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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The battle over tax cuts is heating up.

    The speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, promised today that Republicans are moving full-speed ahead, despite divisions over the issue.

    In a Washington speech, he said the GOP majorities in Congress must press for he called transformational tax reform.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We have to get this done in 2017. We cannot let this once-in-a-generation moment slip by. Yes, the defenders of the status quo — and there are many of them — they are counting on us to lose our nerve, to fall back, or put this off altogether, but we will not wait for a path free of obstacles. Guess what? It doesn’t exist.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In turn, Senate Democrats warned that they may balk at raising the national debt ceiling if Republicans push for new tax breaks for the wealthy.

    Voters in Atlanta’s northern suburbs went to the polls today in a special election that is now the most expensive race ever for a seat in the U.S. House. Total spending in the contest between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff reached at least $50 million.

    The seat came open when Tom Price took the job of secretary of health and human services for President Trump. It has been in GOP hands since 1979.

    There’s been another incident over Syria. An American fighter plane shot down an Iranian-made armed drone overnight. U.S. officials say it was flying near a U.S. training camp along the Syrian-Jordan border. On Sunday, American planes downed a Syrian military jet that bombed near U.S.-backed rebels. Russia, in turn, warned it would target coalition planes.

    Today, at the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged restraint.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General, United Nations: These kind of incidents can be very dangerous in a conflict situation in which there are so many actors and in which the situation is so complex on the ground, so, indeed, I am concerned. And I hope that this will not lead to any escalation of the conflict that is already as dramatic as it is.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the U.S. coalition members, Australia, announced today that it has suspended airstrikes in Syria for now.

    The United States and Russia traded accusations today over another incident. This one came Monday over the Baltic Sea. The Pentagon says that a Russian fighter jet swooped within a few feet of an American reconnaissance plane in the air. The Russians say the U.S. plane swerved too close to their jet.

    Back in this country, brand-new federal statistics find the opioid abuse crisis is swamping hospitals. According to the report, there were nearly 1.3 million emergency room visits and in-patient stays for opioid problems in 2014. The emergency visits were up 64 percent from 2005, while in-patient stays nearly doubled. Officials say the epidemic is still getting worse.

    The Atlantic hurricane season is only three weeks’ old, and already, the Gulf Coast is bracing for a hit. Tropical Storm Cindy formed today and should reach the Texas-Louisiana border region late tomorrow night. A foot of rain could fall as far east as the Florida Panhandle.

    The rain was already falling, and the sea churning today in New Orleans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged people to get ready.

    MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, New Orleans: And we have been through this many, many times before. I don’t want anybody to panic. There’s no reason to do that. But this is going to be a serious event. We could get lucky, and it could turn out to be nothing. We don’t expect that’s going to happen. It could be one to three inches, or it could be three to 12. And if those bands hit us the wrong way intimately over time, then we could have some serious flooding.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, Tropical Storm Bret weakened to a tropical wave, as it blew across the Southern Caribbean.

    Meanwhile, the Southwestern U.S. is seeing one of its worst heat waves in years on this first day of summer. Temperatures reached to near 120 degrees in Phoenix today for the first time in 22 years. The conditions are also tough on fire crews battling wildfires in Southern California and elsewhere. Helicopters and tanker planes have reduced their loads because the superheated air is thinner.

    Wall Street cooled off some today, as falling oil prices took the broader market lower. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 62 points to close at 21467. The Nasdaq fell 51, and the S&P 500 slipped 16.

    And a cultural note. Barbie’s longtime companion doll, Ken, has a new look — 15 of them, in fact. Toymaker Mattel unveiled the revamped dolls today with a range of body types, skin tones and hair styles, from cornrows to man buns. Ken’s makeover follows a similar effort to make Barbie’s image more realistic and diverse.
    It’s about time.

    The post News Wrap: Georgia voters cast ballots in House special election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTS16Y7C

    U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst – RTS16Y7C

    WASHINGTON — A Washington lawyer has confirmed that he’s representing Attorney General Jeff Sessions but is not offering any more specifics.

    A statement provided by the office of Chuck Cooper on Tuesday acknowledges that Cooper is representing Sessions. But the statement says Cooper won’t comment on any confidential client matters.

    The two men have had a longstanding relationship and Cooper advised Sessions ahead of his January confirmation hearing.

    READ MORE: What we learned at the Sessions hearing

    Sessions has faced scrutiny over two contacts he had with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. During a Senate hearing last week, he angrily denied suggestions that he could have had a third, unreported encounter with the ambassador.

    Sessions has also faced questions about his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey last month.

    MORE: What questions remain after Sessions’ Senate testimony?

    The post D.C. lawyer says he’s representing Jeff Sessions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) asks questions at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX39HS7

    Senator John McCain, seen during a June 7 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is calling for the REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – RTX39HS7

    WASHINGTON — Proponents of Senate-passed legislation to hit Russia with economic sanctions and limit the president’s authority to lift the penalties fear the Trump administration may seek to dilute the bill and are urging the House to act quickly.

    Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Tuesday for the House to vote as soon as possible on the measure. McCain, who has been pushing for months for the U.S. to respond to Russia’s election meddling, predicted the legislation would pass overwhelmingly, just as it did in the Senate last week.

    “We all know that the Russians tried to interfere in our elections,” McCain said. “Here we are six months later and we’ve done nothing.”

    Yet instead of building on the burst of momentum created in the Senate, where the measure won 98 votes, the Republican leadership in the House sent the sweeping sanctions package to the Foreign Affairs Committee for a review. The Russia penalties are embedded in a broader bill slapping sanctions on Iran.

    MORE: Here’s what is in the Senate’s new Russia sanctions

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said House Republicans need to pass the sanctions bill “as quickly as possible.”

    “Responding to Russia’s assault on our democracy should be a bipartisan issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate,” Schumer said.

    Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said, “I think the House Republicans are lukewarm and the White House is cold when it comes to Russia sanctions.”

    Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he’s concerned that sending the sanctions bill to the committee will give the Trump administration an opportunity to weaken legislation. Such a move amid multiple investigations into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election would trigger an outcry among many Democrats and even a number of Republicans.

    “Anything short of an up-or-down vote on this tough sanctions package is an attempt to let Russia off the hook,” Engel said.

    But Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took a more hands-off approach. He said he’s confident there is “strong interest” in the House for passing Russia sanctions legislation that’s similar to the Senate bill. But he declined to say how and when the House should proceed and he didn’t express concern over potential alterations.

    “I don’t want to in any way state how they should go about doing their business,” Corker said. “They don’t do that with us.”

    “Responding to Russia’s assault on our democracy should be a bipartisan issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate.” – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

    Any substantive changes to the bill would have to be squared with the Senate’s version, which would require more time to get the measure through Congress.

    AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in an email Monday that Ryan believes Congress must do more to hold Russia responsible. She said “we will determine a path ahead in the House” after the Foreign Affairs Committee’s assessment is complete. Strong didn’t say how long the committee’s review would take or whether changes to the sanctions bill are anticipated.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered only lukewarm support for the bill. Tillerson said during congressional testimony last week that President Donald Trump needs to have “the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation” with Russia. An overly aggressive sanctions bill, Tillerson suggested, could lead Moscow to shut off potentially promising talks with Washington.

    The sanctions package approved by the Senate is aimed at rebuking Russia for what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was a hidden campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election to favor Trump. Lawmakers who backed the legislation have cited Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and its backing of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine as additional reasons for punishing Moscow.

    MORE: Why did the White House consider lifting Russian sanctions?

    The legislation would give Capitol Hill a much stronger hand in determining Russia sanctions policy. The bill would require a congressional review if Trump attempts to ease or end penalties against Moscow.

    A House bill introduced by Engel and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., to punish illegal foreign interference in American elections was pulled at the last minute from consideration by the Foreign Affairs Committee late last month.

    The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Ed Royce of California, explained to Connolly during a committee meeting that he was working to build bipartisan backing for the legislation. He emphasized his interest in highlighting “Russia’s dangerous activities.”

    Royce added that Russia hasn’t gone completely unpunished.

    The Obama administration struck back at Moscow in late December with a series of penalties aimed at Russia’s leading spy agencies, the GRU and FSB, that the U.S. said were involved. The GRU is Russia’s military intelligence agency. The FSB is the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

    The post Some senators urge House to pass Russia sanctions bill ‘as quickly as possible’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its ongoing probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.

    Johnson’s testimony is expected to begin around 10 a.m. EDT. Watch live in the player above.

    Johnson, who served from 2013 to 2017 under former President Barack Obama, met with the Senate Intelligence Committee last week behind closed doors. In Wednesday’s hearing before the House, Johnson will likely face questions about his agency’s reports about Russia’s hacking leading up to the 2016 election and before Inauguration Day, and about whether those assessments have changed.

    The House and Senate intelligence committees are separately investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, as well as possible ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller has stepped in to lead the FBI’s investigation, following Comey’s firing May 9.

    A number of high-profile officials — including former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — have publicly testified in recent weeks.

    Trump criticized allegations about his campaign’s ties to Russia on Twitter last week, calling them a “witch hunt.”

