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- 09/30/17--06:10: _Trump lashes out at...
- 09/30/17--06:38: _What a North Korea ...
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- 09/30/17--08:51: _‘Burqa ban’ law sig...
- 09/30/17--10:04: _Deadly West Nile vi...
- 09/30/17--11:16: _Race to decide if W...
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- 09/30/17--13:36: _Puerto Ricans in an...
- 09/30/17--16:09: _Meet an American ci...
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- 10/01/17--06:22: _Trump scoffs at ‘po...
- 10/01/17--06:38: _O.J. Simpson releas...
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- 10/01/17--08:03: _Trump puts NFL play...
- 10/01/17--08:37: _Media titan Samuel ...
- 10/01/17--10:05: _Years after silentl...
- 10/01/17--10:54: _The psychological t...
- 10/01/17--11:15: _Supreme Court opens...
- 09/30/17--06:10: Trump lashes out at San Juan mayor who begged for more help
- 09/30/17--07:13: EPA says dioxins might have washed downriver during Harvey
- 09/30/17--08:01: Google cooperating with Russia probe after Twitter slammed
- 09/30/17--08:51: ‘Burqa ban’ law signals rightward political turn in Austria
- 09/30/17--11:16: Race to decide if West Coast keeps its only GOP-led chamber
- 09/30/17--13:20: Democrats in Iowa looking for ways to win back Trump voters
- 09/30/17--13:29: After scandal over private flights, who will replace Tom Price?
- 09/30/17--13:36: Puerto Ricans in anguish as they await news from the island
- 09/30/17--16:09: Meet an American citizen fighting with South Sudan’s rebels
- 10/01/17--06:22: Trump scoffs at ‘politically motivated ingrates’ after Maria
- 10/01/17--06:38: O.J. Simpson released from Nevada prison on parole
- 10/01/17--07:40: Tillerson says U.S. has direct channels to talk to North Korea
- 10/01/17--08:03: Trump puts NFL players on notice: Stand for national anthem
- 10/01/17--08:37: Media titan Samuel ‘Si’ Newhouse is dead at 89
- 10/01/17--11:15: Supreme Court opens pivotal term with Trump nominee in place
BRANCHBURG, N.J. — President Donald Trump on Saturday lashed out at the mayor of San Juan and other officials in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, contemptuous of their claims of a laggard U.S. response to the natural disaster that has imperiled the island’s future.
“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help,” Trump said in a series of tweets a day after the capital city’s mayor appealed for help “to save us from dying.”
“They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” Trump wrote from his New Jersey golf club.
The tweets amounted to a biting response to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who had accused the Trump administration of “killing us with the inefficiency” after Hurricane Maria. Desperate, and with her voice breaking with rage, she implored the president, who is set to visit the U.S. territory on Tuesday, to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.”
“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” Cruz said at a news conference. “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.”
Trump has pledged to spare no effort to help Puerto Rico recover from Maria’s ruinous aftermath, and tweeted that military personnel and first responders had done “an amazing job,” despite having “no electric, roads, phones etc.”
Puerto Rico, he said, “was totally destroyed,” and “10,000 Federal workers now on the island are doing a fantastic job.”
Natural disasters often bring the country together. But Trump used Twitter to accuse Cruz of partisan politics.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” the president charged, without substantiation.
Trump is scheduled to spend an hour Saturday checking in by phone with FEMA Administrator Brock Long, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, and other local officials. He’ll also speak with the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which have received less attention, but were also ravaged by the storms.
Trump’s Saturday tweets are an example of his insistence on “punching back,” even against those with far less power. After a deadly terror attack in London in June, Trump singled out London Mayor Sadiq Khan, suggesting he wasn’t taking the attacks seriously enough in a tweet that misconstrued Khan’s words.
During his campaign, Trump also picked fights with a Gold Star family and a former beauty queen who publicly supported his Democratic rival.
Thousands more Puerto Ricans have received water and rationed food as an aid bottleneck has begun to ease. By now, telecommunications are back for about 30 percent of the island, nearly half of the supermarkets have reopened at least for reduced hours and about 60 percent of the gas stations are pumping. But many remain desperate for necessities, most urgently water, long after the Sept. 20 hurricane.
Trump said Friday that Puerto Rico is “totally unable” to handle the catastrophe on its own. “They are working so hard, but there’s nothing left,” he said. “It’s been wiped out.” He said the government is “fully engaged in the disaster and the response and recovery effort.”
Yet even in voicing solidarity and sympathy with Puerto Rico, he drew attention again to the island’s debt burden and infrastructure woes, leaving doubt about how far Washington will go to make the U.S. territory whole.
“Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort — it will end up being one of the biggest ever — will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” he said. “We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.”
During this season’s trio of monster hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, Maria — Trump and his administration have drifted into the perilous territory of premature self-congratulation in the face of unfolding catastrophe, seemingly unmindful of the “Brownie moment” that scarred George W. Bush’s presidency.
Bush famously told his emergency management director, Michael Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” during what proved to be a tragically inept federal response to deadly Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Trump has repeatedly boasted about the positive reviews he said his administration was getting from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for its relief effort, even as people in remote towns struggle to find food, water and other basics. Then Trump’s acting homeland security secretary, Elaine Duke, called the federal relief effort a “good-news story” because of “our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths.”
“Let me clarify,” she said Friday upon her arrival in Puerto Rico to survey the damage. She said she meant “it was good news that people of Puerto Rico and many public servants of the United States are working together.”
Cruz responded, “This is a people-are-dying story.”
Associated Press writers Luis Alonso Lugo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
The post Trump lashes out at San Juan mayor who begged for more help appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Last week, North Korea’s foreign minister floated the prospect of testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean in response to President Donald Trump’s threat of “total destruction” of the Asian nation in a speech to the United Nations. Such a test, whether in the open air or underwater, would be the first of its kind in almost four decades.
But even before a hydrogen bomb test could trigger the fallout of international war, the blast would cause immediate damage to marine life and space technology like satellites and space stations.
What will that look like? The full repercussions depend largely on the science of the bomb, into which we have plenty of insight thanks to the 500 or so nukes detonated above ground from 1945 to 1980. Here’s a closer look at what a hydrogen bomb could mean for sea creatures, fisheries, astronauts and even Google Earth.
Scenario 1: A hydrogen bomb explosion below the Pacific Ocean surface
In some ways, the best-case scenario would be an underwater detonation of a hydrogen bomb — at a great depth, in a remote portion of the Pacific Ocean.
Sure, a bubble of hot gas and a shock wave from the blast would devastate all marine life in the immediate vicinity. In July 1946, two nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll — codenames Able and Baker — killed 38,000 fish, with the most extensive damage caused by Baker’s underwater detonation. But water can also limit the spread of a bomb’s radioactive emissions and stop its electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a burst of energy capable of crippling unshielded electronic devices.
The extent of a bomb’s radioactive pollution is determined by its design and also where it lands. A fission bomb, like those dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II, use uranium and plutonium to split atoms, creating a chain reaction that produces more radioactive material and generates a giant explosion. But most of the radioactive fuel in a fission bomb goes unused, meaning what’s left can enter the environment.
A hydrogen bomb, by contrast, releases less radioactivity, said Nicholas S. Fisher, a marine biogeochemist at Stony Brook University. The device’s blend of fission and fusion — by combining hydrogen atoms — consumes most of its radioactive fuel. The result is a much bigger explosion. We saw this after North Korea’s alleged H-bomb test in early September. Estimates vary, but the explosive force in that test may have been up to 280 kilotons — 14 times stronger than Hiroshima.
If a similar bomb was detonated in the Pacific Ocean, Fisher estimates the residual radioactivity would be less than what was released during the weapons testing period of the 1960s.
So, what does this mean for the future of your sushi? It depends on the proximity of the fish to the detonation site. Radiation levels at Bikini Atoll and other Marshall Islands, where the U.S. tested 67 atomic bombs in the 1940s and 1950s, are nearly double what is considered safe for human habitation. Most corals survived these blasts, but 42 species became locally extinct.
However, this radiation posed less danger to marine animals and fisheries farther away.
“Imagine you dropped some dye in a bathtub and swirled your hand around,” said marine geochemist Ken Buesseler, who directs the Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “At first you’d see the spot pretty clearly, and then over time it’s going to be mixed around. Less and less will show up.”
Ocean currents have the same effect on radioactive material, which is only dangerous to organisms in large quantities. “Every bit of ocean now has some residual radioactivity in it from those bombs in the 1960s,” Buesseler said, but its concentration is too low to cause problems.
Plus, this residual contamination pales in comparison with naturally-occurring radiation. Bananas are radioactive. Our bodies are naturally born radioactive. In fact, the entire catalog of nuclear weapons testing in the world amounts to one percent of the radioactivity in the ocean; the rest is natural, Fisher said.
Here’s the thing. Even if the radiation spread is minimal, it will still cause fear. Both Fisher and Buesseler led investigations into how Fukushima disaster affected the seas near Japan and the U.S. Radioisotopes infiltrated plankton and small fish close to the power plant within weeks of the crisis, and nearby fisheries have been heavily regulated ever since. But even though tuna carried portions of this radiation to the West Coast within months, the levels in food and water were still way below safety limits.
“A lot of this is going to be more psychological than the radiological hazard,” Buesseler said. “Since you can’t smell or feel or taste the radioactivity, if people think even small amounts are in their food, they panic. Sometimes panic is the proper response, and sometimes it’s not needed if the levels are low enough.”
Scenario 2: A hydrogen bomb explosion in the air
The threat calculus changes sharply if the hydrogen bomb explodes in the air or just below the ocean’s surface. For one, if the atmospheric detonation happens in the North Pacific, where North Korea’s recent missile tests have landed, wind currents would carry the radiation to the U.S. in a matter of days and eventually all over the world. Again, the health fallout would depend on the amount of fission and how much leftover radioactivity reaches populated areas.
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The altitude at which the bomb is detonated also poses a risk to satellites and astronauts in space stations. In July 1962, the U.S. executed “Starfish Prime,” a hydrogen bomb test 240 miles into the atmosphere that was 100 times stronger than Hiroshima and created an artificial aurora 4,000 miles away over Australia.
It damaged at least eight satellites, including the world’s first telecommunication satellite, Telstar 1, which failed four months later.
