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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: a look at how one police force is rethinking the way its officers do their job.

    In the aftermath of a succession of deadly police shootings, law enforcement officials across the country have grappled with how police officers might better interact with the public.

    In Camden, New Jersey, new procedures meant to bring officers into closer face-to-face contact with the people they serve seem to be having a positive effect.

    Hari recently traveled to Camden, and has this report.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Officer Vidal Rivera is a native son of Camden, New Jersey, a street cop who can see the blocks he patrols through eyes that grew up here.

    VIDAL RIVERA, Camden Police Department: Out here, it was like a market, like a flea market. You could go to any corner and get whatever you need, or whatever they were looking for. They was coming out to buy drugs.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: He’s referring to customers from Philadelphia who came across the Delaware River to buy drugs. They still come in, but in smaller numbers. By day, Rivera is police, by night, a young professional boxer. But he says, as a boy, his mother didn’t let him play outside.

    VIDAL RIVERA: It was just too dangerous. There was just too much going on. She feared that something could happen, someone high, driving a car, a shoot-out, everything.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Rivera is part of a revamped force, rebuilt more or less from the ground up in 2014. The faces in the squad room during morning roll call are notably young, new officers recruited to replace an ineffective department.

    VIDAL RIVERA: I remember being a kid that, something happened, you weren’t allowed to say nothing to the police.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You weren’t allowed to tell the police because you didn’t trust them?

    VIDAL RIVERA: You didn’t trust them. It was the fear that you had.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Historically, one of the country’s most impoverished and violent cities, Camden is home to some 77,000 people, nearly all of them Latino and African-American. And a number of the department’s newer officers have been recruited from the community.

    Police Chief Scott Thomson also grew up in Camden, and he has been largely responsible for the reforms. His entire career has been with the Camden P.D. He ordered his officers to leave their cars, patrol neighborhoods on foot, knock on doors, look in on shopkeepers, get to know and become known to the people they served.

    CHIEF SCOTT THOMSON, Camden Police Department: We saw, almost instantaneously, a change in the atmosphere within neighborhoods. That’s what people wanted from us, and it has helped us significantly, and for us to provide better policing services to them as well.

    One, we have greater lines of communication now, which has given us a tremendous ability to not only solve crime, but prevent crime from occurring in the first place.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The statistics back that up. Since transitioning from the old force to the new in 2014, the number of murders dropped by almost 70 percent, burglaries by 27 percent, robberies 33 percent, and even an eye-catching 143 percent spike in rapes that the department attributes to increased reporting, as well as new broader federal guidelines on what constitutes rape.

    Overall, the city’s crime numbers are the lowest in decades. Those are impressive statistics for any police department, and residents don’t dispute them. But some say seeing them in a report vs. feeling the difference every day are two different things.

    MAN: I see prostitutes on my street. I see drug transactions on my street, in broad daylight, every day.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This local business owner was one of several people who asked not to be identified, citing concerns that his remarks could complicate relations with local police officers he knows. The crimes, he suspects, are visible to police as well.

    MAN: Those must be caught on camera, but I can’t tell that it makes a lot of difference in how much of it or little of it is happening.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Surveillance cameras are a major piece of Chief Thomson’s formula. Some 200 of them are deployed throughout the city. The chief showed us the Central command Center. On these screens are the real-time video feeds from every camera, the location of every officer on patrol. There are also gunshot-detecting microphones placed at certain locations, meaning police know the location of the shots to within a few meters seconds after it happens, and can begin responding before anyone even calls 911.

    Still, not everyone is won over. A Camden resident sees both the opportunities and costs of increased surveillance.

    MAN: I feel it’s a violation of civil rights, on some level, with the cameras, because now you’re unknowingly filming people who didn’t give you permission to film them. But I have also been on the side where family members has lost other family members to violence and the cameras had assisted in the apprehension of the person who committed the crime.

    MAN: If the police department came to me and said, you’re going to have to give up all your privacy, but we’re going to reduce crime, then make you a little bit safer, I would probably say no. Nobody came to me and asked me that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there a concern that people could feel like their civil rights are being violated?

    MAN: We don’t have any secret cameras stored away in the city. Everything is overt. They’re up there on a pole. They’re not hidden.

    And we’re sensitive to the fact that there’s people that may not necessarily want the camera there. But what we have found is the majority of people do want them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Another major focus of reform is de-escalation, training officers to use force only as a last resort, a tactic that played out dramatically in this video shot two years ago.

    A man was wielding a knife at a restaurant, then began walking down the street brandishing the weapon. Rather than taking him down, police formed a containment bubble around him, then followed him for blocks until he could be disarmed. That restraint and patience earned praise from the chief.

    SCOTT THOMSON: We’re handling them exactly the way that we want to. And at the end of the day, you know, what’s happening is, more people are being returned to their family. And every time that an officer pulls the trigger, it’s life-altering for them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: His department’s records show that, since 2014, the frequency of officers using force has dropped by 24 percent. And citizen complaints of police using excessive force are down 49 percent. But do these methods put an officer’s own life at risk?

    MAN: Sir, drop the knife, or I will Tase you.

    SCOTT THOMSON: What we’re telling officers to do is slow it down, is — that which we’re training officers to do is actually safer for the officers, when, historically, officers have been rushing into situations because that’s the training we provide, and it’s been dangerous for them, and often leaving them with the only option that’s left is deadly force.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That’s counter to the more militarized approaches taken by other cities.

    What’s the hardest part about changing culture?

    SCOTT THOMSON: So, for us, it was that transition from warrior to guardian. You still have to have the warrior mentality and the ability to trigger that warrior element when the time calls for it. However, that shouldn’t be your operating premise. That should be the anomaly. Right? That should be the exception, not the rule.

    The rule should be, you’re a guardian. You’re in this neighborhood.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Throughout this story, I spoke to a number of people sitting on their stoops and sitting on their porches, but none of them wanted to talk to me on camera. It wasn’t because they felt that the new police practices were helping their neighborhood or hurting. It was a mixed bag.

    It was because they felt that talking to me would invite unwanted attention.

    Some feared a police they still didn’t fully trust. And others feared drug dealers, who may have left street corners, but are now behind closed doors.

    TIM GALLAGHER, Social Worker, Guadalupe Family Services: There were just dime bags and needles all over the place.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Tim Gallagher is a social worker at Guadalupe Family Services. He works on a block that’s seen tremendous improvement, but he is still cautious.

    TIM GALLAGHER: I think their Manning concerns are that it could happen again, that the good cops who are here will leave, and that other cops will replace them who won’t really know the neighborhood.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Good cops like Vidal Rivera, who is 6-0 in the ring, undefeated, but knows the fight for the streets of his hometown is just getting started.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan in Camden, New Jersey.

    The post What happened when Camden started rethinking policing to build trust appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: President Trump hosted South Korea’s new president at the White House today, the first meeting between the two leaders, who are looking for a common approach to dealing with North Korea.

    William Brangham has that.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Moon Jae-in arrived at the White House with tensions over North Korea still running high.

    In the Rose Garden, President Trump pressed again for ending the North’s nuclear and weapons programs.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime has failed. Many years, and it’s failed. And, frankly, that patience is over. We’re working closely with South Korea and Japan as well as partners around the world on a range of diplomatic security and economic measures to protect our allies and our own citizens from this menace known as North Korea.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: North Korea, led by Kim Jong-un, has already test-launched more than a dozen missiles this year, all in defiance of international sanctions.

    South Korea President Moon has long advocated for diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang. And since taking office just last month, he’s delayed full deployment of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile defense system in his country.

    Today, though, he warned of a stern response to any provocations.

    PRESIDENT MOON JAE-IN, South Korea (through interpreter): The North Korean nuclear issue must be resolved, without fail. I also urge Pyongyang to promptly return to the negotiating table for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. President Trump and I will employ both sanctions and dialogue in a phased and comprehensive approach. And based on this, we both pledged to seek a fundamental resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meanwhile, the U.S. has sought China’s help in trying to rein in North Korea. However, yesterday, the administration announced sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals over their alleged illicit dealings with North Korea.

    But U.S. officials insisted they weren’t targeting the Chinese government. Today, neither President Trump nor President Moon mentioned China.

    On a different subject, Mr. Trump again criticized the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea, and blamed a 2011 free trade deal for the imbalance. He called for new action to reduce trade barriers between the two countries. For his part, Moon played down the trade issue. And he announced that the president and Mrs. Trump have accepted his invitation to visit South Korea later this year.

    So, where do things stand between the U.S. and South Korea, and how will the two nations deal with the North?

    For that, we turn to Robert Gallucci. He was the chief U.S. negotiator back in 1994 when the Clinton administration persuaded the North Koreans to dismantle their plutonium-based nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. He is now a professor at Georgetown University and chair of the U.S. Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    ROBERT GALLUCCI, Georgetown University: Thanks very much.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you think today’s meeting between Moon and Trump will help forge a clearer plan for how to deal with North Korea?

    ROBERT GALLUCCI: I think today’s meeting is a success, in the sense that the United States end and the South Koreans clearly indicated that they value the alliance very much and the alliance is important to the security of both our countries and the stability of Northeast Asia.

