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

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    Smoke rises as a Yemeni military armoured personnel carrier was hit by a Houthi rocket near the Red Sea coast city of al-Mokha, Yemen January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman - RTSX06G

    Smoke rises as a Yemeni military armoured personnel carrier was hit by a Houthi rocket near the Red Sea coast city of al-Mokha, Yemen January 23, 2017. Photo by Fawaz Salman/Reuters

    SANAA, Yemen — The U.S. military said Sunday that one service member was killed and three others wounded in a raid in Yemen targeting its local al-Qaida branch, marking the first-known combat death of a member of the U.S. military under President Donald Trump’s new administration.

    U.S. Central Command said in a statement that a fourth service member was injured in a “hard landing” in a nearby location. The aircraft was unable to fly afterward and was “intentionally destroyed.”

    The Central Command statement said 14 militants from al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, formally known as “al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula,” were killed in the assault and that U.S. service members taking part in the raid captured “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”

    Yemeni security and tribal officials said the surprise dawn assault in Yemen’s central Bayda province killed three senior al-Qaida leaders: Abdul-Raouf al-Dhahab, Sultan al-Dhahab, and Seif al-Nims.

    The al-Dhahab family is considered an ally of al-Qaida, which is now chiefly concentrated in Bayda province. A third family member, Tarek al-Dhahab, was killed in a U.S. drone strike several years ago. It was not immediately clear whether the family members were actual members of al-Qaida.

    The U.S. troops killed or wounded some two dozen men, including some Saudis present at the site, according to the Yemeni officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.

    An official with al-Qaida confirmed the killings, describing the attack as a “massacre” and saying that women and children had been killed as well. The official sent to The Associated Press in Cairo photos purportedly showing the bloodied bodies of several children killed in the raid.

    The official said the Apache attack helicopters struck the area from the air before dropping commandos in for the raid, which took place near Yakla village in Radaa district. He too spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

    Just over a week ago, suspected U.S. drone strikes killed three other alleged al-Qaida operatives in Bayda in what was the first-such killings reported in the country since Trump assumed the U.S. presidency.

    The tribal officials said the Americans were looking for al-Qaida leader Qassim al-Rimi, adding that they captured and departed with at least two unidentified individuals.

    Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, long seen by Washington as among the most dangerous branches of the global terror network, has exploited the chaos of Yemen’s civil war, seizing territory in the south and east.

    The war began in 2014, when Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies swept down from the north and captured the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led military coalition has been helping government forces battle the rebels for nearly two years.

    Separately, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi a day earlier called for the remnants of his parliament, many of whom are in exile in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, to convene in the country’s southern port city of Aden, where he is struggling to establish government control.

    Michael reported from Cairo. Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

    The post 1 U.S. service member killed, 3 wounded in Yemen raid appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo by Getty Images

    File photo by Getty Images

    Public health officials on Thursday said they had detected a bizarre cluster of cases in which patients in Massachusetts developed amnesia over the past few years — a highly unusual syndrome that could be connected to opioid use.

    The officials have identified only 14 cases so far. But officials said it’s possible that clinicians have simply missed other cases.

    The patients were all relatively young — they ranged in age from 19 to 52. Thirteen of the 14 patients identified had a substance use disorder, and the 14th patient tested positive for opioids and cocaine on a toxicology screen.

    “What we’re concerned about is maybe a contaminant or something else added to the drug might be triggering this,” said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the state epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and an author of the new report. “Traditionally there’s no evidence that the drugs themselves can do this.”

    The pattern emerged when Dr. Jed Barash, a neurologist at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., reported four of the amnesia cases to the state’s public health department. The department then sent out an alert to specialists, including neurologists and emergency physicians, asking about similar cases, ultimately identifying 10 more from 2012 to 2016 at hospitals in eastern Massachusetts. (The patients included one person who lived in New Hampshire and one person who was visiting Massachusetts from Washington state.)

    The patients experienced various memory problems affecting both long- and short-term memory. Some of them arrived at hospitals following overdoses, but in other cases, family members brought in patients who became confused or stopped being able to recognize their relatives or recall basic facts. Some of the patients also struggled with disorientation, attention, and executive function.

    In addition to showing the clinical symptoms of amnesia, brain imaging showed a significant reduction in blood flow to the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, learning, and emotion.

    There are only a few case reports in the medical literature of a similar combination of clinical and imaging results, which were a result of cocaine use, influenza, or carbon monoxide poisoning. There was only one case of blood being cut off to the hippocampus as a result of heroin use, from France in 2013.

    DeMaria said officials are concerned that increased exposure to synthetic opioids like fentanyl and synthetic marijuana could be playing a role in the recently identified cases. Twelve of the patients had a history of opioid use, and many patients either had a history of using other drugs — including cocaine and benzodiazepines — or tested positive for them.

    “The best thing that could happen is, well, no one else has seen this,” he said. But “considering 14 cases in four years, we’re worried we’re going to find more cases.”

    The new report appeared in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which is published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The researchers did not have follow-up data on all the patients, but one 19-year-old man recovered his short-term memory within five months, while one 33-year-old woman still had moderate short-term memory loss more than a year later. One 22-year-old man still had attention and processing problems almost two years later.

    DeMaria said he and his colleagues had considered whether the memory loss might be a consequence of an overdose, which depresses breathing and means less oxygen gets to the brain. But he said that even though clinicians saw some wider damage on the brain imaging, the effect was so focused in the hippocampus that something beyond an overdose was probably occurring.

    But other researchers not involved with the report said they guessed the amnesia could still have been caused by an overdose.

    “I don’t really know if there’s any other plausible explanation,” said Dr. Gary Franklin, a research professor at the University of Washington and fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

    Still, Franklin called the report both shocking for detailing how some people were dealing with memory issues years later and, at the same time, not all that surprising. Researchers are uncovering new ways opioid use can harm someone, and this finding might just be the latest addition.

    Franklin also said the report suggested that it was worth assessing people who recover or are revived from an overdose for damage to their brains.

    “This would prompt me to want to study that,” he said.

    By publishing the case reports, officials said they hoped that more clinicians will be on the lookout for cases.

    “That’s why we want to bring this to people’s attention,” DeMaria said. “Maybe this isn’t an outbreak of a new syndrome, but we won’t know that until people start looking at this more widely and start looking for this earlier in the presentation.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Jan. 26, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post Mysterious cluster of amnesia cases, possibly tied to opioids, alarms health officials appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Advisor to President-elect Donald Trump Steve Bannon (R) and incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus depart from services at St. John's Church during the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTSWHWY

    Advisor to President-elect Donald Trump Steve Bannon, right, and incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus depart from services at St. John’s Church during the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday said the addition of President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to regular meetings of the country’s top national security officials was essential to the commander in chief’s decision-making process.

    Trump took steps Saturday to begin restructuring the White House National Security Council, adding the senior adviser to the principals committee, which includes the secretaries of state and defense. At the same time, Trump said his director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would attend “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”

    Bannon served in the Navy before attending Harvard Business School, working at Goldman Sachs, starting his own media-focused boutique investment banking firm and later heading the ultraconservative outlet Breitbart News.

    “He is a former naval officer. He’s got a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told ABC’s “This Week.”

    Spicer said “having the chief strategist for the president in those meetings who has a significant military background to help make — guide what the president’s final analysis is going to be is crucial.”

    But to Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, the NSC “sadly has some really questionable people on it,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” citing Bannon among them.

    Breitbart has been condemned for featuring racist, sexist and anti-Semitic content.

    The post White House backs adding Bannon to national security meetings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    People gather to protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at O'Hare airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSXUED

    People gather to protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order at O’Hare airport in Chicago, Illinois, on Jan. 28, 2017. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters

    An executive order issued by Donald Trump on Friday to halt entry to the U.S. for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries has left colleges and universities racing to figure out how their students and employees will be affected.

    The order froze entry to the U.S. for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. Approximately 17,000 U.S. students come from those countries, according to Inside Higher Ed.

    On Saturday, an official told the Associated Press that the policy would also apply to green card holders who come from those countries. But in an apparent reversal on Sunday morning, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the policy “doesn’t affect them.”

    Priebus said that green card holders from the seven countries would be “subjected, temporarily, with more questioning, until a better system is put in place.”

    Federal Judge Ann Donnelly granted a stay on Trump’s order Saturday night in Brooklyn, barring federal officials from deporting people who had landed in the U.S. and were detained at airports. The American Civil Liberties Union, who brought the lawsuit, estimated that there were 100 to 200 people in this situation on Saturday night.

    On Saturday and Sunday, some colleges emailed their international students to advise against traveling outside the country until the ban was lifted. Others rushed to contact their students and faculty who were outside the country when the ban took effect. “We are testing American values in practice.” — Mohsen Kadivar, scholar and Duke University professor

    Mohsen Kadivar, an Iranian dissident and scholar who has lived in exile in the U.S. since 2008, is a professor in Duke University’s Department of Religious Studies specializing in Islamic philosophy and theology. He’s currently in Berlin on a prestigious research fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin — but it ends in July.

    “Can I return to the U.S. or not?” he said on Saturday afternoon in an interview with the NewsHour Weekend. “This is a problem, a major problem for me.”

    Kadivar noted that his writing has criticized the Iranian government and said he could be at risk for imprisonment if he returned there. “It’s impossible for me to return to Iran because of my writings and my speeches and my interviews,” he said.

    On Sunday morning, he said Priebus’ comments made him optimistic that he would eventually be able to return to the U.S. because he has a green card. “We are testing American values in practice,” he said in an email to the NewsHour Weekend.

    Duke University president Richard Brodhead and provost Sally Kornbluth emailed staff and students on Sunday morning, calling the restrictions “confusing and disturbing” and advising against international travel for members of the community from the seven countries.

    “We are in constant contact with immigration experts, other universities and national associations to understand the implications of the new policies, parts of which have already been successfully challenged in Federal court,” they wrote.

    Nooshin Sadegh Samimi, who was born in Iran and has a student visa, is pursuing a PhD in the University of Pennsylvania’s Anthropology Department, a position that was the culmination of “years and years of planning, and making friendships, and making connections and networking,” she told the NewsHour Weekend.

    Samimi was in the U.S. at the time the immigration order took effect. Like many others with student visas, the announcement left her with questions about whether she would be barred from returning to the U.S. if she visited her family in Iran, most of whom she has not seen for two years.

    “I’ve been working to get here for years. How can I risk it … to see my family?” she said.

    On Sunday morning, she said Priebus’ comments did not give her much hope, asking, “What is the next move? What are we going to do now?”

