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

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    U.S. Capitol Police keep watch on Capitol Hill following a shooting in nearby Alexandria, in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS172MF

    U.S. Capitol Police keep watch on Capitol Hill following a shooting in nearby Alexandria, Virginia on June 14, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — One Republican congressman says he’s going to start carrying a gun in public after a gunman opened fire on a baseball practice, injuring Rep. Steve Scalise and several others. Some lawmakers want beefed up security at town halls.

    Wednesday’s shooting jolted many lawmakers, leaving them feeling vulnerable. And as the political rhetoric becomes more shrill, many members of Congress said they are receiving more threats, by email and by phone.

    Shortly after the shooting, Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., received an email. The subject line: “One down, 216 to go…”

    There are 238 Republicans in the House, but 217 voted for a bill that would repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health law. It was unclear whether the email writer was referring to that vote.

    Tenney’s spokeswoman, Hannah Andrews, said the office alerted U.S. Capitol Police.

    Two weeks ago, the Capitol police dispatched two officers to the Houston district of Rep. Al Green, D-Texas. Green said his office got threatening phone calls after he called for President Donald Trump to be impeached.

    Green, who is black, said the callers called him the N-word and said he should be lynched.

    “Since May, someone has threatened to shoot Rep. (Martha) McSally in the head. Someone tried to run Rep. (David) Kustoff off the road with her car, and now a man seemingly attempted to assassinate several members of Congress at a baseball practice,” said Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La. “I know we’re a divided country, but Americans do not settle political disagreements with violence.”

    McSally is a Republican from Arizona and Kustoff is a Republican from Tennessee.

    The U.S. Capitol is one of the best-guarded buildings in the country, but when the vast majority of lawmakers leave the fortress of Capitol Hill, they’re on their own. Wednesday’s shooting highlights the vulnerability of lawmakers when they are in public. Only the congressional leaders have security details.

    Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., told a Buffalo radio station that he plans to start carrying a gun in public.

    “It’s going to be in my pocket from this day forward,” said Collins, who added he has a permit.

    Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said he feels adequately protected at the Capitol complex and feels no need to carry a gun.

    “That’s the wrong way to approach this. We’ve got Capitol police coming out of every office in the Capitol complex,” Duncan said.

    As majority whip, Scalise is the third-ranking Republican in the House. That’s the only reason members of the U.S. Capitol Police were at the practice — rank-and-file senators and House members don’t get security details.

    “I think the security detail saved a lot of lives because they attacked the shooter,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. Barton manages the baseball team.

    Two officers were injured along with a congressional aide and a lobbyist. The assailant later died after the incident.

    Attacks on members of Congress are rare. In 2011, a gunman shot Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., in the head during a shooting rampage at a public event outside a grocery store in Tucson. The gunman killed six people and wounded 13, including Giffords.

    The last sitting member of Congress who was killed in the U.S. was Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, while he was running for president. Two others were killed abroad.

    Incidents at the Capitol are more common, even though the ornate tourist attraction is ringed with heavily armed Capitol Police and metal detectors at every entrance.

    Last year, Capitol police shot and wounded a Tennessee minister who, they said, pulled a gun and pointed it at officers as he was entering the Capitol Visitor Center. In 2015, a former postal worker from Florida flew a one-man gyrocopter onto the lawn of the Capitol. He said he was protesting the influence of money in politics.

    One of the worst incidents happened in 1998, when a gunman stormed through a Capitol door and shot and killed two members of the Capitol police, detective John Gibson and officer Jacob Chestnut.

    After Wednesday’s shooting, some lawmakers said they would look into having more security when they gather in large numbers. But with 535 members of the House and Senate, lawmakers said it is unlikely rank-and-file members will get security details unless there is a specific threat.

    “I don’t think about it every day. You can’t think about it every day. It makes you feel vulnerable,” said Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., a pitcher on the baseball team. “I don’t know how you look at security for individual members. You might at things in which we are collectively together.”

    Associated Press writer Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.

    The post After shooting, lawmakers call for increased security appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: a new national voice for poetry.

    In a tradition dating back to 1937, the Library of Congress selects a prominent writer to serve as the country’s poet laureate for terms that have ranged from one to three years. The goal, according to the library, to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.

    The new laureate was revealed today, and our Jeffrey Brown had a chance to talk with her earlier this week.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Empathy and self-awareness through language, that is the creed that comes through in talking with 45 year old Tracy K. Smith, writer, teacher, spouse and mother of three, including 4-year-old twins, and now taking on a very public role as the nation’s poet laureate.

    TRACY K. SMITH, U.S. Poet Laureate: This is a position that allows me to kind of profess publicly all that I really hold true privately, that, if we can listen actively enough, if we can put enough pressure on ourselves and our thought process, language can be a real tool of revelation.

    I love being able to do that with my students and my little seminars. And I love the idea that maybe there’s a way that this position allows me to do that with my fellow Americans.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Smith is author of three books of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Life on Mars,” in part an elegy for her father, who served in the Air Force before leaving to work on the Hubble telescope.

    In her 2015 memoir titled “Ordinary Light,” she writes of growing up in a tight-knit middle-class family in Northern California, a coming-of-age tale exploring love and loss, race and faith, a theme that suffuses her poetry.

    TRACY K. SMITH: I wasn’t even aware that that’s what I was doing until after my last book of poems came out, and I realized, wow, there’s a — these poems are thinking about space, but they’re also searching for God, in a way.

    And I think it comes back to that sense that I grew up with that there is something large that we can cleave to, if we choose to. I wanted to figure out if there was a way that the artist in me and the 21st century academic in me could find something like a plausible version of God or a plausible version of the afterlife that I would be willing to claim publicly. And I think that language facilitated that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Another big area that you’re often exploring is race. And, in your memoir, you talk explicitly about sort of comparing your upbringing to your parents and your grandparents, the differences there, but also things that have remained.

    TRACY K. SMITH: A lot of my awareness of how race had imprinted by my parents, who grew up in the segregated South, a lot of that was shaped by a sense of sadness and a sense of anxiety on my part that made me not want to talk about it.

    So, there were a lot of silences that I was drawn to explore in writing about that time that I had never felt capable of bringing into speech when I was growing up.

    As I get older, I realize the history that felt so ancient when I was growing up is so — so close to us and present in ways that I had never imagined, or didn’t want to let myself imagine when I was a child.

    So, writing about it, I think, is a way of reckoning with what is yet to be resolved about the present moment, about how we are willing to love each other, even though we look different from one another.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Smith has been a professor at Princeton since 2005 and now heads its creative writing program, teaching small seminars to young poets in the making.

    Here especially, she says, the emphasis is on how we use language.

    TRACY K. SMITH: Yes, this is our library and one of our favorite classrooms.

    I want them to start thinking that a poem isn’t just an expression of all these things that you’re feeling, but it’s a set of choices that you’re making in language.

    So, every description, every question, every statement, every turn is a choice that opens up or closes off certain possibilities. And you don’t always think about that when you’re sitting down to write in the flush of emotion. But thinking about …

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, the feelings are part of it, right?

    TRACY K. SMITH: The feelings are part of it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the expression is part of it.

    But you’re saying the language choices …

    TRACY K. SMITH: Beyond that, yes, the language can help you get some traction in those feelings.

    “One of the women greeted me. ‘I love you,’ she said. She didn’t know me, but I believed her, and a terrible new ache rolled over in my chest.”

    JEFFREY BROWN: To hear some of her language, Smith read part of a new poem titled “Wade in the Water.”

    TRACY K. SMITH: “I love you throughout the performance in every hand clap, every stomp. I love you in the rusted iron chains someone was made to drag until love let them be unclasped and left empty in the center of the ring.”

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now Tracy K. Smith will have a prominent voice, a very public national platform, to reach new audiences.

    If you think about the tumultuous times we’re in technologically, all kinds of changes around us, if you think about the divisions politically at this moment, it seems like an appropriate moment to say, why poetry? Why bother? Why bother being a poet? What kind of impact could you possibly have, amidst all that?

    TRACY K. SMITH: Mm-hmm.

    I will say that a poem allows or requires you to submit to something else. Often …

    JEFFREY BROWN: Submit means?

    TRACY K. SMITH: That’s one of the things we don’t want to do, to say, OK, I’m not the expert. You’re the expert. Let me listen. Let me respond to something that’s completely counterintuitive for me, that pulls me toward a different sense of what’s valuable.

    I think, when we do that with a work of art, we’re learning how to do that in real time with other people.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Does that mean even making us better citizens?

    TRACY K. SMITH: I think so. Poems remind us of that.

    Poems remind us that someone is saying, come here. This has happened to me. This is how it made me feel. This is who I am in the wake of this thing.

    And we all have stories like that. And they’re important to honor, and they’re important also to say, maybe my story helps me listen and cherish this other person’s story, too.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Smith says a key goal for her as laureate will be to bring poetry into places where it’s not often heard.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown in Princeton, New Jersey.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, online, you can watch Tracy K. Smith read two new poems.

    That’s on our Web site at pbs.org/newshour.

    The post For newly named U.S. poet laureate, the power of poetry is opening ourselves to others appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The future of coal is very much at the center of debate right now when it comes to the politics and business of energy.

    Whatever you may think about those questions, the U.S. still uses a lot of coal. About 30 percent of our energy, of our electricity is generated by it.

    For some, the Holy Grail is new technology that captures some of coal’s worst problems with greenhouse gases.

    Miles O’Brien reports on the largest facility trying to do so.

    It’s part of our weekly series on the Leading Edge of science and technology.

    MILES O’BRIEN: At the W.A. Parish power plant southwest of Houston, they are piling up coal, getting ready for another long, hot, aggressively air-conditioned summer.

    One of the largest fossil fuel power plants in the country, Parish can generate about one-fifth of the city’s electricity using coal- and gas-fired turbines. And it is leading the nation down a promising, yet problematic path.

    Here, they are trying to make clean coal more than a political slogan.

    Mauricio Gutierrez is CEO of NRG, owner of the plant.

    MAURICIO GUTIERREZ, President and CEO, NRG: We built the world’s largest carbon capture system on an existing coal-fired power plant. It is the first commercial scale facility of this kind in the United States.

    MILES O’BRIEN: They are capturing and storing carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is the main driver of global warming. This is prompting some unexpected support from members of the Trump administration.

    Listen to Energy Secretary Rick Perry at the ceremonial opening in April.

    RICK PERRY, U.S. Secretary of Energy: I think the solutions to many of the challenges that we have in the world today are displayed behind me.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The same Rick Perry who wrote a book calling climate scientists members of a secular carbon cult who manipulate data and climate science a contrived, phony mess, but not here.

    RICK PERRY: It shows we don’t have to pit the environment on one side weighing and the economy on the other side. We can and we will be good stewards of both.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The steward of this project for NRG is David Greeson, the vice president of development.

    DAVID GREESON, Vice President of Development, NRG: We’re interested in doing more carbon capture as a part of our overall sustainable energy future plan, and so we’re going to see how this one works.

    MILES O’BRIEN: They call the billion-dollar carbon capture and storage system Petra Nova. NRG built it in partnership with the Japanese oil company JX Nippon using a $190 million grant from the Department of Energy doled out during the Obama administration.

    DAVID GREESON: So we’re capturing about 200 tons of CO2 per hour. On an annual basis, that’s about 1.6 million tons per year. That’s the equivalent of 350,000 cars being taken off the road.