    The way you framed that question, that it’s going to lead to the resolution of the issue with North Korea, is a bit of a reach from at least what I could take away from the meeting.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You and several other former Cabinet officials and senators wrote a letter to the Trump administration where you urged that they take direct immediate talks with the North Koreans, possibly send a high-ranking envoy to North Korea,.

    Why do you think that’s a good idea?

    ROBERT GALLUCCI: For a variety of reasons.

    I think that people who favor negotiations do so partly because the alternatives are miserable. There are fundamentally three options in dealing with North Korea, and there always have been since the end of the Korean War.

    One is to contain the North Koreans. And we have been doing that, and we have done it for decades. And we have been doing that actually for the eight years of the Obama administration. I would say that was a containment or strategic patience type of policy.

    The problem with containment is that it doesn’t stop with North Koreans from developing assets and capabilities and threat that we would rather they not have.

    So, a second option is to negotiate and to see whether we cannot reach an agreement with the North Koreans where they agree to give up a capability which we believe they shouldn’t have and is threatening to friends and allies. That is what we attempted to do in 1994 with the agreed framework.

    A third option is to use military force, something which we are proud always to say is on the table, something we haven’t done. And, by that, we do not mean launching another Korean War. We mean the use of military force in some limited way to attack the capability. Right now, it’s not only the nuclear weapons, but it’s those long-range, ICBM-range ballistic missiles.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In your letter, though, you’re clearly arguing for point two negotiation. And there are some people, as you well know, in the foreign policy establishment who say you cannot negotiate with the North Koreans. And I’m just curious how you respond to that.

    ROBERT GALLUCCI: I think it’s a fair thing to say that negotiations with the North Koreans are not guaranteed to succeed.

    And, certainly, through the years of the Bush administration, Bush 43, the 2000s, there were many efforts by very capable people to negotiate with the North Koreans, and it didn’t produce very much. And even the agreement which stuck for eight years, the agreed framework I mentioned before, stuck for a while and stopped the plutonium program from producing nuclear weapons. Ultimately, it collapsed as well.

    So, there is reason to say that negotiations with the North Koreans are not easy, they may not succeed, but they may be a way of getting to where we want to get to, limiting the capability of the North Koreans to do harm to us and our allies without the use of military force and without the risk of a major war in Northeast Asia.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Chinese have floated another possible entreaty to the North Koreans, and that’s for the U.S. and the South Koreans to stop these annual military exercises. How important is that to the North Koreans and do you think that that’s a good idea?

    ROBERT GALLUCCI: The North Koreans have said frequently that they are very unhappy about the U.S.-ROK military exercises. And I do believe they are unhappy about them.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You actually had some recent meetings with North Korean officials and you heard this very same issue.

    ROBERT GALLUCCI: It was the first thing on their agenda that they were most concerned about.

    What’s interesting about that, of course, is that, from our perspective, the alliance between the United States and Republic of Korea is key to both our countries’ security, and a manifestation of the strength of that alliance are those military exercises. So that will be not high on our agenda to give up easily.

    Is that something that might be on the table, along with the nuclear weapons program of the North Koreans? Plausibly. But that’s pretty much down the road. I wouldn’t imagine negotiations would begin there. They would begin with talks about talks, I think, without preconditions.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Last night. Do you think the Trump administration has any interest in any of the things you’re taking about?

    ROBERT GALLUCCI: I don’t know what the Trump administration is interested in.

    There have been mentions by the secretary of state, secretary of defense and even the president of possibly talking with the North Koreans. I worry that, in their minds, are preconditions that will make negotiations someplace between difficult and impossible.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Robert Gallucci, Georgetown University, thank you very much for being here.

    ROBERT GALLUCCI: Thank you very much.

    The post Can U.S. and South Korea share a North Korea strategy? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to President Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claim that three to five million votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election. He set up a special commission to investigate, but one of its first acts has drawn condemnation from across the country.

    Hari Sreenivasan is here with that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yesterday, the vice chair of that commission sent a letter to all 50 states asking for voter data that includes addresses, party I.D., voter history, and Social Security information. The commission asked that data be sent to the White House by mid-July, but didn’t say how it would be used, other than to examine for vulnerabilities in the system.

    We take a closer look now with Rick Hasen. He is a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. He writes the Election Law blog.

    Rick, the NewsHour’s been reaching out to states all day long. And we have got nine definite no’s, 18 that might comply in whole or in part, and a few other states that are still looking at it. Often, what we hear there is that there are apparently laws on the books in certain states that prohibit, even if it’s public information, who can look at the information and why it can be looked at.


    RICK HASEN, University of California, Irvine: Well, some of this information, depending on the state, is available publicly. People can buy it. Some of this is not available.

    And, in fact, just before we came on, I saw a story that Kris Kobach himself, the personal who has asked for this information, he himself cannot produce the Social Security numbers that he has demanded because that would violate the law in the state of Kansas.

    This doesn’t seem to have been very well thought out. Not only do we not know what the information is going to be used exactly to do. It doesn’t appear that this information even legally can be provided by a lot of the states.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, Kris Kobach, as his role as secretary of state of Kansas, can’t provide the information that he’s asking for, right?

    RICK HASEN: To himself. That’s right.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Got it. Right.

    All right, what about the scope of the investigation? There seems to be a lot of focus on measuring or protecting the integrity one person, one vote. I don’t see any description in here about any Russian meddling that might have happened.

    RICK HASEN: Well, so it’s not clear exactly what this commission is going to do.

    Initially, the president said he wanted to look into the potential for voter fraud. There are a couple of Democrats on the commission who said that they wanted to look into Russian meddling. Kobach said he might be open to that, but that wasn’t on the list of questions that was sent to various state election officials.

    It’s not clear what this group is going to do, what it’s going to produce. But I’m concerned that it’s going to be something that is just going to try to support the president’s agenda, claiming that there’s a lot of voter fraud, and use that to make it harder for people to be able to register to vote.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is this the kind of information that a campaign really would pay money for?

    RICK HASEN: Well, in some states, campaigns do pay money for this kind of information.

    The fact that the information is going to sent to the president’s office is concerning. Rather than having outside professional staff or rather than having social scientists who study this information, we know that this information is going literally to the executive office of the president.

    We don’t know how it’s going to be kept. We don’t know how secure it’s going to be, on what kind of servers. We don’t have any information. But the concerns about privacy, about identity theft, about the information being used for political purposes, I think these are all legitimate questions to be asked.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And, finally, is there a question here on the role of the federal government? There seemed to be some pushback from states when it came to the Department of Homeland Security going out to them, saying we have this potential for hacking, we would like to help you secure your networks.

    RICK HASEN: Absolutely.

    There has been this long tradition, especially on the Republican side, of talking about federalism and states’ rights in this area. And we’re even seeing some pushback now from states like Mississippi that are saying they are not going to cooperate with providing this information to the federal government.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Rick Hasen, a professor at University of California, Irvine, thanks so much.

    RICK HASEN: Thank you.

    The post What does this Trump commission want to do with states’ voter information? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the ongoing struggle to craft a health care reform bill in the U.S. Senate.

    Republican lawmakers are scrambling to draft a new version of their bill before leaving Washington for the July fourth recess.

    A short time ago, I spoke with Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference.

    I begin by asking where the efforts to find compromise stand right now.

    SEN. ROY BLUNT, R-Mo.: I think it’s challenging and challenged. We will see what happens, but this is a difficult topic that touches every American family. And the more members of the Senate and the House both know about it, I think the harder it is to reach that conclusion you would like to get to.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there are reports, as you know, news reports that the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is trying to come up with accommodations to appeal to both sides of this argument, to moderate Republicans.

    One of the stories is that he’s considering keeping the tax on high-income individuals in order to pay for more of the gaps in Medicaid coverage. And, by the way, the Congressional Budget Office is saying the cuts to Medicaid are going to be much deeper than thought in the future years.

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: Well, I think what they’re saying is, in the second 10 years, you have even more substantial savings.

    Now, remember, there are no cuts to Medicaid. Every year in Medicaid, you spend more money than you spent the year before under this plan, but the growth is not as great as it would be if you continued to pay, for instance, 100 percent for single able-bodied adults.

    We have got a plan where the states were told, OK, we will pay 100 percent for able-bodied single adults, but we’re only going to pay an average of 52 percent for mothers and their young children. Now, there is something wrong with the way that system is put together.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But keeping that tax on higher-income individuals, is that being looked at?

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: I think it is. I think everything is being looked at, both on the revenue side and on the expenditure side and trying to reach that point where 50 Republicans, that might include the vice president being one of the 50, is — are being added to that 50 is what it takes to get this done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the other things we’re seeing, a potential way of appealing to the moderates, adding $45 billion or so for opioid abuse treatment. Is that something else that’s on the table?

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: It’s a problem that Congress has really taken on in the last couple of years. I started sharing the committee that appropriates money for health and human services two years ago.