    Other students spoke out on Twitter over the weekend, worried about whether they would be able to return to the U.S., including a student at Yale University and another at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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

    Niki Mossafer Rahmati, an undergraduate student at the MIT and a citizen of Iran, wrote on Facebook on Saturday that she had been turned away from an airport in Doha. “When I got to Doha, I was stopped at the gate for my US flight,” she wrote, adding that she had returned to Tehran.

    Hazhir Rahmandad, a professor at MIT, told the Boston Globe that others at the school were affected as well. “We have PhD students who are in trouble. We have a lot of graduate applicants that we might not be able to get. We have colleagues who are stranded. Some people we might be recruiting for our faculty positions might consider the US to be untenable,” Rahmandad said.

    The announcement spurred widespread protests at airports across the U.S. on Saturday as attorneys and activist groups struggled to determine how many people were being detained as they landed in the country. At Chicago O’Hare, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Dallas-Forth Worth, San Francisco International Airport and elsewhere, crowds gathered to protest the policy.

    The post Trump immigration order leaves U.S. colleges scrambling for answers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSXTZF

    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks by phone with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A day after Donald Trump’s first call as president with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, leading congressional Republicans made clear they oppose any attempt by the new administration to wipe away U.S. penalties imposed on Moscow by the Obama White House.

    “I’m absolutely opposed to lifting sanctions on the Russians,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday. “If anything, we ought to be looking at increasing them.”

    The White House said the issue of sanctions wasn’t discussed during Saturday’s nearly one-hour conversation, which both sides described in positive terms.

    Trump, who has said he wants a better relationship with Russia, has been noncommittal on the matter, and his spokesman, Sean Spicer, said Sunday that no decision has been made.

    The Obama administration hit Russia with several rounds of punishing sanctions in 2014 in response to its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine. These penalties targeted sectors of Russia’s economy, major companies and people in Putin’s inner circle.

    Shortly before leaving office, Obama also ordered sanctions on Russian spy agencies, closed two Russian compounds in the U.S. and expelled 35 diplomats that he said were really spies. These sanctions followed an assessment by U.S. intelligence that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump.

    Sen. Rob Portman, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it would be a “huge mistake for American foreign policy” to remove the sanctions “until the reasons those sanctions were put in place are resolved.”

    Portman, R-Ohio, is part of a bipartisan group of senators who have introduced legislation that would extend the sanctions and put them into law.

    McConnell held back on supporting that effort: “Well, we’ll wait and see. I hope the president will follow our advice and not be lifting the sanctions on the Russians.”

    White House chief of staff Reince Priebus refused to say whether the subject of Russian interference in the election was raised during Saturday’s call.

    “What I will tell you is that it was a positive call,” Priebus said. The two leaders discussed working together in eradicating the Islamic State group and “resolving problems around the world, including Syria,” he said Sunday, going little beyond the brief White House statement issued shortly after the call.

    The Kremlin statement was broader. Although there was no mention of the sanctions, it said Putin and Trump discussed the importance of “restoring mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between business circles of the two countries.”

    The Kremlin also said Putin and Trump spoke in particular about international issues, including the fight against terrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s nuclear program, the situation on the Korean peninsula and the Ukraine crisis.

    Moscow has applauded Trump’s promises to rebuild U.S.-Russian relations, which have been pushed to their worst level since the Cold War.

    Trump on Saturday signed a presidential memorandum on a plan to defeat the Islamic State group. It included the possibility of teaming up with “new coalition partners” and suggested pairing up with Russia wasn’t off the table.

    Trump’s tempered approach to U.S.-Russia relations has raised concern among several European allies who believe keeping Russia in check is essential to regional security.

    McConnell and Spicer appeared on ABC’s “This Week.” Portman was on CNN’s “State of the Union,” while Priebus spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

    The post GOP warns Trump not to lift Russia sanctions after call with Putin appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order to impose tighter vetting of travelers entering the United States, at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2017. The executive order signed by Trump imposes a four-month travel ban on refugees entering the United States and a 90-day hold on travelers from Syria, Iran and five other Muslim-majority countries. Picture taken January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTSXWMI

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more on the legal and immigration issues related to President Trump’s executive order, I am joined from Miami by “USA Today” reporter, Alan Gomez.

    Alan, how do we get to these last 24 hours, what seems confusing and chaotic, and how this policy has been implemented?

    ALAN GOMEZ, USA TODAY: I think one of the biggest problems is that President Trump signed the order, but there appears to be very little guidance when it comes to how it’s being implemented on the ground. So, we’re hearing different reports how Customs and Border Protection is treating people coming too the country at let’s say Boston and Washington Dulles than they are in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    So, right now, we’re hearing that there are still people detained in Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the East Coast, a lot of those cases have largely been resolved because of a couple of court orders, but yes, it’s making for a difficult situation as lawyers are trying to just get access to a lot of these people who are being detained and facing these very conflicting orders from Customs and Border Protection.

    SREENIVASAN: And so, why is there confusion when it comes to Customs and Border Protection, and TSA and the airlines? I mean, you know, usually in the past, it has been sort of a six month warning sign. You’re going to have to start using your passports to go to Canada and back, or whatever? This came much quicker.

    GOMEZ: Well, I think it’s because of the way that the order was signed and then just immediately implemented. There was very, very little time for Customs and Border Protection to respond to this. They say that as soon as the order was signed, they immediately issued new guidance to their port officers, the people that you interview with when you come into the country, and updated their computer system so that they would specifically target people from these seven countries that were listed in the ban.

    But as you could imagine, when that goes out that quickly to that many officers without any sort of training or without any sort of more systemic changes to the system, it creates a lot of confusion.

    SREENIVASAN: What about the notion of the religious test that seems to be baked into this action?

    GOMEZ: Well, that’s one of the hardest things about this and it’s going to be one of the most litigated in the weeks to come. Understand that the court orders that we’ve been seeing in the last couple of days are focused primarily on these immigrants who had already arrived in the U.S. or were in transit, were on the way over here already.

    But we haven’t even started getting into the legal debate over the overall legality of President Trump’s order. And that’s when we’re going to start seeing whether — whether courts decide that this was the, quote/unquote, “Muslim ban” that he talked about on the campaign trail or if this was really a national security order that he issued. There is, you know, when you look through the order, most of it is tied to national security. It opens up, talking about the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The president goes on to explain in great detail why this is being done on national security grounds.

    But because of his past statements about the Muslim ban, and because of at least one provision in the order that seems to indicate that we are going to give prioritization to people who are religiously persecuted in some of these countries, it could open up the entire order to legal questions about whether this is really a religious ban or if this is based solely on national security grounds.

    SREENIVASAN: So, who does the administration planned on getting some clarity here? I mean, this morning, we heard Reince Priebus say that green card holder should not be affected by this, but yet at the same time, we have people in couple of airports around the country that have green cards that were detained.

    GOMEZ: Yes, I can tell you that as of, I think it was Saturday at this point, DHS saying that green card holders would be affected by it. Obviously now, we’re getting a little bit more clarity that they will be allowed into the country. Some of them are going through — what they’re going through right now is it’s called the “case by case review” of their immigration visa. So, they get here and they face additional screening once they get into the U.S., to make sure that they run through another background check. They go through another in-person interview.

    But we have a judge in Boston who ordered CBP to stop doing that, saying that these people have already been vetted, they’ve already gone through that entire process. So, subjecting them to any further review at this point is illegal and has ordered CBP at least in Massachusetts to stop doing that. There’s a federal ruling by a New York judge that prevents only deportations, stops Customs and Border Protection from getting them out of the country, but it looks like at least in 49 other states, they can still go through that addition screening for these green card holders.

    SREENIVASAN: Now, one thing I want to ask, what does this do to the time line of anybody that’s in line for a visa interview or an ability to enter the U.S.?

    GOMEZ: If you are from those seven countries or you’re trying to apply through the refugee program, I think right now, you’re just on indefinite hold. Again, these rulings that we’ve seen over the weekend only deal with the people who are already here and were already on the way. But people who are applying for visas from any of those seven countries or who are trying to attain refugee status, right now, that entire program is effectively shut down. They cannot apply. They cannot go through the interview process.

    So, we are hearing stories from around the world right now of people who had their interviewed scheduled and now they are told hey, that’s on hold right now. So, a lot — there’s just confusion around the world right now over this as they try to sort out what it really means.

    SREENIVASAN: On any other normal week, the immigration story that you are writing about on Wednesday would be big news, about sanctuary cities. What’s an update on that?

    GOMEZ: Well, that’s the difficulty of dealing with so many executive orders coming out in such a short amount of time. The president laid out a couple of orders in the middle of the week that dealt with building the border wall, increasing deportations in the interior in the country and punishing sanctuary cities.

    There hasn’t been a lot of movement on that in the last couple of days only because I think every immigration attorney in America has been at airports around the country, trying to get these people who have been detained out of custody and trying to challenge the legality of that program, because that’s more of an immediate issue. They need to get these people out of the airports and they need to try to stop that program overall.

    And I can tell you, there’s a lot of tired attorneys out there who are planning to or have legal papers already drawn up to challenge President Trump’s other orders about sanctuary cities, about deportations. They just haven’t had the time to do so.

    SREENIVASAN: We’re also seeing some universities take state — make statements out there and say that we want to protect our foreign students that are here, perhaps in these seven countries — you saw some movement from the University of Indiana, University of Michigan. What’s likely to happen there?

    GOMEZ: That’s really interesting part of all these. So, we’ve talked a lot about sanctuary cities over the past week. These are the cities that have some kind of policy that forbids their police officers from working with federal immigration officers. They may be punished. They might have federal funds with help from them, if President Trump follows through on his promises in that area. But, right, we’ve also seen sanctuary campus movement starting as well.

    And so, we’ve counted several dozen universities around the country who say that they will prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from stepping foot on their campuses, unless they have a court order, unless they have a warrant. They say they will not participate in any way with any kind of federal investigation into the immigration status of any of their students, whether they’re legal or undocumented, whether they’re recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by President Obama or not. So, they’re trying to take a very hard stand against this.

    But at the same time, if a federal immigration agent has a warrant or a court order to come after somebody, I don’t think there’s very much that these universities can do to prevent them from actually stepping foot on their campus and coming and picking up that immigrant.

    SREENIVASAN: And many of them are also recipients of large federal grants as well. They could be on the hook on for this.

    Alan Gomez, reporter for “USA Today”, joining us from Miami today — thanks so much.

    GOMEZ: Thank you.

    The post In Trump’s immigration order, a tangle of legal issues appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Image courtesy of Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

    Illustration by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

    When Texas correctional officials earlier this month saw an article by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson online that said they had gassed him and ransacked his cell in December, they punished him -– again.

