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

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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks by phone with the Saudi Arabia's King Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTSXXS6

    President Donald Trump speaks by phone with the Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in the Oval Office on Jan. 29. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    President Donald Trump and his advisers have not been shy about touting the administration’s record since taking office. Earlier this month, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said “we have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.”

    Mr. Trump listed his accomplishments in office during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, offering a preview of his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

    “One by one, we’re checking off the promises we made to the people of the United States,” Trump said in his CPAC speech.

    Trump has moved quickly to fulfill many of the promises he made as a candidate. But while he’s made strong claims and signed dozens of executive orders, the early results have been uneven, and much of Trump’s agenda will ultimately be decided in Congress and the courts. New policies on health care, trade and immigration, among other issues, are just starting to take shape — and could change by the time Trump gives his first official State of the Union speech this time next year.

    For now, here’s a closer look at some of Trump’s top achievements so far, according to a list released by the White House last week. Expect the president to hit on many of these themes in his speech before Congress.

    WATCH LIVE: Donald Trump’s address to Congress

    Withdrawing from TPP

    Trump upheld a campaign promise by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal between U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries. Trump supporters applauded the move. At CPAC, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon called it “one of the most pivotal moments in modern American history.” Bannon added that the deal would be replaced by bilateral agreements between the U.S. and individual countries in Asia.

    But the decision also drew significant criticism, including from some Republicans, who argued that abandoning TPP ceded economic control in the region to China. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement that it was a “serious mistake” to withdraw from the trade deal. “This decision will forfeit the opportunity to promote American exports, reduce trade barriers, open new markets and protect American invention and innovation,” McCain said.

    A green light for pipelines

    Trump signed a presidential memorandum to clear the way for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, two embattled fossil fuel projects opposed by a broad array of interests on the left.

    A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp's planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota November 14, 2014. The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives approved the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, but a similar measure struggled to get enough support in the Senate and President Barack Obama indicated he might use his veto if the bill does get through Congress. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen   (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENERGY BUSINESS) - RTR4E83W

    A depot in Gascoyne, North Dakota used to store pipes for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. File Photo by REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

    The order had an immediate effect. Weeks later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers paved the way for construction of the final section of the Dakota Access Pipeline, ending a months-long protest of the project. Within days, construction on the pipeline resumed.

    The Keystone project, which was blocked by the Obama administration, will likely take longer to get going. But opposition to Keystone is expected to continue. Experts say neither pipeline will create as many jobs as supporters have promised. But Trump’s memorandum handed the oil and gas industries a big win after years of battling the Obama administration — and underscored Trump’s campaign promise to boost domestic fossil fuel production.

    The wall and immigration

    On Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive order calling for the construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. The wall was a top priority for Trump during the campaign; to Trump voters who backed the idea of the wall, the executive order was the first step towards turning his campaign rhetoric into reality.

    But it was largely a symbolic step. The White House and Republicans in Congress must still come up with a plan to pay for the wall, which is expected to cost $12 to 15 billion, House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a GOP retreat last month. They also need a plan for what the wall will actually look like. As a candidate, Trump promised to build a multi-billion dollar, 40-foot-high border wall, though he has also said the wall could take various shapes and sizes. Its final design – assuming the project moves forward – will depend on how much Congress is willing to spend on the project.

    The president also signed an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations. But the ban was blocked in court, dealing the White House an early setback.

    The border wall illuminated at night in Nogales, Arizona on July 6, 2012. Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

    The border wall illuminated at night in Nogales, Arizona. President Trump signed an executive order calling for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. File Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

    The White House is preparing a new executive order on immigration that will come out this week, perhaps as early as Wednesday. The administration has also begun an aggressive push to deport undocumented workers who have committed crimes, another of Trump’s campaign promises.

    These are still just the opening rounds in what could be a long legal and legislative battle over immigration policy under Trump. The president might ultimately prevail in his mission to tighten the nation’s borders. But his first month in office did not produce the clear-cut victory the White House hoped for.

    Supreme Court

    Trump’s selection of Neil Gorsuch for the open seat on the Supreme Court was a high point of his first month in office. (Though the smooth announcement ceremony was quickly overshadowed by the president’s criticism of the courts). As a candidate Trump promised to put conservative justices on the Supreme Court; Gorsuch’s confirmation would make good on that pledge and give Trump and conservatives a significant victory that liberals could not undo.