Part of the problem was that Starfish Prime’s high altitude put it near the orbits of low-earth satellites, according to Laura Grego, a physicist and nuclear weapons expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“There are two ways that a high altitude nuclear explosion affects satellites. One is direct line of sight. ” Grego said. “X-rays or gamma rays from the weapon will hit the satellite and create an electromagnetic pulse that can burn out sensitive electronics, and charged particles can damage mirrored coatings.”
The second problem is a high-altitude blast dumps high energy electrons into the Van Allen Radiation Belts, a donut-shaped zone of charged particles encapsulating the planet. Natural events — like solar flares — fill these belts like a bucket, and once full, the particles leak out. Satellites degrade bit by bit when they pass close to these belts near the Earth’s poles. Engineers budget for this during construction. But extra spillover from the leaky radiation belts would change the equation.
“It would raise the radiation exposure of basically all low-Earth orbiting satellites and that can end up being very destructive too,” Grego said. “Some satellites, if they’re not well shielded, will fail in a matter of days or weeks. The ones that are better shielded, like military ones, would last for years.”
The 800 or so low-earth satellites in existence track our weather, map our planet (Google Earth), control our telecommunications and collect intelligence to keep tabs on our enemies. Grego estimated a high-altitude explosion would instantly fry 5 to 20 percent of these devices, while leaks from Van Allen Radiation Belts would continue to affect current and future satellite projects for years. GPS satellites, which orbit much higher, would likely be spared.
“Vestiges of Starfish Prime’s radiation may still exist today,” said Philip Coyle, a recognized expert on worldwide military research who led the Pentagon’s weapons testing during the Clinton administration.
Coyle said electronics and solar panels on the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong-2 could fail due to the EMP, given both have low-earth orbits. Grego added that depending on the size of the blast, the astronauts may also experience lethal radiation poisoning.
But an EMP from a 280-kiloton North Korean bomb would be proportionately much smaller than Starfish, Coyle said. The risk toward space technology also drops with altitude.
“If the weapon detonated near the surface of the ocean, it might have no effect on satellites because the atmosphere would interfere with gamma rays and electrons from the nuclear explosion,” Coyle said. However, the EMP could affect boats, planes or nearby cities, though some modern electronics and vehicles may survive.
“You would never want to be below a nuclear weapon detonation,” Grego said. “A standard practice, even for ballistic missile launches, is to provide a notice to mariners to stay out of the hazard zone of dropping rocket stages.”
The most concerning part, Buesseler said, is even if North Korea straps their hydrogen bomb to a missile and targets the Pacific Ocean, they may miss their mark. A number of their ballistic missile boosters have failed after launch. Of the 1,000 nuclear tests conducted by the U.S., only one involved a missile.
“It’s not an easy thing to shoot off a missile like this without having accidents,” Buesseler said. “Keeping it away from populations and below the surface the ocean would limit human exposure, but let’s just hope this never happens.”
The post What a North Korea hydrogen bomb would do to the Pacific Ocean and space stations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency says an unknown amount of a dangerous chemical linked to birth defects and cancer may have washed downriver from a Houston-area Superfund site during the flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
EPA said Thursday night it has ordered the companies responsible for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits site to immediately address damage to a protective cap of fabric and rock intended to keep sediments highly contaminated with dioxins from spreading. The companies, International Paper and the Waste Management subsidiary McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corp., have made initial repairs to the underwater section of the cap where the protective rock was missing.
EPA said a sample collected by an agency dive team from the exposed area showed dioxin levels at 70,000 nanograms per kilogram — more than 2,300 times the level set to trigger a cleanup. Dioxins do not dissolve easily in water but can be carried away with any contaminated sediments and deposited over a wider area.
Residents in nearby neighborhoods that flooded during the storm are now worried contaminated mud might have been washed into their homes, said Jackie Young, a local environmental advocate.
“For years we’ve told the EPA it’s not a matter of if this area is struck by a hurricane but when,” said Young, executive director of Texas Health and Environment Alliance. “The scary part about this is we have no way of knowing where all the contaminated material was carried by Harvey’s floodwaters.”
At least one dozen Superfund sites in and around Houston were flooded last month in the days after Harvey’s record-shattering rains stopped. Associated Press journalists surveyed seven of the flooded sites by boat, vehicle and on foot, including San Jacinto. The EPA said at the time that its personnel had been unable to reach the sites, though they surveyed the locations using aerial photos.
The San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site is on and around a low-lying island that was home to a paper mill in the 1960s. The site was completely covered with roiling floodwaters when the AP surveyed it on Sept. 1.
About 16 acres of the site were covered in 2011 with an “armored cap” of fabric and rock intended to contain the contamination until it can be removed as part of a proposed $97 million cleanup plan. The cap was designed to last for up to 100 years, but it has required extensive repairs on at least six occasions in recent years, with sections becoming displaced or going missing.
In its statement, EPA did not disclose precisely when the damage to the cap from Harvey was first discovered. AP observed a dive team working from a boat over an underwater section of the site on Sept. 13. Workers began using heavy machinery to add layers of rock to the cap the week after the storm.
EPA said additional testing will now be needed to determine whether the contamination spread and to ensure that the exposed waste material is isolated.
Despite EPA’s statement affirming that contaminated materials were exposed by the storm, International Paper and McGinnis said in a statement that “no evidence exists that there was any release of waste material to the environment as a result of Hurricane Harvey.”
“The assessments also demonstrate that the existing armored cap performed well,” the companies said.
San Jacinto is at least the second Houston-area Superfund site where contaminated materials may have been spread by Harvey’s flooding. AP reported Sept. 18 that three separate spills were reported from flooded tanks at U.S. Oil Recovery, a former petroleum waste processing plant contaminated with a dangerous brew of cancer-causing chemicals.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called cleaning up Superfund sites a top priority, even as President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget seeks to cut money for the program by 30 percent. Following AP’s reporting on flooding at Texas Superfund sites, Pruitt flew to Houston and visited the San Jacinto site.
The AP was not notified about Pruitt’s visit and was not able to attend or observe, but Pruitt spoke afterward to a local Fox affiliate.
“When you have a temporary situation like this, when you take rock and put in on top of a site to secure it, you have a big enough storm, something like this, that could cause a disruption of that rock and a release could occur,” Pruitt said.
The San Jacinto River empties into Galveston Bay, where state health officials have long advised against regularly consuming fish and shellfish due to contamination from dioxins and PCBs.
Elena Craft, a health scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, said EPA has been “woefully inadequate” in assessing environmental health risks as a result of Harvey. She called the prospect of a breach at San Jacinto a worst-case scenario.
“Dioxin is one of the most toxic substances known to man,” Craft said. “They were slow to collect any samples, they made inappropriate statements on health risks before having any scientific evidence, and have not provided enough information on risks for anyone within the local communities to make informed health decisions.”
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Houston contributed to this report.
The post EPA says dioxins might have washed downriver during Harvey appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
MENLO PARK, Calif. — Google says it is digging into its vaults for evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, after Virginia Sen. Mark Warner slammed Twitter for a response to a congressional probe he called inadequate.
The search giant said in a statement Friday evening that it is cooperating with inquiries and is looking for how it can help with any relevant information.
Google, Facebook and Twitter have all been invited to appear at public hearings in October by the House intelligence committee and Nov. 1 by the Senate intelligence committee.
After Twitter told congressional investigators in a closed door meeting Friday it had suspended at least two dozen accounts that may have been tied to Russia, Warner told reporters the response was inadequate and had mostly relied on data from Facebook.
The post Google cooperating with Russia probe after Twitter slammed appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
VIENNA — A law prohibiting any kind of full-face covering, known popularly as the “Burqa Ban,” takes effect Sunday in Austria, where the strong support for it portends potential political upheaval in the upcoming national election.
Parties campaigning on an anti-migrant message are poised to win on Oct. 15 and to form a coalition government. Such a rightward swing in a country that’s had centrist governments almost consistently since World War II could have repercussions across Europe, emboldening politicians who take a hard line on Islam and immigration.
Last week, the right-wing, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party won seats in Germany’s national parliament for the first time after featuring posters with the slogan “Burqas? We prefer bikinis” in its campaign.
The Austrian law — called “Prohibition for the Covering of the Face” — forbids off-slope ski masks, surgical masks outside hospitals and party masks in public. Violations carry a possible fine of 150 euros (nearly $180) and police are authorized to use force with people who resist showing their faces.
But its popular name reflects the most prevalent association — the garments some Muslim women wear to conceal their whole faces and bodies. The garments are rare in Austria even after the recent surge of migrants into Europe. Support for the law is strong nonetheless, reflecting anti-Muslim attitudes in the predominantly Catholic country.
“It’s not right that those living here don’t show their faces,” said Emma Schwaiger, who expressed support for the ban in a straw poll on the streets of Vienna.
Five in seven of those who said they backed the law also said they will vote for the two parties that critics link to anti-Muslim sentiment — the traditionally xenophobic Freedom Party and the People’s Party. The People’s Party avoids the Freedom Party’s inflammatory talk, but has swung radically from the center under new leader Sebastian Kurz to echo that party’s positions on migration.
The Social Democratic Party, currently the majority partner in the government coalition with the People’s Party, has been left struggling.
Under Chancellor Christian Kern, the Social Democrats are focusing on social topics and claiming credit for Austria’s recent economic upturn. But Kern’s message is not coming across well.
A Unique Research poll of 1,500 respondents published Thursday showed the Social Democrats with 27 percent support, ahead of the Freedom Party at 25 percent but trailing the People’s Party with 34 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
Previously associated with stagnation and lack of direction, the People’s Party was trailing in third place until Kurz, Austria’s telegenic 31-year old foreign minister, took leadership in May after securing party pledges of full authority.
He already was known Europe-wide for shutting down the West Balkans route into the prosperous EU heartland for migrants. With early elections set after the breakup of the coalition with the Social Democrats, he rapidly remade the party in his own image.
Although the People’s Party was part of the government coalition that opened its borders to more than 100,000 migrants in 2015, the party now says that “the political establishment failed in dealing with the refugee crisis.”
Calling for zero illegal immigration, he says migrants intercepted on the high seas should be shipped to refugee centers in North Africa instead of Europe. Migrants waiting for a decision on their asylum applications should be forced to work menial jobs in exchange for pocket money. And instead of the normal six-year waiting period for Austrian citizenship, those receiving asylum should wait for 10 years, he says.
Kurz has something else in his favor for an electorate disaffected with the status quo. “He was able — even though he was in government for more than six years — to present himself as the ‘change guy,'” said Thomas Hofer, a political analyst.
