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

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    The Houston skyline is seen in the background as Buffalo Bayou is seen flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey in Texas, U.S.

    The Houston skyline is seen in the background as Buffalo Bayou is seen flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey in Texas on Aug. 30, 2017. Photo by /Adrees Latif/Reuters

    HIGHLANDS, Texas — As Dwight Chandler sipped beer and swept out the thick muck caked inside his devastated home, he worried whether Harvey’s floodwaters had also washed in pollution from the old acid pit just a couple blocks away.

    The Associated Press surveyed seven Superfund sites in and around Houston during the flooding. All had been inundated with water, in some cases many feet deep.

    Long a center of the nation’s petrochemical industry, the Houston metro area has more than a dozen Superfund sites, designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as being among America’s most intensely contaminated places. Many are now flooded, with the risk that waters were stirring dangerous sediment.

    The Highlands Acid Pit site near Chandler’s home was filled in the 1950s with toxic sludge and sulfuric acid from oil and gas operations. Though 22,000 cubic yards of hazardous waste and soil were excavated from the acid pits in the 1980s, the site is still considered a potential threat to groundwater, and the EPA maintains monitoring wells there.

    When he was growing up in Highlands, Chandler, now 62, said he and his friends used to swim in the by-then abandoned pit.

    “My daddy talks about having bird dogs down there to run and the acid would eat the pads off their feet,” he recounted on Thursday. “We didn’t know any better.”

    The Associated Press surveyed seven Superfund sites in and around Houston during the flooding. All had been inundated with water, in some cases many feet deep.

    On Saturday, hours after the AP published its first report, the EPA said it had reviewed aerial imagery confirming that 13 of the 41 Superfund sites in Texas were flooded by Harvey and were “experiencing possible damage” due to the storm.

    The statement confirmed the AP’s reporting that the EPA had not yet been able to physically visit the Houston-area sites, saying the sites had “not been accessible by response personnel.” EPA staff had checked on two Superfund sites in Corpus Christi on Thursday and found no significant damage.

    AP journalists used a boat to document the condition of one flooded Houston-area Superfund site, but accessed others with a vehicle or on foot. The EPA did not respond to questions about why its personnel had not yet been able to do so.

    READ NEXT: As hundreds of toxic sites await cleanup, questions over Superfund program’s future

    “Teams are in place to investigate possible damage to these sites as soon flood waters recede, and personnel are able to safely access the sites,” the EPA statement said.

    Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, speaking with reporters at a news conference on Saturday after the AP report was published, said he wants the EPA “in town to address the situation.”

    Turner said he didn’t know about the potential environmental concerns soon enough to discuss them with President Donald Trump.

    “Now we’re turning out attention to that,” he said. “It is always a concern. The environment is very concerning, and we’ll get right on top of it.”

    At the Highlands Acid Pit on Thursday, the Keep Out sign on the barbed-wire fence encircling the 3.3-acre site barely peeked above the churning water from the nearby San Jacinto River.

    A fishing bobber was caught in the chain link, and the air smelled bitter. A rusted incinerator sat just behind the fence, poking out of the murky soup.

    Across the road at what appeared to be a more recently operational plant, a pair of tall white tanks had tipped over into a heap of twisted steel. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, might have been inside them when the storm hit.

    Residents use a canoe to navigate through flood waters brought by Tropical Storm Harvey in Northwest Houston

    Residents use a canoe to navigate through flood waters brought by Tropical Storm Harvey in Northwest Houston, Texas, U.S. August 30, 2017. Picture taken August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif – RC1AE8A76140

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called cleaning up Superfund sites a top priority, even as he has taken steps to roll back or delay rules aimed at preventing air and water pollution. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget seeks to cut money for the Superfund program by 30 percent, though congressional Republicans are likely to approve a less severe reduction.

    Like Trump, Pruitt has expressed skepticism about the predictions of climate scientists that warmer air and seas will produce stronger, more drenching storms.

    Under the Obama administration, the EPA conducted a nationwide assessment of the increased threat to Superfund sites posed by climate change, including rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes. Of the more than 1,600 sites reviewed as part of the 2012 study, 521 were determined to be in 1-in-100 year and 1-in-500 year flood zones. Nearly 50 sites in coastal areas could also be vulnerable to rising sea levels.

    The threats to human health and wildlife from rising waters that inundate Superfund sites vary widely depending on the specific contaminants and the concentrations involved. The EPA report specifically noted the risk that floodwaters might carry away and spread toxic materials over a wider area.

    The report listed two dozen Superfund sites determined to be especially vulnerable to flooding and sea-level rise. The only one in Texas, the Bailey Waste Disposal site south of Beaumont, is on a marshy island along the Neches River. The National Weather Service said the Neches was expected to crest on Saturday at more than 21 feet above flood stage — 8 feet higher than the prior record.

    READ NEXT: Skeptics voice concerns over EPA plan for worst toxic waste sites

    In Crosby, across the San Jacinto River from Houston, a small working-class neighborhood sits between two Superfund sites, French LTD and the Sikes Disposal Pits.

    The area was wrecked by Harvey’s floods. Only a single house from among the roughly dozen lining Hickory Lane was still standing.

    After the water receded on Friday, a sinkhole the size of a swimming pool had opened up and swallowed two cars. The acrid smell of creosote filled the air.

    Rafael Casas’ family had owned a house there for two decades, adjacent to the French LTD site. He said he was never told about the pollution risk until it came up in an informal conversation with a police officer who grew up nearby. Most of the homes had groundwater wells, but Casas said his family had switched to bottled water.

    “You never know what happens with the pollution under the ground,” said Casas, 32. “It filters into the water system.”

    The water had receded by Saturday at Brio Refining Inc. and Dixie Oil Processors, a pair of neighboring Superfund sites about 20 miles southeast of downtown Houston in Friendswood. The road was coated in a layer of silt. Mud Gully Stream, which bisects the two sites, was full and flowing with muddy water.

    Both sites were capped with a liner and soil as part of EPA-supervised cleanup efforts aimed at preventing the contamination from spreading off the low-lying sites during floods. Parts of the Brio site were elevated by 8 feet.

    [Watch Video]

    John Danna, the manager hired by the companies to oversee the sites, said in a phone interview that he went there after the storm and saw no signs of erosion. He said he didn’t know how high the flooding got in Harvey’s wake and that no testing of the water still draining from the area had been conducted. EPA staff are expected to visit in the next week, he said.

    A security guard at the Patrick Bayou Superfund site, just off the Houston Ship Channel in Deer Park, said Saturday that flooding came hundreds of feet inland during the storm. The water has since receded back into the bayou, where past testing has shown the sediments contain pesticides, toxic heavy metals and PCBs. The site, surrounded by active petrochemical facilities, is still awaiting a final plan for cleanup.

    The San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site was completely covered with floodwaters when an AP reporter saw it Thursday. According to its website, the EPA was set to make a final decision this year about a proposed $97 million cleanup effort to remove toxic waste from a paper mill that operated there in the 1960s.

    The flow from the raging river washing over the toxic site was so intense it damaged an adjacent section of the Interstate 10 bridge, which has been closed to traffic due to concerns it might collapse.

    There was no way to immediately assess how much contaminated soil from the site might have been washed away. According to an EPA survey from last year, soil from the former waste pits contains dioxins and other long-lasting toxins linked to birth defects and cancer.

    The EPA said Saturday the San Jacinto Waste Pits site is covered by a temporary “armored cap,” a fabric covering anchored with rocks designed to prevent contaminated sediment from migrating down river.

    Kara Cook-Schultz, who studies Superfund sites for the advocacy group TexPIRG, said environmentalists have warned for years about the potential for flooding to inundate Texas Superfund sites.

    McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp., one of the companies responsible for the site, said in a statement Saturday that its contractors reported that “visible portions of the cap indicated the waste beneath remained in place following the storm.” Ken Haldin, a public relations consultant representing the company, said he did not know how much of the 34-acre site was above water at the time of the inspection.

    According to an EPA review last year, the cap has required extensive repairs on at least six occasions since it was installed in 2011, with large sections becoming displaced or going missing.

    The EPA said its personnel planned to go to the site by boat on Monday.

    Kara Cook-Schultz, who studies Superfund sites for the advocacy group TexPIRG, said environmentalists have warned for years about the potential for flooding to inundate Texas Superfund sites, particularly the San Jacinto Waste Pits.

    “If floodwaters have spread the chemicals in the waste pits, then dangerous chemicals like dioxin could be spread around the wider Houston area,” Cook-Schultz said. “Superfund sites are known to be the most dangerous places in the country, and they should have been properly protected against flooding.”