    The Washington Post reported late Friday that Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. Trump’s lawyer told the New York Times the president was not under investigation.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

    The post WATCH LIVE: Jeh Johnson testifies in House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (L) and FBI Director James Comey listen to opening remarks during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTSHXCW

    U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (L) and FBI Director James Comey listen to opening remarks during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst – RTSHXCW

    Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says he believes the Russian government “did not through any cyber intrusion alter ballots, ballot counts or reporting of election results.”

    But he notes he is not in a position to know “whether the successful Russian government-directed hacks of the DNC and elsewhere did in fact alter public opinion and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election.”

    The statement came as part of the testimony Johnson prepared for his Wednesday appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, which details when intelligence officials first detected interference into the country’s election infrastructure.

    WATCH LIVE: Jeh Johnson testifies in House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia

    Johnson writes that he and his staff first heard reports about “scanning and probing activities” into state voter registration bases in August 2016.

    “Both publicly and privately, my staff and I repeatedly encouraged state and local election officials to seek our cybersecurity assistance,” he writes, including a September call for states to strengthen their cybersecurity.

    By election day, many of those officials had asked for help, he writes. But when Johnson declared voting systems as part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure” in January, states remained “neutral to negative” on the decision, he writes.

    Read Johnson’s full statement below.

    Statement of Jeh Charles Johnson

    Before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence June 21, 2017

    Representative Conaway, Representative Schiff and other Members of this Committee:

    In 2016 the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our Nation for the purpose of influencing our election – plain and simple. Now, the key question for the President and Congress is: what are we going to do to protect the American people and their democracy from this kind of thing in the future?

    I am pleased this Committee has undertaken this investigation, and I hope you find answers.

    From December 23, 2013 to January 20, 2017 I served as Secretary of Homeland Security. During that time, I had the privilege of working with Congress to provide additional authorities to the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to defend the Nation’s and the federal government’s cybersecurity, through the Cybersecurity Act of 2015,1 the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act,2 the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014,3 and other new laws.4

    But, there is more to do.

    Cyberattacks of all manner and from multiple sources are going to get worse before they get better. In this realm and at this moment, those on offense have the upper hand. Whether it’s cyber-criminals, hacktivists, or nation-state actors, those on offense are ingenious, tenacious, agile, and getting better all the time. Those on defense struggle to keep up. As in other matters of homeland security, we must mobilize our Nation in support of stronger cyber defenses.

    The views I express here are my own, based upon my personal experiences in national security and, now, as a concerned private citizen. The factual testimony I offer here is based on my best recollection of events months past, without the opportunity to review internal government documents or classified material.

    Sometime in 2016 I became aware of a hack into systems of the Democratic National Committee. Fresh from the experience with the Office of Personnel Management, I pressed my staff to know whether DHS was sufficiently proactive, and on the scene helping the DNC identify the intruders and patch vulnerabilities. The answer, to the best of my recollection, was not reassuring: the FBI and the DNC had been in contact with each other months before about the intrusion, and the DNC did not feel it needed DHS’s assistance at that time.

    As summer 2016 progressed, my concerns about the possibility of a cyberattack around our national election grew. I probed with the cybersecurity experts at DHS what more we could and should be doing. We developed a plan to engage state election officials to offer our cybersecurity assistance to them. My staff also suggested to me that I could, under my existing authorities, declare election infrastructure to be “critical infrastructure” in this country. There are 16 infrastructure sectors – e.g., financial services, dams, transportation, government facilities, the defense industrial base – that are already considered critical infrastructure. By adding election infrastructure to that list, for cybersecurity purposes it would principally mean two things: (1) that election officials, upon request, would be a top priority for the receipt of DHS’s services, and (2) that, as part of critical infrastructure, election infrastructure would receive the benefit of various domestic and international cybersecurity protections.

    On August 3, 2016, in an on-the-record session with reporters, I publicly floated the idea of designating election infrastructure in this country as critical infrastructure.

    Twelve days later, on August 15, I convened a conference call with secretaries of state and other chief election officials of every state in the country. I told state officials that we must ensure the security and resilience of election infrastructure, and offered DHS’s assistance to the states in doing that. I also reiterated the idea of designating election infrastructure as critical infrastructure.

    To my disappointment, the reaction to a critical infrastructure designation, at least from those who spoke up, ranged from neutral to negative. Those who expressed negative views stated that running elections in this country was the sovereign and exclusive responsibility of the states, and they did not want federal intrusion, a federal takeover, or federal regulation of that process. This was a profound misunderstanding of what a critical infrastructure designation would mean, which I tried to clarify for them.

    But, based on what I heard on the call, my team and I decided that a critical infrastructure designation at that time, during the election season, would be counterproductive. I remained convinced it was a good idea, but we put the idea on the back burner. Instead, and more importantly in the time left before the election, we encouraged the states to seek our cybersecurity help. Prior to the election, encouraging the horses to come to the water had to be the primary objective.

    At around the same time we were engaging state election officials, my staff and I began to see and hear very troubling reports of scanning and probing activities around various state voter registration databases. This was obviously a matter of great concern. In the latter half of August, the FBI issued an alert to the states about these activities, which included the IP addresses of those associated with the attempted hacks.

    Both publicly and privately, my staff and I repeatedly encouraged state and local election officials to seek our cybersecurity assistance.

    On September 16, I issued one of a number of public statements encouraging the state election officials to strengthen their cybersecurity, and describing the range of services DHS could provide. In that statement I also said the following:

    “In recent months we have seen suspicious cyber intrusions involving political institutions and personal communications. We have also seen some efforts at cyber intrusion of voter registration data maintained in state election systems. We have confidence in the overall integrity of our electoral systems. It is diverse, subject to local control, and has many checks and balance[s] built in. Nevertheless, we must face the reality that cyber intrusions and attacks in this country are increasingly sophisticated, from a range of increasingly capable actors that include nation-states, cyber hacktivists, and criminals. In this environment, we must be vigilant.”

    In September, President Obama personally asked congressional leaders to issue a bipartisan call to state election officials to seek DHS’s cybersecurity assistance. Speaker Ryan, Leader Pelosi, and Senators McConnell and Reid did so, in a joint letter dated September 28.

    On October 1, I issued a public statement thanking the congressional leaders for their letter, and once again encouraged the states to seek our assistance. Here again I warned of the threat we were seeing to state voter election data:

    “In recent months, malicious cyber actors have been scanning a large number of state systems, which could be a preamble to attempted intrusions. In a few cases, we have determined that malicious actors gained access to state voting-related systems. However, we are not aware at this time of any manipulation of data. We must remain vigilant and continue to address these challenges head on.”

    Meanwhile, in the August-September timeframe, our intelligence community became increasingly convinced that the Russian government was behind the hacks of the DNC and other political institutions and figures.

    I and others also became personally convinced that we needed to inform the American public, prior to the election, of what we knew the Russian government was doing. In the midst of the politically-charged election season, with accusations by one of the candidates that the election was going to be “rigged,” attribution was going to be a big and unprecedented step, and required careful consideration. However, we recognized we had an overriding responsibility to inform the public that a powerful foreign state actor had covertly intervened in our democracy.

    Therefore, on October 7, Director Clapper and I issued the statement formally and publicly accusing the Russian government of directing cyber “thefts and disclosures [that] are intended to interfere with the US election process.” In this statement, we also warned again that “[s]ome states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company” (we were not then in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian government) and once again encouraged state election officials to seek DHS’s assistance.

    Three days later, on October 10, I issued another public statement encouraging states and other jurisdictions to seek our assistance in the 29 days before the election.

    Prior to election day, I also personally reviewed with the CEO of the Associated Press its long-standing election-day reporting process, including the redundancies and safeguards in its systems.

    By election day on November 8, a large number of state and local election officials did in fact respond to our offers of cybersecurity assistance. More specifically, almost every state contacted DHS about its services, and 33 states and 36 cities and counties used DHS tools to scan for potential vulnerabilities and/or sought mitigation advice from us. Overall, DHS proactively provided election-related mitigation advice and cyber threat indicators/information for network defense to likely hundreds, if not thousands, of state and local officials.

    On election day, DHS assembled a crisis-response team to rapidly address any reported cyber intrusions into the election process.

    To my current knowledge, the Russian government did not through any cyber intrusion alter ballots, ballot counts or reporting of election results. I am not in a position to know whether the successful Russian government-directed hacks of the DNC and elsewhere did in fact alter public opinion and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election.

    Following the election, and at the direction of President Obama, on December 29 the U.S. government took a number of steps in response to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with our election. These included a joint report by DHS and the FBI providing details about the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian government to compromise networks associated with the election.

    On January 6, 2017, and also at the direction of President Obama, the intelligence community released an unclassified public report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” to better educate the public about what had happened.

    Following the election, I also returned to the issue of the designation of election infrastructure as critical infrastructure. Throughout the fall, my staff had continued the dialogue with state election officials about the designation.

    Following the election, my staff reported to me that state officials’ stated views of the designation had not changed, and continued to be neutral to negative.