    We tripled that year the money that was being — to be spent on opioids. Legislation sort of followed that. Then we doubled that tripling. I think, at some point, there’s a limit to how many times we can multiply that in a short period of time, but this is a real problem.

    In Missouri, more people die from drug overdoses than car accidents. If you’re a first-responder in Missouri as part of a fire department, you’re three times more likely to respond to a drug overdose than you are a fire. So it’s a problem.

    I don’t know exactly what the right number is, but certainly I think members of the Senate and House are rightly concerned about it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to appeal to conservatives, we’re reading that the majority leader is giving more options for coverage plans, allowing people, in other words, to have a choice of some less costly, cheaper plans, in effect, that would provide less coverage, but would give them more choices.

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: Give them more choices.

    It might also provide some more up-front coverage. I think one of the lessons we should have learned from what’s happened with the current plan is that there is insurance coverage, but there is not really, many times, access to health care. If you have these high deductibles, there is every — there is a disincentive to get the policy, because you would have to pay another — I think the average of deductible policies on the individual market is $6,000 per individual before the insurance really kicked in, and if two of you got sick, $12,000.

    Makes it hard to make that decision, particularly when you think what your family needs is the first $1,000 that covers the kids getting sick with the flu or something like that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think the chances are now that you’re going to be able to come up with something that passes? And I ask this because President Trump tweeted this morning, he said, “If Republican senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately repeal and then replace at a later date.”

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: Well, it’s pretty late to come up with a new plan.

    The hypotheticals are never legislatively what you want to be talking about. You want to be talking about what you’re focused on at the time. I think it’s fair to say that it’s hard to get 50 senators out of 52 to vote for a package this complicated.

    Actually, Judy, the more that members know about this, in many ways, the harder it is to make that final decision, because you have got so much information, and you know how many other things are impacted here by one decision here that, five decisions later, has made a big difference in somebody’s life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if you can’t get it passed in July, do you just set it aside?

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: Well, I think we have had a three-step plan in mind. We pass this bill that did as much as we could to kind of clear the way for Democrats and Republicans to work together later.

    The secretary of health and human services would look at the 1,400-plus rules that the law gave that person the ability to define and see how those could be better defined, so they were better for families, better for access and then, when that’s done, get down to the real work of Republicans and Democrats working together to do things you can do outside the budget restraints of the way we’re trying to do this first step.

    And if the first step doesn’t work, then you just go to, I guess, a two-step process, and it will take longer.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Where you do finally work with Democrats, Democrats and Republicans together?

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing …

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: And that’s going to happen. That has to happen to expand the way more people can get more insurance in groups, to look at things like more transparency from providers. That eventually has to happen.

    But it doesn’t have to happen to stabilize the moment we’re in right now. The insurance markets, the individual markets are collapsing. A third of the counties in America now only have one company that’s willing to offer an insurance product on the exchange. The estimate for next year is over 40 percent of the counties.

    And if you only have would be choice, you really don’t have any choice. You either buy that policy or pay the penalty, and all those things will happen if we don’t change the current law.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing I want to ask you about, Senator Blunt, and that is the president’s tweets.

    A lot of attention has been diverted in the last few days to the president’s tweets criticizing cable news hosts Joe Scarborough, Mike Brzezinski, in her case in very harsh personal terms.

    What’s your reaction?

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: Well, there’s no doubt that cable news hosts can say things that the president of the United States shouldn’t say, and people can be harsh at you. That doesn’t mean you benefit by being harsh back.

    I think, generally, the president’s tweets are not helpful to him. At the same time, he’s figured out a way to communicate with people in ways that no other president has, or he wouldn’t be president.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do those tweets help his agenda and the Republican agenda?

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: They sometimes they do and they sometimes don’t. I think there needs to be a much more significant filter on those tweets. It’s OK to have some unspoken and untweeted thoughts.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, thank you very much for joining us.

    SEN. ROY BLUNT: Nice to be with you.

    The post Sen. Blunt: Hard to get 50 senators to pass health bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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

    U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he hoped the Russia probe could “move forward and come to an end sooner rather than later.” Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

    WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a vote of confidence Friday to former FBI director Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading an investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, but he also said he hoped the probe could “move forward and come to an end sooner rather than later.”

    The attorney general’s comments during a “Fox & Friends” interview were his most expansive to date on the Justice Department’s appointment last month of Mueller to run the investigation.

    “Mr. Mueller is someone I’ve known for a long time, and I’ve had confidence in him over the years,” said Sessions, an Alabama Republican who served for years on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the congressional panel that oversees the FBI.

    “I feel confident in what he’ll do, that’s all I can say to you about that,” Sessions said. “The man has a good reputation. He knows his business.”

    Those remarks stand in contrast to a drumbeat of Republican criticism of the special counsel’s investigation, including from President Donald Trump, who on the same show last week contended that Mueller was “very, very good friends” with fired FBI director James Comey and characterized that relationship as “very bothersome.”

    Republicans have also raised conflict-of-interest concerns by noting that some lawyers on Mueller’s investigative team have previously contributed to Democratic candidates, though federal law and department policy does not permit the special counsel to take into consideration the political affiliations of a potential hire.

    Still, Sessions said he was hopeful the investigation would conclude sooner than later, a point White House staff has repeatedly made, and he did suggest that questions about the composition of Mueller’s staff could be fair game.

    “We expect full integrity and good work from every person involved in this investigation,” Sessions said, later adding, “Mr. Mueller is entitled, lawfully, I guess, at this point, to hire who he desires, but I think he should look for people who have strength and credibility by all people.”

    Mueller was appointed FBI director by Republican President George W. Bush and held the position for 12 years.

    The post Sessions praises special counsel, but hopes Russia investigation ends ‘sooner rather than later’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate Republicans have begun the Fourth of July recess with President Trump urging them to get rid of Obamacare, even if they can’t replace it yet.

    In a tweet this morning, he said: “If Republican senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately repeal, and then replace at a later date.” The White House said later that it is still — quote — “fully committed” to getting a bill through the Senate.

    The president’s feud with cable news hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough escalated today. Mr. Trump drew widespread condemnation yesterday for crudely criticizing Brzezinski’s appearance and intelligence.

    Today, the “Morning Joe” team on MSNBC charged the White House had threatened them with a tabloid expose last spring.

    JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: We got a call that, hey, The National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys.

    And it was, you know — Donald is friends with — the president’s friends with the guy that runs The National Enquirer.

    And they said, if you call the president up, and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The National Enquirer said that it was unaware of any discussions involving the White House and the “Morning Joe” hosts.

    The president answered Scarborough’s allegation another tweet. He said — quote — “Fake news. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no.”

    A scaled-back version of President Trump’s travel ban is now in force, affecting six mostly Muslim nations and refugees in general. It took effect late Thursday. There were scattered protests in Los Angeles and other cities, but none of the airport chaos that had greeted the original order in January.

    Meanwhile, Hawaii asked a federal judge to expand the list of those eligible beyond immediate family members of those already in the U.S.

    China lodged a public protest today over U.S. plans to sell $1.4 billion in arms to Taiwan. The Foreign Ministry said that the move runs counter to President Trump’s commitment to the one-China policy. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a renegade province.

    Separately, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain. He greeted thousands of Chinese troops at an army garrison, a display aimed at groups calling for Hong Kong’s independence. Xi made clear that China is not letting go.

    PRESIDENT XI JINPING, China (through interpreter): After 20 years of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the practice of one country, two systems has gained universally acknowledged success. Of course, we have encountered some new situations, new problems and new challenges in the practice. It is not horrible to have problems. The point is to figure out some ways to solve them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Chinese Foreign Ministry also caused a stir, dismissing the 1997 agreement with Britain. A spokesman said it — quote — “no longer has any practical significance.”

    There is word that the flow of refugees out of Syria has reversed. The U.N. Refugee Agency reports nearly half-a-million Syrians have returned to their homes this year. Most have returned to areas where government forces have regained control after years of fighting.

    Back in this country, a gunman opened fire at a hospital in New York City, killing one doctor and seriously wounding several others, before taking his own life. Police said the shooter was also a doctor who had once worked at the Bronx Lebanon Hospital. Emergency crews and heavily armed police descended on the scene. Officials said it was an isolated incident, and not an act of terror.

    Local and federal authorities in Chicago unveiled new efforts today to cut the flow of illegal guns, including adding more federal agents. The announcement came as President Trump tweeted that crime and killings in Chicago have reached epidemic proportions. Officials in the city said there’s actually been some improvement, but they also welcomed the federal help.

    JOEL LEVIN, U.S. Attorney: Significant progress is being made in the effort to combat the violence in Chicago, but the level of violence continues at an unacceptable level, and it is a battle which can only be fought with all hands on deck. That is state, federal, and local law enforcement.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As of Sunday, there have been more than 1,300 shootings in Chicago this year. That’s down from nearly 1,600 at the same point last year.