    MILES O’BRIEN: While it may be the world’s largest carbon capture facility, it is still only removing about 10 percent of the CO2 created by the four coal-fired generators here. The only obstacle to capturing more is money.

    DAVID GREESON: We’re just now reaching the point where this technology is mature enough to be considered for rollout to the broad coal-fired fleet in the United States and around the world.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Here’s how it works. Flue gas, with carbon dioxide in it, flows through a duct to the carbon capture facility. One vessel contains amine, an ammonia-based chemical in liquid form. It naturally binds with carbon dioxide.

    With the carbon now in solution, the liquid goes to another vessel, where it is heated up. As that happens, the process is reversed and the CO2 pops out as a gas. It is captured, and, after it is compressed, ready for underground storage.

    MICHAEL WEBBER, University of Texas at Austin: I think Petra Nova is a shining example of what technology offers, and so, as an engineer, I’m very enthusiastic about it. I think it’s very exciting.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Michael Webber is deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. He says the energy sector is watching this project very closely.

    MICHAEL WEBBER: We’re getting a lot of scrutiny because people want to know if carbon capture and sequestration will work. And there are examples around the nation, around the world where it hasn’t really quite come together the way people want. It’s really expensive and hard to do, so you wouldn’t do it unless you had to, or it’s in your economic favor to do so.

    MILES O’BRIEN: And a coincidence of geography has made that possible here. The CO2 from the Petra Nova facility is sent 80 miles to the southwest, to the West Ranch oil field. Here, the gas is as good as gold, black gold, Texas tea.

    JILL FISK, Senior Vice President, Hilcorp: That was the hope, if you marry up a partnership between a CO2 emitter where they can capture the CO2 and reduce their CO2 emissions, but then that CO2 can be used to increase oil production. That’s really a win-win.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Jill Fisk is a senior vice president for Hilcorp, the current operator of this oil field, which first opened in the 1930s. At its peak in the ’70s, it produced 50,000 barrels of oil a day. Today, it’s down to less than 300 barrels a day. Normally, it would be time to cap the wells here.

    But, instead, they’re drilling new ones, getting ready to pump a lot more oil by injecting carbon dioxide deep underground. Liquid CO2 has been used to liberate the most stubborn oil for about 40 years.

    JILL FISK: Essentially, what’s happening is the oil is stuck to rock, if you can imagine that. The CO2 is injected, it dissolves into that oil that’s stuck to the rock, loosens up the oil, lightens it up, which — so it can then flow toward a producer and produce additional oil.

    At West Ranch, we’re expecting to recover an additional 60 million barrels of oil that would otherwise be left in the ground and be unrecoverable without a project of this type.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Right now, with oil prices so low, Petra Nova is breaking even, but, over the next decade, they expect to make a tidy profit capturing and burying carbon dioxide.

    But doesn’t this just transfer greenhouse gas emissions from a power plant smokestack to automobile tailpipes?

    JILL FISK: So, I think that demand for oil is either going to be met by foreign oil that the United States has to purchase or by our own production that we’re able to supply. So this project is breathing new life into a field in the U.S. to help supply that demand for oil.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But how can we be certain buried CO2 will stay underground? Scientists from the University of Texas are running tests at 22 monitoring wells at West Ranch, getting baseline data so they will know later if the injected CO2 triggers some unintended consequences, like earthquakes or the release of deep dwelling salt water, minerals, or chemicals.

    At this test site in Austin, they are finding new ways to monitor the buried CO2.

    SUE HOVORKA, University of Texas at Austin: You ready to start?

    MILES O’BRIEN: They pump the gas into groundwater to simulate leaks. They use a sensor that measures light. It is coated with a polymer that thins when it reacts with CO2. If there’s any trouble, the sensor detects more light, and an alarm is transmitted automatically.

    Geologist Sue Hovorka leads this effort.

    SUE HOVORKA: We need to get good enough to provide value to the atmosphere, and we need to avoid unacceptable consequences.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Hovorka analyzes deep rock core samples stored in a cavernous warehouse at the Bureau of Economic Geology in Austin. She says there are ample places to bury carbon dioxide produced by all types of fossil fuel power plants, not just coal burners. That would be a monumental step toward addressing climate change.

    SUE HOVORKA: If consumers want to use coal and want to reduce the carbon from that, the system to do that is ready to go. They have to pay for it. It’s not outrageous. It’s totally possible, but it’s not free.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Up until now, clean coal has been nothing more than a marketing myth. It could become a reality at no small cost, but at a small fraction of the toll if the industry does nothing to stop global warming.

    In Richmond, Texas, I’m Miles O’Brien for the PBS NewsHour.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And as Miles just said, costs are just one of the questions about whether this model could be replicated more widely.

    And Miles joins me now from Boston.

    So, Miles, tell us more about why — and so this is the first plant of its kind. What are the challenges in trying to replicate this somewhere else and getting the same results?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, Judy, the secret sauce of this one, according to the innovators behind it, is, they reduced the cost of creating the carbon capture.

    When I say cost, the cost in power. Normally, what the assumption is, that it reduces the output of any given power plant by as much as 30 percent in order to run the carbon capture system.

    What they did in this case was they decided not to use the actual turbines which light the lights that I’m using right now, but rather a separate co-generation plant air, a smaller power plant on site that can be run much more efficiently.

    And they say that they — it’s costing them about 15 percent of the power-generating capacity of that plant. So that’s a big hurdle that they have gotten over. Now, 15 percent is still a big number, and unless you have some commodity or the CO2 has some value, the business model doesn’t add up just yet.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were telling us, Miles, there are also some physical challenges as well.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, being 80 miles near an old oil field that could use that CO2 to capture and recover a lot of stubborn oil from the ground makes it all work.

    The question is, could a fossil fuel plant of any kind that’s a long way away from an oil field, could it avail itself of this kind of transaction? And CO2 can be pumped in pipelines for an indefinite amount of distance, as long as you recompress every now and then, sort of have a booster system in.

    But, again, that’s going to be a significant cost. It is not an insurmountable thing technologically, and it could be done. We already have significant CO2 pipelines in the oil sector. You could extend it out, if you were determined to do this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just quickly, you were also saying other practical limits.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, yes.

    It’s — the limits on this are — there are some concerns, for example, about putting CO2 in seismically active places, for example. You wouldn’t want to put buried CO2 underneath San Francisco, for example.

    But, having said all that, when you consider all the places that it can be stored, the experts tell me, we have enough storage capacity underneath the continental United States to last about 900 years of CO2 production.

    So, it’s just a question of societal priorities and whether we want to pay a little more for power to get the carbon dioxide out.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Miles O’Brien, thanks very much.

    MILES O’BRIEN: You’re welcome, Judy.

    The post Could carbon capturing make ‘clean coal’ a reality? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Trump administration, as you heard, is taking steps to increasing America’s military presence in Afghanistan, after years of reducing U.S. forces there.

    William Brangham has the story.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Since taking office, the Trump administration has been conducting a review of America’s 16-year war in Afghanistan. The current U.S. commander there, General John Nicholson, has recommended sending 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to augment the 10,000 Americans and 3,000 allied forces that are already in the country.

    Today, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that the president had now given him the authority to decide appropriate troop levels.

    For more on all of this, we turn to retired Lieutenant General Douglas Lute. He served on the National Security Council staffs in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, where he focused on Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Asia. For the past four years, he served as U.S. ambassador to NATO, and he’s now a senior fellow at Harvard University.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE (RET.), Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: Good to be here.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, let’s talk first off about this decision by the president to hand General — or Secretary of Defense James Mattis the decision-making for troop levels. How unusual is that?

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: Well, it is unusual, but I think we should first appreciate that we should have confidence in the entire Pentagon chain of command, starting with Secretary Mattis, but all the way down through Central Command, and then ultimately to General Nicholson, Mick Nicholson, who you mentioned, who is our commander, four-star commander in Afghanistan.

    So, this is a very experienced team, responsible individuals. They’re going to take this, this new authority seriously. I also think there is a logic. There is a rationale to providing the Pentagon some flexibility. It gives them more agility to fit the number of troops to the task in Afghanistan, and that all makes sense.

    It does, however, raise one concern, and that’s the concern that strategy is made up of a lot more than just the Pentagon piece. And so I would be concerned, or I would be interested in hearing how the administration intends to make sure that the other pieces, the political side of the equation, the diplomatic equation, the economic assistance equation, the intelligence community’s role, how all these various pieces are fit together in a coherent hole.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Well, you raise a very good question, because, traditionally, we think of a strategy being set from the top, from the president, with advice from all of the relevant agencies below.

    What do you think this does to the decision-making process for a country like Afghanistan?

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: Well, I think it’s too soon to tell.

    The traditional role is that the National Security Council would have this oversight role, this coordinating role, to make sure that the strategy stays aligned over time and that all the pieces relate to one another in a coherent way.

    It’s not clear whether this move to give additional authorities, additional autonomy to the Pentagon is just the opening step, or whether there will still be a role for the NSC, the National Security Council, led by H.R. McMaster, to oversee the whole process.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, we have said Mattis and Nicholson both believe that more U.S. troops to Afghanistan is a good idea. Do you share that belief?

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: Well, I think a few more — a few thousand or even 10,000 more U.S. troops…

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Ten thousand more?

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: I’m saying that I think that, hypothetically, an increase on that scale, let’s say, for example, a doubling of U.S. troops — there are some 8,500 there now — can help sustain the current security stalemate.

    But I don’t believe that troops alone will actually be decisive in the end. Troops alone can’t win this war. Troops alone will not remove the stalemate. The stalemate fundamentally rests on the political side of the equation.

    So, alongside any military surge, any — the addition of any number of U.S. troops, I will be very interested to hear the administration’s ambitions in terms of how they’re going to deal with the politics.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Well, explain what the challenges are there for the politics in Afghanistan.

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: Well, I look at this as a three-part equation on the political side.

    So, first of all, inside the Afghan government itself, here you have zero-sum politics among the different national players. You have a high level of corruption. You have the patronage network. You have a long period of time where you have actually had stalemate from the central government itself.

    Second, you have stalemate between Afghanistan and its neighboring states, most prominently Pakistan, but not just Pakistan. We only have to look at the map and see the geographic equation here, which includes Iran to the west, Central Asia, and Russia to the north, and beyond, to the northeast China, and further to the east, India.

    So this is a very complex regional diplomatic equation. All those players I have just mentioned have some impact on what happens inside Afghanistan. And then, ultimately, to bring this war to a conclusion, a political end, which the military equation should be in support of, it involves politics between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the opponent.

    And so on all three of these fronts, inside Kabul, in the region, and between the government and the insurgents, there’s a real need for a political surge.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Among those neighbors, Pakistan obviously looms very large in Afghanistan, and provide a consistent safe haven for the Taliban that are waging this massive insurgency in the country.

    How can the U.S. get Pakistan to help us in that fight?

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: Well, first of all, I think you have to place our requirements, our demands on Pakistan in this part of the arena, that is, their support for the Taliban, in the context of our other interests in Pakistan.

    And we actually have several interests in Pakistan which I think surpass our interest in dealing with the Afghan Taliban. I would label Pakistan’s internal stability itself. Here you have more than 180 million Pakistanis in a country where you have not just the Afghan Taliban, but the Pakistani Taliban, remnants of al-Qaida, and other regional terrorist groups, all of which threaten the stability of the state.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: A nuclear-powered state.