    If he is confirmed as expected, Gorsuch could vote to uphold Trump administration policies that reach the Supreme Court, helping cement Trump’s legacy on issues like immigration.

    The Gorsuch pick has other, more immediate implications as well. If he is confirmed as expected, Gorsuch could vote to uphold Trump administration policies that reach the Supreme Court, helping cement Trump’s legacy on issues like immigration.

    Foreign policy

    The White House included three foreign policy items on its list of accomplishments in Trump’s first month as president: sanctions against individuals and groups linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program; a presidential memorandum that ordered a plan for the defeat of ISIS; and phone calls or meetings between Trump and “more than 30 foreign leaders.”

    The Trump administration did issue new sanctions directed at Iran. But the action did not come close to Trump’s more assertive pledge, during the campaign, to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal made under President Barack Obama. There is still plenty of time for Trump to try to dismantle the agreement, but the administration is facing pressure not to pull out of the deal.

    Trump’s memorandum ordering the Defense Department to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS was a first step in fulfilling another campaign vow. Details of the plan have not been announced, so it’s unclear what approach Trump will take.

    While Trump has spoken with dozens of foreign leaders, several of the calls did not go smoothly, according to news reports. Trump’s conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was so contentious that McCain and other senators felt compelled to assure Australian officials in the following days that the U.S. was still a staunch ally.

    Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, have all made trips abroad in which they reassured U.S. allies who are worried about the county’s foreign policy under Trump. The trips came amid a flood of stories about Russia’s involvement in the U.S. presidential election, which led to the resignation of Mike Flynn, the national security adviser.

    Repeal and Replace

    Hours after being sworn into office, Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to “minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the Affordable Care Act while Congress comes up with a plan to repeal and replace Obama’s signature health care law.

    Like the executive order on the border wall, the health care order was largely symbolic. The real work of redoing the Affordable Care Act will play out in Congress, where Republicans have so far struggled to come to a consensus on the matter. Still, Trump said he would roll back the law, and in his first day of office he took an important first step towards achieving that goal.

    The post What Trump has accomplished 40 days into his presidency appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sunayana Dumala (C), wife of killed Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot dead in the US state of Kansas, is consoled by family members prior to performing the last rites at his funeral in Hyderabad on Feb. 28, 2017. Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

    Sunayana Dumala (C), wife of killed Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot dead in the US state of Kansas, is consoled by family members prior to performing the last rites at his funeral in Hyderabad on Feb. 28, 2017. Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

    Nearly a week after a shooting in Kansas left one Indian national dead and another wounded, the FBI announced Tuesday it was investigating the violent incident as a hate crime.

    Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, an Indian immigrant, was shot and killed by a 51-year-old white man Wednesday at Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, a city outside of Kansas City, Kansas. Witnesses said the suspect, Adam Purinton, shouted racial slurs before opening fire in the bar, The Kansas City Star reported.

    Kuchibhotla died from injuries in the attack. His friend and colleague, Alok Madasani, 32 — who is also Indian — and bar patron Ian Grillot, 24, were injured. Grillot had tried to intervene in the shooting.

    “Based upon the initial investigative activity, the FBI, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, is investigating this incident as a hate crime,” the FBI said in a statement. “The FBI will continue to work jointly with Olathe Police Department and our state and local partners regarding this ongoing investigation,” the statement continued.

    Kansas does not have a hate crime statute, as Johnson County District Attorney Stephen M. Howe pointed out on Twitter. Purinton will not face hate crime charges if they’re not brought in federal court.

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

    Witnesses have said the shooter told the two Indian men to “get out of my country.” Later, an Applebee’s bartender in Clinton, Missouri, called 911 to report that a man at the bar told her he did “something bad” for “shooting two people in Olathe.”

    The bartender told the dispatcher that the man wouldn’t specify what exactly he did.

    “I kept asking him, and he said that he would tell me if I agreed to let him stay with me,” Sam Suida is heard saying on the 911 call. “I finally got him to tell me, and he said, like, that he shot and killed two Iranian people in Olathe,” she added.

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

    The bartender’s phone call helped authorities locate the suspect across state lines, KSHB-TV reported.

    President Donald Trump has yet to publicly address the incident, a fact that has prompted some critics to ask why. Grillot, who’s still recovering in a local hospital, told reporters that he hopes Trump mentions the shooting in tonight’s address to Congress.