    Firefighting crews are making progress against a wildfire that threatened to engulf an Arizona town. Officials reopened a major roadway in Prescott Valley today, north of Phoenix, and hundreds of people were allowed back into their homes. A few thousand others are still in shelters.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 62 points to close at 21349. The Nasdaq fell about four points, and the S&P 500 added three. Both the Dow and the S&P were up 8 percent for the first half of the year. That is the Dow’s best showing since 2013. The Nasdaq rose 14 percent, its best since 2009.

    And on a lighter note, Crayola is asking for help naming a new shade of blue. Out of 90,000 submissions, the top five contenders are, dreams come blue, star-spangled blue, blue moon bliss, reach for the stars, my favorite, and blue-tiful.

    You can vote on Crayola’s Web site starting tomorrow through August 31.

    The post News Wrap: Trump urges GOP to get rid of Obamacare now appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump is asking for voter names, addresses, party affiliation and voting records from all 50 states, part of an investigation into voter fraud by a commission he launched last month.

    But will all states comply with that request?

    Officials had strong but mixed reactions to a Wednesday letter from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, asking for suggestions to improve election security but also for a range of voter data, including dates of birth and partial social security numbers.

    At least 10 states say they won’t comply with Kobach’s request. Many called the request an invasion of privacy and said Trump has yet to provide proof of voter fraud in their states or elsewhere. Some states are still considering the request, while others have said they’ll provide some, but not all, of the data.

    The commission requested the data by July. Kobach did not specify in his letter how it would be used.

    WATCH: What does this Trump commission want to do with states’ voter information?

    Trump has claimed without evidence since winning November’s election that it was “rigged,” either by voter impersonation or illegal ballots cast by undocumented immigrants. Trump swept the Electoral College in November’s election, but was nearly 3 million votes shy of Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.

    He created the commission to investigate practices “that could lead to improper voter registrations, improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”

    All states are required to keep voter rolls, but the kind of information collected from voters varies by state. Public voter data is available to political parties and organizing groups, usually for a fee.

    All states are required to keep voter rolls, but the kind of information collected from voters varies by state. Public voter data is available to political parties and organizing groups, usually for a fee.

    The request gets more complicated because the responsibility for voter rolls also varies by state. While governors have been vocal about Kobach’s letter, in many states the responsibility to release the data falls to the state elections board or secretary of state. In some cases — as in North Carolina — those leaders don’t agree.

    Alabama Secretary of State John Merill said Kobach’s request will now likely be a focus of the National Association of Secretaries of State summer conference in Indianapolis next week.

    White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the commission’s request Friday, saying it sought only publicly-available data. She called the refusal from some states to comply “a political stunt.”

    Here’s a look at where states stand on the issue:

    Alabama: On the fence

    Secretary of State John Merrill told PBS NewsHour that he has received the letter from Kobach and “we certainly want to be supportive” of the effort to ensure election integrity. In a statement, he said he “is committed to doing everything in his power to ensure that the integrity and the security of the elections process is secure.”

    Merill, however, said in the statement that his office “will comply with the request if we are convinced that the overall effort will produce the necessary results to accomplish the commission’s stated goal without compromising the integrity of the voter rolls and the elections process in Alabama.”

    Among the questions that have to be answered for him: how many states will comply with the request for information.

    “If you have it narrowed down” to only a few states, “that’s not very helpful nationwide,” Merrill told the NewsHour.

    Alaska: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Alaska will comply with a portion of the commission’s request by releasing publicly available information like voters’ names, mailing addresses and party affiliations, but will not hand over data that is confidential under state law, such as the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers and birth dates, according to Josie Bahnke, Alaska’s elections director.

    Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott posted online a list of what is public and private information under state law.

    Arizona: Will provide what’s publicly available

    The state “will not provide the personal identifying information” of its voters to the commission, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan said in a statement on her office’s website. That information includes social security numbers, date of birth and mother’s maiden names.

    “We will only make available the same redacted information that is available to the general public through a public records request,” Reagan said.

    Arkansas: On the fence

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is “hesitant” to provide voter data.

    California: Will not comply

    Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement he would not hand over the state’s voting data.

    “California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach,” he wrote. “The President’s Commission is a waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today: aging voting systems and documented Russian interference in our elections.”

    Colorado: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said in a statement he will provide public voter data, but withhold information that is confidential.

    Connecticut: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Secretary of State Denise Merrill said in a statement that Connecticut will share publicly-available information with the commission “in the spirit of transparency.”

    “In the same spirit of transparency, we will request that the Commission share any memos, meeting minutes or additional information as state officials have not been told precisely what the Commission is looking for,” she added.

    Delaware: No statement available

    Florida: Reviewing request

    Georgia: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Hawaii:No statement available

    Idaho: Reviewing request

    Illinois: Has not formally received request

    Indiana: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in a statement she will provide information to the commission that is publicly available, including voters’ names, addresses and congressional districts. “Indiana law doesn’t permit the Secretary of State to provide personal information requested by Secretary Kobach,” Lawson said.

    Iowa: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Iowa will comply with some of the commission’s requests for voter data. But Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said his office would only give out information on voter registration after a formal request was made, and would not supply Social Security numbers “as forbidden under Iowa Code.”

    Kansas: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Kentucky: Will not comply

    Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said she did not intend to release voter data.

    Louisiana: Reviewing request

    Maine: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Maine’s Secretary of State Matt Dunlap will comply with portions of the commission’s request that are publicly available under state law, a spokesperson told the NewsHour Weekend on Saturday.

    “Maine law allows the release of the voter’s name, year of birth, residence address, mailing address, electoral districts, voter status,” Dunlap said in a statement online.

    Maryland: Reviewing request

    Massachusetts: Will not comply

    Michigan: Will review when request is received

    Minnesota: Will not comply

    “I will not hand over Minnesota voters’ sensitive personal information to the commission,” Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a statement. “As I’ve said before, I have serious doubts about the commission’s credibility and trustworthiness.”

    Mississippi: Will not comply

    Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the commission can “go jump in the gulf of Mexico.”

    Missouri: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Montana: Has not received letter, but says it “will not release any personal or confidential information”

    Nebraska: No statement available

    Nevada: Will provide what’s publicly available

    New Hampshire: Will comply

    New Jersey: No statement available

    New Mexico: Has not yet received request

    New York: Will not comply

    North Carolina: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted that he told the North Carolina State Board of Elections that the state should not comply with the election integrity commission’s request.

    But the state’s board of elections said in a separate statement it would provide “publicly available data as already required by state law”: name, address, political affiliation, demographic data and a list of past elections in which the voter has participated.

    North Dakota: No statement available

    Ohio: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Oklahoma: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Oregon: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Oregon is willing to tender a list of voters to the commission for $500, the same fee applied to all requests for the information, but would not hand over voters’ Social Security numbers or number driver’s’ license numbers as requested, according to Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who said in a letter to the commission that he is legally prohibited from doing so.

    Richardson also noted in the letter that there is scant evidence of voter fraud in Oregon.

    “I do not believe the federal government should be involved in dictating how states conduct their elections,” Richardson wrote.

    Pennsylvania: Will not comply

    Gov. Tom Wolff tweeted that Pennsylvania “will not participate in this systematic effort to suppress the vote.”

    Rhode Island: Reviewing request

    South Carolina: Will review letter once it’s received

    South Dakota: Will not comply

    Tennessee: Will not comply

    In a statement, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said “Tennessee state law does not allow my office to release the voter information requested to the federal commission”

    Texas: Will comply

    Utah: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Vermont: Will provide what’s publicly available

    Virginia: Will not comply

    Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement he has “no intention of honoring this request.”

    Washington: Reviewing request

    West Virginia: Will review request once it’s received

    Wisconsin: Will provide publicly available information for $12,500

    Wyoming: No statement available

    PBS NewsHour’s Dan Cooney, Pamela Kirkland and Jessica Yarvin, and PBS NewsHour Weekend’s Michael D. Regan, reported for this story.

    The post A Trump commission requested voter data. Here’s what every state is saying. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Illinois state capitol

    Photo by Flickr user pioneer98

    SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois lawmakers are returning to work Saturday after missing a key deadline to prevent the state from starting an unprecedented third consecutive fiscal year without a budget, which means the state is entering dangerous territory.

    A $36.5 billion plan to rebuild Illinois’ crumbling finances passed a critical test on Friday, but no deal was reached before a midnight deadline.

    Without a budget, the state comptroller will be unable to cover basic services ordered by courts, road construction and Powerball ticket sales could halt, and the state’s credit rating could be downgraded to “junk.”

    The fiscal morass is the longest of any state since at least the Great Depression, with Illinois ringing up a $6.2 billion annual deficit and a $14.7 billion stack of past-due bills.

    Democrats who control the Legislature said the latest proposal, which won a preliminary 90-25 vote in the House on Friday, would be fueled by a $5 billion income tax increase and $2.4 billion in spending reductions. Revenue details have yet to appear in the legislation, but lawmakers weary of the two-year standoff with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner approved the spending outline.

    But a final vote wasn’t taken before the new fiscal year began Saturday. The missed deadline marks another blow in the record-breaking budget stalemate, though it followed the strongest display of bipartisan cooperation in months.

