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

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Now we travel to Botswana in Southern Africa to meet a tribe who are fighting their government to retain the right to live on their ancestral lands.

    They were forced off in part because their lands are rich with diamonds.

    Special correspondent Martin Seemungal has our story.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Their clothes are modern, but their tools of the hunt are thousands of years old.

    The San bushmen still use the spear and the bow and arrow. Botswana’s enormous Central Kalahari Game Reserve is their home, and one of the last places on the planet where you can find bushmen who still hunt and gather to survive.

    The San have been tracking like this for generations. Technically, it’s illegal, because the government has banned hunting inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but some of them do it anyway. They say it’s very difficult to stop because it defines who they are.

    Tolme Etata’s first memories are of hunting this land.

    “If we stop hunting, our culture would be affected,” he says. “Hunting and gathering is part of us.”

    Though it is part of them, it is not part of the plan for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, as Botswana’s government sees it. The San bushmen’s way of life and culture are under threat.

    Their struggle to remain here, in a place originally set aside for them in the 1960s, goes back to a major discovery in the 1980s: diamonds. By the mid-1990s, the hunt for precious stones in vast open pit mines like this meant eviction from the reserve for the hunter-gatherers.

    Mohulude Moete says it was done by soldiers and military police.

    He says: “We were given instructions: If you don’t get into the truck, we will shoot you. Some of our water containers were emptied into the ground. We had no options, so we had to go along with them or be shot.”

    These women were young when the authorities came for them, but say the memories are unforgettable.

    MUDIKOLELO LEMTODI, Removed Person: All the houses were destroyed. Houses that they used their energies to built were destroyed.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Wells were sealed up. In spite of that, small numbers refused to leave. But there were more evictions, another big one in 2002. The government denied any connection between the evictions and diamonds in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

    It said the bushmen were being moved out to protect the wildlife in the reserve. Botswana’s president at the time was Festus Mogae.

    QUESTION: Will you let the bushmen go home, Mr. Mogae?

    FORMER PRESIDENT FESTUS MOGAE, Botswana: Where is home? Home is in Botswana.


    QUESTION: In the CKGR. Will you let them go home?

    FESTUS MOGAE: No, no.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: The semi-arid Kalahari Desert is a harsh place, but it’s livable, if you know where to gather, along with the hunt. Whether its roots buried deep in the sandy soil or wild melons worth a day’s water, all of their sparse world is put to work.

    Traditional huts comes from the desert brush. Onjustice Xothelo says two days’ work will last a decade. The roof is a type of grassy thatch.

    ONJUSTICE XOTHELO, Bushman: The thatching grass on top won’t allow even water to get in.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: But the government wanted fewer bushmen staying in, and the evictions from this land continued for nearly 10 years.

    Bushmen were relocated to new settlements. This one is called New Xade, named for the village they were forced to leave.

    New Xade is just 50 miles from the Kalahari, but it might as well be 5,000 miles away. Officially, nobody is allowed to return. Over the years, some have tried to recreate life in the villages, but they say it’s just not the same.

    You can find those traditional huts among the small government-built houses.

    “Building the structures here is a reminder to us that we had these huts in Kalahari,” he says. “But our ancestors aren’t here. We build them to remind us what we had.”

    New Xade has good roads, a modern clinic and a school. But beyond government-related jobs, there is little else.

    MAN: I’m looking for a job, a job.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Right. There’s nothing to do here?

    MAN: Yes, we have nothing to do, so, dying for hunger, looking for job.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: There is a small mountain of beer cans outside the one building that does do big business: the local bar. Alcohol abuse is rampant, leading some to criticize the government for creating these relocated towns.

    Survival International, an agency that works to protect indigenous people, has been the most vocal. A spokesperson with survival says, it is clear that it is not a viable way of life. It is not based on choice. It deprives people of their meaning, their sense of well-being.

    Survival helped the bushmen in Botswana’s courts, a proposition that ended up winning in 2006. The high court ruled the bushmen had been removed unfairly and should be allowed to return. But the government decided it would read the court ruling very selectively. Only bushmen who’d brought the suit would be allowed to return.

    Mosetayani Matsipane was there for the court case and heard the judges’ ruling, and could return. Ten years later, he is the leader of Motlomelo, one of a handful of small bushmen settlements in the reserve.

    The government says it is working with the villages to restore some basic services, like access to water. It also wants to focus on community-based tourism projects.

    Matsipane is happy to be out of New Xade, but he doesn’t think the government’s attitude has changed. He believes they still want him out of the reserve.

    “I continually get pressure,” he says. “The government has been doing the same thing as before. But I would rather they take my dead body. I won’t go back.”

    His wife, Hakanyaziwe, says this is where she belongs.

    “What’s important to me is the fruit of the land in Kalahari,” she says. “In the resettlement camps, everything is about money. If you don’t have money, people end up stealing to survive.”

    Professor Maitseo Bolaane is the director of the San Research Center, a small office at the University of Botswana in Gaborone. She believes the San people are a resource that can be used for the good of the Kalahari reserve.

    MAITSEO BOLAANE, University of Botswana: They have ideas. They can contribute their knowledge system in the utilization of the resources.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Inside the CKGR, those small communities hold on, numbers dwindling every year, living in the hope that others will be able to return. For now, it is only them, dancing in the desert under the Kalahari stars.

    For the NewsHour, I’m Martin Seemungal in the Central Kalahari.

    The post Why the native people of the Kalahari are struggling to stay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But first: It is growing season for farmers across the Midwest, and many are faced with yet another tough financial forecast, as corn and soybean prices remain low, which means less money in farmers’ pockets.

    In Nebraska, some producers are now coming to grips with what some say is this new reality.

    From NET in Nebraska, Jack Williams reports.

    CARL SOUCEK, Corn and Soybean Farmer, Prague, Nebraska: This is our little office that we use as kind of a break room. This is the center where we can on the computer or order parts or things like that.

    JACK WILLIAMS: On a family farm in Prague, Nebraska, about 40 miles north of Lincoln, Carl Soucek is right at home. His family has been farming this land since the late 1940s. They grow mostly corn and soybeans, but the last couple of years haven’t been easy.

    High prices for crops translated to more income for farmers a few years ago, but now those prices have tumbled, leaving farmers in a financial ditch.

    CARL SOUCEK: The best thing that ever happened to the corn industry was $7 corn, and the worst thing to happen to it was $7 corn, because it kind of threw everything out of balance. And I think we will see the cycle come back. I don’t know when it’s going to come back.

    JACK WILLIAMS: While he waits, Soucek is doing what he can to cut costs on the farm. Instead of taking his equipment to the local implement dealer for repairs, he has parts delivered to the farm and does those repairs himself.

    How much money does that save you, doing your own repairs? If you had to take your tractor in yourself, how much would that cost you, compared to you actually doing this yourself?

    CARL SOUCEK: Shop rates can run anywhere from $75 to $150 an hour. And service calls, if they come out from the dealership to work on a piece of equipment, service calls could be another $250 on top of that.

    So, if it’s something we can take care of ourselves, every time we do that, we’re saving a little bit of money.

    JACK WILLIAMS: Soucek doesn’t apologize for enjoying the good times a few years ago. He says farming isn’t always easy, and when prices of crops such as corn and soybeans shot up, many farmers’ earnings increased, and they enjoyed a higher standard of living.

    It was a lot different than the days when they had to watch every penny they spent.

    CARL SOUCEK: If we need to go back to that, we will. And I think we have already. We’re careful about our family living, and been there, done that, and we will do it again if we need to tighten our belt that much.

    JACK WILLIAMS: At a recent economic workshop in Lincoln, farmers and ranchers got a dose of economic reality. With falling prices of corn, soybeans and wheat bringing farmers less income, many are facing more debt, tighter margins and an uncertain future.

    They’re looking for guidance as they try to navigate through the down times without too much damage.

    JAY PARSONS, University of Nebraska-Lincoln: They have seen the good times, they have seen the bad times. They know nothing lasts forever. And they keep track of things and they monitor things and they’re aware of things. But there’s probably a decent number of people out there that haven’t had that perspective and are still trying to adjust to the new situation.

    JACK WILLIAMS: Economic factors, such as high land costs and skyrocketing property taxes, are testing the resolve of some Midwest producers. But that might actually be a good thing for their long-term financial health.

    TINA BARRETT, Director, Nebraska Farm Business, Inc.: Tough times make better managers. And if I think about the producers I work with, those who had tough times in the ’80s are great managers today, because they had to learn how to make those tough choices, they had to learn how to manage their business like a business, and they continued to do that through the profitable times and made a lot of money through that.

    JACK WILLIAMS: Dave Nielsen is a third-generation farmer in Lancaster County in Eastern Nebraska, where he grows corn and soybeans on about 2,000 acres.

    His father and grandfather worked this ground before him, so he’s seen the good and bad times. He says the younger farmers who got into the business a few years ago when prices were high are the ones who feel the downturn the most.

    DAVE NIELSEN, Corn and Soybean Farmer, Lancaster County, Nebraska: It was really tough on young guys starting then. Young guys starting in those glory years, wow, this is easy. There was a lot of youth that came back to the farm, maybe left jobs in town and came back to the family farm, to the farm. And, you know, now it’s a whole different ball game. Now it’s, you really have to watch what you’re spending on inputs and family living and that.

    JACK WILLIAMS: Nielsen probably won’t lime his soil this year and, like Carl Soucek in Prague, he’s doing a lot of his own repairs to save money. And he’s taking a hard look at the rest of his expenses.

    DAVE NIELSEN: Every good operation should, even in the good times. Really, you should. You probably — just a little sharper pen or a little sharper pencil when you’re in the downturn.

    JACK WILLIAMS: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jack Williams in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    The post Tough times and tumbling prices test Midwestern farmers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Next: a legal setback for the Trump administration and its effort to reverse environmental regulations from the Obama presidency.

    Yesterday, an appeals court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot delay implementation of a rule limiting methane emissions from new oil and gas wells. The court said the EPA can rewrite the rule, but it can’t take the shortcut of suspending enforcement.

    Juliet Eilperin is a reporter for The Washington Post, and she’s been covering this story.

    Welcome back to the NewsHour.

    JULIET EILPERIN, The Washington Post: Of course. Thanks.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Tell me, what did the court, in essence, rule?

    JULIET EILPERIN: What the court said is that it wouldn’t necessarily stand in the way if the new administration wanted to rewrite an existing rule on the oil and gas industry, but the administration couldn’t simply suspend compliance with this rule. It had to go through a laborious public comment process if it wanted to do that.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, this rule is about methane, which, as you have reported and many others, that methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. I think it’s 25 times more potent with regards to warming than CO2 is.

    What did this prior, this Obama administration rule actually do?

    JULIET EILPERIN: It imposed new restrictions on oil and gas wells that are either new or modified, that if the oil and gas industry was going to create a new well or modify an existing one, it had to have tighter restrictions to lower the releases of this greenhouse gas as kind of a way that the administration was looking to reduce these emissions across the oil and gas industry over time to slow down climate change.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: EPA Administrator Pruitt and many in the industry argue that these rules — to enact these rules was too expensive, that they also overlap with state rules that govern methane.

    And the EPA also argued that this — their move wasn’t subject to judicial oversight, which I take it the judges were not that happy to read.

    JULIET EILPERIN: Yes, on a 2-1 ruling — and it’s worth noting that the majority were two Democratic appointees, the dissenter was appointed by a Republican — said that, essentially, by doing this, by suspending the rule, it’s essentially revoking it altogether, and that is subject to judicial rule.

    They also took aim with the argument that the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute were making that industry didn’t have sufficient input into the rule. And the argument was, we can point out all these ways in which you had to comment and that the rule addressed your concerns, maybe not to your liking, but they did tackle those questions back when they issued this rule in 2016.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This move by the EPA was just one of many, many attempts by Scott Pruitt and the EPA to push back on Obama era regulations that they don’t like.

    Does what the court ruled in this particular case, in your mind, have any bearing on those other attempts that they’re making in other realms to roll back regulations?