    On January 5, I had one more conference call with state election officials to be sure I understood their reservations. Notwithstanding what I heard, I had become convinced that designating election infrastructure as critical infrastructure was something we needed to do.

    The next day, January 6, I issued a public statement announcing my determination that election infrastructure in this country should be designated as a subsector of the existing “Government Facilities” critical infrastructure sector. I am pleased that Secretary Kelly has reaffirmed that designation.

    This very troubling experience highlights cyber vulnerabilities in our political process, and in our election infrastructure itself. With the experience fresh in our minds and clear in our rear-view mirror, we must resolve to further strengthen our cybersecurity generally, and the cybersecurity around our political/election process specifically. As I said at the outset, the key question for the President and Congress is: what are we going to do to protect the American people and their democracy from future cyberattacks?

    I am prepared to discuss my own views on this topic, and look forward to your questions.

    The post Read Jeh Johnson’s prepared testimony on Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Karen Handel, Republican candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, with husband Steve Handel at her side, gives her acceptance speech to supporters at her election night party at the Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Bita Honarvar /Reuters

    Karen Handel, Republican candidate for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, with husband Steve Handel at her side, gives her acceptance speech to supporters at her election night party at the Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Bita Honarvar /Reuters

    DUNWOODY, Ga. — Republican Karen Handel won a nationally watched congressional election Tuesday in Georgia, and she thanked President Donald Trump after she avoided an upset that would have rocked Washington ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

    Incomplete returns show Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, winning almost 53 percent of the vote over Democrat Jon Ossoff, who won just over 47 percent in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

    “A special thanks to the president of the United States of America,” she said late Tuesday night as her supporters chanted, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

    It was Handel’s most public embrace of the man whose tenuous standing in this well-educated, suburban enclave made a previously safe Republican district close to begin with.

    Handel’s margin allows Republicans a sigh of relief after what’s being recognized as the most expensive House race in U.S history, with a price tag that may exceed $50 million.

    Yet the result in a historically conservative district still offers Republicans a warning that Trump, for better or worse, will dominate the looming campaign cycle. Georgia’s outcome follows similar results in Montana, Kansas and South Carolina, where Republicans won special House races by much narrower margins than they managed as recently as November.

    Republicans immediately crowed over winning a seat that Democrats spent $30 million trying to flip. “Democrats from coast to coast threw everything they had at this race, and Karen would not be defeated,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.

    Democrats still must defend their current districts and win 24 GOP-held seats to regain a House majority next November. Party leaders profess encouragement from the trends, but the latest losses mean they will have to rally donors and volunteers after a tough stretch of special elections.

    Handel, 55, will become the first Republican woman to represent Georgia in the U.S. House, according to state party officials.

    Her win comes after losing bids for governor in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, and it builds on a business and political career she built after leaving an abusive home as a teen.

    “It’s that fighting spirit, that perseverance and tenacity that I will take to Washington,” she said Tuesday night.

    Handel is the latest in a line of Republicans who have represented the district since 1979, beginning with Newt Gingrich, who would become House speaker. Most recently, Tom Price resigned in February to join Trump’s administration. The president himself struggled here, though, edging Democrat Hillary Clinton but falling short of a majority among an affluent, well-educated electorate that typically has given Republican nominees better than 60 percent of the vote.

    Handel emphasized that Republican pedigree often in her campaign and again in her victory speech.

    She also noted throughout the campaign that she has lived in the district for 25 years, unlike Ossoff, who grew up in the district but lives in Atlanta, a few miles south of the 6th District’s southern border.

    In victory, she commended Ossoff and pledged to work for his supporters. She noted last week’s shooting of Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and said politics has become too embittered.

    “My pledge is to be part of the solution, to focus on governing,” she said.

    Democrat Jon Ossoff addresses his supporters after his defeat in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters

    Democrat Jon Ossoff addresses his supporters after his defeat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters

    Ossoff, taking the stage at his own party after conceding the race, told his supporters his campaign “is the beginning of something much bigger than us,” adding, “The fight goes on.”

    Party organizations, independent political action committees and donors from Los Angeles to Boston sent a cascade of money into a race, filling metro Atlanta’s airwaves with ads and its 6th District neighborhoods with hordes of paid canvassers.

    Contrary to the chants at Handel’s victory party, she insisted for months that voters’ choice had little to do with Trump. She rarely mentioned him, despite holding a closed-door fundraiser with him earlier this spring. She pointed voters instead to her “proven conservative record” as a state and local elected official.

    Her protestations aside, Handel often embraced the national tenor of the race, joining a GOP chorus that lambasted Ossoff as a “dangerous liberal” who was “hand-picked” by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. She also welcomed a parade of national GOP figures to Atlanta to help her raise money, with Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan holding fundraisers following Trump’s April visit.

    It was enough to help Handel raise more than $5 million, not a paltry sum in a congressional race, but barely a fifth of Ossoff’s fundraising haul. The Republican campaign establishment, however, helped make up the difference. A super PAC backed by Ryan spent $7 million alone.

    On policy, she mostly echoes party leaders. She said she’d have voted for the House Republican health care bill, though she sometimes misrepresented its provisions in debates with Ossoff. She touts traditional supply side economics, going so far as to say during one debate that she does “not support a living wage” — her way of explaining her opposition to a minimum-wage increase.

    READ MORE: A guide to Georgia’s special election

    The post Republican Handel beats Democrat Ossoff in Georgia special election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Karen Handel, Republican candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, with husband Steve Handel at her side, waves to supporter after her acceptance speech at her election night party at the Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Bita Honarvar/Reuters

    Karen Handel, Republican candidate for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, with husband Steve Handel at her side, waves to supporter after her acceptance speech at her election night party at the Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Bita Honarvar/Reuters

    ROSWELL, Ga. — Election returns show that Republican Karen Handel won just over 52 percent of the vote to secure a House seat in Georgia.

    Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff on Tuesday in Georgia’s hotly contested House race in the Atlanta suburbs. Ossoff won nearly 48 percent of the vote.

    What are the factors playing into the competitive and expensive race for a House seat in Georgia? Judy Woodruff talks to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR about the special election face-off.

    Her victory comes after Republican special congressional election wins in Montana, Kansas and South Carolina.

    Republicans are claiming momentum ahead of the 2018 midterms, but each race was much closer than expected for the four districts.

    Those trends leave Democrats hopeful they can win a House majority next year. They need to flip 24 GOP seats.

    READ MORE: Republican Handel beats Democrat Ossoff in Georgia special election

    The post Republican Handel wins 52 percent of the vote in Georgia race appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Democrat Jon Ossoff is joined by his finance, Alisha Kramer, as he addresses his supporters after his defeat in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters

    Democrat Jon Ossoff is joined by his finance, Alisha Kramer, as he addresses his supporters after his defeat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Republicans just got a big argument for sticking with President Donald Trump and pushing forward with dismantling “Obamacare.” And Democrats are looking almost incapable of translating the energy of their core supporters into actual election wins.

    Tuesday night’s outcome in a Georgia special House race was a triumph for the GOP, and the most recent, and devastating, illustration of the Democrats’ problems, from a weak bench and recruiting problems to divisions about what the party stands for.

    Instead of a win or even a razor-thin loss by Democrat Jon Ossoff that many had expected, Republican Karen Handel ended up winning by a relatively comfortable 4 percentage point margin in the wealthy suburban Atlanta district previously held by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

    That followed another recent Democratic disappointment in Montana, where the Republican candidate won even after last-minute assault charges, and an earlier loss for the Democrats in Kansas.

    Indeed the best news Democrats got Tuesday night was that a different special House race, in South Carolina, ended up closer than the Georgia contest even though it had drawn little national attention. Republican Ralph Norman beat Democrat Archie Parnell by around 3 percentage points in South Carolina, closer than expected and a warning sign to the GOP not to take any seat for granted.

    But for Democrats, having failed to unseat a Republican in four special House elections in a row despite an extremely energized base, it’s now a time for soul-searching — and finger-pointing.

    Ossoff ran a careful campaign and shied away from talking about Trump, and some groups on the left wasted no time in insisting that Democrats must draw brighter contrasts with the GOP.

    “Defeating Republicans in districts that they have traditionally held requires doing something drastically different than establishment Democrats have done before — specifically, running on a bold progressive vision and investing heavily in direct voter contact,” said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America.

    The Georgia race was the most expensive House race in history, with many millions spent on both sides. The fact that that level of investment failed to pay off with a win against a Republican candidate widely viewed as uninspiring left Democrats frustrated and dispirited heading into the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats will need to pick up 24 House seats to take back the majority.

    The outcome “better be a wake-up call for Democrats — business as usual isn’t working,” Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., said over Twitter. “Time to stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future.”

    House Democratic leaders tried to downplay the loss ahead of time, pointing out that the Georgia race took place on GOP-friendly terrain, as did the other recent special elections. Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said that there are 71 districts that will be more favorable for Democrats to contest than the one in Georgia.

    “This is a heavily Republican district,” Crowley said. “It never should have been this close to begin with.”

    But for Republicans from the president on down, it was time to celebrate.

