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

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    St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez poses for investigation photographs after he fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop in July 2016, in a combination of photos released on June 20, 2017, after a jury declared Yanez not guilty of second-degree manslaughter. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via Reuters

    St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez poses for investigation photographs after he fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop in July 2016, in a combination of photos released on June 20, 2017, after a jury declared Yanez not guilty of second-degree manslaughter. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via Reuters

    Three police brutality trials concluded this week, all of them without a conviction for the officers involved.

    The legal developments in what were once high-profile shootings — all of them involving the death of a black man — were largely lost in the nonstop news out of Washington.

    Here’s a look at what happened in those trials and in other major police shooting cases, as well as what’s next for the families of the victims and the officers involved.

    PHILANDO CASTILE

    The school identification card of Philando Castile is seen in a police evidence photo released June 20, 2017, taken after he was shot dead by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop last year.   Photo courtesy of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via Reuters

    The school identification card of Philando Castile is seen in a police evidence photo released June 20, 2017, taken after he was shot dead by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop last year. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via Reuters

    Original incident: St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who is Latino, fatally shot Philando Castile, 32, during a July 2016 traffic stop.

    Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds — who was in the car along with her 4-year-old daughter when the shooting occurred — famously live streamed the shooting’s aftermath to Facebook. Castile is seen bloodied and slumped in his seat while an officer, later identified as Yanes, is heard yelling, “I told him not to reach for it!”

    The latest: Yanez faced one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm in connection with Castile’s death. Last Friday, a jury acquitted Yanez of all charges. Thousands protested in St. Paul over the outcome of the trial.


    Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio joined PBS NewsHour Weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the trial and reaction.

    Castile’s mother, Valeria Castile, delivered a very strong rebuke of the verdict, defending her son.

    “I will continue to say murder because where in this planet do you tell the truth and you be honest and you still be murdered by the police of Minnesota?” Valerie Castile said.

    Days after the verdict, authorities publicly released dashcam video and an audio recording related to the case. The video shows Yanez telling Castile he was pulled over for a broken taillight. Castile is heard telling Yanez, “Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me.”

    WARNING: Video contains graphic footage that may be disturbing to viewers.

    The scene escalates quickly from there, ending with Yanez discharging his gun seven times into the car. Five bullets hit Castile. Reynolds is heard saying the same statements she made in her Facebook live stream. In the audio clip, Yanez tells dispatchers he was stopping a car because two individuals inside looked like suspects in a reported robbery.

    Another video was released Wednesday that showed a handcuffed Reynolds with her daughter in the back seat of a squad car moments after the shooting.

    The fallout: The New York Times spoke with several experts on their reactions to the videos shown in court. The defense argued that Castile, who was later revealed to have THC in his system at the time of the shooting, was too impaired to listen to Yanez’s orders. Prosecutors argued that Castile was reaching for his wallet, per Yanez’s instructions.

    Castile was also licensed to carry a gun. David French wrote that the verdict was a “miscarriage of justice,” saying, “it’s simply false that the mere presence of a gun makes the encounter more dangerous for the police. It all depends on who possesses the gun. If he’s a concealed-carry permit-holder, then he’s in one of the most law-abiding demographics in America.”

    As Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker noted, the NRA did not respond to the verdict.

    Earl Gray, one of Yanez’s lawyers, told Pioneer Press that “when you look at the whole picture, and what was going through Yanez’s mind at the time, I think he did the right thing.”

    What’s next? Following the verdict, the City of St. Anthony said Yanez would not return to an active duty role on the police force. In fact, the city said in a statement that it would offer Yanez a “voluntary separation agreement” after it “has concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city.”

    Castile was a cafeteria worker at an elementary school in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Huffington Post profiled how nearly 400 students, who adored Castile, were grappling with the news of his death and, now, the news of the acquittal.

    SAMUEL DUBOSE

    University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing stands near a car after driver Samuel Dubose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from body camera video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters

    University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing stands near a car after driver Samuel Dubose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from body camera video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office on July 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office/Handout via Reuters

    Original incident: Former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing shot and killed Samuel DuBose on July 19, 2015, during a traffic stop. DuBose’s car was missing a front-end license plate.

    The Ohio ex-officer was first tried in 2016 for fatally shooting the 43-year-old unarmed black man. That trial ended in a hung jury after jurors said they were unable to reach a verdict after 25 hours of deliberation.

    The latest: After trying the case a second time, a judge declared a mistrial again this week. The jury spent more time deliberating this week — 31 hours in total — than it did in the first case. Tensing, who shot DuBose once in the fatal encounter, had faced charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter in the retrial.

    Tensing has said he was “dragged” by DuBose’s car after the motorist started to drive away from him. Prosecutors said footage from Tensing’s bodycam contradicted his version of events.

    “You have to try to put yourself into the position of an officer on the scene of a situation like this and ask yourselves, ‘What would I do?’” defense attorney Stew Mathews is quoted as telling the jury earlier this week.

    What’s next? DuBose’s family has demanded another trial, but it remains unclear whether prosecutors will try the case a third time.

    SYLVILLE SMITH

    Bodycam footage of the fatal encounter between Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown and 23-year-old Sylville Smith in August 2016.

    Bodycam footage of the fatal encounter between Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown and 23-year-old Sylville Smith in August 2016.

    Original incident: Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who is black, fatally shot 23-year-old Sylville Smith after an August, 13, 2016 traffic stop turned into a foot chase. Heaggan-Brown was charged with homicide for Smith’s death, which sparked days of unrest in Milwaukee.

    The Milwaukee Police Department fired Heaggan-Brown in October after filing charges unrelated to the Smith case — two felony counts of second-degree sexual assault — against him.

    The latest: On Wednesday, a Milwaukee jury found Heaggan-Brown not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide in the Aug. 13, 2016, shooting death of Smith.

    Smith reportedly fled the scene after Heaggan-Brown stopped him in a traffic stop. At one point during the pursuit, Smith turned around with a semi-automatic gun in hand and turned toward the officer. At this, Heaggan-Brown shot Smith in the right arm.

    Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that the first shot was justified. But Heaggan-Brown shot Smith again — in the chest — seconds later. Prosecutors argued that the second shot, which proved fatal, was excessive. The defense said the officer shot a second time because he thought Smith still posed a threat.

    “[Heaggan-Brown] believed all along he was justified in what he did. It wasn’t a situation that he asked to be put in,” defense attorney Jonathan Smith said after the verdict.

    Smith’s stepsister Shannon Daniels said “I feel like no matter what it is, these police officers all over the world, they can just literally murder you.”

    What’s next? Moments after the acquittal was announced, Smith’s family said it filed a federal civil lawsuit against the City of Milwaukee and Heaggan-Brown.

    Heaggan-Brown will face the unrelated sexual assault charges in another trial set for August.

    THE MICHAEL BROWN CASE

    Demonstrators have been gathering in Ferguson, Missouri, since the Aug. 9 shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown by a local police officer. Protesters have been gathering nightly to call for the arrest of the officer, Darren Wilson. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Demonstrators gather in Ferguson, Missouri, after the Aug. 9 shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by a local police officer Darren Wilson. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Original incident: Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, fatally shot Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. The shooting death of Brown, who was black, brought intense scrutiny to the use of police force, galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement, and ignited a national conversation about race, police treatment of minorities and the problems of the criminal justice system.

    A grand jury declined to indict Wilson in Brown’s death. Police had said Wilson acted in self-defense when Brown charged at him. But some witnesses and Brown’s family said Brown was fleeing or had his hands up before the officer shot and killed him, a view that the Department of Justice says is not supported by forensic evidence.

    The latest: In 2015, Brown’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Ferguson and ex-officer Wilson. The wrongful death suit was seeking at least $75,000 in punitive and compensatory damages and attorney’s fees. The lawsuit claimed that Wilson used “an unnecessary and unreasonable” amount of force on the unarmed 18-year-old.

    On Tuesday, the city announced that it reached a settlement with the family. Though details are not readily available to the public, U.S. District Judge Richard Webber called the agreement, “fair and reasonable compensation,” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

    A Ferguson City attorney told the Dispatch that an insurance company for the city paid $1.5 million to settle the suit.

    What’s next? Ferguson, currently under a consent decree with the Justice Department, reported this week that the city was making progress in its reform for the police department, citing improvements in guidelines over use of force and police accountability, the Dispatch reported.

    However, a few of citizens that spoke up at the hearing had some complaints, the newspaper noted.

    CHARLEENA LYLES

    Original incident: Two Seattle police officers, identified as Steven McNew and Jason Anderson, responded to a report of a robbery June 18 at Charleena Lyles’ residence. Dashcam audio, released by the Seattle Police Department, indicate the situation appeared to be calm when the officers first interacted with Lyles and entered her apartment.

    Moments later, one of the officers said “Get back! Get back!” before gun shots are heard. It’s unclear how many shots were fired. It’s also unclear how many hit Lyles, who died at the apartment complex. Lyles, who was pregnant, had grappled with mental health issues the past year and were afraid the officers would take her children away, her family told the Seattle Times.

    Authorities said Lyles, at one point during the fatal encounter, was armed with two knives. An initial police statement said both officers, who are white, could have used “less lethal force options” to mitigate the situation. Lyles’ three children were also in the apartment at the time of the shooting.

    According to audio released by police, the officers briefly discussed an incident with Lyles that occurred days before the robbery report. Lyles was arrested and charged with obstruction and harassment after allegedly threatening two responding officers with large shears.

    The latest: Seattle police released additional surveillance footage and 911 audio Thursday.

    In the 911 call, Lyles is heard reporting a break-in at her home, saying she noticed that some items went missing when she left the apartment for a few hours. In the hours-long video from the hallway outside her apartment, no one — other than Lyles — is seen entering or leaving the unit.

    Attorney James Bible, who’s representing Lyles’ family, told the Times that this additional evidence was an attempt by the police “to taint the perceptions of Charleena.”

    “What this sounds like is that police want to form some kind of inference, that either she’s mentally ill or that she’s flat out lying and trying to get officers to the apartment,” Bible said of the police department’s decision to release the video and audio.

    What’s next? The Times reported that the investigation could take months.

    Seattle was the subject of a 2011 Justice Department investigation that led to a court agreement between the city and the agency to rollout federally mandated reforms within the police department.

    WATCH: Why do so few deadly police shootings end in police convictions?

    The post Three high-profile police shooting trials ended this week. Here’s what happened appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Senator Dean Heller arrives at the Senate Judiciary Committee Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee hearing

    Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) arrives at the Senate Judiciary Committee Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee hearing on The Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on November 13, 2013. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Nevada Republican Dean Heller became the fifth GOP senator to declare his opposition to the party’s banner legislation to scuttle much of Barack Obama’s health care overhaul on Friday, more than enough to sink the measure and deliver a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump unless some of them can be brought aboard.

    Echoing the other four, Heller said he opposes the measure “in this form” but does not rule out backing a version that is changed to his liking. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he’s willing to alter the measure to attract support, and next week promises plenty of back-room bargaining as he tries pushing a final package through his chamber.

    Nonetheless, Heller’s announcement underscores the scant margin of error Republican leaders must deal with. Facing unanimous Democratic opposition, McConnell can afford to lose just two of the 52 GOP senators and still prevail.

    Besides the five who’ve announced outright opposition, several other GOP senators — conservatives and moderates — have declined to commit to the new overhaul. The measure resembles legislation the House approved last month that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said would mean 23 million additional uninsured people within a decade and that recent polling shows is viewed favorably by only around 1 in 4 Americans.

    Heller, facing a competitive re-election battle next year, said he was opposing the legislation because of the cuts it would make in Medicaid. The federal-state program provides health care to the poor, disabled and many nursing home patients.