He now campaigns as the head of “Sebastian Kurz List.” Posters with his image mention the People’s Party as an afterthought. Turquoise has replaced the party’s official color of black.
Kurz also attracts Austrians who support the Freedom Party and its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, on migration, but dislike the radical way they frame the debate. Kurz, says Hofer, “uses a different kind of language, and it’s not extreme language — it’s plain talk.”
Kurz has pledged that the face-cover ban will be rigorously enforced. But Hofer dismisses the law as a “symbolic issue.” Muslim women leaders see as insincere the claim the law is intended to help oppressed women.
Carla Amina Bhagajati of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria said the “handful” of fully veiled women she knows of in Vienna “now are criminalized and … restricted to their homes.”
“This open society is, in a hypocritical way, endangering its own values,” she said.
The post ‘Burqa ban’ law signals rightward political turn in Austria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
EL MONTE, Calif. — The chickens are used to the needles.
They don’t fuss when vector ecologist Tanya Posey pulls opens the door of a coop in a community garden here, firmly grasps a Leghorn, and pulls a blood sample out of its wing vein. She’s so good, she can bleed a chicken in about 30 seconds.
That’s helpful, because she has a lot of chickens to test.
More than six dozen sentinel chickens, living in coops dotted around Los Angeles, make up one of the first lines of defense in this sprawling county’s fight against West Nile virus. The disease has been a background threat for years here, but cases have spiked this fall to worrisome levels. Six deaths have been reported by Los Angeles County this year — including three just last week.
And the cases are alarmingly severe: Of 98 reported infections here this year, 79 have led to serious neurological side effects, and 87 have required hospitalization. Because it’s still peak mosquito season, more deaths are expected.
So local public health officials this week launched an all-out attack. They’re sending teams of green-shirted vector control agents door to door to tell residents to wear bug spray, install window screens, and dump the stagnant water where the insects breed. They’re plastering the county with posters that read “It’s Not Just a Bite” and “No Es Solo Un Piquete.” They’ve even created a rap video featuring a fetid swimming pool, a giant dancing mosquito, and teams of uniformed agents rapping, “You’ve got to dump the water out, drain the water flow, tip the water out, toss the water slow.”
On a national level, a duo from Johns Hopkins and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last week petitioned for a new mosquito emoji, arguing that it could lend some buzz to public health efforts.
West Nile virus causes no symptoms in 8 of 10 infected people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But some, particularly the very young and very old, can get fevers, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms. (Dr. Lyle Petersen, the director of the CDC’s division of vector-borne diseases, experienced that misery himself back in 2003, when he was infected with West Nile virus after going out to pick up his mail without insect repellent.)
The virus has caused more than 2,000 deaths in the U.S. since it first appeared in New York in 1999. States hit hardest in recent years include California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and South Dakota. This year, 22 states have already reported 49 deaths and 658 of the most severe cases, known as “neuroinvasive,” which can involve meningitis, encephalitis, and paralysis.
But at least here in Southern California, residents don’t seem to be concerned.
“You can’t imagine how much outreach we’re doing, but it’s really hard to get people to pay attention,” said Kelly Middleton, who directs community affairs for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District.
Some experts blame complacency, because West Nile is old news. Others blame the months of media coverage over the past year on Zika, another mosquito-borne virus that can cause grave birth defects when it infects pregnant women. Though there’s no evidence Zika is being transmitted by mosquitoes in Southern California, residents nonetheless seem focused on that — instead of the far more prevalent threat of West Nile.
“Certainly we all care about infants and birth defects, so Zika gets a lot of attention,” said Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, deputy chief of the county’s program for acute communicable disease control. “But West Nile causes more deaths than Zika does — and it causes them every year.”
Flocks of chickens generate vital data
To control West Nile virus, first you have to know where it’s lurking. It’s a monumental task for the district, which covers a territory of more than 1,340 square miles — roughly the size of Rhode Island.
The district has some 180 mosquito traps. Checking them all involves grueling drives five days a week by two field assistants.
But simply detecting virus inside mosquitoes doesn’t confirm that the insects are infectious. Finding infected birds does. The district collects and tests dead birds — crows and blue jays — when residents alert them, but such reports can be spotty.
So the district relies on its sentinel chickens, checking their blood for West Nile virus antibodies every two weeks.
On a recent day, Posey and her teammate Harold Morales checked a group of 10 white Leghorns — the iconic white chickens with bright red combs. (An attempt to use Rhode Island Reds failed miserably; the birds couldn’t handle the Southern California heat.) Seven of the chickens had already tested positive for West Nile, so Morales bled the three that hadn’t, dropping a few milliliters of blood onto filter papers he would later send to a state testing lab.
“It’s just like going to the doctor and getting a blood sample,” said Susanne Kluh, who heads disease surveillance for the district. “Some get feisty, but it’s pretty easy on the chickens.”
Wild birds don’t seem to mind the needles, either. Many that have been trapped for surveillance, banded, and released return repeatedly to the traps — where they can be tested again to see if they have immunity. “They give their blood and get free food,” Middleton said. “The same birds come back week after week.”
Unlike sparrows, finches, jays, and crows — which can die from West Nile and also transmit it to new mosquitoes — chickens don’t get sick or spread the virus. Indeed, the sentinel Longhorns are healthy enough that local gardeners gather their eggs and use their manure for fertilizer. Once testing season ends in late fall, the birds are given away — for pets or meat. “They’re good eating,” said Kluh.
And they’re good data generators, helping Kluh and colleagues generate a precise map of where the virus is active. The district can then target outreach and abatement efforts.
Human cases are too slow to be useful for surveillance, she said, because people often don’t go to the doctor right away and doctors don’t always report cases. (Indeed, the number of actual West Nile deaths is likely higher than stated because of underreporting, public health officials say.)
An army of invading mosquitoes
Los Angeles County public health officials credit the vector control district with keeping the outbreak from being far worse. But for Kluh and her team, every West Nile death is difficult.
“It’s hard,” Kluh said. “We take it really personally.”
This month, 84-year-old Julia Shepherd, an active grandmother from a Los Angeles suburb, died of West Nile after becoming paralyzed and disoriented.
The case is exactly the type public health officials fear, one that robs healthy older adults — those most likely to be outdoors — of either their lives or their independence. Some half of older adults who have been infected with neurological symptoms have still not recovered their ability to function independently after a year, Schwartz said.
While they’re focussed on West Nile, which is transmitted by Culex mosquitoes, Kluh and her team do still monitor the spread of Aedes aegypti, which can transmit Zika. She’s also tracking Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito that’s a carrier of dengue and chikungunya. And she’s got her eye on the newly arrived Aussie Mozzie mosquito — Aedes notoscriptus — that transmits yet other viruses.
“I guess I’ve got job security,” she joked.
Kluh sees a silver lining in the invasion of these aggressive new species. Unlike California’s resident Culex mosquitoes, the newcomers bite humans more than birds, bite all day long, and tend to raise welts that are itchier and more noticeable. Because of this, many people here are finally starting to complain about mosquitoes — and that’s music to Kluh’s ears.
“Because it’s so unpleasant,” she said, “people might finally start protecting themselves from getting bitten.”
This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Sept. 29, 2017. Find the original story here.
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OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state Senate is the only Republican-led legislative chamber on the West Coast, and a special election in Seattle’s wealthy eastern suburbs has drawn millions of dollars and national attention to two political newcomers vying for the seat in November.
Democrat Manka Dhingra and Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund are seeking to serve the last year of a four-year term left vacant by the death of Republican Sen. Andy Hill.
Republicans, with the help of a Democrat who caucuses with them, currently control the Senate by a single seat. But Democrats hope the district – which includes Redmond, Woodinville and Sammamish – will vote as it did in last year’s presidential, U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections: Democrat.
If the Washington Senate flips, the state will join Oregon and California with Democratic one-party rule in both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
“We’d love to see a blue wall of Democratic legislatures in the West,” said Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which works to get Democrats elected to statehouses across the U.S.
Republicans note Hill was elected twice during a time that the district also twice voted strongly in favor of former President Barack Obama.
Washington voters are independent-minded and will make their decision “based on keeping balance in Olympia,” said Justin Richards, the Republican State Leadership Committee’s vice president of political affairs and communications.[Watch Video]
While Democrats hope one-party control will break the gridlock over the state budget that has led to numerous overtime sessions in recent years, Republicans see it as a green light for new taxes sought by Gov. Jay Inslee, including a carbon tax and capital gains tax. Also part of the narrative is the potential impact of the national political landscape – most pointedly President Donald Trump – on the race.
“If I was a Democratic strategist, every Republican candidate’s middle name would be Trump,” independent pollster Stuart Elway said.
Dhingra, a 43-year-old senior deputy prosecuting attorney with the King County Prosecutor’s Office, had a 10-point lead over Englund in August’s top-two primary as both advanced to the November ballot. Dhingra was born in India, and her family moved to the U.S. when she was a teen. She oversees therapeutic alternative courts for the mentally ill and veterans and founded a nonprofit to address domestic violence in the area’s South Asian community. She cites Trump’s election as the catalyst for her desire to run.
“I never thought an election could impact me the way it did,” she said.
A month later, she walked into her first Democratic Party district meeting.
“It was really interesting to me because when I walked into this room – it was really packed – 75 percent of the room was women,” she said. After that meeting and conversations with friends and family, “I knew that I wanted to do something where I could have statewide impact.”
Englund, 33, recently moved back to her home state from Japan, where her husband is still stationed with the Marines. She has been criticized for moving into the district just one month before announcing her candidacy, but she argues she returned to Washington to be closer to her aging parents.
Englund said Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi, who was appointed to the seat after Hill’s death, reached out to her once he learned she was in the district.
“This was not on my radar,” she said. “For him to believe I could do it was a big thing.”
Englund, who is Korean-American, said her experience working as a staffer for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington as well as for The Bitcoin Foundation, a digital currency advocacy group, and on projects for the military gives her a broader perspective on legislating at the state level. But she said she knows her opponents will try to tie her to Trump as the campaign picks up in the coming weeks.
“To assume that all Republicans are the same, or to assume all Democrats are the same, is a wrong assumption,” Englund said, noting she didn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton but wrote in an alternate candidate.
Other states including Virginia and New Jersey have legislative races this year, but the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee considers Washington’s the most important, Post said.
The money follows that sentiment, with more than $4 million spent so far by both sides, though most of that has been from outside groups.