    Trump sent supporters a text message crowing, “Congrats to Karen Handel on a HUGE win in GA! Democrats lose again (0-4). Total disarray. The MAGA Mandate is stronger than ever. BIG LEAGUE.”

    As the results rolled in Tuesday, AshLee Strong, spokeswoman to House Speaker Paul Ryan, mused over Twitter, “Remember when they told us we’d be punished in the special elexs for following through on our promise to #RepealAndReplace #obamacare?”

    Indeed the string of special election wins, especially in Georgia, sent a powerful message to Republicans that they must be doing something right, even though Trump’s approval ratings are low by historical standards and the GOP has yet to notch a single major legislative accomplishment on Capitol Hill. Far from rethinking their support for Trump or their plans to undo former President Barack Obama’s health care law, Republicans seem likely to stay the course.

    And as for the Democrats, they, clearly, are doing something wrong. What exactly it is, and whether they can fix it, will be debated in the weeks and months ahead.

    Erica Werner has covered Congress for The Associated Press since 2010.

    READ MORE: A guide to Georgia’s special election

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    Homeland Security and FBI officials will face questions from lawmakers Wednesday in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that will focus on what can be done to prevent further Russian interference in future U.S. elections.

    A Senate hearing on how to best stop Russia from intervening in the 2018 and 2020 elections will begin at 9:30 a.m. ET. Watch live in the player above.

    Several high-profile officials have testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the last month, including former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    MORE: What questions remain after Sessions’ Senate testimony?

    Officials testifying in Wednesday’s hearing will appear on two panels. The first involves representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and FBI, while the second includes experts from the Illinois State Board of Elections and the National Association of State Election Directors.

    On the same day, the House Intelligence Committee will have its own hearing on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election at 10 a.m. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify.

    WATCH LIVE: Jeh Johnson testifies in House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

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    President Donald Trump concludes remarks to reporters during his meeting with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    President Donald Trump concludes remarks to reporters during his meeting with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to make an announcement in the coming days on whether any recordings exist of his private conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, potentially bringing to an end one of the central mysteries of the ongoing probe that has consumed his White House.

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that he expects an announcement “this week” on the possibility of tapes. The president fired Comey in May and then tweeted that the lawman, who was overseeing the investigation into possible contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”

    Trump and his aides have since then steadfastly refused to clarify that extraordinary if ambiguous warning. The president last month told reporters that “I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime in the near future” but offered no hints as to whether the tapes exists, except saying that some journalists would “be very disappointed” to find out the answer.

    The House intelligence committee has asked White House counsel Don McGahn to provide an answer to the question about tapes by Friday. Under a post-Watergate law, the Presidential Records Act, recordings made by presidents belong to the people and can eventually be made public. Destroying them would be a crime.

    Comey testified before the Senate that Trump asked for his loyalty and asked for him to drop the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Some have raised the possibility that Trump’s request constituted obstruction of justice, but the president has yet to produce the tapes that could theoretically clear his name.

    The investigation was originally launched to look into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Trump has at times cast doubt on that conclusion, and Spicer said Tuesday that he has yet to discuss with the president whether he believes that Moscow was behind the election interference.

    “I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing,” Spicer said.

    America’s top intelligence officials have concluded that Russia undoubtedly interfered in America’s 2016 presidential campaign. Characterizing it as the “high-confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community,” Comey testified that there is no doubt that the Russians meddled “with “purpose,” ”sophistication” and technology. Trump, meanwhile, has dismissed investigations into the meddling and potential collusion with his campaign associates as a “witch hunt.”

    Robert Mueller, the special counsel now overseeing the investigation, met Tuesday with the leaders of the House Intelligence committee. Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., issued a brief statement confirming the meeting but providing no details about their discussion.

    Mueller is slated to meet Wednesday with top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including the chairman, GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and the top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. He’ll also meet with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

    One reason for the Capitol Hill meetings is to ensure there is no conflict between Mueller’s probe and the work of the congressional committees.

    Lemire reported from New York.

    WATCH: Comey says, ‘Lordy, I hope there are tapes’

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    A jellyfish floats in the sea near the Adriatic town of Split, Croatia. Photo by Matko Biljak/Reuters.

    A jellyfish floats in the sea near the Adriatic town of Split, Croatia. Photo by Matko Biljak/Reuters.

    Jellyfish — the pulsing, jello-like balloons of the ocean — have fascinated beachgoers and aquarium visitors for generations. More than 2,000 species of “jellies” — as they are known in the scientific community — exist on planet Earth, but to many, the creatures remain a beautiful, but alien, oddity.

    NewsHour science producers Nsikan Akpan and Julia Griffin recently took a trip to Baltimore to speak with jellyfish expert Jennie Janssen, assistant curator of the Blue Wonders exhibit at the National Aquarium. Here are six little-known facts she wants people to know about jellies.

    1. Some jellies have eyes

    Jellyfish eyes range from primitive to more complex. Some simply have what Janssen described as “eye spots,” which detect light, but little else. Others, including box jellies (Tripedalia cystophora), have a more complex visual system complete with lenses, retinas and corneas. These jellies can see blurry images.

    Not only do the complex eyes give a means to visually navigate their environments, but in some cases, they allow jellies to detect gravity. A crystal known as a “statolith” hangs under the eye, like a tennis ball hanging from a rope. As a result, they always knows which way is up.

    2. Jellies are not always free-swimming

    Jellies are best known for their graceful bobs up and down the water column. But the early days for jellies are much more sedentary.

    Juvenile jellyfish exist as polyps and are “bottom living,” Janssen said. They attach to rocks and corals on the ocean floor, sucking up plankton food, similar to sea anemones or coral.

    Given enough time — and the right conditions — the ground-based polyps transform into “ephyrae.” That’s the free-swimming equivalent of a jelly’s teenage years, before the animals finally mature into the adult “medusa” shape we know so well.

    A young girl watches Australian white-spotted jellies on display at Baltimore's National Aquarium. Photo by Theresa Keil/National Aquarium.

    A young girl watches Australian white-spotted jellies on display at Baltimore’s National Aquarium. Photo by Theresa Keil/National Aquarium.

    3. Jellies can live in freshwater

    It’s well known that jellies thrive in the open ocean and in brackish water. But zero salt content in their water? That’s not a problem for some jellies.

    The tiny freshwater jellyfish (Craspedacusta sowerbii), for example, is native to China’s Yangtze River Basin. But it can now be found in freshwater systems around the world, including the United States.

    4. Jellies and bubbles don’t mix

    “Bubbles tend to be not so great for jellies, and in the public aquarium world, that makes it a little tricky trying to keep and display these beautiful animals,” Janssen said.

    Keeping the bubbles away takes quite a bit of engineering. Creating conditions that encourage jellies to grow correctly and float effortlessly requires a rounded tank and a particular flow rate for the circulating water.

    “You need to have just enough flow for them to not rest on the bottom, but also you don’t want to have so much flow that they are rocketing around,” Janssen said. “They need to be able to pick up their food and also not to be contacting the walls and edges of the exhibit and interacting with each other too much. As you can imagine with those long tentacles, it could be a big tangled mess, and it’s not fun for anyone.”

    5. Some jellies aren’t jellies

    There are the true jellies. Think the “scyphozoan” jellies that come complete with weaponized, stinging cells. But what about animals like comb jellies? Technically, they’re not part of the club.

    A comb jelly uses its cilia to swim through a display at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. Video by Victor Grigas via Creative Commons. Gif by Andrew Wagner.

    A comb jelly uses its cilia to swim through a display at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. Video by Victor Grigas via Creative Commons. Gif by Andrew Wagner.

    “They don’t have any stinging cells, and by definition true jellies would have to have stinging cells,” Janssen said. But that doesn’t make them any less fascinating to the jellies caretaker.

    “[Comb jellies] actually have these beautiful comb rows of cilia, which is how they get their name. Those rows of cilia undulate down the sides of their body in coordination with each other, and they reflect light, which gives them this rainbow reflection down the sides of their body.”

    The Mnemiopsis species takes the visual performance one step further with bioluminesce. “If the water gets stirred, they fire off this gentle, electric blue light, which is fantastic,” Janssen said.

    6. ‘Sea lice’ is caused by jellies.

    Bathe in the warm waters off the coast of the southern United States, and you may fall victim to an itching reaction known colloquially as “sea lice.”

    But the rash is actually a misnomer. It is not caused by the fish parasite bearing the same name, but rather thimble jellies in their free-swimming ephyra stage.

    “You got stung by juvenile jellyfish when you were in the water, and you don’t feel it until a little bit later,” Janssen said. “You didn’t see them and got stung by them, and those little nematocysts that get fired into your skin then start to fire off after you get out of the water.”

    It all makes for the most unpleasant of beach souvenirs.

    For more facts on jellyfish, watch NewsHour’s full interview with Janssen below.

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    We'll explore the wide worlds of science, health and technology with content from our science squad and other places we're finding news.