    Associated Press writer Jay Reeves contributed to this report. Biesecker reported from Washington.

    The post AP Exclusive: Toxic waste sites flooded in Houston area appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Russian embassy on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington

    A view of the Russian embassy on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, U.S., December 29, 2016. Photo by James Lawler Duggan/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The United States seized control Saturday of three Russian diplomatic posts in the U.S. after confirming the Russians had complied with the Trump administration’s order to get out within two days, officials said.

    As the Kremlin cried foul, accusing Washington of bullying tactics, the U.S. disputed Moscow’s claims that American officials had threatened to “break down the entrance door” to one of the facilities, and that the FBI was “clearing the premises.” Not true, said a senior State Department official, adding that U.S. officials had joined Russian Embassy personnel for walkthroughs of the three buildings.

    “These inspections were carried out to secure and protect the facilities and to confirm the Russian government had vacated the premises,” the official said in a statement emailed Saturday to reporters by the State Department on condition the official not be named.

    Russia has been incensed by the move to shutter Russia’s consulate in San Francisco and trade offices in Washington and New York, actions the U.S. took in retaliation for Moscow’s decision last month to force the U.S. to cut its diplomatic personnel in Russia to 455. Moscow has accused the U.S. of violating international law by shuttering the facilities, a charge the U.S. disputes.

    On Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the U.S. deputy chief of mission in Moscow, Anthony Godfrey, to deliver a formal protest note calling the purported trade office search an “unprecedented aggressive action.”

    [Watch Video]

    The Foreign Ministry also posted video on Facebook that it said showed FBI agents inspecting the consulate general building in San Francisco. In the video, a man in a tie knocks on several numbered doors and enters what appears to be apartment units, taking a quick glance inside before declaring everything in order.

    There was no additional comment from the U.S. about whether the FBI was involved in the inspections. The State Department declined to answer additional questions about whether the premises might be searched for intelligence-gathering purposes now that the Russians have left.

    On Saturday night, lights shined brightly on several floors of the consulate in San Francisco and some windows were wide open.

    A day earlier, black smoke was seen billowing from the chimney at the consulate as the Russians rushed to meet the Saturday deadline, and workers could be seen hauling boxes out of the stately building.

    The U.S. did appear to bow to one Russian complaint — that they were given a mere 48 hours to vacate homes used by diplomats and their families. Softening the original order, the U.S. said it had made “separate arrangements” to give families “sufficient time” to pack their belongings and vacate apartments on the consulate grounds.

    WATCH NEXT: Inside Putin’s Russia

    The U.S. wouldn’t disclose how long the Russians would have to move out of the residential part of the consulate, other than to say that Moscow had been informed of the new deadline. In the meantime, the State Department will control all access to the properties, along with the responsibility for securing and maintaining them, the official said.

    The closures on both U.S. coasts mark perhaps the most drastic diplomatic measure by the United States against Russia since 1986, near the end of the Cold War, when the nuclear-armed powers expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats.

    And it comes amid some of the broadest strains in their relationship ever since. The two countries have clashed over the wars in Ukraine and Syria, but most significantly over American allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to boost President Donald Trump’s chances of victory. Investigations continue into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.

    The post U.S. seizes control of Russian posts in San Francisco, D.C., NY appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend "Day of Prayer" service

    President Donald Trump is greeted by Assistant Rector D. Andrew Olivo as he arrives at St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square, across from the White House, for a national “Day of Prayer” service, for victims of the Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas, in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 3, 2017. Photo by Mike Theiler/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is attending a church service on a National Day of Prayer for Harvey victims.

    Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived at St. John’s Church, an Episcopal church near the White House, on Sunday morning.

    Trump had declared Sunday a National Day of Prayer for Harvey victims and recovery efforts in Texas and Louisiana. In his official proclamation he called on “Americans of all faiths and religious traditions and backgrounds to offer prayers today for all those harmed by Hurricane Harvey.”

    Trump made a second visit on Saturday to communities devastated by Harvey, traveling to Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana.

    The White House has asked Congress to approve $7.9 billion for initial relief efforts when lawmakers return to Washington on Tuesday.

    The post Trump attends church service on National Day of Prayer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Trump greets South Korean President Moon Jae-in prior to delivering joint statement at the White House in Washington

    U.S. President Donald Trump greets South Korean President Moon Jae-in prior to delivering a joint statement from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2017. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is considering triggering a withdrawal from a free trade agreement with South Korea, a business lobbying group said Saturday, raising concerns about a move that could cause a fresh economic rift between allies at a moment of heightened tensions with a common foe.

    The White House alerted lawmakers that a notification of intent to withdraw could come as soon as Tuesday, the U.S Chamber of Commerce wrote in an “all hands on deck” note calling on members to lobby the administration to stay in the deal.

    Trump, who has blasted the bilateral agreement in the past, acknowledged Saturday he was consulting with his advisers on the future of the agreement. But he did not elaborate on timing. The agreement is “very much on my mind,” Trump told a reporter from Reuters as he surveyed storm damage in Houston.

    Trump is weighing the issue at a perilous moment for the Korea peninsula. The U.S. and South Korea are aligned in heightened standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program. The North claimed it had successful developed a hydrogen bomb that can be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile. The White House had no immediate response to that claim.

    The administration has been in talks to make adjustments to the trade agreement known as KORUS. A White House official noted that U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer met with Korean officials in July to begin negotiations. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and asked for anonymity, said talks are ongoing.

    [Watch Video]

    Trump has labeled the agreement, which went into effect in 2012, a bad deal. He’s made renegotiating free trade deals a key piece of his nationalist economic agenda. Among his first moves as president was scrapping his predecessor’s massive, multilateral Trans Pacific Partnership.

    In its note to members, the chamber said a withdrawal from KORUS would represent a further retrenchment from Asia.

    “The U.S will lose significant market share to the EU, Australia, China and others while sending a very dangerous message that America is not interested in doing business in Asia,” wrote Tami Overby, the group’s senior vice president for Asia.

    The post Trump weighs pulling out of free trade deal with South Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump listens during his joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX3DQUK

    Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    TOKYO — President Donald Trump says the United States is considering halting trade with “any country doing business with North Korea.”

    Trump said on Twitter Sunday that the approach was under consideration, “in addition to other options,” after North Korea detonated a thermonuclear device in its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that he was putting together new sanctions seeking to cut off trade with North Korea. On “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin described Pyongyang’s behavior as “completely unacceptable.”

    [Watch Video]

    Trump is meeting with his national security team Sunday afternoon to discuss North Korea.

    The president was asked if he would attack North Korea as he left a church service Sunday. He said: “We’ll see.”

    The post U.S. considers trade sanctions over North Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Explosives experts defused a massive World War Two bomb after tens of thousands of people evacuated their homes in Frankfurt

    Explosives experts defused a massive World War Two bomb after tens of thousands of people evacuated their homes in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sept. 3, 2017. Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

    Bomb experts successfully defused a World War II-era bomb in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday after police directed some 60,000 residents living within about a mile of it to leave their homes in advance.

    Construction workers found the British bomb, which weighed around 1.8 tons, on Tuesday in the neighborhood that is now regarded as the German financial capital, according to the Associated Press. The Royal Air Force dropped the bomb during the war, and on Sunday, it prompted the largest evacuation the country has seen in the 72 years since then.

    Some residents resisted the evacuation order, causing bomb experts’ defusing of the live weapon to be delayed, even as Frankfurt police and fire officials warned that they would evacuate the area by force if necessary. The fire chief had projected that if the bomb exploded outside of a controlled circumstance, an entire block could have been obliterated, according to Reuters.

    Police officers get their instructions as 60,000 people in Germany's financial capital are about to evacuate the city while experts defuse an unexploded British World War Two bomb found during renovations on the university's campus in Frankfurt

    Police officers get their instructions as 60,000 people in Germany’s financial capital are about to evacuate the city while experts defuse an unexploded British World War Two bomb found during renovations on the university’s campus in Frankfurt, Germany, September 3, 2017. Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

    Every year, German officials discover more than 2,000 tons of unexploded bombs. This past July, kindergarten teachers in the city of Darmstadt found another World War II-era live bomb in the school, prompting the building to be evacuated, according to Reuters.

    READ NEXT: Mitsubishi apologizes for using American POWs as laborers in WWII

    Sunday’s evacuation followed one in the city of Koblenz on Saturday, in which 21,000 people were ordered to clear the area so bomb technicians could dismantle a 1,100-pound U.S. bomb, according to the Associated Press.

