point, I mean …

    MARK SHIELDS: It’s a good point.

    On your point, yes, I am deeply concerned, and have been, and especially now that we have got a smokescreen of charitable religious institutions being formed basically for political ends, and for partisan political purpose.

    And what it amounts to in public policy terms is, I’m making a donation, a tax-deducted donation, for a political purpose to support my political cause or your political cause, which I think is absolutely wrong, and it’s a corruption.

    MICHAEL GERSON: I just haven’t seen much evidence of it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I don’t know …

    MARK SHIELDS: We have certainly seen — we have seen phony, bogus charitable foundations created for that purpose.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I don’t socially if this happens already, but do you end up picking your church a little bit more because you know how that church is going to vote?

    I’m going to reveal my Hindu roots here, but I thought Jesus was an independent, not a Democrat or a Republican.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that’s true.

    Whenever a pastor makes a political statement, they’re at risk of alienating a portion of their congregation on issues that have nothing to do with religion, or at least their judgment is not particularly sanctified on these issues.

    I mean, I would rather go to the average bartender for political advice than the average priest or minister.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MICHAEL GERSON: So, you know, I think that they don’t have an expertise in many of these issues. And that’s up to laymen in the church and that, from the pulpit, there needs to be fairness.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes, all right, Michael Gerson, Mark Shields.

    MARK SHIELDS: It’s a good point you make.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, thank you.

    (CROSSTALK)

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Thank you very much.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Hari.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right.

    The post Shields and Gerson on GOP health care bill fallout, Trump’s order on religion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: More than eight million Americans suffer from diabetes, and more than $320 billion are spent every year treating the disease.

    But an innovative program in San Diego is trying to improve health and reduce those costs by encouraging better self-management of the disease.

    Special correspondent Cat Wise has our report.

    CAT WISE: Fifty-one year old Alma Ayala is not a doctor or a nurse, but she is on the front lines of the diabetes epidemic in her community. She’s a peer educator for a program called Project Dulce, which works with people who have diabetes or are at risk of developing the chronic illness.

    Her classes are part informational, part support group. Ayala says the goal of the program, which has been held up as a national model, is for people to feel empowered about changing their health. That’s something she didn’t feel 30 years ago when she was first diagnosed with the disease.

    ALMA AYALA, Peer Educator: I was devastated. I didn’t want to hear the word diabetes. I felt that my life was done, that I was signing a certificate of death.

    CAT WISE: Here in San Diego County, nearly half the adult population has pre-diabetes and about 8 percent have diabetes. It’s a disease that affects all socioeconomic groups and races, but the Latino community has been disproportionately impacted. And that’s the population Project Dulce has been targeting for the past 20 years.

    ALMA AYALA: There are lots of barriers for the Latino community, language, insurance. Sometimes, doctors don’t have the time to spend with them. So the classes that we provide is that extra support, working together with a clinical team to help our participants stay healthy.

    CAT WISE: The program is scattered throughout 12 clinics in Latino neighborhoods throughout San Diego County and was designed by several local health care organizations, including the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute.

    Dr. Athena Philis-Tsimikas is an endocrinologist who oversees the program.

    DR. ATHENA PHILIS-TSIMIKAS, Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute: This is a disease in which you have to do a number of management components, not only every day, but many times a day. And it’s not that easy to expect someone to remember to test their blood sugar, take their pill, to go out and take that walk, to have exactly the right meal on the table all the time to take care of this.

    I don’t see any lows there, so I don’t think we have to worry that you might dip down too low.

    CAT WISE: To help patients, a team is set up at each clinic with a physician, nurse practitioner, a dietitian and multiple peer counselors like Ayala who come from the communities they serve and also have the disease.

    DR. ATHENA PHILIS-TSIMIKAS: If you can train these other people and professionals to help you do the other components that take longer, but are still absolutely necessary, then you’re using your team to work very synergistically to deliver everything that patient needs in order to improve their care.

    CAT WISE: The program is now adding another layer, technology. Last year, Tsimikas conducted a study to see if patients receiving daily text messages could manage their disease even better.

    Artist Gloria Favela-Rocha was one of the participants. She’s a muralist who does large scale works for hospitals, schools and private clients. She says, before the study, she often forgot to regularly check her glucose levels. Project Dulce changed that.