    The Senate bill would also erase the tax penalties Obama’s 2010 law imposes on people who don’t purchase insurance. It would allow insurers to cover fewer benefits and repeal tax boosts on wealthier people that help finance the statute’s expanded coverage.

    [Watch Video]

    The Senate legislation would phase out extra federal money Nevada and 30 other states receive for expanding Medicaid to additional low earners. It would also slap annual spending caps on the overall Medicaid program, which since its inception in 1965 has provided states with unlimited money to cover eligible costs.

    “I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Nevadans,” Heller said.

    Trump has spoken favorably about both the House-passed bill and the Senate version unveiled this week, though he declared several times as he ramped up his campaign for the presidency that he would not cut Medicaid.

    Heller said that to win his vote, GOP leaders would have to “protect Medicaid expansion states” from the bill’s current cuts.

    “It’s going to be very difficult to get me to a yes,” he said, noting that conservative Republican senators would likely be reluctant to add spending back to the measure.

    Heller spoke at a news conference in Las Vegas with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who has also assailed the House and Senate health care bills for cutting Medicaid. The state has added 200,000 more people to its program under the Obama overhaul.

    READ NEXT: Another Senate Republican defects on health bill

    Sandoval said the Senate bill “is something that needs to change.” It would be politically difficult for Heller to take a different stance on the measure from the popular Sandoval.

    Heller got an opponent for next year when first-year Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen announced this week she would seek his Senate seat.

    Just hours after McConnell released the 142-page legislation on Thursday, four conservatives said they opposed it. They were Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.

    Underscoring the sensitivity of the bill, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who has not suggested she opposes the measure, declined to comment on its components when asked at a news conference Friday.

    “It was just released yesterday. So, we have 142 pages to go through,” she said.

    Asked about the bill’s impact on Medicaid insurance coverage for lower-income Iowans, Ernst said, “I wouldn’t say they are losing it.” Iowa opted to expand, and has added more than 150,000 people to its rolls since 2014.

    READ NEXT: GOP senator warns against rushed vote on health care bill

    Under special rules McConnell is using that will block Democrats from using a filibuster to kill the bill, the legislation cannot include provisions that make policy changes that don’t primarily affect the budget. The Senate parliamentarian will make that decision.

    Democrats hope to use those rules to erase some language from the bill, including a section barring consumers from using the measure’s health care tax credits to buy insurance that covers abortions.

    Realizing they’re outnumbered, Democrats and their liberal allies were planning events around the U.S. over the next few days aimed at building public opposition to the bill.

    In one instance, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and MoveOn.org were planning weekend rallies in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Each state has expanded Medicaid and has a GOP senator.

    Regina Garcia Cano reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

    The post Five GOP senators now oppose health care bill as written appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    FILE PHOTO: Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attends the 25th Arab Summit in Kuwait City

    FILE PHOTO: Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attends the 25th Arab Summit in Kuwait City, March 25, 2014. Photo by Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Faced with a sweeping set of demands, Qatar insisted Friday it can indefinitely survive the economic and diplomatic steps its neighbors have taken to try to pressure it into compliance, even as a top Emirati official warned the tiny country to brace for a long-term economic squeeze.

    Given 10 days to make a decision, Qatar said it was reviewing the specific concessions demanded of the tiny Persian Gulf nation, which include shuttering Al-Jazeera and cutting ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. But Qatari officials didn’t budge from their previous insistence that they won’t sit down with Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to negotiate an end to the crisis while under siege.

    “I can assure you that our situation today is very comfortable,” Qatari Ambassador to the U.S. Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani told The Associated Press. “Qatar could continue forever like that with no problems.”

    Asked whether Qatar felt pressure to resolve the crisis quickly, he said: “Not at all.”

    As the United States stepped back from any central mediating role, all sides seemed to be settling in for a potentially protracted crisis. Qatar’s neighbors insisted their 13-point list of demands was their bottom line, not a starting point for negotiations.

    [Watch Video]

    If Qatar refuses to comply by the deadline, the Arab countries signaled, they’ll continue to restrict its access to land, sea and air routes indefinitely, as economic pressure mounts on Qatar.

    “The measures that have been taken are there to stay until there is a long-term solution to the issue,” Emirati Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba said in an interview. Suggesting the penalties would only be economic and diplomatic, he said “there is no military element to this whatsoever.”

    Having urged Qatar’s neighbors to come up with “reasonable and actionable” demands, the U.S. sought to distance itself from the crisis the day after the Arab countries issued a list that included several provisions Qatar had already declared it could not or would not accept. But the ultimatum was quickly rejected by Qatar’s ally, Turkey, and blasted as an assault on free speech by Al-Jazeera, the Qatari broadcaster that the gas-rich country’s neighbors are demanding be shut down.

    The demands from the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Egyptians and the Bahrainis amount to a call for a sweeping overhaul of Qatar’s foreign policy and natural gas-funded influence peddling in the region. Complying would force Qatar to bring its policies in line with the regional vision of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest economy and gatekeeper of Qatar’s only land border.

    “This reflects basically an attempt from these countries to suppress free media and also undermine our sovereignty,” said Al Thani, the Qatari envoy. “They are trying to impose their views on how the issues need to be dealt with in the Middle East.”

    “They are bullies,” he added.

    The demands include shutting news outlets, including Al-Jazeera and its affiliates; curbing diplomatic relations with Iran; and severing all ties with Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. The United Arab Emirates said the list was intended to be confidential. The AP obtained a copy from one of the countries involved in the dispute.

    The four countries cut ties with Qatar earlier this month over allegations that it funds terrorism — an accusation President Donald Trump has echoed. Qatar vehemently denies funding or supporting extremism but acknowledges that it allows members of some extremist groups such as Hamas to live in Qatar, arguing that fostering dialogue is key to resolving global conflicts.

    The move by Qatar’s neighbors has left it under a de facto blockade. Although residents made a run on the supermarket in the days after the crisis erupted, the situation has since calmed as Qatar secured alternative sources of imported food from Turkey and elsewhere.

    Yet resisting the demands could prove difficult.

    “The four states can afford to wait, but Qatar cannot,” said Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics. “This crisis could threaten the political stability of the ruling family in Qatar in the long term if it lasts.”

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has tried to mediate and earlier this week called on the Arab nations to limit themselves to “reasonable and actionable” demands. That call appeared to have been roundly ignored, and it was the Kuwaitis — who also offered to mediate — who delivered the list Thursday to Qatar.

    “This is an Arab issue that requires an Arab solution,” Otaiba said. “That’s why the Kuwaitis will take the lead in the negotiation.”

    That’s just fine, the U.S. said. At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer called it a “family issue” among Arab states and declined to say whether the newly articulated demands were legitimate.

    “This is something that they want to and should work out for themselves,” Spicer said.

    Thrust into the middle of the crisis, the head of Al-Jazeera’s English language service said the network remained committed to continuing its broadcasts.

    “Any call to close to down or curtail Al-Jazeera is nothing but an attempt to muzzle a voice of democracy in the region and suppress freedom of expression,” he said by phone.

    Underscoring the growing seriousness of the crisis, state-run Qatar Petroleum acknowledged Friday that some critically important employees “may have been asked to postpone” trips abroad “for operational reasons” due to the embargo. It described the move as “a very limited measure that could take place in any oil and gas operating company” to ensure uninterrupted supplies to customers.

    Qatar’s neighbors are also demanding that it:

    — Curb diplomatic ties with Iran, and limit trade and commerce.

    — Stop funding other news outlets, including Arabi21, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

    — Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from the four countries.

    — Stop all means of funding for groups or people designated by foreign countries as terrorists.

    — Pay an unspecified sum in reparations.

    — Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.

    Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

    The post After demands aired, solution to Qatar crisis seems far off appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Empty prison cell

    Photo via Getty Images

    An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth — a life for a lab book?

    In the past few months, China has announced two new crackdowns on research misconduct — one of which could lead to executions for scientists who doctor their data.

    Scientists have been sounding alarms for years about the integrity of research in China. One recent survey estimated that 40 percent of biomedical papers by Chinese scholars were tainted by misconduct. Funding bodies there have in the past announced efforts to crack down on fraud, including clawing back money from scientists who cheat on their grants.

    This month, in the wake of a fake peer review scandal that claimed 107 papers by Chinese scholars, the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology proclaimed a “no tolerance” policy for research misconduct — although it’s not clear what that might look like. According to the Financial Times, the ministry said the mass retractions “seriously harmed the international reputation of our country’s scientific research and the dignity of Chinese scientists at large.”

    But a prior court decision in the country threatened the equivalent of the nuclear option. In April courts approved a new policy calling for stiff prison sentences for researchers who fabricate data in studies that lead to drug approvals. If the misconduct ends up harming people, then the punishment on the table even includes the death penalty. The move, as Nature explained, groups clinical trial data fraud with counterfeiting so that “if the approved drug causes health problems, it can result in a 10-year prison term or the death penalty, in the case of severe or fatal consequences.”

    READ NEXT: Phony peer review: The more we look, the more we find

    We’ve long called for sterner treatment of science cheats, including the possibility of jail time — which, by the way, most Americans agree is appropriate. But we can’t support the Chinese solution. Even if we didn’t abhor the death penalty (which we do), the punishment here far outweighs the crime.

    Yet if extremity in the name of virtue can be vice, it serves as reminder that science fraud is, simply put, fraud. And when it involves funding — taxpayer or otherwise — that fraud becomes theft. Think about it the same way as you would running a bogus investment fund or kiting checks. So, jail for major offenders — yes. Execution — no.

    One objection to our position here might be that financial criminals typically don’t kill anyone — directly, at least. If you drain my bank account or steal my 401(k), I’m still alive. A scientist who cheats on a drug study could, at least in theory, jeopardize the health of the people who take that medication, with potentially fatal consequences.

    But the reality is quite different. In the United States, at least, drug approvals hinge on data generated from many scientists or groups of researchers. They never rest on a single person. So unless everyone involved in a study is cheating, a fraudster’s data would stick out if they strayed too much from the aggregate. Ironically, then, to succeed, a would-be fraudster would be most successful if they made their bogus results look like everyone else’s — thus diluting their influence on the outcome of the trial.

    READ NEXT: Should science fraudsters have to serve jail time?

    And stopping short of capital punishment, jail time for fraud would itself be a big change. According to our own research, only 39 scientists worldwide between 1975 and 2015 received criminal penalties for misdeeds somehow related to their work. However, some of those cases didn’t involve research directly but instead related to incidental infractions, such as misusing funds, bribery, and even murder facilitated by access to cyanide.

    And in the United States, fewer than 2 percent of the 250-plus cases of misconduct over the same period reported by the Office of Research Integrity resulted in criminal sanctions. Most of the time, fraudsters earn temporary bans on federal research funding, with some dusting themselves off after a timeout and getting back in the game.

    So there’s room to strengthen penalties without taking the draconian step of invoking the death penalty. Some of that may requiring rewriting relevant statutes, to give agencies overseeing research funds more authority. And we acknowledge that not everyone thinks criminal sanctions are a good idea; some have said that such sanctions would only encourage fraudsters to double down on attempts at denial through lawyers, and might even dissuade colleagues from blowing the whistle. That’s certainly possible, but it’s not as though investigators’ close rate is so high at this point anyway.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on June 23, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post Column: Chinese courts call for death penalty for researchers who commit fraud appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Bruce Rauner

    Illinois Gov-elect Bruce Rauner talks to the media after a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington December 5, 2014. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

    CHICAGO — Illinois is on track to become the first U.S. state to have its credit rating downgraded to “junk” status, which would deepen its multibillion-dollar deficit and cost taxpayers more for years to come.

    S&P Global Ratings has warned the agency will likely lower Illinois’ creditworthiness to below investment grade if feuding lawmakers fail to agree on a state budget for a third straight year, increasing the amount the state will have to pay to borrow money for things such as building roads or refinancing existing debt.