    The post Experts defuse WWII bomb in Frankfurt after 60,000 ordered to evacuate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Residents move through flood waters brought by Tropical Storm Harvey in Northwest Houston

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    MEGAN THOMPSON, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Houston is an industrial city, central to the nation’s oil and gas industry, and home to one of the busiest ports in the country. It’s also home to more than a dozen of the 41 superfund sites in Texas. Those are areas contaminated with toxic waste that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is charged with cleaning up.

    This week, reporters from The Associated Press surveyed seven of Houston’s superfund sites to assess the damage from Harvey.

    AP reporter Michael Biesecker joins us now to discuss this.

    I wanted to first ask you, can you just describe us to what these superfund sites are? What are they contaminated with? And are more they more dangerous than the chemical plants and refineries around Houston?

    MICHAEL BIESECKER, REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, they’re legacy pollution sites. Most were created in the 1950s and 1960s when environmental regulations were much weaker and often because industrial process water they are next to rivers. They’re next to lakes. So, these are ducts (ph) and PCBs, heavy metals like lead and arsenic that have been in the soil, in sediment at these sites for decades.

    And the EPA’s job is to try to clean those up and find responsible parties, the companies who originally caused the pollution and see if they can pay for the clean up. When they can’t, taxpayers are on the hook and we pay to clean up the sites as funds become available.

    THOMPSON: Can you tell us what did you guys find and what are the threats from the flooding?

    BIESECKER: Well, there are about a dozen superfund sites in the greater Houston area. AP’s journalists were able to make it to seven of those sites. We prioritize ones we knew we’re one in 100-year flood plains which are the areas most likely to flood. And we found all seven have been inundated by water.

    Now, you know, the risk posed by these sites depends a lot on what remediation has taken place through the years, has soil and sediment been removed? Have they been capped, often they’re capped with a fiber liner that’s weighted down with rocks to try to prevent flooding. Both the EPA and environmental watchdogs have been warning about these sites close to waterways for a long time. And they are at risk of flooding.

    THOMPSON: The EPA is defensive about your reporting, and today, they put out a statement saying that the article is misleading, they say that they have conducted assessments at 41 sites — that 28 have not been damaged, 13 have been damaged. They say they worked to secure the sites before Harvey hit.

    How do you respond?

    BIESECKER: Well, you know, EPA can speak for itself, but for their calling our reporting misleading, if you carefully release carefully, they confirm what our reporting said which is, yes, there are 41 sites throughout Texas. Yes, EPA has been able to inspect two sites in Corpus Christi. But in the Houston area which suffered much more dire flooding, EPA has not yet been at those site.

    Now, they say from aerial photography that 13 sites appear to have flooded in Texas, including the ones around Houston that we highlighted. But we asked EPA why our reporters were able to make it to these sites and EPA said it was still too dangerous for them to send crews out to assess the damage or to collect samples to monitor whether pollution has spread. They hope to get there next week. Why we were able to make it there and why they weren’t, you would have to ask them.

    Scott Pruitt, the administrator of EPA, has been on the record saying he thinks that projections of climate scientist, is that hurricanes will be stronger and wetter are alarmist and it’s not an issue that at this point, they seem to be planning for addressing. We asked whether Hurricane Harvey had altered Administrator Pruitt’s perspective at all on the risk from climate change, the response we got was from an EPA spokeswoman who said that was an effort to politicize the tragedy.

    THOMPSON: All right. Michael Biesecker of “The Associated Press”, thank you so much for being with us.

    BIESECKER: Good to be with you.

    The post Surveying toxic waste sites flooded by Harvey appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Demonstrators organized by MoveOn.org hold a protest rally outside the Department of Justice demanding the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Washington

    Demonstrators organized by MoveOn.org hold a protest rally outside the Department of Justice demanding the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Washington March 2, 2017. Photo by James Lawler Duggan/Reuters

    ATLANTA — The Virginia House of Delegates. The Arizona attorney general’s office. Atlanta City Hall.

    Seats of power unaccustomed to intense political attention are the focus of liberal groups as they try to turn the Trump resistance movement into tangible victories.

    Long-established organizations such as MoveOn.org to newer outfits like “Our Revolution,” the offshoot of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful presidential campaign, are backing scores of candidates for down-ballot races in 2017 as a precursor to next year’s elections, when Democrats will try to dent the GOP’s monopoly in Washington.

    They’ve already picked up some victories.

    Newly elected Mayor Chokwe Lumumba won in Jackson, Mississippi, promising to make the city “the most radical … on the planet.” New York lawmaker Christine Pellegrino, a Sanders delegate in 2016, prevailed in a special election in a state House district President Donald Trump won easily in November.

    READ NEXT: Can the left’s grassroots activists curb Trump’s influence?

    “There’s a groundswell of progressive leaders already running and winning,” said Joe Dinkin of the Working Families Party, which endorsed both Lumumba and Pellegrino. “They’re doing it by taking ideas pundits may have called outside the political mainstream and putting them at the center of the conversation.”

    It’s a page from the conservative movement’s playbook, with activists and their chosen candidates operating mostly outside the official party structure to reshape Democrats’ identity from the ground up. They want to win seats held by Republicans — as Pellegrino did in New York — and elect more liberal candidates even in Democratic strongholds, like Lumumba in Jackson.

    The idea, they say, is not just to build a stronger bench that produces future senators, governors and presidents, but redefine the party by delivering on issues from a minimum-wage increase and universal health care to overhauling police practices and the criminal justice system.

    “We don’t have to wait for 2020,” said Annie Weinberg, the chief elections strategist for Democracy for America, the political action committee founded by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

    “We can fight and win on these policies now,” Weinberg added, describing an “inclusive populism” she says speaks to working-class angst, like Trump did, while maintaining Democrats’ current positions on social policy.

    Weinberg says her group has heard from “more than 7,000 people” expressing interest in running for office. The organization has endorsed dozens of candidates in 2017, including a slate of Democrats aiming to flip control of the Virginia House of Delegates this fall.

    [Watch Video]

    Working Families, meanwhile, is sending out more than 1,000 candidate questionnaires to 2017 municipal candidates.

    At MoveOn, executive director Ilya Sheyman says he expects his group to back “dozens and dozens of down-ballot candidates” in the coming election after barely playing in local races for the first 19 years of its existence. “It’s not enough just to fight in federal races given how much the down-ballot races will affect what happens to the Democratic Party five, 10, even 15 years from now,” Sheyman said.

    In Atlanta, mayoral candidate Vincent Fort, long a liberal voice in the Georgia General Assembly, has the backing of Our Revolution and Working Families.

    Fort said the ideas he and other candidates on the left are offering have been around long before Trump’s election.

    “City Hall for too long has been under the control and too responsive to the 1 percent,” Fort said, offering a localized version of Sanders’ presidential stump speech, only subbing local developers and the city’s professional sports teams — all recipients of various tax credits and outright subsidies — for the Vermont senator’s digs at “millionaires and billionaires” at “the big banks.”

    But Fort said he’s perfectly willing to feed off the anti-Trump energy.

    “We are a critical juncture in this atmosphere,” he said. “In a Trump world, we need strong elected progressive officials … and people understand that if there’s going to be change, it’s going to have to happen at the local level.”

    Democracy for America is focusing on a Washington state Senate special election that could give Democrats “trifecta” control of the state — the governor’s office and both legislative chambers — and the group has endorsed 16 candidates in the Virginia House of Delegates, which is now controlled by Republicans.

    Those legislative races in Virginia and elsewhere will in turn play a critical role in shaping Congress. State lawmakers draw congressional district boundaries, a task that Republicans used after the 2010 census to give the GOP a considerable advantage in building a U.S. House majority.

    Democracy for America has lined up behind a 2018 Arizona attorney general candidate, January Contreras, who could become a key voice in fighting Trump administration immigration policy.

    A Working Families candidate in Detroit could be a quiet influence on a presidential race. Garlin Gilchrist is running for city clerk on a platform of making it easier to vote in the largest city of a battleground state that Trump won by 10,000 votes.

    And where they don’t win, the liberal activists say they will see progress. Democracy for America made 300,000 phone calls in a Kansas special congressional election this spring that national Democrats had largely ignored. Republican Ron Estes still won, but by 6 percentage points — after a 30-point GOP win last November.

    “We do play to win,” Weinberg said. “But we know this is not a three-month process or a six-month process or even a one-cycle process.”