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: And a state which has the fastest growing, the fastest expanding nuclear arsenal in the world.

    So, that very dangerous cocktail of terrorists, extremists, and nuclear weapons is actually probably more of a vital national interest to us than Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban. So, there’s a large array of complex interests here which are at play.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Even if the administration articulates a strategy, do you think that this administration can execute that strategy?

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: Well, I think, right now, they’re working with a handicap. And that is, while the National Security Council itself, those who set strategy and overwatch the strategy, is largely in place, the implementers of the strategy are largely not in place, because they have a large number of vacancies among those officials who are yet to be nominated and confirmed by the Senate, especially in the Defense Department and the State Department.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Former Ambassador Douglas Lute, thank you very much.

    LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE: Thank you.

    The post Can more U.S. troops in Afghanistan help end the war? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee held their first meeting with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election. That followed 24 hours of speculation about Mueller’s future.

    Last night, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters: “While the president has the right to fire Mueller, he has no intention of doing so.”

    The New York Times reported that Mr. Trump began contemplating his dismissal shortly after he was appointed.

    The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved new sanctions on Russia today over its election hacking. The penalties target those involving human rights abuses and cyber-crime. The bill also blocks the president from removing sanctions without congressional approval.

    Ahead of the vote, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned a House panel against limiting the president’s options.

    REX TILLERSON, U.S. Secretary of State: I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation. Essentially, we would ask for the flexibility to turn the heat up when we need to, but also to ensure that we have the ability to maintain a constructive dialogue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The amendment is part of a broader bill dealing with sanctions on Iran. If it clears the Senate, the measure still needs House approval.

    President Trump has now handed off authority over troop levels in Afghanistan to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Mattis confirmed it today, but said it doesn’t mean an immediate increase in U.S. deployments.

    Meanwhile, the U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, visited Kabul today. He said there was — quote — “no military solution” for that country’s long-running war.

    Back in this country, a gunman in San Francisco shot three people to death at a UPS warehouse, before turning the gun on himself. Police say the man was a UPS employee armed with an assault pistol. Heavily armed officers searched the sprawling complex after the shooting started, as dozens of employees poured out of the building.

    Five people were charged with involuntary manslaughter today in connection with the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The case involves the death of an elderly man from Legionnaires’ disease allegedly brought on by the tainted water. Those charged today include Nick Lyon, a Michigan state health and human services director. He could get up to 15 years in prison if he’s convicted.

    The Federal Reserve Board has raised a key short-term interest rate again, meaning that rates for credit cards and similar debt are going up. The quarter-point hike is the third in six months.

    In Washington today, Fed Chair Janet Yellen suggested it’s a vote of confidence.

    JANET YELLEN, Federal Reserve Chair: The economy is doing well, is showing resilience. We have a very strong labor market, an unemployment rate that’s declined to levels we have not seen since 2001.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Fed also announced plans to gradually start scaling back its bond holdings. That could cause long-term interest rates to rise.

    Nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers are suing President Trump over foreign money ties to his business empire. They say that he never divested from his far-flung interests, so he is violating, they say, the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. It restricts gifts and benefits from foreign leaders. The attorneys general from Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a similar suit this week.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 46 points to close at 21374. The Nasdaq fell 25 points, and the S&P 500 slipped two.

    And a French pilot successfully crossed the English Channel in a flying car today. The machine was part dune buggy and part paraglider. It took off from an abandoned runway near Calais, France, and took just under an hour to make the crossing. The pilot and car landed safely near Dover, a journey of about 36 miles.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the day’s other major story. It is in London, where a fast-moving fire engulfed a high-rise apartment building. It killed at least 12 people and injured scores.

    We have a report from Dan Rivers of Independent Television News, and with a warning: Some of the images and sounds may be disturbing.

    DAN RIVERS: With horrifying ferocity, the fire consumed Grenfell Tower in minutes, a 24-floor inferno from which there was no escape for some.

    Trapped by smoke and flames, residents signaled their plight from on high as the building disintegrated around them.

    On this mobile phone footage, the cries for help are chilling.

    MAN: Help! Help!

    MAN: We saw people looking out of the windows, screaming help, screaming, help, help, flashing their lights and everything. And now all those windows, people are gone, literally gone.

    MAN: I saw one person trying to jump out. One actually jumped out, and obviously what happened. It’s just a nightmare.

    DAN RIVERS: The streets around Grenfell Tower were soon full of those who escaped its flames, children among those suffering from the acrid fumes.

    An exhausted little girl is cradled as the shock and bewilderment sink in. Many here have lost everything. Some are still unsure what’s happened to neighbors, friends, loved ones.

    And, above them, the fire raged on. As the sky lightened, the flames continued to devour the building. This was the view from the SOUTH BANK, the plume of smoke visible for 20 miles. With daylight, stories of extraordinary escape started to emerge.

    SAMIRA LAMRANI, Witness: A lady appeared at the window, gesturing, body language, from what she was saying, I’m about to throw my baby, please catch the baby. And the baby, I think, was wrapped in some sort of bed sheet, blanket. And she threw the baby. As the baby came down — and this was about approximately from the ninth or 10th floor — a member of the public, a gentleman ran forward and miraculously grabbed the baby.

    And, like I said, above you, from the left, from the right, mostly kids, it was harrowing, torturing screams for help, young kids. And I think also, where the fire was now spread, people were reaching out from the front window, trying to grasp a bit of fresh air, trying to breathe in like they were struggling.

    And there were, at one point, one window about four or five heads all squeezing their heads through. It was honestly like a horror movie.

    DAN RIVERS: Some had knotted sheets together in an attempt to escape. But even this left them several floors short of safety.

    WOMAN: People were jumping off buildings. People were screaming, saying, help me, help me, help me.

    DAN RIVERS: The cause of the fire is unknown, but one resident claims it spread from her neighbor’s flat, possibly a faulty appliance.

    WOMAN: The fire started from the kitchen, but I don’t know exactly — from which problem, I don’t know. But it was from the kitchen, because the flat door was open.

    DAN RIVERS: It’s already clear the death toll will be significant. Up to 600 people lived in Grenfell House in 120 flats. For those who were on the very upper floors, the odds of survival seem slim.

    Those fighting the fire confirmed today how challenging it’s been to extinguish.

    MAN: This was an unprecedented fire in terms of scale, speed, and spread. And just to reiterate that point, the incident continues to be a challenging incident for us.

    DAN RIVERS: There is speculation a gap behind a recently added external cladding may have created a chimney effect, allowing the flames to spread.

    Some had to wait all night before they escaped. This man was still calling for help six hours after the fire started. At times, he disappeared into clouds of smoke, but, incredibly, he did finally make it out, one of 65 rescued from Grenfell Tower today.

    Tonight, while most of the flames have been put out, the charred shell of the tower block continues to smolder. It may be days before the final death toll is known, and much longer before the cause of this tragedy is pinpointed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Prime Minister Theresa May promised a full investigation, and the British government ordered safety checks at other high-rises undergoing renovations.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we are now joined by the managers of the two congressional baseball teams that were practicing this morning in different places.

    They are Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas, who, as you just saw, was at this morning’s Republican baseball practice, and Democratic Representative Michael Doyle of Pennsylvania.

    Gentlemen, welcome to the program.

    Congressman Barton, to you first.

    First of all, we’re so glad that you are all right. We saw that you were there with your two sons. How are you doing?

    REP. JOE BARTON, R-Texas: We’re doing fine.

    Everybody was looking out for my two sons. And thank gosh — God that the Capitol Police were there and immediately returning fire, which diverted the gunman from attacking the members who were on the field.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you feel there was anything more that could have been done this morning?

    REP. JOE BARTON: Not really. I mean, we practice in a public park. There’s a dog park. There’s a YMCA by the baseball field. There are joggers. There are — it’s just, you know, most mornings, there are people out doing their exercise and walking their dogs.

    We don’t make any attempt to restrict people from watching the practice. This individual who did the shooting, some of the members think they saw him yesterday, and, while I thought he had just driven in, apparently, he had been in the area for some time.

    So, I don’t — I don’t know how you can function in an open democracy, especially in the House of Representatives, with 435 members, and not have public access. And, again, this game has been played for about over 100 years. There’s never been anything like this before.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Doyle, where were you when you heard this? And what did you think?

    REP. MIKE DOYLE, D-Pa.: So, we were in the middle of our practice. We were having batting practice, and I was standing behind home plate, you know, instructing our batters.

    And I got a text message from one of my staff saying, are you OK? And I was puzzled by the — by the text. And then I saw right below it a news clip saying, shooter at congressional baseball practice, and realized at that moment that it had to be over at the Republican practice.

    So I called my team off the field, because we didn’t have much information at the time, to get them over in the dugout, and let them all know what happened and what I was hearing. And there was sort of a — I call it a stunned silence with most of the players. We just couldn’t believe something like this was happening.

    And there wasn’t much we could do where we were. So we basically just huddled up and started saying some prayers for our Republican colleagues that they’d be safe and that nobody would be hurt badly.

    And, after that, you know, the reports started to flood into our phones and we just, you know, were reading them like everyone else.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Barton, and, again, we know that you both were practicing for this congressional game, annual congressional game that’s taking place tomorrow night. You’re going ahead with it.

    Is the — I just asked Lisa Desjardins this question, our reporter at the Capitol, and she said this is — the reaction there has been sober, that people are — to some extent, members may be rethinking whether things have gotten too partisan. What do you think?

    REP. JOE BARTON: Well, the reaction here has been very supportive of the Republicans on the team.

    Congressman Doyle and his Democratic players have reached out to us personally. The speaker and Mrs. Pelosi, the minority leader, have talked directly. Everybody is supportive because, we are — we have an R or an D by our name, but our title — our title is United States representative.

    And I’m very proud to be a member of the Congress. And I’m proud to serve with people like Mike Doyle. So, you know, we feel very blessed that we’re here to have this interview. Had the shooter not been attacked by the Capitol Hill Police, who risked their lives — and two of them got shot — had he gotten inside the fence of the field and gotten to the first base dugout, there were 20, 15 members, and five or six staffers in that dugout huddled down.

    It’s actually a lowered, below-the-field dugout. And there would have been no place for them to run. So, it could have been much worse.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Doyle, I can see the pain in both of your faces.

    Is this a time for coming together in some way and for rethinking, as we said, some of the partisanship?

    REP. MIKE DOYLE: I think all of us are reflecting on that today.

    Joe and I have been associated with this game for quite a while, and we have been friends for a long time. His son Jack is like one of my nephews, always comes up and asks me how I’m doing. And I always tries to get intelligence from Jack on what his dad is up to, and Jack never gives him up. So he’s a good kid that way.


    REP. MIKE DOYLE: But I got to tell you, there was a real feeling of helplessness on our part as we stood there in the dugout reading the reports that were coming in.

    We know — we know all these guys. They’re our friends. We may have differences politically, but they’re our friends, and we care about them very much. And I think all of us are reflecting on how each one of us individually can set an example for the country, too, because when people see their leaders being uncivil towards one another, then you start to see the public being uncivil towards one another and towards their leaders.

    And I think that’s got to change. So maybe it starts with us, and maybe this will change some attitudes here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Barton, I hear and I see the affection between the two of you, and I am seeing and hearing you say it exists with others.