    Sunayana Dumala, Kuchibhotla’s widow, returned to India for her husband’s funeral Tuesday. She said during a news conference last week that she may return to the U.S., to her home in Olathe. But “I need an answer from the government,” she added. “What are they going to do to stop this hate crime?”

    Read more: Widow of Olathe shooting victim: ‘I need an answer’ on how U.S. stops hate crimes

    Tim Hibbard, another patron who witnessed the shooting last week, wrote a blog post on his personal site, describing what he saw that night.

    “We live in a world where intolerance toward minorities and foreigners is encouraged from the top down. ‘Get out of my country!’ — That is a real thing, that a real person said to another real person on February 22nd before shooting him,” Hibbard wrote.

    READ MORE: 5 stories from last week that deserve a second look

    The post FBI to investigate Kansas shooting of two Indian men as a hate crime appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    INSIDE BALTIMORE’S BATTLE WITH OPIOID ADDICTION

    In 2015, Baltimore wrote a city-wide prescription for a heroin antidote. Two years later, as the city tries to expand access to addiction treatment, will the White House support its mission?


    Baltimore public health outreach worker John Harris shows his hands as he talks about his efforts to combat opioid addiction in his hometown. Photo by Frank Carlson/NewsHour

    With a black plastic bag in hand, Gerald Young ducked into the needle exchange van parked across the street from Baltimore’s Saint Paul Freewill Baptist Church. A cold January rain drizzled outside.

    Young shuffled to a small table and sat down, untying and overturning his half-knotted bag. Three bundles of used needles tumbled into a red medical waste bin.

    Across from Young, John Harris opened a new box of clean hypodermic needles and restored Young’s supply. Harris, a Baltimore public health worker, also gave him a new kit of naloxone, an opioid antidote that stops a potentially fatal overdose in moments. Young, a 61-year-old homeless Baltimore native, rose to leave the van and wander around his hometown.

    On that same van, outgoing U.S. drug czar Michael Botticelli, whose strategies targeted substance abuse and addiction treatment for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, stood off to the corner, asking workers what they’d been seeing. Botticelli had traveled to Baltimore to praise the city’s fight against the opioid epidemic. On the eve of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, he wondered how his work would carry forward.

    Over the last five years, the nation’s opioid crisis has gained momentum, despite federal, state and local officials’ attempts to control it. The most recent government data shows more than 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2015 alone. Those deaths have quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in Maryland, which ranked 14th in drug overdose death rate nationwide in 2015, that rate rose 20 percent over the previous year. By September 2016, 70 percent of the state’s 918 fatal heroin overdoses happened in and around Baltimore, state records show.

    70 percent of Maryland’s 918 fatal heroin overdoses happened in and around Baltimore

    Policymakers have targeted opioid deaths with new programs in recent years. All states except Missouri use real-time electronic records to monitor how often doctors prescribe and pharmacists dispense drugs. When Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act last year, states secured $1 billion to fund substance abuse treatment targeting heroin and opioid users. And a growing number of cities and states have expanded access to naloxone; Baltimore was one of the nation’s earliest adopters.

    Without these strategies, Botticelli told the NewsHour, “I don’t know where we’d be in terms of overdose deaths.”

    As the nation sees a historic rise in fatal drug overdoses, and a new president steps into the White House, the future of those programs are unclear. The national drug control policy office, created by President Ronald Reagan nearly three decades ago, has faced political threats before. While advocates have praised the office’s ability to coordinate anti-addiction efforts across federal, state and local offices, critics say billions in spending hasn’t stopped drug use from rising.

    In October, Trump pointed to then-running mate Gov. Mike Pence’s work in Indiana, where he “increased the mandatory minimum sentences for the most serious drug offenders, while expanding access to treatment and prevention options for those struggling with addiction,” Trump said. “We must make similar efforts a priority for the nation,”he added.

    The Obama administration praised Baltimore's efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. Under the Trump administration, it is unclear how the nation will face this public health crisis. Photo by Frank Carlson/NewsHour

    The Obama administration praised Baltimore’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. Under the Trump administration, it is unclear how the nation will face this public health crisis. Photo by Frank Carlson/NewsHour

    But a month after Botticelli’s visit, the New York Times reported the Trump administration planned to ax the national drug control policy office. Trump has yet to nominate someone to take Botticelli’s place. His team also hasn’t spoken publicly about dissolving the office. Last week, advocacy groups submitted a letter to the White House, making the case for why the office needs to stay. A day earlier, the Fraternal Order of Police sent its own letter urging the Trump administration “to reject any notion or proposal to eliminate” the office, saying it “plays a vital role in coordinating a national strategy to fight drug trafficking and reduce illegal drug use.”