    GLORIA FAVELA-ROCHA, Diabetes Patient: The text message would come every day at the same time, so if I would lose track of where I was during my day, I would hear it ring, and so I would start checking my blood sugars, send in my result right away. It would send me back a message according to whatever my result was, like good job, or maybe you need to eat something that has a little more protein today.

    So, it was just very — it was very convenient.

    CAT WISE: Dr. Tsimikas’ team has also been studying the effects of continuous glucose monitoring, which uses Bluetooth technology to send results to the patient and physician in real time.

    MAGDALENA HERNANDEZ, Diabetes Patient: This device is reading my sugar levels.

    CAT WISE: Magdalena Hernandez wears a small monitor on her stomach.

    MAGDALENA HERNANDEZ: I love it. I love it because I don’t have to prick my finger many times during the day, and it alerts me when my blood sugar goes high or goes low.

    CAT WISE: And what happens if your levels go above 200? What do you do?

    MAGDALENA HERNANDEZ: I grab a bottle of water, and I get up and walk for five minutes.

    CAT WISE: Thirty miles away, Dr. Tsimikas is also able to keep tabs on Hernandez’s levels.

    DR. ATHENA PHILIS-TSIMIKAS: This is just over the last three hours, that she probably ate breakfast here, it went up, and is now declining.

    CAT WISE: This technology has been on the market for several years, but has not been widely used because of cost and a somewhat complicated user interface. But Tsimikas says those barriers are being reduced and she predicts it will have a big impact on health.

    DR. ATHENA PHILIS-TSIMIKAS: It is reinforcement to both the patient and to the provider that’s helping to make recommendations on whether this is working or not. I think it’s really going to revolutionize the way we can take care of patients.

    CAT WISE: Dr. Tsimikas says the objective is to prevent the serious complications that can accompany diabetes, including blindness, kidney failure, amputations or heart failure.

    MAGDALENA HERNANDEZ: I really love the black beans and all the vegetables in here.

    CAT WISE: According to studies conducted by the University of California, San Diego, and elsewhere, Project Dulce has helped lower patients’ blood sugar and cholesterol levels, while at the same time reduced the number of costly hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

    While some elements of the program are being used in other communities, Project Dulce stands out for its comprehensive approach. So, why aren’t similar initiatives being rolled out in every neighborhood in America?

    DR. ATHENA PHILIS-TSIMIKAS: It’s probably the way we reimburse for each of these components. That’s probably the biggest hurdle. We traditionally have reimbursed only for physician visits. If we could find a way to actually reimburse for each of these components, it may be more sustainable for the future.

    Or maybe we simply reimburse based on our success. If you are successful in achieving better outcomes, maybe then you pay for what led to those better outcomes.

    CAT WISE: In the coming weeks, Project Dulce will begin a new study of patients that combines text messaging with continuous glucose monitoring and a wireless pill box that will alert a nurse if a patient isn’t taking his or her medication.

    From San Diego, I’m Cat Wise for the PBS NewsHour.

    The post Self-empowerment is sweet for diabetes patients in this innovative program appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Women carry sacks of food in Nimini village, Unity State, northern South Sudan, February 8, 2017. Picture taken on February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola - RTSZG0E

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: But first: All this week, we have brought you reports from South Sudan on the roots of its conflict, the famine there, and the use of rape as a weapon of war. And from neighboring Uganda, we met South Sudanese refugees fleeing for a better life.

    Tonight, we ask, what will it take to end the violence?

    And we turn to Nii Akuetteh. He has led a number of nonprofit organizations that promoted democracy and good governance in Africa. He is now an independent analyst. And Brian Adeba, he is the associate director for policy at The Enough Project, which advocates for accountability for genocide and atrocities in Africa.

    So, Nii Akuetteh, the world’s youngest country, how did we get here so fast?

    NII AKUETTEH, Independent Analyst: I think it’s because, in their fight for independence, the rest of the world focused on who they were fighting, Khartoum, and I think we didn’t pay enough attention to the rivalries and the dissensions and the fault lines within the South Sudanese leadership.

    And also, while they took control of the new country with the rules to be written and resources and rivalries, I also do think that the death of John Garang, who everything says was an outstanding leader, his death in a helicopter crash also led to that.

    Finally, I think the world needs to pay more attention to what’s going on.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Anything to add?

    BRIAN ADEBA, The Enough Project: Well, indeed what he said is true.