    JULIET EILPERIN: This ruling appears to have implications, not only for Scott Pruitt and the EPA, but whether you’re talking about the Interior Department, the Labor Department, other agencies.

    These are always where there’s an effort under way to revoke these Obama era rules. And what the court said is, at least for now, your task is harder than you thought it was. You can’t just freeze them in place, and you’re going to face serious obstacles in your way, because there will be folks on the outside challenging it. And we think they have merit and that you need to take a different course if you’re going to revisit some of these rules.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: With regards to other environmental regulations, most notably, the president recently backed out of the Paris climate accord, or said that the U.S. would back out of it.

    And I know that Scott Pruitt was among many arguing for that. There was a big debate within the administration, as you have reported. Does this give you a sense that, barring today’s — barring yesterday’s ruling, rather, that Scott Pruitt has really become one of the more influential Cabinet members, in as far as his ability to do the things that the president wants done?

    JULIET EILPERIN: Absolutely.

    I think that folks who are a fan of what Scott Pruitt are doing and those who oppose him would say that he’s clearly emerged as one of the most effective Cabinet members. We have seen him already take action on a slew of policies. It’s nearly 30 rules that — or major decisions that he has reversed in some ways.

    And so what we’re seeing, is even though he only has a handful of appointees in place at this point, he has managed to manipulate the leaders of power quite effectively in a way that certainly it is taking some of his counterparts in other departments longer to master.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

    JULIET EILPERIN: Thank you, William.

    The post Trump’s rollback of Obama-era rules hits setback in court appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We return now to North Korea and its recent missile launch.

    Today, the United States called for a closed-door United Nations Security Council meeting to address the threat.

    So, what exactly are the Trump administration’s options, and how might it respond?

    For that, we turn to Ambassador Christopher Hill. He was the chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea from 2005 until 2009, and served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea. And by Mark Bowden. He’s a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, and he recently wrote a comprehensive cover story titled “Can North Korea Be Stopped?”

    Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

    Ambassador Hill, I would like to start with you first.

    Can you just give me your initial reaction to this most recent launch?

    CHRISTOPHER HILL, Former Chief U.S. Negotiator with North Korea: I think it’s a very serious matter. It’s pretty clear they have made progress on intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    From what I can understand, if you sent it at a different pitch, it could actually exceed the 5,000 miles that qualifies it as an intercontinental ballistic missile. So it’s a pretty serious matter.

    And we also understand they made progress on miniaturization, so it’s not farfetched to assume that in the next two or three years, they will have a deliverable nuclear weapon aimed at the United States. And the real question is, how is the president going to explain that to the American people? And, perhaps more immediately, what is he going to do about it?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Mark Bowden, just as Ambassador Hill is saying, President Trump has said he will not allow a nuclear-armed missile to be able to be developed in North Korea. But this certainly seems like a very large step in that direction.

    MARK BOWDEN, The Atlantic: It does.

    And in addition to shrinking a nuclear weapon to go on top of a missile like that, they already have chemical and biological weapons that are capable of mass casualties. So, this is a really serious development. And it’s easy to say you’re going to stop them from doing it, but it’s not a very easy thing to accomplish.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Ambassador, I wonder if you could give me a sense of, what is your understanding of what Kim Jong-un actually wants with this nuclear program?

    CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, you know, opinions differ on this. There are some who believe this is a poor, beleaguered country surrounded by larger hostile states who want to do it harm, and so why not allow the North Koreans to defend themselves?

    But I think it’s actually a much more aggressive purpose they have in mind. I think what they’re hoping is that to hold American civilians at risk, that is, to have a deliverable nuclear weapon that is deliverable to the U.S. mainland, they can convince the United States not to exercise their responsibilities in the treaty with South Korea.

    And I think being North Korean is to believe that, somehow, if they can get the U.S. out of the equation, they could reunite the peninsula on their own terms.

    This is — seems farfetched, but to be a North Korean is not necessarily to believe in the conventional wisdom. I think there are a lot of North Koreans who feel there is a lot of pro-North Korean sentiment in South Korea, and if only they could get the U.S. out of the equation, they could do it.

    So I think it’s is a very serious moment and, frankly, a very dangerous moment.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Mark Bowden, what do you make of that? Is this really primarily a development of an offensive weapon for the potential keeping the U.S. and others at bay while it retakes South Korea?

    MARK BOWDEN: I do think — and I agree with Ambassador Hill that is the primary reason for having this weapon, but it also gives North Korea a lot more leverage in that region and certainly in dealing with South Korea.

    It’s conceivable, given the overtures that the new South Korean president has made to reopen negotiations with North Korea, that he could — Kim Jong-un could use the possession of a weapon like this to pressure that those negotiations take place without the United States.

    And I think his goal may well be to get the United States to withdraw from the Korean Peninsula.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Ambassador Hill, help me understand this a little bit more, though, because we are always told that, while this regime may be a despotic regime, that they’re not out of their minds, they’re not irrational actors. And the idea that somehow the U.S. would allow them to invade South Korea just seems unbelievably farfetched.

    CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, I mean, if you look at the kind of weaponry, which tends to be very offensive, tends to be right up there in the front, when you look at, as Mark pointed out, their capacities in chemical weapons and biological weapons, if you look at the fact that they have some 14,000 artillery tubes right up there in the front pointing right at the South Korean civilian populations, it looks to be a kind of offensively minded force.

    And I think, for a long time, they have been dedicated to the proposition that they have to kind of decouple the U.S. from the Korean Peninsula and then a lot of things will fall their way.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Mark Bowden, your piece in The Atlantic laid out what you describe as the four main options for the Trump administration to respond. And you imply obviously that these are largely bad options.

    Can you sort of explain what suite of options that the administration has?

    MARK BOWDEN: Well, the obvious one, people Always bring this up whenever I’m interviewed on the subject, is that, well, why don’t we just attack North Korea and take out their military and eliminate the threat?

    And that’s certainly doable, but the consequences of that would be horrific, as the ambassador just pointed out. Even the conventional weapons that North Korea has could level Seoul, a city of 26 million people. And when you add, you know, chemical weapons and biological weapons and potentially nuclear weapons, you have possibly one of the greatest catastrophes in human history.

    The other possibility is to sort of turn up the screws, a series of small-scale military attacks that would kind of ramp up the pressure on North Korea, something that could rapidly descend into an all-out conflict.

    Another possibility is to target Kim Jong-un himself and try and eliminate him and replace him. And then the last bad option is just to accept the fact that we can’t stop North Korea from building these weapons. And, you know, deterrents are — you know, in this case, it would just be assured destruction — we can hope might prevent them from using them.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Ambassador, last question to you.

    The president seemed to imply in his tweet that it’s really upon China to handle this situation. But we have had now three administrations that have tried to persuade China to act with regards to North Korea.

    Why hasn’t that happened yet?

    CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, I think the Chinese are split.

    I think there’s some Chinese who feel that the demise of North Korea would be perceived in their country — that is, in China — as a victory for America and a defeat for China. And they worry about the perception of that within China, that is, it’s a domestic issue within China.

    So, there are a lot of people who want to go with reforms much faster than Xi Jinping does. And if North Korea were to go away, perhaps those people would be in the ascendancy. So, a lot of party types, security types in China don’t like to see something that results in something that looks like a U.S. victory.

    That said, I think those three administrations are absolutely correct. We need to work more with China. I think the problem is President Trump has more of an outsourcing notion, that, somehow, OK, over to you, China, you sort this out. We will support you, and, by the way, we will stop calling you a currency manipulator and all the other bad things that you don’t like.

    Well, China is not going to be able to do this alone. I would keep the door open for negotiation, not that the North Koreans have shown any interest in negotiation. But having done it for a number of years, I think it was the right way to keep our relations with Japan and South Korea together, and having taken a lot of criticism from people who thought, how can you think negotiation is the right answer?

    It has to be a factor in it if you’re going to keep others together with you on the issue.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Former Ambassador Christopher Hill, Mark Bowden of The Atlantic magazine, thank you both very much.

    MARK BOWDEN: You’re welcome.

    CHRISTOPHER HILL: Thank you.

    The post North Korea is making progress developing weapons. What can the U.S. do about it? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In the day’s other news: Iraqi soldiers in Western Mosul advanced deeper into the last pocket still being held by Islamic State forces. Fierce fighting continued in an area packed with civilians. But in Baghdad this evening, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proclaimed a big victory over ISIS, or Da’esh in Arabic.

    HAIDER AL-ABADI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through interpreter): All the displaced must return to their homes. We are continuing to liberate all our land from Da’esh. The Iraqi people ended the myth of Da’esh in record time, although the world thought that this wasn’t possible.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meanwhile, in Syria, a Kurdish-led militia has breached the heart of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa. The U.S.-backed forces today punched through the wall around the Old City and are now pushing into the most heavily fortified portion of the ISIS stronghold.

    President Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin will happen this Friday. They will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit as it begins in Hamburg, Germany. The White House says there will be no specific agenda for the meeting.

    There’s word that Canada will apologize to a Canadian citizen for the alleged treatment he received at the Guantanamo Naval Base. It’s widely reported that he will also be paid nearly $8 million. Omar Khadr was captured in Afghanistan when he just 15 years old. He initially admitted to killing a U.S. soldier and spent 10 years at Guantanamo. Khadr says his confession was coerced, and Canada’s Supreme Court has now ruled he was interrogated under what it called oppressive circumstances.

    In New Jersey, the three-day government shutdown is over. Democratic lawmakers reached a budget deal last night, and Republican Governor Chris Christie signed it into law. Christie had been heavily criticized for using a state beach on Sunday, after it was closed to the public. The new budget agreement allowed state parks and beaches to reopen for everyone just in time for the Fourth of July.

    MAN: Pretty excited. We’re going to see the Statue of Liberty, so we’re pretty excited to be back here. And I saw on the news yesterday that it was closed for budget issues, so it’s pretty cool.

    WOMAN: It’s my first time.

    MAN: Our first time.

    WOMAN: Well, it’s amazing that it opened in time. But it’s very thankful, and it’s a very special day to reopen Liberty Park.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In Maine, Governor Paul LePage also signed a new budget, ending a partial government shutdown in his state.

    And in Illinois, there was no break in a budget impasse that’s now in its third year. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a $36 billion package, along with a major tax hike. The Democratic-controlled state Senate quickly overrode the veto. But the House took no immediate action.

    And the nation marked its 241st birthday today with an array of annual celebrations. Fourth of July parades began with one in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, at midnight. That’s been their tradition for 42 years.

    And in Washington this evening, President and Mrs. Trump hosted a White House picnic for military families before the annual fireworks over the National Mall.

    The post News Wrap: Iraqi prime minister heralds victory over ISIS in Mosul appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It was North Korea’s own version of fireworks for the Fourth of July. The communist state today fired off a new missile that may someday put the United States within range of its weapons.

    Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: On this July 4, North Korea declared independence from what it called American nuclear threats.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): The scientists and technicians have successfully test-fired the newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: In Pyongyang, North Koreans celebrated what appears to be its most advanced test in its long pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The missile flew for about 40 minutes, almost straight up, reaching an altitude of more than 1,500 miles, and came straight down 580 miles away in the Sea of Japan.

    On a flatter trajectory, it’s estimated the missile could have traveled as far as 4,000 miles, past Anchorage, Alaska, says scientist David Wright.

    DAVID WRIGHT, Union Of Concerned Scientists: If they shoot it essentially straight up in the air, it goes very, very high and comes down not very far away. If they then flatten it out a little bit, it uses all that speed to go a much longer distance.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: But the test doesn’t mean North Korea can deliver a nuclear weapon. It’s not known whether it’s mastered required miniaturization or guidance and separation systems that can take years to develop.

    DAVID WRIGHT: As you go to longer and longer ranges, there are just much higher stresses, vibrations, the acceleration, so there are a lot of forces on this nuclear warhead. We don’t know if they have actually done the final steps to have a warhead that they could actually put into one of these long-range missiles and have it work the way it’s supposed to.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: As president-elect, Donald Trump vowed not to let today’s event ever happen. As president, he tried to push China to pressure North Korea, but he recently admitted that failed.