    In April, Texas became the latest to join a trend of states banning people in prisons, who do not have access to the internet, from having a social media account, saying it could be a threat to security. These accounts are often maintained by friends or family outside of prison, or by contraband. Civil rights leaders have blasted the decision and maintain that it is a violation of the First Amendment. But now other lawyers say they have evidence that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is using the policy as a tool to hold people in solitary confinement or otherwise punish them for exposing assault, horrid living conditions or other wrongdoings.

    The Prisoners Legal Advocacy Network (PLAN) of the National Lawyers Guild has found 22 cases of alleged misconduct in Texas prisons, where they say officers use rules such as the ban on social media to target people who are thought to be activists.

    Ollie Jefferson, a human rights lawyer who spent most of her career working with immigrants, said that the way one of her current clients is being treated is “consistent with torture.”

    “We have human rights violations here as much as in other countries,” Jefferson said.

    On Dec. 21, Rashid, an organizer for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party who is known for his provocative artwork and writing, said he was taken to a holding cell at the William P. Clements Unit in Amarillo while correctional officers confiscated his food, legal documents and other belongings. He said that on that day, when he asked why, he was told it was, “because I don’t know how to mind [my] business.”

    When he was returned to his cell, which is in solitary confinement, he asked for his property. Instead, he said he was threatened with assault and gassed while he was still handcuffed.

    Rashid, 45, and serving a life sentence, wrote a letter recounting the incident partially titled, “Bound and gassed: My reward for exposing abuses,” and sent it to a friend.

    The letter was published on a website in his name on Dec. 31 and it tore through criminal justice reform advocate circles, provoking them to start a petition that garnered nearly 10,000 signatures online to address the “vicious treatment.”

    Azzurra Crispino, who co-founded the prison reform advocacy group Prison Abolition and Prisoner Support, said she called the warden, who told her that Johnson was gassed because he had refused to take off his handcuffs. She is skeptical of that account, but Texas Corrections denied the NewsHour Weekend a request to interview the warden.

    “Why would Rashid, who is already in solitary confinement, want to hang out in solitary confinement with his handcuffs?” Crispino asked the NewsHour Weekend.

    Crispino and other allies are concerned because they believed he did not have access to the food he had bought to keep his blood pressure down and medication for the same.

    “He has family members who have died because of family blood pressure,” she said.

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

    On Jan. 5, Johnson wrote another letter, saying he was met by a team of guards in body armor and put in a new cell on high-profile status, which he said means that guards have to accompany and record him any time his cell is opened, making it more difficult to receive aid in the event of a medical emergency. They had with them paperwork that said he violated their social media rule with his article, he said.

    “Such efforts to block public scrutiny and accountability remains the aim of Texas prison officials … He even printed out a copy of the statement off the internet and cited the URL,” he said in the letter, which was also posted online. “Imma keep the word coming out as best I can.”

    PLAN is also working with Kevin “Malik” Washington, who filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of dozens of people that says forcing him and others under to work under the 13th Amendment constitutes slavery, among other grievances. U.S. Judge Lee Yeakel dismissed the case on Jan. 4.

    “The biggest detriment and obstacle to our success…is the U.S. Constitution.,” Washington recently wrote in a letter to the NewsHour. “The 13th Amendment allows legalized slavery.”

    He was referring to an exception that was written into the 13th Amendment — the formal abolition of slavery in 1865 — that excludes anyone who has been convicted of a crime.

    Jefferson has been working with Washington because he was put in solitary confinement one day before a national prison labor protest in September.

    “Malik is an advocate. He’s really well-versed in fighting for himself, and he’s also concerned about broader policies that would affect other prisoners, so I have no doubt that in all likelihood they consider him to be a trouble-maker,” Jefferson said.

    A Texas Corrections spokesperson denied in an email that the facility punishes anyone based on their advocacy work, while declining to provide any information about Johnson or Washington.

    Texas Corrections also denied that Johnson received an infraction for his article in response to a public records request, but the NewsHour Weekend obtained what appeared to be a copy.

    When shown to Texas Corrections spokesperson Jason Clark, he responded in an email with, “The case was overturned,” and declined to answer further questions. But Johnson wrote a letter to a friend this week, countering Clark’s claim — the letter said he was still convicted of the infraction, even though he pointed out his writing was posted to a website, not a social media account.

    Image courtesy of Kevin "Rashid" Johnson

    Image courtesy of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

    In the late 1700s, the founding fathers constructed the skeleton of the First Amendment with the hope that it would safeguard the rights of individuals and prevent a small group of people from having too much power, which also involved leaving states to their own discretion on certain issues.

    Around the 1830s, during the lead-up to the Civil War, Virginia and Tennessee enacted laws that banned publishers from printing material “calculated to incite” rebellion among slaves, according to David S. Yassky, an academic who documented the era of the First Amendment. If a black person was convicted of this offense, it could be punishable by death. But activists in northern states continued to flood southern states with abolitionist pamphlets.

    “This country was really founded on the idea that free speech is a good thing, not just for the person who is speaking but for all of us,” David Fathi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “That is the premise of democracy. So any time that you try to censor and silence a politically unpopular minority, that’s a loss not only for the people being silenced but for everyone.”

    He said that since Texas has prohibited family members and friends from posting on the behalf of someone in jail, it violates their First Amendment rights, too.

    “Let’s be very clear on what’s going on here. Texas prison officials … are reaching way outside the prison walls and telling people in Canada and New York what they can and can’t do on the internet,” Fathi said. “That is really extraordinary.”

    Self portrait courtesy of Kevin "Rashid" Johnson

    Self portrait courtesy of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

    Crispino said she is less worried about a possible infringement on her rights than what Texas or other states might do to their friends in prison, such as Johnson, if their work is published online.

    “They’re not going to come after me, they’re going to come after him,” Crispino said. “You as a supporter are now being complicit in the punishment of your friend.”

    Which is more in line with what PLAN lawyers are focusing on. In a notice of claim they plan to file in March, they will allege that Texas Corrections is punishing people for exercising their right to file grievances and act as jailhouse lawyers, or unlicensed legal aid within the jail. They also plan to file one for Washington specifically next month.

    The claim is a formal legal filing that will require the state to maintain all documents, surveillance and relevant case information and will let Texas Corrections know that it has the attention of human rights lawyers.

    The post Resistance builds against social media ban in Texas prisons appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTSWV0D

    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    LONDON — President Donald Trump is defending his sweeping order on immigration and says he will find other ways to help those suffering from Syria’s bloody civil war.

    Trump says in a statement Sunday amid widespread protests that “America is a proud nation of immigrants.” He says the country “will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression,” but “while protecting our own citizens and border.”

    Trump’s order halting the Syrian refugee program and temporarily suspending immigration from seven majority Muslim countries has sparked protests across the country.

    Trump insists it’s “not a Muslim ban” and blames the media for that suggestion.

    Trump says the U.S. will resume issuing visas to all countries impacted after a review of security policies.

    The post Trump defends executive order on immigration appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Eight states have laws that limit how teachers can talk about LGBT issues in the classroom -- but a lawsuit in Utah is aiming to overturn one of them. Photo via Getty Images

    Eight states have laws that limit how teachers can talk about LGBT issues in the classroom — but a lawsuit in Utah is aiming to overturn one of them. Photo via Getty Images

    As a 16-year-old junior in high school, Harper McGee had to fight for the ability to say “gay” on campus.

    At the time, McGee and a friend were trying to create a Gay-Straight Alliance group at Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah, in the fall of 2014. McGee wanted to have an organized place where students could talk about LGBTQ issues, but It wasn’t easy. School officials were concerned about the name because, as one of them said, it “include[d] a reference to human sexuality.”

    Utah is one of eight states that has laws, sometimes called “no promo homo” laws, that limit how teachers can talk about LGBTQ issues with students, or forbid it altogether. While some teachers say the laws reflect parents’ concerns about discussing sex at school, some LGBTQ activists say they perpetuate a culture of fear among students who need support. And now, for the first time, a lawsuit is aiming to overturn one of them.

    After a debate at a meeting of the Alpine District school board, the Gay-Straight Alliance was able to move forward. The first few weeks were rough — during Club Week at school, some students came to their booth just to laugh at them. And others were too shy to join. “This law creates such a climate of intimidation and silence and hostility … that it’s difficult to find teachers and students who are willing to come forward.” — Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights

    But the club grew, and soon 15 to 20 people were coming to every meeting. Over the course of the next few months, McGee came out as pansexual and genderfluid and now uses the pronoun “they.” Having that community at school “made me realize that I don’t have to be afraid, I can be unabashedly me,” they said. “There are people who will accept me for who I am.”

    In an attempt to improve the climate at school for students like McGee, the advocacy groups Equality Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have brought a federal lawsuit to overturn Utah’s “no promo homo” law, which prohibits teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues with students. The suit claims that three school districts in Utah failed to protect the students from harassment or physical abuse at school. And just this week, they asked U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson for an injunction that would block Utah from enforcing the law while the case is in progress.

    Utah’s law and similar laws in seven other states were mostly passed in the late 1980s and 1990s around the time that AIDS was becoming a public health crisis. Most were based on the misconception that only gay people could contract and spread AIDS, according to Peter Renn, senior attorney at LGBTQ advocacy organization Lambda Legal.

    The laws themselves range from state to state: in Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas, they pertain specifically to health courses, with most stating that teachers cannot instruct students on LGBTQ sexual health. In Oklahoma, the law requires that AIDS education include the false claim that “engaging in homosexual activity” is one of the behaviors “primarily responsible for contact with the AIDS virus.”

    School districts in Arizona cannot use curriculum that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” while Utah teachers cannot participate in “the advocacy of homosexuality.” (When the laws were passed, “homosexual” was a blanket term for any LGBTQ person, which many LGBTQ leaders say is now outdated.)

    In the absence of curriculum that addresses LGBTQ issues, some students in those states have created Gay-Straight Alliances, which are still allowed because they are run by students, not teachers. Regardless, the laws “create a culture of silence,” Troy Williams, executive director at at Utah-based LGBTQ organization Equality Utah, said. “It sends this message to LGBTQ-identified students that their impulse to love another human being is so shameful that we dare not speak its name in the classroom.”

    [Watch Video]

    ‘A climate of intimidation and silence’

    The San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights initially filed a lawsuit in October on behalf of Equality Utah and three unnamed students against the Utah State School Board along with the Cache, Weber and Jordan school districts. It claimed that educators in those districts failed to protect the students from harassment or physical abuse at school. The Utah State Board of Education declined to comment on the case.

    The lawsuit is the first to try to tackle the laws, which are difficult to challenge, in part because people are afraid to come forward as plaintiffs, Shannon Minter, legal director at the NCLR, said.

    “This law creates such a climate of intimidation and silence and hostility … that it’s difficult to find teachers and students who are willing to come forward,” he said.