    But I think it’s fair to say, it doesn’t always come across in the news coverage.

    REP. JOE BARTON: Well, politics in Washington is a contact sport. But it shouldn’t be a personal animosity sport. And with Mike and I and a lot of other members, it’s not.

    I do want to apologize for getting emotional a minute ago. You know, Tom Hanks was the manager of a women’s baseball team, and, in that movie, he has the famous line, there’s no crying in baseball.

    Well, there’s certainly no — shouldn’t be any crying in congressional baseball. And I do apologize for my emotional outburst a minute ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: No — no …


    REP. MIKE DOYLE: I would say there’s lots of members of Congress that get along. We tend to not be the ones the media is interested in interviewing.

    Oftentimes, the media’s interested in interviewing the two that are throwing the swords at each other. So, maybe the news media, too, can reflect a little bit on that and show some of the positive things that take place down here.

    REP. JOE BARTON: That’s true.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s something for us to reflect on.

    Well, we so appreciate the two of you being together right now.

    And no apology needed, Congressman Barton. It’s entirely understandable why you would be emotional at a time like this.

    We thank you. We’re thankful that you are all right. We thank you for talking with us.

    Congressman Doyle, thank you.

    We thank you both.

    REP. MIKE DOYLE: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A leading Republican in the U.S. House lies critically wounded tonight. The Illinois man who shot him, along with a police officer, a congressional staffer, and a lobbyist, has died.

    They came together in a fusillade of bullets and bloodshed early today, just outside Washington.

    Our Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.


    LISA DESJARDINS: For at least five minutes, gunshots crackled across the Northern Virginia baseball field where Republican members of Congress were practicing. Cell phone video shared with the NewsHour captured a harrowing scene of a gunfight between the attacker and Capitol Police.

    MAN: Hey. Is that guy OK out there? Has that guy been shot? Is he OK? Is anybody talking to him?

    LISA DESJARDINS: The man who shot the video, Noah Nathan, had been out walking his dogs.

    NOAH NATHAN, Eyewitness: I saw the congressional players, and, you know, they’re a regular here practicing in the morning. And then I heard — I thought it was fireworks.

    And then I heard another one and realized, OK, maybe that’s not fireworks. It’s gunfire. And then people started scattering, and then there was more shots and you could hear them skimming off the gravel and hitting the fence. And it was a helpless feeling. I couldn’t do anything.

    LISA DESJARDINS: As lawmakers jumped over fences, seeking cover, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot in the hip.

    Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks saw it all.

    REP. MO BROOKS, R-Ala.: It’s the feeling of helplessness, when you have got a baseball bat and a guy’s got a rifle. And you see your friends, Steve Scalise in particular, lying on the ground, dragging himself from the infield dirt to the outfield grass, and there was nothing we could do to help him.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Georgia Congressman Barry Loudermilk says it wasn’t a random attack.

    REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK, R-Ga.: There were civilians out there. There were people walking their dogs, laying on the ground screaming and crying, but he wasn’t targeting them. He was shooting at us.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Joe Barton of Texas had taken his young sons to the practice.

    REP. JOE BARTON, R-Texas: We got some of us were in the dugout, some of us were on the ground. I was behind the dugout. My son Jack got under an SUV. And he was very brave. My other son Brad was in the batting cage and he also was very brave.

    LISA DESJARDINS: In the video, you can hear people shouting for police to shoot the gunman.

    MAN: Shoot him!

    LISA DESJARDINS: Again, Mo Brooks:

    REP. MO BROOKS: The bravery that they displayed, taking on a guy with the rifle while they have pistols, shooting from long distance, and if they had not been successful, then the tragedy here would have undoubtedly been much greater, because those of us who were in the first base dugout, we’d of had no chance.

    LISA DESJARDINS: First-responders were on the scene in minutes. Some victims were airlifted to hospitals by helicopter. Scalise underwent surgery and was in critical condition.

    The suspected shooter was also taken to the hospital, where he died of his wounds. Police identified him as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois.

    TIMOTHY SLATER, FBI: Law enforcement has reason to believe that the shooter has been in Alexandria, Virginia, area since March of this year. The FBI has issued again a seeking information poster that is located on our Web site asking the public to come forward with information on the shooter.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis believes he talked with Hodgkinson just before the shooting.

    REP. RON DESANTIS, R-Fla.: An unidentified individual walked up to the car, asked Congressman Duncan, who was in the front passenger seat, whether they were Republicans or Democrats in the field. It was a little bit abrasive. It was something that kind of struck me as odd, not odd to the extent I thought he was going to go shoot people.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Already, a picture has begun to emerge of Hodgkinson. A Facebook page of the same name is filled with anti-Trump posts, and Hodgkinson apparently volunteered for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

    The Vermont senator today condemned the shooting on the Senate floor.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-Vt.: I am sickened by this despicable act. And let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society. And I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.

    LISA DESJARDINS: There is a contrast between the location of this shooting, a neighborhood that is known for putting up signs of welcome and opposing hate, and this act of violence that some say may symbolize rising anger in America.

    At the scene, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe specifically pointed to politics.

    GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE, D-Va.: What you saw in the last presidential campaign, there’s just a lot of dug-in hard feelings out there that exist in this country today. I do think our country has become way too divided between red and blue.

    LISA DESJARDINS: President Trump echoed the cry for unity at the White House hours after the shooting.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The House canceled votes for the day, but shaken lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, gathered on the House floor in a show of solidarity.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We are united. We are united in our shock, we are united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.


    REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., House Minority Leader: We cannot let that be a victory for the assailant or anyone who would think that way. So, tomorrow, we will go out on the field. We will root for our team. We want everyone to do his or her very best. And we will use this occasion as one that brings us together and not separates us further.

    LISA DESJARDINS: An update on conditions.

    Congressman Scalise and one other staffer who was shot are in critical condition. The others injured today, we’re told, are in good or fair condition. And, also, about that baseball game, it is scheduled to be, as planned, tomorrow night. They are not canceling. And Judy, they’re adding another charity cause, the Fallen Officers Fund.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, are there changes in security as a result of what happened?

    LISA DESJARDINS: I think the answer to that, Judy, is not yet. Here, of course, the Capitol is a highly secure building. There’s no changes here. No one said there need to be changes.

    But there is a real question about these events where many members of Congress gather in one place. Congressman Scalise’s security detail was there today, as well as one other Capitol police officer because so many congressmen were present. They’re wondering if there need to be more of a police presence when there are not just leaders, but any members of Congress gathered in one place like that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, you’re at that Capitol Building every day, practically. How are people dealing with this?

    LISA DESJARDINS: I think the mood today, Judy, is sober. It’s not highly emotional, but it’s one where they are taking very serious stock of where we are as a nation and where people are in terms of how they look at their leaders and how they look at violence.

    I think there’s also a lot of questions today about whether political rhetoric has, indeed, gone too far, and whether the divides that affect the votes on the House and Senate floor are reverberating back and forth with public divides now rising into anger and violence.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins, who covers the Capitol every day for us.

    Lisa, you have been on this story all day from the moment you heard about it this morning. Thank you very much.

    LISA DESJARDINS: My pleasure.

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    Former FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Russian Federation Efforts to Interfere in the 2016 U.S. Elections" on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    Former FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on “Russian Federation Efforts to Interfere in the 2016 U.S. Elections” on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    Lordy! All eyes were on James Comey last week.

    The fired FBI director testified before a Senate Intelligence Committee as part of the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign during the presidential election. Comey’s hourslong testimony captured the nation’s attention, all on the same day the United Kingdom was having its high-profile snap election.

    And with the Russia probe continuing with Jeff Sessions’ testimony, the rumblings of a possible Robert Mueller ouster and breaking news, it’s been difficult for the White House to stay track on its agenda.

    Read on for five important stories that were overlooked in the media frenzy.

    1. Early data suggests the number of drug overdose deaths may rise

    A used needle sits on the ground in a park in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S., May 30, 2017, where individuals were arrested earlier in the day during raids to break up heroin and fentanyl drug rings in the region, according to law enforcement officials. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    A used needle sits on the ground in a park in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S., May 30, 2017, where individuals were arrested earlier in the day during raids to break up heroin and fentanyl drug rings in the region, according to law enforcement officials. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Fatal drug overdoses continue to rise and may only increase, according to a New York Times analysis last week.

    More than 59,000 people died from drug overdoses nationwide in 2016, the New York Times reported after compiling death reports from state health departments, coroners and medical examiners. The Times report comes ahead of official numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, which takes longer to confirm its data. But if correct, the estimate represents a 19-percent spike in such deaths across the country since 2015, when more than 52,400 lethal overdoses were recorded. That year, nearly two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths were tied to opioids, including prescription drugs. With the increasingly widespread use of heroin and fentanyl, the latest numbers provide “a detailed accounting of a modern plague,” the Times writes.

    Why it’s important

    The findings are the latest marker of the nation’s ongoing public health crisis. In 2010, slightly more than 38,300 people died from drug overdoses. Since then, that figure has soared by 53 percent in less than a decade. The nation’s opioid epidemic may be skewing the U.S. death rate, especially among young Americans, according to the Washington Post.

    In just five years — 2010 to 2015 — the death rate among Americans aged 25 to 44 rose 8 percent, according to the Washington Post’s analysis of preliminary data from the CDC.

    The question that’s dogged officials, after these and other reports: What can be done about it?

    Some cities and states have tried to develop their own solutions — from expanding treatment options to broadening the availability of the antidote Naloxone — with mixed success.

    Last week, the Food and Drug Administration asked a major drug maker to pull one of its painkillers from shelves “over concerns that the drug is too easily abused.”

    In March, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri launched an investigation into opioid makers and whether “drugmakers have contributed to an overuse of the pain killers.” It’s not clear when that investigation will conclude. But an opioid commission chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, created in March by President Donald Trump to explore how the country can stop opioid misuse and overdose, convenes for its first meeting Friday, which advocates hope will give momentum to the search for a solution.

    2. India’s big education problem

    A teacher poses for a picture with seventh-grade level students inside their classroom at Rukmini Devi Public school in New Delhi, India. Photo taken in 2015. Photo by Adnan Abidi/Reuters

    A teacher poses for a picture with seventh-grade level students inside their classroom at Rukmini Devi Public school in New Delhi, India. Photo taken in 2015. Photo by Adnan Abidi/Reuters

    A decade and a half ago, India had a big school attendance problem: 32 million children of school age weren’t enrolled in classes.

    As of 2011, that number was reduced to 1.4 million. Today, 69 percent of all children are enrolled in secondary school, thanks in large part to a 2009 law that grants free education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14.

    But while more students are going to school, they’re not learning when they’re there.

    More than 50 percent of fifth-graders can’t read second grade texts, according to Pratham USA, a non-governmental education organization in India. Only 25 percent can do simple division, The Economist reported last week in a look at “why the world’s biggest school system is failing its pupils.”

    Why it’s important

    There are 250 million children around the world who can’t read or write; two-fifths reside in India, Pratham reports. Students’ success in school is directly tied to the kind of jobs and wages they get as adults, which in turn affects the country’s overall economy, experts told The Economist.

    Part of students’ poor performance has to do with the high rates of poverty in India. But there are other causes, too.