    At independence, a small group of people in the ruling party, a small group of elites hijacked government and all its institutions, and ensued on a corruption spree that created a lot of dissension within the party.

    Ultimately, in the end, rivalries started appearing in the party because of this corruption. The state became the most prized asset that everyone was vying for control of.

    Unfortunately, for the ruling party itself, because it had incapacitated the ability of institutions to mitigate this conflict, in the end, the conflict began to be expressed in violent terms. And that’s where we are right now.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, stopping the conflict is the first priority for everyone. Why hasn’t worked? Why hasn’t it worked so far, whatever we have tried?

    NII AKUETTEH: I think one of the methods, one of the measures that people have talked about that have not actually implemented is stopping the flow of arms into the country.

    It’s like pouring gasoline on fire. And various international players behind the scenes are reluctant, both in the region and then globally. I think that’s one of the things. But the other thing is that not enough pressure.

    I mean, the people who are doing — the leadership doing the fighting, they have not suffered from it. And I think one other aspect of the fighting that needs to be stressed is, heartbreakingly, it has become ethnicized, so that ordinary people are being killed. There are ethnic militias. So I think stopping it will be — is going to be quite a challenge.

    BRIAN ADEBA: It’s true. The missing element here is leverage, what can be done to exert leverage, so that the parties in the conflict change their calculations towards peace. That’s been missing.

    And we have suggested that targeted pressures, targeted sanctions are essential, an arms embargo. Targeted sanctions are essential because most of these transactions happen in the U.S. dollars. And that gives the U.S. jurisdiction to act within the toolkit here, the precious toolkit available to policy-makers in the U.S.

    There are measures that can be enacted to trace these assets, to seize these assets in some aspects, and to send a message to the perpetrators of this conflict that there is a price to pay for war.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is that the most effective way to do it, because the U.S. dollar is the sort of currency of the day?

    NII AKUETTEH: Oh, I agree totally, because also ,on the global stage, the U.S. looms large.

    And the U.S. was a leader in supporting the independence of South Sudan. But even if you take a more narrow view of U.S.’ own national interests, it’s always been said that ungoverned spaces breed terrorism, which eventually can come to affect the U.S.

    So, frankly, when I look down the road, this is an American issue. Now, the fighters are South Sudanese, the victims are South Sudanese. But it should concern Americans. And I think, for one, think that Congress needs to make its voice strong and push the State Department to work with various organizations, because, otherwise, it will get worse, and that — we will then see that it’s beginning to affect the American interests in ways that cannot be missed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Brian, as he points out, the U.S. was instrumental in trying to birth this nation.

    But is this administration going to — are there any indications that they’re going to pay as close attention to this?

    BRIAN ADEBA: Well, I’m quite optimistic.

    If we look back at the statements — the statement that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, uttered a few weeks ago, it was the very first time that a member of the Trump administration had come out very strongly on South Sudan.

    She chided how her counterparts in the Security Council for inaction on South Sudan and suggested that perhaps it’s time now to broach or examine the possibility of an arms embargo to stop the carnage that is going on.

    She also called out the president of South Sudan for continuing to perpetuate the conflict and also the other political elements involved in this conflict. So, that’s encouraging.

    From a multilateral perspective, an arms embargo is very, very essential, and the U.S. has a lot of room and opportunity to use that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is that the best way for us to move forward? Is it through a body like the United Nations? Is there something the United States should be doing independent?

    NII AKUETTEH: I think so.

    The region original organization IGAD, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, all of them have played a great role. And, in fact, up until some time ago, they played a positive role. But now, in fact, the reason that there has been no push on the leadership in South Sudan is because IGAD itself is divided.

    And within IGAD, what I’m saying is, the U.S., apart from pressure like Brian has said, on the Sudanese leaders, South Sudanese leaders, to also put pressure on the countries in the region. I mean, U.S. relations with Khartoum is warming up. It has good relations with Uganda. It has good relations with Ethiopia. It has good relations with Kenya.

    So, I, for one, think the U.S. should also put pressure on these countries to come to a meeting of the minds, because they are backing different sides.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Nii Akuetteh, Brian Adeba, thank you both.

    NII AKUETTEH: Thank you for having us.

    The post What would help South Sudan end its brutal war? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: In the most closely watched presidential election in France in decades, voters head to the polls this Sunday. It’s the second round run-off between centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant is there.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The candidates spent their final day of campaigning in vastly different places. Centrist and heavy favorite Emmanuel Macron strolled around the small town of Rodez in the southwest of France. But he told a local radio station he’s not relaxing.