    READ MORE: Abrupt cuts hinder Illinois violence shelters

    The outlook for a deal wasn’t good Saturday, as lawmakers meeting in Springfield for a special legislative session remained deadlocked with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year approaching.

    That should alarm everyone, not just those at the Capitol, said Brian Battle, director at Performance Trust Capital Partners, a Chicago-based investment firm.

    “It isn’t a political show,” he said. “Everyone in Illinois has a stake in what’s happening here. One day everybody will wake up and say ‘What happened? Why are my taxes going up so much?'”

    Here’s a look at what’s happening and what a junk rating could mean:

    WHY NOW?

    Ratings agencies have been downgrading Illinois’ credit rating for years, though they’ve accelerated the process as the stalemate has dragged on between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrats who control the General Assembly.

    The agencies are concerned about Illinois’ massive pension debt, as well as a $15 billion backlog of unpaid bills and the drop in revenue that occurred when lawmakers in 2015 allowed a temporary income tax increase to expire.

    “In our view, the unrelenting political brinkmanship now poses a threat to the timely payment of the state’s core priority payments,” S&P stated when it dropped Illinois’ rating to one level above junk, which was just after lawmakers adjourned their regular session on May 31 without a deal.

    Moody’s did the same, stating: “As the regular legislative session elapsed, political barriers to progress appeared to harden, indicating both the severity of the state’s challenges and the political difficulty of advocating their solutions.”

    READ MORE: What happens when states go hunting for Medicaid fraud

    WHAT IS A ‘JUNK’ RATING?

    Think of it as a credit score, but for a state (or city or county) instead of a person.

    When Illinois wants to borrow money, it issues bonds. Investors base their decision on whether to buy Illinois bonds on what level of risk they’re willing to take, informed greatly by the rating that agencies like Moody’s assign.

    A junk rating means the state is at a higher risk of repaying its debt. At that point, many mutual funds and individual investors — who make up more than half the buyers in the bond market — won’t buy. Those willing to take a chance, such as distressed debt investors, will only do so if they are getting a higher interest rate.

    While no other state has been placed at junk, counties and cities such as Chicago, Atlantic City and Detroit have. Detroit saw its rating increased back to investment grade in 2015 as it emerged from bankruptcy — an option that by law, states don’t have.

    WHAT WILL IT COST?

    Battle says the cost to taxpayers in additional interest the next time Illinois sells bonds, which it inevitably will need to do in the long-term, could be in the “tens of millions” of dollars or more.

    The more money the state has to pay on interest, the less that’s available for things such as schools, state parks, social services and fixing roads.

    “For the taxpayer, it will cost more to get a lower level of service,” Battle said.

    Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who controls the state checkbook, agreed.

    “It’s going to cost people more every day,” she said. “Our reputation really can’t get much worse, but our state finances can.”

    OTHER IMPACTS?

    Because the state has historically been a significant funding source to other entities, such as local government and universities, many of them are feeling the impact of Illinois’ worsening creditworthiness already.

    S&P already moved bonds held by the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority — the entities that run Navy Pier, McCormick Place, and U.S. Cellular Field — to junk.

    Five universities also have the rating: Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University.

    The post Illinois could be 1st state with ‘junk’ credit due to budget appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Select Committee on Benghazi Report

    File photo of Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — CIA Director Mike Pompeo says he thinks disclosure of America’s secret intelligence is on the rise, fueled partly by the “worship” of leakers like Edward Snowden.

    “In some ways, I do think it’s accelerated,” Pompeo told MSNBC in an interview that aired Saturday. “I think there is a phenomenon, the worship of Edward Snowden, and those who steal American secrets for the purpose of self-aggrandizement or money or for whatever their motivation may be, does seem to be on the increase.”

    Pompeo said the United States needs to redouble its efforts to stem leaks of classified information.

    “It’s tough. You now have not only nation states trying to steal our stuff, but non-state, hostile intelligence services, well-funded — folks like WikiLeaks, out there trying to steal American secrets for the sole purpose of undermining the United States and democracy,” Pompeo said.

    Besides Snowden, who leaked documents revealing extensive U.S. government surveillance, WikiLeaks recently released nearly 8,000 documents that it says reveal secrets about the CIA’s cyberespionage tools for breaking into computers. WikiLeaks previously published 250,000 State Department cables and embarrassed the U.S. military with hundreds of thousands of logs from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    READ NEXT: Snowden not a whistleblower, congressional report says

    There are several other recent cases, including Chelsea Manning, the Army private formerly known as Bradley Manning. She was convicted in a 2013 court-martial of leaking more than 700,000 secret military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning said she leaked the documents to raise awareness about the war’s impact on innocent civilians.

    Last year, former NSA contractor Harold Thomas Martin III, 51, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, was accused of removing highly classified information, storing it in an unlocked shed and in his car and home. Court documents say investigators seized, conservatively, 50 terabytes of information, or enough to fill roughly 200 laptop computers.

    Pompeo said the Trump administration is focused on stopping leaks of any kind from any agency and pursuing perpurtrators. “I think we’ll have some successes both on the deterrence side — that is stopping them from happening — as well as on punishing those who we catch who have done it,” Pompeo said.

    We're sorry, the rights for this video have expired.

    On other issues, Pompeo said:

    — North Korea poses a “very real danger” to U.S. national security. “I hardly ever escape a day at the White House without the president asking me about North Korea and how it is that the United States is responding to that threat. It’s very much at the top of his mind.” He said the North Koreans are “ever-closer to having the capacity to hold America at risk with a nuclear weapon.”

    —Pompeo said U.S. national security also is threatened by Iran, which he described as the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.

    “Today, we find it with enormous influence, influence that far outstrips where it was six or seven years ago,” said Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas. “Whether it’s the influence they have over the government in Baghdad, whether it’s the increasing strength of Hezbollah and Lebanon, their work alongside the Houthis in Iran, the Iraqi Shias that are fighting along now the border in Syria — certainly the Shia forces that are engaged in Syria. Iran is everywhere throughout the Middle East.”

    The post CIA chief: Intel leaks on the rise, cites leaker ‘worship’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Oscar_Wilde_portrait

    Napoleon Sarony took this photo of Oscar Wilde in 1882 after arriving in the U.S. for a lecture tour. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

    The Brooklyn Academy of Music revealed its newly-digitized archive this week, a collection of thousands of images, clippings and performances dating back to the 1860s.

    The archive, which was four years in the making and funded by the Leon Levy Foundation, drew on BAM’s long history as a performance hub in downtown Brooklyn, New York. Containing 70,000 items and released during a month of LGBTQ pride celebrations, it also holds traces of important moments in LGBTQ history, when writers and performers brought their singular experiences to Brooklyn audiences.

    We asked Sharon Lehner, director of archives at BAM, to highlight several of those moments.

    Importance of Being Earnest

    Robert Petkoff, Charlotte Parry and Lynn Redgrave in the dress rehearsal of “The Importance of Being Earnest” during BAM Spring Series, 2006. Photo courtesy of BAM

    1. America, meet Oscar Wilde

    At the start of 1882, a 27-year-old Oscar Wilde disembarked from a voyage across the Atlantic, ready to begin a whirlwind speaking tour across the U.S. and Canada. He arrived with a provocative, newspaper-ready take: “I was very much disappointed in the Atlantic Ocean. It was very tame,” he reportedly told the New York Sun, spurring bemused headlines across the country, according to an archive by writer John Cooper.

    From the week he arrived in the U.S., the New York press heavily featured Wilde in its coverage of society parties, and the writer — still obscure to many Americans at the time — quickly gained notoriety. His first lecture in New York on Jan. 9 was sold out to more than 1,000 people. That month, Wilde also visited then-62-year-old Walt Whitman in New Jersey, where the two spent an afternoon discussing literature, fame and poetry and drinking elderberry wine. “I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips,” he would later boast, wrote Wilde biographer Neil McKenna.

    Several weeks later, Wilde arrived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a lecture on the English Renaissance. In a review that detailed Wilde’s flamboyant style — “dress coat, low white vest, knee-breeches, black silk stockings, and pumps” — The New York Times called the lecture “incomprehensible” and noted that a group in the audience grew mocking, beginning to “applaud when there was no occasion for applause.”

    The review was one among many mixed reactions to Wilde, who drew praise from papers like The Cincinnati Enquirer and derision from other quarters. “We doubt if there are any persons in America who take Mr. Oscar Wilde’s present venture seriously,” wrote The Saint Paul Globe of Saint Paul, Minnesota, two days after Wilde’s lecture at BAM.

    Amelia Edwards

    On Nov. 7, 1889, Amelia Edwards held a lecture at BAM on Egyptian antiquities. Image courtesy of BAM

    2. Amelia Edwards, groundbreaking Egyptologist, tours the country

    Born in 1831, Amelia Edwards was a British writer and a pioneering scholar of Egyptology. When Edwards traveled to Egypt in 1873, she was an accomplished novelist, having produced books such as “Barbara’s History” (1864) and “Lord Brackenbury” (1880). She was also a prolific travel writer, often journeying alongside her partner Ellen Drew Braysher. But her trip up the Nile spurred a passion for Egyptian history that would last the rest of her life, leading her to advocate for the preservation of Egyptian landmarks and co-found the Egypt Exploration Fund.

    In her book “A Thousand Miles Up the Nile,” which chronicled that voyage, Edwards wrote of seeing the Great Pyramid of Giza:

    More impressive by far than the weightiest array of figures of the most striking comparisons, was the shadow cast by the Great Pyramid as the sun went down. That mighty Shadow, sharp and distinct, stretched across the stony platform of the desert and over full three-quarters of a mile of the green plain below. It divided the sunlight where it fell, just as its great original divided the sunlight in the upper air ; and it darkened the space it covered, like an eclipse.

    Edwards’ lecture at BAM in 1889 was one of many she gave that year and the next, in a tour that was hailed by newspaper critics. Last year, her grave in Bristol, England, was listed at Grade II to recognize it as a site of British LGBT history. She is buried alongside Braysher.

    3. Brooklyn bullfighter Sidney Franklin catapults to fame

    Sidney Franklin

    Sidney Franklin held a lecture on bullfighting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 8, 1931. Photo by Carl Van Vechten courtesy of BAM

    Sidney Frumkin was born in 1903 in Brooklyn to Russian Jewish immigrants. In 1923, at the age of 19, he left home and traveled to Mexico City, where he entered his first bullfight at the Chapultepec Arena in Mexico City. His appearance there “was the whim of a native promoter who thought the spectacle of a ‘gringo’ pursued around the ring by a fighting bull would provide patrons with laughs,” wrote The New York Times in 1976.

    But his courage in the ring impressed the crowd, and Frumkin — who had changed his name to Franklin — continued to fight. He met Ernest Hemingway in 1929 and the two struck up a friendship, with Hemingway praising Franklin in his book “Death In the Afternoon.” He wrote:

    “Franklin is brave with a cold, serene and intelligent valour but instead of being awkward and ignorant he is one of the most skilful, graceful and slow manipulators of a cape fighting today. … You will find no Spaniard who ever saw him fight who will deny his artistry and excellence with the cape.”

    Throughout the 1930s, Franklin tried to acquaint his hometown with bullfighting, lecturing at BAM in 1931 and holding exhibitions on bull-dodging at the World’s Fair in Queens, New York, in 1939.

    Franklin biographer Bart Paul told the Los Angeles Times in 2010 that Franklin was “never outwardly gay, as we would think of being out today. As Barnaby Conrad said, if they had known, it would have killed him as a bullfighter in Spain. Not that there weren’t bullfighters who were gay. It was just a culture of machismo.”