    At the end of each school year, students are automatically moved to the next level– regardless of whether they’ve retained the knowledge they need to advance. Teachers across India have high absenteeism rates, The Economist notes — about a quarter of instructors are absent on any given day. Even teachers who do show up often don’t have the training they need to manage a class or tailor a curriculum for a student who is struggling to complete their work, the magazine notes.

    Other issues:

    “Education in India is a “concurrent” responsibility, shared between federal and state governments. But officials at neither central nor state level are accountable for academic outcomes.” And “data on student achievement are collected manually, if at all.”

    But what exactly should reform look like? It’s a question the country has struggled with for several years, with no clear answer in sight.

    Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar announced earlier this month that the government would launch a program to improve education standards. Javadekar also said he planned to bring a bill to parliament that would allow states to give exams to all students in fifth grade and eighth grade.

    3. A D.C. principal is challenging children to turn off the electronics for $100

    Photo by Geber86/Getty Images

    Photo by Geber86/Getty Images

    A D.C. principal wants to change the rules while students enjoy their summer break of Minecraft and YouTube shenanigans.

    Diana Smith, principal of Washington Latin Public Charter School, told the Post she had become concerned about the “ubiquity of the phones in their lives.” The principal said the near-constant exposure to cell phones and other electronics has disrupted students’ sleep and incited drama at the school.

    So she came up with a plan to help students unplug.

    Smith pledged to give $100 out of her own pocket to each student that agreed to shut off their electronics every Tuesday until school resumes in August. That means any student who participates will have to go tech-free for 11 days throughout the rest of summer break. Smith said about 160 7th- and 8th-graders will participate in the pledge.

    Two adults over the age of 21 are required to send a letter on behalf of each student verifying they didn’t use any electronics, including cell phones, computers or video games.

    Why it’s important

    Teens in the U.S. average more than nine hours of entertainment media per day, according to a 2015 report by Common Sense Media. Further studies suggest too much technology time can contribute to child obesity and behavioral issues.

    So what can be done?

    The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines for screen time last year. Although the AAP gives specific restrictions for children under 5 years of age, the group doesn’t offer a blanket restriction for older children, suggesting parents to establish “screen-free zones” in the home.

    Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, told NPR in 2014 that it comes down to planning media consumption in a “sensible” way, which consists of a “healthy media diet” that encourages parents and children to collaboratively decide how much is enough.

    “We don’t want to demonize media,” Hogan told NPR, “because it’s going to be a part of everybody’s lives increasingly, and we have to teach children how to make good choices around it, how to limit it and how to make sure it’s not going to take the place of all the other good stuff out there.”

    The pledge at Washington Latin Public Charter School began this week and runs until August when school is back in session.

    4. The trial of Jeronimo Yanez in the death of Philando Castile draws to a close

    Closing arguments began Monday in the manslaugher trial of a Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile after pulling him over for a broken taillight outside St. Paul last year.

    Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who is Latino, faces charges of manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm in the death of 32-year-old Castile. The fatal shooting became part of a series of high-profile police shootings in the U.S. that prompted scrutiny over the deadly use of force against minorities.

    Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez, charged in connection with the shooting death of a black motorist Philando Castile last July, is shown in this booking photo taken in 2016. Photo courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff's Office via Reuters

    Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez, charged in connection with the shooting death of a black motorist Philando Castile last July, is shown in this booking photo taken in 2016. Photo courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office via Reuters

    More notably, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds captured the aftermath on a live video posted to Facebook. Before the shooting, Castille had notified Yanez that he was carrying a firearm. In the video, a bloodied Castile, slumped in the driver’s seat, could be seen in the video, saying, “I wasn’t reaching for [the gun].”

    The week of testimony focused on whether the officer saw a gun. Yanez said he “had no other choice” but to fire at Castile because he did not comply with orders to not reach for the weapon.

    “I was scared to death,” the officer said. “I thought I was going to die.”

    Defense attorneys argued that Castile, whose autopsy revealed that he, with THC in his system, had smoked marijuana prior to the shooting, and thus hampered with his ability to listen to Yanez’s orders.

    Prosecutors, however, argued that both Castile and Reynolds told the officer that he was not reaching for a gun before the shooting occurred. Castile had a license to carry the weapon.

    Prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen said Castile was responsive to orders. “The problem was Yanez wasn’t listening to him,” he added.

    Even if Castile didn’t have a permit, Paulsen said, “It’s not a capital offense. And it doesn’t give an officer the right to shoot and kill you.”

    Reynolds cried in court last week when images and footage related to the shooting was shown in court. She also explained her decision to record the fallout from the encounter, which happened with her then 4-year-old daughter in the back seat: “I know that the people are not protected against the police,” Reynolds said. “I wanted to make sure if I died in front of my daughter that people would know the truth,” she said.

    Defense attorneys questioned Reynolds’ testimony, saying that she gave inconsistent statements following the shooting and brought up her marijuana use.

    Why it’s important

    Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, looks at a photo button of her son during a press conference on the state capitol grounds in Saint Paul,  Minnesota, in July. Philando Castile was fatally shot by police. Photo by Eric Miller/Reuters

    Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, looks at a photo button of her son during a press conference on the state capitol grounds in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in July. Philando Castile was fatally shot by police. Photo by Eric Miller/Reuters

    NPR conducted an analysis weeks after Castile’s death to show how he “spent most of his driving life fighting tickets.”

    Since 2002 and until his death in 2016, police stopped Castile a total 46 times, which led to $6,000 in fines, NPR reported. The volume of stops brings up questions of racial bias against Castile.

    Castile’s family said the victim’s race played a part in the encounter with police, an argument that was supported by Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, who said after the shooting that: “Would this have happened if … the driver and passenger would have been white? I don’t think it would.”

    5. An ancient Aztec temple and sports arena was unearthed in Mexico City

    A new Aztec discovery of the remains of the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, is seen during a tour of the area, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by Henry Romero/Reuters

    A new Aztec discovery of the remains of the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, is seen during a tour of the area, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by Henry Romero/Reuters

    An ancient Aztec temple was uncovered last week in the heart of Mexico City.

    The temple was unearthed just outside of the city’s Zocalo square, right next to a centuries-old Roman Catholic Cathedral and on the grounds of a defunct hotel. An earthquake destroyed the hotel in 1985; Aztec artifacts were found just beneath the rubble, but it took several years of wrangling work permits and performing delicate excavations for the temple to be fully uncovered.

    Archaeologists say the temple, shaped like a coiled snake, is dedicated to the Aztec wind god Ehecatl. Also uncovered alongside the serpentine site was a ball court used to play the ancient religious game of ullamaliztli. Archaeologists say the Aztec sport, which shares many similarities with modern day basketball and soccer, was the first game to ever use a rubber ball.

    Why it’s important

    Mexico City is a hotbed of archaeology. Because it was built directly on top of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, huge finds are occasionally made in mundane places. Previously, Aztec remains and holy sites have been found while boring subway tunnels and laying electrical cables.

    “We’ve been working this area for nearly 40 years, and there’s always construction of some kind … and so we take advantage of that and get involved,” archaeologist Eduardo Matos told Reuters.

    “Due to finds like these, we can show actual locations, the positioning and dimensions of each one of the structures first described in the chronicles,” Diego Prieto, head of Mexico’s main anthropology and history institute, also told Reuters.

    The ball court is also historically significant in many ways. Archaeologists say this particular ball court was the location of a match Aztec emperor Moctezuma played against the reigning king shortly before the Spanish arrived in Mexico.

    The game also came with consequences: Winners were usually sacrificed, as evidenced by the pile of 32 severed human vertebrae the researchers found along the courtside.

    “It was an offering associated with the ball game,” archaeologist Raul Barrera told Reuters. “The vertebrae, or necks, surely came from victims who were sacrificed or decapitated.”

    Yahoo reported that the Mexican government is looking to open up the site to visitors, but no official date has been set. Fortunately for future tourists, it’s probably safe to say deadly Aztec games will remain a thing of the past.

    READ MORE: Take a break from politics with these 5 important stories

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    Former FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies at a 2011 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

    Former FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies at a 2011 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The special counsel appointed to investigate Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign is now examining whether President Donald Trump tried to obstruct justice, it has been reported.

    Accusations of obstruction arose last month when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Last week, Comey testified in a Senate hearing that he believed he was fired “because of the Russia investigation.” Comey also testified he had told Trump he was not under investigation.

    The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller was seeking interviews with three Trump administration officials who weren’t involved in Trump’s campaign: Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence; Michael Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency; and Richard Ledgett, the former NSA deputy director.

    Trump took to his Twitter account Thursday morning to denounce the report.

    “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” the president tweeted.

    Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s personal lawyer, had responded Wednesday evening to the Post report by saying: “The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal.”

    The Post report cited anonymous sources who were briefed on requests made by investigators. It was not known whether the FBI was the source of the information. The New York Times also reported the story.

    Mueller met Wednesday with the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee in an effort to ensure their investigations don’t conflict.

    The leaders of the Senate Intelligence committee said in a statement issued Wednesday that they “look forward to future engagements” with Robert Mueller.

    Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel’s top Democrat, didn’t provide any other details regarding the meeting. An aide familiar with the meeting said it was held to discuss the investigations, including ways that the parallel inquiries don’t interfere with or overlap one another. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

    The meeting comes a day after lawmakers questioned Justice Department officials about the probe and Mueller’s independence, and after a friend of Trump said the White House was considering firing Mueller.

    Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller last month, testified Tuesday he has seen no evidence of good cause to fire Mueller.

    Perhaps the biggest question swirling around former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony is whether President Trump or other White House officials obstructed justice. Judy Woodruff gets analysis from John Carlin, Carrie Cordero, Greg Craig and George Terwilliger, four people with extensive experience in government and the law.

    Also Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley said his panel will investigate the removal of former FBI Director James Comey and “any alleged improper partisan interference in law enforcement investigations.”

    Grassley announced the investigation in a letter to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat. Grassley’s office said the letter is in response to a recent letter from Feinstein requesting that the committee seek details from senior FBI leadership about Comey’s interactions with President Donald Trump before he was fired.

    The letter said the investigation will also probe Comey’s testimony that Loretta Lynch, as President Barack Obama’s attorney general, had directed him to describe an FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s email practices as merely a “matter” and to avoid calling it an investigation.

    “You and I agree that the American people deserve a full accounting of attempts to meddle in both our democratic processes and the impartial administration of justice … It is my view that fully investigating the facts, circumstances, and rationale for Mr. Comey’s removal will provide us the opportunity to do that on a cooperative, bipartisan basis,” according to the letter.

    Feinstein has said the Judiciary Committee should investigate, but had asked Grassley to keep the investigations separate. Grassley said Comey’s dismissal and Comey’s testimony on Lynch should be looked at together, noting that Comey “took the opportunity in his testimony to clear his own name by denouncing as false the administration’s claims that the FBI rank-and-file had lost confidence in Mr. Comey’s leadership in the wake of the Clinton email investigation.”

    WATCH: Did Comey testimony shed light on whether Trump obstructed justice?

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    President Donald Trump speaks during an event announcing the Air Traffic Control Reform Initiative in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    President Donald Trump speaks during an event announcing the Air Traffic Control Reform Initiative in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is telling his Twitter followers that they are witnessing the “single greatest WITCH HUNT in American history.”

    The president didn’t clarify what exactly he was referring to in the early morning tweet, however he has frequently described reports about possible ties between members of his campaign and Russia as a “witch hunt.”

    Trump writes, “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA” — the acronym referring to his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.