    The post 6 things you may not know about jellyfish appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testifies about Russian meddling in the 2016 election before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testifies about Russian meddling in the 2016 election before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Jeh Johnson, the former Homeland Security chief, says he wasn’t aware that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

    The top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, asked Johnson if former FBI Director Jim Comey would have opened such an inquiry without any evidence for doing so.

    Johnson says Comey would not have made such a move lightly.

    Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy had earlier asked Johnson pointedly whether he knew of any evidence of possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Johnson says he not aware of any information beyond what’s been reported publicly and what the U.S. intelligence community has gathered.

    WATCH: Jeh Johnson testifies in House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia

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    Bill Priestap, Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Division at the FBI, testifies about Russian interference in U.S. elections to the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Bill Priestap, Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Division at the FBI, testifies about Russian interference in U.S. elections to the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Current and former government officials painted a sinister portrait Wednesday of Russian cyberattacks on the United States aimed at interfering in the U.S. presidential election last year. Moscow stockpiled stolen information and selectively disseminated it during the campaign in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the American political process, they said.

    The Russians “used fake news and propaganda and they also used online amplifiers to spread the information to as many people as possible,” Bill Priestap, the FBI’s top counterintelligence official, told the Senate Intelligence committee.

    While he said the Russians had conducted covert operations targeting past American elections, the internet “has allowed Russia to do so much more” than before. But, he added, the “scale and aggressiveness” was different this time, with the primary goal being to sow discord and aid the candidacy of Republican Donald Trump, the eventual winner.

    “I believe the Russians will absolutely try to continue to conduct influence operations in the U.S.,” which will include cyberattacks, Priestap said.

    The House Intelligence committee, also investigating Russian meddling in the election, heard former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson from the Obama administration say that the high-tech intrusion did not change ballots, the final count or the reporting of election results.

    Johnson described the steps he took once he learned of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, his fears about an attack on the election itself and his rationale for designating U.S. election systems, including polling places and voter registration databases, as critical infrastructure in early January, two weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration.

    “In 2016 the Russian government, at the direction of (President) Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election — plain and simple,” Johnson said.

    Johnson described his discussions with state election officials about ensuring the integrity of the voting process. He said 33 states and 36 cities and counties used his department’s tools to scan for potential vulnerabilities.

    A Senate hearing on how to best stop Russia from intervening in the 2018 and 2020 elections will begin at 9:30 a.m. ET. Watch live in the player above.

    He also said he contacted The Associated Press, which counts votes, and its CEO, Gary Pruitt.

    “Prior to Election Day, I also personally reviewed with the CEO of The Associated Press its long-standing election-day reporting process, including the redundancies and safeguards in its systems,” Johnson said.

    In the end, Johnson said, “To my current knowledge, the Russian government did not through any cyber intrusion alter ballots, ballot counts or reporting of election results. I am not in a position to know whether the successful Russian government-directed hacks of the DNC and elsewhere did in fact alter public opinion and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election.”

    Johnson was homeland security chief for the Democratic president from December 2013 to January 2017.

    The Senate committee was hearing from officials at DHS and the FBI’s counterintelligence division. Special counsel Robert Mueller is conducting an inquiry into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

    Trump has decried the investigations as witch hunts and has rejected the assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia’s hacking and disinformation campaign was intended to aid his candidacy.

    Johnson’s designation of U.S. election systems as critical infrastructure was aimed at providing more federal cybersecurity assistance to state and local governments.

    Johnson announced the shift on the same day as the release of a declassified U.S. intelligence report that said Putin “ordered” an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. That report said Russian intelligence services had “obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.”

    None of the systems targeted or compromised was involved in vote tallying, the report said, and there was no indication Russia’s prying changed vote counts in key states.

    But Johnson’s decision triggered an outcry from state and federal election organization officials. They complained that Johnson’s department failed to respond to questions and concerns they had about the designation before the change was made.

    American elections are highly decentralized. Voters cast ballots in roughly 185,000 precincts spread over 9,000 jurisdictions during the 2016 presidential election. Elections are also subject to rigorous and elaborate rules that govern how and what equipment is used.

    READ MORE: Jeh Johnson says he was unaware of FBI Russia probe

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    Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testifies about Russian meddling in the 2016 election before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testifies about Russian meddling in the 2016 election before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says cyberattacks orchestrated by the Russian government did not alter any ballots, ballot counts or the reporting of election results.

    But Johnson tells the House Intelligence committee that he doesn’t know whether the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails and other Moscow-directed interference “did in fact alter public opinion, and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election.”

    Johnson tells the panel that U.S. voting systems remain vulnerable to future cyberattacks. He’s urging lawmakers to grapple with the problem and to shield a pillar of American democracy.

    He says, “We have to learn.”

    WATCH: Jeh Johnson testifies in House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia

    Johnson says “the Russians will be back” and possibly other “bad cyber actors,” too, to meddle in future elections.

    Johnson served as DHS secretary from December 2013 to January 2017.

    READ MORE: Jeh Johnson says he was unaware of FBI Russia probe

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    Special counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    Special counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The team of lawyers investigating potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign is still growing, but its early composition reveals a breadth of experience in criminal law and in following the money.

    The team includes a former Fulbright Scholar in Russia, a criminal law expert who’s argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, a veteran prosecutor who took down mobsters and went after Enron executives, and a lawyer with experience in the Watergate case.

    At the top is Robert Mueller, who spent 12 years as director of the FBI before retiring from the bureau in 2013. He left the WilmerHale law firm last month to serve as special counsel in charge of the investigation.

    The group he’s already assembled — with experience in international organized crime and the fundamentals of criminal and national security law — suggests he’s prepared to dig deep in a wide-ranging and probably lengthy investigation.

    A spokesman for Mueller has confirmed the names of seven of the staff lawyers on board so far; more are expected to be added.

    A look at those seven:

    ANDREW WEISSMANN: The veteran Justice Department prosecutor brings years of experience in complex financial fraud cases, corporate misconduct and organized crime.

    He was the deputy and then leader of the department’s task force that investigated and prosecuted Enron executives in the energy giant’s stunning collapse.

    He also served for years as a federal prosecutor in New York City, where he prosecuted members of the Gambino, Colombo and Genovese families.

    Between 2011 and 2013, he was the FBI’s general counsel under Mueller and before that served as his special counsel.

    He’s also spent the past several years as chief of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section. That section’s cases have included large international bribery prosecutions and the criminal charges in January against German automaker Volkswagen in an emissions cheating scam.

    MICHAEL DREEBEN: A criminal law scholar, the deputy solicitor general has argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court in his decades of practice.

    He’s represented the federal government’s position on a broad array of legal questions, including police use of GPS tracking to monitor the whereabouts of suspects; whether former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell crossed the line by performing favors on behalf of a wealthy benefactor who provided gifts to McDonnell and his wife; and whether seemingly threatening online posts could be treated as criminal acts.

    AARON ZEBLEY: Zebley’s had a long bond with Mueller, serving as his chief of staff at the FBI and then working alongside him at WilmerHale.

    Zebley was an FBI special agent who worked counterterrorism investigations but also served as a national security prosecutor with cases including Chinese espionage.

    Before his career in private practice, he worked as a special counselor in the Justice Department’s national security division.

    JAMES QUARLES: As a young lawyer, Quarles served as an assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal involving President Richard Nixon.

    Quarles has worked since the mid-1970s at WilmerHale, where he’s been focused on litigation.

    LISA PAGE: Page is a former trial attorney in the Justice Department’s organized crime and gang section. She prosecuted, among others, an associate and member of the Lucchese organized crime family and Bulgarian nationals in a money laundering scheme involving fraudulent eBay ads. Page also served in the FBI’s general counsel office.

    JEANNIE RHEE: Another WilmerHale partner, Rhee focused in private practice on representing people in government investigations, including white-collar criminal probes and criminal and civil fraud matters. Before that, she served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides advice to government agencies on questions including national security, executive privilege and constitutional matters.

    She served earlier in her career as an assistant United States attorney in the District of Columbia.

    ELIZABETH PRELOGAR: This lawyer with experience in the solicitor general’s office and at the Hogan Lovells law firm is also a former Fulbright Scholar who studied in Russia.

    READ MORE: Intel officials detail how Russian cyberattacks sought to interfere with U.S. elections

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    Superheroines comics panel at National Museum of Women in the Arts by Tiffany

    “Who Are the New Superwomen of the Universe” panel at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., ahead of Awesome Con 2017. From left to right, moderator Emily Whitten, Carolyn Cocca, Ariell Johnson, Gabby Rivera and Ashley Woods. Photo by Tiffany Williams

    As a young woman of color, Ariell Johnson felt that the comic books she read were written with other people in mind, i.e. not her. That’s until she found Marvel’s Storm, a black female superhero and member of the X-Men, who can fly and control the weather.

    Johnson wanted to give others a chance to find their own versions of Storm, a character with whom they could identify. In 2015, Johnson founded Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia and became the first black, female comic book store owner on the East Coast.

    There’s a slow but growing movement toward greater diversity in comics. On Wednesday, Johnson took part in “Who are the New Superwomen of the Universe?,” a panel about women in comics at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, ahead of Awesome Con, Washington D.C.’s Comic Con.