    LGBTQ students are already at an elevated risk for bullying and violence at school, and are less likely to attend class and finish high school, according to a 2015 report from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

    Minter and other LGBTQ activists told the NewsHour Weekend that many educators are aware of this law in Utah. But even if some teachers do not know about it, “it becomes internalized and part of the DNA of the school system,” he said.

    READ NEXT: NY will soon make it easier for trans youths to delay puberty

    Kimberlee Irvine, an 8th-grade English teacher at South Ogden Junior High, said the Utah law reflects the fact that many parents want to be in charge of “the teaching of morals and sexuality.” But it can also hinder her from doing her job, she said.

    In 2013, her class was discussing a passage in which a character has two dads. A student raised his hand to ask if the reference to two dads was a “typo.” When something like that happens, “I lose teaching moments,” she said. “I had to skirt around the issue and not talk about it. … I thought, if I could just answer this, it would create understanding.”

    Irvine said she was struck by the bravery of LGBTQ students who are open about their identity and wishes she could do more to support them. “I love my job. I don’t want to lose it. I want to help these kids function in the world, but I have these few topics that are forbidden and there’s nothing I can do about it,” she said.

    Peyton Carter, who graduated from Alta High School in Draper, Utah, said this reluctance to speak about LGBTQ issues was notable even in his community, where he felt accepted as a gay man.

    In high school, he would notice small signs of support — some teachers had “safe space” stickers outside their doors, and another teacher told students they couldn’t call something “gay” if they meant “stupid.” But a lot of others avoided the topic. “Teachers didn’t talk about it and then they didn’t have the issue,” he said.

    In Alabama, a student-led movement to support LGBTQ youth

    Like several other states, Alabama has a law that requires public schools’ sex ed programs reference an anti-sodomy law that has never been repealed, despite a federal ruling. The Supreme Court deemed such laws, which criminalized gay sex, unconstitutional in the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas. But in Alabama, and other states that still have their anti-sodomy laws intact, the state requires that health teachers tell students that “homosexual conduct is a criminal offense.”

    Mississippi’s state policy, which passed in 1998, also references “current state law” on “homosexual activity,” which was illegal in the state at the time. In Texas, whose anti-sodomy law was the focus of the Supreme Court case, educators must “state that homosexual conduct … is a criminal offense.”

    LGBTQ activists in Alabama have criticized the state policy, along with Rep. Patricia Todd, a member of the Alabama House of Representatives and the only openly gay elected official in the state. Alabama students have protested the law at the Alabama state house, and Todd introduced a bill to rescind it in 2013. With little support from other lawmakers, the bill died in the education committee. “I can’t get any traction,” she said.

    The law is “embarrassing” and “not factual,” and challenging it raises a larger, and controversial, conversation around what sex education should look like in Alabama, she said.

    Todd plans to introduce another bill to rescind the law this year.

    The Alabama Department of Education removed this language from its curriculum in July, defying the state law and deleting it from the department’s content standards, according to Michael Sibley, a spokesperson for the department.

    Sibley also contended that the law’s reference to “criminal offense” is “legally wrong and no longer operative,” adding that Alabama schools “welcome all children and strongly encourages support from teachers regardless of their gender or orientation.”

    Since there is confusion over whether the law is enforceable, many teachers in Alabama just avoid LGBTQ issues altogether, Ryan Thoreson, a fellow with the progressive group Human Rights Watch, said. In December, Human Rights Watch released a report on LGBT youth in schools for which the group interviewed teachers in Alabama and other states.

    In Alabama, “[Teachers] would say, ‘I feel like I can’t teach what I’m supposed to teach under the law, but also I’m uncomfortable disobeying the law, so I’m just going to stay away from LGBT issues in the classroom,’” he said.

    As the law remains in the state code, students and outside groups — mostly centered in cities like Birmingham or Huntsville — have mobilized to provide sexual education for LGBTQ students.

    Raven Rice, 17, and a senior at Grissom High School in Huntsville, Alabama, came out as bisexual toward the end of middle school and joined the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance as a freshman. “We kind of just openly talked about everything, which was really refreshing,” she said.

    Now, as the alliance’s president for the second year in a row, Rice dedicates one club meeting a year to sexual education. She always gives advance notice so members can choose not to attend, but “it’s one of the few meetings we have that [brings] everyone,” she said.

    Rice will typically cover barrier methods of protection, how to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and basic anatomy. She also takes questions on common myths around sex. “If kids have any questions, me or my co-president will try to answer as best as we can,” she said. When it comes to sexual education, “most of what I know I’ve had to research myself … and a lot of other kids have done the same,” she said.

    The club has grown in recent years, she said. “People are starting to join and openly be able to be who they are, and it’s had more influence in the school,” she said.

    That kind of support makes a difference, Amanda Keller, director of the Magic City Acceptance Center in Birmingham — the only center for LGBT youth in the state — said. “Even having one teacher and one person who is comfortable coming forward and speaking up and being available to these youth makes all the difference,” she said.

    The post Eight states censor LGBTQ topics in school. Now, a lawsuit is challenging that appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    MEGAN THOMPSON, PBS NEWSHOUR CORRESPONDENT: Mohammed Hameed worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Iraq for 10 years. Soon after he started his job, he says, he became the target of Iraqi militias, for helping the Americans.

    MOHAMMED HAMEED, INTERPRETER: Most of the people who worked for the Americans, especially interpreters like me, their life was in real risk. Even like my family, they are wondering why I didn’t go outside that much, because any person could recognize me. It really was like, I mean, it’s terrible experience to live in such circumstances and conditions, if you are like under threat.

    THOMPSON: He says in 2007, Iraqi militiamen broke into his home looking for him. He wasn’t home, but, he says, his brother, who looks just like him, was kidnapped and tortured.

    HAMID: After they figured out that it was not me, they just let him go, but he was almost dead, I mean.

    THOMPSON: That’s when Hameed applied for a visa to leave Iraq for the U.S., and to bring his wife and their son, now ten, and their daughter, who’s four. The vetting process took three years. Today, Hameed appeared at a press conference with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who called the Trump executive order “misguided” and “shocking.”

    Hameed’s family arrived here just in time– on January 5th, three weeks before the Trump administration imposed the new ban on migrants and refugees from Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries.

    HAMEED: I mean, when I was in Baghdad, I don’t know exactly which time or I thought the moment I would be killed.

    THOMPSON: Hameed’s family has settled in Bayonne, New Jersey, about an hour’s commute to New York City. He’s looking for work as a computer consultant.

    AZZAM ELIAS: And I am a good citizen, I have my own business.

    THOMPSON: Azzam Elias (ph) was also at today’s press conference. He emigrated to the U.S. from Syria in 1978 as a refugee, fleeing violence and persecution. His two daughters remained behind, raised by their mother. When the Syrian civil war began six years ago, he says he knew what he had to do.

    ELIAS: We’re going to bring him here. We’re going to have to. We have to save my grandchildren.

    THOMPSON: Rania (ph), now 37, says the hardest part of living in Syria was the constant shelling and not knowing if her kids would make it home from school. One day a suicide bomber blew himself up right outside their apartment in Damascus.

    After years of applications, she finally got a visa with the help of the nonprofit Catholic Charities. She and her husband and their four kids arrived in New York just last month.

    Rania tells me she doesn’t have to worry anymore that somebody is going to hurt her kids, she finally feels at peace. But Rania’s sister, Azzam’s other daughter, remains a refugee in Lebanon, next door to Syria. The fate of her application for a U.S. visa is more uncertain than before.

    ELIAS: It’s so terrible. When I see my grandchildren in the other side, seeing these kids — how happy and how peaceful here, because you can see on their faces and how — and they are the ones look at me like, how about us? You left us behind. Or you don’t want us.

    That’s the feeling I feel. Honest to God. And that’s — I can’t sleep, I can’t work, I can’t — it’s — hand tied. I don’t know what to do.

    THOMPSON: Elias, who lives in the Bronx and owns his own upholstery business, says he wants the president to know the and his family are good people.

    ELIAS: See, this is not a face of a terrorist. This is the face that’s going to make America great.

    The post Refugees already settled in U.S. concerned over Trump order appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An ambulance is parked at the scene of a fatal shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Canada January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger - RTSXZES

    An ambulance is parked at the scene of a fatal shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Canada, on Jan. 29, 2017. Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

    QUEBEC CITY — An unconfirmed number of people died Sunday evening in a shooting at a mosque in the provincial capital of Quebec City, police said.

    Authorities did not specify the number of fatalities.

    Quebec City police spokesman Constable Pierre Poirier said two suspects were arrested.

    Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard termed the act “barbaric violence” and expressed solidarity with the victims’ families.

    “Tonight, Canadians grieve for those killed in a cowardly attack on a mosque in Quebec City. My thoughts are with victims & their families,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted.

    Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Twitter Sunday that he is deeply saddened by the loss of life. His office says no motive has been confirmed.

    In the summer of 2016 a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre.

    The post Quebec police report fatalities in mosque shooting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pedestrians walk past fences and and barb wire as they make their way from Mexico to the United States at the border crossing in San Ysidro, California, U.S., January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake - RTSXD2R

    There is little to gain and much to lose by motivating a border tax adjustment as either a punitive import tariff or a policy designed to finance the construction of a border wall, writes economist Chad Bown. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    Less than one week into office, President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order indicating U.S. intent to build a wall on the border with Mexico. The next day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated the administration might pay for the wall by levying a new, 20 percent border tax on U.S. imports from Mexico.

    A significant diplomatic fallout erupted. New confusion also suddenly arose due to the apparent shift in Trump’s policy priorities.

    Further U.S. rhetoric and escalation could even force trading partners to seek vigilante justice … This would result in considerable economic pain to U.S. companies and U.S. jobs.

    The Trump administration needs to tell the truth about this 20 percent border tax adjustment. Further obfuscation elevates the risk that any U.S.-imposed border tax adjustment would lead to an immediate trade dispute, that the United States would lose that dispute and that the U.S. would face internationally sanctioned retaliation.

    Worse, further U.S. rhetoric and escalation could even force trading partners to seek vigilante justice. They could address their own trade problems in ways that lead everyone into an inadvertent trade war. This would result in considerable economic pain to U.S. companies and U.S. jobs.

    Trump’s first motivation for a border tax: wall financing.

    President Trump’s first motivation for a border tax arises from his campaign promise to stem the flow of immigration into the United States. Trump’s executive order indicated his explicit intent to “secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.” Cost estimates for border wall construction and maintenance run into the tens of billions of dollars.

    During the presidential campaign, Trump indicated he not only wanted the wall, but he wanted Mexico to pay for it. Mexican leaders have adamantly refused.