    The post Trump resistance groups look beyond Washington for victories appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    MEGAN THOMPSON, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: To help us understand what this all means, we’re joined from Denver by Christopher Hill, the dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

    Among his many diplomatic posts, Mr. Hill has served as ambassador to South Korea and has headed the U.S. delegation at talks on the North Korean nuclear issue.

    Can we first just start off, can you just describe to us the difference between a hydrogen bomb and other nuclear weapons that North Korea has tested in the past? I mean, how much more of a threat is this?

    CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: Well, it’s just a much bigger bomb. It’s something on the order of eight to ten times bigger than anything they have tested before and it’s much bigger than the bombs that were dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. So, it speaks to the fact they are deadly serious about this program, they don’t just want some little symbolic deterrent. They have a very serious program toward a serious end, and I think we need to be extremely concerned about it.

    THOMPSON: Talk about being concerned, I mean, what kind of destruction could a bomb like this cause and how big is the threat to the United States? I mean, how could weapons like this reach?

    HILL: Well, it’s a function, of course, of the missile that it’s used on. And it’s also a function of whether they can marry up a hydrogen bomb to missile. I mean, a so-called deliverable weapon that they have been talking about.

    They say they can do it. I don’t think too many experts believe they had the experience yet. It’s very complex. You have to send a missile into near outer space. It has to come down with enormous and still, the war needs to survive and then detonate. So, a lot of questions there.

    But no question that they are really moving ahead with this and they are taking aim at the United States. And I think it’s not just to protect themselves against a supposed U.S. attack on North Korea, rather it’s an effort to essentially hold us at risk in the event that we have to go to war to protect South Korea.

    THOMPSON: Last week, they launched a ballistic missile over Japan, today, we have this. I mean, do you think that this signals an escalation in the aggression by the North Koreans. And can you talk a little bit more about what their goal is with all of this?

    HILL: Well, first of all, it does look like an acceleration and aggressiveness. It can also be a testing program. I mean, a lot of these things are kind of technical in nature. They are testing various delivery systems and weapon systems.

    But whatever it is, it’s a very serious program. And the serious program essentially not just sort of a one-off deterrence this notion that if you attack us, we will launch a nuclear weapon at you. It’s pretty clear that they have in mind a capacity such that were they to be in a war with South Korea and were the U.S. to say, OK, South Koreans, we’re at your side, you know, per our requirements in the alliance, the North Koreans would say, not so fast, because we can hit your homeland and we can wipe out a city with one of our hydrogen weapons.

    And, of course, the U.S. response would be, well, if you do that, we’ll wipe you out. And the North Koreans kind of go, game on.

    So, the issue is really, would the North — could the North Koreans put a U.S. president in position of fulfilling alliance requirements and at the same time, creating a situation where U.S. population centers are at risk. So, this is an extremely serious matter right now.

    THOMPSON: Secretary Mattis warn of a massive military response. I mean, what should the U.S. be doing?

    HILL: Well, I think the U.S. needs to be doing sort of all the things it’s already doing, you know, ratcheting up sanctions, et cetera. But I think it’s very important that the U.S. have a sort of action plan to see what could be done to retard the North Korean program. And it needs to be done really together with China.

    The issue with China not so much the issue of sanctions, although obviously, China needs to do more to uphold the sanctions regime, as they have been doing lately. The issue is really to have an understanding with the Chinese about what our expectations are for them and what their expectations are for us — a kind of deep dive. And I think it’s important to understand that we can’t just give that through tweets in the night or through an occasional phone call. We have to have a in-depth discussion with the Chinese about expectations.

    THOMPSON: All right. Ambassador Christopher Hill, thank you so much for joining us.

    The post Putting North Korea’s nuclear test into context appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    harvey

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    MARCIA BIGGS, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND: This is what it looks like inside the kitchen of Matt and Mariana Kremer’s home in west Houston. Floodwaters are up to the counters. That’s part of their sofa, which floated in from the living room.

    Just last night, for the first time since Harvey hit, Houston officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for their neighborhood, where floodwaters have yet to recede.

    Today, Matt tried to get back to check on their home, but police turned him away.

    Even though Mariana is 8 months pregnant, the Kremers initially decided to stay put and ride out the storm. But their living room slowly turned from this… to this.

    MARIANA KREMERS: “You’ve got to hold mommy’s hand.”

    Six days ago, they decided to flee.

    Mariana filmed the family boarding a Good Samaritan’s boat that rescued them, along with their three-year-old son, George, a dog and two cats. Not knowing where they would go, she posted the video to Facebook.

    So sad to leave our home behind but grateful for this brave man to picked us up. Now what, question mark? We don’t know.”

    BIGGS: And you still feel that way?

    KREMERS: And I still feel that way.

    BIGGS: Mariana says her streets were clear until the city released water from two reservoirs, an effort to keep antiquated dams from buckling.

    KREMERS: That’s the part I just can’t get over. Why weren’t we warned?

    BIGGS: Are you angry with the city of Houston?

    KREMERS: I just don’t understand why the communication wasn’t better. they should have known that the neighborhoods behind the bayou were going to be severely affected. Yet, nobody said anything to us. Why? That’s not ok and I want answers and so do my neighbors. I feel like the sacrificial lamb.

    BIGGS: Residents of a nearby, flood-ridden neighborhood that is also under an evacuation took time this weekend to protest being barred from starting to repair their homes.

    ELI MAGANA, FLOOD VICTIM: I think a lot of us are frustrated because we want to get back to our homes, we want to start fixing stuff.

    BOB HEBERT, JUDGE, FORT BEND COUNTY: We have a lot of these folks can’t even get into their homes yet to start taking up the carpet and sheetrock and just at least stop the deterioration.

    BIGGS: The Kremers are now in limbo — living with Mariana’s parents in the town of Katy, a-half hour from a home they can’t reach or inhabit, and they’re about to have a second child.

    KREMERS: We’re one of the lucky ones, but we can’t live with my family forever, unless you have insurance, which 80% of the people affected do not. There’s no answers for the rest of us.

    BIGGS: With no flood insurance, they’ve applied to FEMA for aid, but their case is still pending. All they can do is wait.

    The post In west Houston, evacuees eager to start repairs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    John Ashbery Portrait Session

    American writer John Ashbery poses during a portrait session held on Feb. 20, 1996, in Paris, France. Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

    John Ashbery, a master of poetic verse whose enigmatic, dexterous work challenged the world of American poetry, died Sunday at 90, his husband confirmed to the Associated Press.

    Revered worldwide, Ashbery published dozens of volumes of poetry and won a host of the world’s most prestigious awards, including the MacArthur “genius” award and the Pulitzer Prize, establishing a place among the world’s most well-regarded poets.

    Ashbery was born in 1927 in Rochester, New York, and grew up in upstate New York between his father’s farm in Sodus and his grandparents’ home in Pultneyville. Ashbery has said that his father would “wallop” him, and “I felt always as though I were living on the edge of a live volcano,” according to the Guardian.

    He has described an isolated childhood with few friends and a brother who died at the age of 9 from leukemia when Ashbery was 13. “I was rather an outsider as a child — I didn’t have many friends,” he told Peter A. Stitt of the Paris Review in 1983.

    He wrote his first poem at age 8 and took painting classes as a young adult. In 1945, he arrived at Harvard, where he studied poets W.H. Auden and Wallace Stevens as well as novelist Marcel Proust, and established some of his most important relationships with his artistic peers. He met Bubsy Zimmerman, who would go on to co-found the New York Review of Books, along with poets Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara.

    Along with Koch and O’Hara, Ashbery has been associated with the New York School of poetry — a movement in the 1950s and 1960s that was influenced by visual art, modernist poetry and surrealism, punctuated by dry, witty commentary on modern city life. Their peers in the world of visual art included Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

    Ashbery’s work pushed the limits of verse forms many of his peers had mostly eschewed. His poems were also packed with obscure historical and literary references, making his poems a treasure trove for scholars but drawing accusations that they were incomprehensible.

    He published his first collection, “Some Trees,” in 1956, and followed it with “The Tennis Court Oath” in 1962, an abstract verbal collage. Critic John Simon at the time said in the The Hudson Review that the verse lacked “sensibility, sensuality or sentences,” in a period where Ashbery doubted that his work could interest others, according to the New York Times.

    But he would go on to publish more than 30 other collections, bringing a number of accolades. He received the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in 1967 and his “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” published in 1975, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize.

    Ashbery was named a MacArthur “genius” in 1985 and received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 1992, along with the Wallace Stevens Award in 2001.