    EMMANUEL MACRON, Centrist Presidential Candidate, France (through interpreter): I know the French men and women, and you don’t dictate their choices. So until the last minute, they can decide, react, change. So one must remain concentrated.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: To the north, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen got a hostile reception outside the famed Reims Cathedral.

    Later, she tweeted: “Monsieur Macron’s supporters act with violence everywhere, even in a symbolic and sacred place. No dignity.”

    And in an interview in Paris, she took aim at her rival.

    MARINE LE PEN, Far-Right Presidential Candidate, France (through interpreter): Mr. Macron is the candidate of the elites, he is the candidate of the oligarchy, he is the candidate of the big private interests.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Macron has been buoyed this week by an endorsement from former President Obama and a solid performance in Wednesday’s bruising debate. But Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front has kept pressing its case in places like the Yonne Valley. Here, the Front is preaching to the converted.

    Former soldier Pascal Roi supports Le Pen’s pledge to crack down on Islamist militants.

    PASCAL ROI, Former Soldier (through interpreter): Regarding terrorism, she’s promised to expel people flagged as threats to national security and dual nationals as well. This is going to remove a burden so we can keep a better eye on the rest of the population.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Most of those attending this final campaign gathering were either seniors or middle-aged. There were no people of color. The youngest voter was student nurse Marie Buzetti, who favors Le Pen’s plan to follow Britain out of the European Union.

    MARIE BUZETTI, Student Nurse (through interpreter): Today, we need to regain our independence. Today, we are the puppets of the European Union and it needs to change.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: The National Front has been accused of preying on fears and whipping up hatred. Parliamentary candidate Ludovic Vigreux didn’t hold back, warning that Sharia law might one day rule France forcing his daughters to buy burkas. “We need Marine,” he said. France needs Marine. And Marine needs you.”

    As you can hear, they’re chanting “Marine for president.” And here in the countryside, she may do very well. But nationally it’s not looking good for her at all. All the opinion polls suggest that Emmanuel Macron is going to win by a majority of 60 percent to 40 percent.

    The Yonne Valley is one of the poorest districts of rural France. The lack of job prospects have forced many residents to move away. Le Pen’s Frexit plans worry marketing executive David De Silva, and so he will vote for the pro-European candidate Emmanuel Macron.

    DAVID DE SILVA, Macron Supporter (through interpreter): We have access to everything, a great marketplace, and it would be a shame to lose that. Today, we obviously can’t live without Europe.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: One of the most important factors in this election is the large number of undecided voters. If millions abstain, it could benefit Marine Le Pen. Restaurant worker Joanna Thurloy voted for left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round and now faces a major dilemma.

    JOANNA THURLOY, Undecided Voter (through interpreter): I don’t feel understood by either side, because, with Emmanuel Macron, it’s all about capitalism and speculation. And Marine Le Pen, it’s her family history of being on the extreme right. We have already been through this.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: There’s an undertone of defiance and maybe even desperation amongst the Front supporters as they chant, “We will win.”

    In order for Le Pen to enter the presidential palace, there will have to be a political surprise of Brexit or Donald Trump proportions. And that’s the mantra to which parliamentary candidate Julien Odoul is clinging.

    JULIEN ODOUL, National Front Parliamentary Candidate (through interpreter): Because she’s the only one who speaks to the French, the only one who speaks to the forgotten ones, all those French who’ve been abandoned for decades.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: France’s national anthem, written in the 18th century, is all about conflict. If Marine Le Pen upsets the odds and wins on Sunday, France and the European Union will face a major upheaval.

    But the pollsters believe French voters want stability and will follow the Dutch in rejecting right-wing nationalism.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Malcolm Brabant in the Yonne Valley.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Late today, Emmanuel Macron’s campaign said they have been hacked and the internal documents have been posted online just hours before voters head to the polls. It issued a statement saying it won’t tolerate the undermining of democracy’s vital interests.

    The post How French voters see their presidential choices appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Puerto Rico went over the financial cliff this week. The U.S. territory home to more than three million people essentially filed for bankruptcy so it can restructure more than $120 billion in debt and pension obligations.