    Today, he addressed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, tweeting: “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all.”

    But, today, China didn’t show willingness to apply more pressure.

    GENG SHUANG, Foreign Ministry Spokesman, China (through interpreter): We hope all sides can remain calm and exercise restraint, ease the tense situation on the peninsula.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: And, in Moscow, Chinese and Russian Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin jointly called for the U.S. and North Korea to abandon long-held positions in order to calm the peninsula.

    PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): We agreed to actively promote parallel freezing of nuclear missile activities of North Korea and large-scale joint military drills of the U.S. and South Korea.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: North Korea has exploited the July 4 holiday before, in 2006 and 2009. But this is their most dramatic test, and their momentum is increasing. They have now launched more missiles in the last three years than in the last three decades.

    DAVID WRIGHT: I don’t see a roadblock to them being able to continue this process until they got a missile that really had the ability to reach the lower 48 states. I think it’s just a matter of time until they reach that point.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Nick Schifrin.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We will look at the implications of the North Korean test right after the news summary.

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    People watch a huge screen showing the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released on July 5, 2017, by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Photo by KCNA/via Reuters

    People watch a huge screen showing the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released on July 5, 2017, by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Photo by KCNA/via Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump expressed frustration with China on Wednesday for failing to do more to cut off support to North Korea and exert pressure to curb its nuclear pursuits.

    North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile test this week demonstrated a dangerous new reach for weapons it hopes to top with nuclear warheads one day. The launch is spurring U.S. demands for global action to counter the threat.

    Since he entered the White House, Trump has talked about confronting Pyongyang and pushing China to increase pressure on the North, but neither strategy has produced fast results. Trump had expressed optimism after his first meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping that the two would work together to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.

    Moments before he departed for Poland, Trump chastised China on Twitter.

    “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter,” the president tweeted. “So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!”

    In his initial response to the launch on Monday evening, Trump urged China on Twitter to “put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!” But he also said it was “hard to believe” that South Korea and Japan, the two U.S. treaty allies most at risk from North Korea, would “put up with this much longer.”

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

    North Korea conducts about 90 percent of its trade through China. China has long resisted intensifying economic pressure on neighboring North Korea, in part out of fear of the instability that could mount on its doorstep, and Trump has not found a way to break through Beijing’s old habits.

    Trump spoke with Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, discussing North Korea and its nuclear program with both leaders. He will meet them both this week at the Group of 20 meeting in Germany, as well as have his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    U.S. officials joined South Korea and Japan in requesting an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, scheduled Wednesday afternoon.

    Previously, North Korea had demonstrated missiles of short and medium range.

    In a show of force directly responding to North Korea’s provocation, U.S. and South Korean soldiers fired “deep strike” precision missiles into South Korean territorial waters on Tuesday, U.S. military officials in Seoul said. The missile firings demonstrated U.S.-South Korean solidarity, the U.S. Eighth Army said in a statement.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed “stronger measures to hold the DPRK accountable,” using an acronym for the isolated nation’s formal name, and said: “Global action is required to stop a global threat.” Any country helping North Korea militarily or economically, taking in its guest workers or falling short on Security Council resolutions, he said, “is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.”

    Tillerson’s statement, issued Tuesday evening as most Americans were celebrating the Fourth of July holiday, notably did not mention China, whose help the Trump administration has been aggressively seeking to press Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program.

    In recent days, as the North has continued to test missiles in defiance of global pressure, President Donald Trump has started voicing doubt that Beijing is up to the task. His administration has taken a number of steps against China’s interests that have suggested its patience has run short.

    Tillerson’s comments were the first public confirmation by the United States that the missile was indeed an ICBM, constituting a major technological advancement for the North and its most successful missile test yet.

    The prime danger from the U.S. viewpoint is the prospect of North Korea pairing a nuclear warhead with an ICBM. The latest US intelligence assessment is that the North probably does not yet have that capability — putting a small-enough nuclear warhead atop an ICBM.

    Initial U.S. military assessments had been that it was an intermediate-range missile. NORAD, or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the missile did not pose a threat to North America.

    North Korea claims it successfully fired off a new long-range missile, which someday could put the United States within range of its weapons. What options remain for the Trump administration? William Brangham speaks with Mark Bowden of The Atlantic and Christopher Hill, former chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea.

    The launch was not wholly unexpected. Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, testified to Congress in May that the U.S. anticipated an ICBM test before the end of this year.

    The Pentagon has spent tens of billions of dollars developing a missile defense system tailored to the North Korean ambition of attaining the eventual capability to attack the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile. On May 30 the Pentagon successfully shot down a mock warhead designed to replicate the North Korean threat.

    Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said the U.S.-South Korea missile exercise Tuesday was meant to show “our precision fire capability.

    “We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat from North Korea,” she said in a statement. “The United States seeks only the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Our commitment to the defense of our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, remains ironclad.”

    Patrick Cronin, an Asia expert with the Center for a New American Security, said Trump was probably “coming to the point of no return” with North Korea, adding that the upshot could be diplomatic overtures or military action.

    AP National Security Writer Robert Burns and Vivian Salama contributed to this report.

    WATCH: North Korea is making progress developing weapons. What can the U.S. do about it?

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    President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One for travel to Poland from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One for travel to Poland from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is headed back to Europe hoping to receive a friendly welcome in Poland despite lingering skepticism across the continent over his commitment to NATO, his past praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his decision to pull the U.S. out of a major climate agreement.

    Trump arrives in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday for a brief visit that will include a speech in Krasinski Square, near the site of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis. He’ll also meet with the leaders of Poland and Croatia and hold a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

    Before moving on to an international summit in Germany, the president will also hold meetings with the leaders of a dozen countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas at a summit of the Three Seas Initiative, which aims to expand and modernize energy and trade. One of the initiative’s goals is to make the region less dependent on Russian energy.

    “Even if he doesn’t mention Putin or Russia outright, just stepping foot in Poland sends a powerful statement,” said Jim Carafano, a foreign policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “Europe is working for energy independence — looking for free market solutions — and Poland is in the middle of that energy corridor, so it makes so much sense that the president would go there and talk about energy policy.”

    At the same time, Trump will have to balance his visit to Europe with escalating tensions with North Korea, after the U.S. concluded Tuesday that North Korea had test-launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile. The U.S., South Korea and Japan responded to the provocation by requesting an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, scheduled Wednesday afternoon.

    Trump returns to Europe after a shaky first trip to the continent in May and signs of unhappiness around the globe with the start of his presidency.

    A recent Pew Research Center survey of attitudes toward Trump in more than three dozen countries found fewer than 3 in 10 respondents expressing confidence in his ability to do the right thing on international affairs.

    Most of those surveyed disapproved of Trump’s major policies, including temporarily halting travel from six mostly Muslim countries. Among the 37 countries Pew surveyed, Trump scored higher marks than his predecessor, President Barack Obama, in only two: Russia and Israel.

    Trump’s first trip to Europe as president in May saw a series of awkward encounters, including a tough speech to the leaders of NATO countries urging them to spend more on their armed forces, an uncomfortable handshake with France’s new president, and a caught-on-camera moment when Trump pushed past the prime minister of Montenegro, Europe’s newest country, while squeezing his way to the front of a crowd.

    But Poland may offer Trump a chance to shine.

    According to Polish media reports, Poland’s government promised the White House a reception of cheering crowds as part of its invitation. To make good on that pledge, ruling party lawmakers and pro-government activists plan to bus in groups from the provinces to hear Trump’s speech.

    The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on those reports.

    With Trump’s sights already set on the 2020 election, his visit to Poland could also be seen as a power play for battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Polish-American voters.

    Trump may also seek to use Poland as an exemplar of partnership. A U.S. ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, Poland is one of the five NATO members that spends at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on the military. That’s something that Trump — and U.S. leaders before him — have demanded of NATO allies. Trump has scolded other NATO members for falling short on their commitments.

    Poland is also host to about 1,000 U.S. troops, and is supporting U.S. and NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also a regular customer for U.S. military equipment.

    Before Trump’s arrival, Poland’s government emphasized that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine poses a threat to the whole of Europe, something that will inevitably be raised in discussions with Trump as Europeans seek to gauge the president’s willingness to confront Putin before their first face-to-face meeting later this week.

    “Poland is, in some ways, a poster child for some of the issues that the Trump administration has been stressing,” said Jeffrey Rathke, deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’re betting that this relationship with the United States on defense will balance their concerns about the possible directions of U.S.-Russia policy.”

    Poland also hopes Trump’s visit will reinforce its position with European partners as it faces allegations of backsliding on democracy. The right-wing government is also one of only three European Union countries — along with Hungary and Austria — refusing to accept any relocated refugees, in legal violation of EU quotas.

    Trump, too, has been working to curb refugee admissions to the U.S. as part of his travel ban.

    READ MORE: Tensions rise as U.S. says North Korea tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile

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    Students retrieve their lunch at Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia. Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Students retrieve their lunch at Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia. Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    SANTA FE, N.M. — Teaching assistant Kelvin Holt watched as a preschool student fell to the back of a cafeteria line during breakfast in Killeen, Texas, as if trying to hide.

    “The cash register woman says to this 4-year-old girl, verbatim, ‘You have no money,'” said Holt, describing the incident last year. A milk carton was taken away, and the girl’s food was dumped in the trash. “She did not protest, other than to walk away in tears.”

    Holt has joined a chorus of outrage against lunchroom practices that can humiliate children as public school districts across the United States rethink how they cope with unpaid student lunch debts.

    The U.S. Agriculture Department is requiring districts to adopt policies this month for addressing meal debts and to inform parents at the start of the academic year.

    The agency is not specifically barring most of the embarrassing tactics, such as serving cheap sandwiches in place of hot meals or sending students home with conspicuous debt reminders, such as hand stamps. But it is encouraging schools to work more closely with parents to address delinquent accounts and ensure children don’t go hungry.

    “Rather than a hand stamp on a kid to say, ‘I need lunch money,’ send an email or a text message to the parent,” said Tina Namian, who oversees the federal agency’s school meals policy branch.

    Meanwhile, some states are taking matters into their own hands, with New Mexico this year becoming the first to outlaw school meal shaming and several others weighing similar laws.

    Free and reduced-price meals funded by the Agriculture Department’s National School Lunch Program shield the nation’s poorest children from so-called lunch shaming. Kids can eat for free if a family of four earns less than about $32,000 a year or at a discount if earnings are under $45,000.

    It’s households with slightly higher incomes that are more likely to struggle, experts on poverty and nutrition say.

    Children often bear the brunt of unpaid meal accounts. A 2014 federal report found 39 percent of districts nationwide hand out cheap alternative meals with no nutritional requirements and up to 6 percent refuse to serve students with no money.

    The debate over debts and child nutrition has spilled into state legislatures and reached Capitol Hill, as child advocacy groups question whether schools should be allowed to single out, in any way, a child whose family has not paid for meals.

    “There’s no limit to the bad behavior a school can have. They just have to put it in writing,” said Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, an advocacy group on poverty issues. “We live in a credit society. I think schools should handle debt like everybody else does: You don’t take away food from children. You feed them and you settle the bill later.”

    Spurred by Appleseed and others, New Mexico in April passed its anti-meal-shaming law, which directs schools to work directly with parents to address payments and requires that children get a healthy, balanced meal regardless of whether debts are paid on time.

    Elsewhere, the California Senate in May unanimously approved a bill that prevents schools from denying lunch if a parent or guardian has not paid.

    Thresa Thomas, a Los Angeles Unified School District food service worker for students with severe physical and learning disabilities, grinds up complimentary cheese sandwiches in a food processor to serve through feeding tubes to students who don’t bring lunch and whose parents have not paid.

    “They’re not able to complain too much,” she said. “We should give them all the same food, and we should collect the money as much as possible.”

    Texas recently adopted a temporary grace period for students to keep eating cafeteria food while debt payments are negotiated with parents.

    At the federal level, language has been proposed for next year’s House appropriations bill that would set minimum standards to protect children from public embarrassment and leave them out of payment discussions.