    Ashbery was notably reserved, and critics often pointed to an inscrutable quality, or a sense of withholding, in his work. “In a crucial sense John Ashbery does not exist in his poems,” wrote David Lehman in “The Last Avant-Garde” (1999). “A singular quality of his poetry is what I would call its egolessness: the absence of the self as the self is traditionally conceived.”

    In “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” Ashbery addresses this disappearance of the self:

    “How many people came and stayed a certain time,
    Uttered light or dark speech that became part of you
    Like light behind windblown fog and sand
    Filtered and influenced by it, until no part
    Remains that is surely you.”

    He was also self-effacing in interviews, telling NPR’s Scott Simon in 2005 that it would be “embarrassing” to list his occupation as a poet.

    “I always think of a scene in Jean Cocteau’s movie ‘Orphée’ where Orpheus is being cross-examined by three judges and one of them asks him what he does and he says he’s a poet. And the judge says, ‘What does that mean?’ And Orpheus says, ‘It means to write and not be a writer,'” he said.

    In 1984, he told Carcanet Press that poetry is a “hopelessly minor art.”

    “I’m really glad it is,” he added. “It’s not for everybody and there’s no reason why it should be. Not everybody reads poetry and certainly there are many more interesting things to do.”

    The post John Ashbery, esteemed and inventive poet, dies at 90 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A woman walks past the ancient Colosseum, downtown Rome

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    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: More than 25-hundred years after its founding, Rome is a bustling world capital with its history proudly on display. Ancient Romans believed they’d built an eternal city. Some structures are magnificently preserved. For others, the centuries have taken their toll. This is what the Colosseum, built in 70 AD, looked like just a few years ago. Discolored by pollution with loose stones at risk of falling. This is what it looks like today. The exterior gleaming after two years of patching cracks and cleaning the soot and dust. Before and after.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: What makes this restoration in this part of the world so unusual is private money paid to preserve a public treasure. The first phase of a 25-million-Euro, or 30-million-dollar, donation by an Italian fashion company, Tod’s. The government approved and oversaw the work. Barbara Nazzaro is the Colosseum’s Technical Director.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: How important is a restoration like this? Imagine if Tod’s hadn’t donated 25 million Euros? What would be at stake?

    BARBARA NAZZARO: We usually do preservation and maintenance works. But, you know, all this money it’s a great help. Because we have it at the same moment, and we can do the external part at one time. Otherwise, we would do it piece by piece, and it would take a lot of time.

    BARBARA NAZZARO: This is a historic image of the monument.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Preserving the Colosseum meant leaving certain archeological aspects in tact, like these holes. Many once had lead in them to help fasten the stones and decorate the arena, but during the Middle Ages, scavengers stripped the metal out to melt down and reuse. The pockmarked surface is now considered a key historic feature.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Restorers have cleaned over 32,000 square feet of stone. That was just on the outside. Now they have to start the same process on the inside.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: So are these bricks ancient Roman?

    BARBARA NAZZARO: Of course.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: It’s the next phase of the Colosseum project, repairing passageways wild animals and gladiators took to the floor of the Colosseum, where they fought to their deaths. That’s expected to take another year-and-a-half. All of this paid for by Tod’s.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Why did this fashion mogul have to intervene to restore the Colosseum? Why wasn’t the state already giving it the care that it needed?

    DANIEL BERGER: The state was giving it care, but not 25 million Euros.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Daniel Berger, a former manager at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is an advisor to Italy’s Culture Ministry. Tourists do pay about 14 dollars to visit the inside of the Colosseum and fees to other sites. But it’s not enough, says Berger, to cover the cost of Italy’s rare problem: too many relics and ruins.

    DANIEL BERGER: It certainly is probably the world’s most numerous concentration of works of art of paintings, of sculptures, of buildings, of churches, of archeological remains. All of these things are concentrated in this country, which is blessed to have all this, but cursed, because it’s something that it cannot maintain by itself.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: The Italian government has pledged to spend a record billion Euros, about 1-point-2 billion dollars on new restoration projects, including for the ancient city of Pompeii and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. But that’s a fraction of what’s needed to maintain neglected art, artifacts, and archeological monuments all over the country. And Berger says, unlike the United States, Italy doesn’t have a great tradition of philanthropists willing to fill the gaps.

    DANIEL BERGER: I think in the United States people have this idea that we are lucky. We emigrated to a country that made us relatively comfortable, and we have to give something back. The Europeans in general don’t have that feeling. They’ve always felt that the state, whether it was the king, the princes or the government, is responsible for maintenance of something which is public and that is the culture.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Berger says that attitude is changing as Italy follows America’s example, spurring altruism with tax breaks for companies that donate to cultural institutions. Rome’s Spanish Steps, built in the 18th Century, were just cleaned and restored with money from the jewelry and luxury goods store Bulgari. Fashion house Fendi has donated 3 million dollars to restore the famous and now spotless Trevi Fountain and other fountains in Rome. The government credits Tod’s President, Diego Della Valle, for kicking off this movement. But Paolo Pastorello says the private money is not always being used in the right way. He’s President of Restauratori Senza Frontiere, or Restorers Without Borders, a nonprofit which promotes the preservation of artistic heritage. He says the Colosseum restoration needed more time and money.

    PAOLO PASTORELLO: Was it a perfect work? No. In my in opinion the Colosseum work was not perfect and not even finished. Everything was not completely cleaned, and sometimes some was too much cleaned. These are carbonaceous deposits that should have been removed.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Pastorello has complained to Italy’s prime minister about the quality of the work, but the Italian government has said it’s satisfied and has only praise for the companies that sponsored the renovations at the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps. Though consultant Daniel Berger points out, private funds are no magic bullet.

    DANIEL BERGER: It’s a bottomless pit. These monuments need constant restoration and care. When you get finished with something like the Colosseum, you practically have to start all over again. Because some plants are sprouting up again.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: We noticed a few weeds were already growing back at the Colosseum. When can we say that all of the work on the Colosseum is done?

    BARBARA NAZZARO: Never. Every day we have new work.

    CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Rome’s cultural heritage comes with an “eternal” maintenance bill.

    The post A fashion company is paying to maintain Rome’s Colosseum appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Graduating seniors line up to receive their diplomas during Commencement at Wellesley College in Wellesley

    Graduating seniors line up to receive their diplomas during Commencement at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, U.S., May 26, 2017. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Back-to-school season means another year of loans for thousands of American college students. But it’s not just recent graduates who end up burdened with student debt, which now totals more than $1 trillion nationwide. Increasingly, their parents and grandparents are paying off student loans, too.

    According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the number of people age 60 and over with student loan debt has quadrupled in the last decade from about 700,000 to 2.8 million. The average amount they owe has almost doubled to about $23,500. Most borrowers are between 18 and 39 years old, but consumers over age 60 are the fastest-growing segment of the student debt market, according to the CFPB.

    More than 70 percent of borrowers are repaying loans that financed their children’s or grandchildren’s education. Other older borrowers have debt from their own education, including degrees they pursued mid-life.

    Many paying for a child’s education took Parent PLUS loans, federal loans that are available to parents to help pay for an undergraduate education. But critics say the program allows people to borrow too much, with little assessment of a family’s ability to repay.

    This debt is especially a burden on seniors who have retired and are living on a fixed income — almost 40 percent of federal student loan borrowers over 65 are in default. If someone defaults on a federal loan, the government can garnish their Social Security payments, which are the only source of income for some people after retirement. Right now, about 114,000 Social Security recipients over age 50 are having their benefits offset because of a defaulted student loan.

    We’re asking: Are you retired or nearing retirement, and paying off student loans? The PBS NewsHour reporting team is gathering personal stories about how student debt has affected people’s ability to save for retirement, and their income once they have retired.

    Submit your story using this simple form, write to us on PBS NewsHour’s Facebook or Twitter pages, or share in the comments below.

    The post Are you older than 60 and paying off student loans? Tell us your story. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of President Donald Trump by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to announce that he will end protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, but with a six-month delay, people familiar with the plans said.

    The delay in the formal dismantling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, would be intended to give Congress time to decide whether it wants to address the status of the so-called Dreamers legislation, according to two people familiar with the president’s thinking. But it was not immediately clear how the six-month delay would work in practice and what would happen to people who currently have work permits under the program, or whose permits expire during the six-month stretch.

    It also was unclear exactly what would happen if Congress failed to pass a measure by the considered deadline, they said. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter ahead of a planned Tuesday announcement.

    The president, who has been grappling with the issue for months, has been known to change his mind in the past and could still shift course. The plan was first reported by Politico Sunday evening.

    Trump has been wrestling for months with what to do with the Obama-era DACA program, which has given nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the form of two-year, renewable work permits.