    And yet in the days immediately after the inauguration, appearances were that U.S.-Mexico relations might be warming. President Trump publicly described, somewhat amiably, an upcoming meeting he had scheduled with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Trump indicated that, while the meeting would involve “negotiations having to do with NAFTA,” Peña Nieto had been “amazing” and Mexico had been “terrific.”

    READ MORE: Column: The truth about trade agreements – and why we need them

    But then the administration published the executive order that formally announced their plan for building the wall. Peña Nieto responded by cancelling his planned meeting with Trump.

    This appeared to catch the Trump administration off guard. It almost immediately responded by stating that a new 20 percent border tax on imports from Mexico could be used to pay for the wall. Even putting aside Mexico, Trump’s announcement surprised domestic observers as it signaled a potentially major policy shift. For only days earlier, Trump had given an interview with The Wall Street Journal in which he seemingly dismissed this particular type of border tax as “too complicated.”

    Trump’s second motivation for a border tax: addressing NAFTA “problems.”

    The second impetus for a border tax on Mexico is based on the notion that such a tax could rectify perceived problems with the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    The second impetus for a border tax on Mexico is based on the notion that such a tax could rectify perceived problems with the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    NAFTA is a long-standing agreement cutting import tariffs to zero between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Trump has frequently derided NAFTA as one-sided, claiming Mexico benefits by stealing companies and jobs from the United States. He routinely points to the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with Mexico — that is, that the U.S. imports more goods from Mexico than it exports to Mexico — as indisputable evidence of a bad deal.

    Economists generally do not agree with the idea that bilateral trade imbalances are a useful barometer by which to evaluate trade relations or trade agreements, especially for the U.S. economy. And the measure is particularly misleading when characterizing the health of the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship. The biggest problem is its failure to account for the large share of U.S. imports from Mexico that are filled with U.S.-produced content and value added.

    Take the example of a “Mexican” automobile exported to the United States. In the export statistics used to construct traditional trade balance measures, Mexico is assigned the full value of any car assembled south of the border that is sent to the United States. Not included in those statistics is that under the hood of that Mexican car there are engines, seats and software that were made by U.S. workers on U.S. soil in U.S. factories that had been exported to Mexico for final assembly.

    READ MORE: Column: The great irony of the Mexico tariff is that Americans would pay for it too

    Indeed, when taking these factors into consideration, the corrected “value-added” measure of the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with Mexico is only half as large as the numbers to which U.S. politicians refer. The problem is with using the bilateral trade deficit statistic to guide policy — not Mexico or NAFTA.

    To the extent that a particular U.S. worker or community is displaced by changes in economic activity — whether due to increased trade with Mexico, or because of automation, robots, artificial intelligence or simply a change in the types of goods that consumers want to buy — the more appropriate government response is to fix U.S. labor market policies, not a trade agreement.

    This potential tax on imports from Mexico is only part of a broader border-tax adjustment plan.

    The 20 percent border tax adjustment that the Trump administration was seeming to reference is but one part of a major U.S. tax reform proposal under debate in the Congress.

    The current U.S. tax system involves a complex web of levies that generate the federal revenue used to finance government spending programs. In addition to the corporate income tax, there is a payroll tax, personal income tax and capital gains tax, amongst others. Comprehensive U.S. tax reform has long been a priority.

    In June 2016, Republicans in the House of Representatives published what has become known as the Ryan-Brady Blueprint, after House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady. One of its main features is to replace the current corporate income tax with an alternative business tax that is referred to as a destination-based cash flow tax, or DBCFT.

    The DBCFT has similarities with the value-added tax, or VAT, regimes employed by more than 150 other countries around the world, including Mexico. It also has at least one important difference.

    The Ryan-Brady Blueprint would be equivalent to a 20 percent VAT, but with a wage allowance that permits only sales from companies producing in the United States to deduct their U.S. labor costs from their tax bill. The details of this last part are potentially important, as they are what makes this plan distinct from the “pure” VAT.

    Normally, a border adjustment does not act as a discriminatory tariff.

    Most any VAT regime — including the Ryan-Brady Blueprint variant — contains a border tax “adjustment.”

    Consider two different cars that are both purchased in the United States. The only distinction is the country in which each is produced. A U.S.-made and consumed car would face a 20 percent tax. The foreign-made car that is consumed in the United States would also face the 20 percent tax.

    So far, each car is being treated the same. However, since the 20 percent tax on the foreign car is new to the trading partner, this may be where the confusion arises. By itself, this looks just like a newly imposed 20 percent import tariff.

    READ MORE: Column: Here’s how Trump could tackle America’s largest economic issues

    Yet, if the rest of the tax burden between the U.S.-made car and foreign car were the same, then claims that the DBCFT were an import tariff would be incorrect. The tax would be nondiscriminatory and apply equally to all cars consumed in the United States, regardless of where they were produced.

    It is also important to point out that this border tax adjustment is not discriminating against Mexico. It would apply not only to cars imported from Mexico, but also to U.S.-bought cars from Canada, Germany and Japan.

    Importantly, Mexico would not be singled out by a normal border tax adjustment.

    However, there are additional wrinkles.

    Under the current proposal, there is at least one important distinction that could introduce elements of discrimination. Recall, for example, that the company making the car in the United States also gets to deduct its labor costs. So, its effective tax rate is less than 20 percent.

    The foreign-produced car — whether made in Mexico, Canada, Germany or Japan — is not eligible for the deduction, so it is still liable for the full 20 percent border tax adjustment. If prices and the value of the U.S. dollar relative to foreign currencies do not fully adjust to offset this difference, the Ryan-Brady DBCFT could end up discriminating against the imported car relative to its American counterpart.

    This possibility needs to be considered.

    Discriminating against foreigners increases the likelihood the DBCFT runs afoul of international trade agreement rules, including NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. Mexico, Canada, Germany, Japan and any other country adversely affected by the discrimination could seek redress.

    But to be clear, the source of this differential treatment between the imported car and the U.S.-made car is not the border tax adjustment itself. It could potentially arise because of tax allowances granted to U.S.-based production that are not accessible to foreign production.

    There are potential fixes to the discriminatory elements of the DBCFT proposal.

    Of course, the Ryan-Brady plan is only a blueprint. If it is discriminatory, repairs could be made.

    One proposal has been to eliminate the wage allowance for U.S. produced goods. A second and more difficult to implement alternative would be to keep the U.S. wage allowance, but to permit foreign producers to deduct their labor costs as well.

    Even the border tax adjustment is but one element of the Ryan-Brady Blueprint

    While border tax adjustment has received disproportionate political coverage, it is only part of the overall package of the Ryan-Brady Blueprint for U.S. tax reform. Other important elements of the proposal require honest and informed public scrutiny, and they are getting lost with a singular focus on border tax adjustment.

    Tax reform could lead to efficiency gains for tax collection and reduce current disincentives for saving and investment that ultimately benefit U.S. productivity and economic growth. Also important is that the border tax adjustment component could eliminate existing incentives for U.S. multinational corporations to abuse transfer-pricing rules and undertake corporate “inversions” simply to reduce their tax burden.

    READ MORE: Column: Trump’s outrage over outsourcing doesn’t apply to his own merchandise

    However, there are also alarming elements to the Ryan-Brady proposal. First is controversy over the proposed rates. Without getting into details, there is apprehension that the plan would not be revenue neutral and could thus further exacerbate the federal budget deficit. Second, any shift from a corporate income tax to a VAT-type (or DBCFT) system raises regressivity concerns and the potential exacerbation of trends in U.S. inequality. Such worries could be allayed if accompanied by a major transformation of U.S. social policy on the spending side — for example, redistributive programs favoring the working poor — but those are largely missing from the Blueprint.

    Political theater presents new problems.

    The knee-jerk inclination by Trump as well as Congress to frame a border tax adjustment politically as either a punitive import tariff or revenue raiser directed at Mexico is unfortunate. It introduces a new host of concerns.

    The knee-jerk inclination by Trump as well as Congress to frame a border tax adjustment politically as either a punitive import tariff or revenue raiser directed at Mexico is unfortunate.

    First, inaccurate characterization of the tax only serves to muddy an important U.S. debate over the merits and implications of fundamental tax reform. The DBCFT is still at the proposal stage. If the Ryan-Brady plan is shown to likely result in discriminatory effects on imports from all sources, including from Mexico, it could still be fixed.

    Political escalation tends to harden positions prematurely and may foreclose the opportunity to get the policy right.

    Second, stating that the purpose of the policy is to punish a country or to raise revenue to fund a single infrastructure project both antagonizes trading partners and, as a tactical maneuver, weakens the U.S. legal position in future negotiations.

    Claims by Trump and other U.S. politicians that the DBCFT is designed to discriminate against Mexico or any other trading partner would, under the best-case scenario, result in a trade dispute. Partners could use the rules-based trading system to challenge the policy and help resolve the controversy. Ironically, even if the ultimate tax reform did not have much discriminatory effect in practice, countries could point to how the United States motivated the tax reform politically to make their case for them.

    The worst-case scenario has Mexico and other countries feeling politically compelled to take matters into their own hands. President Peña Nieto and other world leaders have their own domestic politics to navigate. The Trump administration’s lack of tact and the breakdown of quiet diplomacy increases the political pressure that other nations act outside of the comforts provided by the constraints of trade agreements.

    The most under-appreciated part of today’s trade agreements is its formal dispute settlement system. These are designed to depoliticize trade issues. Consider even the end compensation in any given case — it is a firm limit to the amount by which a trading partner is permitted to retaliate. It is this retaliatory limit that contains the fallout and prevents a trade war.

    There is little to gain and much to lose by motivating a border tax adjustment as either a punitive import tariff or a policy designed to finance the construction of a border wall.

    Working outside of the trade agreement system, retaliation and counter-retaliation could result. A self-defeating trade war could erupt. Just like the 1930s, this could have devastating implications for all the economies involved.

    There is little to gain and much to lose by motivating a border tax adjustment as either a punitive import tariff or a policy designed to finance the construction of a border wall. Short-term gains from political theater are mostly short sighted. They are more likely to both torpedo the best-intentioned efforts at tax reform and reverberate negatively on the U.S. economy.

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    Coal waits to be among the last shipments to be loaded on train cars to depart the Hobet mine in Boone County, West Virginia. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Coal waits to be among the last shipments to be loaded on train cars to depart the Hobet mine in Boone County, West Virginia. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans are moving swiftly to repeal Obama administration regulations aimed at better protecting streams from coal mining debris.

    Coal country lawmakers unveiled legislation Monday to block the rules, which they say would kill jobs in the coal industry, which is reeling from competition from cleaner-burning natural gas.

    The legislation unveiled Monday would overturn December regulations through a process that permits Congress to revoke recently-issued rules in a manner that is immune to filibusters by Senate Democrats.