    New Mexico’s Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act was ushered through the Statehouse by Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla, who was raised in foster homes and vividly recalls having to sweep and mop the lunchroom to earn meals at an Albuquerque public school.

    “It’s shouldn’t be that way,” Padilla said. “This should not have to be a thought for a child.”

    Federal cash subsidies feed two out of three students statewide — yet meals still go unpaid, school administrators say.

    “The piece that is really different in this legislation is that you cannot turn a child away no matter what they owe,” said Nancy Cathey, who oversees food services at Las Cruces Public Schools.

    That provision is likely to drive up the district’s unpaid meal accounts, which recently totaled $8,000, she said. The district previously declined to serve high school students who cannot pay and extended a $25 credit to middle-schoolers.

    Most districts aim to keep meal costs close to $3.20, the typical federal reimbursement rate for free lunches.

    The Albuquerque district is still weighing whether it can afford to serve the same hot meal to all students and do away with an alternative cold meal that has been nicknamed derisively the “cheese sandwich of shame.”

    Sian McCullough of Albuquerque said her stepdaughter was confronted in first grade with an alternative brown-bag lunch when their meal account went unpaid.

    “The intent was, ‘We do this because the kids will go home embarrassed and send the money,'” she said. “It just didn’t sit well with me.”

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

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

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. government has long warned that Russian organized crime posed a threat to democratic institutions, including “criminally linked oligarchs” who might collude with the Russian government to undermine business competition.

    Those concerns, ever-present if not necessarily always top priorities, are front and center once more.

    An ongoing special counsel investigation is drawing attention to Russian efforts to meddle in democratic processes, the type of skullduggery that in the past has relied on hired hackers and outside criminals. It’s not clear how much the investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller will center on the criminal underbelly of Moscow, but he’s already picked some lawyers with experience fighting organized crime. And as the team looks for any financial entanglements of Trump associates and relationships with Russian officials, its focus could land again on the intertwining of Russia’s criminal operatives and its intelligence services.

    Russian organized crime has manifested itself over the decades in more conventional forms of money laundering, credit card fraud and black market sales. Justice Department prosecutors have repeatedly racked up convictions for those offenses.

    In recent years, though, the bond between Russian intelligence agencies and criminal networks has been especially alarming to American law enforcement officials, blending motives of espionage with more old-fashioned greed. In March, for instance, two hired hackers were charged along with two officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service in a cyberattack on Yahoo Inc. in 2013.

    It’s too early to know how Russian criminal networks might fit into the election meddling investigation, but central to the probe are devastating breaches of Democratic email accounts, including those of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. U.S. authorities have blamed those hacks on Russian intelligence services working to discredit Clinton and help Trump — but have said the overall effort involved third-party intermediaries and paid internet trolls.

    Former law enforcement officials say Russian organized crime has been a concern for at least a couple of decades, though not necessarily the most pressing demand given finite resources and budget constraints. The threat is diffuse and complex, and Russia’s historic lack of cooperation has complicated efforts to apprehend suspects. And the responsibility for combating the problem often falls across different divisions of the FBI and the Justice Department, depending on whether it’s a criminal or national security offense — a sometimes-blurry boundary.

    “It’s not an easy thing to kind of grasp or understand, but it’s very dangerous to our country because they have so many different aspects, unlike a traditional cartel,” said Robert Anderson, a retired FBI executive assistant director who worked counterintelligence cases and oversaw the criminal and cyber branch.

    “You have to know where to look, which makes it more complicated,” he added. “And you have to understand what you’re looking for.”

    Federal prosecutors continue to bring traditional organized crime cases, such as one last month in New York charging 33 members and associates of a Russian crime syndicate in a racketeering and extortion scheme that officials say involved cargo shipment thefts and efforts to defraud casinos. But there’s a heightened awareness about more sophisticated cyber threats that commingle the interests of the government and of criminals.

    “An organized criminal group matures in what they do,” said retired FBI assistant director Ron Hosko. “What they once did here through extortion, some of these groups are now doing through cyberattack vectors.”

    Within the Justice Department, it’s been apparent since the collapse of the Soviet Union that crime from that territory could affect national security in Europe and the U.S. Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe was years ago a supervisory special agent of a task force created to deal with Eurasian organized crime.

    A 2001 report from the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice, a research arm, called America “the land of opportunity for unloading criminal goods and laundering dirty money.” It said crime groups in the region were establishing ties to drug trafficking networks, and that “criminally linked oligarchs” might work with the government to undermine competition in gas, oil and other strategic markets.

    Three months later came the Sept. 11 attacks, and the FBI, then under Mueller’s leadership, and other agencies left no doubt that terrorism was the most important priority.

    “I recall talking to the racketeering guys after that and them saying, ‘Forget any focus now on organized crime,'” said James Finckenauer, an author of the report.

    Besides cyber threats, Justice Department officials in recent years have worried about the effect of unchecked international corruption, creating a kleptocracy initiative to recover money plundered by government leaders for their own purposes.

    In 2014, then-Attorney General Eric Holder pledged the Justice Department’s commitment to recouping large sums believed to have been stolen during the regime of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president chased from power that year.

    That effort led to an FBI focus on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman who did political consulting work on behalf of Yanukovych’s pro-Russia political party and who remains under scrutiny now.

    But those same foreign links have also made cases hard to prove in court.

    In many instances, foreign criminal hackers or those sponsored by foreign governments — including China, Iran and Russia — have remained out of reach of American authorities. In some cases, judges have chastised U.S. authorities for prosecutorial overreach in going after international targets.

    A San Francisco federal judge, for instance, in 2015 dismissed an indictment involving two Ukrainian businessmen who’d been accused of bribing an official at a United Nations agency responsible for creating standards for machine-readable international passports.

    The judge said he couldn’t understand how the government could apply a foreign bribery law to conduct that had no direct connection to the U.S.

    READ MORE: Who are the lawyers helping Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation?

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    A woman has her eyes tested at the Care Harbor four-day free clinic, which offers free medical, dental, and vision care to around 4,000 uninsured people in Los Angeles, California, United States October 15, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTS4NYS

    A woman has her eyes tested at the Care Harbor four-day free clinic, which offers free medical, dental and vision care to around 4,000 uninsured people in Los Angeles. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller is here to provide the answers you need on aging and retirement. His weekly column, “Ask Phil,” aims to help older Americans and their families by answering their health care and financial questions. Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.

    Cammy – Washington: Why will Medicare refuse to pay for dental work that is really needed?

    Phil Moeller: Medicare has never covered so-called routine dental care, including a lot of care that you and I would consider essential to our health.

    It will cover surgical procedures that are considered medically necessary and which usually arise from specific health-related events. For example, if you’re in an auto accident and your jaw is broken, Medicare will cover that and probably some rehabilitative dental work as well.

    But if you lose your teeth over time and need dentures, Medicare would not cover that. Likewise, it would not cover routine dental care, such as extractions or crowns, even if that care was essential to your health.

    As the nation continues to get older, Medicare’s lack of coverage for dental, hearing and vision care will become a growing issue.

    Gina – Alabama: I’m surrounded by elders and others in dire need of vision, hearing and denture care on a day-to-day basis. It saddens me, because my baby son’s uncle is a hearing doctor and lives just down the street. Maybe I’m wrong, but it would be awesome if he and his colleagues could give back at least once a year to the very citizens that helped established their practice in this area. As they know, Social Security and Medicare provide only limited income and no real benefits in these health areas.

    “This is what we need to survive, not something we want, like a toaster oven.”

    With dentures, we still have to pay for denture cream in order to eat and not choke. It’s just a shame that we can’t get prescriptions for the dentures or cream with regular check-ups. I do not see the rationale here. This is what we need to survive, not something we want, like a toaster oven.

    I have poor vision. A lot of times, I wind up “seeing” with my heart. I do not understand Medicare’s guidelines for hearing, dental and vision coverage. It makes no sense that we are neglected and deprived from being covered. Meanwhile, they cover so many less pertinent issues. This makes us needy. We need Medicare and Medicaid help as well as doctors that can donate some time and maybe some medical aids for us. Yes, they earned that degree, but we are the patients who have kept them in business.

    Just my thoughts from the front line of struggles.

    Phil Moeller: I am so sorry to hear about your struggles, which I know are shared by millions of older Americans. I’m sharing what you wrote, because people need to be reminded over and over again that Medicare policies have an enormous impact on the quality of peoples’ lives.

    Larry: My monthly Social Security benefits are less than my monthly Medicare premiums. My benefits are not paid to me directly, but are applied to my insurance premium. I receive a one-time billing for the yearly difference. I’m told that because I don’t receive cash, I cannot be held harmless and am subject to the higher Medicare premiums. For 2017, the monthly premium for me will be $134 instead of $109.

    Phil Moeller: The rightly maligned hold harmless rule says that Social Security benefits cannot be cut from one year to the next. People whose Medicare Part B premium is deducted from their Social Security thus cannot be forced to pay a premium that is larger than their annual cost of living increase for Social Security. This has led to people paying different amounts for Part B coverage, which is both confusing and unfair.

    I shared your situation with a Social Security spokeswoman. She said she couldn’t tell from the amount of information you provided whether the agency’s response was correct.

    However, her response included the statement that the fact you needed to make payments to Medicare (because your Medicare premiums were greater than your Social Security payments) would not, by itself, trigger your exclusion from being held harmless.

    So, I suggest you get in touch with the agency and see if there is another reason they boosted your premium. If they continue to say it’s because you are paying Medicare directly, you would need to file an appeal. The agency should tell you how to do this, but let me know if it doesn’t and you need further help.

    Here is the relevant part of what the spokeswoman said:

    I can confirm there are cases where a person’s monthly benefit payment is less than the amount of his or her Medicare Part B premium.  While this is not one of the requirements that applies to hold harmless, the beneficiary is billed directly for the remaining liability amount. This billing is done once a year.  See the information at this link, https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0601001041.

    Bart – Arizona: I read your piece about changes coming to Medigap plans in 2020 and am confused. I think I understand that the reason that these plans (C and F) will no longer be available is the government wants the patient to have some first-dollar “skin” in the game. But will they go away for everyone? Also, what will be the status of the high-deductible “F” plan?

    Phil Moeller: First off, these plans are only going away for new enrollees. This also applies to the high-deductible F plan.

    Most people with a high-deductible F plan would wind up paying for their Part B deductible before reaching this plan’s overall deductible. However, it’s theoretically possible to use up the entire deductible for other expenses. Therefore, it still qualifies as a first-dollar plan and would fall within these new prohibitions.

    I am hardly the know-it-all expert when it comes to what people might do in the future. My concern over these affected plans — C, F and high-deductible F — is that only existing customers will be able to get them beginning in 2020. As a result, the pool of people in these plans will inevitably grow older and probably sicker. This will force insurers to raise rates, as there won’t be younger and healthier people in these plans who can share the risk.

    Janet: I want to delay my full retirement benefits when I turn 66 this December. Can I receive my divorced spousal benefits when I turn 66 if his is less than mine and delay taking mine?

    Phil Moeller: If you qualify for ex-spousal benefits, then yes, you can do this. Your former husband either needs to have already filed for his own retirement benefits or, if not, he needs to be at least 62 years old and you need to have been divorced for two years.

    If these conditions are met, you can file what’s called a restricted application at your full retirement age for just your ex-spousal benefit. Because it’s a restricted application for just this single benefit, it doesn’t really matter how it compares with your own retirement benefit.

    Changes made by Congress in late 2015 ended the ability of most people to file restricted applications for benefits, but this right was grandfathered into the new laws for anyone who was at least 62 as of the beginning of 2016.

    Carol – California: We are moving across the border into Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, but want to keep our Medicare Advantage program and come back to the U.S. for medical care. Do we need to have a physical U.S. address?  If so, will the physical address of our post office box in San Diego work, or will we have to use the address of a family member?

    Phil Moeller: I get lots of questions about Medicare from people living or planning to live outside the U.S. Medicare Advantage plans require you to live in the plan’s service area. Having a P.O. box or address of a family member is not sufficient. If you filed a claim with your insurer, it would be able to reject coverage should it find out that you were not actually living in the U.S., even if you came back to the country for treatment.