    The expected move would come as the White House faces a Tuesday deadline set by Republican state officials threatening to sue the Trump administration if the president did not end the program. It also would come as Trump digs in on appeals to his base as he finds himself increasingly under fire, with his poll numbers at near-record lows.

    Trump had been personally torn as late as last week over how to deal with what are undoubtedly the most sympathetic immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Many came to the U.S. as young children and have no memories of the countries they were born in.

    During his campaign, Trump slammed DACA as illegal “amnesty” and vowed to eliminate the program the day he took office. But since his election, Trump has wavered on the issue, at one point telling The Associated Press that those covered could “rest easy.”

    Trump had been unusually candid as he wrestled with the decision in the early months of his administration. During a February press conference, he said the topic was “a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have.”

    “You have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly,” he said, adding: “I love these kids.”

    All the while, his administration continued to process applications and renew DACA work permits, to the dismay of immigration hard-liners.

    News of the president’s expected decision drew strong reactions from advocates on both sides of the issue.

    “IF REPORTS ARE TRUE, Pres Trump better prepare for the civil rights fight of his admin. A clean DREAM Act is now a Nat Emergency #DefendDACA,” tweeted New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat.

    Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, tweeted: “After teasing #Dreamers for months with talk of his “great heart,” @POTUS slams door on them. Some ‘heart’…”

    But Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who has called DACA unconstitutional, warned that a delay in dismantling it would amount to “Republican suicide.”

    “Ending DACA now gives chance 2 restore Rule of Law. Delaying so R Leadership can push Amnesty is Republican suicide,” he wrote.

    It would be up to members of Congress to pass a measure to protect those who have been covered under the program. While there is considerable support for that among Democrats and moderate Republicans, Congress is already facing a packed fall agenda and has had a poor track record in recent years for passing immigration-related bills.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan and a number of other legislators urged Trump last week to hold off on scrapping DACA to give them time to come up with a legislative fix.

    “These are kids who know no other country, who are brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe that there needs to be a legislative solution,” Ryan told Wisconsin radio station WCLO.

    The Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012 as a stopgap to protect some young immigrants from deportation as they pushed unsuccessfully for a broader immigration overhaul in Congress.

    The program protected people in the country illegally who could prove they arrived before they were 16, had been in the United States for several years and had not committed a crime while being here. It mimicked versions of the so-called DREAM Act, which would have provided legal status for young immigrants but was never passed by Congress.

    As of July 31, 2015, more than 790,000 young immigrants had been approved under the program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

    The House under Democratic control passed a Dream Act in 2010 but it died in the Senate. Since Republicans retook control of the House in late 2010, it has taken an increasingly hard line on immigration. House Republicans refused to act on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill in 2013. Two years later, a GOP border security bill languished because of objections from conservatives.

    Many House Republicans represent highly conservative districts. The primary upset of the former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to a conservative challenger in 2014 in a campaign that cast him as soft on illegal immigration convinced many House Republicans that pro-immigrant stances could cost them politically.

    So despite Ryan’s personal commitment on the issue and his comments in favor of the young immigrants, action to protect them may be unlikely in the House — absent intense lobbying from Trump.

    ___

    Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

    The post Trump expected to announce end of protections for young immigrants after six month delay appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin testifies before the House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on the Treasury Department's budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Congress needs to combine a $7.9 billion disaster relief package for Harvey with a contentious increase in the nation’s borrowing limit, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says, arguing it is needed to ensure storm victims in Texas get the help they need.

    “The president and I believe that it should be tied to the Harvey funding,” Mnuchin said Sunday. “If Congress appropriates the money, but I don’t have the ability to borrow more money and pay for it, we’re not going to be able to get that money to the state. So, we need to put politics aside.”

    President Donald Trump visited storm-ravaged areas in Texas over the weekend, expressing hope for speedy congressional action on Harvey aid. But some House conservatives are opposed to directly pairing disaster aid with an increase in the debt limit, saying it sends the wrong message on overall government spending. Democrats have also been cool to the approach.

    Linking the two issues could make it politically difficult for lawmakers to oppose the debt-limit bill.

    Trump plans to meet with congressional leaders from both parties this week as lawmakers return to Washington after their summer recess.

    The government’s cash reserves are running low because the debt limit has actually already been reached, and the Treasury Department is using various accounting measures to cover expenses. Mnuchin originally had said that Congress would need to raise the $19.9 trillion borrowing limit by Sept. 29 to avoid a catastrophic default on the debt, allowing the government to continue borrowing money to pay bills like Social Security and interest.

    But on Sunday, he said that deadline had moved up due to unexpected new spending on Harvey.

    “Without raising the debt limit, I’m not comfortable that we would get the money that we need this month to Texas to rebuild,” Mnuchin said.

    Asked about Trump’s past threats to force a government shutdown if Congress does not also include his $1.6 billion request for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, Mnuchin said Harvey aid was Trump’s “first objective right now.”

    The Associated Press reported last week that Republican leaders were making plans to pair Harvey aid with an increase in the debt limit. Other senior GOP aides told the AP that no final decision had been made, and Democrats, whose votes would be needed in the Senate, have yet to signal support.

    “Providing aid in the wake of Harvey and raising the debt ceiling are both important issues, and Democrats want to work to do both,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California in a joint statement Sunday. “Given the interplay between all the issues Congress must tackle in September, Democrats and Republicans must discuss all the issues together and come up with a bipartisan consensus.”

    In an interview with a Milwaukee TV station that aired Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan did not address whether the two issues would be tied together, only expressing confidence that Congress will “step up” to fund disaster recovery efforts in Texas. “This is something that we’ve never seen before, so it’s going to require a pretty unprecedented response,” Ryan, R-Wis., said on “UPFRONT with Mike Gousha,” which is produced in partnership with Wispolitics.com.

    Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, said he wouldn’t be opposed to combining the two measures and said the urgency of Harvey disaster relief provides “another reason as to why you want to keep the government open.”

    Trump’s aid request would add $7.4 billion to dwindling Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster aid coffers and $450 million to finance disaster loans for small businesses. An additional $5 billion to $8 billion for Harvey could be tucked into a catch-all spending bill Congress must pass in the coming weeks to fund the government past Sept. 30.

    On Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott described the federal aid package as an important initial “down payment” on Harvey relief that he expects will come to $150 billion to $180 billion. “We need Congress to step up and pass this and help Texas rebuild,” he said.

    More than 436,000 households have registered for FEMA aid, according to the White House.

    Harvey came ashore Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, then went back out to sea and lingered for days off the coast as a tropical storm. The storm brought five straight days of rain totaling close to 52 inches (1.3 meters) in one location, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S.

    Mnuchin and Abbott appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” and Blunt spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

    The post Congress should tie Harvey aid to the debt ceiling increase vote, Mnuchin says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user kenteegardin/www.seniorliving.org.

    BOSTON — President Donald Trump’s refusal to publicly release his tax returns is fueling initiatives in Massachusetts and other states that would require presidential candidates to disclose their personal finances before they could appear on the ballot.

    Massachusetts lawmakers are set to hold a hearing Wednesday at the Statehouse on a bill that would impose those conditions.

    The chief sponsor, state Sen. Mike Barrett, said that until the election of Trump, most Americans just assumed candidates for president would adhere to “modern practices of disclosure and transparency” — even those that are unwritten.

    “One of them is the disclosure by candidates of personal financial information related to possible conflicts of interest,” the Lexington Democrat said. “The 2016 election shattered our confidence in the broad acceptance by presidential candidates of certain rules of public conduct.”

    The bill would require any candidates for president who want their name on the Massachusetts primary ballot to turn over a certified copy of their federal income tax returns for the three most recent years.

    The bill would then require the state secretary to publish the returns on the state’s website. Candidates who refuse would be barred from the primary ballot.

    Barrett said the bill is being championed by March Forward Mass, a group formed in the wake of the Boston Women’s March following Trump’s election.

    Even if lawmakers in Massachusetts fail to approve the bill, it could still become law.

    A question that could end up on next year’s ballot in Massachusetts would require potential candidates for president to release their tax returns from the prior six years in order to secure a spot on the primary ballot.

    But the question faces a number of hurdles.

    The first comes Wednesday, when Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey, a fierce critic of Trump, must decide which proposed questions for next year’s ballot pass constitutional muster and which don’t.

    Not everyone is convinced that efforts to require the disclosure of tax returns are constitutional. Critics note that the U.S. Constitution already sets out qualifications to become president. They say it’s not up to states to add new ones.