Ballots for the Nov. 7 general election will be mailed to voters Oct. 20. The winner will need to run again in 2018.
This report was written by Rachel La Corte of the Associated Perss.
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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Democrats are looking for the prescription that will help them emerge from their withered condition, after dominating just a decade ago.
After sending progressive Tom Harkin to the Senate for 30 years and twice delivering the state for Barack Obama, Democrats are powerless in the House, Senate and statehouse, and remain stunned by President Donald Trump’s solid Iowa victory last year.
While it’s a familiar scenario across the upper Midwest, the pressure on Iowa Democrats to recoup the working-class voters who marched with Trump is more intense: They’re charged with setting the tone in a little more than two years for the party’s presidential nomination.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan has ideas for Iowa, his own state and elsewhere. He is among three rising House Democrats — including Illinois’ Cheri Bustos and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts — in Des Moines on Saturday for a Democratic fundraiser, capping a summer of early activity in the presidential proving ground by more than 10 would-be White House prospects.
“I think it starts with letting these working-class people know that we see them, we hear them and we know what they are going through, and we have a plan,” Ryan, from blue-collar Warren, Ohio, told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Just as Iowa Democrats are starting from scratch, the little-known Democrats surveying Iowa are a sign the national party, too, is starting at square one in its search for its next standard-bearer after consecutive, star-studded presidential campaigns.
It wasn’t long ago Iowa Democrats were sitting at a 40-year high.
Just seven years ago, Democrats controlled both state legislative chambers and had occupied the governor’s office for 12 years. The party held three of five House seats, while Harkin was Obama’s right hand in the push for the health care law.
But economic blowback from a national financial collapse, a poorly handled state budget crisis and the widespread revolt by grassroots conservatives against the Affordable Care Act created an angry backlash in 2010 against Democrats, especially in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.
That year former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad was swept back into office. Four years later, Harkin retired and voters handed his seat to little-known, rural Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst, snubbing four-term Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in one of the year’s biggest upsets.
Iowa was also undergoing a rapid, politically consequential demographic shift. Iowa ranks in the top 10 of states with the highest population of whites and in the top 15 of those 65 years and older. According to U.S. Census data, both groups — two pillars of Trump’s win statewide and nationally — increased simultaneously after 2010 and became a bigger percentage of Iowa’s electorate.
“We’ve lost touch with certain voters,” state party chairman Troy Price said. “We talk about issues, but not the values behind the issues. We haven’t done the best job communicating with the people we fight so hard for. It’s why we are where we are.”
Especially stark has been the decline of rural Democrats. Last month, small-town state Rep. Todd Pritchard, an Iraq War veteran and former county prosecutor, left the crowded Democratic field for governor, dominated by Des Moines Democrats. The last rural Democrat to hold statewide office was Gov. Tom Vilsack, elected in 1998.
“That’s been kind of a sea change,” said Doug Gross, a moderate Des Moines Republican and former nominee for governor. “It’s difficult to go into the rural areas of Iowa and find anyone who will admit to being a Democrat.”
But time in the wilderness is stirring the Democratic base. No fewer than seven Democrats have announced they are running for governor.
“Those are the things motivating people now that have never been active before,” Democratic state Rep. Kirsten Running Marquardt said. “That’s sort of the bright spot.”
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The search is on for a new secretary of health and human services, after former Georgia Congressman Tom Price was forced to resign late yesterday in a scandal over using expensive private charter flights for official travel. President Trump named Deputy Assistant Secretary Don Wright as acting chief of the massive department and its 80,000 employees. Finding and confirming a permanent successor to Price is only one of the challenges ahead for the administration.
Joining us now from the nation’s capital is “Washington Post” reporter John Wagner.
John, let’s first start by the person who is supposed to take over now. What do we know about him?
JOHN WAGNER, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, we know he’s a practicing physician, Don Wright, and I don’t think there’s any expectation that he’s going to be in the position very long. But it was — it was somewhat interesting that they went ahead and appointed someone as soon as they got rid of Price. I think it showed this has been keyed up for a little while.
SREENIVASAN: Is the ease of confirmation an issue? I mean, considering what Tom Price went through, and now that the spotlight is maybe a little sharper?
WAGNER: Well, I think the confirmation process for whoever is named permanently will be interesting on a couple of levels. One, I think it becomes a proxy battle over the future of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are really not happy with the administration saying that they’ve done nothing, you know, from the executive branch respective to try to shore up what’s in place now.
So, I think whoever the nominee may be, they’re going to really be pressed on that issue. And then, I think one of the lessons learned here on both sides of the aisle is that you need to carefully vet these nominees. The whole issue of Price’s trades and stock — health stocks was an issue when he was going through the confirmation process. And Republicans really gave him a pass on that, and I think a lot of them came to regret it, and it was one reason he didn’t have many allies left when he got in hot water again.
SREENIVASAN: Speaking of the Affordable Care Act, the law of the land, this is still the open enrollment period that’s coming up, right?
WAGNER: That’s right. And that’s, you know, another looming question is, you know, to what extent is the administration committed to trying to make this work? Democrats will tell you they’re trying to undermine it at every turn and I think, you know, that’s really going to be a question going forward because it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a health care overhaul bill any time soon.
SREENIVASAN: One of the stories I read yesterday about the Price situation was that he had just sent out a memo to his staff, talking about a reorganization, and places to save money, and cuts that could be made. What happens with the functioning of a department this big?
WAGNER: Well, you know, it’s interesting. I think, you know, on — as of Thursday night, he still was appearing confident that he was going to stay on board. He was on FOX News saying he was looking forward to regaining the trust of the president and of the people.
It is a very big department. There are a lot of people in place running pieces of it. So, I’m not sure, you know, certainly from the public perspective that we’ll notice a whole lot immediately. Seema Verma who runs the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who is also oversees the marketplaces is still there. She’s one of the folks being talked about as a possible successor.
So, from a policy standpoint, you know, we will probably see a fair amount of continuation.
SREENIVASAN: All right. John Wagner of “The Washington Post” — thanks so much for joining us.
WAGNER: Thank you.
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IVETTE FELICIANO: Since Hurricane Maria hit, 40-year-old barber Hector Cruz Santiago hasn’t been able to reach his 20-year-old daughter, who’s a student at the University of Puerto Rico, in San Juan.
HECTOR CRUZ SANTIAGO: Nothing. I’ve tried a thousand ways to communicate, and I haven’t been able to. It really worries me, because I have no idea how she’s doing, if she’s OK, if she’s unwell. It’s a huge stress.
IVETTE FELICIANO: Santiago settled in this Puerto Rican enclave of Bethlehem in central Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley 15 years ago.
LUZ ESTREMERA: I really have no idea how my family is doing. I just want to know what’s going on and to know that they are OK.
IVETTE FELICIANO: Santiago’s wife, Luz Estremera, is worried about aid reaching her grandmother and aunts in the coastal town of Guayama. She’s hasn’t heard from them, but she’s gotten tidbits of information about her hometown on social networking apps.
LUZ ESTREMERA: Puerto Rico is my island, it’s so sad. I love her, I want to live there but… everyone wants to come here. You can’t live there anymore.
IVETTE FELICIANO: Adding to their stress, concerns about how the U.S. territory will pay to rebuild given its massive debt crisis, rampant poverty, and high unemployment rate. Puerto Rico’s power company owes 9 billion dollars of the island’s 72 billion dollar debt. Maintenance cutbacks before the hurricane exacerbated damage to the electric grid.
The Lehigh valley’s Puerto Rican community has grown to almost 40-thousand people in the last few years. It’s sending cans of food and supplies to help the island’s residents.
MARY COLON: What we are envisioning is as we get more and more of our families from the island, they are going to be coming through here.
IVETTE FELICIANO: At the area’s Hispanic center, board president Mary Colon believes the hurricane will accelerate the exodus that began due to Puerto Rico’s financial crisis.
MARY COLON: We have to roll up our sleeves and welcome the families that are coming here and help them as well as help those who are staying behind.
IVETTE FELICIANO: Michelle Cabrera moved with her husband and two children to Bethlehem from Puerto Rico 7 years ago and says her sister and niece will soon to join them on the mainland.
MICHELLE CABRERA: My mom is still pending because she takes care of her grandparents. They are sick, diabetic. And my grandmother does not want to come. She has her house there.
IVETTE FELICIANO: Puerto Rico’s three-and-a-half million U.S. citizens have one representative in congress, but she can’t vote. So Cabrera and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce here are organizing a letter writing campaign to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation asking for more federal aid.
MICHELLE CABRERA: Puerto Ricans that have moved from the island here, it is our job to make a movement and to talk to the community, the representatives. Anything that we can do to have that voice.
IVETTE FELICIANO: Yarimar Bonilla, an associate professor of Latino and Caribbean studies at Rutgers University, is from Puerto Rico.
YARIMAR BONILLA: You know a lot of people are discovering Puerto Rico and its political status for the first time right now. You have this in a bureaucratic apparatus that is not able to work quickly and efficiently especially when they’re in a context outside of the continental United States.
IVETTE FELICIANO: She’s written about how Caribbean territories like Puerto Rico with limited self-governance are more vulnerable during a crisis.
YARIMAR BONILLA: In the sense that they have complicated arrangements with US and imperial European powers. So places like Guadeloupe, Turks and Caicos the British Virgin Islands, a lot of the sites that have been impacted by the hurricane season this year, they are in different kinds of entanglements with the United States in Europe.
IVETTE FELICIANO: Bonilla’s caught a flight from Puerto Rico and packed as if she’ll never go back.
YARIMAR BONILLA: We saw that in New Orleans after Katrina. Many people left and did not return. All of us observing this in the United States, we’re–we’re very scared about what is going to happen to our communities and we feel the clock ticking.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: With assistance from the United States, the country of South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011. Civil war took over the new nation in just two years. It has led to famine, accusations of ethnic cleansing, and a massive refugee crisis. In tonight’s signature segment, a rarely seen side of the story — an American citizen who is leading a rebel group fighting to change South Sudan’s government.
This report was produced with support from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center to Prevent Genocide. NewsHour weekend special correspondent Simona Foltyn and journalist Jason Patinkin made the treacherous journey into to South Sudan.
SIMONA FOLTYN: In the hills of northeastern Uganda, a concealed forest path leads across the border into South Sudan. The young nation, mired in a four-year civil war, is increasingly difficult for journalists to access, so we use this hidden route to enter into rebel-held parts of the country. We are traveling with Martin Abucha, a commander with a rebel group called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In Opposition. What separates Abucha from other combatants in this war is he’s a dual South Sudanese and American citizen with family in the United States.