    Bill T. Jones

    Bill T. Jones appears in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company production of “Still/Here” during BAM Next Wave Festival in 1994. Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of BAM

    4. Amid AIDS crisis, Bill T. Jones shares stories of survival

    In the early 1990s, Bill T. Jones was already famous as a performer and choreographer of boldly political work. Jones has long been “firmly rooted in the values of the 60s, in his commitment to racial and sexual inclusivity,” John O’Mahony of the Guardian wrote in 2004. But “Still/Here” — a piece about survival and illness that premiered in 1994 — would be a new landmark achievement for him.

    For nearly 20 years, Jones worked with Arnie Zane, his partner and creative collaborator who died in 1988 of complications from AIDS. The Advocate, an LGBTQ magazine, printed that Jones was HIV-positive in 1990, an experience that he chronicled in his memoir. “Most of us, with or without HIV, are burdened with the perception, justified or not, that being HIV-positive equals death. Once again, I found myself an outsider. This I refused to accept,” he wrote.

    To develop “Still/Here,” Jones created workshops in 10 cities around the country where volunteers discussed their experience with illness. He incorporated their stories into the piece, which blended spoken recordings, music and images of people in those workshops, presenting illness as a universal experience — a counterpoint to the public image of AIDS as uniquely terminal. It debuted at BAM in November 1994, about two months before AIDS would be declared the leading cause of death for 25-to-44-year-old Americans at the time.

    The piece was meant to “evoke the spirit of survival,” Jones told Bill Moyers in 1997. “For me as a person who has to deal with his own possible early death, I was looking for people who were dealing with the same thing,” Jones said.

    The post This archive holds a history of LGBTQ trailblazers in Brooklyn appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The burnt out remains of the Grenfell Tower are seen in North Kensington, London

    The burnt out remains of the Grenfell Tower are seen in North Kensington, London, Britain June 20, 2017. Photo by Marko Djurica/Reuters

    Hundreds of people had to evacuate their towers in London overnight because inspectors found their buildings to be too vulnerable after a fire erupted in a high-rise last week and killed at least 79.

    People from more than 650 homes in the Camden borough were scrambling with suitcases and children in the middle of the night because inspectors said their walls have similar cladding to the type that burned rapidly in the Grenfell Tower fire. While government officials tried to accommodate everyone at rest centers and hotels, some residents, including a 72-year-old woman with emphysema, were still stranded or refusing to leave Saturday morning.

    “I am so absolutely stressed,” the woman told the Camden Council’s leader Georgia Gould in a conversation taped by the BBC. “I’ve sat in a chair over here, since 9 o’clock last night … Now I’m being told they can’t rehouse me because I’ve got a dog.”

    Gould assured the woman they would find her a hotel.

    British authorities have inspected more than 600 buildings since the fire on June 14 at the 24-story Grenfell Tower in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. They are looking for aluminum panels with a combustible, polyethylene core — the same type of flammable material that London police on Friday blamed for the rapid spread of the flames.

    A woman looks at flowers, tributes and messages left for the victims of the fire at the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington

    A woman looks at flowers, tributes and messages left for the victims of the fire at the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 23, 2017. Phoyo by Hannah McKay/Reuters

    While fire officials believe it sparked from a refrigerator on the fourth floor, the cladding may have enabled it to race up the side of the building within minutes, stranding everyone inside.

    “Preliminary tests on the insulation samples from Grenfell Tower show that they combusted soon after the test started,” Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said in a televised statement.

    McCormack also suggested authorities consider charges of manslaughter.

    A New York Times investigation pointed to the failure of a business-friendly government, under pressure to allow builders to use cheaper, flammable material that is forbidden in the U.S. despite its risks.

    The panels on Grenfell Tower’s facade were created by manufacturing giant Alcoa, which was renamed Arconic, and installed last year, according to the NYT.

    Reuters reported that Arconic was aware of the material’s limitations, but the company said in a statement that it was not its role to decide what was compliant with local building regulations.

    Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with a serious fire in the Grenfell Tower apartment block at Latimer Road in West London

    Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with a fire in the Grenfell Tower apartment block at Latimer Road in West London, Britain June 14, 2017. Photo by Toby Melville/Reuters

    Within six minutes of the first call to London fire officials, firefighters were on the scene, mystified and wondering how they would be able to get inside, according to the NYT.

    “I have never seen such a phenomenal fire, a building engulfed top to bottom in flames,” Dany Cotton, the London fire commissioner, told the NYT later that day. It took more than 24 hours to get the fire under control.

    And on Saturday, Camden officials stressed the urgency of removing the cladding to the dozens of people refusing to leave.

    “There are various legal routes that Camden Council could explore to require people to leave their homes – however, we really don’t want to do this,” Gould said in a statement. “We need to get the buildings empty so we can work with our partners to start the work to make these tower blocks safe, so that everyone can return to their normal lives as soon as possible.”

    The post London evacuates 650 apartments overnight during fire inspection blitz appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Trump VA

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Military veterans groups are applauding the bipartisan-backed law President Trump signed yesterday to improve the Veterans Administration. It creates a new V.A. Accountability Office, and makes it easier for the V.A. to fire problematic employees, in a department whose hospitals have been criticized for lapses in care for America’s 19 million veterans.

    “Associated Press” reporter Darlene Superville has been covering this story and joins me now from Washington. This is kind of a rare glimmer of bipartisanship.

    DARLENE SUPERVILLE, “ASSOCIATED PRESS” REPORTER: It is a rare glimmer of bipartisanship. And bipartisanship is easy to achieve when you’re talking about military veterans and the people in this country who voluntarily go into harm’s way in defense of the United States. Remember — you may remember that the V.A. Secretary, David Shulkin, who is a holdover from the Obama administration, when he went before the Senate to be confirmed to become the veteran affairs secretary, the confirmation vote was 100-0, and that’s something that Donald Trump talks about quite a bit when he’s talking about veterans’ issues.

    SREENIVASAN: I remember the scandal that started this. I mean, this was in Phoenix. This was a few years ago, it even caused Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. Kind of refresh us a little bit on what caused this.

    SUPERVILLE: Well, it was uncovered that at the V.A. Medical Center in Phoenix, staff there were keeping separate waiting lists of veterans that were waiting for appointments. They were trying to cover up the long waits that were — that it was taking for veterans to get their appointments with their doctors. Data was being falsified. And throughout a lot of this, it was found that some veterans actually died while they were waiting for care.

    It cost Eric Shinseki his job as V.A. secretary, as you mentioned, and caused Congress to start thinking about ways to transform the V.A. and to help get veterans the care that they need and to get it faster.

    SREENIVASAN: And this law also offers some protection for whistleblowers? It’s often the way that we even hear about these things, these problems in the V.A. are either from veterans who are the victims of poor care or lack of care, or people inside who want to see something change.

    SUPERVILLE: Right, it does offer some new protections for whistleblowers. The — President Trump is also creating a complaint hot line at the White House, which is undergoing some testing right now, for veterans and others to call in with complaints and that kind of thing. So, he’s putting a little bit of a premium on protecting whistleblowers and the kind of people who bring these situations to light.

    SREENIVASAN: You know, how long did some of these employees have this sort of protection? I mean — and who was opposed to this kind of legislation? I mean, is it the — is it the kind of unions that are — these employees are members of, or kind of career service individuals?

    SUPERVILLE: Mostly, it’s been the employee unions, the unions that represent the career workers in the United States government, some of whom are afraid that some of the changes under this law would do two things — one, would allow the V.A. secretary and other top officials in that department to sort of target employees for political purposes, rather than actual job performance issues, which is what this is supposed to be about. And the other issue that concerns a lot of the unions is the fact that they see what’s happening or what is about to happen at the V.A. as part of a broader push across the government to change civil get rid of employees. As you may know, Donald Trump, President Donald Trump, wants to shrink the size of the federal government, and a lot of agencies are currently looking for ways to do that.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. Darlene Superville of the “Associated Press” — thanks so much.

    SUPERVILLE: Thank you.

    The post Will a new law hold the VA more accountable? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, DC, U.S. on October 13, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters

    A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, DC, U.S. on October 13, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court enters its final week of work before a long summer hiatus with action expected on the Trump administration’s travel ban and a decision due in a separation of church and state case that arises from a Missouri church playground.

    The biggest news of all, though, would be if Justice Anthony Kennedy were to use the court’s last public session on Monday to announce his retirement.

    To be sure, Kennedy has given no public sign that he will retire this year and give President Donald Trump his second high court pick in the first months of his administration. Kennedy’s departure would allow conservatives to take firm control of the court.

    But Kennedy turns 81 next month and has been on the court for nearly 30 years. Several of his former law clerks have said they think he is contemplating stepping down in the next year or so. Kennedy and his clerks were gathering over the weekend for a reunion that was pushed up a year and helped spark talk he might be leaving the court.

    “Soon we’ll know if rumors of Kennedy’s retirement are accurate,” one former Kennedy clerk, George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, said on Twitter Friday.

    READ NEXT: What’s next for Trump’s revised travel ban?

    When the justices take the bench Monday, they are expected to decide the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which was excluded from a state grant program to pay for soft surfaces on playgrounds run by not-for-profit groups. The case is being closely watched by advocates of school vouchers, who hope the court will make it easier to use state money to pay for private, religious schooling in states that now prohibit it.

    Missouri has since changed its policy under Republican Gov. Eric Greitens so that churches may now apply for the money.

    Also expected in the next few days, though there’s no deadline by which the court must decide, is a ruling on whether to allow the administration to immediately enforce a 90-day ban on visitors from six mostly Muslim countries.

    Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, could play a pivotal role in both the travel ban and church playground cases.

    In all, six cases that were argued between November and April remain undecided. Three of those, all involving immigrants or foreigners, were heard by an eight-justice court, before Gorsuch joined the bench in April.

    If the eight justices are evenly divided, those cases could be argued a second time in the fall, with Gorsuch available to provide the tie-breaking vote.

    The post Big cases, retirement rumors as Supreme Court nears finish appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    By Ivette Feliciano, Zachary Green and Sam Weber

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Tucked between oil fields in Central California’s Kern Valley is the Taft Correctional Institution. Craig Apker has been the warden for the past three years.

    CRAIG APKER: I simply want to run and be part of the best prison ever.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Taft is a low-security prison that has dorm-style housing, a medical unit, and offers prisoners high school equivalency classes and work-training programs. Warden Apker asked us not to record video for security reasons, but he allowed us to take these photos — later reviewed and cleared by a prison official.

    CRAIG APKER: It really comes down to how we operate our institutions. Do we have meaningful programs? Do we have a respectful relationship with the inmates?

    IVETTE FELICIANO: On the surface, Taft looks a lot like the more than 100 facilities overseen by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. But this one is operated by a private, for-profit company, Management and Training Corporation, or MTC.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: As with all privately-run federal prisons, Taft has two Bureau of Prisons monitors on site to enforce compliance with federal guidelines. Before starting his job with MTC, Apker worked 28 years for the BOP, including 10 as a warden.

    CRAIG APKER: I didn’t just change how I view my responsibilities, my belief in what we do here, because I’m in the private sector. I brought with me the same need to try to achieve excellence.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Taft is one of the 11 low-security federal prisons run by MTC or two larger private prison companies, CoreCivic and the GEO Group. Saving money was one reason the government initially turned to private prisons. The Bureau of Prisons says they cost, on average, 17 dollars a day less per prisoner to operate, suggesting those 11 facilities save taxpayers 144 million dollars a year.

    A 2016 study by the Brookings Institution found those savings are achieved primarily by hiring fewer correctional officers and paying them less.

    Another reason for turning to private prisons was overcrowding. Between 1980 to 2013, with the advent of harsher sentencing laws like mandatory minimums for drug crimes the federal prison population increased eight-fold. A big part of that increase was a massive spike in prosecutions of immigrants accused of coming back to the U-S after deportation, or “illegal re-entry”. The BOP relies on those 11 private prisons, like Taft, to house non-citizen offenders.