    Specifically, Article Two of the Constitution establishes three requirements to win the White House: The president must be a “natural born citizen,” must be at least 35 years old, and must be a resident within the United States for 14 years.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has also ruled that states and the federal government cannot add to the qualifications of senators and congressional representatives beyond those outlined in the Constitution — something that could be extended to the president.

    But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers in nearly half the states, mostly Democrats, from pushing presidential candidates to release their tax returns.

    Democrats in New Jersey passed a bill that would have required presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their income tax returns to get on the ballot in New Jersey and prohibited electors from voting for them if they didn’t comply.

    Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a supporter of Trump, vetoed the bill in May calling it unconstitutional and chided Democrats calling the bill “a form of therapy to deal with their disbelief of the 2016 election results.”

    The Democratically controlled House and Senate in Hawaii were the first to approved separate tax return proposals earlier this year. Both bills died before becoming law after the attorney general raised concerns about potential lawsuits.

    The post Could states compel presidential candidates to release their tax returns? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Rescuers worked to save people who were swept into a canal when part of the Ghazipur landfill in Delhi, India, collapsed on Sept. 1. Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

    Rescuers worked to save people who were swept into a canal when part of the Ghazipur landfill in Delhi, India, collapsed on Sept. 1. Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

    A garbage pile in India’s capital Delhi that had reached a towering 15 stories tumbled into a nearby canal on Friday, killing two people.

    When part of the Ghazipur landfill fell into the canal, it caused a large wave to wash over a nearby road, sweeping a car, two motorcycles and a scooter into the rushing water of the canal. Divers were able to rescue five people from the canal, but two others died. Police have identified them as a 30-year-old woman and 20-year-old man.

    The Ghazipur landfill in Delhi was supposed to stop accepting garbage at about 65 feet, but it had reached a height of about 165 feet when part of it slid into a nearby canal. Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

    The Ghazipur landfill in Delhi was supposed to stop accepting garbage at about 65 feet, but it had reached a height of about 165 feet when part of it slid into a nearby canal. Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

    Ghazipur is one of several major municipal waste sites in the city of 20 million people. Local officials said they would investigate the cause of the collapse, but some experts believe heavy monsoon rains in the region weakened the massive trash pile.

    READ MORE: South Asia floods have killed more than 1,400 as communities brace for more

    Mahesh Babu, managing director of IL & FS Environmental Infrastructure & Services Ltd., was hired by the Delhi government to manage the site. He told PBS NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro earlier this year that the mountain of waste was at risk of an avalanche, especially since Delhi lies in a seismic zone.

    You can watch his full report:

    Also, take a 360 tour of “Trash Mountain.”

    Note: This video may not work correctly in all browsers.

    The post Towering landfill in India spills into canal, killing 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A man displays a new 2000 Indian rupee banknote after withdrawing from a bank in Jammu, November 11, 2016. Photo By Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

    A man displays a new 2000 Indian rupee banknote after withdrawing from a bank in Jammu, November 11, 2016. Photo By Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

    Editor’s note: When he was 16, Ken Rogoff dropped out of high school to play chess in the former Yugoslavia and went straight to the top: international grandmaster, ranked 40th in the world. But he gave up playing competitively for three reasons: it was bad for his social life, tournament travel was a drag, and he wanted “to do something more important with my life” (his explanation to BBC radio starts at 11:20 on this podcast).

    So instead, he became an economist and now ranks eighth in the world, according to RePEc. Rogoff has appeared often on the NewsHour, talking about everything from his improbable bestseller of 2009, “This Time is Different” (co-authored with fellow Harvard economist Carmen Reinhart) to the economic woes of Greece in our musical look at that disaster.

    Last fall, he published a quirky policy book, “The Curse of Cash,” (Princeton University Press, September 2016) urging the elimination of the $100 bill. The prime minister of India went much further just a few months later, with top officials in his administration citing Rogoff in removing all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation, worth $7.50 and $15.00 respectively. What in the world was going on? We asked Rogoff to tell us, and what he thinks is going to happen.

    — Paul Solman, economics correspondent


    When writing my recent book “The Curse of Cash,” I could hardly have imagined the radical “demonetization” experiment that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi would introduce just a couple months later. India’s demonetization arguably constitutes one of the most remarkable monetary experiments undertaken by any developing economy over the past several decades. Superficially, the Indian government had adopted exactly the kind of policy I suggested (and indeed “The Curse of Cash” was widely referenced). However, there were some rather critical differences as I discuss below, not least of which is that India is still a developing economy, and my book was focused on advanced economies where financial inclusion can far more easily be addressed.

    Hate it or love it, pretty much everyone agreed that Modi’s demonetization was something utterly remarkable and would be talked about and studied by economists and policymakers for decades to come.

    In a recent visit to India to speak at the Delhi Economics Conclave, I found a remarkable range of views, from genius to insanity. Hate it or love it, pretty much everyone agreed that Modi’s demonetization was something utterly remarkable and would be talked about and studied by economists and policymakers for decades to come.

    My own views are discussed in an afterword to a newer July, 2017 version of the book: “The Curse of Cash:  How Large-Denomination Notes Aid Tax Evasion and Crime and Constraint Monetary Policy.” Here is an excerpt:


    On Nov. 8, 2016, the same day that Americans were electing Donald Trump as president of the United States, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, took to national TV to make a stunning announcement. As of midnight, India’s two highest-denomination bills, the 500 and 1,000-rupee notes (worth roughly $7.50 and $15.00) would no longer be legal tender; citizens would have 50 days to deposit their old notes in the bank or to trade them for new ones. The two notes accounted for 86 percent of currency supply in a country where cash accounts for roughly 90 percent of the value of transactions. In many ways, Modi’s demonetization has proven the most dramatic and far-reaching macroeconomic event to affect this fast-growing nation of 1.3 billion people since the International Monetary Fund-driven reforms of the early 1990s.

    To add to the sense of drama, the prime minister forced his cabinet to surrender their cell phones before informing them of his decision, presumably to assure the public that none of his own ministers would profit by it. Modi’s stated aim was to fight “black money,” that is, cash used for tax evasion, crime, terror and corruption. It was a bold, audacious move intended to radically alter the mindset of an economy where less than 2 percent of citizens pay income tax, and where official corruption is endemic. It is important to emphasize, however, that whereas the litany of problems with cash listed by the Indian prime minister is essentially the same as in “The Curse of Cash,” the setting and tactics of implementation are vastly different.

    READ MORE: Column: Several governments are destroying their own bank notes. Here’s why.

    This book has argued that emerging markets need to be cautious in moving to less-cash societies, in part because they lack the necessary financial infrastructure. Also, there are manifold reasons for moving slowly and deliberately: “Gradualism helps avoid excessive disruption and gives institutions and individuals time to adapt.  It puts authorities in a position to make adjustments as issues arise.”

    Another distinction is that India’s largest notes were already modest-sized by international standards, with the 1,000-rupee note being worth less than $15 at the time. The banning of the 500-rupee note, which was in widespread use by ordinary people, was particularly inconvenient, comparable to having the United States ban the $20 bill at short notice. Indeed, the replacement notes included a new 2,000-rupee note, which will presumably be even more valuable in black economy transactions than the old notes it replaced. India’s demonetization was clearly targeted at capturing the existing stock of black money, but in practice this is very difficult for reasons we have already discussed. A much more practical plan is to find ways to raise transactions costs for those engaged in tax evasion, corruption and criminal activity.

    Ironically, precisely because the method of demonetization caused so much collateral damage, the Indian authorities had little scope or capacity to sort out black money from “white money.”

    But none of these objections captures what was no doubt the single biggest challenge India faced, which is that it did not have nearly enough new notes on hand to exchange for the old ones that had just been demonetized. Evidently, the government had been concerned that if people found out that it was printing new notes, crooks would be given too much time to launder their ill-gotten currency.  Although a rapid recall would have created massive logistical problems in the best of circumstances, it was the need for currency-rationing that led to the most severe dislocations, particularly in the agricultural and rural sectors where business is done almost entirely in cash. Although official figures suggest that the disruption was not as bad as some had initially feared (official GDP still grew at 6.5 percent, about a 1 percent drop from the pre-demonetization baseline), this is surely a significant understatement. Even if output in the formal sector really did dip only 1 percent, the effect on the informal sector — which even in some advanced economies equals 20 to 25 percent of GDP — was surely an order of magnitude larger.