MARTIN ABUCHA: I would like to enjoy eating hamburgers, I’d like to enjoy going to Burger King and McDonald’s with my daughters, and things like that. But I feel it’s an obligation that I must carry. I don’t want my kids to go through this.
SIMONA FOLTYN: As we pass the peak of this hill, we cross into South Sudan and meet the rebels. For the next four days, we’ll travel with Abucha to a base to see how these soldiers live and why they fight. Abucha is 45 and his life now is a far cry from his comfortable life in the United States.
MARTIN ABUCHA: I have a tent, but it’s necessary to have a sleeping mat. This is my military fatigue.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Abucha is determined to fight to overthrow a government that stands accused of widespread human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing.
MARTIN ABUCHA: You know, to us, we are not rebels. We’re people fighting for their rights.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Abucha’s life now is a far cry from his comfortable life in the United States. Abucha’s journey to the U.S. began in 1995, when at age 22, he obtained a visa to enter the U.S. as a refugee from Sudan. He followed an uncle to Phoenix, and ended up living there, on and off, for 15 years.
MARTIN ABUCHA: My whole goal of going there was just to getting an education.
SIMONA FOLTYN: After earning a bachelor of science, engineering, and masters of business degrees, Abucha worked for companies like Honeywell and Hewlett Packard. He started a family, became a citizen, and a leading figure of Arizona’s growing community of South Sudanese refugees.
MARTIN ABUCHA: Phoenix is still my home, that’s where I have my buddies.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Do you sometimes miss the comforts of the United States?
MARTIN ABUCHA: Sometimes yes, sometimes, but if I look into the suffering of our people, I think I should spend more time here. This is primitive, yes it is, but we are good with it as long as nobody sits on us. We don’t want to be imposed on. We want to govern ourselves.
SIMONA FOLTYN: When South Sudan won its independence from Sudan in 2011, Abucha went back and took an IT job in the Census Bureau in this new nation of 12 million people. Abucha says there was rampant corruption in the fledgling government.
MARTIN ABUCHA: To be honest, over 20 to 30 percent of the money went to where, we don’t know. We knew there was money in there, but we don’t know what the money was used for.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Disillusioned, Abucha left and went back to Phoenix. In 2013, just two years after the country won its independence, the civil war began as a power struggle over the country’s top post between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, who mobilized their rival tribes the Dinka and the Nuer. The war has since spread through the country’s southern Equatoria region, drawing in other ethnic groups, including Abucha’s called the Madi. Abucha, who underwent compulsory military training as a young man in Sudan, went back in 2014. He initially joined the rebels as a member of Machar’s negotiating team. In 2015, the U.S. brokered a peace deal, but it fell apart last year. Now, with peace talks on hold, he’s living the life of a soldier.
Much of South Sudan is covered with dense forest, which is why this area is so conducive to guerrilla warfare. The bush provides cover and prevents the government from bringing in tanks and other heavy machinery. This allows the rebels to sustain their insurgency, even though they’re outgunned.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Government troops control the main towns and roads in the area while the rebels have the upper hand in the bush. Many young men join the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In Opposition, because of atrocities committed against their communities. Lokuku Charles says the South Sudanese army went after his family in Equatoria.
LOKUKU CHARLES: They went to my home. They came and arrested all the family members. My three sisters were arrested. And my mother arrested. And my wife and my children, which means all of my future.
SIMONA FOLTYN: What do you think happened to them?
LOKUKU CHARLES: What I think happened to them is they are dead. That’s why I have four years in the bush. I have nowhere to go
SIMONA FOLTYN: To show us the devastation of the war, Abucha wanted to take us to his hometown, called Loa. But to get there required traveling deep into rebel territory. First we crossed the Nile River, which flows north through South Sudan, in small dugout canoes. Then we hiked for two days through the dense bush escorted by the rebel soldiers. Every so often, we stopped to wait for the green light of a reconnaissance unit ahead of us to make sure it was safe. Approaching the village, we saw dozens of burned houses.
MARTIN ABUCHA: When we came here last year in September, the houses were all intact. Now they are gone. All had property inside now you can see.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Christian missionaries built this cathedral in the early 20th century.
MARTIN ABUCHA: This was a very beautiful church. We used to do the Way of the Cross during Easter, we go around, we go back this way to the altar. I was an altar boy here in this church as well.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Last year, rebels say government soldiers looted and ransacked the church, its health center, and school, turning this once vibrant community into a ghost town. Independent observers, including the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, blame President Kiir’s army for most of the atrocities in this war, including civilian massacres and mass rape. But the rebels are accused of atrocities too. For instance, in Equatoria, they’ve carried out attacks on army convoys that sometimes escort civilians. Abucha accuses the army of using civilians as human shields and denies targeting them.
MARTIN ABUCHA: We have no intent of killing any civilian. Even if a civilian gets hurt in an operation where our forces are engaged, it’s very unfortunate. And lately, the government starts moving with civilian vehicles and soldiers in these vehicles shooting, and this is very dangerous for these civilians.
SIMONA FOLTYN: But you still attack convoys with civilians?
MARTIN ABUCHA: We don’t attack a convoy of civilians. We have never done that. It’s only that when we begin to take fire from these vehicles. They may be civilian vehicles, but they are shooting at us, that’s when personnel will defend themselves.
MARTIN ABUCHA ADDRESSING TROOPS: “You, my army, you are here to do your job.”
SIMONA FOLTYN: Martin Abucha is frustrated the international community hasn’t done more to end the war. As a rebel negotiator, he had a front row seat to the diplomacy behind the failed 2015 peace deal. He blames John Kerry, President Obama’s last Secretary of State, and the former Special U.S. Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, for forcing through a peace deal that backfired.
MARTIN ABUCHA: Many times just delivering an ultimatum. The parties were not allowed to negotiate, but things were imposed on them. And it was very unfair, and unfortunately, the agreement collapsed.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Abucha says the U.S. imposed a power-sharing agreement that divided government posts between President Kiir’s loyalists and Machar’s camp, but failed to ensure it was implemented. The demilitarization of South Sudan’s capital, Juba, never happened, and the ceasefire never took hold.
MARTIN ABUCHA: When the United States signed off that document as the guarantor, when things went wrong, they were not there to support it. When it was being violated, they did nothing about it.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Abucha says U.S. diplomats failed to stop President Salva Kiir from reneging on the deal. Three months after Riek Machar returned to Juba last year to serve again as Vice President. Kiir’s army chased him out of the country, and Kiir appointed another politician as his number two. In the past 15 months, as the fighting escalated again, South Sudanese civilians fled their homes, mostly across the border to Uganda.
MARTIN ABUCHA: Today, if you have over one million people displaced and have taken refuge in Uganda in particular, it was because of that crisis.
SIMONA FOLTYN: Food shortages resulting from the civil war have left 6 million South Sudanese, half the population, dependent on international aid. As Martin Abucha sees it, political negotiations needed to end this war require stronger engagement by global and regional powers. He says the U.S. offers humanitarian aid but stands on the sidelines as the violence continues.
MARTIN ABUCHA: The United States’ government is saying they’ll spend over two billion dollars since 2013. But I’m sure they should have spent less and stopped this war. You’re talking about just the cost of human justice. I don’t know how many people have died. You can never put value to that number of lives lost.
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Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the Department of Defense’s primary military liaison with FEMA, toured the damage in Puerto Rico for the first time Saturday during a helicopter ride from San Juan to Ceiba. After landing at a hangar in Ceiba with no power, internet or cellular service, Buchanan spoke with the PBS NewsHour’s Monica Villamizar.
“Sometimes we don’t know what’s going to happen until the storm actually hits, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Buchanan said.
The trip occurred hours after President Donald Trump criticized San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for “poor leadership” after she spoke of devastation and “horror” on the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and pleaded for help and support from the government. “We are dying here,” she said during a news conference Friday.
Buchanan said the worst problems are on the interior of the island. “And it’s because of roads. The roads are not clear on the outside of the island, and we’re slowly working our way in. But we obviously need to get all the roads cleared so we can get supplies to people who desperately need them.”
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BRANCHBURG, N.J. — President Donald Trump on Sunday scoffed at “politically motivated ingrates” who had questioned his administration’s commitment to revive Puerto Rico after a pulverizing hurricane and said the federal government had done “a great job with the almost impossible situation.”
The tweets coming from a president ensconced in his New Jersey golf club sought to defend Washington’s efforts to mobilize and coordinate recovery efforts on a U.S. territory in dire straits almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Friday accused the Trump administration of “killing us with the inefficiency” after the storm. She begged the president, who is set to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday, to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives,” and appealed for help “to save us from dying.”
She explained in a television interview Sunday that “there’s only one goal, and it’s saving lives,” adding that all she did “was ask or help.”
Trump’s weekend tweets have shown him to be contemptuous of their complaints of a laggard U.S. response to the natural disaster that has imperiled the island’s future.
“We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates,” he tweeted on Sunday.
He said “people are now starting to recognize the amazing work” done by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military.
And Cruz told “This Week” on ABC: “”I know the good heart of the American people and I know that when a mayday sound goes off, they come to the rescue.”
The day before, Trump had tweeted: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”
He added: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” Trump wrote from his club.
His critical response was an unusually pointed rebuke from the president in the heat of a disaster — a time when leaders often put aside partisan differences in the name of solidarity. But it was a reminder of Trump’s unrelenting penchant for punching back against critics, whatever the circumstances.
Trump has said he’s doing everything possible to help the “great people of PR!” and has pledged to spare no effort to help the island recover from Maria’s ruinous aftermath. He has also repeatedly applauded his government’s recovery efforts, saying military personnel and first responders have done “an amazing job,” despite the significant logistical challenges.
Thousands more Puerto Ricans have received water and rationed food as an aid bottleneck has begun to ease. But many, especially outside the capital, remain desperate for necessities, including water, power and fuel.
Trump’s administration has tried in recent days to combat the perception that he failed to quickly grasp the magnitude of Maria’s destruction and has given the U.S. commonwealth less attention than he’d bestowed on states like Texas, Louisiana and Florida after they were hit by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Trump had repeatedly praised the residents of those states as strong and resilient, saying at one point that Texas could “handle anything.”
Administration officials have held numerous press conferences providing updates on relief efforts and Trump on Saturday spoke by phone from New Jersey with FEMA Administrator Brock Long, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, and other several other local officials.