    It would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. It owes $72 billion to creditors, many of whom are angry they will have to eat big losses in bankruptcy court. Thousands of protesters took to the streets this week as the pain spreads throughout the island. The government is reducing public services, pensions are likely to be cut, and, today, it announced it will close 184 schools, forcing 27,000 students to find another school.

    Its economy remains mired in a slump, while more than 45 percent of the people there below the poverty line.

    Its governor, Ricardo Rossello, joins me now from San Juan.

    Governor, thank for being with us.

    What is the argument that you’re going to be making in court on why you should be allowed to restructure your financial obligations?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, Puerto Rico: Well, what we asked, Hari, was essentially to have the courts’ protection, so that we wouldn’t be attacked by some — what we feel are frivolous lawsuits.

    But we have ensued a conversation with different creditors, and our hope is that we can find a consensual renegotiation route based on the fiscal plan that we have implemented and that’s been certified for Puerto Rico.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, how much worse is it going to get? This is just a day after the announcement and you’re already talking about cutting back on schools. What other public services are you going to have to tighten your belt on?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: Well, the schools initiative was one that was established for a couple of months. We have just announced today which schools are the ones that were going to be closed now.

    This initiative, of course, has some fiscal relief, but the objective is for our children to actually consolidate and that we can get more human resource to give a better service to the kids, to the children of Puerto Rico.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the $49 billion in pension payments? And that’s the people of Puerto Rico that have been paying into this. What are they likely to see?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: Well, we’re working on a budget right now, and part of the strategy that we have ensued on the fiscal plan is a pay-go system, so that we’re going to make sure those pension recipients get the funding.

    Now, there’s still a discussion with the fiscal oversight plan on how those cuts are going to ensue. Our proposal was that it’s supposed to be on a progressive scale, so that those that are most vulnerable, those that receive less than $2,000 in pensions, will actually not get a cut, and those that receive higher will start getting a progressive cut on their pension.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Governor, I know Puerto Rico is home to you and it’s home to the people who live there. But I have got to ask, how can you keep your people from leaving the island?

    Right now, you have unemployment at 12 percent. You have lost 10 percent of your population in the last 10 years. You have lost 20 percent of the jobs that are on the island. If I was a resident of Puerto Rico, why wouldn’t I just pick up and move to Florida or Texas or anywhere on the mainland?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: That’s been happening so far because we haven’t made the proper changes. We haven’t made the changes to government. Expenditures have gone rampant in Puerto Rico, lack of accountability, total lack of accountability.

    And what we’re proposing right now is a complete change in that direction now. I know there are going to be some challenges during these cuts and the right-sizing of government.

    The truth of the matter is that we are being very aggressive, so that we can lay the foundations for investors to come to Puerto Rico, for jobs to be created, and for opportunities to ensue. And our objective, again, is for Puerto Rico, for the people of Puerto Rico who want to stay here, for them to have the opportunity to stay here.

    Now, there’s one last thing we need to point out. And it is a fact that Puerto Rico is a colonial territory of the United States. This puts us in a very significant disadvantage to all of the other states and to all of the other American citizens.

    As a matter of comparative, the U.S. citizens, the Puerto Ricans that live in the United States have much better incomes, more than twice as much, participate in the labor force of greater scales, have better results in the education system and so forth.

    And the one key difference is that Puerto Rico is a colonial territory. We don’t have representation. We have a difficult time getting funding from the federal government. So, this is another critical component that we need to change.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, in the meantime, as your population continues to move to the mainland, your tax base shrinks, which only compounds this problem.

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: Right. I agree.

    But we’re trying our best to develop sort of strategies. We have already turned into law a labor reform law that will allow for more opportunities to ensue. We have also established a permits law that will facilitate permits in Puerto Rico. We are about to roll out a comprehensive tax reform that will enhance the base and will reduce the rates in Puerto Rico.

    And energy has been a big challenge in Puerto Rico. We are pushing very aggressively with a comprehensive agenda, so that we can collaborate with the private sector and reduce a lot of the costs.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Your debt has been tax-free, which made it very, very sought after for municipal bond funds, 401(k) funds. What do you say to U.S. taxpayers who have helped — they kind of put their faith in your future. What happens if their retirement funds suffer because of this?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: Listen, I just arrived to this position a little over a hundred days ago.

    I am 38 years old, and I want to live in Puerto Rico and I want to create a path forward for growth. I realize that have come at the most challenging times to become governor, but I want to push things forward.