    The repeal measure is set for a House vote Wednesday and a Senate vote shortly thereafter.

    “The Stream Protection Rule is the latest in a series of overreaching and misguided Obama-era regulations that have targeted America’s coal industry,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. “If this rule were allowed to say in place, it would add to the economic devastation for people in coal communities.”

    The stream protection rules would be the first of several recent Obama administration regulations to be targeted by using the fast-track procedures. Former President Barack Obama easily repelled such moves with vetoes.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the “‘stream buffer’ rule is a harmful regulation that unfairly targets coal jobs.”

    The regulations would have tightened exceptions to a rule that requires a 100-foot buffer between coal mining and streams. It also would require coal companies to restore streams and return mined areas to conditions similar to those before mining took place.

    Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club support the rules, saying they would protect people in coal country from health risks from pollutants like mercury.

    WATCH: Why cleaning up abandoned coal mines is so important — and difficult

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    Student Nisrin Elamin of Sudan describes what was different this time when she arrived at JFK airport in New York late Friday night.

    Sudanese-born Nisrin Elamin, a Ph.D. student studying anthropology at Stanford University, is used to intensive questioning when she reenters the U.S. with her green card.

    But on Friday night, it was different. Hours before, President Donald Trump had signed an executive order temporarily banning visa-holders from seven countries deemed a national security threat.

    “I was handcuffed very briefly at which point I started to cry, not so much because of the handcuffs but because at that point I felt that I was probably going to get deported, or that I wasn’t going to be able to get in,” Elamin, 39, told the PBS NewsHour.

    The customs and border protection officers had just gotten word about the new executive order and appeared to be figuring out how to comply, she said. They asked her the usual questions about her work and education, and then one admitted he didn’t know much about Sudan, her home country.

    After further questions about Sudan’s political situation, radical groups and views, Elamin was allowed to leave five hours later. “I grabbed my passport and green card and got out of there before they changed their mind.”

    The stepped-up scrutiny is part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to make America more secure. The order signed Friday halts visa-holders from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the U.S. for 90 days while U.S. officials determine whether they are getting enough information from their home countries to fully vet them.

    Customs and border protection officials in U.S. airports reportedly detained dozens of arrivals over the weekend from the listed countries, sometimes for hours, to ask additional security-related questions.

    A federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, issued an emergency stay on Saturday that temporarily prevents the government from deporting people arriving at any airport in the U.S. with valid visas.

    The Department of Homeland Security, under newly approved Secretary John Kelly, issued a series of statements on Sunday to clarify the order, including that it doesn’t apply to “permanent residents” of the U.S. The department also said it is working with airlines to ensure people aren’t allowed to board U.S.-bound flights if they fall under the terms of the order, to avoid having to detain people.

    When asked about people who were detained at airports, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on NBC’s Meet the Press over the weekend that “if they’re folks that shouldn’t be in this country, they’re going to be detained. So apologize for nothing here.”

    The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Monday filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the president’s executive order. “Its apparent purpose and underlying motive is to ban people of the Islamic faith from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States,” the group said in a statement on its website.

    Protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy airport in New York on Jan. 28 in opposition to the executive order putting the visa-holder and refugee programs on hold. Photo by Stephen Yang/Reuters

    Protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy airport in New York on Jan. 28 in opposition to the executive order putting the visa-holder and refugee programs on hold. Photo by Stephen Yang/Reuters

    The order touched off protests across the country, from Los Angeles to Boston. Outside John F. Kennedy airport, where Elamin was held, crowds gathered holding up signs that said, “Refugees are welcome here” and “Let them in.”

    The executive order has ruffled some feathers abroad. The Iranian Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it would stop U.S. citizens from entering Iran in response to President Trump’s order.

    And the Iraqi parliament voted to ban Americans entering Iraq on Monday, the Associated Press reported. The full Iraqi Cabinet would have to approve the ban on Americans for it to take effect.

    The order also suspends all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days, and those from Syria indefinitely, while officials review the screening process.

    “It really broke my heart to think about the implications for a lot of people who weren’t as lucky as I was, who were possibly being sent back to war zones or places where they were fleeing political persecution,” said Elamin.

    Protesters in Queens, New York hold signs in support of immigrants and refugees. Photo by Stephen Yang/Reuters

    Protesters in Queens, New York hold signs in support of immigrants and refugees. Photo by Stephen Yang/Reuters

    The post Confusion, questions and handcuffs met this Sudanese scholar at the airport appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Women walk at the Bakassi camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in November. Photo by Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

    Women walk at the Bakassi camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in November. Photo by Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

    During Week One of Donald Trump’s presidency, there was a dizzying array of executive actions: 14 to be exact, enough to break President Barack Obama’s record of 13 in his first week in office.

    Faster than you could say “alternative facts,” there were emergency rallies against a couple of the president’s directives, including those centered around several airports this weekend in protest of Trump’s immigration ban.

    As we work to clear the fog and learn more about the implications of these presidential actions, there were a spate of stories last week that got lost in the shuffle and deserve a second look.

    1. Severe malnutrition in northern Nigeria worsens, as children under five almost entirely disappear

    Hadiza Mohammad, 40, lies with her 4-year-old child who's being treated for severe malnutrition at an MSF clinic in Maiduguri. Hadiza fled from her village of Gowza due to Boko Haram violence. Photo by Danielle Villasana

    Hadiza Mohammad, 40, lies with her 4-year-old child who’s being treated for severe malnutrition at an MSF clinic in Maiduguri. Hadiza fled from her village of Gowza due to Boko Haram violence. Photo by Danielle Villasana

    For months, aid groups have warned of a coming famine in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state, where government forces have been fighting Boko Haram’s years-long insurgency.

    In June, the Nigerian government declared a “nutritional emergency” in the region, as a lack of access to food gave way to severe malnutrition rates.

    The hunger crisis is so widespread that Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, reported that malnutrition appears to have killed an entire age group, children under five.

    Why it’s important

    Seven-month-old Aisha receives an IV at an MSF clinic in Maiduguri that treats children suffering from severe malnutrition. Photo by Danielle Villasana

    Seven-month-old Aisha receives an IV at an MSF clinic in Maiduguri that treats children suffering from severe malnutrition. Photo by Danielle Villasana

    In November, Doctors Without Borders wrote that they normally saw “small children buzzing around the camps that get set up for internally displaced persons.”

    Now, they’re seldom seen, the organization said.

    “We saw only older brothers and sisters. No toddlers straddling their big sisters’ hips. No babies strapped to their mothers’ backs. It was as if they had vanished,” they wrote.

    Boko Haram has displaced more than two million Nigerians since 2014, according to late 2016 figures from the United Nation’s Children’s Fund.

    [Watch Video]

    There’s a larger and more far-reaching menace than Boko Haram in parts of Nigeria: Aid groups are warning of a coming famine. John Yang talks to Kevin Sieff of The Washington Post.

    The militants’ presence has made it difficult for aid groups to reach these affected areas, but so has the Nigerian government, aid agencies have said. Months after the government declared a “nutritional emergency,” President Muhammadu Buhari accused aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders, of making “hyperbolic claims” that “draw donor support.”

    “The hype, especially that which suggests that the government is doing nothing is, therefore, uncharitable and unnecessary,” Buhari said in December.

    Dr. Natalie Roberts, an emergency operations manager for Doctors Without Borders, said “bureaucratic obstruction” has slowed agencies’ movement into areas hit hardest by malnutrition.

    “It’s an embarrassment to a big state like Nigeria to admit it has malnutrition,” she told The New York Times. “They don’t particularly enjoy outside interference,” she added.

    2. Woman whose claims led to the lynching of Emmett Till admits her testimony was false

    A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Aslip, Illinois. Photo taken in 2005. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

    A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Aslip, Illinois. Photo taken in 2005. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

    In 1955, Carolyn Bryant Donham accused 14-year-old Emmett Till, an African-American boy, of making physical and verbal advances on her. Days later, he was murdered by two white men in Mississippi.

    Till’s death is often cited as a catalyst for the next chapter in the civil rights movement. Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, Emmett’s mother, wanted his corpse photographed in an open casket.

    Turns out, according to his accuser, the allegations against Till are false.

    “That part’s not true,” Donham told historian Timothy B. Tyson during a 2008 interview as part of the new book, “The Blood of Emmett Till.” Tyson also told the Times that Donham said she couldn’t exactly remember what happened.

    Why it’s important

    The two white men accused of lynching Emmett were acquitted by an all-white male jury in 1955. And because double jeopardy meant they couldn’t be retried, the men admitted to killing Till in “Look” magazine the following year.

    The Justice Department reopened the case in 2004. Emmett’s body was exhumed for a new autopsy. But in 2007, a Mississippi grand jury failed to bring any new charges, against Donham or any others in the case, citing insufficient evidence.

    The current location of Donham, now 82, is kept secret by her family, Variety reported.

    The Times spoke with Wheeler Parker, one of Emmett’s cousins, who said, “I was hoping that one day she would admit it, so it matters to me that she did, and it gives me some satisfaction.”

    “It’s important to people understanding how the word of a white person against a black person was law, and a lot of black people lost their lives because of it,” the 77-year-old said. “It really speaks to history, it shows what black people went through in those days.”

    3. Reinstating and expanding the “Mexico City policy”

    President Donald Trump holds up the executive order on the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy after signing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washingtob, D.C., on  Jan. 23, 2017. At his side is White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    President Donald Trump holds up the executive order on the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy after signing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washingtob, D.C., on Jan. 23, 2017. At his side is White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Trump’s executive order to temporarily ban refugees from entering the U.S. — and the protests that have followed — has gotten most of the media’s recent attention.

    But Trump also signed a number of other executive orders last week. One of them: A reinstatement of the “Mexico City policy,” also known as the global gag rule, which prohibits all health organizations that receive federal funding overseas from performing or suggesting abortion as a method of family planning.

    Why it’s important

    The fight over this policy isn’t new. Since President Ronald Reagan first created the rule in 1984, Republicans have upheld the ban, and Democrats, when in the Oval Office, have rescinded it. (President Barack Obama withdrew the policy early in his first term in 2009).

    Funding for abortion overseas was banned in 1973, except for cases of incest, rape or threat to a mother’s life. In the past, the gag rule has applied only to family planning funding, around $600 million, which means groups that performed abortions overseas could still receive U.S. dollars for other services, like providing contraception.

    Trump’s executive order not only reinstates the policy. It also expands it, the New York Times says.

    Trump’s new actions would apply the policy to “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies,” the Times says, which means it would apply to all international health funding, used to fight things like Zika, HIV and other threats to global health.

    Anti-abortion advocates praised the decision, saying Trump was making good on the promises about abortion funding he made on the campaign trail.

    “We applaud President Trump for putting an end to taxpayer funding of groups that promote the killing of unborn children in developing nations,” Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a statement.