    At two of those prisons, in Texas and in Mississippi, there were riots in 2009 and 2012 following the deaths of several inmates in custody.

    The incidents sparked investigations by Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz.

    MICHAEL HOROWITZ: In one of those riots, a correctional officer was killed. Many other inmates and correctional officers were injured. Several of these riots had followed complaints by inmates about correctional staffing, healthcare staffing. Concerns about the provision of food and other services. The BOP had not held the prisons accountable and made sure that they had in fact taken the actions that they needed to take.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The Inspector General’s findings led to a broader four-year investigation that compared federal privately-run prisons to similar government-run facilities. The report revealed that, per capita, privately-run facilities had more contraband smuggled in, more lockdowns and uses of force by correctional officers, more assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates of correctional officers, more complaints about medical care, staff, food, and conditions of confinement, and two facilities were housing inmates in solitary confinement to free up bed space. The findings also highlighted chronic understaffing as the root of many problems.

    MICHAEL HOROWITZ: It goes right to the core of making sure that there are enough correctional officers to watch over the inmates, to make sure that all inmates are maintained in a secure and safe environment, and that correctional officers, very critically, are safe from the inmates.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Horowitz also faulted the BOP itself for failing to hold the companies accountable to their contract requirements…contracts worth more than half-a-billion dollars each year.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: So how are these things falling through the cracks?

    MICHAEL HOROWITZ: Because there isn’t effective oversight going on. The responsibility primarily falls on the BOP with connection with their contracts. And these are substantial contracts.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The Bureau of Prisons agreed to implement his recommended reforms. But the companies disputed the Inspector General’s findings, telling Newshour Weekend what they told the Justice Department–that the investigation didn’t account for how their largely non-citizen inmate populations are more difficult to manage.

    One positive note for private prisons — the Inspector General did find their inmates passed more drug tests and faced fewer accusations of sexual misconduct than inmates in government-run institutions.

    Last August, President Obama’s Justice Department decided that all BOP contracts with private companies would be phased out.

    CRAIG APKER: I was disappointed. I think the critics tend to view a private corrections companies as being bottom-line driven to the extent that shortcuts–in an effort to save money– lower quality. But I have never been asked to take a shortcut to address any bottom-line concerns here at Taft.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I know that you want safe neighborhoods where the streets belong to families and communities…

    IVETTE FELICIANO: This year, the Trump Administration reversed the decision to phase out The Bureau of Prisons private contracts. Stock prices for CoreCivic and the GEO Group, which had plummeted after the Obama directive, have soared since Election Day.

    CARL TAKEI: For the private prison industry, of course, the Trump administration is an enormous gift.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Carl Takei heads the American Civil Liberties Union’s prison project.

    CARL TAKEI: All of the expansion of immigration detention– the revival of the war on drugs, the increased criminal prosecution of immigrants, and the longer sentences for immigration prosecutions all add up to an enormous boondoggle for the private prison industry.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Immigration and Customs Enforcement already houses more than 70 percent of its detainees in privately-run facilities. And President Trump supports a new mandatory minimum sentence of five years for illegal re-entry.

    Takei is concerned the companies have a profit incentive to keep prisoners in the criminal justice system longer.

    CARL TAKEI: You could end up in a circumstance where you get arrested, held in a GEO Group jail, serve your sentence in a GEO Group prison, get released to a GEO Group halfway house, and then end up supervised on a GEO Group GPS monitor. And this is extraordinarily dangerous because it allows the private prison companies to manipulate the demand for their own products.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: While the federal government incarcerates about 20-thousand individuals in private facilities, state and local governments house more than four times that amount, with over 90-thousand people in private institutions. Texas is among the top states using private prisons, the industry’s contracts here in the state, are worth hundreds millions of dollars every year.

    Texas, which, has the nation’s largest prison population, began using private prisons in the 1980s and houses the highest number of state inmates inside them.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Have you been satisfied with what you’ve seen?

    MARK JOHNSON: So far everything’s been working good.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Since January, Sheriff Mark Johnson has overseen the 96-bed Fannin County Jail in Bonham, Texas. He says hiring the GEO group to run the jail is saving the county money.

    MARK JOHNSON: It is expensive to operate one of these things. Is there money to be made in it? Yeah.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The money the companies make often includes reimbursements from local governments for jail and prison beds that go unused… falling short of occupancy quotas in the contracts.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Would you recommend GEO to a neighboring county that was looking to deal with overcrowding?

    MARK JOHNSON: Absolutely. I think it would be a benefit to them. I haven’t seen anybody here that I wouldn’t be happy to have on my team working for me. It would be a huge concern to think that they weren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Or that the prisoners weren’t being treated right, being given their basic needs, their everyday needs that are required by law.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: A 2008 report by the Texas legislature found that staff at private prisons were generally paid less than their state counterparts and had much higher turnover rates.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Since 2011, with a declining prisoner population, the state has closed three private prisons, and to save money, the legislature has proposed closing three more.

    MARK JOHNSON: Sheriff

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Sheriff Johnson says whether his jail is run by the county or a private company, ultimately, he’s the one responsible for oversight.

    MARK JOHNSON: Under law there’s no getting out of it. It says the sheriff is the conservator of the people and shall maintain and operate a jail. And to be responsible for those inmates and that is our responsibility. When something bad happens to one of them the lawsuit is going to have my name right at the top of it.

    The post Private prisons help with overcrowding, but at what cost? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    First Section of Long-Planned Brooklyn Bridge Park Opens

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Currently, 30 states have laws that allowed geographic communities to break away from large public school districts and form their own. As a result, a growing number of predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods are doing just that and taking their local property taxes with them. That makes racial and economic disparities in adjacent school districts even worse.

    Almost 50 communities have seceded since the year 2000, according to the nonprofit Ed Build, and a story this week in “U.S. News and World Report”.

    “U.S. News” education reporter Lauren Camera wrote that story, joins me now from Washington.

    Lauren, let’s just break down how secession of a school district works. You took a look at a story in Alabama.

    LAUREN CAMERA, “U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT” EDUCATION REPORTER: This recently came to light when a school district in Alabama, Jefferson County School District, which includes Birmingham, a community there which is majority white, and middle class — it’s called Gardendale — and for a while, they have been wanting to splinter off under the guise of controlling more of their local property taxes, which, of course, make up the bulk of any school’s budget.

    And as you mentioned in your introduction, Hari, this is actually legal in 30 states. There are policies on the books allowing communities to do this if they so wish. And, actually, you know, it’s not just in Alabama. We’re seeing this happen across the entire country. Since 2000, more than 70 communities have tried to do this, 47 have succeeded.

    SREENIVASAN: I’m assuming that the rationale behind it is: hey, we want to keep our schools great. We are pouring all of our property tax into it.

    CAMERA: Yes.

    SREENIVASAN: We want to keep this around where our kids are actually going to benefit from it.

    But there’s a flip side to that.

    CAMERA: Yes, absolutely. When a community that is wealthier or has higher property tax rates, when they splinter off from their larger school district, that creates this financial hole in the school district that they leave behind. You know, in education policy, we talk a lot about subgroup performance and achievement gaps, and a lot of times, that focuses on the difference between students of color, and white students for example.

    But really the fastest growing gap is between socioeconomic indicators. So, poor students and their wealthier peers, that is the fastest growing gap in the U.S. today.

    SREENIVASAN: You point out that there’s nine active secession efforts that are happening. I’m just going to rattle off this list across the U.S.: Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

    So, do the states, of the 30 that allow for this, have to study any sort of potential impact? What happens when a secession occurs to those surrounding school districts?

    CAMERA: Only a handful actually require that the district look into the impact of the racial — the racial impact, the socioeconomic impact, and the financial impact of the community splintering off. In Tennessee, for example, the only thing that they require for a community to splinter off is that the municipality must have more than 1,500 students. And, also, the majority of the residents in the municipality that wants to splinter off, they must agree with that move. So, that means they’re not taking into account anyone, any of the residents who live in the larger school district that they’re splintering off from.

    SREENIVASAN: Lauren Camera, thanks so much for joining us.

    CAMERA: Thanks for having me.

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    File photo of voting booths by Blend Images - Hill Street Studios and Getty Images

    In the 2016 election, traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state House races. File photo of voting booths by Blend Images – Hill Street Studios and Getty Images

    The 2016 presidential contest was awash with charges that the fix was in: Republican Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that the election was rigged against him, while Democrats have accused the Russians of stacking the odds in Trump’s favor.

    Less attention was paid to manipulation that occurred not during the presidential race, but before it — in the drawing of lines for hundreds of U.S. and state legislative seats. The result, according to an Associated Press analysis: Republicans had a real advantage.

    The AP scrutinized the outcomes of all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats up for election last year using a new statistical method of calculating partisan advantage. It’s designed to detect cases in which one party may have won, widened or retained its grip on power through political gerrymandering. The analysis found four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones.

    The analysis found four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts.

    Traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state House races. All had districts drawn by Republicans after the last Census in 2010.

    The AP analysis also found that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country. That helped provide the GOP with a comfortable majority over Democrats instead of a narrow one.

    Republicans held several advantages heading into the 2016 election. They had more incumbents, which carried weight even in a year of “outsider” candidates. Republicans also had a geographical advantage because their voters were spread more widely across suburban and rural America instead of being highly concentrated, as Democrats generally are, in big cities.

    Yet the data suggest that even if Democrats had turned out in larger numbers, their chances of substantial legislative gains were limited by gerrymandering.

    “The outcome was already cooked in, if you will, because of the way the districts were drawn,” said John McGlennon, a longtime professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary in Virginia who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat in the 1980s.

    [Watch Video]

    A separate statistical analysis conducted for AP by the Princeton University Gerrymandering Project found that the extreme Republican advantages in some states were no fluke. The Republican edge in Michigan’s state House districts had only a 1-in-16,000 probability of occurring by chance; in Wisconsin’s Assembly districts, there was a mere 1-in-60,000 likelihood of it happening randomly, the analysis found.

    The AP’s findings are similar to recent ones from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which used three statistical tests to analyze the 2012-2016 congressional elections. Its report found a persistent Republican advantage and “clear evidence that aggressive gerrymandering is distorting the nation’s congressional maps,” posing a “threat to democracy.” The Brennan Center did not analyze state legislative elections.

    The AP’s analysis was based on a formula developed by University of Chicago law professor Nick Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee, a researcher at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Their mathematical model was cited last fall as “corroborative evidence” by a federal appeals court panel that struck down Wisconsin’s state Assembly districts as an intentional partisan gerrymander in violation of Democratic voters’ rights to representation. The data suggest that even if Democrats had turned out in larger numbers in the 2016 election, their chances of substantial legislative gains were limited by gerrymandering.

    A dissenting judge ridiculed the Wisconsin ruling for creating a “phantom constitutional right” of proportional political representation. Wisconsin’s attorney general has argued on appeal that the ruling could “throw states across the country into chaos.”

    Although judges have commonly struck down districts because of unequal populations or racial gerrymandering, the courts until now have been reluctant to define exactly when partisan map manipulation crosses the line and becomes unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on the Wisconsin case this fall. If upheld, it could dramatically change the way legislative districts are drawn across the U.S. — just in advance of the next round of redistricting after the 2020 Census.

    But if partisan gerrymandering “goes unchecked, it’s going to be worse — no matter who’s in charge,” said Sam Wang, director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

    ‘PACKING’ AND ‘CRACKING’

    Throughout U.S. history, Democrats and Republicans alike have been accused of drawing political districts in ways that favored their own interests.

    It typically occurs in one of two ways:

    — “Packing” a large number of voters from the opposing party into a few districts to concentrate their votes.

    — “Cracking,” in which the majority party spreads the opposing party’s supporters among multiple districts to dilute their influence.