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

    Earlier Thursday, Trump tweeted that a new report suggesting that special counsel Robert Mueller may investigate him for possible obstruction of justice after he fired FBI Director James Comey is a “phony story.”

    READ MORE: Reports say Mueller probe now examining whether Trump obstructed justice

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    A police officer mans a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia,  June 14, 2017. Photo by Joshua Robers/REUTERS

    A police officer mans a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017. Photo by Joshua Robers/REUTERS

    WASHINGTON — On the day that gunfire shattered the morning calm of suburban Washington, dozens of family members of those killed by past gun violence had gathered in the capital to lobby against Republican-backed legislation to make it easier to buy gun silencers.

    The lobbying effort and a related hearing were canceled in the aftermath of the shooting. But gun control advocates aren’t going far.

    They’re plodding ahead, hopeful for action but pragmatic enough to know that the latest shooting doesn’t dramatically alter the dynamics of their uphill battle.

    “Anytime there’s a tragedy, it just once again amplifies the problem with gun violence in our country,” said Lucy McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death four years ago in a dispute over loud music.

    Wednesday’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice marked the first high-profile test of Trump-era gun politics: Republican control of Congress and the White House has all but eliminated talk of tightening federal gun laws. President Donald Trump won election in part by making clear his opposition to new restrictions on gun purchases.

    Gun control advocates, already on the defensive, insist they’re not abandoning their efforts in Congress or state legislatures. But after Wednesday’s shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and several others, they did not immediately land on a new strategy to challenge Trump and the Republican-led Congress.

    Editor’s note: This video contains graphic material.

    “It is frustrating. These kinds of tragedies happen every single day,” said McBath. “Americans should be able to play baseball and dance in a nightclub or attend religious services without the fear of being gunned down. Americans can do better and we deserve better.”

    As gun control advocates eyed the challenging political reality, the powerful National Rifle Association made clear it was not backing off.

    NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch praised the Capitol Hill police, saying that “good guys with guns kept this from getting worse.” She said the organization would continue pushing for gun-friendly legislation at the state and federal level, arguing that new gun-control measures are not the answer.

    “Evil is real, evil exists and it makes no sense that the good cannot protect themselves against evil,” said Loesch. “Those policies have failed where they have been implemented.”

    Echoing those sentiments, the Republicans who control Washington dug in.

    Trump ally Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who has a permit to carry a gun, vowed to keep his weapon close: “On a rare occasion I’d have my gun in the glove box or something, but it’s going to be in my pocket from this day forward,” Collins told a Buffalo ABC affiliate.

    Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., argued that tougher gun laws aren’t the answer. He noted the shooter had a criminal record and was from Illinois, which already has strict gun laws, “yet he was still able to access a firearm somehow.”

    The shooter was identified as James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old home inspector from Illinois who had several minor run-ins with the law in recent years and belonged to a Facebook group called “Terminate the Republican Party.” Officers in Scalise’s security detail wounded Hodgkinson, who was taken into custody and later died.

    Many gun control groups spent the immediate aftermath of the shooting privately contemplating their strategy. Most decided to proceed with caution, issuing public statements that avoided the gun control debate altogether.

    “This shooting is an attack on all who serve and on all who participate in our democracy,” said former Rep. Gabby Giffords, the only other member of Congress shot in the last four decades. Giffords said in a statement that she was “heartbroken” for Scalise and the other victims.

    A group connected to the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre said the latest shooting showed that “more conversations are needed.”

    “This is not about more guns, which we know would not have prevented this event in spite of the presence of Congressman Scalise’s armed detail,” said the group Sandy Hook Promise. “This is about prevention and education, about knowing the signs of someone who might commit an act of violence and how to stop it from happening in the first place.”

    They’re pushing ahead in a harsh environment.

    Trump, who has offered strong support for the NRA, appeared at the group’s convention in April and told members: “The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”

    In one early sign of the new pro-gun environment, Congress in February passed a resolution to block a rule that would have kept guns out of the hands of certain people with mental disorders. Trump quickly signed it.

    Gun control groups hope to defeat an NRA-backed effort to enact a national “concealed-carry reciprocity” law that would require all states to recognize other states’ concealed carry permits. They helped beat back such proposals in Congress repeatedly during Obama’s presidency, but face a far steeper challenge in the Trump era.

    In the face of it all, McBath said simply: “I have hope.”

    AP writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

    Read these lawmakers accounts of the congressional baseball shooting

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    WYOMING, Ohio — An American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea and returned to his home state of Ohio in a coma suffered a “severe neurological injury,” a hospital spokeswoman said Thursday.

    Otto Warmbier is in stable condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center with his mother by his side, hospital spokeswoman Kelly Martin said. Doctors planned an update later Thursday.

    His father, Fred Warmbier, said he does not believe North Korea’s explanation that the coma resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill. He said there was no reason for North Korea to keep his son’s condition a secret and deny him top medical care.

    Fred Warmbier called his son’s return bittersweet.

    “Relief that Otto is now home in arms of those who love him and anger that he was so brutally treated for so long,” he said at a news conference at Wyoming High School, where Warmbier graduated in 2013 as class salutatorian and played soccer.

    Fred Warmbier told told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Wednesday that Otto was “terrorized and brutalized” during his 17-month detention and has been in a coma for more than a year.

    “The day after he was sentenced, he went into a coma,” the father said in an interview scheduled to air Thursday night. He said he and his wife, Cindy, only learned of their son’s condition last week.

    The 22-year-old University of Virginia student was medically evacuated from North Korea and arrived in Cincinnati late Tuesday. He was then taken by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

    Residents of the northern Cincinnati suburb tied blue-and-white ribbons, the school colors, to trees near the family’s home. Joy at his release was mixed with concern over his condition.

    In its first official comment since Warmbier was returned home, North Korea said it released him over humanitarian reasons. The state-run Korean Central News Agency on Thursday said he had been sentenced to hard labor but did not comment on his medical condition.

    Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said there should be an investigation into what happened to Warmbier leading to this “tragic situation.”

    File photo of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier by Kyodo via Reuters

    File photo of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier by Kyodo via Reuters

    Richardson, a Democrat, credited the Department of State with securing Warmbier’s return from North Korea without any preconditions but said a forceful response from the U.S. government would be required “if it’s determined that there was a cover-up and Otto’s condition was not disclosed and he didn’t get proper treatment.”

    Warmbier was serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor in North Korea after he tearfully confessed that he tried to steal a propaganda banner while visiting the country.

    Such detentions in the totalitarian nation have added to tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Three Americans remain in custody.

    The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses Washington and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that his department was continuing “to have discussions” with North Korea about the release of the other three imprisoned American citizens.

    When asked by Fox News what he would tell the families of those detained, Fred Warmbier said, “I wouldn’t know what to say to them. This is, I’ve been told, not precedented.”


    Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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    President Donald Trump interacts with reporters as he welcomes Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the White House in D.C. in May. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    President Donald Trump interacts with reporters as he welcomes Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the White House in D.C. in May. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A clear majority of Americans believe President Donald Trump has tried to interfere with the investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election and possible Trump campaign collusion, a new poll shows. Just one in five support his decision to oust James Comey from the FBI.

    Following Comey’s blockbuster appearance before Congress, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows 68 percent of Americans are at least moderately concerned about the possibility that Trump or his campaign associates had inappropriate ties to Russia. Almost half of Americans say they’re very concerned. Only 3 in 10 say they’re not that concerned.

    Americans largely view the issue along partisan lines. Sixty-two percent of Republicans say they’re not very concerned or not at all concerned about any Russia ties. Though just over half of Americans say they disapprove of Trump’s firing of Comey, the number grows to 79 percent among Democrats. Overall, only 22 percent of Americans support Comey’s dismissal.

    For Sandra Younger, a 50-year-old from San Diego, Comey’s exit reinforced her suspicion “something fishy” was going on with the president and Russia. She said it was inappropriate to fire Comey given that he was overseeing the Russia investigation.

    “If I had nothing to hide and someone wanted to investigate, I would say, ‘Go ahead, do your thing, I don’t care, because you won’t find anything,'” said Younger, a Democrat who imports jewelry supplies. She added of Trump: “He seems to be buddy-buddy with these epic creeps.”

    But William Shepherd, a maintenance worker from Anderson, Indiana, felt it was the president’s prerogative to choose his FBI director. He said he was untroubled by claims Trump tried to persuade Comey to back off the investigation, saying those revelations only emerged after Comey was fired and wanted to defend himself.

    “These headlines don’t really concern me, although they are attention-grabbers,” said Shepherd, a 40-year-old Republican.

    Of the six in 10 Americans who think Trump tried to obstruct or impede the investigation, most are Democrats and independents. Only a quarter of Republicans feel Trump meddled in the probe.

    The poll began the day before Comey testified publicly before the Senate intelligence committee and continued through Sunday. Three percent of interviews were conducted before the hearing.

    Perhaps the biggest question swirling around former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony is whether President Trump or other White House officials obstructed justice. Judy Woodruff gets analysis from John Carlin, Carrie Cordero, Greg Craig and George Terwilliger, four people with extensive experience in government and the law.

    For many Democrats, there’s some irony in coming to Comey’s defense and embracing his concerns about Trump. Last year, Democrats aggressively attacked Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, with many calling for his firing.

    Now that Trump is president and Comey has emerged as a top Trump antagonist, some former Comey critics see his willingness to go after the leaders of both political parties as proof of his independence.

    “I’ve not ever been a particular fan of Mr. Comey’s,” said James Shaw, 53, of Olney, Illinois, pointing to the Clinton saga as a key reason. “But he’s an honest broker. I don’t think he’s politically motivated. I don’t think he’s partisan.”

    Trump’s reference to the Russia probe as a reason for firing Comey bothers Linda Richardson, 62 — but not enough to second-guess his decision. Richardson, who said she’s a registered Democrat but has voted Republican for years, said Trump might have had other reasons, too.

    “I guess you feel like you just need to trust your president,” said Richardson, a retiree from Meade County, Kentucky. “He just knows more about it than I do.”

    Americans are mixed on whether the Justice Department investigation, now led by Robert Mueller, can be fair and impartial. Twenty-six percent are very or extremely confident it can be. Thirty-six percent are moderately confident and an equal share of Americans aren’t very confident or are not at all so.

    Mueller, the former FBI director, was put in charge of the investigation after Trump fired Comey and public pressure mounted for a special counsel to take over. Comey later testified that he’d authorized a friend to disclose to the media his notes on conversations with Trump about the investigation, in hopes that it would lead the Justice Department to name a special counsel.

    The poll shows the public relatively unsympathetic to those leaking information about the investigation. Fifty-four percent say they’re doing more harm than good by potentially damaging national security. Forty-two percent think they’re doing more good by giving the public necessary information.

    In general, 29 percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in the people running the FBI. Fifty-two percent have a moderate amount of confidence and 18 percent have hardly any confidence. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they have a great deal of confidence in the FBI, 38 percent to 24 percent.

    The AP-NORC poll of 1,068 adults was conducted June 8-11 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

    Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

    READ MORE: 5 important stories that have nothing to do with the Russia investigations

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    Farmers in Assam, India, sought better living and working conditions on tea plantations. Photo courtesy of the Accountability Counsel

    Farmers in Assam, India, sought better living and working conditions on tea plantations. Photo courtesy of the Accountability Counsel

    In Peru, communities felt they were being harmed by an oil company. In Mexico, people were dealing with the effects of a hydroelectric project. Those were the first cases lawyer Natalie Bridgeman Fields took, helping communities seeking compensation from large-scale developers.