    When reached Thursday, a White House spokesperson told NewsHour in a written statement that it’s “premature to comment,” adding: “The President and his cabinet are working collaboratively to create a leaner, more efficient government that does more with less of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.”

    The Obama administration held up Baltimore as an example of how a cash-strapped city can forge partnerships at all levels of government and develop new ways to prevent drug overdose deaths, expand treatment access and nurture greater recovery, but the opioid problem is not yet solved. In Charm City, people are dying for answers.

    ***

    The Saturday night after Trump’s inauguration was bitterly cold in Baltimore. People huddled around the city’s needle exchange van at Harford Road and 25th Street; a few people asked Harris if they could come inside to warm up. He obliged.

    At least 15 people asked Harris: “Y’all have that medicine that brings people back?”

    He did. That night, Harris trained people to use naloxone. He told them if they saw someone with no signs of life — at church or a bus stop, in a restaurant bathroom or their own home — they should release the nasal spray antidote and call 9-1-1. Within moments, naloxone stops the overdose and sends the person into withdrawal, a preferred side effect if the only other option is death.

    “Y’all have that medicine that brings people back?”

    But what Harris has seen disturbs him. People shoot up or snort forms of synthetic heroin called fentanyl and carfentanil, which is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and used as an elephant tranquilizer — aiming for a more potent high at the risk of losing it all. And with the price of heroin as low as $3, Harris said it’s more accessible than ever. By his count, 43 people overdosed in Baltimore that January weekend.

    “The trauma [of being] there, to see someone drop and die in your presence, can leave a scar forever,” he said. “It’s in your neighborhood. It’s everywhere. I’m just glad to be a part of the solution as opposed to the problem.”

    Harris lives in the same Coppin Heights home where he was born. But the neighborhood where his father and his mother raised 13 children changed long before the opioid crisis captured national attention. Down the red-brick street, a drug market openly thrives. The sounds of children laughing and playing no longer bounce off the brick rowhouses with white trim. It’s not safe anymore, said his niece, Rhonda Harris. Instead, ambulance sirens start wailing after lunchtime and go all night long, occasionally punctuated by gunshots, John Harris said.

    Harris, 59, knows the ghosts of addiction who haunt his street all too well. He was once one of them.

    Part of the solution — Baltimore public health outreach worker John Harris stands on the porch of his Coppin Heights home, the same house where he was born and where his parents raised 13 children. In long-term recovery from his own addiction to heroin, Harris trains the public to use an overdose antidote called naloxone, writes treatment referrals for people ready to confront their addiction and attends weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Photos by Frank Carlson/NewsHour

    Harris was captain of his high school wrestling team; he also played basketball and ran track. But he was shy to talk to girls or speak up in class. To take the edge off, he smoked marijuana and sipped cough syrup. When he first snorted heroin, Harris said it made him feel “real smooth.” He remembered competing in wrestling meets while high on heroin and thought he hid it well.

    For more than a decade, addiction tightened its grip on him. He spent less money on haircuts, new clothes and movie tickets. Instead, it went to heroin. He injected heroin, puncturing his arms with dirty needles. He lost his job, his friends, his family, his home, his health. He picked up and dropped off drugs, taking a cut for himself when he couldn’t afford to buy them outright. He overdosed. He broke his parents’ hearts. Finally, in 1989, when Harris found out his girlfriend was pregnant, he panicked and said he couldn’t get high with a baby on the way.

    A short time later, a high school friend who worked at a drug treatment facility found Harris sitting on the street in a gutter. He told Harris to come to treatment.“‘If you don’t like what you see in 28 days,” the friend said, “you can go back and do what you was doing because it’s waiting for you.’”

    That made sense to Harris. For more than a month, he completed in-patient substance abuse treatment at Wyman Park and the Tuerk House in Baltimore. Harris emerged from treatment clean, in time to see his son born.

    But he was scared to come home.