    The panel also featured Gabby Rivera, the writer behind Marvel’s America, a queer Latina superhero; Ashley Woods, Stranger Comics’ illustrator of Niobe, a young half-elf, half-human black teenager; and Carolyn Cocca, author of “Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation.”

    With the release of the new “Wonder Woman” movie, the topic of diversity in comics is timely. The panel was excited about the new movie, lauding the camaraderie of the Amazon women on the all-female island of Themyscira, and admiring their physical strength (many of the actors were Olympic and professional athletes) on display in the film’s early fight scenes.

    But Cocca said in the second half of the film, it was hard not to notice the lack of female characters aside from Wonder Woman. Johnson said she is waiting to see if the sequel features Nubia, a character in some story lines who is described as Wonder Woman’s twin black sister.

    The speakers also discussed the importance of treating female comic book superheroes with the same artistic respect as male characters, and raised the troubling tendency for comics to depict women superheroes of color in animalistic and sexualized ways.

    Workshops at D.C.’s Awesome Con were also focused on issues of diversity with titles such as, “Making LGBT+ Representation Matter in Fiction,” “#TotallyAwesomeAsians: Creators & Representation” and “Stop Queerbaiting, It’s Time to Be Brave.”

    Photo from slide show reads: "Justice League #1, Variant Cover 2011, (D. Finch). Male superheroes posed like WW (Wonder Woman) Kelly Turnbull, 2012. Photo presented by Carolyn Cocca during the "Who are the New Superwomen of the Universe" event at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

    Close-up of photo from slideshow reads: “Justice League #1, Variant Cover 2011, (D. Finch). Male superheroes posed like WW (Wonder Woman) Kelly Turnbull, 2012.” Slide shown by Carolyn Cocca as part of her presentation during the “Who are the New Superwomen of the Universe” event at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

    In recent years, there’s been some pushback to comics moving in a direction that is more diverse or inclusive, a reaction that is not uncommon when progressive movements begin, according to Cocca, a professor of politics, law and gender studies at SUNY Old Westbury.

    When Wonder Woman debuted in 1941, women had become a significant part of the wartime workforce, including key roles in the comic industry, said Cocca. At that time, Wonder Woman was seen carrying her trusted friend Steve Trevor to safety. But after the war years, it was Steve Trevor who was depicted holding a distressed-looking Wonder Woman.
    By the 1960s, Wonder Woman had renounced her powers and opened up a clothing boutique.  Female characters were no longer portrayed with the same level of gravitas as the males, Cocca said, wearing revealing clothes and increasingly sexualized. The new “Wonder Woman” movie offers a return to a more serious representation of a female main character.

    The significance of strong female superheroes was not lost on Woods who got her start by selling her own comic book in the independent section of a comic book store. She recalled going to a convention with photo copies of her comic in hand because she couldn’t afford to bring book copies.

    Eventually, Woods was scouted by Stranger Comics’ president Sebastian Jones and Amandla Stenberg (who played Rue in “The Hunger Games” movies) at a comic convention. From there the four-part series Niobe began with Woods as illustrator.

    Before she got the call from Marvel, Rivera said it was women who supported, promoted and helped make her book “Juliet Takes a Breath” successful. She credits her family, particularly her mother, for her sense of resiliency. When someone once told her that only her mother would read her work, she said defiantly, “So, my mom is amazing.”

    A similar determined spirit led Johnson (her business card reads “Head Nerd in Charge”) to buy a set of comic books each week in college that she would take to her favorite coffee shop to read. A decade later she decided it was time to open up her own business.

    Her goal is to make Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse a “community geek space” for longtime residents and newcomers alike. For those who aspire to bring their own stories and perspectives to the comic industry, her advice is, “Just do it. If you have an idea, write it down.”

    The post Meet the wonder women behind a new generation of superheroes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Trump advisers Steve Bannon (back L) and Jared Kushner (back R) listen as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with members of his Cabinet at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Trump advisers Steve Bannon (back L) and Jared Kushner (back R) listen as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with members of his Cabinet at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    There was a time when the White House press briefings were routine. Now, they’re becoming shorter — that is, if they happen at all.

    Last week, most of the briefings with White House press secretary Sean Spicer went off camera; reporters’ questions could only be recorded as audio. On Monday, neither video or audio was allowed at the briefing. When the White House press office does answer questions, it’s increasingly the “verbal equivalent of a shrug,” the Washington Post said.

    Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions shrugged off some questions from senators during a hearing about Russia’s role in the 2016 elections. Among the things that are still unclear: when President Donald Trump decided to fire Comey and why Sessions was involved. (Sessions also declined to discuss any of his conversations with the president.)

    Trump called the whole thing a “witch hunt” in a series of messages that set Twitter afire on Friday. (Trump attorney Michael Cohen, meanwhile, has hired a lawyer of his own.)

    While we wait for answers, here are five stories that provide some insight into what’s happening outside the Capitol.

    1. For the first time, The Southern Baptist Convention denounces white nationalists and racists

    Geyna Moore, 19, raises up her hands amongst other students during a worship service at the Baptist Campus Ministry at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, United States, September 23, 2015. In the Bible Belt of southern U.S. states, Kentucky and Georgia among them, church and religion are ever present, from well-attended services to prayer groups and choirs. Crosses hang from necklaces and prayers are said before meals and Little League baseball sessions. Even so, Americans as a whole are becoming less religious, judging by such markers as church attendance, prayer and belief in God, according to a recent poll by Pew Research Center. Picture taken September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Brittany Greeson - RTS66II

    Geyna Moore, 19, raises up her hands amongst other students during a worship service at the Baptist Campus Ministry at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Photo by REUTERS/Brittany Greeson – RTS66II

    The Southern Baptist Convention condemned white nationalists and racism at its annual meeting last week in Phoenix, a historic moment for a church born from divisions over slavery before the Civil War.

    Other religious groups have taken similar stances; the Episcopal Church voted as early as 1991 that the “practice of racism is a sin.” While the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for its support of slavery and segregation in 1995, it did not formally denounce racism until it was approached by Williams Dwight McKissic, Sr., the preacher of a 3,000-person congregation at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

    The issue hit home for McKissic, who began preaching more than four decades ago in his hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In 2015, after local police officer Brad Miller shot and killed black teen Christian Taylor, McKissic guided community dialogues — often focused on race — to help his congregation move forward. A few months ago, McKissic, a black minister, said he was alarmed by the racist views of alt-right leader Richard Spencer. He said he wanted to be able to tell sympathizers of the alt-right movement, Southern Baptist or not, that the church denounced racism.

    “My assumption was that it was a no-brainer,” McKissic told the NewsHour.

    McKissic asked the Southern Baptist Convention to reject “the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called ‘Alt-Right,'” a racist movement based on a mix of white nationalism, neo-Nazi beliefs and hard-edged populism.

    After some revisions and a series of votes, the resolution earned overwhelming support and a standing ovation.

    “This resolution has a number on it. It’s resolution number 10. The white supremacy it opposes also has a number on it. It’s 6-6-6,” Russell Moore, of Grace Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee, said ahead of the vote, referencing an apocalyptic bible passage.

    “God loves everyone, and we love everyone,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said in a statement that also told members to “come against every kind of racism that there is.”

    Why it’s important

    Roughly 15 million people belong to the Southern Baptist Convention. Of those, 85 percent are white, a figure that has remained unchanged since at least 2007, according to the Pew Research Center. What has changed is the percent of black church members — down from 8 percent in 2007 to 6 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the percent of Southern Baptists who are millennials is growing, up from less than 1 percent in 2007 to 7 percent this year, according to Pew.

    McKissic said the convention’s younger generation helped convince church leaders to reverse course and vote against racism: “It reinforced our belief that the Southern Baptist Convention is on the right page and moving in the right direction with regards of race,” McKissic said.

    But McKissic said he hopes convention leadership will still address other church teachings that he said promoted racism, like the “curse of Ham,” an obscure Old Testament reference used to justify slavery. McKissic had asked the convention to publicly denounce the theory as part of his resolution, but that part of his proposal was removed by the committee before the final vote.

    He wants to see church congregations reflect greater unity, too.

    “We’re the church, not a black church and a white church,” McKissic said. “In the 21st century, our churches need to become one.”

    2. D.C. police issue warrants for Turkish agents involved in a May brawl

    D.C. police issued warrants for the arrest of more than a dozen Turkish security agents that were involved in a brawl outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., last month.

    The violence began when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted by a group of protesters at the residence after his May 16 meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House.

    Cell phone video posted online from that day shows a heated exchange of words before men with suits run across Sheridan Circle onto the grass; bodies fly to the ground as police try to break up a flurry of fistfights.

    “The Turks … the Turks attacked me,” a man, face slashed and bloodied, yelled to a videographer at the scene.

    D.C. police said after the brawl that they had arrested two members of Erdogan’s security team. But those people were later released after the State Department argued they had diplomatic immunity, as reported by the Washington Post.

    Last week, D.C. police said two people were arrested and charged with felony and misdemeanor assault charges; the department has issued warrants for 14 other people involved in the fight.