    At first, she was the only one handling the cases starting to trickle into her new nonprofit, the San Francisco-based Accountability Counsel, and to her knowledge she was the only lawyer focused on people filing grievances through little-known accountability offices, rather than going through the courts.

    International development institutions, such as the World Bank, have provided accountability offices since the mid-1990s to take complaints from people who believe the financial institutions are violating their own rules.

    “I started Accountability Counsel in 2009 as a direct response to seeing communities all over the world having pressing human rights and environmental abuses go unaddressed,” she said.

    Natalie Bridgeman Fields (left), pictured here with an elder from the village of Cerro de Oro in Oaxaca, Mexico, started Accountability Counsel when she noticed people weren't taking full advantage of the accountability offices attached to development projects. Photo courtesy of the Accountability Counsel

    Natalie Bridgeman Fields (left), pictured here with an elder from the village of Cerro de Oro in Oaxaca, Mexico, started Accountability Counsel when she noticed people weren’t taking full advantage of the accountability offices attached to development projects. Photo courtesy of the Accountability Counsel

    More requests started rolling in and her organization grew. The nonprofit now has 13 staff members, including six lawyers dedicated to community-driven complaints, two dedicated to policy advocacy, and a research associate keeping track of all complaints brought to accountability offices to look for trends. Their services to the communities are free, and their funding comes from foundations, law firms and private donors.

    Since its inception, Accountability Counsel has seen 15 cases through to completion, 10 of which have had some form of positive results, she said.

    One of their more recent cases, in Assam, India, addressed a complaint filed against International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank Group, over a company of 24 tea plantations it helped fund called Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited. Employees of the tea plantation cited poor living conditions, lack of hygiene and inadequate protection against pesticides.

    The World Bank’s independent ombudsman office agreed to review the complaint and issued a report last fall that found problems with IFC’s oversight of the project, including wages and the company-provided housing.

    The IFC responded that it agreed with most of the findings and would work to address them. The World Bank’s ombudsman office plans to monitor the IFC’s compliance and issue a follow-up report this fall.

    Accountability Counsel advocated for a dialogue between the tea workers and their employers, which will be starting soon, said Fields.

    Herders in the South Gobi desert of Mongolia recently reached an agreement with a mining company to improve their access to pastureland and water resources. Photo courtesy of the Accountability Counsel

    Herders in the South Gobi desert of Mongolia recently reached an agreement with a mining company to improve their access to pastureland and water resources. Photo courtesy of the Accountability Counsel

    Another case dealt with the sparsely populated expanse of scrub brush and sand dunes in Mongolia’s South Gobi desert, where nomadic herders raise cashmere goats and sheep.

    The herders filed a complaint against the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine — operated by Rio Tinto — for diverting their water resources and eating up their pastureland.

    Fields said her organization helped with some of the technical aspects of their case, but the local Mongolian advocates did the rest. “They’re a fiercely independent culture, and they very much set their own priorities and needs, and did their own advocacy,” she said.

    Four years ago, a council made up of the government of Mongolia, the mining company and herders was set up to address disputes. And this month, they reached a set of agreements to compensate the herders and hire water experts to drill new wells, she said. “It’s incredibly vindicating for all of the hard work the herders put into this.”

    Along with the San Francisco office, Accountability Counsel has a South Asia region office and hopes to open other regional branches in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

    The team also is pushing for systemic changes within the financial institutions themselves to give more weight to human rights when the institutions are considering financing projects.

    The World Bank said in an emailed statement that it “has identified corruption as among the greatest obstacles to economic and social development. Corruption undermines development by distorting the rule of law and weakening the institutional foundation on which economic growth depends.” And therefore, it has “multiple systems in place to monitor and ensure that Bank money is used for its intended purposes, as well as to hold wrongdoers accountable.” (You can read about one of the mechanisms here.)

    “The accountability offices have deficiencies,” said Fields, but “we can see results. It’s a testament of the power of communities.”

    The post This lawyer helps Mongolian herders and Indian tea farmers fight injustice appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will speak at her weekly news conference Thursday, the day after a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice.

    Watch Pelosi speak live in the player above.

    The House of Representatives returned to business Thursday after cancelling votes Wednesday, when a gunman fired at a baseball practice, critically injuring a top Republican lawmaker and wounding several others.

    The shooting spree in Alexandria, Virginia critically wounded House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Also injured were a congressional staffer, a lobbyist and two Capitol police officers.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

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    (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Architect of the Capitol)

    (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Architect of the Capitol)

    Congress struggling to finish a huge budget reconciliation bill. A GOP president pushing a major overhaul of federal payments for health insurance that could transform the lives of sick patients.

    Sound familiar? The year was 1986. I was a rookie health reporter on Capitol Hill and watched a Medicare bill move from introduction, to hearings, to votes in subcommittees, to full committees and then to the entire House — an operation that took months and was replicated in the Senate, before the two chambers got together to iron out their differences for final passage. Everything was published in the official Congressional Record in almost excruciating detail for everyone to see — as long as they could read really tiny type.

    Since then, in three decades of reporting, I’ve had a front-row seat to Congress’ slow, stuttering retreat from such step-by-step transparency, a process known as “regular order.”

    The extreme secrecy is a situation without precedent, at least in creating health law.

    It has now culminated in the Senate GOP leadership’s top-secret process to try to write a health bill that could change the formula for nearly one-fifth of the nation’s economy, with a vote they want to cast by July 4. In fact, a GOP Senate aide told the news site Axios on Monday that no details would be forthcoming until the bill is finished, adding, “We aren’t stupid.” That means bypassing the debate that traditionally went into lawmaking, in order to achieve consensus.

    The extreme secrecy is a situation without precedent, at least in creating health law. Still, it’s not hard to see how we got here — and there is plenty of bipartisan blame to go around.

    Since 1986, I have chronicled the passage (and repeal) of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, the fight over President Bill Clinton’s health proposal, passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill and passage of the Affordable Care Act, in addition to a dozen budget reconciliation measures that altered health care, often in fundamental ways.

    Despite promises from incoming Democratic and Republican leaders over the past decade to restore a time-honored process, regular order has not returned. In fact, not only has it become increasingly rare, but the legislative process itself has become ever-more truncated, with Congress skipping steps it deemed inconvenient to partisan ends, particularly as leaders have “end run” the committees that are supposed to do the lion’s share of legislative work.

    So long as there is bipartisan agreement, regular order can still prevail. A major bill completed in 2015 to reconfigure how Medicare pays doctors was the product of 15 months of work by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, and passed three committees in open session by unanimous roll call votes.
    But it has become progressively — and distressingly — more acceptable to set transparency aside in lawmaking over the years.

    In House-Senate conference meetings, members would frequently refer to what they were talking about using numbers on notes that were not shared with the audience, including reporters. So they basically spoke in code, and if you didn’t have the key you were just out of luck.

    In the 1980s, Rep. Bill Natcher (D-Ky.) routinely closed the subcommittee markup of the spending bill to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, even when there was no particular controversy to avoid. Reporters got to see the bill for the first time at the full Appropriations Committee markup.

    Markups at the House Ways and Means Committee under Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) also were frequently closed to the press and public, mostly for tax bills. Still, once I personally held up a health subcommittee markup for nearly a half-hour because the vote to close the session required a majority of members present. I refused to leave until a couple of committee members could be located and brought to the room to vote in person and kick me out.

    Even meetings open to the press were sometimes less than revealing. In House-Senate conference meetings, members would frequently refer to what they were talking about using numbers on notes that were not shared with the audience, including reporters. So they basically spoke in code, and if you didn’t have the key you were just out of luck.

    Of course, today there are fewer and fewer formal conference committees, places the two sides hammer out their differences in the public eye. Often the final versions of contentious bills are worked out behind closed doors, often without all of the members of the conference committee. In 2003, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) retreated with all the Republican conferees and two of seven Democrats into his Capitol hideaway office in a group he called “the coalition of the willing.” They wrote the final bill in secret while reporters and lobbyists stood outside in the hall for weeks on end. (Sitting in the Capitol is considered civil disobedience and is strictly forbidden.) We were there so long and got to know one another so well that on my birthday someone got all the conferees in the room to sign a birthday card for me.

    Today there are fewer and fewer formal conference committees, places the two sides hammer out their differences in the public eye.

    The final version of that bill was the one that passed the House in the dead of night – Republicans purposely scheduled the vote to begin at 1 a.m. (on the theory it would be easier to get wavering members to vote yes if only to go home to bed). The vote didn’t end until nearly 6 a.m., after President George W. Bush reportedly got the last few members to switch, via phone calls.

    In 2009, creation of the Affordable Care Act was both open and closed. There were hundreds of hearings and markups that lasted days, or, in the case of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, months. But the unsuccessful effort by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to bring Republicans into the fold consisted of weeks of closed-door discussions, and the Senate bill that would ultimately become the foundation of the ACA was written in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office before being debated on the Senate floor for almost a month.

    We got a sneak preview of how the GOP might shepherd its health bill through in 2015, when Republicans — who by then controlled Congress — orchestrated a “dress rehearsal” ACA repeal bill that was vetoed (as they knew it would be) by President Barack Obama. The bill was prewritten by leadership, approved by the relevant House committees, passed by the House and sent to the Senate. The Senate passed it with small changes (and without committee consideration). Rather than having a conference, the amended Senate bill was then simply approved by the House and sent to Obama for his veto.

    People are outraged over the lack of transparency and the loss of regular order. But both Democrats and Republicans have laid the track on which this train is rolling.

    That secretive process is being reiterated now. Only this time a Republican, Donald Trump, is president and the potential for change is real. People are outraged over the lack of transparency and the loss of regular order. But both Democrats and Republicans have laid the track on which this train is rolling.

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

    The post How lack of transparency became ‘regular order’ on Capitol Hill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered more money and a bigger role for private companies in designing apprenticeship programs meant to fill some of the 6 million open jobs in the U.S.

    Trump signed an executive order to roughly double to $200 million the taxpayer money spent on learn-to-earn programs. The money would come from existing job training programs. The executive order would leave it to industry to design apprenticeships under broad standards to be set by the Labor Department.

    “We’re training people to have great jobs and high paying jobs,” Trump said at a White House ceremony. “We’re here today to celebrate the dignity of work and the greatness of the American worker.”

    Trump is directing the government to review and streamline some 43 workforce programs across 13 agencies. Senior administration officials have said Trump was reluctant to spend more federal funds on apprenticeships, so the boost would come from existing money, perhaps from the streamlining process. The officials spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity to preview Trump’s order.

    Companies have long complained that they can’t find trained people to fill highly technical jobs, and apprenticeship programs have sprung up around the country. Companies now have to register with the Labor Department and adhere to government guidelines.

    There are about 500,000 apprenticeship positions in the U.S.

    Trump had campaigned on creating jobs. The executive order addresses the nation’s “skills gap” that have left millions of open jobs unfilled. Apprenticeships would give students a way to learn skills without the crippling debt of four-year colleges, and expand those opportunities to women, minorities and other populations underrepresented among the nation’s roughly 505,000 apprentices.