    Harris tried to apologize to his father, his lifelong hero, who for more than 30 years worked two jobs as a postal worker and union leader to provide for his family. His father told him: “‘Don’t come telling me what you’re gonna do. You show me.’”

    xx

    Baltimore public health outreach worker John Harris, right, stands at a Penn-North neighborhood bus stop in Baltimore and trains a man to use Narcan, also called naloxone, an antidote that can reverse an opioid overdose within minutes. Photo by Frank Carlson/NewsHour

    His father’s command lit a fire inside of him that still burns. He took classes at Baltimore City Community College to learn how to counsel others battling addiction. He attends Narcotics Anonymous group sessions at least twice a week and says those conversations keep him in line. And he began working on the needle exchange vans that roll six days a week to meet the challenge of substance abuse in Baltimore.

    He is encouraged that people talk more openly about substance abuse and addiction as families, communities and the country are confronted with a mounting opioid epidemic. He works to remove addiction’s stigma, seeing people come to him “from all walks of life.”

    “They’re not bad people,” Harris said. “They’re human beings who have made some unhealthy decisions, who have put their lives in a dangerous place, and they need help.”

    ***
    Since she was appointed in January 2015, Baltimore Public Health Commissioner Leana Wen has tried to figure out how the city would navigate the opioid crisis. In October 2015, Wen, an emergency room physician, wrote the city’s 620,000 residents a standing prescription for naloxone, also called Narcan, after she used the antidote on hundreds of patients herself.

    “I’ve seen that, [if there’s] someone who’s overdosing who has minutes to live, I can literally save their life by nasal injection or by injecting something that’s similar to an epipen into them,” Wen told the NewsHour.

    Since then, more than 17,000 people have received naloxone training in jails, at bus stops, at churches around Baltimore. After Wen became commissioner, naloxone has saved more than 800 lives in Baltimore. But as with EpiPen, the antidote’s price for some people is on the rise. So is the demand, at a time when nearly 25,000 city residents are estimated to have an opioid disorder.

    kaléo, a Richmond, Virginia-based pharmaceutical company, makes auto-injectors that allow anyone to administer naloxone. A twin-pack of EVZIO auto-injectors that cost $575 in 2014 now costs more than $4,000, Kaiser Health News reported. The company argues that for 200 million people with commercial insurance and a prescription, the auto-injectors are now available free of charge.

    In a written statement to the NewsHour, Spencer Williamson, chief executive at kaléo, said the company has donated nearly 200,000 auto-injectors since October 2014 to “public health departments, first responders and non-profits serving patients in need, free of charge.” Those free injectors make up about 40 percent of all auto-injectors shipped as of December, he said. The company plans to donate 100,000 more auto-injectors this year.

    “We’ve received reports of more than 3,000 lives saved by EVZIO,” Williamson said. “That’s an average of more than 25 a week since the start of the program.”

    The antidote is important, but if that’s the public’s only defense against opioid addiction, then “we’re just on this treadmill,” Wen told the NewsHour. Out of an estimated 20 million people who abuse substances nationwide, 11 percent seek treatment. That’s why she secured $3.6 million to build a stabilization center that offers round-the-clock behavioral health treatment. And as of Feb. 6, the city’s police officers can send minor drug offenders to treatment, rather than jail, in a move championed by law enforcement and Wen’s office.

    After Trump won the presidential election, Wen, along with 10 other public health commissioners of major U.S. cities, wrote a letter to his transition team, asking that they “prioritize combating opioid addiction and overdose in the first 100 days,” and appoint a drug czar “with experience in public health and addiction treatment to ensure that addiction is addressed as the disease that it is.”

    Mike Gimbel, of the Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, agrees with Wen’s belief that when communities treat addiction like a disease rather than a moral failing (“treat people rather than put them in prison”), they will produce better outcomes. But he said the city emphasizes naloxone too much and should do more to steer people battling addiction into treatment.

    Gimbel, a recovering heroin addict, says he has been clean for 44 years. He scoffs at the way people talk about addiction in the United States today, compared to the searing rhetoric of the drug war of the past. Now that heroin is a middle-class issue, governments want to treat addiction “like it’s every other disease,” he says.

    “The inner cities have been dealing with heroin addiction for over 50 years,” he said. “Suburbs have just begun to come to terms with the fact that there’s a heroin problem in white middle class America.”