    House Speaker Michael Madigan, who called Friday’s vote a “good step forward” said lawmakers would return to the Capitol on Saturday to continue spending-and-revenue work. Lawmakers also will negotiate issues demanded for two years by the first-term governor, such as freezing local property taxes.

    Rauner’s office did not comment Friday on the House action.

    Madigan also said he would send messages to the major credit agencies, which promised a downgrade of Illinois’ creditworthiness if the state didn’t have a deal by the new fiscal year. Credit agencies typically don’t publish analyses on weekends or during holiday periods, so the timing might be in Illinois’ favor.

    The Prairie State’s last annual budget expired two years ago Friday. Without a deal this time, the United Way reports that 36 percent of all human services agencies in Illinois face closure by year’s end, according to Rep. Greg Harris, the Chicago Democrat sponsoring the fiscal blueprint.

    “There’s really not much to say, given the gravity of the situation we’re in. People in every corner of the state are watching what we do, to see if we get the job done,” Harris said in presenting the plan on the House floor Friday. “We’re staring at an abyss which faces us tomorrow morning when the clock strikes midnight.”

    Still, what has routinely been acidic, rancorous debate over how to meet the state’s financial needs gave way to a measured tone of cooperation.

    “I come to you today with great joy, not with regret or despair. We’re going to save our state, and we’re going to save it together,” the House Republicans’ floor leader, Rep. Steve Andersson of Geneva, said to thunderous applause.

    The House adjourned mid-afternoon with the caveat from Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, that “meetings are taking place all over the building.”

    The proposal awaiting final House approval is similar to a Senate fiscal plan, meaning the House plan would need Senate concurrence. It’s unclear whether House members who voted for Friday’s spending outline would cast similar tallies for a yet-to-be-unveiled revenue plan, which will likely include a 32 percent hike in the personal income tax rate, from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent.

    Few places in Illinois have been hit harder by the financial mess than the capital city, where state bills owed to the city, hospitals and other vendors have topped $300 million, said Springfield Republican Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez.

    “Almost everyone in my district has been touched by this crisis, and many have lost sleep, including me,” Wojcicki Jimenez said. “I’ve not been able to go to church, drop off my kids at school, go to the grocery store, eat out, without friends, neighbors, people I don’t even know, urging me to pass a balanced budget.”

    Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed from Chicago.

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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. Photo by Dayana Morales Gomez

    WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is giving the military chiefs another six months to conduct a review to determine if allowing transgender individuals to enlist in the armed services will affect the “readiness or lethality” of the force.

    Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Mattis made the decision Friday. The delay in allowing the enlistment of new recruits does not affect transgender troops who are already serving openly in the military.

    “After consulting with the service chiefs and secretaries, I have determined that it is necessary to defer the start of accessions for six months,” Mattis said in a memo that was sent Friday to the service chiefs and secretaries and was obtained by The Associated Press. “We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.”

    In the memo, Mattis said he believes the department must measure “each policy decision against one standard” — whether it affects the ability of the military to defend the nation.

    Mattis’ decision formally endorses an agreement hammered out last week by the leaders of the four military services, which rejected Army and Air Force requests for a two-year wait. And it reflects the broader worry that a longer delay would trigger criticism on Capitol Hill, officials familiar with the talks told the AP.

    The request for a delay was sent to Mattis for a final decision last week.

    [Watch Video]

    Mattis said the review by the services must be completed by Dec. 1, and he noted that his approval of a delay “does not presuppose the outcome of the review.” He said the additional time will ensure he has “the benefit of the views of the military leadership and of the senior civilian officials who are now arriving in the department.”

    Mattis’ decision was met with divided reaction.

    Stephen Peters, Human Rights Campaign spokesman and a Marine veteran, said, “Each day that passes without the policy in place restricts the armed forces’ ability to recruit the best and the brightest, regardless of gender identity.”

    Aaron Belkin, director of the California-based Palm Center, said the delay will only force applicants to lie in order to join the military. “That makes no sense because, as predicted by all of the research, transgender military service has been a success,” he said.

    But Jerry Boykin, a retired Army lieutenant general and executive vice president of the Family Research Council, hailed Mattis’ decision.

    “The Pentagon is right to hit the brakes on a policy that will fail to make our military more capable in performing its mission to fight and win wars,” Boykin said.

    Transgender service members have been able to serve openly in the military since last year, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended the ban, declaring it the right thing to do. Since Oct. 1, transgender troops have been able to receive medical care and start formally changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon’s personnel system.

    But Carter also gave the services until July 1 to develop policies to allow people already identifying as transgender to newly join the military, if they meet physical, medical and other standards, and have been stable in their identified genders for 18 months.

    The military chiefs have argued they need more time to study the issue and its effects on the readiness of the force before taking that step.

    According to officials familiar with the internal discussions, the chiefs believe the extra six months would give the four military services time to gauge if currently serving transgender troops are facing problems and what necessary changes military bases might have to make.

    They said Navy officials were ready to begin enlistment in July but asked for a one-year delay, largely to accommodate a request from the Marine Corps for more time. The Navy secretary also oversees the Marine Corps. The Army and Air Force wanted a two-year delay to further study the issue, they said.

    Already, there are as many as 250 service members who are in the process of transitioning to their preferred genders or who have been approved to formally change gender within the Pentagon’s personnel system, according to several defense officials.

    Officials said there was a broad recognition that allowing transgender individuals to enlist affects each service differently. They described the biggest challenge as the infantry. They said the discussions aimed at a solution that would give recruits the best chance of succeeding, while ensuring the services maintain the best standards for entry into the military.

    Key concerns include whether currently enlisted troops have had medical or other issues that cause delays or problems with their ability to deploy or meet physical or other standards for their jobs. Military leaders also want to review how transgender troops are treated, if they’re discriminated against or if they have had disciplinary problems, the officials said.

    The officials were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The military services have various ways of counting the number of transgender troops currently serving. The Pentagon has refused to release any data. But officials said there are more than 80 service members across the Army, including the National Guard and Reserve, who have been approved to change their gender identities in the personnel system or are in the process of transitioning. Others said there are about 160 sailors in the Navy who are in the process of gender transition, and about “a handful” of Marines have come forward to seek medical care involving gender transition. The Air Force refused to release any numbers.

    A Rand Corp. study found that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members in the active-duty military, and another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden after meetings at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 30, 2017. Photo by Jim Bourg/ Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has barged into Senate Republicans’ delicate health care negotiations with a suggestion bound to muddle things: If you can’t cut a deal on repealing the Obama-era law, then repeal it right away and then replace it later.

    Trump is trying to revive an approach that GOP leaders and the president himself considered but dismissed months ago as impractical and politically unwise.

    And it’s likely to further complicate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s task as he struggles to bridge the divide between moderates and conservatives. Senators have left Washington for the Fourth of July break without voting on a bill as planned.

    “If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!” Trump wrote on Friday.

    The president tweeted that message shortly after Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” to talk about a letter he had sent to Trump making that exact suggestion: a vote on repealing former President Barack Obama’s health law followed by a new effort at a working out a replacement.

    Trump is a known “Fox & Friends” viewer, but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also claimed credit for recommending the tactic to the president in a conversation earlier in the week.

    “Sen. Rand Paul suggested this very idea to the president,” said Paul spokesman Sergio Gor. “The senator fully agrees that we must immediately repeal Obamacare and then work on replacing it right away.”

    Either way, Trump’s suggestion has the potential to harden divisions within the GOP as conservatives like Paul and Sasse complain that McConnell’s bill does not go far enough in repealing Obama’s health care law while moderates criticize it as overly harsh in kicking people off insurance rolls, shrinking the Medicaid safety net and increasing premiums for older Americans.

    McConnell told reporters after an event Friday in his home state of Kentucky that the health care bill remains challenging but “we are going to stick with that path.”

    “It’s not easy making America great again, is it?” McConnell said.

    McConnell has been trying to strike deals with members of both factions in order to finalize a rewritten bill lawmakers can vote on when they return to the Capitol the second week of July. Even before Trump weighed in, though, it wasn’t clear how far he was getting. Trump’s tweet did not appear to suggest a lot of White House confidence in the outcome.

    “McConnell’s trying to achieve a 50-vote Venn diagram between some very competing factions,” said Rodney Whitlock, a veteran health policy expert who worked as a Senate GOP aide during passage of the Democrats’ Affordable Care Act.

    “So what the president tweeted takes one side of that Venn diagram and pushes it further away, and actually puts on the table an option that will probably drive that group away from seeking compromise with the other side of the Venn diagram.”

    A McConnell spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s tweet.

    [Watch Video]

    Even before Trump was inaugurated in January, Republicans had debated and ultimately discarded the idea of repealing the overhaul before replacing it, concluding that both must happen simultaneously. Doing otherwise would invite accusations that Republicans were simply tossing people off coverage and would roil insurance markets by raising the question of whether, when and how Congress might replace Obama’s law once it was gone.

    The idea also would leave unresolved the quandary lawmakers are struggling with now, about how to replace Obama’s system of online insurance markets, tax subsidies and an expanded Medicaid with something that could get enough Republican votes to pass Congress. House Republicans barely passed their version of a replacement bill in May, and the task is proving even tougher in the Senate, where McConnell has almost no margin for error.