But after a week of growing criticism, the president’s patience appears to be waning.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” the president charged, without substantiation.
Long added: “The problem that we have with the mayor unfortunately is that unity of command is ultimately what’s needed to be successful in this response,” he said, requesting that she report to a joint field office.
Cruz declined to engage in the tit for tat, instead calling for a united focus on the people who need help. “The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our ‘true colors.’ We cannot be distracted by anything else,” she tweeted, along with photos of herself meeting with residents and rescue workers, wading hip-deep through a flooded street and comforting an elderly woman.
After a day of tweets criticizing the news media, Trump seemed to echo the sentiment: “We must all be united in offering assistance to everyone suffering in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the wake of this terrible disaster.”
Trump’s Saturday tweets are the latest example of his insistence on “punching back,” even against those with far less power. After a deadly terror attack in London in June, for instance, Trump singled out London Mayor Sadiq Khan, suggesting he wasn’t taking the attacks seriously enough.
Natural disasters sometimes bring moments of rare bipartisan solidarity. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, which wreaked havoc along the East Coast in 2012, New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, praised Democratic President Barack Obama for his personal attention and compassion at a joint press conference. Still, the fight over relief money became politicized and contentious, with numerous Republicans voting against a delayed relief bill.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew, tensions between local and federal officials also ran high. Then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded with the government to send help in sometimes colorful terms, while Terry Ebbert, the city’s Homeland Security director, called relief efforts a “national disgrace.”
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O.J. Simpson, a former National Football League star, was released from a Nevada state prison on parole early Sunday after nine years of serving time for charges related to an armed robbery in 2007.
Simpson, 70, left Lovelock Correctional Center at 12:08 a.m. local time, in a late-night release meant to avoid media attention for the man whose murder trial and acquittal in 1995 drew international controversy. He was arrested in 2007 after he and two armed associates barged into a hotel room in Las Vegas and demanded sports memorabilia, later telling a Nevada jury that he was reclaiming family mementos.
He was originally sentenced to nine to 33 years for 12 convictions, having served the minimum sentence. The Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners at a hearing in July voted to grant Simpson parole Oct. 1, and that he would be on parole for up to five years.
Brooke Keast, a Nevada Department of Corrections spokesperson, told the Associated Press she did not know where Simpson was going, though his lawyer said Simpson’s attorney has said he would like to live in Florida.
In 1994, Simpson, a famous running back at the time, was charged with murder after his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were found dead outside her home in Los Angeles.
After police asked Simpson to surrender, he led them on a highway chase in a white Ford Bronco as about 95 million Americans, or 67 percent of all households, watched. It was one of the most-viewed events in television history and helped set the tone for what would become a sensationalized trial.
The trial became a flashpoint for racial tension in the U.S., in a decade where the police beating of black motorist Rodney King, and the acquittal of the four officers involved, had already brought an uprising that began among black communities in Los Angeles. Public opinion surrounding the trial was often divided among racial lines — one Washington Post-ABC News poll in 1994 found that 22 percent of black respondents thought Simpson was guilty as opposed to 63 percent of white respondents.
When a 12-person jury at the Los Angeles Superior Court found Simpson not guilty after a nearly nine-month trial, The New York Times noted that their critics “maintained that they had been manipulated by a cynical defense team that talked more about the racism of the Los Angeles police than about the guilt or innocence of their client.”
A civil trial found him liable for the deaths in 1997 and he was ordered to pay the victims’ families $25 million.
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BEIJING — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged on Saturday that the United State is maintaining direct channels of communications with North Korea even as tensions rise over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and the countries’ leaders spar through bellicose name-calling.
Tillerson said the U.S. was probing North Korea’s willingness to talk, and called for a calming of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, adding it was incumbent on the North to halt the missile launches.
“We have lines of communication to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” Tillerson told reporters during a visit to China. “We have a couple … three channels open to Pyongyang. We can talk to them, we do talk to them.”
No elaboration about those channels or the substance of any discussions came from Tillerson, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top officials in Beijing.
While Tillerson affirmed that the U.S. would not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power, he also said the Trump administration had no intention of trying to oust Kim. “Despite assurances that the United States is not interested in promoting the collapse of the current regime, pursuing regime change, accelerating reunification of the peninsula or mobilizing forces north of the DMZ, North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war, and the Demilitarized Zone divides North and South Korea.
Since President Donald Trump took office in January, the U.S. has restored a diplomatic back-channel between the State Department and North Korea’s mission at the United Nations. That’s traditionally been a way for the two sides to communicate because they lack formal diplomatic ties.[Watch Video]
The main aim of the initial contacts was to seek the freedom of several American citizens imprisoned in North Korea, although U.S. officials have told The Associated Press that there were broader discussions about U.S.-North Korean relations. Those contacts, however, have failed to reduce the deep mistrust between the adversaries and it’s unclear to what extent they have endured the current spike in tensions.
North Korea has in recent months tested long-range missiles that potentially could reach the U.S., and on Sept. 3 conducted its largest nuclear test explosion to date. The standoff has entered a new, more dangerous phase since then as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump have exchanged personal insults and threats of war.
“I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down,” Tillerson said. “They’re a little overheated right now. And I think we need to calm them down first.” He did not directly address the impact of Trump’s own rhetoric.
“Obviously it would help if North Korea would stop firing off missiles. That would calm things down a lot,” Tillerson said.
Trump gave a combative speech recently at the U.N. General Assembly in which he mocked Kim as “Rocket Man” on a “suicide mission.” Trump said that if “forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Kim responded by saying he would “tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”
Tillerson’s stop in the Chinese capital was helping lay the groundwork for a November state visit by Trump, part of a five-nation swing through Asia. Trump has pressed for sterner measures against the North by China, the North’s chief trading partner and source of aid and diplomatic support.
Beijing adamantly opposes steps that could bring down Kim’s government, but appears increasingly willing to tighten the screws. China has agreed to tough new U.N. penalties that would substantially cut foreign revenue for the isolated North.
On Thursday, Beijing ordered North Korean-owned businesses and ventures with Chinese partners to close by early January, days after it said it would cut off gas and limit shipments of refined petroleum products, effective Jan. 1. China made no mention of crude oil, which makes up the bulk of Chinese energy supplies to North Korea and is not covered by U.N. sanctions.
China has banned imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead ore, and seafood since early September. Still, Washington hopes China will exert even greater pressure.
China argues that sanctions alone cannot solve the impasse, and has urged Washington to cool its rhetoric and open a dialogue with North Korea. But the North is coming closer to having a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America, and says it will only discuss the weapons programs if the U.S. abandons its “hostile policy” toward the North.
This was Tillerson’s second visit to China as America’s top diplomat. China is the world’s No. 2 economy and chief U.S. rival for influence in Asia, and increasingly, the world.
In addition to North Korea, the U.S. and China have other security concerns to address.
They are at odds over Beijing’s military buildup and assertive claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea. Trump is also looking to reduce China’s massive trade surplus with the U.S. — $347 billion last year — and what American companies say are unfair barriers to investment, including pressure to hand over their technology.
In opening remarks at his meeting with Xi, Tillerson said relations between the sides continue to “grow and mature on the strength of the relationship between yourself and President Trump.”
He added: “We look forward to advancing that relationship at the upcoming summit.”
Trump and Xi met in April at Trump’s estate in Florida. Trump’s planned visit next month will come weeks after Xi is expected to receive a new five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party.
The presidents’ upcoming meeting promises to be grander and more choreographed than the informal talks in Florida that were most memorable for Trump’s ordering a missile strike on Syria and then informing Xi about it afterward as they ate chocolate cake.
Pennington reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Joe McDonald contributed to this report.
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is putting pro football players on notice for Week 4 of the NFL season: He won’t stand for it if they kneel in protest during the national anthem.
At Sunday’s first game, in London, New Orleans Saints players, coaches and staff knelt before the start of the anthem but stood in unison once it began. On the Miami Dolphins’ sideline, three players were on one knee during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Amid a series of tweets Saturday against criticism of the federal response to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, the president returned to the world of sports and society: “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!”
Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
Protesting during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” drew national attention last season when Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, declined to stand as a way to bring attention to police treatment of blacks and to social injustice.
During a speech at a political rally in Alabama on Sept. 22, Trump called for NFL owners to fire players who engaged in such a protest. In the days that followed the president issued a series of tweets reiterating his views and calling for a fan boycott of games.
Criticism from players, owners and fans — and some praise — greeted Trump’s remarks.
The controversy boiled for days and seemed to overshadow other issues facing the Trump presidency, including the failure of Republicans to repeal and replace the nation’s health care law; the Senate primary loss in Alabama of Trump’s favored candidate; a turbulent hurricane season; and tensions over North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons.
“I do really believe his heart’s in the right place,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“I think what matters is that we have to show people that we are an inclusive society, that we want everyone to succeed,” he said.
Ryan also acknowledged that the original point of the player demonstration — racial injustice and police mistreatment of African-Americans — has become obscured by the narrower issue of how to act during the anthem.
“I think we should just have separate and distinct conversations. Because when you merge it into the flag and the anthem, it’s lost,” Ryan said.
Relatively few players had demonstrated before Trump’s remarks. Last Sunday, more than 100 NFL players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance during the national anthem.
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NEW YORK — S.I. Newhouse Jr., the low-profile billionaire media mogul who ran the parent company of some of the nation’s most prestigious magazines, died Sunday. He was 89.
Newhouse’s death was confirmed by his family, who said he died at his New York home.
The chairman of Conde Nast since 1975, Si Newhouse bought and remade The New Yorker and Details magazines and revived Vanity Fair. Other magazines in the Conde Nast stable included Vogue, Wired, Glamour, W, GQ, and Self.
Before selling the Random House book publishing empire, he spotted a magazine profile about a rising young real estate mogul and was inspired to commission the first book of a future president, Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.”
Newhouse brought in buzz-obsessed Britons Anna Wintour and Tina Brown as editors, who became celebrities in their own right, while abruptly firing staffers who fell from his graces. Grace Mirabella learned she was being axed as editor-in-chief of Vogue in June 1988 when her husband saw it on TV.
Conde Nast under Newhouse was famously extravagant, paying editors huge salaries, throwing lavish parties and rarely sticking to budgets — if budgets existed at all. Its expense accounts were legendary, with dresses flown from Paris to New York on the Concorde and elephants brought in to menace models at fashion shoots.