    Ironically, precisely because the method of demonetization caused so much collateral damage, the Indian authorities had little scope or capacity to sort out black money from “white money.”  Instead, the government and banks were forced to concentrate on remonetizing the economy as quickly as possible. Efforts were made to report any large and suspicious sequence of deposits, but overwhelmed banks were hardly able to do extensive enforcement. The Indian authorities claim they plan to look closely at bank deposit records in the aftermath of the demonetization and that this will offer a second chance to detect illicit deposits. Whether this approach will have a significant yield remains to be seen.

    READ MORE: ‘Make In India’ promises manufacturing jobs for millions. Here’s why it won’t work

    Will India’s demonetization yield long-term benefits? The answer, of course, depends on the implementation of other government policies to fight black money and corruption and on how well it succeeds in accelerating progress towards financial inclusion. For example, India’s new gross sales tax may make tax enforcement somewhat easier, and the government has been engaging in financial information treaties with other countries to make offshore laundering more difficult. And make no mistake, several of India’s policies to promote financial inclusion and to move towards a less-cash society have already borne fruit. In the text, we discussed the Modi government’s move to have license fees paid online instead of by cash. The provision of free (or heavily subsidized) bank accounts linked to biometric data has helped even illiterate citizens have the possibility of financial inclusion. Interestingly, biometric security has also made it more difficult for corrupt bank employees and state officials to siphon off money into fake accounts, because they cannot so easily produce the biometric signatures required to withdraw funds.

    India’s demonetization, no matter how much criticized by economists, has been broadly popular in a country where people are deeply frustrated by endemic corruption, and appreciate the government’s broad efforts to fight it.

    Perhaps surprisingly, India’s demonetization, no matter how much criticized by economists, has been broadly popular in a country where people are deeply frustrated by endemic corruption, and appreciate the government’s broad efforts to fight it. Hopefully, the government will be able to build on this good will to implement a basket of policies that will help reduce corruption and crime over time. Certainly, demonetization has greatly accelerated financial inclusion, with hundreds of millions of Indians now taking advantage of heavily subsidized basic debit accounts, a program that until now, had been developing relatively slowly. There is little doubt that multitudes of papers will be written on India’s demonetization, but it could take years to untangle its full effects, which have as much to do with psychology as economics.


    Excerpted from a revised version of “The Curse of Cash: How Large-Denomination Notes Aid Tax Evasion and Crime and Constraint Monetary Policy,” by Kenneth Rogoff, Princeton University Press, July 2017.

    The post What on earth was India thinking when it banned the $7.50 bill? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Texas National Guardsmen aid residents flooded by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 27. Photo by Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via Reuters

    Texas National Guardsmen aid residents flooded by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 27. Photo by Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via Reuters

    Many Americans want to help the people suffering from Hurricane Harvey and its unprecedented floods.

    There’s no shortage of media reports listing which groups are taking donations, often with scant guidance about what kinds of relief these organizations can offer.

    Having researched giving in the wake of disasters and taught students how to be effective philanthropists, I’ve learned that it’s hard to make good decisions regarding donations – especially when there are many urgent needs and countless ways to spend charitable dollars. Here are some best practices you may want to consider before you contribute.

    Give money, not goods

    The ideal way to show your compassion is to donate money to a charity that you respect, rather than shipping cartons of diapers and cases of canned chili.

    It’s easy to think of disasters in personal terms: “What if it were me or my family?” and picture what you’d need if you suddenly became homeless: clothes, food or toys. But goods given during emergencies often go to waste. These donations can even do more harm than good when they interfere with disaster response efforts.

    Besides, you aren’t likely to know what people on the (drenched) ground need.

    Donate to organizations operating on the scene

    But where should you send that money? It’s generally a good idea to support groups operating in the midst of the disaster. They can give money and other aid to the people who need it directly.

    But first, do your homework to learn about an organization’s past performance. Established organizations are usually your best bet because they are the most apt to have staff, experience, infrastructure and roots in affected communities. National organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army have long track records in disaster response.

    Every disaster raises questions about established organizations’ relief efforts, such as how the Red Cross spent funds donated after Superstorm Sandy on public relations stunts and other activities not directly tied to relief efforts, and the Salvation Army’s decision to hold back relief after that same disaster to spend later on in the recovery process. When you give, it’s important to keep that history in mind.

    A woman is evacuated by airboat from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Houston on Aug. 29. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    A woman is evacuated by airboat from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Houston on Aug. 29. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    If you prefer to give locally, support groups firmly rooted in the affected area. In Harvey’s aftermath, that might mean the United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which both have established relief funds and a long history of service to the local community.

    You can screen organizations using tools like Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits based on several performance metrics. It has compiled a list of highly rated Texas groups involved in relief efforts. Guidestar is another useful resource. While it does not rate charities, it provides basic financial data about them and allows nonprofits to upload information about their programs and results that you can use to help make your giving decisions. Guidestar also offers guidelines about giving during disasters and a list of groups active in the relief effort.

    Support established nonprofits

    Sometimes new groups sprout up to respond to catastrophes like the ones now unfolding in Texas that seem tailor-made for supporting people in distress but have some shortcomings.

    When I studied the philanthropic response after the 9/11 attacks, I found that more than 250 new organizations emerged to meet the needs of people affected by that disaster. New organizations can play important roles, particularly those connected to marginalized groups, like immigrants, who may not trust established institutions. That was the case with the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, an organization I advised after 9/11.

    But it can take time for new groups to get up and running, and in the meantime there’s no track record for donors to check out. While most new organizations are led by people moved to make a difference, some are opportunists committing fraud, like the founders of the Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation. Fundraising services like the GoFundMe campaigns established to help Harvey victims pose the same risks if they are not tied to established organizations.

    If you itemize your taxes and plan to deduct your contribution, note that you can do so only if the IRS has certified the organization’s nonprofit status. Most contributions to new nonprofits and GoFundMe campaigns aren’t tax-deductible. But gifts to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which the city of Houston has already established, are.

    Evacuees who were rescued from the flood waters of Tropical Storm Harvey wait to board school buses bound for Louisiana in Vidor, Texas, on Aug. 31. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

    Evacuees who were rescued from the flood waters of Tropical Storm Harvey wait to board school buses bound for Louisiana in Vidor, Texas, on Aug. 31. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

    Consider long-term priorities

    Photos and video clips of streets transformed into rivers, stranding residents, can create an urge to make a difference immediately. But, as recent disasters like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina showed, the needs are sure to mount. That’s why more than one in four of organizations created after 9/11 was still providing relief five years later.

    Be mindful that people in Houston, Rockport and other afflicted areas in Texas, and possibly Louisiana, will need our money long after Harvey stops making headlines. Your donation may matter six months or even years from now as much as it does today. Nonetheless, donation forms may offer you the option to indicate how you want your contribution used – including having it spent right away if you feel strongly about it.

    Maximize the speed and size of your gift

    Many nonprofits are encouraging people to donate by sending texts, an approach that may seem like the fastest way to give.

    But wireless companies tend to wait until you officially cover the donation’s cost – by paying your bill – before passing that money along to the charity. That can delay payments by weeks or even months.

    If getting your money to Houston or another community fast is your top concern, make online donations with a credit card or a debit card. Even “a check in the mail” would transmit funds faster than texting, says Brian Mittendorf, who teaches accounting at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business.

    Mittendorf also cautions that giving through crowdfunding can mean that intermediaries skim fees that might otherwise go to disaster relief or another cause you support. Credit card companies also usually collect transaction fees.

    The ConversationIn short, being an informed donor is the best way you can start to make a difference for the people who have lost their homes, cars and more.

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

    The post Column: 5 tips on how to stretch your donation dollars appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JOHN YANG: There was another loss in the world of arts and letters. Steely Dan co-founder and guitarist Walter Becker also died yesterday. He was instrumental in producing the funky melodies and enigmatic lyrics that captivated an avid following for the band.

    Becker and Donald Fagen, a friend from Bard College, founded Steely Dan in 1971. The band’s first album produced a unique sound in rock with memorable hits such as “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years.”

    Becker’s bass and guitar licks would become a signature of the band’s jazz-infused sound. Famously introspective, Becker rarely sought the spotlight. Steely Dan only toured for two years after their 1927 debut, choosing to focus on producing records.

    The band stopped recording in 1981, returning in 1993.

    In a statement, Fagen called Becker “smart as a whip, hysterically funny and cynical about human nature, including his own.”

    Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

    Here’s Becker and Fagen performing one of their hits, “Peg,” on a 2000 broadcast on PBS.

    (MUSIC)

    JOHN YANG: Walter Becker was 67 years old.

    The post Walter Becker, introspective rocker of Steely Dan, dies at 67 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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