    Moderates were spooked as the week began with a Congressional Budget Office finding that McConnell’s draft bill would result in 22 million people losing insurance over the next decade, only 1 million fewer than under the House-passed legislation which Trump privately told senators was “mean.” But conservatives continue to insist that the bill must go further than just repealing some of the mandates and taxes in Obama’s law.

    “It’s distressing to see so many Republicans who’ve lied about their commitment to repeal,” Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said in a conference call Friday.

    Underscoring the fissures within the GOP, conservative group leaders on that call welcomed Trump’s suggestion but said it didn’t go far enough because it could open the door to a subsequent bipartisan compromise to replace Obama’s law. At the same time, a key House Republican, Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, rejected Trump’s suggestion, contending that it “doesn’t achieve what President Trump set out to do.”

    “I really think the Senate’s approach — certainly in the House — of not simply repealing but to start to put into place the elements that can make health care affordable, that’s what the president set out to do,” Brady said in an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program.

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    Photo by Flickr user Texas Eagles

    As summer begins, signaling peak time for insect stings, allergists across the U.S. are warning of a shortage of a little-known but crucial product — honeybee, hornet and wasp venom extracts used in shots that prevent life-threatening reactions.

    Supplies of the extracts — which are made from venom gathered by hand from millions of individual insects — have been scarce since October. That’s when one of two manufacturers in the U.S. shut down production after contamination problems. Doctors say they hope the situation will be resolved, but that’s not likely before next year. For now, they’re rationing doses for patients who need them most.

    “It’s going to be a rough summer,” said Dr. David Golden, an allergy expert and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

    Golden estimates he’s seen a 25 to 35 percent drop in the supply of venom extracts aimed at preventing dozens, perhaps hundreds, of deaths in the U.S. each year. Between 1 and 3 percent of the country’s adult population — up to 7.4 million people — may have systemic reactions to insect stings, and a smaller proportion have life-threatening responses, experts say.

    Most of those vulnerable people carry portable epinephrine — often EpiPens — to quickly counteract symptoms. But a smaller number use what’s known as venom immunotherapy, or VIT, to dramatically reduce the risk of reactions. The treatment, authorized for nearly 40 years, injects small doses of venom under the skin to reduce sensitivity to the allergens that can trigger dangerous symptoms.

    “It’s one of the few things that allergists do that actually save lives,” said Dr. Stephen Tilles, a Seattle allergist who is president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “It’s about 98 percent effective.”

    The shortage started last fall, when ALK Laboratories of Denmark shut down production of six types of venom proteins — honeybee, wasp, white-faced hornet, yellow hornet, yellow jacket and “mixed vespid,” a cocktail of venoms.

    The move followed a 2016 letter from the Food and Drug Administration citing problems with microbiological contamination. ALK officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    That left only Jubilant HollisterStier, a Spokane, Wash., company that also produces venom extracts. HollisterStier ramped up manufacturing, Golden said, but the firm couldn’t supply enough venom extract fast enough to avoid a shortage. Firm officials declined to comment.

    “Most allergists are having to seriously limit what they use,” Golden said. “We’re trying to stretch the venom that we have.”

    This spring, Golden and colleagues issued recommended guidelines for rationing venom during the shortage. They called for spacing out doses at longer intervals, cutting maintenance doses, minimizing venom waste — and stopping treatment for patients at lowest risk for severe reactions.

    So far, the plan appears to have worked, said Dr. Sandra Hong, an allergist with the Cleveland Clinic. Most patients do fine with shots at longer intervals; instead of every four weeks, they get them every three months. And after three to five years of treatment, many can be weaned from the venom with no ill effects.

    “With all the things the allergists have done, it has decreased the shortage,” Hong said.

    There have been a few reports of allergists who couldn’t get supplies of venom, and patients who couldn’t get the product, which costs about $70 for induction doses and about $20 for each maintenance dose. So far, there are no known cases of adverse events in patients who couldn’t get shots. There’s also no sign of the skyrocketing drug prices that have occurred with other products in short supply.

    Still, allergists worked to ensure that patients at the highest risk weren’t harmed. That includes people like Ciro DeMarco, 58, a retired machinist from Moxee, Wash.

    DeMarco nearly died in 1983 after he was stung by a honeybee while riding a motorcycle near a river in rural eastern Washington.

    “I started feeling real strange,” he recalled. “I stopped the motorcycle and sat down. All of a sudden, I had no sight and I was almost unconscious.”

    He lived in fear of another sting until about 10 years ago, when he learned about VIT. Now he gets regular venom shots every three months and takes over-the-counter allergy medications before he climbs onto his Harley-Davidson. He’s relieved that the shortage hasn’t affected his supply.

    “Every spring I worry about it,” he said. “But I’m not going to quit riding just in case I get stung.”

    ALK Laboratories may resume production soon and the shortage could be eased in coming months. Once the supply question is resolved, Golden said, he hopes to tackle a larger issue: lack of VIT awareness among people who’ve had a bad reaction to an insect sting.

    “No more than 10 percent of the affected people have sought medical attention,” he said. “Problem No. 1 is that many people, including doctors, don’t know venom immunotherapy exists.”

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

    The post Insect venom shortage stings allergy sufferers this summer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    iowa state capitol

    Guns will be allowed at the Iowa State Capitol starting Saturday. Photo by Flickr user Tony Fischer

    Starting Saturday, concealed guns will be permitted at college campuses in Georgia and Kansas, more public buildings and bus stations in Tennessee, and at the Iowa state Capitol as new laws take effect continuing the steady expansion of gun rights in Republican-controlled states.

    The firearms policies are among scores of laws scheduled to take effect Saturday, along with the start of the new fiscal year in many states. Some of those laws continue a recent trend of states taking the initiative to fix aging roads and address the drug overdose epidemic.

    The gun laws reflect divided public preferences, highlighted by a recent Pew survey that found people nearly evenly split on whether gun control or gun rights were more important.

    A voter-approved gun-control initiative prohibiting people from possessing ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets was to go into effect Saturday in California. But it was blocked this week by a federal judge, who said it would have made criminals out of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens who own the magazines. A similar law passed by the Democratic-dominated Legislature also is subject to the preliminary injunction.

    For decades, the National Rifle Association pushed for state laws allowing people to carry concealed guns with permits. Having succeeded nationwide, gun-rights advocates now are gradually expanding where those weapons can be taken. Yet even some of the new laws contain exceptions.

    READ NEXT: Trump to NRA: ‘You have a true friend in the White House’

    Georgia’s law will allow people with concealed handgun permits to take their weapons into classrooms but not dormitories, and college sports fans will be able to pack weapons while tailgating but not inside stadiums.

    A Tennessee law allowing guns in many local public buildings, bus stations and parks can be voided if authorities instead opt to install metal detectors staffed by security guards.

    Concealed guns will be allowed at college campuses in Kansas as a result of a 2013 law that applies to public buildings lacking heightened security such as metal detectors and guards. A four-year exemption for universities expires Saturday. But in a setback for the NRA, a law that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is allowing to take effect without his signature will make permanent a similar exemption for public hospitals and mental health centers.

    In Iowa, where permit holders will be able to carry concealed guns in the Capitol, the state Supreme Court has responded by banning weapons in all courthouses statewide.

    Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the NRA Institute of Legislative Action, described 2017 as another “successful year for gun rights.”

    But advocates for greater gun regulations also are pleased with the results. On Thursday, Democratic-led Hawaii became the third state to enact a law requiring notification to law enforcement when people prohibited from owning guns try to obtain them anyway.

    “This was an excellent year for killing bad gun-lobby bills,” said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “The bills that the gun lobby did get through, in many cases, we helped to water those down.”

    The post State laws will expand concealed guns to public facilities appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A participant practices rolling a joint

    A participant practices rolling a joint at the Cannabis Carnivalus 4/20 event in Seattle, Washington, U.S. on April 20, 2014. Photo by Jason Redmond/Reuters

    As of midnight Saturday, recreational marijuana is legally available for purchase in Nevada.

    Following November’s ballot measure to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana, which was supported by about 55 percent of voters, dispensaries may now sell their products to any ID-carrying person over 21 years of age.

    Legalization, won after a long national and statewide campaign, is expected to bring a tourism boom to the state. Las Vegas, where the majority of the approximately 40 dispensaries approved by the state are located, stands to benefit most, bolstering its Sin City reputation.

    Compared to the other states where the sale of recreational marijuana is legal — Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Colorado — industry experts predict Nevada will have the highest sales due to the volume of tourists it receives each year. More than 40 million tourists visited Las Vegas last year.

    “Everything we know shows that millennials are very pro-marijuana, and that’s the new marketing push,” Nevada state Sen. Tick Segerblom, a longtime legalization advocate, told the Las Vegas Sun. “This is a game-changer for Las Vegas and tourism here as far as I’m concerned.”