    Trump accepted a challenge earlier this year from a CEO to create 5 million new apprenticeships.

    The Trump administration has said there’s a need that can be met with a change in the American attitude toward vocational education and apprenticeships. A November 2016 report by former President Barack Obama’s Commerce Department found that “apprenticeships are not fully understood in the United States, especially” by employers, who tend to use apprentices for a few, hard-to-fill positions” but not as widely as they could.

    Just four months into his term, President Trump has made numerous claims about the jobs he’s created and saved. What’s the real record? William Brangham reports.

    The shortages for specifically trained workers cut across multiple job sectors, from construction trades to agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and health care.

    Critics say Trump can’t be promoting apprenticeships while he proposes cutting federal job training funding by as much as 40 percent — from $2.7 billion to $1.6 billion. There also are questions about oversight of apprenticeship programs that begin and operate almost completely under the control of the company.

    Apprenticeships are few and far between. Of the 146 million jobs in the United States, about 0.35 percent — or slightly more than a half-million — were filled by active apprentices in 2016. Filling millions more jobs through apprenticeships would require the government to massively ramp up its efforts.

    “Scaling is the big issue,” said Robert Lerman, a fellow at the Urban Institute.

    Another complication: only about half of apprentices finish their multi-year programs. Fewer than 50,000 people — including 11,104 in the military — completed their apprenticeships in 2016, according to Labor Department.

    Trump’s resume includes the hit television show, “The Apprentice.”

    Associated Press Writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.

    The post WATCH: Trump signs executive order on apprenticeships appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A scientist moves a large magnetic coil down a path, powering an LED (circled) Photo by Stanford University

    A Stanford University scientist moves a large magnetic coil down a path, powering an LED (circled). Photo by Stanford University

    Wireless charging has been a dream of researchers for decades — Nikola Tesla to Tesla Motors. Now, scientists at Stanford University say you may be able to charge your smartphone on the run in the not-too-distant future.

    The engineers have developed a way to transfer power via a magnetic field into a LED light bulb as it moves up to 3.5 feet away. This feat may seem minor, but this proof of principle may usher in wireless charging for everything from smartphones to electric cars.

    Here’s how it works. Remember electromagnets? Those devices you experimented with in your high school physics class. When electricity is run through a metal coil, it creates a magnetic field. The larger the coil and the more power coursing through it; the bigger the field.

    To transmit power wirelessly, the team set up two 23-inch wide electromagnetic coils close to each other. When one coil powers up, its magnetic field extends to cover the other coil, moving electrons — electricity — through the pair. The LED is wired into the second coil, so when the pair is electrified, the light shines. A similar principle is used to take medical pictures with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines.

    “[This concept] initially was developed in quantum mechanics,” said Stanford electrical engineer Shanhui Fan, who co-authored the study published in Nature on Wednesday. “They were originally referring to transmission of light, but we’ve seen there’s a very interesting application of physics concepts in wireless power transfer.”

    An LED bulb (bottom) lights up as wireless energy flows between two electromagnetic coils. The power transfer continues as one coil slides from the other.

    Wireless power has been tried in the past. The Qi system, on the market since 2008, allows for smartphone charging through a thin mat — but only if the phone remains in constant contact with the mat’s surface. Apple is reportedly working on a non-magnetic, wireless charging system for the next iPhone. Experimentally, scientists have delivered power via a magnetic field over a few feet, but any movement makes the system glitch out. Those prior attempts needed the electromagnets to be completely stationary in order to stay in sync, and that’s what makes Fan’s experiment different.

    “What we have discovered is a scheme that allows one to [transmit power wirelessly] in a robust fashion,” Fan told NewsHour. “The high efficiency can be maintained over a range of transfer distances without the need for any active tuning of the circuits.”

    Active tuning refers to a person continuously synchronizing the magnetic fields while electricity runs through them — a prospect that’s less than ideal for consumers who balk at the idea of someone from the power company being in their houses at all times. By using a special computerized amplifier, the electrified source coil in Fan’s design is always in sync with the destination coil. No technician required.

    You don’t need to worry about these electromagnets frying your other devices. Prior research conducted by MIT scientists established standards for using magnetic fields to charge devices over short distances. WiTricity, a company based just outside of Boston, is one firm working on such devices. WiTricity stated, in general, there is no need to worry about wireless power generated by magnetic fields. Because the fields generated by the coils are low frequency — as opposed to the more energetic fields found in scary things like electromagnetic pulses from nuclear detonations — your other devices are safe from being fried.

    A WiTricity wireless car charger is shown under an electric car during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2015. Photo by Steve Marcus/REUTERS

    A WiTricity wireless car charger is shown under an electric car during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2015. Photo by Steve Marcus/REUTERS

    It will likely be at least a decade before Fan’s system is ready for your home. Right now, the large coils transfer 10.5 volts, enough to power a small radio. But Fan argued his method may one day be suitable for cell phones and other devices on the move.

    “A more speculative idea is to use it to charge an electric vehicle while it is moving,” Fan said.

    “It will essentially eliminate the range anxiety associated with electric vehicles,” Fan said. “There are a lot of challenges that still need to be overcome, but what we have done here is an important step forward.”

    The post Want to charge your phone while moving around? This Stanford lab can help appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Haul trucks move coal as seen during a tour of Peabody Energy's North Antelope Rochelle coal mine near Gillette, Wyoming, U.S. June 1, 2016. The haul trucks operating at North Antelope Rochelle Mine hold 380 to 400 tons of material. Photo by Kristina Barker/REUTERS

    Haul trucks move coal as seen during a tour of Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle coal mine near Gillette, Wyoming, U.S. June 1, 2016. The haul trucks operating at North Antelope Rochelle Mine hold 380 to 400 tons of material. Photo by Kristina Barker/REUTERS

    The phrase ‘clean coal’ appears regularly in the news and in the speeches of our politicians, but what does it mean?

    Coal is basically the fossilized mud of ancient swamps and bogs. The energy stored in coal was originally captured through plant photosynthesis in the swamps of the Carboniferous period, 300 million years ago. Unfortunately, those ancient wetland plants and microbes didn’t just concentrate carbon, they also accumulated every kind of element in their tissues. Wetlands are nature’s water filtration systems, so they capture many contaminants — and those ancient wetlands were also quite good at concentrating trace and toxic elements.

    When we burn coal, we undo this long-term sequestration, producing soot and volatile gases that pollute our atmosphere alongside the energy. Throughout the world, many people still burn coal inside their own homes, paying the cost of cooking and heating with coal by breathing in the associated soot and sulfur.

    Science correspondent Miles O’Brien joins Judy Woodruff to take a closer look at a carbon capture system at one of the largest coal power plants in the country and the obstacles stopping them from collecting more.

    Merely injecting CO2 underground is no guarantee that the gas will stay put.

    In the developed world, we have been working on ever cleaner ways to burn coal since the first coal-fired generator began running in England back in the late 1800s. First, we moved away from burning coal inside our homes, concentrating the production of soot into a few large power plants and moving the soot plumes outside of cities. Then we began to make our smokestacks taller, so that pollution plumes would be lofted higher and distributed more broadly downwind of power plants.

    This reduced the immediate problem of inhaling soot, but generated the new problem of acid rain over large areas of the industrialized world.

    To deal with this new problem, we began outfitting our power plants with filters to retain particulates and scrubbers to trap the sulfur gases that were generating acid rain. The newest technological innovations go further, with one U.S. coal plant now able to capture CO2 and prevent its release into the atmosphere.

    Energy Department head Rick Perry (right) visits NRG’s new Petra Nova facility, which captures almost all carbon dioxide from one of its four smokestacks. Photo by NRG

    Energy Department head Rick Perry (right) visits NRG’s new Petra Nova facility, which captures almost all carbon dioxide from one of its four smokestacks. Photo by NRG

    Achieving cleaner emissions from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants requires trapping ever larger quantities of coal combustion residues. These byproducts of coal combustion are one of the dirty truths about clean coal. The trace metals, sulfur, and carbon dioxide that are not being emitted to the atmosphere have to be disposed of. We have reduced regional acid rain problems through the concentration of coal waste into metal and trace element enriched fly ash and gypsum.

    Much of this waste material is stored in slurry ponds or sent to landfills, where contaminants can leach slowly into ground or surface waters or where occasional floods or technical failures lead to massive coal ash spills into rivers.

    We are generating so much coal combustion waste that the industry is constantly finding new ways to incorporate this waste into building materials like concrete and wallboard. As we also begin to trap CO2 we will need to find safe ways to store this concentrated gas so that we are preventing rather than simply delaying its addition to the atmosphere. Merely injecting CO2 underground is no guarantee that the gas will stay put.

    Fish in the Bernhardt lab, being tested for coal ash in their systems. Photo by Rob Gourley

    Fish in Duke’s Ecotoxicology Lab, being tested for coal ash in their systems. Photo by Rob Gourley.

    The other dirty truth about clean coal is the the adjective ‘clean’ has nothing at all to do with the pollution associated with extracting coal out of the ground. The coal that will be burned in America’s new clean coal plants will be mined from the ground. Some of it may come from traditional underground mines, but given national trends much of it will be acquired from extensive strip mines in the west or from mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia.

    The other dirty truth about clean coal is the the adjective ‘clean’ has nothing at all to do with the pollution associated with extracting coal out of the ground.

    It seems odd to use the label ‘clean coal’ for something as obviously destructive as removing mountain ridges with explosives and filling rivers with rock spoil and coal residues. New surface mining technologies mean that fewer miners are required to maintain the same level of coal production. This has reduced the health risk for miners.

    At the same time, surface mines are associated with poorer health outcomes for the people living in communities downwind or downstream of surface mines. Surface mines generate enormous quantities of dust and fine particulate pollution and leach a variety of contaminants into groundwater and into rivers.

    Visualization from Bernhardt lab of leveling effects of mountaintop removal mining. Photo by Matthew Ross

    Visualization from Bernhardt lab of leveling effects of mountaintop removal mining. Photo by Matthew Ross

    Coal continues to be cheap and plentiful, which is why it has always been an important energy source. Its low price hides the costs that are being paid by the people who must live in landscapes fundamentally altered by surface coal mines, breathe air polluted by coal or mining dust, or drink water that has been contaminated by coal mine or coal combustion residues.

    These dirty externalities are the price that some members of our society are being forced to pay to support cheap energy prices. Clean coal technologies that capture and store the CO2 generated from coal fired power plants will be good for reducing atmospheric CO2 impacts, but they won’t change the persistent pollutant legacy of coal at the source of extraction, processing and combustion waste disposal.

    Let’s be honest here: it’s impossible to produce significant amounts of energy without generating pollutants.

    READ MORE: Use carbon capture tech to curb climate change

    Solar energy must be collected by panels that require rare earth metals. Nuclear energy requires uranium. Biofuel farming uses fertilizers and pesticides. The difference between fossil and renewable energy sources is not whether they each pollute, but in the spatial scale and the variety of forms that pollution takes.

    Coal generates unfortunate waste products at every step, from extraction through processing to combustion. Our efforts to pursue cleaner energy sources are critical to enable economic development, to power technological innovation, and to protect public health. We need to use the word ‘clean energy’ more sparingly and more honestly when we evaluate the costs and benefits of future energy decisions.

    This column originally appeared on Miles O’Brien Productions.

    The post Column: What does ‘clean coal’ mean and can it save the planet? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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