“There’s no place on Earth like this,” Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter told New York magazine in 2009. “There’s no place where you’re given the resources you need to do what you want to do and also given complete freedom to do it.”
Conde Nast focused on glossy titles that helped set the nation’s tastes, reached millions of aspirational readers and appealed to upscale advertisers.
“Our magazines represent a certain tone and audience,” Newhouse told The New York Times in a rare interview in 1988.
He said the company that his father bought in 1959 for $5 million was following in the tradition of its founder, Conde Montrose Nast.
“It was that initial orientation of Conde Nast,” Newhouse said. “He invented the form of the specialized magazine. He didn’t want a large audience. He wanted one in which everyone counted.”
But the company has struggled in recent years with the advertising meltdown. Since 2007 it has closed Gourmet, Cookie, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride, House & Garden, Jane, Men’s Vogue, Portfolio, Domino and Golf for Women. The ambitious business magazine Portfolio shuttered in April 2009 just two years after its launch, burning through an estimated $100 million.
Forbes said in March 2009 that the downturn had sliced Newhouse’s fortune in half, but his estimated net worth of $4 billion still left him the world’s 132nd richest man.
Newhouse and his brother, Donald, owned Staten Island, N.Y.,-based Advance Publications Inc., the owner of Conde Nast, daily newspapers in about 20 cities and a cable television company. Donald ran the less-glamorous newspaper business and Newhouse cousin Robert Miron ran the cable television assets.
Unlike other media moguls who seemed obsessed with building a media empire to make money, influence opinion or bask in the spotlight, Newhouse seemed to have no grand plan. He rarely gave interviews, had no discernible political views and imposed few cost controls on his magazines.
Associates said he simply enjoyed the magazine business and rubbing elbows with the cultural elite.
“He loves magazines, meaning the whole and all of it, the variety of things published, the business details, the visions and actions and personalities of his editors, the problems, the problem-solving, the ink and paper … the all of it,” New Yorker editor David Remnick told New York magazine in 2009.
“He likes the buzz, there’s no question,” Wintour told The Times in 2008. “If you have lunch with a celebrity or political figure, he’s thrilled to hear about it.”
A short, mild-mannered man who usually arrived at his 22nd floor office around 5 a.m. in gray slacks and beat-up loafers, Newhouse was often described as shy and socially awkward.
That notoriously made for messy dismissals. Louis Gropp learned he was being fired as editor of House & Garden in 1987 while vacationing in California. Newhouse called and asked if he’d been reading Women’s Wear Daily while on holiday.
When Gropp said no, Newhouse got to the point.
“There have been a lot of stories in WWD that Anna Wintour is going to become the editor of House & Garden,” his boss told him, according to Carol Felsenthal’s 1998 book, “Citizen Newhouse: Portrait Of A Media Merchant.”
“Well, is that true?” Gropp asked.
“Yes,” Newhouse replied.
Val Weaver was let go as head of Self magazine in 1988 when Newhouse knocked on her door and asked, “Would you mind if we made a change in editors in chief?”, according to a 1995 biography of Newhouse by Thomas Maier.
Other editors Newhouse unceremoniously let go included Diana Vreeland from Vogue, Anthea Disney from Self, William Shawn and Robert Gottlief from The New Yorker, and Andre Shiffrin from Random House imprint Pantheon.
“There are certain decisions I have to make,” Newhouse told The Times in 1989 for a story headlined, “Heads Have a History of Rolling at Newhouse.” ”I don’t think there is any ideal way of handling this very sensitive area.”
Many hands were wrung when Newhouse bought The New Yorker in 1985 and forced Shawn out two years later. In 1992 he brought in Brown from Vanity Fair, who transformed the idiosyncratic literary journal into a more newsy read with shorter stories, a staff photographer and splashier color.
Newhouse lived with his second wife, Victoria, an architectural historian, in a Manhattan apartment near the United Nations and in a house in Bellport, Long Island. Newhouse had two sons and a daughter by his first wife, Jane Franke. During his second marriage the couple lavished attention on a black pug named Nero, who died in 1997, and Nero’s successor, Cicero.
A former member of the board of the Museum of Modern Art, Newhouse had a major collection of modern art including works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. He was also a major movie buff and enjoyed theater and the opera.
Samuel Irving Newhouse Jr. was born Nov. 8, 1927, in Staten Island, the grandson of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father, Sam Newhouse, bought the Staten Island Advance in 1922 and used its profits to purchase more papers, eventually including The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, The (Portland) Oregonian and two papers he merged to create The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger.
The elder Newhouse loved to tell how of how he bought Conde Nast for his wife as a 35th anniversary present.
“She asked for a fashion magazine — so I went out and got her Vogue!” he would say.
But the purchase was not a whim but a considered business decision, according to “Citizen Newhouse” and Maier’s biography, “Newhouse: All the Glitter, Power and Glory of America’s Richest Media Empire and the Secretive Man Behind It.”
Newhouse attended the elite Horace Mann high school in the Bronx, where his classmates included Roy Cohn, a lifelong friend. Cohn went on to become a New York powerbroker and aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Newhouse had a tough time at Syracuse University, dropping out his junior year. He then worked at his father’s newspapers for a time but never very seriously. He married, divorced, and seemed to enjoy an indulgent playboy lifestyle.
But by the mid-60s Newhouse made his way into Conde Nast, the one place in the family business where his father had shown little interest, and found his niche.
Former staffer Derek Rose contributed to this report.
Sheila Procella joined the Air Force in 1974 to “see the Earth,” she said. She enlisted at the tail end of the Vietnam War, shortly after graduating from high school. Although she never left her home state of Texas during eight years of service, her office job proved to be its own battlefield.
“Some of us actually went to war, some of us had war right here in the States, going to work every day knowing we are going to be harassed,” said Procella, now 62 and living in Plano, Texas.
At the time, fewer than 3 percent of service members were women. Procella recalled the daily barrage of sexual comments, gestures and men grabbing her inappropriately. And one of her superiors made it clear that her hopes of moving up the career ladder were dependent on having sex with him.
“He was kind of discreet about the way he put it, but his one advance and my one acceptance of his advance led to my promotion,” Procella said.
At the time, Procella, who served in the Air Force until 1979 and then went on to the Texas Air National Guard until 1982, accepted the common belief that reporting the incidents would be bad for her career. “It definitely wasn’t talked about, you definitely did not report your superiors for any kind of harassment,” she explained. “At the time that it happens you sweep it away like you’re going to be OK.”
But it wasn’t OK, and after her military career, Procella found herself dependent on alcohol and drugs to cope.
Eventually, she came to associate her deep depression, anxiety and panic attacks with the harassment and assaults during her military service. Procella, who had also experienced childhood sexual abuse, was diagnosed with military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2014, nearly three decades after her service. Today she has a 70 percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There are many others like Procella, who served decades ago, but are just coming to terms with their experience.
A 2015 study published by the American Psychological Association asked 327 female veterans in Southern California about their experiences with sexual trauma. They divided the respondents into two groups — those who served before the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, and those in uniform afterward. Nearly half of those in the earlier group reported sexual contact against their will during their military service. In the later group, reports of unwanted sexual contact dropped to 30 percent.
A majority of those who reported sexual abuse met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, the researchers said.
And a study published last year in the journal Women’s Health Issues found that women ages 45-54 reported more sexual harassment and assault while in the military than other age groups.
“I was struck by the idea that it wasn’t just younger women,” said Carolyn Gibson, a women’s health research fellow at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and co-author of that study.
The research also found that the association between sexual trauma and its negative effects on health — such as cardiovascular disease, substance abuse and other physical and mental illnesses — was most pronounced among female veterans ages 45-64.
Gibson said these effects may be exacerbated among women in midlife because there was less awareness around the issue when they were in uniform and they felt compelled to bear the stress alone.
Midlife is also a time of great change for women, Gibson explained, both physically and emotionally, which could lead them to come forward about sexual trauma after their service ended.
“As people go through periods of transition, then those symptoms tend to pick up a lot more,” she said. More of the veterans who are younger now, she added, may go public about their struggles with sexual trauma when they enter this phase of life 10 to 15 years down the road.
Battle For Recognition
The Veterans Health Administration coined the term “military sexual trauma” in 2004, and today about 25 percent of women and 1.5 percent of men who use VA health services have the diagnosis, according to the VA. The symptoms are closely associated with PTSD and put individuals at an increased risk for other mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
But getting a disability claim based on military sexual trauma can be a long and complicated battle. A 2014 Government Accountability Office report found that disability claims related to sexual trauma during military service used to be far less likely to be approved than PTSD claims from other sources. In 2010, 46 percent of all claims related to non-sexual trauma were approved by the Veterans Benefits Administration, while 28 percent of those related to military sexual trauma were, GAO said. By 2013, half of the sexual abuse claims and 55 percent of PTSD claims were approved.
The GAO and veterans groups say the increase came after the VA mandated training on military sexual trauma for employees processing claims at regional centers and for health professionals providing the veterans’ evaluations.
The VA has added resources specifically for women in recent years, even separate entrances for women at some counseling facilities. Still, it’s a challenge to get women through the door to receive help. According to a 2015 VA report on barriers to women’s health care, only 19 percent of female veterans used VA services.
“During the Vietnam era, a lot of veterans who came back had a hard time getting into the VA, especially women — they were put off by the VA for several years,” said Pam Maercklein, who coordinates women’s health care for the Texas Veterans Commission and is an Air Force veteran. “Now the VA, especially here in Texas, is doing a fairly good job of gender-specific treatment.”
Anna Baker, the manager of the commission’s women’s program, said women who are now middle-aged were forgotten when it came to treatment for sexual trauma at the time of their service and afterward.
“We’ve had several nurses who served in Vietnam who are just now coming out, who are saying that for so many years they just suppressed it,” Baker said, “and they’re just now starting to have those conversations and deal with those issues that are causing them anguish.”
While there’s a tendency to associate PTSD with military combat, a 2015 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that women who served in Vietnam had increased odds of PTSD. The effect, the report found, “appears to be associated with wartime exposures, especially sexual discrimination or harassment and job performance pressures.”
Delia Esparza, a psychiatric mental health nurse with the Vet Center in Austin, Texas, has been helping veterans — women and men — deal with sexual trauma for more than 22 years.
The Austin Vet Center is one of 300 community facilities across the country that provide veterans (and family members) with free individual and group counseling, in addition to other readjustment services.