    Abortion rights activists are calling the order “catastrophic.” Marie Stopes International, an NGO that provides abortion and contraceptive services worldwide, told CNN the new rule would prevent them from reaching 1.5 million women with contraception every year.

    Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said the order would lead to the closure of clinics around the world.

    And the Center for Reproductive Rights said it could actually lead to increases in unsafe abortions, unintended pregnancies and maternal and newborn deaths.

    What’s next? With Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate, watch for more legislation on abortion in the coming weeks, experts say. A day after Trump reinstated the gag rule, the House also passed a bill that makes the Hyde amendment — which blocks taxpayer money from funding abortions in the U.S. — permanent.

    “We are a pro-life Congress,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, said in a statement.

    4. Soon, a third of American households won’t be able to afford their water bill.

    This file photo shows tap water in Flint, Michigan, a city that made headlines for its water issues. More cities will face a different kind of water issue -- affordability -- over the next five years, a new study says.  Photos by REUTERS/Carlos.

    This file photo shows tap water in Flint, Michigan, a city that made headlines for its water issues. More cities will face a different kind of water issue — affordability — over the next five years, a new study says. Photos by REUTERS/Carlos.

    We’ve reported on poor access to water, and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

    But the biggest problem facing Americans in the coming years: being able to pay for water, according to a new study.

    Right now, the average monthly water bill in America is $120. Researchers at Michigan State University predict this figure will rise by $49 over the next five years, and if it does, water may become unaffordable for one-third of American households, PBS Newshour’s Nsikan Akpan reports.

    Why it’s important

    A number of communities already have trouble accessing water. Take Detroit, where 50,000 households have lost water access since 2014, or in Philadelphia, where 40 percent of the city’s 227,000 water bills are past due.

    The study says nearly 14 million American households — 11.9 percent — couldn’t afford water in 2014. If water prices continue to rise at the same rate (41 percent over five years), then a third of American households — 40 million — may lose access to affordable water.

    Who’s most at risk? The South, urban centers and low-income communities.

    Counties (census tracts) with a high-risk (black) or at-risk (grey) of losing water access due to affordability. High-risk is defined as areas with a median income below $32,000, which are likely to face affordability challenges based on current water rates. At-risk communities have median incomes of $32,000 and $45,120. Image by Mack EA and Wrase S, 2017, PLoS ONE

    Counties (census tracts) with a high-risk (black) or at-risk (grey) of losing water access due to affordability. High-risk is defined as areas with a median income below $32,000, which are likely to face affordability challenges based on current water rates. At-risk communities have median incomes of $32,000 and $45,120. Image by Mack EA and Wrase S, 2017, PLoS ONE

    “While Flint has certainly garnered the most attention for its water infrastructure problems – and with good reason – they are certainly not alone,” Justin Mattingly, a research manager at the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation, told PBS Newshour.

    5. Serena Williams is No. 1 again, but let’s also have a moment for Venus.

    Serena Williams reacts as she holds her trophy after winning her women's singles final match against her sister Venus Williams. Photo by Thomas Peter/Reuters

    Serena Williams reacts as she holds her trophy after winning her women’s singles final match against her sister Venus Williams. Photo by Thomas Peter/Reuters

    After winning the Australia Open against her sister this weekend, Serena Williams moved into the No. 1 slot in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings.

    That also means Williams has moved past Steffi Graf with 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name, the most of anyone in the Open era. The 35-year-old tennis legend is now one title away from tying Margaret Court’s grand slam record of 24 of both the amateur and open eras of the sport.

    “I won’t lose any sleep over it,” Court said of Serena’s potential dethroning. “But records are there to be broken, it wouldn’t matter what sport it’s in,” she added.

    Why it’s important

    Fanfare may have been subdued with the week’s current events, but in her post-win ceremony, Serena shared the accolades with her sister Venus.

    “There’s no way I would be at 23 without her; there’s no way I would be at 1 without her,” Serena said. “There’s no way I would have anything without her. She’s my inspiration. She’s the only reason I’m standing here today, and the only reason that the Williams sisters exist.”

    The top is never lonely when your best friend @venuswilliams is there. Here's to #23. What a night for our family.

    A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

    Venus, who has claimed seven Grand Slam titles, was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an incurable autoimmune disorder, in 2011. Then, she fell out of the Top 100.

    “Looking back, it’s affected my career in a huge way. I’ve been playing a lot of matches with a half a deck,” Venus said then.

    Venus’ match against her sister is also her first appearance at the Australia Open since 1998. Prior to the match between the Williams sister, The New Yorker’s Louisa Thomas wrote that Venus “is not always treated as a champion.”

    “She is no longer defined by her seven major titles, or by the power of her serve, or even by her sister — even though, I believe, there is no Serena without Venus. She has been known, lately, for her age, and for sticking around,” Thomas wrote.

    In fact, many advance reporting of the match repeated the fact that Venus, 36, was the oldest player to play in a Grand Slam final.

    Fine.

    But, parroting Court here, records are meant to be broken. I won’t forget how Venus advocated for equal prize money. Nor will I forget how she celebrated after she secured her spot in Saturday’s Australia Open final 14 years later.

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

    Pure bliss.

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    Protesters in Queens, New York hold signs in support of immigrants and refugees. Photo by Stephen Yang/Reuters.

    Protesters in Queens, New York hold signs in support of immigrants and refugees. Photo by Stephen Yang/Reuters.

    President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees set off a firestorm around the world this weekend, with broad implications for people seeking entry into the United States.

    As the debate heats up, here’s a guide to some of the competing claims being made about the new policy, and how they hold up under closer scrutiny.

    The claim: 109 people were affected by Friday’s immigration ban
    The rundown: That may be a lowball estimate

    President Trump said Monday that his executive order only affected 109 people trying to enter the U.S. this weekend. But several critics have claimed the short-term number could be higher.

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

    The American Civil Liberties Union estimated that between 100 and 200 people were immediately impacted by the order. The New York Times reported that 173 people overseas were blocked from boarding planes to the U.S. And over the weekend, thousands of people protested the orders at airports in New York, Washington, D.C., Detroit and elsewhere around the country as people arriving in the U.S. were detained, making the final number of people unclear.

    Adding to the confusion, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday that “going forward” the executive order wouldn’t block U.S. green card-holders from reentering the country. The comment seemed to contradict part of the original executive order, and opened the door to more questions about how the new policy will be implemented. According to CNN, at least 170 people with green cards were admitted into the U.S. through Sunday afternoon.

    Regardless of the number of people affected in the order’s immediate aftermath, it has long-term implications. One news report suggested up to 134 million people worldwide could be impacted by the new travel restrictions.

    The claim: Court stays issued over the weekend will block Trump’s order
    The rundown: The federal court rulings did not block the entire order

    A federal judge in Brooklyn issued a stay Sunday temporarily blocking parts of President Trump’s executive order on refugees. The ruling came after the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqi citizens, who were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York upon arriving in the U.S.

    A federal judge in Virginia issued a similar ruling over the weekend blocking travelers who had been detained at Dulles International Airport, outside of Washington, D.C. from being deported. That ruling also ordered that the detained travelers be given access to an attorney.

    The decisions were a victory for opponents of the policy. But they’re just the first step in what could be a lengthy legal battle. They also didn’t block Trump’s entire executive order: The rulings only blocked federal officials from deporting green card-holders who were detained after the order went into effect. The court decisions didn’t weigh in on the constitutionality of President Trump’s policy, meaning that some provisions in the executive orders could still be upheld in court.

    The claim: Trump’s order is similar to President Obama’s 2011 review of Iraqi visas
    The rundown: There are a number of key differences

    In defending his executive order, President Trump compared the ban to actions taken by President Obama during his first term in office.

    “My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,” Trump said in a statement on Sunday.

    But a review of the record shows that’s a big stretch.

    In 2011, the Obama administration announced plans to review the status of around 58,000 Iraqi refugees living in the United States. The review was launched after two Iraqi men were arrested on federal terrorism charges in Kentucky that year. (They had tried to ship weapons and money from the U.S. to insurgents in Iraq, and also admitted to building bombs used against American soldiers in Iraq. The men plead guilty and were sentenced to federal prison in 2013).

    Obama’s order reviewed the immigration status of the 58,000 Iraqi refugees, and set up a stricter vetting process for Iraqis seeking special visas to enter the U.S. The extra security clearance caused delays in processing visas. The program was eventually rolled back in 2014, then reinstated the following year.

    But the program was not a blanket ban on all refugees from Iraq, which is what President Trump imposed with his executive order last week. Obama issued a statement Monday saying his actions never halted Iraqi visas, but instead created a tougher temporary vetting system. The Trump administration’s actions are significantly broader.

    President Donald Trump signs an executive order to impose tighter vetting of travelers entering the United States on January 27, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    President Donald Trump signs an executive order to impose tighter vetting of travelers entering the United States on January 27, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    The claim: Trump’s order builds on Obama’s 2015 refugee policy
    The rundown: The new order is significantly broader

    President Trump and administration officials also compared his executive order on refugees to a visa waiver program put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. But that comparison isn’t totally accurate, either.

    In late 2015, Obama signed a year-end spending bill that included a change to an existing visa waiver program. The measure, called the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015,” placed restrictions on natives of Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria applying for U.S. visas. The restrictions also applied to anyone who had traveled to those countries since 2011.

    Early last year, the Department of Homeland Security expanded the list of restricted countries to include Yemen, Somalia and Libya. In recent days, Trump administration officials have pointed to these two policies, claiming the Obama administration came up with the list of countries to which the new executive order applies.

    The Obama administration did create the list, but the visa waiver program vetted applicants on a “case-by-case basis,” as the Department of Homeland Security noted last February. The program still allowed people from the listed countries to apply for visas, and gave exemptions to certain individuals, such as humanitarian aid workers and journalists. “The new law does not ban travel to the United States, or admission into the United States,” DHS said in its statement last February.

    President Trump’s executive order, on the other hand, puts a 90-day freeze, without exemptions, on refugees and visa holders traveling to the U.S. from the seven listed countries. And it indefinitely blocks Syrian refugees from entering the country as well.

    The claim: The order makes the U.S. safer
    The rundown: A lot of lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — don’t think so

    President Trump said Sunday that the order would make the country safer, while dismissing criticism that it amounted to a de facto ban on Muslims entering the country. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keep our country safe,” Trump said in a statement.

    Some Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, backed the refugee order. But many GOP officials said they believed the policy would not make the country safer, breaking from the president on one of his signature campaign issues.

    Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a joint statement saying the order could “become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.” They added: “This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”

    Former Republican officials criticized the order as well. Mitch Daniels, a former governor of Indiana and official in the George W. Bush administration, said he hoped Trump would “rethink” the policy.