    READ MORE: I’m retiring abroad. What Medicare plan should I get?

    There is always a chance the insurer would not investigate your residency, but it could, and the odds of being on the hook for what could be huge medical bills would certainly give me pause. If I was in your situation and wanted to come back to the U.S. for health care, I’d drop Medicare Advantage and get basic Medicare, possibly with a Medigap plan. Even so, getting prescription drug insurance in the U.S. would face the same residency requirements as Medicare Advantage.

    I wrote about this in a recent Ask Phil column.

    Patricia: I’m 70 and have lived and worked abroad for 50 years. I have no Social Security, but am still thinking of retiring to Florida or maybe Cape Cod. As a U.S. citizen, I know I am obliged to enroll in Medicare when I return. How does it work? How much time do I have to enroll, what will it cost, and should I take Medigap or Medicare Advantage? I don’t know any U.S. doctors or how things work. I’m lost!

    Phil Moeller: I sympathize with how daunting this process is for someone in your situation. The best advice I have for someone with such broad questions about Medicare is for you to read a comprehensive guide to Medicare. My book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” covers everything you’ve asked about, including how to find doctors.

    Here are some links to help you get started:

    The good news, which I learned after receiving your question, is that even though you are 70, you should not face any of Medicare’s late-enrollment penalties when you return to the U.S. As you told me in a follow-up note, you have been working and have employer group health insurance. As it turns out, such coverage does not have to have been provided in the U.S. or even from a U.S. employer.

    Here is the information I was recently given by a Medicare spokesman with CMS (the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services). The initials GHP refer to a group health plan.

    A GHP does not have to be in the United States, and the individual (or spouse/family member for disabled) is not required to be working in the United States. CMS considers a person working for a foreign employer who has a plan that meets the definition of a GHP to meet the requirement for GHP coverage. This also applies to individuals working in countries with national health plans. . . . CMS doesn’t “approve” coverage from certain countries. The employer coverage offered must meet the criteria for GHP coverage. The policy is outlined publicly here.

    The post Medicare’s lack of dental, hearing and vision coverage can put seniors in a bind appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr (center) is pictured here in 2015 with his lawyer Dennis Edney (left) and Patricia Edney. He stayed with the couple after being released on bail in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Todd Korol/Reuters

    Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr (center) is pictured here in 2015 with his lawyer Dennis Edney (left) and Patricia Edney. He stayed with the couple after being released on bail in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Todd Korol/Reuters

    Omar Khadr was 15 years old when he was captured during a firefight in Afghanistan for allegedly flinging a hand grenade that killed a U.S. soldier. He became the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay prison.

    The Canadian-born man, now 30, will receive an apology from the Canadian government and about 10.5 million in Canadian dollars, or about US$8 million, under a deal his lawyers negotiated last month, the Toronto Star and other publications reported this week.

    READ MORE: Accused terrorist Khadr boycotts ‘unjust’ trial

    Khadr’s lawyers argued that he was subjected to sleep deprivation and solitary confinement while in U.S. custody, and that the Canadian government violated Khadr’s rights by sharing intelligence information about him with the U.S.

    In 2002, U.S. forces captured Khadr, whose father had ties to al-Qaida and had brought the boy to Afghanistan where he was being trained to make bombs.

    While at Guantanamo Bay, Khadr pleaded guilty in a pre-trial agreement and was convicted of charges, including murder in violation of the laws of war and spying. He was sentenced to eight years of confinement and, under the terms of the agreement, could serve his remaining time in Canada.

    READ MORE: Guantanamo detainee Khadr pleads guilty to all counts

    He was transferred to his home country in September 2012. Khadr’s treatment while in detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay was investigated and brought before a U.S. military judge, who ruled there was “no credible evidence the accused was ever tortured … even using a liberal interpretation considering the accused’s age.”

    In 2015, Khadr was released on bail and now lives in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada.

    Canada’s Conservative Party released a statement in protest of the apology and payment, saying, “Meet Canada’s newest multi-millionaire — Omar Khadr. … It is one thing to acknowledge alleged mistreatment, but it is wrong to lavishly reward a convicted terrorist who murdered an allied soldier who had a wife and two children.”

    A lawyer for Tabitha Speer, the widow of the slain soldier in Afghanistan — U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer, has filed an application to redirect any of the money paid to Khadr to instead go to the widow and another solider injured in the battle, Sgt. Layne Morris, who lost an eye.

    Khadr’s compensation is similar to that given to Canadian Maher Arar when an inquiry found that Canadian officials turned over information about him to U.S. officials, leading to his detention in Syria.

    The post Canada to give apology, millions to compensate former Gitmo detainee appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Commerce Department said on Wednesday housing starts increased 15 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000 units. That was the quickest pace since July 2008. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    A worker prepares a new housing lot at a construction site in Alexandria, Virginia October 17, 2012. Groundbreaking on new U.S. homes surged in September to its fastest pace in more than four years, a sign the housing sector’s budding recovery is gaining traction.
    The Commerce Department said on Wednesday housing starts increased 15 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000 units. That was the quickest pace since July 2008. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    “Let’s make sure we’re clear on terms,” the instructor said, summoning the next presentation slide onto the big screen behind him. Obscurities such as “borrow excavation,” “grubbing” and “subbase” didn’t faze the 21 apprentices in the room. They were almost all young men, many sporting baseball caps and sunburned necks. They’d been working on construction sites for months.

    Welcome to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s latest hiring strategy. While President Donald Trump and state lawmakers around the country extol the benefits of apprenticeships — and put money behind grants and tax credits to encourage private sector companies to offer them — some state agencies are creating their own paid training programs for employees.

    As state agencies face a wave of retirements, training programs such as apprenticeships can help fill open positions, give workers the skills they need, and reduce turnover. Here in Virginia, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe set aside funds in 2015 to expand federally registered apprenticeships at state agencies.

    “It makes perfect sense for state agencies or county governments to utilize registered apprenticeships,” says Patricia Morrison, the division director at the Virginia Department of Labor who leads the state’s efforts to expand apprenticeships. The programs create a pipeline of younger, entry-level workers who will eventually replace retirees, she said.

    Nationally, more than half a million apprentices are registered with the federal government, and many more — potentially up to a million — are employed in unregistered programs. Registered programs have to meet certain standards, and apprentices who complete such programs receive a journey worker credential that’s recognized by industry and the U.S. Department of Labor.

    There’s no way to know the precise number of apprentices — registered or unregistered — working for state and local governments because of differences in how states track and report apprenticeship enrollment. But many police and fire departments use apprenticeships to train new recruits. Some local governments use apprentices to train technicians, such as the men and women who maintain water treatment plants.

    Nationally, more than half a million apprentices are registered with the federal government, and many more — potentially up to a million — are employed in unregistered programs.

    The University of Virginia — which Virginia considers a state agency — has had apprentices in its facilities department for 35 years. Last fall, 500 people applied for the program, and just 13 were hired, giving it a lower acceptance rate — 2.6 percent — than the university itself.

    In general, however, it’s rare for a state agency to offer registered apprenticeships, Morrison says. They can be expensive. And while some agencies have a long tradition of training workers, or an interest in doing so, others don’t.

    All About the Credentials
    Anthony Larry, 32, was one of the more talkative students in the road construction and drainage class that met recently at John Tyler Community College. He raised his hand repeatedly, and at one point he swung a foot swaddled in bandages — he’d injured it playing rugby — up onto the desk in front of him to elevate it.

    He learned about the state’s apprenticeship for highway construction inspectors while working in maintenance at the Virginia Department of Transportation. Although becoming an apprentice meant taking a pay cut, he jumped at the chance to get on track to a higher-paying profession and take college courses for free. “Down the road, it opens so many doors,” he said of the program.

    Apprentice pay varies throughout the state. In the Richmond area, pay for apprentice inspectors starts at $37,500 a year, and pay for inspectors starts at $42,000 a year, according to the department.

    Transportation department inspectors monitor road building and repair projects, ensuring the work is structurally sound and the government is being billed properly. They need to know everything about road construction, from how to work with different types of soil to relevant environmental law.

    Over the two-year program, Larry and his fellow apprentices, who are currently in their first year, will spend most of their time working under a senior inspector. They’re paid for their time spent in class, earning college credits they can put toward a degree or certifications they can show to future employers. They receive a journey worker credential when they complete the program, which they can use to find work in other states.

    Creating an apprenticeship program was easy because the agency had a long-standing training program that already met the classroom and work-hour requirements for a federally registered apprenticeship. The agency had just never formally worked with the state Department of Labor to register the program.

    “We were looking for an opportunity to take a training program that we had and align it with the governor’s intention to increase the number of workforce credentials in the state of Virginia.”

    “We were looking for an opportunity to take a training program that we had and align it with the governor’s intention to increase the number of workforce credentials in the state of Virginia,” said Bill Danzeisen, the transportation department’s technical training manager.

    In 2015 the department registered its program and began using the community college system as a training partner, rather than the consultants it had used before. The agency took advantage of McAuliffe’s executive order, which set aside $120,000 to help state agencies create apprenticeships — parceled out as $1,000 per apprentice, up to $10,000 per program.

    The money only covered part of the additional cost of the new program structure, Danzeisen said. Still, he said, the apprenticeship will pay off for both the department and its contractors. Some trainees will eventually leave for jobs in the private sector, but chances are they’ll return to the agency at another point in their career.

    And the apprenticeship program is popular. Last year, 600 people applied for 40 open positions. Currently about a hundred people are enrolled.

    Danzeisen says he’d like to add more apprenticeships. About eight months ago the department created a one-year apprenticeship for transportation operators, who do maintenance and drive heavy equipment. In the future, the agency may work with career and technical high schools to create an apprenticeship for vehicle mechanics.

    Cost and Culture Challenges
    For other state agencies, finding the money for an apprenticeship program is more complicated. In California, for instance, an apprenticeship program for nurses who work in the state prison system wouldn’t exist without help from a state grant.

    The 34 licensed vocational nurses currently enrolled in the one-year apprenticeship are paid to work 20 hours a week and also are paid to study at a community college 20 hours a week. When they complete the program, they’ll be ready to become registered nurses and get a big salary bump. Ideally, they’ll continue to work for the state.

    There are more than a hundred openings for registered nurses across the prison system that the state is desperate to fill. California Correctional Health Care Services and the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents state workers, hope that the apprenticeship program will help develop a staff of prison nurses who are likely to stay in their jobs for longer.

    “Working with prisoners is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea,” said Joyce Hayhoe, director of legislation and communications for California’s inmate health care system. Turnover in some positions can be high, and it’s costly to recruit new nurses and train them to work in a prison environment.

    “Working with prisoners is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea.”

    The state grant will only cover the cost of training three groups of apprentices over three years, union officials say. And it doesn’t cover all the costs of the program. The prison health care system has to pay other licensed vocational nurses overtime or use contractors to fill in for the apprentices while they’re in class.

    Hayhoe says the agency decided that the expense was worth it. But expanding the program will depend on whether the agency can secure more funding.

    In Virginia, not all agencies have embraced apprenticeships. Only four took advantage of the governor’s incentive money: the transportation department, the University of Virginia, George Mason University, and Morrison’s own division at the Department of Labor. “One thousand dollars per apprentice is not that big of a selling point,” she said.

    Morrison says the agency officials she talks to tend to be worried about the logistics of creating and managing an apprenticeship program. Human resources managers usually want to hire people who are ready to hit the ground running, and it can be hard to convince them to embrace training, she said.

    Danzeisen says he hasn’t heard of any state transportation agency embracing apprenticeships the way Virginia’s has, although many officials he bumps into at regional and national conferences say they’d like to try. “A lot of the questions are, ‘How do you get started?’ ” he said.

    He noted that an apprenticeship that works well for one agency in one state might not work as well elsewhere. In some states, highway maintenance and construction happens at the county and city level rather than the state level. Transportation agencies in such states might not need so many inspectors, he said.