    Critics were upset that these charges were not pursued more quickly. But a statement from Turkey’s foreign ministry last week said “the decision taken by US authorities is wrong, biased and lacks legal basis; that the brawl in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s Residence was caused by the failure of local security authorities to take necessary measures.”

    “This incident would not have occurred if the US authorities had taken the usual measures they take in similar high level visits and therefore … Turkish citizens cannot be held responsible for the incident that took place,” the statement said. The Post reports that Turkish officials also claim they were acting in self defense.

    Why it’s important

    U.S President Donald Trump (L) welcomes Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the entrance to the West Wing of the White House in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX363K1

    President Donald Trump, left, welcomes Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on May 16 at the entrance to the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

    The clash comes at a moment of high tension for the U.S. and Turkey.

    The countries disagreed over a decision by the U.S. in February to arm Kurdish rebels fighting against ISIS in Syria. Turkey considers those fighters to be members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (known as PKK), which has led a 30-year revolt against the Turkish government; the U.S. also considers it a terrorist group, the AP notes.

    Turkish officials claimed some protesters involved in the May brawl were members of that organization.

    What makes this so complicated: Most of Erdogan’s security force is protected by diplomatic immunity, which protects embassy employees from prosecution in a host country.

    But a state department official told CNN that “their diplomatic immunity lapsed when they left the country, and they would be subject to arrest if they returned to the United States.”

    It’s too early to tell whether Turkey will waive diplomatic immunity, or make those named as suspects available for interviews, the AP writes. Either way, the conflict isn’t likely to make the relationship between the two NATO allies — who must work together closely in Syria as well as on the global fight against terrorism — any better.

    3. Seattle police release audio of the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles

    Two Seattle police officers shot and killed a 30-year-old black woman who had alerted authorities of a possible burglary at her apartment over the weekend. The Seattle Police Department released dashcam audio of the fatal encounter on Monday.

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

    Shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday, two officers responded to reports of a burglary at a fourth-floor apartment, where they found a woman “armed with a knife,” the department initially reported. “Both officers fired their duty weapons, striking the woman,” its online blotter said.

    Family members identified the woman as Charleena Lyles and told the Seattle Times that she was several months pregnant and had suffered from mental health issues the past year.

    Seattle police confirmed that three children were inside the apartment when the shooting occurred and that the officers had “less lethal force options” at their disposal. The department confirmed to the Times that both officers are white.

    Police said a burglary report would normally require one officer, but two were dispatched “because of a recent officer safety caution associated with the caller.”

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

    The released audio, which can be hard to hear at times, starts with some chatter among the officers about a previous visit to the caller’s home regarding a domestic violence incident. A short time later, a woman is heard greeting the officers. There is talk of a stolen Xbox.

    Moments later, an officer is heard saying “Get back! Get back!” before shots ring out. Police said the officers shot the woman multiple times after she had brandished a knife.

    “There’s no reason for her to be shot, in front of her babies!” Monika Williams, Lyles’ sister, is heard saying in a Times video.

    “Why couldn’t they have Tased her? They could have taken her down. I could have taken her down,” Williams said.

    Lyles’ family believes race was a factor in the shooting, the Times reported.

    “Today’s incident is a tragedy for all involved,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement. The mayor also promised a thorough investigation into the shooting.

    Why it’s important

    The SPD was the subject of a federal civil rights investigation in 2011, in which the Justice Department found that the department routinely engaged in “in a pattern or practice of using unnecessary or excessive force.”

    Since that probe, the city of Seattle has been under a consent decree, meaning there was an agreement between the local police department and the Justice Department to pursue court-enforceable reforms with an independent monitor attached.

    But the Trump administration has pushed back on these agreements. In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote in a memo that it “is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.” Sessions then called for a review of all consent decrees. It’s not clear what that review, or this incident, means for Seattle’s force.

    4. Yoko Ono finally gets an “Imagine” songwriting credit

    Photo of John LENNON; with Yoko Ono, playing white grand piano at Tittenhurst home during making of the "Imagine" film. Photo by Tom Hanley/Redferns

    Photo of John LENNON; with Yoko Ono, playing white grand piano at Tittenhurst home during making of the “Imagine” film. Photo by Tom Hanley/Redferns

    After more than 45 years, Yoko Ono will finally share the songwriting credit on the 1971 hit “Imagine” with her late husband John Lennon.

    Last week, the National Music Publishers Associations announced the long overdue change as it presented Ono with the Centennial Song Award.

    In a 1980 BBC interview with the couple, excerpted for the ceremony, Lennon says Ono was left off the credits because he was “a bit more selfish, a bit more macho.”

    “[The song] should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it – the lyric and the concept – came from Yoko,” the Beatles co-founder told BBC. “But those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution,” Lennon said.

    Lennon added that Ono’s 1964 book “Grapefruit” directly inspired “Imagine.”

    Why it’s important

    The sexism Ono faced decades ago still exists today when it comes to female artists and their contributions to their own work, as Bjork explained in a2015 interview with Pitchfork:

    “I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this—I’m not dissing him—this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second.”

    Bjork told Pitchform that for her latest album, media reports gave another producer sole credit for her songs, ignoring the Icelandic artist’s own work in the process. Joni Mitchell has talked about encountering a similar problem, as have Solange Knowles, M.I.A. and many others.

    “I want to support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things. It’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times,” Bjork said.

    5. The new grand-slam champion that took women’s tennis by surprise

    Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 10, 2017   Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko celebrates with the trophy after winning the final against Romania’s Simona Halep   Reuters / Benoit Tessier     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS16HO7

    Jelena Ostapenko celebrates with the trophy after winning the final against Romania’s Simona Halep. Photo by Reuters / Benoit Tessier.

    Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia dominated the French Open earlier this month, stunning 15,000 fans and millions of viewers worldwide.

    Ostapenko defeated No. 3 Simona Halep, and expressed her gratitude toward the crowd following her win, the Associated Press reported.

    “I still can’t believe I won. It was always my dream, when I was a child I was watching players here. I’m just so happy,” she said at the Court Philippe Chatrier. “I’ve just enjoyed it so much. I have no words.”

    Ostapenko, 20, is now the first unseeded woman to win the French Open since 1933, CNN pointed out. She’s also the first Latvian player in history to claim a Grand Slam championship. The last woman to win her first tour title at a major was Barbara Jordan of the U.S., who won the 1979 Australian Open.

    Why it’s important

    The absences of Serena Williams, who is currently pregnant, and Maria Sharapova, who was denied a wild card position after a failed drug test, have created an opening in the sport for new recruits like Ostapenko.

    “We didn’t have the big names here,” tennis great Chris Evert told reporters. “But I tell you what, a star was born today, and I’ve got to say, it’s so great for women’s tennis. We need fresh, young blood.”

    It’s also a sport of unpredictability, where there sometimes appears to be no clear algorithm when it comes to ranking. Higher-ranked players have won 67.9 percent of Women’s Tennis Association matches, The Economist reported. At this year’s French Open, about 62 percent of the matches were won by higher-ranked players. But since 2014, the publication says, the rate of upsets in the game have also increased.

    So what’s next for Ostapenko? She now heads to the All England Club next month and will begin her season in Birmingham at the Aegon Classic, contending with eight of the world’s top 10 players.

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

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    The U.S. and China began high-level security talks Wednesday focused largely on North Korea, amid outrage in Washington over the death of an American college student after his imprisonment in the North.

    President Donald Trump has been counting on China to use its economic leverage with the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as American concern grows over the North’s acceleration towards having a nuclear missile that can strike the U.S. mainland.

    In meetings at the State Department involving U.S. and Chinese diplomats and defence chiefs, North Korea was to get “top billing,” according to Susan Thornton, the senior U.S. diplomat for East Asia.

    The U.S. and China are trying to build on “positive momentum” created when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Florida in April, she said.

    [READ NEXT: Will Otto Warmbier’s death affect U.S. strategy on North Korea?]

    This year’s meeting separates out the security aspects. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis were hosting Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi and General Fang Fenghui, the chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s joint staff department.

    Thornton said the talks would cover the South China Sea, where Beijing’s island-building and construction of possible military facilities have rattled neighbours and caused tension with Washington; U.S.-Chinese military cooperation to reduce risk of conflict; and efforts to defeat the Islamic State group.

    Divisive trade issues will be dealt with at a later date.

    Tillerson and Mattis are holding a joint news conference at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the State Department. Watch it live in the player above.

    The post WATCH LIVE: Tillerson and Mattis to hold joint news conference after talks with China appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Dawn Nagel checks up on patient Scott Steffens, 67, at St. Joseph Hoag Health in Orange County, Calif., on April 27, 2017. Nagel informed Steffens he needs to treated for sepsis. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    Dawn Nagel checks up on patient Scott Steffens, 67, at St. Joseph Hoag Health in Orange County, Calif., on April 27, 2017. Nagel informed Steffens he needs to treated for sepsis. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    Dawn Nagel, a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., knew she was going to have a busy day, with more than a dozen patients showing signs of sepsis. They included a 61-year-old mechanic with diabetes. An elderly man recovering from pneumonia. A new mom whose white blood cell count had shot up after she gave birth.