    “If the idea is to strengthen the protection of Americans against terrorism, there are many far better ways to achieve it,” Daniels, the president of Purdue University, said in a statement.

    The post Fact checking Trump’s new immigration order appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Should parents get more time off after the birth of a child before going back to work? Photo by Getty Images

    Workplaces need to offer more flexibility to their workers, and needing to take time off for a family emergency shouldn’t be seen as a lack of commitment or drive, writes Sallie Krawcheck. Photo by Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: Former Wall Street titan Sallie Krawcheck is the founder of Ellevest, chair of Ellevate and author of the new book, “Own It: The Power of Women at Work.” The following is the second of two excerpts published on the Making Sen$e site. You can read the first here.


    Among the key “courageous conversations” I believe we need to own in the workplace is one about flexibility. Real flexibility. Flexibility without shame. That means that if the HR handbook promises six weeks of maternity leave, we aren’t intimidated or “side-eyed” out of actually taking it. Meaning that if we have to or want to go part time for a bit to take care of family, our commitment to the company won’t be questioned and our promotion prospects won’t be diminished.

    I’m talking here about flexibility that recognizes that employees are real people, real people with real lives, and not some 1950s stereotype of what an ideal worker should be. I also believe that we need to internalize the truth of the matter: that being real people makes us great employees, not the opposite.

    READ MORE: Column: Women in the workplace don’t need to be empowered. They need to own their power

    There continues to be a pretty discouraging double standard in many environments, where women feel like they have to hide their personal lives (that they have kids, may someday have kids or simply have a full life outside of the office), whereas men can put their family lives on display without shame. Ever notice how when fathers leave early to go to their kid’s baseball game, people say, “Wow, what a good dad,” but when a woman does it, it’s perceived as a lack of commitment to the job? And it’s even worse than that: Historically, a woman’s salary and job opportunities have taken a hit after she has children, whereas at some companies men have received a “fatherhood bonus” in the form of a pay bump.

    We have the power to help build cultures in which we can be our full selves — whether that means on the home front opting to stay single or to get married or to become a mother — without shame or judgment.

    Historically, a woman’s salary and job opportunities have taken a hit after she has children, whereas at some companies men have received a “fatherhood bonus” in the form of a pay bump.

    Let me start with my own story to illustrate just how important this is. Some months after I had been given the boot by Bank of America, my son Johnathan graduated from high school. As I listened to him give his (IMHO funny, insightful, sharp) graduation speech, it seemed like another bittersweet ending. A summer of travel and work and then off to college. Pretty soon, if my own recollection of college was correct, visits home would be limited to major holidays and a few long weekends. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he didn’t need me anymore, but the heavy lifting appeared to be over.

    A few hours later, he was asleep in his bed, no doubt from the exhaustion of the last few weeks of high school and the prom. Then came the fever and some stomach pain. The excruciating headache. So a trip to the doctor, followed by a trip to the emergency room for dehydration, from which he was sent home with apple juice (ah, modern medicine).

    More pain in his stomach and in his shoulder. Another trip to the doctor, diagnosed as the flu and a prescription for Tylenol. Extra strength. A call to the doctor when the pain became significant, with further reassurances that there was no reason to worry. And instructions that if the situation worsened to “just call me in the morning.” So another call. And another over the next few days.

    READ MORE: Column: Women, it’s time to ask for a raise

    Then I was sitting by his bed in the middle of the night, listening to my more or less grown son literally crying from the pain that the doctor said was nothing out of the ordinary for this version of the flu. I almost believed the doctor — that is, until I thought Johnathan had fallen asleep and I got up to leave. He said, at 18, words I hadn’t heard for at least a decade: “Mommy, please don’t leave me.”

    It was as though I had sustained an electrical shock, as I realized that my son was very sick, regardless of what any doctor was telling me. I went into full mama bear mode, getting him out of bed and straight to a (different) emergency room, where I refused to leave until they ran every test they could think of to explain my son’s pain.

    Johnathan’s spleen had become so swollen that it was bleeding into his belly, something that the doctors had overlooked for days (but for which shoulder pain, I soon learned, is a bull’s-eye indicator). This was the result of mononucleosis, the “kissing disease” (ah, teenagers), which affects many at his age to a slight degree and a few to a significant degree. Well, he was definitely the latter. He was in the hospital on complete bed rest for the better part of a week to save his spleen and out of commission for a full month. It took months and months for him to get back to 100 percent. I didn’t leave the hospital for a single minute while he was there, and I think if I had tried, he wouldn’t have allowed me to. And once he convinced us he was finally well enough to head up to school, my husband and I practically moved into the local hotel near his college to help him navigate the tough road of his recovery.

    The point is I really have no idea how I would have managed to be present in this way for Johnathan if I were still working at the bank, traveling my customary three to four days and nights a week. Frankly, I can’t stand to think about it. After all, at one of my big company jobs, I had once had a health scare myself and had had to leave an off-site to get a brain scan. My boss’s response when I told him my reason for stepping out: “Okay, hurry back as soon as you’re done.”

    Not “Oh no, Sallie, please take the time you need.” Or even, “Gosh, Sallie, I hope everything turns out okay.” No, it was “Hurry back.”

    And lest you think I used a gentle euphemism for my absence or lied and told him I was going out to get my hair done: No, I told him it was a BRAIN SCAN. (He never asked me how it turned out, either. Answer: it turned out that what I was suffering from was stress related — no surprise there!)

    READ MORE: Why there aren’t enough businesswomen at the top, and what Sallie Krawcheck’s doing about it

    So it’s hard to think I could have managed my son’s illness if I had still been working in that kind of inflexible (to say the least) environment. Thank goodness at that point I had transitioned to being an entrepreneur, so I could do right by my family and continue to have a career that I loved, navigating that time without the further worry that I might be fired at any second.

    Did each of these events mean I lost my desire to work? Or my ambition? Absolutely not. They were just… life happening.

    And then, once Johnathan got better, almost as soon as I found myself thinking, Boy, having kids is tough. Can’t believe that happened with Johnathan. I guess that was our “bad thing,” the story of the close call we’ll tell for years — bam. Once again, lightning struck.

    It was Labor Day weekend. The middle of the Saturday. I was in the kitchen shelling crabs, making a mess, when my daughter called with these ominous words: “Mommy, I’m okay.” Then she burst into tears.

    She had been in a car accident and, it turns out, suffered a severe concussion. She was out of school for months, was homeschooled for a while and the early treatment involved her lying in a dark room for hours at a time with little stimulation. And so I lay there with her. Again, I thought, it was a good thing I wasn’t working for the aforementioned company at the time, because you couldn’t have dragged me away from her.

    Did each of these events mean I lost my desire to work? Or my ambition? Absolutely not. They were just… life happening.

    READ MORE: Why women are often put in charge of failing companies

    But here’s the thing, it’s not just flexibility on the “big things” like this that matter. Because it isn’t always the “big things” that can knock us off track. Sometimes it’s an accumulation of the day-to-day tasks.

    We still do much more housework than men — roughly twice as much. And we still shoulder more of the childcare at home than the men do. On an average day, in a house with small children, women do an hour of physical care like feeding and bathing, whereas men spend 23 minutes. (I often say the smartest thing I did when my kids were small was convince my husband that when our toddler woke up in the middle of the night screaming “Mommy!” he actually meant “Parent of Either Gender!” So we took turns, and guess what? Never — during the search for the lost pacifier, or the drink of water, or checking for the monster in the closet — did little Johnathan ever say, “Uh, Daddy, I believe I requested Mommy.”) And yet we women continue to shoulder these tasks disproportionately.

    So those are the medium-size things. If I’m going to be honest, in the earlier days of my career, I sort of thought we women just had to buck it up, that this was just how things were. Sure, we were going to be tired for a time, but it was nothing that a bit more hard work and a bit less sleep couldn’t take care of.

    We often don’t have much of a margin for error. We’ve got the plates spinning, and we’re fine. And then a kid gets sick, and … bam. Shards of ceramic all over the place.

    But after these family health crises, my thinking changed. My conclusion is that we often don’t have much of a margin for error. We’ve got the plates spinning, and we’re fine. And then a kid gets sick, and we drop one. We’ve got the plates spinning, and then we get sick ourselves. Or we’ve got the plates spinning and then one of our kids struggles in school. And bam. Shards of ceramic all over the place.

    Then, as we’re an hour late for work, because we were busy crawling around the floor picking up the broken plates, comes the double whammy. Because in general, when a woman takes time off work to deal with personal matters, suddenly the implicit assumption is that she’s less “committed” or less of a “team player” (instead of being commended for putting her family first or, as she likely would be if she were a man, for being a “good parent”).

    So, let me ask you a question: Did the fact that I wanted (no, needed) to be with my kids when they were sick or injured make me any less committed to my career? Answer: Of course not. I promise you, I would have much preferred to have been working with a healthy son at school than watching my son writhe in pain in a hospital bed.

    READ MORE: Column: The economy undervalues ‘women’s work,’ and that needs to change

    Does the fact that a woman who has a child with behavioral issues might want to spend more time with him that first week of kindergarten mean she is less committed to her work?

    Does the fact that she had a baby — and, you know, spends the first month healing and the next few months after that trying to make sure that child gets a healthy start — mean that she is a subpar professional?

    A McKinsey/LeanIn survey notes that 90 percent of workers believe taking extended family leave will hurt their position at work; thus, just 2 percent of individuals eligible for part-time programs at U.S. companies access them.

    That’s what parts of corporate America can still project on us. Incredibly, today, less than a quarter of companies offer paid parental leave. (Didn’t they get the memo about how hard having a baby is?) And even those of us lucky enough to work for companies that do offer leave still hear the message that daring to take the time to which our company policy entitles us (which is usually still insufficient, by the way) makes us less committed. A McKinsey/LeanIn survey notes that 90 percent of workers believe taking extended family leave will hurt their position at work; thus, just 2 percent of individuals eligible for part-time programs at U.S. companies access them.

    This is certainly what the mindset was like on Wall Street when I had my children (and it still is at many companies for any number of women today). Yes, I’ve got a story there, too, and this is not one I’m particularly proud of. I worked up until the very end for much of my pregnancy: I actually spoke to clients from the delivery room. I started back at work two weeks after my daughter was born. I made my husband throw away the picture of me nursing my daughter while working on my computer in the month after she was born. Do I wish I’d had other options to consider? Do I wish I’d had the courageous conversation about flexibility? I think you know the answer to that. And here’s what I also wish: that you’ll learn from my mistake and have the conversation that I didn’t.

    READ MORE: Column: Working parents have two jobs — and both are important to the economy

    The post Column: Needing flexibility at work shouldn’t be seen as a weakness appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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