    While the sale of marijuana has been legalized, public consumption has not. Nevada allows for consumption of marijuana only in private residences, a classification that currently excludes casinos. Nor can tourists or residents smoke in their hotel rooms or on the Las Vegas Strip.

    Despite permissive rules on purchasing, police officials are committed to enforcement on public consumption, even for tourists. “It’s expected that when you visit somewhere you do know the laws,” a spokesperson for the Las Vegas police department told the Associated Press. “It’s up to the public to be educated. It’s not up to us to proactively go to tourists and tell them what the law is.”

    All marijuana sold will be heavily taxed, with an excise tax of 10 percent added for recreational marijuana. In Las Vegas, as much as one-third of the purchase cost of recreational marijuana will go toward taxes. The state’s tax department anticipates up to $60 million in tax revenues by summer 2019, MarketWatch reported.

    The post Nevada starts sale of recreational marijuana appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Troy Williams

    Troy Williams, newest editor of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Bay View

    The newest editor of a radical newspaper in San Francisco that empowers people in prison and the storied Bayview neighborhood has decades of experience that don’t often make resumes.

    Troy Williams spent 18 years of a life sentence at San Quentin State Prison before he was released on parole and moved to Oakland in 2014. But even before he was arrested for trying to rob a computer parts company in Los Angeles in 1994, he was already telling provocative and honest stories about gang life, frustrated by how other people portrayed them.

    On Juneteenth, a day commemorating the end of slavery, Williams accepted the position as top editor at the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, which was inspired by Malcolm X and has aimed to serve “as a positive force in the struggle for freedom” since its founding, wrote the paper’s publisher on its 40th anniversary.

    “What got me into media in the first place is me watching people attempt to tell my story and never getting my story right,” said Williams, who continued to hone his skills inside the country’s largest prison for death row inmates. “It’s important for people to be able to have their own voice, unimpeded.”

    The paper announced the transition on Friday in their July edition, after a long vetting process.

    While the paper was founded in 1976 by a man who sold newspapers on street corners in the neighborhood as a teenager, Willie and Marie Ratcliff took over in 1992. Since then, the Ratcliffs have been renowned by their readers for taking on stories of injustice in their neighborhood and inside prison from the perspective of the people who are affected.


    Front page of the San Francisco Bay View, then named New Bayview, when Willie and Mary Ratcliff took over in 1992. Courtesy of the San Francisco Bay View

    The paper helped shut down one of the country’s dirtiest power plants by publishing columns by a woman whose grandson was hospitalized for asthmatic attacks, which resonated with the neighborhood as they railed against it. The Ratcliffs also started to send the papers to people in prison, encouraging them to tell their stories about overcrowding, abuse, religion, race, sanitization, gender, food and more.

    Now, more than 3,000 people who are incarcerated across the country subscribe, and the paper’s newsroom gets hundreds of letters and drawings for submission every day.

    Ratcliff said one of her proudest contributions the paper has made was covering the Pelican Bay State Prison strike in July of 2011, when about 400 prisoners who were in solitary refused food until corrections agreed to five basic demands, provoking a nationwide solidarity and a compromise.

    But Mary always wanted an editor who has experienced being black in America, knowing that it’s impossible to dissociate Bayview or the prison system from race.

    “I’ve been searching and hoping for an excellent black editor for all 26 years. I’ve been keeping the seat warm for that person,” she said.

    The Bayview neighborhood has a rich history in San Francisco, known in particular for its naval development ahead of World War II, which drew black, working-class builders during the Great Migration. As San Francisco grew, Bayview stood out as the city’s predominantly black neighborhood – a ratio that has deflated in recent years as housing prices explode.

    Like many black neighborhoods, its vitality is often eclipsed in mainstream news by reports of crime and deprivation.

    Mr. A. Thomas, journalism instructor at Woodrow Wilson High, reads the New Bayview

    Mr. A. Thomas, journalism instructor at Woodrow Wilson High, reads the New Bayview. Image courtesy of the Bay View newspaper

    As a result, “You don’t get the vibrancy, the role of the church, the activism that’s happening in that community, even just people who care about what’s going on,” said Venise Wagner, an associate professor of journalism at San Francisco State University. “I have a lot of students or hear a lot of students talking about the Bayview and they have always been warned by their parents never to go there.”

    The Bay View newspaper, which has “41 years of liberation journalism” on its masthead, was conceived as an antidote to this blind spot that also extends to people in jail. Black people are incarcerated at five times the rate of white people, while the prison system often weakens freedom of expression. It forbids some kinds of literature and limits incarcerated people’s ability to share their stories, citing issues of safety.

    In fact, the newspaper has been banned from some prisons because of its content, most recently in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, a nationwide prison strike in September.

    READ NEXT: From media cutoffs to lockdown, tracing the fallout from the U.S. prison strike

    Williams was in San Quentin when then-warden Robert Ayers, who had come out of retirement to help rebuild the prison’s reputation, was approached by a film crew. They wanted to make a documentary about training inmates how to shoot and edit video, and would give the equipment to the prison at the end.

    The crew said they had been denied by 47 states before they found Ayers.

    “Some people thought I was crazy, but here’s my issue,” Ayers said. “Prisons are run out of the general fund of tax money and you, as a taxpayer, as far as I’m concerned, not only have the right to know what’s going on there, you have a responsibility to know what’s going on there.“

    Williams got into the training program, 10 years after he had last held a camera and spliced film.

    That was in 2007. Williams kept using the equipment, made a video production, then eventually got permission to produce the San Quentin Prison Report in 2012, a partnership with a San Francisco public radio station KALW that talks about issues on the inside as told by inmates.

    Ayers had also brought back the San Quentin News, and Williams was one of its first reporters. And now a podcast called Ear Hustle, slang for eavesdropping, works out of the prison’s media lab, though that began after Williams left.

    Two weeks after he got out of prison in 2014, he accepted an award for Community Journalism at SPJ for his work on the radio partnership.

    “The vast majority of people get out of prison and the more that they can be connected to their communities, the better they’ll do,” said Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor of criminology at University of California, Irvine. “Giving them the ability to tell their stories, it’s likely to be very productive in terms of long-term reentry.”

    Williams said the SPJ award was an honor that resonated with the man he was in his early 20s, when he was supposed to receive an award from the City of Lynwood. He made a production about gangs for the public station, named “Check Yourself Before you Wreck Yourself” after the Ice Cube song.

    “Instead of me going to the award, I was one of them Mr. Slick guys and I thought I was going to be able to pull off this robbery first,” he said. “I messed up. In my mind this robbery was my ticket out of the lifestyle and I realized, I shoulda had the strength just to be patient and just wait it out and see what life would bring me.”

    Williams doesn’t plan to make any significant changes to the content of the newspaper, but hopes to bring in more accountability. First person accounts, which are often reprinted in the paper, are insightful, telling and powerful, but can lack onus.

    “It’s easy to point the finger across the street and say what somebody else is doing wrong, but also just looking at my life I have a lot to be accountable for myself,” he said.

    The post Troy Williams served 18 years. Now, he edits a paper that bridges prisons and public appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user Katrina Cole

    In a certain corner of the alternative health movement, fueled by celebrity buzz, it’s become en vogue for new mothers to consume their placentas after giving birth. Companies have sprouted up offering to turn placentas into smoothies, truffles, and freeze-dried pills, claiming that placental eating — practiced by many mammal species — can give recovering moms a boost of vitamins and nutrients, and help prevent postpartum depression.

    Evidence, however, is lacking that it has any health benefit for human moms or babies. And a new case report reveals that it can be incredibly dangerous.

    The case report describes an infant born in Oregon in fall 2016 who was soon after diagnosed with a strep infection that was causing breathing difficulties. After a course of antibiotics, the baby was immediately hospitalized again and tested positive for strep a second time. Doctors, searching for the source of the infection, eventually realized that the mother was taking daily dried placenta capsules. Testing of the capsules confirmed that they were strep positive.

    The report, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, states that the pills likely increased the strep bacteria in the mom’s intestines and skin, from which the baby picked up the bacteria.

    READ NEXT: Studies shine light on mysterious placenta, how it goes awry

    And a similar risk may exist for other bacteria, the scientists point out. Placental tissue, consumed raw, may contain various kinds of bacteria. But even prepared placenta — whether by cooking, drying, or preservation — can transmit infection. The report states that the unnamed company that made the placenta pills dehydrated the tissue at 115 degrees F-160 degrees F, while a temperature of at least 130 for 121 minutes is needed to kill off salmonella bacteria. (The report doesn’t list the temperature needed to kill strep bacteria.)

    Celeb health hazards

    A number of companies, including Puget Sound Placenta, Northern Virginia Placenta Specialist Collective, and Austin Womb Service, offer placental encapsulation like that described in the report, selling everything from basic capsules to chocolate placenta truffles to placenta smoothies. January Jones, Alicia Silverstone, and Kim Kardashian are just of a few of the celebrities who consumed pills made of their own dried placenta after giving birth, claiming the practice provides a myriad of health benefits.

    According to Timothy Caulfield, author of the book “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?” and a health law professor at the University of Alberta, placental consumption is one of many health phenomena lacking scientific evidence that has been popularized by celebrities.