    The post Ahead of retirement wave, some states fill jobs with apprenticeships appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A man lights a candle in his family's shack in an area where, according to local residents, several people have been killed in police operations since the beginning of country's war on drugs, in Manila, Philippines. Photo taken in November 2016. Photo by Damir Sagolj/Reuters

    A man lights a candle in his family’s shack in an area where, according to local residents, several people have been killed in police operations since the beginning of country’s war on drugs, in Manila, Philippines. Photo taken in November 2016. Photo by Damir Sagolj/Reuters

    Another week, another series of Trump tweets that stole the media’s attention.

    Trump went after the media at least 15 times last week on Twitter, as catalogued by NPR. Among his targets: The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren and, most explosively, Mika Brzezinski, whom he called crazy and “bleeding badly from a facelift” as he criticized the “poorly-rated” show she co-hosts with Joe Scarborough.

    Early Sunday, Trump posted a 28-second video clip from Reddit of his “Wrestlemania” match with Vince McMahon with a logo of CNN superimposed over his face. The network fired three employees earlier in the week over a story it later retracted about Trump officials’ ties to a Russian investment fund. “#FraudNewsCNN #FNN,” the video is captioned, as Trump tackles the giant logo to the ground.

    Seventy percent of Americans think civility has gotten worse since Trump took office, according to a new NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. Sixty-one percent of American’s don’t trust his administration. But they don’t trust Congress or the media, either.



    The tweets have put Republicans in a difficult position: They need the president to enact major legislation on health care and tax reform, even as he breaks “every modern standard of presidential decorum,” 140 characters at a time.

    (To Senate Republicans trying to work through a health care compromise, for instance, Trump suggested on Twitter that they just repeal and replace later, raising doubts about the president’s support for legislation about which some lawmakers are already uncertain).

    Trump agrees with his critics on one point: “My use of social media is not Presidential – it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!” he tweeted, later saying he isn’t planning to slow his 140-character musings any time soon.

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

    Get back in touch with the great big world outside of Twitter with these five stories that may have been lost in this week’s deluge of tweets.

    1. Illinois could become the first “junk state” in the U.S.

    The entrance to Francis Parkman School is boarded up in Chicago, Illinois, May 8, 2015. Forty-nine elementary schools were targeted by the country's largest mass closing in 2013, and most are still empty two years later. Under-enrollment and low resources were cited by school board officials for the closures, which mainly affected poorer African-American and Latino neighborhoods. The shuttered buildings have become a vivid symbol of the fight over Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's sweeping drive to reform education and tackle a projected $1.1 billion education budget deficit. Picture taken May 8, 2015. To match Feature USA-CHICAGO/EDUCATION REUTERS/Jim Young - RTR4YMRR

    The entrance to Francis Parkman School is boarded up in Chicago, Illinois, May 8, 2015. Forty-nine elementary schools were targeted by the country’s largest mass closing in 2013, and many are still empty, due to a budget stalemate. Photo by REUTERS/Jim Young.

    For the past two years, Illinois has gone without a budget.

    This summer, three credit-rating houses suggested that Illinois — without a budget plan for a third straight year — was at risk for a downgraded bond rating, making it the first U.S. state to fall under “junk status.”

    Such a downgrade would make borrowing money more expensive, exacerbating the state’s dire financial situation at a time when the state already has $15 billion in unpaid bills. (The state has another $251 billion in pension debt, according to CNN.)

    On Sunday, a day after the close of the fiscal year, the Illinois House rushed to pass a massive budget plan that would increase the personal tax rate by 32 percent. It would also raise the corporate tax rate from 5.25 percent to 7 percent, in all generating nearly $5 billion a year to replenish the state’s coffers.

    On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate passed the tax hike and budget plan. But three hours later, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the legislation, calling it a “permanent income tax increase.” The Senate quickly overrode Rauner’s veto.

    Now, the House must pass the override. It’s expected to address the issue Thursday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

    The House initially voted to pass the budget plan 72-45 on Monday, with one more vote than necessary to override a veto. More than a dozen Republicans broke ranks to support the bill, in the face of intense pressure from their districts. They will need the same support in order to override the governor’s veto.

    “[T]his is the sword that I’m willing to die on,” Republican Rep. Michael Unes told the Chicago Tribune. “And if it costs me my seat, so be it.”

    Why it matters

    How did Illinois get here?

    When a temporary income tax increase expired in January 2015, the Republican governor and Democrat-controlled legislature were unable to resolve their differences to pass a budget. Yet state spending continued at the same levels, leaving Illinois with a $6.2 billion annual deficit.

    That’s affected all parts of the state. State funding for public universities fell 61 percent for the 2015-2016 school year, according to data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Illinois public universities are now at risk of losing their accreditation. Meanwhile, the state’s public schools have had to cut staff, and classrooms have ballooned in size. Without state funding, many will not be able to stay open for more than a few weeks into the 2017-2018 school year. Others may not open at all, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    The budget crisis has also led to major cuts to social services. Domestic violence centers were told in December 2016 that the state had cut $9 million in state funding — five months after the cuts were approved. Other social services, such as addiction and mental health services and Meals on Wheels, have also seen crippling cuts.

    Illinois may have the longest-running budget dispute, but it’s not the only state dealing with one. As of July 1, nearly a dozen other states were also without budgets. New Jersey and Maine both faced partial government shutdowns, thanks to budget standoffs between Democratic lawmakers and Republican governors, but both closed deals to end their standoffs on Tuesday.

    Let’s hope the same scene doesn’t play out when Congress faces its own budget showdown this fall.

    2. Is a higher minimum wage helping or hurting Seattle?

    SEATTLE -- The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to Seattle's $15-an-hour minimum wage from franchise owners who say the law discriminates against them by treating them as large businesses.  People rally in support of a $15 minimum wage at Seattle Central Community College in Seattle, Washington March 15, 2014. Voters in SeaTac, Washington recently passed a ballot initiative for $15 minimum wage. Photo by Jason Redmond/Reuters

    People rally in support of a $15 minimum wage at Seattle Central Community College in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Jason Redmond/Reuters

    In 2014, Seattle became the first city to pass legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15.

    But a study published last week by researchers at the University of Washington suggests the hike might be doing more harm than good.

    The city is gradually raising hourly wages to $15 by 2021. It made its second of a series of pay hikes in January 2016, raising hourly wages to between $10.50 and $13 an hour.

    That hike increased pay for low-wage workers by about 3 percent. But it also caused employers to give those workers fewer hours, the study says, which means workers on average saw a 6 percent drop — or $125 loss — in earnings per month.

    Another blow: “There are about 5,000 fewer low-wage jobs in the city than there would have been without the law,” the Seattle Times reports.

    Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wrote a letter to the study authors questioning their conclusions. He pointed to another study from the University of California that said the legislation “raised wages for low-paid workers without causing disemployment.”

    “Businesses across the city are competing for employees and our city is in the midst of a period of nearly unprecedented growth. Raising the minimum wage helps ensure more people who live and work in Seattle can share in our city’s success, and helps fight income inequality,” he told The Seattle Times.

    Why it’s important

    The Seattle news comes as the minimum wage increased this month in several cities in California, as well as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and the states of Oregon and Maryland. (Meanwhile Missouri has lowered its minimum wage, from $10 to $7.70 an hour).

    Experts say Seattle isn’t necessarily a test case for other states and cities; how much workers benefit varies widely depending on industry — fast food and restaurants versus manufacturing, for instance — as well as how the economy is doing nationwide.

    “There is no one ‘the effect of the minimum wage,'” one researcher involved in the latest study told the Washington Post.

    Democrats introduced federal legislation to raise the minimum wage in April, but the bill is unlikely to go anywhere amid fights over health care, tax reform and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The Post points out the study “could exacerbate divisions among Democrats, who are seeking an economic agenda to counter President Trump’s pitches for protectionism, reduced taxes and restrictions on immigration.”

    3. Police in the Philippines may be using hospitals to cover up crime scenes

    FILE PHOTO: Funeral workers carry a dead body, whom police said a drug pusher killed during an anti-drug operation in metro Manila, Philippines November 15, 2016. To match Special Report PHILIPPINES-DUTERTE/DOA     REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo - RTS193RK

    Funeral workers carry a dead body, whom police said a drug pusher killed during an anti-drug operation in metro Manila, Philippines. Photo by REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo.

    When Phillipines President Rodrigo Duterte took office last June he promised to “kill all the drug lords.”

    A year later, thousands of people have been killed in his war on drugs.

    That’s not necessarily a surprise, given some of Duterte’s previous declarations. (“Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there is 3 million, what is it, 3 million drug addicts, there are. I would be happy to slaughter them,” he said at a conference last year.)

    What is unusual is what’s happening to the bodies.

    A Reuters investigation found that all but two of 301 drug suspects taken to hospitals in the Quezon City and Manila police districts were dead upon arrival, a strategy officers have been using “to destroy evidence at crime scenes and hide the fact that they were executing drug suspects,” Reuters says.

    It suggests that “the purpose of hospital runs was to destroy evidence rather than save lives,” Reuters writes.

    “Many drug suspects brought to hospital had been shot in the head and heart, sometimes at close range – precise and unsurvivable wounds that undermined police claims that suspects were injured during chaotic exchanges of gunfire,” Reuters found.

    A police official told Reuters that “if that investigation showed police were intentionally moving these dead bodies and bringing them to the hospitals just to alter the evidence, then I think we have to make them explain.”

    But doctors said they weren’t optimistic.

    Why it matters

    FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte supporters gather during a vigil backing the anti-drugs crackdown at the Luneta park in metro Manila, Philippines February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File photo - RTS18ISP

    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte supporters gather during a February vigil backing the anti-drugs crackdown at the Luneta park in metro Manila, Philippines. Photo by REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File photo.

    Duterte has had a tumultuous and headline-grabbing first year. Two months after taking office, he threatened to leave the U.N. He called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore.” He even swore at the pope (which would be seemingly even more offensive in a country that identifies as 80 percent Catholic).

    While that kind of behavior has drawn criticism from abroad — Human Rights Watch called it a “human rights calamity” — it hasn’t sparked the same kind of outrage at home, where many people felt the police and courts were corrupt before Duterte took office. In a recent survey, 75 percent of Filipinos said they were satisfied with Duterte’s leadership, according to CNBC.

    The news comes as Duterte deals with a crisis in Marawi, where ISIS-backed militants are battling government forces for control of the southern city. He declared martial law in late May, telling troops not to worry about killing civilians in their pursuit of Islamic state fighters.

    Martial law is set to expire July 23, the day before Duterte gives a state of the nation address. It’s still too soon to tell whether the president’s leadership style will bring stability, or more distress.

    4. A new survey reveals 1 in 5 Los Angeles community college students are homeless

    A new report released last week spotlighted the high rates of homelessness and “food insecurity” among the 230,000 students enrolled in Los Angeles’ community colleges, the Los Angeles Times reported.

    The survey found that about one in five students in the Los Angeles Community College District are homeless, in a city often cited for its rising housing costs.

    The report, compiled by the University of Wisconsin Hope lab, also provided more numbers on how acute housing insecurity was among Los Angeles community college students, including 23 percent who said they weren’t able to pay their full rent or mortgage at least once in the last 12 months. And 31 percent said they didn’t pay the full amount of utilities over the same period. Both of these reported stats are higher than those seen nationally.

    Additionally, nearly two-thirds — 65 percent — of students reported not being able to afford a balanced meal, which is higher than the national average at 60 percent. And 60 percent of students said they didn’t have enough money to buy more food when their stock ran out.

    The HOPE Lab also specifically mentioned how assistance programs, like SNAP, may be available, but still have requirements that could prevent college students from getting help. The survey cited, for example, SNAP’s requirement that undergraduates, who are pursuing their academic goals, work at least 20 hours a week.

    The Times said almost 6,000 students responded to the online survey.

    Why it’s important

    The district’s board of trustees, which commissioned the survey, presented its findings last week. One trustee, Mike Eng, said, “When you have people going hungry for three days straight, you have a really serious problem.”

    The Times also noted that “the survey results come during a time of intense competition over the distribution of proceeds from a quarter-cent county sales tax for homeless services,” adding that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors had recently approved homeless college students to be one group of beneficiaries of the city’s tax fund. The tax fund is expected to accumulate $3.55 billion over a decade, the newspaper reported.