    Nagel is among a new breed of nurses devoted to caring for patients with sepsis, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s attempt to fight an infection causes widespread inflammation. She has a clear mission: identify and treat those patients quickly to minimize their chance of death. Nagel administers antibiotics, draws blood for testing, gives fluids and closely monitors her charges — all on a very tight timetable.

    “We are the last line of defense,” Nagel said. “We’re here to save lives. If we are not closely monitoring them, they might get sicker and go into organ failure before you know it.”

    Sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals, according to Sepsis Alliance, a nationwide advocacy group based in San Diego. More than 1 million people get severe sepsis each year in the U.S, and up to 50 percent of them die from it. It is also one of the most expensive conditions for hospitals to treat, costing $24 billion annually.

    Most hospitals in the U.S. have programs aimed at reducing sepsis, but few have designated sepsis nurses and coordinators like St. Joseph’s. That needs to change, said Tom Ahrens, who sits on the advisory board of Sepsis Alliance.

    “From a clinical point of view, from a cost point of view, they make a huge impact,” said Ahrens, a research scientist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

    A patient finds out she has sepsis at St. Joseph Hoag Health in Orange County, Calif., on April 27, 2017. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to infection. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    A patient finds out she has sepsis at St. Joseph Hoag Health in Orange County, Calif., on April 27, 2017. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to infection. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    Recent federal rules could help foster such a change: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began requiring hospitals in 2015 to measure and report on their sepsis treatment efforts. They must make sure certain steps are completed within the first three hours after sepsis is identified, including getting blood cultures, giving intravenous fluids and starting patients on a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

    Sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals … More than 1 million people get severe sepsis each year in the U.S, and up to 50 percent of them die from it. It is also one of the most expensive conditions for hospitals to treat, costing $24 billion annually.

    Sepsis is difficult to diagnose, but if it’s caught early enough it can be treated effectively. If not, patients are at risk of septic shock, which can lead to organ failure and death.

    St. Joseph Hoag Health, an integrated medical system in Orange County, Calif., that operates St. Joseph and six other hospitals, began employing dedicated sepsis nurses throughout the system in 2015. Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and its namesake sister facility in Irvine were the first to try out the nurses about seven years ago, and four other hospitals have since followed.

    The hospitals in the St. Joseph Hoag Health system treat about 8,000 cases of sepsis each year, at a cost of $130 million, according to Andre Vovan, a critical care physician who oversees St. Joseph Hoag’s anti-sepsis programs.

    The health system also created sepsis care checklists and a mobile app to help coordinate care for patients at risk. But the nurses are at the core of the initiative. They know how to treat sepsis like “the back of their hands,” Vovan said. “Their familiarity allows them to do it faster.”

    Speed is critical in sepsis: evidence shows that patients who get treatment quickly are more likely to survive.

    Dawn Nagel, who has worked as a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., for 18 years, as part of the hospital’s sepsis unit since 2015. Nagel tracks patients and starts antibiotics, takes labs, gives fluids and checks on patients, all on a strict timetable to reduce patients’ chances of going into septic shock. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    Dawn Nagel, who has worked as a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., for 18 years, as part of the hospital’s sepsis unit since 2015. Nagel tracks patients and starts antibiotics, takes labs, gives fluids and checks on patients, all on a strict timetable to reduce patients’ chances of going into septic shock. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    “It’s so much easier to give someone salt water and antibiotics. It’s a lot harder when they are in the ICU and you are trying to get them off a ventilator,” said Cecille Lamorena, who is in charge of the sepsis nurses at St. Joseph Hospital.

    Sepsis nurses give families an idea of what to expect — both during the patients’ hospital stay and after their discharge, Vovan said.

    “We want the families to understand that just because you survive sepsis, it doesn’t mean you can get home and run a marathon,” Vovan said. “It can take weeks to months to recover.”

    Sepsis nurses and coordinators also serve as on-site experts to ensure that required standards are followed by others, said Dr. David Carlbom, medical director at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The sepsis nurse coordinator there, Rosemary Mitchell Grant, educates staff and tracks data collected through the medical records. She also carries out projects to improve outcomes and helps organize an annual sepsis conference.

    Dawn Nagel washes her hands between seeing patients at St. Joseph Hoag Health in Orange County, Calif., on April 27, 2017. Nagel tracks patients’ progress, orders antibiotics, gives fluids and makes rounds, all on a strict timetable to reduce patients’ chances of going into septic shock. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    Dawn Nagel washes her hands between seeing patients at St. Joseph Hoag Health in Orange County, Calif., on April 27, 2017. Nagel tracks patients’ progress, orders antibiotics, gives fluids and makes rounds, all on a strict timetable to reduce patients’ chances of going into septic shock. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    “Hospitals that don’t have a systematic approach could have a delay in recognition of sepsis,” Carlbom said, noting that busy acute care nurses might miss its subtle signs.

    The St. Joseph Hoag Health effort seems to be working. From 2015 to 2016, the death rate for all of its hospitals dropped from 15 percent to 12 percent for severe sepsis/shock, and from 12 percent to 9 percent for all sepsis cases, Vovan said. The length of time patients stay in the health system’s hospitals is also dropping, he said. At St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, the number of patients who went into septic shock dropped 50 percent in the same two-year period, Lamorena said.

    The sepsis program has support from doctors, including Dr. Matthew Mullarky, an emergency room physician at St. Joseph. He said he relies on the hospital’s sepsis nurses to help find and follow patients who are at risk. “With the knowledge they have, they ensure we are moving in the right direction quickly,” Mullarky said. “These patients are so overwhelmingly sick.”

    At the hospitals in the St. Joseph Hoag network, there is always a dedicated sepsis nurse on duty. Dawn Nagel said that at St. Joseph Hospital, where she works, “sometimes I feel there should be three of us.”

    Nagel weighs several factors as she tries to identify patients at risk. She scouts for signs they are worsening — a drop in blood pressure, confusion, increased heart rate, a high white-blood-cell count. And since sepsis is a response to infection, she wants to know if there is one. Pneumonia and urinary tract infections are the most common.

    Nagel, who has worked as a nurse at St. Joseph for 18 years, seems to know everyone she passes in the halls. She spends the day bouncing between the emergency room, the maternity ward and the medical-surgical floor. She pitches in wherever needed, grabbing a pillow for one patient, starting an IV for another.

    She carries a binder with tracking sheets for each patient. All potential sepsis patients are followed for at least 24 hours, during which they get visits from the sepsis nurse. Nagel’s phone rings constantly — nurses and doctors asking if she can check on patients. She also receives alerts on the in-house sepsis app embedded in her phone. When she meets with patients, she hands them a brochure on sepsis and explains more about it.

    Nagel checks up on Scott Steffens. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    Nagel checks up on Scott Steffens. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

    One afternoon in May, Nagel checked up on Donald Hammock, 82. He already was being treated for sepsis with fluids and antibiotics, and Nagel wanted to ensure they were working. “I’m just another set of eyes to make sure you’re getting better, not worse,” she told him. “I’m like your infection babysitter.”

    Hammock said he was glad for the extra attention. He had been treated for severe sepsis in 2011 after spiking a fever, and his blood pressure had dropped precipitously. At the time, Hammock said, he didn’t know anything about the illness. “I could have died right there.”

    “I’m glad you got in here,” Nagel replied. “As you know, you can get really sick with sepsis.”

    After a quick exam, Nagel told Hammock his vitals looked stable, he seemed alert, and his lungs sounded clear. “You are looking good to me,” she said.

    She crossed him off her list and headed to the next room.

    KHN’s coverage in California is funded in part by Blue Shield of California Foundation.

    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.

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    An attendee leaves flowers for Nabra Hassanen, a teenage Muslim girl killed by a bat-wielding motorist near a Virginia mosque, during a vigil in New York City. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    An attendee leaves flowers for Nabra Hassanen, a teenage Muslim girl killed by a bat-wielding motorist near a Virginia mosque, during a vigil in New York City. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    A memorial for the 17-year-old Muslim girl who was murdered nearby a Virginia mosque last weekend was set ablaze in Washington, D.C. this morning, fire officials said.

    Officials told Fox5DC that the makeshift memorial in Dupont Circle for Nabra Hassanen was set on fire after remains were found burnt around the neighborhood’s fountain around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

    Authorities have detained a 24-year-old man from South Carolina in connection to the fire, The Hill reported.

    The Dupont neighborhood was one of several vigils held across the country Tuesday for the slain teen, who was found dead in a pond in Sterling, Virginia, on Sunday.

    Fairfax County Police said the murder is not being investigated as a hate crime. Instead, police said they believe the murder was the result of road rage.

    Hassanen and a group of other teenagers were walking and biking along a road after a Ramadan event at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, ADAMS, Center, a large mosque in Sterling, when they got into a dispute with the suspect, Darwin Martinez Torres. Moments later, he attacked the group with a baseball bat, police said.

    Torres is suspected of beating and killing Hassanen. The girl’s body was found in a pond in Loudoun County, Virginia, hours later.

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