    “I really think that, but for people like Kim Kardashian and other celebrities, people wouldn’t be doing this, they wouldn’t be considering it, it wouldn’t be so popular,” he said. “The power of celebrity culture is profound, and I really think this is an example of it.”

    READ NEXT: Celebrity selfies, lax regulations drive booming supplement industry

    For example, in her 2014 book “The Kind Mama,” Alicia Silverstone wrote about eating placenta pills: “I got to the point that my husband said, ‘Did you have your happy pills today?’ And I was really sad when they were gone. It really helped me.”

    And, Caulfield points out, social media allows celebrities to channel health advice to their fans in a way that feels more conversational and tangible. Kim Kardashian, for example, has posted repeatedly about placenta pills on Twitter and Instagram, including a photo of a glass canning jar full of pills labeled “Kim, Your Amazing Placenta.”

    When it comes to health, Caulfield recommends mostly ignoring celebrities and pop culture.

    “What you really want to wait for is a body of evidence,” he said. “Look for trusted sources of information that aggregate the science. That’s what you want. You don’t want sources that hype a single study, you don’t want to take advice from a celebrity, you don’t want to use anecdotes and narratives as evidence.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on June 29, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post Freeze-dried placenta pills likely caused this newborn’s dangerous bacterial infection appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    donald trump

    U.S. President Donald Trump listens as South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a statement from the Rose Garden after meetings at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 30, 2017. Photo By Jim Bourg/Reuters

    BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump escalated an intensely personal feud with two high-profile talk show hosts Saturday, suggesting without evidence that their network is biased against him.

    The president’s stream of insults has pained politicians from both parties who have appealed to him, without apparent success, to stop the 140-character bursts of character attacks and focus on running the country.

    Trump lashed out at Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” on Twitter on Saturday. From his New Jersey golf club, he said: “Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses.”

    Trump also said that Greta Van Susteren lost her nightly show on MSNBC because she “refused to go along w/ ‘Trump hate!'” MSNBC confirmed this week that Van Susteren, previously a longtime anchor at Fox News, was being replaced.

    NBC declined comment on all the tweets Saturday from the president. “Morning Joe” just finished the highest-rated quarter in the show’s history. MSNBC never officially gave a reason for replacing Van Susteren’s show; it did, however, lag in the ratings compared with the network’s other shows.

    Trump drew broad condemnation for his tweets on Thursday calling Brzezinski “crazy” and saying she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when he saw them at his Florida estate. The comment was decried as sexist and vulgar by many Democrats and Republicans.

    [Watch Video]

    The MSNBC personalities said Friday that Trump was lying about their December encounter and they questioned his “unhealthy obsession” with their program. The hosts, who are a couple onscreen and off, also said the White House told them a damaging National Enquirer story about their relationship would “go away” if they called the president and apologized for harsh commentary. Trump quickly disputed the claim on Twitter.

    Trump’s continued focus on cable television comes as Republicans are struggling to find agreement on a health care overhaul, a key promise from the president and GOP lawmakers. And Trump is heading to the annual Group of 20 meeting this week, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a high-stakes encounter that could put Trump’s “America First” policy to the test.

    Trump also tweeted angrily at CNN on Saturday, saying the network, which he has long pilloried, “has finally been exposed as #FakeNews and garbage journalism.”

    CNN recently accepted the resignations of three employees involved in a retracted story about a supposed investigation into a pre-inaugural meeting between a Trump associate and the head of a Russian investment fund. The network had no comment on Saturday’s tweet.

    AP Television Writer David Bauder contributed to this story from New York.

    The post Trump not heeding calls to tone down tweets appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Doom Towns

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    IVETTE FELICIANO: In 1951, the U.S. government started testing atomic bombs in Nevada’s Mojave Desert, measuring the effects of these weapons for military applications and on civilian life. University of Nevada Las Vegas Professor Andy Kirk has studied the era.

    ANDY KIRK, UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA LAS VEGAS: Did they really build fake towns out in the desert and then blow the whole place up with atomic bombs? And the answer is yes, in fact, they did do that.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: They were called “Doom Towns.” And as seen in this 1955 public information film, the Federal Civil Defense Administration built houses, stocked them with food, and placed fully dressed mannequins inside to learn what might survive an atomic bomb.

    U.S. FEDERAL CIVIL DEFENSE ADMINISTRATION FILM “OPERATION CUE” (1955): Would food in the average home be safe to eat after a blast?

    ANDY KIRK: The purpose as stated by the civil defense agencies of creating these “Doom Towns” and then widely disseminating on film of them being destroyed was to encourage Americans to be concerned about the possibility of civilians being the target of nuclear attack.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: “Doom Towns” is the title of Andy Kirk’s new graphic history about this era. Collaborating with British artist Kristian Purcell, the book weaves together primary documents, photos, and the oral histories of residents, scientists, soldiers, and anti-nuclear activists.

    ANDY KIRK: Instead of just collecting examples of visual history and collating it and presenting it in some sort of coffee book form you could actually think about doing some of that, but also in conjunction with telling the story as a visual narrative. So in the form of a graphic novel except based on careful archival and oral history research.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Kirk found the visual style of a graphic history well-suited for bringing to life the stories of the people who lived through nuclear testing, stories he helped collect in an oral history project partly funded by the U.S. Departments of Energy and Education.

    Participants are literally drawn into the panels and describe not fully knowing about the hazards of radiation, how soldiers experienced the blasts at close range, and were then ordered to march toward the test site to see how they would respond during an actual attack.

    But the tests weren’t all “doom and gloom,” according to Las Vegas news photographer Don English, who recalled how his photographs of a dancer in front of an atomic cloud became iconic images of Nevada’s nuclear testing legacy. And how the blasts in the Nevada desert became a draw for tourists.

    ANDY KIRK: I’m not an artist, so when I watch an artist work I thought it was just really cool. So this is the draft sketch coming out of his head as he encounters primary documents and having a discussion with me about the historical meaning of a given set of circumstances.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Kirk’s book explores how the blasts affected nearby communities and how nuclear fallout was more unpredictable than portrayed by scientists and the military.

    ANDY KIRK: The public information tried to depict testing as contained and as low risk. But in private correspondence, there’s always a tone of uncertainty they never knew what was going to happen.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Eventually, local communities learned fallout from some of tests were far more expansive and dangerous than they realized, including a large sheep kill in a wide range of Utah in 1953.

    ANDY KIRK: I think there were many people who were affected by nuclear testing who didn’t fundamentally oppose the nuclear weapons. They were patriotic, and they were even willing to make sacrifices personally for the Cold War. But they did want good information, and they did want to know the truth.

    NEWSREEL: “It detonated perfectly, releasing its deadly radiation.”

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The last above ground nuclear test was in 1962, but underground tests continued until 1992. In Kirk’s telling, residents, civilian workers, and soldiers alike played key roles in Nevada’s history as a nuclear testing site, and in a sense, shared an identity as Cold War veterans.

    ANDY KIRK: This identity as a Cold War veteran united people who were very, very different in other respects. Caltech scientists or Sandia Lab scientists who were commingling with Las Vegas residents, who by circumstances and proximity to the test site were pulled into this extraordinary series of events.

    The post Graphic novel shows life in Nevada’s ‘doom towns’ during atomic testing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump participates in the Celebrate Freedom Rally

    U.S. President Donald Trump waves at the Celebrate Freedom Rally in Washington, U.S. July 1, 2017. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump vowed to support and defend religious liberty, telling a gathering of evangelical Christians that the threat of terrorism is “one of the most grave and dire threats to religious freedom in the world today.”

    “We cannot allow this terrorism and extremism to spread in our country, or to find sanctuary on our shores or in our cities,” Trump said Saturday night at a “Celebrate Freedom” concert honoring veterans. “We want to make sure that anyone who seeks to join our country shares our values and has the capacity to love our people.”

    The evangelical megachurch First Baptist Dallas and Salem Media Group sponsored the event at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. First Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress was a strong backer of Trump during the 2016 campaign.

    The event at times felt like one of Trump’s signature campaign rallies, with the president promising an adoring crowd that America would “win again” and prompting cheers with attacks on the news media.

    “The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I’m president and they’re not,” he said.

    READ NEXT: Trump vows to repeal political limits on churches

    Trump appeared on a stage decorated with a massive American flag. Choirs performed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and other hymns and debuted a song with the lyrics “make America great again” — Trump’s campaign slogan.

    Besides speaking to the event’s religious theme, Trump renewed his campaign promise to always take care of America’s veterans.

    “Not only has God bestowed on us the gift of freedom, he’s also given us the gift of heroes willing to give their lives to defend that freedom,” he said.

    Overwhelming support from evangelical voters helped propel Trump to victory in 2016. Since he took office, Christian conservatives have been overjoyed by Trump’s appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and his executive order ordering the IRS to ease up on a rarely enforced limit on partisan political activity by churches.

    Trump was spending the pre-Independence Day weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, but traveled back to Washington for the event.

    The post Trump vows to support and defend religious freedom in U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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