    I know that, with clear leadership, with a clear path forward, understanding that the times are tough and that there are great challenges, if we put a step in the right direction, I think we can push forward for a better Puerto Rico and, of course, renegotiation efforts with different creditors, so that it is something that is reasonable for them and something that is reasonable for us.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s been your most recent conversation with the Trump administration? Just recently, the president tweeted out. It didn’t seem very supportive of a bailout for Puerto Rico. I know you met with the treasury secretary in February.

    What’s been the last thing that you agree on?

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: So, we met with the secretary of health and human services. We met with the administrator of CMS, and we actually got a letter supporting what our claim was for Puerto Rico.

    The secretary stated that Puerto Rico needed $900 million to have a path forward, to have some runway. It’s not a bailout. It’s actually the moneys that were assigned to Puerto Rico and that we need to have a system that actually works.

    We’re already cutting, mind you, over $300 million in health care expenditures over the coming years. So we’re putting our part. If the health care system over here collapses because we have a lack of funding, the cost to the U.S. taxpayer base is much higher.

    For every dollar that is spent here in Puerto Rico for a patient, all of the states and the federal government would have to pay $4 for that. So this is not a bailout by any means. It’s reasonable ask. It’s what’s fair for Puerto Rico, and we’re doing so in a context where we’re already making changes, we’re already cutting costs, and we would prevent much more costs on the state level and on the federal level if we do this.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello, thank you for joining us.

    GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: Thank you so much.

    The post Can Puerto Rico climb back from bankruptcy and shrinking population? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. economy is showing signs of rebounding, after a lackluster first quarter. The Labor Department reports that employers added a net of 211,000 jobs in April, up sharply from the month of March. The unemployment rate for April fell to 4.4 percent, a nearly 10-year low. The strong showing could increase odds that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again next month.

    In Somalia, a U.S. Navy SEAL has been killed in a raid on the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab. It’s the first American combat death there since 1993, when two helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu. U.S. officials say the SEAL died on a mission supporting Somali forces yesterday. Two other Americans were also wounded.

    Thousands of Afghans turned out today to hail the return of a former warlord to Kabul. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar responded with a demand that U.S. and other outside forces leave Afghanistan. He rallied the crowd with a call for peace with the Taliban, and he criticized the Afghan government for its cooperation with the U.S.

    GULBUDDIN HEKMATYAR, Afghan Warlord (through interpreter): Let’s all end this war together in our country first, and tell the foreign forces that Afghans are able to sort out their issues themselves, and that we want them to leave Afghanistan. No one has any justification for the presence of foreign troops.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. now has about 8,000 troops in Afghanistan. Next week, the Pentagon is widely expected to recommend sending more troops.

    Russia’s Defense Ministry announced today that four newly declared safe zones in Syria will be closed to U.S. coalition aircraft. It’s part of a deal that Russia, Turkey and Iran signed yesterday. It took effect tonight. Syrian military planes will also be banned from the restricted areas.

    The U.N. Human Rights Office is condemning China for an ongoing crackdown of activists and their defense lawyers. The agency said today there’s been a continued pattern or harassment. Within recent days, a prominent defense lawyer and his family were seized by police.

    Back in this country, President Trump signed the omnibus bill to fund the government through September. It totals some $1.2 trillion. Now the focus shifts to the fate of the Republican health care bill that passed the House yesterday.

    At the White House, Deputy Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president understands there are calls to revise the measure.

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, Deputy White House Press Secretary: He’s committed to reforming our health care system. You’re going to see that process take place. We’re not going to get ahead of the legislative process. We expect there to be some changes, but we expect the principles and main pillars of the health care bill as it exists to remain the same.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Several key Republican senators said today they probably cannot support the House bill.

    President Trump has lost his second nominee for Army secretary. Mark Green withdrew today, saying — quote — “false and misleading attacks” made his nomination a distraction. He drew fire for saying that being transgender is a disease, and deploring — quote — “the indoctrination of Islam in public schools.”

    The president’s initial nominee, Vincent Viola, withdrew because of financial entanglements.

    And Wall Street closed out the week on the higher note. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 55 points to close near 21007, the Nasdaq rose 25 points, and the S&P 500 added nine. For the week, all three indexes gained less than 1 percent.

    The post News Wrap: U.S. employers added 211,000 jobs in April appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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