    The problem of homelessness and food insecurity among college students is also a national problem, extending beyond Los Angeles. As LAist pointed out, when a 2016 Cal State study addressed the problem on its own campus, the report had this conclusion: “The experience of student hunger has become normalized as the ordinary and expected starving student, thus minimizing the problem of students struggling to eat nutritious meals each day.”

    5. High school students take action and restore St. Louis’ Emmett Till memorial after vandalization

    A group of high school students attending a social justice leadership organization were leaving a grocery store outside St. Louis when they stumbled upon a vandalized memorial dedicated to Emmett Till. Camille Denton, 17, said something had to be done.

    “All of us were really quiet, staring, wondering what can we do,” Denton said, in an interview with The Washington Post.

    Denton and fellow students are participating in the St.Louis-based Cultural Leadership Program. The group focuses on issues of social justice and civil rights, and one of its prominent projects inadvertently became the restoration of the vandalized memorial.

    Members of the group took action by repairing the sign with handwritten notes and drawings, The Post reported, composing educational anecdotes related to Till, who was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi after being accused of whistling at a white woman.

    “I couldn’t fathom that someone would disrespect this man and his death, and we know he died unjustly,” Promise Mitchell told local St. Louis’ television station, KMOV News. This is the second time the sign has been vandalized in the last two years.

    Holly Ingraham, the executive director of the Cultural Leadership program, said their actions embodied what the group is about.

    “Speaking out and taking action are two of the many leadership and social justice advocacy skills students learn in Cultural Leadership,” Ingraham told The Post.

    Why it’s important

    A 2016 study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA, found that 40 percent of incoming underclassmen feel it is “essential” or “very important” to become engaged as community leaders. Sixty percent expressed a commitment toward “improving their understanding of other countries and cultures,” while three-quarters indicated that “helping others in difficulty” is important.

    “For me it was kind of like a moment of realizing that I didn’t have to just walk away,” Denton told The Post. “We all could have gotten on the bus and kept going to our next destination instead of actually fighting back.”

    The post 5 important stories that have nothing to do with Trump’s tweets appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Taj Mahal and Keb Mo are both living legends in the blues music scene.

    But they haven’t released an album together — until now.

    The two musicians began a nationwide tour last month in Colorado to celebrate their new album “TajMo,” which features songs the duo has co-written together as well as things they’ve previously recorded on their own.

    Speaking to PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown before an appearance at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Taj Mahal said that in spite of being called “the blues,” the music is all about having fun.

    “Life brings a lot of strife these days. In the digital age, it’s even more intense. A lot of people don’t know how to get loose of it. So our job as musicians is to help them get loose and have a good time and feel good about themselves,” the singer-songwriter said.

    As the musicians age — Keb Mo, at 65, is 10 years Taj Mahal’s junior — some fans have wondered about the future of blues, and who will take up the tradition.

    “Taking on the blues is a big responsibility. So I understand why people would be concerned about that,” Keb Mo said. “But the music and riches is about happiness … So, the blues will be fine.”

    Watch Taj Mahal and Keb Mo perform an acoustic version of “Diving Duck Blues” in the player above, and watch their full interview with Jeffrey Brown on the July 5 broadcast of PBS NewsHour.

    The post Watch Taj Mahal and Keb Mo sing the “Diving Duck Blues” appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Russo admits the scientific literature is lacking but he remains firm in his belief in the entourage effect. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

    Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

    It’s hard to make sense of cannabis regulation.

    The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) continues to categorize marijuana as a Schedule I drug. That means the government believes it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” putting it in the same league as LSD and heroin. The Trump administration has expressly voiced skepticism of marijuana’s medical benefits, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling them “hyped.” Yet, legal pot has become a multi-billion-dollar industry that stuffs the coffers of eight states where voters have approved its legal recreational use. And nearly 30 states have legalized pot for medicinal purposes so far.

    As a professor who researches and teaches in the area of patent law, I have been monitoring how private companies are quietly securing these patents on cannabis-based products and methods of production, even though marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug. An even richer irony is that the government itself has patented a method of “administering a therapeutically effective amount of a cannabinoids.”This burgeoning industry has also witnessed the issuance of dozens of patents related to cannabinoids and various strains of cannabis, including ones on marijuana-laced lozenges, plant-breeding techniques and methods for making pot-spiked beverages. Some of these products contain a significant amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes people high.

    This engagement with the patent system raises several interesting questions as the legal pot industry grows and medical research on cannabis advances.

    Patenting living things

    First of all, how can anyone or any entity obtain a patent on a living substance that grows in the wild and has been known for about 5,000 years?

    In a landmark 1980 opinion, then-U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that eligibility for patent protection does not depend on whether the substance is living or nonliving. Rather, the key question is whether the inventor has altered nature’s handiwork to the extent the resulting invention can be deemed a nonnaturally occurring substance.

    This U.S. patent on cannabinoids dates back to 2003. Courtesy of United States Patent and Trademark Office.

    Moreover, two federal statutes expressly recognize patent protection on plant varieties, including the 1930 Plant Protection Act, which defined the constitutional term “inventor” as including not only someone who created something new but also someone who is “a discoverer, one who finds or finds out.”

    Accordingly, sexually or asexually reproduced plants – whether geraniums, strawberries or roses – enjoy patent protection. The same goes for different versions, or strains, of the naturally occurring Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica plants, both of which are better known as marijuana.

    No judgment

    And so why, you might ask, does the federal government issue (and own) patents on a substance it says cannot be possessed, sold or grown without breaking the law? And can the people, companies or other entities that hold those patents enforce their rights in a federal court if someone violates them?

    Unlike European patent law, which prohibits patents on inventions considered “contrary to public order or morality,” U.S. patent law is amoral and nonjudgmental.

    U.S. courts have ruled that the Patent and Trademark Office should treat the mundane – bicycles or can openers – and the controversial – such as birth-control devices, genetically altered mice and ammunition – the same way.

    That is why all strains of flowering plants, be they tomatoes or cannabis, bud on the same even playing field.

    However, the Patent and Trademark Office, part of the Commerce Department, and the DEA, a Justice Department agency, follow distinct rules and regulations regarding controlled substances.

    No surprise here, but sometimes these federal rules and regulations over weed conflict. Say the owner of a patent on a particular strain of cannabis sues a marijuana grower in Colorado – which legalized pot for recreational use – for patent infringement in a federal court.Conflicting laws

    Patent law is exclusively federal. Therefore, the grower cannot successfully argue that patent law doesn’t matter. Yet the grower can assert that the patent is unenforceable. Not because it fails to satisfy the patent laws, but because the patent covers an illegal substance.

    The grower could argue that the patent owner can’t stop him from doing something that a state’s law permits, and that federal law forbids the patent owners from doing.

    The patent owner may respond that federal law gives him the right to stop others from using (or growing) their patented invention.

    Therefore, a patent on a particular strain of pot may be used to stop someone from growing or selling it, even in a state that has legalized weed.

    In theory, patent owners may sue to stop anyone from growing specific kinds of patented pot plants in any state or territory – whether or not pot is legal there. To date, this hasn’t happened.

    Prospecting for pot strains

    Finally, why would anyone patent a cannabis strain knowing that their invention is an outlawed Schedule I substance?

    A plausible answer is prospecting. Where there is money to be made now or in the future, entrepreneurs will take risks.

    Growers are already (or soon will be) acting legally under state law in Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – and with some limitations in the District of Columbia. Many cannabis patent applicants are positioning themselves today for what they expect to see within the foreseeable post-Trump future: marijuana being legal for recreational and medical use from coast to coast according to federal and state laws alike.

    Smaller breeders, scientists who alter naturally occuring marijuana plants for medicinal purposes, fear that bioagricultural companies like Monsanto and Syngenta will arm themselves with cannabis-based patents and deploy their considerable economic power to position themselves as dominant forces in a promising market.Not everybody in the cannabis industry has such high hopes (sorry), however.

    Full legalization – slated to happen next year in Canada – is probably years away on this side of the border, given the current political climate. Yet how this looming legal battle plays out will have significant consequences for innovation and the potential for cannabis-derived drugs.

    Craig Nard, Galen J. Roush Professor of Law; Director, Spangenberg Center for Law, Technology & the Arts and the FUSION Certificate Program in Design, Innovation & IP Management, Case Western Reserve University

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    The post Column: How cannabis patents could pave the way for future lawsuits appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WARSAW, Poland — On the eve of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump questioned the veracity of American intelligence about foreign meddling in the U.S. election, arguing Thursday that Russia wasn’t the only country that may have interfered.

    “Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said.

    “Nobody really knows for sure.”

    Opening his second overseas trip as president, Trump also warned North Korea that he’s considering “some pretty severe things” in response to the isolated nation’s unprecedented launch of a missile capable of reaching the U.S. Though he declined to offer specifics on the U.S. response, Trump called on all nations to confront the North’s “very, very bad behavior.”

    As U.S. investigations into Russia’s meddling forge ahead, Trump is under intense scrutiny for how he handles his first face-to-face session with Putin. U.S. intelligence officials say the unpredictable Russia leader ordered interference into the 2016 election that brought Trump to the White House.

    Trump and Putin plan to sit down on Friday in Hamburg, Germany, on the sidelines of an international summit.

    Loathe to cast a shadow on his election victory, Trump has avoided firmly blaming Moscow for campaign hacking in the past, and on Thursday, he was similarly elusive. He argued variably that it could have been Russia, probably was Russia and indeed was Russia, while insisting it could have been other countries, too, and adding: “I won’t be specific.”

    “A lot of people interfere. It’s been happening for a long time.”

    “A lot of people interfere. It’s been happening for a long time,” Trump said in Poland. Asked specifically whether he planned to discuss the issue with Putin, Trump demurred.

    The president sought to redirect scrutiny toward his predecessor, Barack Obama, accusing him of allowing Moscow to meddle on his watch. Though the Obama administration warned Russia publicly and privately before Election Day to stop interfering, questions have since been raised about whether he acted aggressively enough to stop the threat.

    “They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked,” Trump said. “I think he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said, ‘Let’s not do anything about it.'”

    Using information collected by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, the U.S. national intelligence director last year concluded that Moscow was behind the hack of Democratic Party email systems and attempted to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump. The Obama administration said the effort was directed from the “highest levels” of Russia’s government — a reference to Putin.

    Trump said the CIA had informed Obama about the hacking months before the election but added that “mistakes have been made.” Though Trump has made similar statements before, it was an extraordinary public expression of doubt about U.S. intelligence capabilities by a president while standing on foreign soil.

    “They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked,” Trump said. “I think he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said, ‘Let’s not do anything about it.'”

    In his first public comments since North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile this week, Trump declined to offer specifics about what a U.S. response might entail, though he called it a “threat” and said the U.S. would “confront it very strongly.” Trump said it wasn’t certain he’d follow through on the severe steps he was weighing, adding that he does “not draw red lines.”

    “It’s a shame that they’re behaving this way,” Trump said of North Korea’s leaders. “But they are behaving in a very, very dangerous manner, and something will have to be done about it.”

    The U.S. has been considering a range of possible sanctions, economic measures and other steps to confront Pyongyang. The test of an ICBM marked a major technological advancement for North Korea that U.S. officials have described as intensifying the threat against the U.S. by bringing the North closer to being able to mount a nuclear warhead atop a missile that could hit American soil.

    Trump’s comments came as he opened his second visit to Europe, a trip that will also take him to Germany for the Group of 20 economic summit, where he’ll meet with Putin. In Warsaw, Trump used part of a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda to attack several U.S. news organizations for their coverage of his presidency, eliciting sympathy from Duda, who suggested that he, too, was covered unfairly.

    “We don’t want fake news,” Trump said.

    Standing alongside the visiting American, Duda said he hoped Poland would soon sign a long-term contract for U.S. liquefied gas deliveries that will help it cut dependence on Russian oil and gas, which Moscow has previously used as a tool to exert political pressure. Poland received its first U.S. delivery last month, a one-time deal that it hopes to make permanent.