    Another way of explaining it: When the party controlling the redistricting process sets out to draw lines, it has detailed information about the number of supporters the opposing party has, and where they reside. It sets out to shape districts so its opponents’ votes are wasted — spreading them out in some places so they are unlikely to win, and compacting them in others so they have far more votes than they need for victory. Both methods allow the party already in power to translate its votes into a greater share of victories — or, put another way, to be more efficient with its votes.

    The “efficiency gap” formula developed by Stephanopoulos and McGhee creates a way to measure whether gerrymandering has helped a political party enlarge its power.

    The formula compares the statewide average share of the vote a party receives in each district with the statewide percentage of seats it wins, taking into account a common political expectation: For each 1 percentage point gain in its statewide vote share, a party normally increases its seat share by 2 percentage points. So a party that receives 55 percent of the statewide vote could expect to win 60 percent of the legislative seats.

    READ NEXT: Alabama’s GOP approves new maps; Dems vow repeat court fight

    Michigan provides a good example of how the formula works.

    Last fall, voters statewide split their ballots essentially 50-50 between Republican and Democratic state House candidates. Yet Republicans won 57 percent of the House seats, claiming 63 seats to the Democrats’ 47. That amounted to an efficiency gap of 10.3 percent in favor of Michigan’s Republicans, one of the highest advantages among all states.

    That also marked the third straight Michigan House election since redistricting with double-digit efficiency gaps favoring Republicans. Stephanopoulos said such a trend is “virtually unprecedented” and indicative of a durable Republican advantage.

    Republicans controlled both chambers of the Michigan Legislature, as well as the governor’s office, when the maps were redrawn in 2011.

    As lawmakers prepared to vote on those maps, former Democratic state Rep. Lisa Brown recalls being summoned into a private room near the back of the House chamber. She says a top Republican lawmaker showed her two potential maps. One kept her home in the same district while the other shifted her neighborhood into a predominantly Republican district to the east.

    Brown said she was offered a deal: Vote with Republicans or get stuck with the less-favorable map. She declined.

    As a result, Brown said, “I was gerrymandered out of my district.”

    Instead of opting for a re-election campaign, she decided the next year to run for Oakland County clerk, a position she still holds.

    READ NEXT: Trump supporters in Michigan confident their votes will pay off

    The Michigan House redistricting effort was led in 2011 by then-state Rep. Pete Lund, a Republican who now is the Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative interest group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. Lund told the AP that he doesn’t remember the details of his redistricting conversation with Brown and doesn’t recall trying to draw anyone out of a district.

    He said if Michigan’s House districts appear to have any “distortion,” it’s because Democrats are naturally concentrated in the state’s urban areas and because Republicans tried to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act by ensuring racial minorities have large enough concentrations to elect a representative of their choice.

    Lund denied gerrymandering districts to favor Republicans, instead blaming Democrats for their own losses.

    “The Democrats don’t know how to run campaigns; they’re horrible at it. We beat them right and left,” he said.

    State House Minority Leader Tim Greimel stepped down from his leadership post after his party failed to cut into the Republican majority in 2016.

    “Is it truly impossible for Democrats to win a majority in the statehouse with the districts drawn the way they are? I don’t know,” he said. “But it certainly makes it far more difficult — and that’s the purpose of gerrymandering.”

    Experts agree with parts of both Lund’s explanation and Greimel’s. The clustering of Democrats in urban areas creates some “unintentional gerrymandering” that works against them, said Jowei Chen, an associate political science professor at the University of Michigan.

    “But overt partisan gerrymandering is certainly a big part of the explanation, as well,” both in Michigan and elsewhere, Chen said.

    GOP IN CONTROL

    The current Republican supremacy in many states traces to the 2010 elections, when a GOP wave two years after Democrat Barack Obama was elected president allowed the party to grasp full control of 25 state legislatures and 29 governorships. That was just in time to carry out the mandatory duty of redistricting based on the 2010 Census.

    Since then, the Republican dominance has grown to 33 legislatures and 33 governorships — doubling the totals for Democrats — as well as both chambers of Congress and the presidency.

    Acknowledging Republican dominance in many states, Democrats recently launched an initiative led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and aided by Obama that is intended to better position the party for the redistricting process after the 2020 Census.

    Their three-pronged approach will target key state races, support legal challenges to current maps and pursue ballot initiatives to change the redistricting methods in some states.

    Holder says the goal is “to get to a more fair, more democratic system” than what he calls the current “rigged political process.”

    Stephanopoulos and McGhee computed efficiency gaps for four decades of congressional and state House races starting in 1972, finding that the pro-Republican maps enacted after the 2010 Census resulted in “the most extreme gerrymanders in modern history.”

    The AP used their method to calculate the efficiency gaps for all states that held partisan House or Assembly elections for all of their districts in 2016. North Dakota was excluded because it elected only half its House members, and Nebraska was left out because its legislative elections are officially nonpartisan.

    In addition to Michigan, the analysis found a significant Republican tilt in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Florida, all of which had a Republican-controlled redistricting process after the 2010 Census.

    The presidential swing states of Ohio and North Carolina were among others that had 2016 state House efficiency gaps favoring Republicans, the third straight such result since Republicans led the last round of redistricting in those states.

    Democrats had high efficiency gap scores in Colorado and Nevada, two states where they won state House majorities in 2016 even though Republican candidates received more total statewide votes. Colorado’s map was drawn by a Democratic-dominated commission that Republicans criticized as “politically vindictive.” Nevada’s districts were decided by a court, but Republicans complained at the time that they appeared more favorable to Democrats.

    Despite criticism of the process from minority parties, control of redistricting doesn’t always guarantee success. Democrats led the redistricting efforts in Arkansas and West Virginia in 2011, and some Republicans grumbled at the time about partisan line-drawing. Yet Republicans subsequently swept to victory in both states, just as they had elsewhere in the South and through much of Appalachia.

    The AP also calculated efficiency gap scores for the U.S. House elections, although experts caution that those measurements are less statistically meaningful in states with few districts.

    Among the more than two dozen states with at least six congressional districts, the AP’s analysis showed a significant Republican advantage in such places as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Michigan and Virginia, all states where Republicans were in charge of redrawing the boundaries after the 2010 Census.

    The largest Democratic congressional advantage was in Maryland, where redistricting was controlled by a Democratic governor and legislature. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley recently acknowledged during testimony in a gerrymandering lawsuit that his intent was to “create a district where people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican.”

    ARTFUL LINE DRAWING

    In Pennsylvania, Republicans won 13 of the 18 congressional seats last year, three more than would be expected based on the party’s vote share, according to the AP analysis.

    “There’s one answer for that, one word: gerrymander,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “In 2011, the gerrymander was the most artful that I’ve seen.”

    Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation already had a 12-7 Republican advantage over Democrats heading into the last round of redistricting, when the state lost a congressional seat because of lagging population growth. Top Republicans who drew the new boundaries sought to diminish Democrats’ overall electoral chances by shifting the borders of numerous districts.

    For example, a Republican-held district near Philadelphia that had been trending toward Democrats was stretched westward to take in more conservative voters. And Democratic-leaning voters in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre were shifted out of a Republican-held seat into a Democratic-led district to help protect the GOP incumbent.

    Both changes were cited in a lawsuit filed this month by Democratic voters alleging Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are “the product of naked partisan gerrymandering” and should be struck down.

    In Texas, Republicans gained nearly four excess congressional seats in 2016 compared to the projections from a typical votes-to-seats ratio, according to the AP’s analysis. The efficiency gap scores show Republicans picked up at least two excess seats each in Michigan, North Carolina and New York, although the latter might stem from high concentrations of Democrats in New York City rather than partisan gerrymandering. The analysis showed at least one excess Republican seat in Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

    That helped pad a Republican congressional majority that stood at 241-194 over Democrats after the 2016 elections. That represents a 10 percentage point margin in congressional seats, even though Republican candidates last fall received just 1 percentage point more total votes nationwide.

    “There are significantly more pro-Republican maps at the moment than there are pro-Democratic maps,” Stephanopoulos said. “To me, the most important driver of that fact is that Republicans controlled redistricting in a whole lot more states than Democrats” after the last census.

    The national Republican State Leadership Committee, the force behind the party’s surge in state legislative elections, attributes its victories to candidates who better represent the values and issues important to their communities.

    For Democrats to complain of gerrymandering is “pure nonsense,” said Matt Walter, the Republican committee’s president.

    “That’s just a baseless supposition to blame that all on line-drawing,” he said.

    Associated Press data journalist Meghan Hoyer contributed to this report.

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    Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, addresses the media outside the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017. Photo by John Sommers II/ Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The health care bill unveiled by Senate Republicans on Thursday includes funding to help tackle the nation’s opioid crisis — but dramatically less than the amount sought by two GOP senators and recovery advocates.

    Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) at one point had requested $45 billion over the course of a decade to keep the battle against opioids on the nation’s front burner. The bill instead would allocate only $2 billion, all in 2018.

    “Well, they did say there’s some opioid funding,” Capito said as she emerged from the meeting in which GOP leadership walked through the bill with members. But, she added, the number falls far short of what she wanted.

    The massive influx of money would have at least partially helped make up for the Senate’s proposed rollback of Medicaid, which pays for roughly half of addiction treatment in many states. In West Virginia, it funds nearly 45 percent of addiction treatment costs. In Ohio, the figure is 49.5 percent.

    READ NEXT: Does the Senate health care plan have ‘more heart’? It depends

    While the opioid epidemic is not limited to that pair’s states, most other Republicans did not join the call for including a major opioid epidemic funding stream through their health bill.

    “I think it’s not unreasonable to think carefully about how much money you can add to the system all at once,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who chairs the Senate’s health appropriations subcommittee. “We tripled the money two years ago, then doubled the tripling. So we’re in a fairly fast trajectory, and I don’t know how much money you can effectively spend here.”

    Blunt, however, acknowledged Capito and Portman’s expertise on the issue and maintained that funding addiction treatment was a priority for his subcommittee and for Congress in general.

    Some advocates for the recovery community suggested the proposal for $45 billion in funding overlooked the complicated spiral in health issues that can be brought on by addiction. The additional funding, for instance, wouldn’t help cover treatment for conditions that are common among those struggling with addiction and that would otherwise be covered by Medicaid.

    Senate drafters of the bill, by not including the new funding, could give either Capito or Portman — both of whom hail from Medicaid expansion states and have shown resistance to major cuts to the program — a sturdier stack of reasons to vote no. They could also use their resistance as leverage with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    Or, in the outcome that worries those combating the opioid crisis the most, the issue could simply fizzle.

    “The proposed $45 billion was not going to come close to being sufficient to address the epidemic that’s ravaging our country and taking more lives every day,” said Gary Mendell, the CEO of the addiction-focused nonprofit Shatterproof. “Shatterproof will continue to pressure senators to vote no on this bill that would have devastating effects for Americans with substance use disorders.”

    The bill’s elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefits provision, which largely mandated that insurers cover mental health and substance abuse treatment, was also cause for concern for stakeholders in combating the crisis.

    “Eliminating requirements for coverage of key benefits, including mental health and substance use disorders and other patient protections that are part of the Affordable Care Act, will have detrimental impacts for millions,” Dr. Altha Stewart, the president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, said in a statement.

    The White House, which has said it sees efforts to address the opioid epidemic as a priority, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on June 22, 2017. Find the original story here.

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    Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will be speaking with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic at 12:20 p.m. EST. You can watch the interview live in the player above.

    Senate Republicans unveiled details of their health care bill Thursday after weeks of work behind closed doors. The proposal shares some broad strokes with the bill that the House passed in May, drawing unanimous opposition from Democrats and starting negotiations among Republicans, some of whom have publicly criticized it.

    It would cut Medicaid overall and impose annual limits on spending. It also repeals the individual mandate penalty under Obamacare, and it would end most of the taxes that paid for the Affordable Care Act.