Esparza said that even with increased attention to military sexual trauma, many of the problems that Procella and other veterans experienced persist. Among them: Women especially feel stigmatized for speaking out.
She recalled that when she first started practicing she had a female client who was a veteran from World War II.
“She was very troubled by this whole thing,” Esparza said of the veteran, who was then in her 70s, “and when she talked about it she became very tearful.
“It stays with you.”
KHN’s coverage of women’s health care issues is supported in part by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. You can view the original report on its website.
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Yarimar Bonilla and other people in the U.S. territories shudder when they are asked whether their families in Puerto Rico are “okay,” because it feels like people are really asking whether their families are still alive.
“They’re not ‘okay’ and we want to talk about how not ‘okay’ they are,” said Bonilla, who is from Puerto Rico and an associate professor of Latino and Caribbean studies at Rutgers University.
With sleepless nights and anxiety exacerbated by President Donald Trump lashing out at a public official who begged for help, Bonilla and other Puerto Ricans on the mainland are navigating unique traumatic experiences. As they wait to hear about whether their families are in danger and when they hear about the circumstances, their reactions can range from sadness, helplessness, anguish and survivor guilt to anger or depression.
“We feel guilty that we’re not there experiencing what our family members and their kids are experiencing,” she said. “Everyone I know here is completely sleep-deprived.”
There are an estimated five million Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States, many of whom have families on the island but have yet to hear from them. The hurricane wiped out power across the island, which might not be fully restored for a year. Many people, especially those outside major cities, have been without food or water since the storm.
On Saturday, Trump criticized San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for “poor leadership” after she spoke of devastation and “horror” on the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and pleaded for help and support from the federal government.
And when Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the Department of Defense’s primary military liaison with FEMA, toured the damage in for the first time just hours later, he told the NewsHour, “this is the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Bonilla said she feels fortunate because her mother has a landline that remained intact and she was able to hole herself up in a safe room in the middle of their home in San Juan with a D battery, a radio, water and snacks in case she became stranded.
“She was fully dressed in case she had to run out in the middle of something. She didn’t want to get caught in her pajamas,” Bonilla said, and she was also wearing a whistle “in case she fell and had a stroke, she could signal for help.”
Her mother survived, but emerged to a humanitarian crisis on an island that now has little clean water, electricity, money or food, to people growing desperate and stealing generators and other belongings and the smell of waste and animal carcasses rotting on the streets.[Watch Video]
Bonilla started to choke up when she described her mom as a “warrior,” who has survived breast cancer and open-heart surgery and uses a pacemaker.
“She has a very positive attitude. My mom is always finds the silver lining,” she said. “But the last couple of days, there’s no silver lining, there’s no neighborly love and there’s no cheerfulness in her voice.”
Bonilla said she has started to feel more of a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement and to black communities that struggled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Before now, it was a movement she supported but did not feel any personal connection to.
“That need to say that our lives matter,” she said. “I really connected to those phrases, ‘stop killing us, stop letting us die.’”
She bought a ticket to the mainland on every airline for her mom until she finally made it on Friday, packed as if she is not returning.
It’s too soon to tell whether such reactions will lead to prolonged mental health issues. Psychiatrists say that generally, only a small percentage of people exposed to trauma develop long-term repercussions and that they can vary, depending on the severity, the person who is experiencing it and the access to help that they have.
But in the 12 years after Hurricane Katrina, psychologists at the American Psychological Association found that nearly half of survivors developed anxiety, depression or another mood disorder, and rates doubled for suicide and suicidal thoughts. The association’s report, released in March, also said that one in six met the diagnostic criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Psychologists have since recognized the need for immediate mental health aid after natural disasters. The Texas Psychological Association, for example, has set up a network of more than 100 psychologists who are volunteering their time to help people cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Dr. Rebecca Hamlin, who co-chairs the association’s disaster resource network, said most often people just need to talk to someone without fear they are forcing someone else to relive the experience.
“Sometimes, it means just being able to talk about their experiences overall,” Hamlin said. “Some people just need to hear, ‘You’re not going crazy. You’re having a typical response,’”
But this type of grassroots network has not been established as part of the aid response to Puerto Rico, neither for the survivors on the island, who are almost entirely off the grid, nor for the families waiting in angst on the mainland.
Susan Clayton, professor and chair of psychology at the College of Wooster, compared the response Puerto Rico is getting from the federal government to New Orleans in 2005. She said that a feeling of neglect among disenfranchised communities could make some individuals even more vulnerable to trauma.
The unevenness of how communities or even neighbors are affected by natural disasters as well as the flow of resources can be a major source of strain, Clayton said, and she will be paying close attention to the mental toll Maria takes.
“It’s really too soon to tell. There might be strong community bonds but there might also be a sense of being ignored or overlooked,” she said. “And of course there was also the sense that there might have been a racial component.”
Clayton, a lead author on the American Psychological Association’s report, said she hopes these impacts will become better researched and discussed as more extreme weather events are provoked by climate change.
Dr. Carol North, a crisis psychiatrist with the O’Donnell Brain Institute at UT Southwestern, said that reassurance, support and spending time with loved ones are all part of an approach to disaster response called psychological first aid.
“Another thing is that sometimes people can be helped by a mild sedative, because you feel a lot better if you can sleep,” North said.
Bonilla said she has a strong community in the mainland who are in constant contact online, in person and through social media networks, but she is still working on sleeping.
“One night I was talking to my friends and was asking, ‘Does anyone have like a Valium?’” she said, laughing. “One of them told me to just take a Benadryl, that’s a poor man’s Valium.”
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WASHINGTON — Disputes over a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and partisan electoral maps top the Supreme Court’s agenda in the first full term of the Trump presidency. Conservatives will look for a boost from the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, in a year that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said will be momentous.
President Donald Trump’s travel ban appears likely to disappear from the court’s docket, at least for now.
But plenty of high-profile cases remain.
The justices will hear important cases that touch on gay rights and religious freedoms, the polarized American electorate, the government’s ability to track people without search warrants, employees’ rights to band together over workplace disputes and states’ rights to allow betting on professional and college sporting events.
Last year, “they didn’t take a lot of major cases because they didn’t want to be deadlocked 4-to-4,” said Eric Kasper, director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “This year, that problem doesn’t present itself.”
Gorsuch quickly showed he would be an ally of the court’s most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, most recently joining them in objecting to the court’s decision to block an execution in Georgia.
While justices can change over time, Gorsuch’s presence on the bench leaves liberals with a fair amount of trepidation, especially in cases involving the rights of workers.
The very first case of the term, set for arguments Monday, could affect tens of millions of workers who have signed clauses as part of their employment contracts that not only prevent them from taking employment disputes to federal court, but also require them to arbitrate complaints individually, rather than in groups.
“I’m very fearful, given the new Supreme Court, of what will happen,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.[Watch Video]
Just on Thursday, the justices added a case that has the potential to financially cripple Democratic-leaning labor unions that represent government workers.
Taken together, the two cases “have a real chance of being a one-two punch against workers’ rights,” said Claire Prestel, a lawyer for the Service Employees International Union.
In the term’s marquee cases about redistricting and wedding cakes, 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy, closest to the court’s center, remains the pivotal vote.
In an era of sharp political division, it may be now or never for the court to rein in excessively partisan redistricting. If the justices do set limits, their decision could affect elections nationwide.
The high court has weighed in several times on gerrymandering over the past 30 years, without agreeing on a standard that would allow courts to measure and oversee a process that elected lawmakers handle in most states.
But a lower court was convinced that Democratic voters’ challenge in Wisconsin to the Republican-led redistricting following the 2010 census offered a sensible way to proceed. The GOP plan seemed to consign Democrats to minority status in the Wisconsin Assembly in a state that otherwise is closely divided between the parties.
The only real question in the case is whether Kennedy will decide that partisan redistricting “has just gone too far” in Wisconsin and other states where one party has a significant edge in the legislature, but statewide elections are closely fought, said Donald Verrilli Jr., solicitor general during the Obama administration.
The wedding cake case stems from a Colorado baker’s refusal, based on his religious beliefs, to make a cake for a same-sex couple.
Colorado’s civil rights commission said baker Jack Phillips’ refusal violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.
As the case has come to the Supreme Court, the focus is on whether Phillips, who regards his custom-made cakes as works of art, can be compelled by the state to produce a message with which he disagrees.
On the other side, civil rights groups worry that opponents of same-sex marriage are trying to make an end run around the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that extended same-sex marriage rights across the country by carving out exceptions to civil rights laws.
The competing narratives are both meant to appeal to Kennedy, who has forcefully defended free-speech rights in his 30 years on the court and also wrote the court’s major gay rights rulings, including the landmark decision two years ago.
The Trump administration is supporting Phillips in this case. Former Justice Department official Martin Lederman said the administration’s high court filing is the first in American history in favor of an exemption from civil rights laws.
The administration also has reversed course in two cases before the justices. In the arbitration case, the administration now is supporting employers over their workers. In the other, the administration backs Ohio’s efforts to purge its voter rolls, over the objections of civil rights groups.
The justices have so far largely avoided being drawn into controversy surrounding the president. They found common ground and resisted a definitive ruling on Trump’s travel ban, which critics have derided as an effort to exclude Muslims. The latest revision to the policy could prompt the court to jettison the case they originally had planned to hear in October.
David Cole, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said plenty of other cases will test “whether and to what extent the court will be playing an independent role in checking the Trump administration’s positions with respect to basic rights protections.”
One case concerns privacy in the digital age. The issue: Can police obtain cell tower location records from mobile phone companies to track a person’s movements for several months without a search warrant?
Amid a clutter of ideologically divisive disputes, this case could unite conservative and liberal justices who have worried about how much unfettered access authorities should have to the digital records of peoples’ lives.
“It’s hugely important because, although this case is just about cell site records, it’s about much more,” said Orin Kerr, a privacy expert at George Washington University’s law school, including “internet records, bank records, credit card records and telephone records.”
Beyond the cases is the perennial court guessing game: Is anyone retiring?
Ginsburg and Kennedy, 81, are the court’s oldest justices. Kennedy’s plans are anyone’s guess. Some of his former law clerks have said they wouldn’t be surprised to see him leave the court as early as June.
Ginsburg turns 85 in March, at which point she’d become just the sixth justice to serve beyond that milestone birthday.
She has said she plans to serve as long as she can go “full steam.” Ginsburg’s discussion in public appearances about her workout routine, including planks and pushups, is her way of saying she’s sticking around.
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