    Drawing an implicit contrast with Russia, Trump pledged that the U.S. would never use energy to coerce eastern and central European nations. He vowed that it wouldn’t allow other nations to coerce them, either.

    Later on Thursday, Trump planned to deliver a speech from Krasinski Square, the site of a monument commemorating the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupation. Crowds waving U.S. and Polish flags gathered ahead of his speech in and around the square, where TV screens were erected to allow more people to see Trump.

    Yet the visit drew some criticism from Poland’s Jewish community, which said it regretted Trump was skipping the traditional presidential visit to a memorial honoring those who fought and died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

    In his speech, Trump planned to call on Poland and all of America’s European allies to stand united against extremism and other “shared enemies” that pose a threat to freedom and sovereignty, according to excerpts of his speech released by the White House in advance.

    “We must work together to counter forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are,” Trump planned to say.

    Trump started his day at the Royal Castle, welcomed by Duda with a vigorous handshake in front of a white marble bust of Stanislaw August Poniatowski, the last king of Poland. Joking later with leaders at a summit of eastern and central European nations, Trump boasted of a thriving U.S. economy but lamented his exclusion from recent stock market gains.

    “Personally, I’ve picked up nothing,” he said.

    The post WATCH: Trump says Russia wasn’t only nation to meddle in 2016 election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Police investigate a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia,  June 14, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

    Police investigate a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

    WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, grievously wounded in a shooting at a baseball practice last month, has been readmitted to the intensive care unit at a Washington hospital, according to the medical facility.

    The six-term Louisiana congressman and third-ranking House Republican was in serious condition Wednesday night and back in intensive care because of new concerns for infection, MedStar Washington Hospital Center said in a statement. The hospital said it would provide an update on Thursday.

    Scalise and four other people were injured last month when a gunman opened fire on a Republican baseball practice in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. U.S. Capitol Police and other officers returned fire and killed the gunman. The rifle-wielding attacker has nursed grievances against President Donald Trump and the GOP.

    The 51-year-old congressman was struck in the hip and the bullet tore into blood vessels, bones and internal organs. He has had several surgeries and had been upgraded to fair condition.

    “Congressman Steve Scalise has been readmitted to the Intensive Care Unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center due to new concerns for infection. His condition is listed as serious,” the hospital said.

    Scalise’s trauma surgeon, Dr. Jack Sava, had told reporters last month that Scalise had arrived at the hospital in shock, with intense internal bleeding and “an imminent risk of death.” Scalise has received multiple blood transfusions, which can affect clotting. Infection also is a risk, especially if the intestines were perforated.

    READ MORE: What about guns divides Americans?

    Scalise’s doctors had warned that his treatment would combine improvements with setbacks, and Wednesday’s announcement was consistent with that, said a person familiar with the lawmaker’s condition who was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The shooting in the Virginia suburb that critically wounded Scalise and injured several others has forced members of Congress to examine their security arrangements to determine if they are sufficient.

    House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has said she favors more money for the U.S. Capitol Police force, which is seeking an 8 percent increase to nearly $427 million for next year. Pelosi, a California Democrat, said more money would help the agency enhance its presence when members of Congress, staff and others congregate away from the Capitol.

    “It’s security for other people who are there, too,” she said at one point. “If somebody is coming after a member of Congress, you don’t want to be anywhere nearby.”

    Members of the U.S. Capitol Police engaged in a shootout with the assailant during the Alexandria incident, and lawmakers said their presence probably prevented many deaths. Two police officers were injured; the shooter, James Hodgkinson, later died.

    The police were at the ballfield in Virginia because Scalise is the majority whip and a member of the leadership. Other members of Congress are not afforded the same security as congressional leaders.

    “It seems self-evident that when the teams are practicing, there should be security there,” Pelosi said.

    Even before the shooting, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Pelosi had begun talking about changes that could improve members’ safety, said Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong.

    The post Scalise readmitted in serious condition after June baseball practice shooting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the defence detachment on Jangjae Islet and the Hero Defence Detachment on Mu Islet located in the southernmost part of the waters off the southwest front, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 5, 2017. KCNA/ via REUTERS

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the defence detachment on Jangjae Islet and the Hero Defence Detachment on Mu Islet located in the southernmost part of the waters off the southwest front, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 5, 2017. KCNA/ via REUTERS

    WASHINGTON — Having lost patience with China, the Trump administration is studying new steps to starve North Korea of cash for its nuclear program, including an option that would infuriate Beijing: sanctions on Chinese companies that help keep the North’s economy afloat.

    It’s an approach that’s paid off for the U.S. in the past, especially with Iran, where American economic penalties helped drive Tehran to the nuclear negotiating table. Yet there are significant risks, too, including the possibility of opening a new rift with Beijing that could complicate U.S. diplomatic efforts on other critical issues.

    The renewed look at “secondary sanctions” comes as Washington seeks a forceful response to North Korea’s test this week of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could strike the United States. Few are advocating a military intervention that could endanger millions of lives in allied South Korea across the border. But options for turning the screw on the North financially also are imperfect.

    “I don’t like to talk about what I have planned, but I have some pretty severe things that we’re thinking about.”

    “I don’t like to talk about what I have planned, but I have some pretty severe things that we’re thinking about,” President Donald Trump said Thursday during an appearance at a news conference in Poland. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to do them.”

    He said the U.S. would be watching what happens in the coming weeks and months but chided North Korea for “behaving in a very, very dangerous manner” and added: “Something will have to be done about it.”

    Already, a wide array of U.S. and international sanctions target North Korean entities and officials, making it illegal for Americans to do business with them. The U.S. also has pursued companies outside North Korea accused of surreptitiously helping the communist country, such as a small Chinese bank the U.S. penalized last week for allegedly laundering money for North Korea.

    But the U.S. thus far has avoided what sanctions experts describe as a logical escalation: secondary sanctions targeting banks and companies that do any business with North Korea — even legitimate transactions that aren’t explicitly prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

    Nikki Haley, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, told an emergency session of the council Wednesday that the world must do more to “cut off the major sources of hard currency to the North Korean regime.”

    “We will look at any country that chooses to do business with this outlaw regime,” Haley said.

    On the Korean Peninsula on Thursday, South Korean jets and navy ships fired a barrage of guided-missiles into the ocean during drills, a display of military power two days after North Korea test-launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile. The live-fire drills off South Korea’s east coast were previously scheduled.

    “We will look at any country that chooses to do business with this outlaw regime.”

    In a show of force, South Korea and the United States also staged “deep strike” precision missile firing drills on Wednesday as a warning to the North. Thursday’s drills were aimed at boosting readiness against possible maritime North Korean aggression. They involved 15 warships including a 3,200-ton-class destroyer, as well as helicopters and fighter jets, South Korea’s navy said.

    “Our military is maintaining the highest-level of readiness to make a swift response even if a war breaks out today,” said Rear Adm. Kwon Jeong Seob, who directed the drills, according to the statement.

    Potential sanctions targets previously identified by the Treasury Department include companies based in China, U.S. officials have said. Some may have no business with Americans or U.S. firms, making it harder for the U.S. to limit their operations or freeze assets. But secondary sanctions would still force such companies to stop doing business with North Korea or risk losing their access to the U.S. financial system, and with it, the dollar — the world’s main currency for global trade and finance.

    Beijing steadfastly opposes such measures. It says sanctions would hurt China’s interests and criticizes the approach for being one-sided, as opposed to international penalties that are globally agreed.

    “The U.S. needs to understand the Chinese will never allow Chinese companies and individuals to be designated (for sanctions) at the U.N., and the U.S. dollar is still pre-eminent. So the U.S. has leverage,” said Anthony Ruggiero at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which advocates for a tough approach to North Korea’s nuclear program.

    Trump, in recent days, appears to have concluded that his early efforts to enlist China’s cooperation on North Korea haven’t paid off. On Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter to chastise China for allowing its trade with the North to grow in recent months even as the U.S. urged a reduction.

    “So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!” Trump wrote.

    Senior U.S. officials said imposing sanctions on companies dealing with the North was among several steps considered after the ICBM launch, as U.S. intelligence, military and diplomatic officials reviewed different possibilities.

    The Trump administration hasn’t given up hope China will change course and step up pressure on North Korea, officials said.

    In Congress, lawmakers have proposed new sanctions on North Korea’s shipping industry and alleged use of slave labor. The House passed a bill in May, but the Senate has yet to approve it.

    Secondary sanctions on North Korea would borrow from President Barack Obama’s Iran approach before the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. After Congress authorized such penalties, the Obama administration worked with nations around the world to get them to reduce their oil imports from Tehran, while negotiating secretly with Iranian officials. The sanctions effectively deterred European firms from doing business with Iran and commercial powers such as China and India were encouraged to buy less Iranian petroleum.

    North Korea’s isolation, which is far greater than Iran’s was, could make it even more susceptible to such pressure. China accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade.

    But China has leverage, too, which is why previous U.S. administrations have held back. China is now the world’s second-largest economy, it holds trillions of dollars in U.S. debt and its companies are increasingly tied financially with the West. And angering Beijing could lead to unpredictable responses in places like the South China Sea, where Beijing has various territorial disputes with America’s allies and partners in Southeast Asia.

    “It will put a magnifying glass on Chinese businesses that the Chinese government may not want,” said Doreen Edelman, an attorney at Baker Donelson who specializes in sanctions compliance.

    The post To hurt North Korea, Trump administration may sanction Chinese companies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Illinois state capitol

    Photo by Flickr user pioneer98

    Illinois House approves state budget, ends historic impasse

    SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois House voted Thursday to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of a budget package, giving the state its first spending blueprint in more than two years and ending the nation’s longest fiscal stalemate since at least the Great Depression.

    Lawmakers have been meeting in a special session called precisely to deal with the budget. The session was widely seen as a battle between the first-term governor, a former private equity investor, and longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago.

    The budget is retroactive to July 1 — the start of the fiscal year. That’s the date a permanent 32 percent tax increase takes effect. Individuals will pay 4.95 percent instead of 3.75 percent. The corporate rate jumps to 7 percent from 5.25 percent.

    Lawmakers approved the bill to raise taxes by a 71-42 vote. The spending bill passed 74-37. It takes 71 yes votes to override.

    Rauner vetoed the measures because he sees no indication that the Democratic-controlled Legislature will send him the “structural” changes he’s demanded. Those include a statewide property tax freeze, cost-cutting restrictions on compensation for injured workers, changes to pension benefits for state employees, and reforms making it easier for voters to merge or eliminate local governing bodies.

    The standoff, which entered a third fiscal year on July 1, had potentially disastrous side effects statewide. The state has a $6.2 billion annual deficit and $14.7 billion in overdue bills.

    As a result, road construction work shut down. Public universities were cut to the bone and faced a loss of academic accreditation. The United Way predicted the demise of 36 percent of all human-services agencies in Illinois by year’s end.

    Credit-rating houses threatened to downgrade the state’s creditworthiness to “junk,” signaling to investors that buying state debt is a highly speculative venture. Two agencies gave Illinois some breathing room Monday after House votes over the weekend.

    But on Wednesday a third credit-rating agency, Moody’s Investors Service, put Illinois under review for a downgrade even if lawmakers overrode the veto. Moody’s said that while lawmakers have made progress, the package the House will consider Thursday does not address the state’s massively underfunded pensions or do enough to pay down bills.

    At least a few House Republicans remained defiant and pledged to vote against the governor, whose massive personal wealth has largely funded the state Republican Party.

    Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights said he supported the budget plan because it is “immoral” for the state to carry a huge backlog of bills and pay $800 million in late-payment interest.

    He compared the standoff to a game of “chicken.”

    “If it requires some of us to blink to save our state, so be it,” said Harris.

    The governor already faces several Democratic heavyweights hoping to displace him in the 2018 election.

    Government has limped along for two years on the strength of court-ordered spending, but the state comptroller says the treasury will be $185 million short of what’s needed to cover basic services by August.

    Associated Press Writer Sara Burnett contributed to this report from Chicago.

    The post Illinois approves spending plan, ending nation’s longest budget stalemate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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