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    donald trump

    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing the “VA Accountability Act” in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2017. Photo By Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he doesn’t think congressional Republicans are “that far off” on passing a health overhaul to replace “the dead carcass of Obamacare” and believes his majority party is “going to get there.”

    Trump’s optimism runs counter to the public opposition of five Republican senators so far to the Senate GOP plan that would scuttle much of former President Barack Obama’s health law. Unless those holdouts can be swayed, their numbers are more than enough to torpedo the measure developed in private by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and deliver a bitter defeat for the president.

    McConnell has said he’s willing to make changes to win support, and in the week ahead, plenty of back-room bargaining is expected as he tries pushing a final package through the Senate.

    “We’ve a very good plan,” Trump said in an interview broadcast Sunday. “We have a few people that are I think, I could say modestly, they’re not standing on the rooftops and screaming. They want to get some points. I think they’ll get some points.”

    The president said he thinks Republicans in the Senate are doing enough to push through the bill. “I don’t think they’re that far off. Famous last words, right? But I think they’re going to get there,” Trump told “Fox and Friends.”

    In addition to the five senators who have announced their outright opposition, several other GOP senators, both conservatives and moderates, have yet to commit to the new overhaul.

    The Senate bill resembles legislation the House approved last month that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said would mean 23 million additional uninsured people within a decade and that recent polling shows is viewed favorably by only around 1 in 4 Americans.

    “Health care is a very, very tough thing to get,” Trump said. “But I think we’re going to get it. We don’t have too much of a choice because the alternative is the dead carcass of Obamacare.”

    Besides the five who have announced their outright opposition, several other GOP senators — both conservatives and moderates — have declined to commit to the new overhaul.

    With unanimous opposition from Democrats, McConnell can afford to lose just two of the 52 GOP senators and still prevail on the bill.

    Trump bemoaned the lack of help from Democrats on health care.

    “It would be so great if the Democrats and Republicans could get together, wrap their arms around it and come up with something that everybody’s happy with,” the president said. “It’s so easy. But we won’t get one Democrat vote, not one. And if it were the greatest bill ever proposed in mankind, we wouldn’t get a vote and that’s a terrible thing. Their theme is resist.”

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    Sadiya Ramos, a recipient of the Formation Scholarship, has been dancing since she was 3 years old. Photo courtesy of Sadiya Ramos

    Maya Rogers had been playing music for nearly 30 years in 2013 when she sustained a traumatic brain injury from a car crash.

    When she began treatment, which involved playing instruments and singing to accelerate her recovery, Rogers was no longer able to read sheet music. It took years of work, but she was able to eventually sing and play again, and also teach.

    Today, she is one of four recipients of the Formation Scholarship, a tuition award created by singer and songwriter Beyoncé and funded by her company Parkwood Entertainment that supports young black female scholars.

    Endowed in honor of Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade,” which was released one year ago, the tuition scholarship provides $25,000 for four students. Applicants composed an essay describing why “Lemonade” was significant to their lives and submitted a portfolio of their work.

    Recipients say the Formation Scholarship, named after the last track of the album, is doing more than just funding tuition: it is helping young black women to enter creative fields, where under-representation, job insecurity and discrimination can act as barriers to entry or deterrents to continuing a career.

    “If a young black girl saw me performing, talking about something that was universal, I think it would definitely have an impact on her … because she saw someone that was like her doing it, too,” Rogers said.

    The NewsHour Weekend spoke to the four scholars to learn more about their backgrounds, embracing their identities as black women and the goals of their work.

    Bria Paige, 19, Spelman College

    Photo courtesy of The Formation Scholarship

    Photo courtesy of The Formation Scholars Award

    The granddaughter of a professor and daughter of a lawyer, Bria Paige knew that she wanted to study English before enrolling at Spelman, where she has focused her studies on authors from marginalized communities.

    As a UNCF Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, Paige will be conducting research on “black women and their political spaces,” a project in part inspired by “Lemonade.”

    “I felt like her album transcended just the artistry and really delved into the political,” Paige said of Beyoncé. “Her album really celebrated black womanhood. And not only the joy and triumphs of black womanhood, but also the perils, the hard times.”

    Paige intends to earn her PhD in English and become a professor. She hopes to use an interdisciplinary framework in academia, incorporating women’s studies and gender studies. “Being a Formation scholar just means to me being bold, unafraid and unapologetic in my work and in my scholarship,” she said. “Let’s just get in formation to really shake up this world and make our presence known.”

    Sadiya Ramos, 19, Berklee College of Music

    Sadiya Ramos’ dance career started at age 3 when she began taking lyrical dance lessons from her mother at their church. Since then, she has appeared in the Nutcracker with the American Ballet Theatre, performed with Stevie Wonder at the Special Olympics and danced in a music video to protest the death of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by a police officer last year during a traffic stop in Minnesota.

    “I fell in love with the ability to communicate through your body. The body has no limits and neither does creativity,” Ramos said.

    As a child, Ramos felt she was rejected from some roles for which she was qualified because she is not white. “My greatest challenge is being a woman of color in ballet,” she said. “There are more as the years go by, but there aren’t many of us and people aren’t exactly open to this change. That was definitely something that I went through as a child because the way my body grew was different, my skin tone was different and I was just different. That was hard for me to understand as a youth.”

    With the aid of supportive dance teachers, and with ballerinas of color like Laura Anderson, Michaela DePrince and Misty Copeland as role models, Ramos said she gained the confidence to embrace what makes her different.

    “As a woman of color, people have different perceptions of me and how I will act and how I will dance. My parents instilled in me the importance of not paying attention to the outside noise because it truly didn’t matter. It was just about dance,” she said.

    Maya Rogers, 36, Howard University

    Music has been a part of Rogers’ life since she began playing the violin at age 4 and started practicing piano a year later. She took singing lessons from her mother and played the flute throughout college.

    Rogers was repeatedly told that her interest in the creative arts could not yield a stable career, but she did not want to leave it behind. Her experience teaching led her to study music therapy and the healing arts. She said the scholarship has helped to ease the burden of school’s expenses, bringing her closer to becoming the first person to earn a certificate in music therapy from Howard University.

    “My focus is really these days around how music impacts human beings, how the human voice is something that we can use to be empowered by how it connects us to one another when we sing together. Really wonderful things happen: we bond together socially, our bodies actually begin to sync up, our heart beats sync up, we breathe together,” Rogers said.

    She added that she hopes to work with people who have disabilities and can benefit from music therapy. “Witnessing how music really impacts their ability to communicate better, their self confidence, their general enjoyment for life. To me, those are the greatest triumphs,” she said.

    Avery Youngblood, 23, Parsons School of Design

    avery youngblood

    Photo courtesy of Avery Youngblood

    Avery Youngblood said her own identity as a black woman has shaped her scholarship, having written an undergraduate thesis on minority dialect and African American Vernacular English at Stanford University. Now, it continues to do so as she studies at the Parsons School of Design.

    Youngblood said she enjoys using design to relay political messages on race, ethnicity and linguistics, among other topics. She is always thinking about perception: how she is perceived because of her race and gender, how other people are perceived because of their identities and how such perception affects opportunities available to them.

    “Your greatest strength is your identity, your roots,” she said.

    Youngblood believes black womanhood gives her a unique perspective to design and encourages her to create for a diverse audience.

    “I think as you become older, you become more conscious of what’s around you: how everything is geared towards a certain audience or geared towards a certain demographic and you realize you’re not that demographic,” she said. “What design has allowed me to do is actually look at every single thing that I walk past — especially in New York, where you have so many advertisements — and you can tell what speaks to you and what doesn’t speak to you. I hope to achieve designs that speak to all different types of bodies.”

    The post These students just received a scholarship from Beyoncé appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    transgender flag, trans, trans flag

    People gather at the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, D.C., on June 11, 2017. D.C. is set to become the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to offer licenses reading “X.” Photo by Dayana Morales Gomez

    Washington, D.C., this week will become the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to offer a driver’s license reading “X,” instead of “M” or “F.”

    The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles worked with the National Center for Transgender Equality to implement the new option. It follows a wave of court orders in the past year that have designated at least 20 people legally non-binary, challenging the available options for gender on identification documents.

    “Washington, DC has long been a leader in LGBTQ rights and gender issues, and this change is the most recent example of our city’s commitment to inclusivity,” D.C. Mayor Bowser said in a statement Friday. “The safety and well-being of all Washingtonians is my top priority, and whenever we are presented with an opportunity to improve the lives of residents and better align our policies with DC values, I will take it. I hope to see other jurisdictions follow in our footsteps.”

    The DMV is closed on Monday, so the first available opportunity to get an ID reading “X” is Tuesday.

    READ NEXT: Judge rules in favor of intersex veteran who was denied passport

    Advocates say the new option will be helpful for non-binary and trans people for whom neither “M” nor “F” are accurate options. Elizabeth Ehret, an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow working at Whitman-Walker Health, became involved with the change after a client came to the health clinic in February and asked if they could get a non-binary marker on their ID.

    “I talked with them and I said, ‘Look, this is not something that’s currently available in D.C. but we can see what we can do,’” Ehret said.

    Since then, the client has been part of the DMV discussions, Ehret said. Representatives from Whitman-Walker Health and National Center for Transgender Equality also worked with the DMV to implement a self-attestation form, which will allow residents to self-attest to their gender while changing the sex marker on an ID. Until recently, D.C. residents had to receive a signature from a health provider before they could do so.

    Ehret said the new option will be important for D.C. residents who currently use an ID that is incompatible with their appearance or identity. Doing so, she said, can put trans and non-binary people at risk for harassment or violence. “People are going to have access to a gender marker that actually matches their gender identity,” she said.

    Advocates also say that allowing residents to self-attest to their gender will remove barriers for people who want to change their IDs, but previously lacked access to a health care provider who could sign off on the change.

    On June 20, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau introduced a bill that would enable people applying for driver’s licenses, permits and other identification cards to list their gender as “nonbinary.”

    The bill is “complementary” to the DMV’s efforts and would ensure that the change would not be undone by a future administration, said Tom Fazzini, Nadeau’s deputy chief of staff and communications director.

    D.C. is set to begin issuing “X” licenses about a month before Oregon begins making the same change. In June 2016, Portland resident Jamie Shupe became the first legally non-binary person in the U.S., spurring a year-long process by the state’s DMV to create a non-binary option for licenses. Shupe was followed by others in Oregon and California who obtained similar court orders to become legally non-binary.

    The Oregon DMV met with other state agencies and non-binary residents before its transportation commission unanimously voted this month to approve the new option. State lawmakers in the California Assembly are also considering a bill that would add a non-binary option on driver’s licenses, which passed the state Senate last month.

    Shupe, who grew up in Maryland and served in the military before moving to Oregon in 2014, applauded the change in an email.

    “I literally fled to Oregon, because I felt not only unsafe, but I also felt just flat out unwelcome on the East Coast as a non-binary transgender person,” Shupe wrote. “D.C., the place of my birth, has given me tears of joy by their actions.”

    The post D.C. will be first in nation to offer non-binary driver’s licenses appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of Afghan National Army (ANA) officers marching during a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre in Afghanistan

    Afghan National Army (ANA) officers march during a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre in Afghanistan in this October 7, 2015. Photo by Ahmad Masood/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — One shirt, one pair of pants.

    Those are the basics for outfitting an Afghan soldier. But in that simple uniform combination are the threads of two troubling stories – one about the waste of millions in American taxpayer dollars, the other about the perils of propping up a partner army in a seemingly endless war.

    Together these tales help explain why some in Congress question the wisdom of investing even more resources in Afghanistan, nearly 16 years after the United States invaded the Taliban-ruled country in response to the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Army general who runs the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan calls it a stalemate. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the U.S. is “not winning,” and he vows to “correct this as soon as possible.”

    The Trump administration is searching for an improved approach to achieving the goal it inherited from the Obama administration: to get the Afghan government to a point where it can defend itself and prevent its territory from being a haven for extremists. Mattis has said he expects to have that revised strategy ready for Congress by next month. This coming week he will be consulting with NATO allies in Brussels on troop contributions and other Afghan issues.

    [Watch Video]

    The long war has generated repeated examples of wasted funds, which may be inevitable in a country such as Afghanistan, where the military has been built from scratch, is plagued with corruption and relies almost completely on U.S. money for even the most basic things, including salaries and uniforms. Among the costs rarely noted publicly: The Pentagon has spent $1 billion over the past three years to help recruit and retain Afghan soldiers.

    The money wasted on uniforms is small potatoes by comparison with other U.S. missteps in Afghanistan, but it is emblematic of broader problems.

    The Pentagon has not disputed the gist of findings by its special inspector general for Afghanistan, John Sopko, that the U.S. spent as much as $28 million more than necessary over 10 years on uniforms for Afghan soldiers with a camouflage “forest” pattern that may be inappropriate for the largely desert battlefield. In a report released this past week, Sopko’s office said the Pentagon paid to license a propriety camouflage pattern even though it owns patterns it could have used for free. The choice, it said, was based on the seemingly offhand fashion preference of a single Afghan official.

    “This is not an isolated event,” Sopko said in a telephone interview. The U.S., he said, has been “in a mad rush to spend money like a drunken sailor on a weekend furlough.” It reflects a pattern, he said, of spending too much money, too quickly, with too little oversight and too little accountability.

    Sopko’s office is still investigating the camouflage uniform contract process, which it found “questionable.”

    “This was more than just a bad fashion move,” he said. “It cost the taxpayer millions of dollars” more than might have been necessary.

    Money is rarely part of the debate over what the United States should do differently or better in Afghanistan, and thus the accumulating costs are often overlooked.

    [Watch Video]

    Since 2002, the U.S. has spent $66 billion on Afghan security forces alone. In recent years this spending has grown, even though President Barack Obama’s stated goal was to wean the Afghans from U.S. military help after he formally ended the American combat role there three years ago. U.S. spending on Afghan forces rose from $3.6 billion last year to $4.2 billion this year, and President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget asks for $4.9 billion.

    Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, said the money wasted on camouflage uniforms is symptomatic of a broader problem of official corruption that has sapped the strength and spirit of too many Afghan soldiers.

    “The real problem in Afghanistan is not, ‘Can we get a rational decision about which camouflage design it should be.’ The real problem in Afghanistan is that cronyism and corruption in the government and the security forces saps the combat motivation of the soldiers,” Biddle said in an interview.

    “That’s why they they’re having such a problem holding onto a stalemate,” he added. “That’s why they can’t retake ground, even though they have vastly more forces in the field than the Taliban does.”

    Even keeping Afghan troops in uniform – any uniform – is a problem. The army is chronically about 20,000 soldiers short of its authorized total of 195,000. The U.S. has about 8,400 troops there to train and advise the Afghans and to hunt extremist groups, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2010-2011.

    Trump has delegated to Mattis the authority to decide how many troops the U.S. should have in Afghanistan, and Mattis is expected to send nearly 4,000 more this summer. That would be in line with a standing request by U.S. commanders, who say it would address a shortfall in troops to train and advise Afghans. A small percentage of the additional troops would be designated for a related U.S. mission of fighting al-Qaida and other extremist groups there.

    The post War and Waste: cautionary tales as U.S. ponders Afghan boost appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    marshall islands

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    By Mori Rothman and Melanie Saltzman

    MIKE TAIBBI: Two men mix sand and shovelfuls of cement, spending hours on end building their seawall— no, re-building it, and higher each time.

    Banga Roriki is working with his nephew, Robin, who has been living in this house, on Majuro, one of the Marshall Islands, for 22 years.

    BANGA RORIKI: The high tide comes very high.

    MIKE TAIBBI: He says the wall is meant to stop massive high tides, known here as king tides, like the one that surged through his home last year.

    On another of the Marshall Islands, Ebeye, those same tides eat away the shoreline everywhere you look. Tombstones shoved free and even swept out to sea. What used to be a park surrounding Ebeye’s power plant, gone.

    74-year-old Belma Marok has already seen king tides destroy several homes here.

    BELMA MAROK: The corner of the house was right over there, right outside that piece of concrete there.

    MIKE TAIBBI: These big slabs were part of the foundation of the house?

    BELMA MAROK: Yeah.

    MIKE TAIBBI: The Marshall Islands, a nation of slender atolls and five more substantial islands, sit in the South Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia, no more than six or seven feet above sea level.

    Climate scientists warn — if the current pace of global warming and sea level rise continues, then low-lying islands like the Marshalls could become incapable of sustaining their population within a generation or two.

    CHIP FLETCHER: Sea level is rising in certain parts of the pacific faster than anywhere else in the world.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Chip Fletcher studies climate science at the University of Hawaii. He says that well before the Marshall Islands might disappear — they could face a more immediate impact from climate change: fresh water shortages.

    MIKE TAIBBI: What’s the biggest threat now to the Marshall Islands?

    CHIP FLETCHER: Depends on your time scale. I think the longer time scale sea
    level rise is probably the biggest threat. Simply because it has the potential to rise
    above the average elevation of the Marshall Islands. Shorter timescale though, it’s the
    fundamental need for fresh water.

    MIKE TAIBBI: On Ebeye, fresh water is Belma Marok’s biggest worry in his home the spigots hooked up to the town water system are dry.

    His son lugs buckets of water so their family can shower and flush their toilets. the family relies on rainwater catchment tanks for water — but those remain practically empty because of a relentless drought.

    Getting fresh water has always been a preoccupation for the Marshall Islands. Most communities rely on rainwater collection — rooftop gutters connected to water tanks outside of virtually every home — and a few underground freshwater aquifers they can access through wells.

    The fresh water is essential for cleaning, personal hygiene, doing laundry and of course, drinking.

    But as life in the islands became more westernized, and the population grew to more than 50-thousand people, those limited freshwater sources became more stressed than ever.

    And now, because of climate change the traditional water sources are at increased risk. the droughts are getting so long that collecting enough rainwater is becoming harder and harder.

    The freshwater wells and underground aquifers are at risk of being fouled by salt water from frequent flooding some wells already spoiled because of high tides driven by rising sea level.

    Those so-called “king” tides now sweep over the Marshalls more intensely and more frequently.

    It’s an irony not lost on some climate change experts that while the Marshall Islands are among the sovereign nations that contribute the least to global warming, they’re also among the nations that face threats that are the most profound and immediate.

    Hilda Heine, the President of the Republic of Marshall Islands is keenly aware of the paradox of living here it’s the old cliche water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

    PRESIDENT HILDA HEINE: We’ve been fighting this climate change for the last, what, maybe five to 10 years. And our islands are still livable. So we continue to have hopes. And so I think we’re able to make sure that people are safe during droughts. We’re able to provide water, food and so on. So that’s what we need to do. It’s the new norm, but that doesn’t mean giving up.

    MIKE TAIBBI: President Heine says the government has made fresh water access a priority and points to improvements in the centralized water systems on the two most crowded islands — Majuro and Ebeye. But those systems supply only a fraction of the population and for limited hours each week.

    On Majuro, home to 27,000 residents, severe weather events put enormous pressure on the main water source — seven reservoirs that store rainwater collected from the airport’s runway.

    Halston deBrum is operations manager for Majuro’s government-run water company. he says the drought last year nearly depleted their supply.

    HALSTON DEBRUM: This reservoir was half. That one, empty. Reservoir number one and two were pretty empty as well. The only water we did have was pretty much in the covered reservoir, the treated water.

    MIKE TAIBBI: deBrum says a more severe weather event could leave them scrambling.

    So if the big one hits next month, you guys aren’t ready for it?

    HALSTON DEBRUM: No, if the big one hits next month, we won’t be ready for it. And then we’ll have to find other ways to provide water.

    MIKE TAIBBI: But deBrum says he’s confident coming improvements will one day provide all residents 24/7 water access, even during droughts.

    HALSTON DEBRUM: I think if we improve what we have here what we have. the infrastructure work that we have now. Improve the pipeline. Improve our catchment area on the runway. And then build more reservoirs. Bigger reservoirs so that we can store more.

    MIKE TAIBBI: On Ebeye, the main freshwater source is a 14-year-old desalination that’s undergoing a nearly 5 million dollar upgrade. but right now it’s less than a panacea for the more than 10-thousand people living in this densely populated setting.

    For one thing, the water is piped into households only 45-minutes a day, two days a week and it isn’t safe to drink without boiling it.

    For most of their water needs, residents come to this public tap. But even though this water is tested on a regular basis, many residents are skeptical.

    MIKE TAIBBI: Do you use it to drink, or just cook with it? What do you do with it?

    JIM SHIMA: I do both cook and eat with it, and also bath and shower.

    MIKE TAIBBI: But do you drink it straight?

    JIM SHIMA: Eh, not really. I don’t drink the water here, I drink the water from Kwaj.

    MIKE TAIBBI: “Kwaj” is the US military base on neighboring Kwajalein Island. Ferries throughout the day from Kwaj bring jugs of good, free and safe water from the base’s own state of the art desalination plant.

    These five gallon jugs from the ferry weigh more than 40 pounds apiece and they are a load to carry. Health risks from contaminated water are a constant worry in the Marshall Islands. Waterborne illnesses are one of the top three conditions treated at Ebeye’s hospital. When we journeyed to one of the more remote Marshall Islands — Arno, home to just 15-hundred people — we saw a health worker educating children and adults about the risks of contaminated water and how to clean and test water to make sure it’s safe.

    Still, after the lecture we met Tarjadik Arwan, who was drawing fresh water from one of the few wells still producing. she says children in the village have contracted pink eye, diarrhea, and typhoid fever from the wells.

    A few miles away, a man named Konio Joe relies on this tank to provide water for his family’s home which he built it after a king tide last year swept away his old house a few yards closer to the shore. Climate scientist Chip Fletcher says there are ways to at least delay the impact of sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.

    CHIP FLETCHER: What’s the rule of thumb? If you wage war with water, you will lose. Yield and elevate. Yield to the water, and elevate.

    By that Fletcher means accepting the consequences of seawater rise and moving homes inland and to higher ground. That’s why Fletcher and his team are creating 3-dimensional models of the Marshalls, like this one of Hawaii’s Oahu island to show where flooding is most likely to occur as sea level rises, and what could be done to defend against it, like building more robust seawalls around the perimeter of the islands.

    Fletcher says that’s an approach that should be considered by the Marshall Islands and by other low-lying Pacific ocean countries, like Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, and the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea, all of which are seeing an exodus driven partly by climate change.

    CHIP FLETCHER: There are communities that are sort of poised on the edge of the cliff, I believe. All it takes is one event, a king tide event, and that might be the killer event to push you over the edge.”

    MIKE TAIBBI: How close are you, do you think, to the kind of destructive weather event which will signal a profound change in the way that you should or the world should look at climate change?

    PRESIDENT HEINE: Well, we’re practical, and I think we’re looking at the mitigation efforts, adaptation, how we can make the country resilient, people resilient to the effects of climate change. And we continue to do that. Because the option is not an option for us. We cannot think about evacuating our country, our island, because people are connected to their land. If we’re not on these islands, then we’re another people, another country.

    The president does fret about the seawall she showed us that stands between her own home and the water that rises higher each year, a barrier that she says, erodes with every king tide.

    In the meantime, the president’s across-the-street neighbor on majuro, Banga Roriki, keeps building and re-building his seawall hoping his home can survive.

    The post Fighting for freshwater amid climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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