    In October 2015, Baltimore City Public Health Commissioner Leana Wen wrote a standing order for naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, for all 620,000 residents. Photo by Frank Carlson/NewsHour

    In October 2015, Baltimore City Public Health Commissioner Leana Wen wrote a standing order for naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, for all 620,000 residents. Photo by Frank Carlson/NewsHour

    But he thinks a standing citywide order for naloxone makes it too easy for people with substance addiction to escape hospital care and treatment. Instead, he says public health officials should invest more resources in long-term treatment facilities and design policies that route people into those facilities. That was the only thing that broke heroin’s hold on him, Gimbel said.

    “It takes over your body. It takes over your mind. It takes over your soul. Heroin is literally the devil,” he said. “Middle-class America has never had to confront this.”

    Pharmacist Dwayne Weaver began filling prescriptions at his Penn North neighborhood shop two decades ago. Nowadays, clients step up to his pharmacy’s bulletproof glass window once or twice a week, asking for more naloxone under Wen’s citywide prescription. The antidote’s potential is huge, Weaver said. As more people become addicted to opiates, like oxycontin, “the marketplace has turned to heroin for a cheaper high.”

    But Weaver holds the medical community partially responsible for its role in the epidemic.

    Public health officials “seem to be finally educating doctors on more prudent prescribing of opiates,” Weaver said.

    And it’s not just doctor’s prescriptions. A few blocks from Weaver’s store, drug dealers stand shoulder-to-shoulder next to a red brick wall in an open market. A police helicopter circled overhead, and officers patrolled around the corner, but business never slowed down on a chilly Wednesday afternoon.

    ***
    Back on the van, on Michael Botticelli’s final day as the drug czar, he asked public health workers like John Harris what they thought the nation needed to more fully combat the opioid epidemic.

    “Heroin is literally the devil. … Middle-class America has never had to confront this.”

    Mental health problems and addiction are often tightly intertwined, Harris told Botticelli, and people feel isolated in poverty and violence. Cities like Baltimore need more treatment centers that integrate psychological disorders and substance abuse, he said. Otherwise, said Thomas Clemons, another city health educator who works alongside Harris on the van, “you’re gonna come right back to the same problem.”

    Several outreach workers who spoke to Botticelli that day had served on the frontlines of Baltimore’s opioid crisis for roughly a decade. They told him a sense of mission and compassion kept them coming back.

    Nationwide, “that’s what we need in the middle of this epidemic,” Botticelli said.

    Despite the concern that echoes around him, Harris said he remains optimistic the new president will support his city’s efforts to fight a public health crisis. Officials in Baltimore and other cities across the country are waiting to see how the new administration chooses to tackle this epidemic. Until then, he’ll hand out clean needles, write up treatment referrals and train people to trick death while working to loosen addiction’s hold on his hometown.

    The post ‘Y’all have that medicine that brings people back?’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Parks Canada resource conservation staff, Saundi Norris and Dillon Watt, watch as bison return to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada in this February 1, 2017 handout photo.  Dan Rafla/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY - RTX2ZWAP

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    NewsHour shares web small logoIn our NewsHour Shares series, we show you things that caught our eye recently on the web. What about you? Leave your suggestions in the comments below, or tweet to @NewsHour using #NewsHourShares. We might share it on air.

    The post How scientists brought bison back to Banff appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: But first: With stepped-up enforcement along the U.S.-Mexican border, there is more anxiety among immigrant communities that families members with different status might be separated.

    In New Mexico, one small bi-national community along the border is working hard to keep families connected through schools.

    From Public Media’s Fronteras desk and PBS station KRWG, Simon Thompson, originally from Australia, brings us this report.

    SIMON THOMPSON: Daylight hasn’t even broken, but 500 children who live in Palomas, Mexico, are up and on their way to school. Their commute is not typical.

    They must first cross the international border into the U.S. They show their U.S. passports and birth certificates. Customs and Immigration officials inspect their school bags. Then they’re bussed to school in Luna County, New Mexico.

    Lizett Preciado is a senior at Deming High School in Luna County. A U.S. citizen, she’s lived in Palomas with her parents for seven years.

    LIZETT PRECIADO, Student, Deming High School: It was good to be able to go to school there. And, like, there’s more opportunities to study and to have a better job in the future.

    SIMON THOMPSON: Lizett and her family moved to Palomas from Colorado, after her mother, Rosa Marie, was deported for being in the United States illegally.

    ROSA MARIA PRECIADO, Mother (through interpreter): I felt really bad, really badly, because I have four children who are citizens of the United States, and my husband is a resident. I didn’t want to go back to live in Mexico. I know it is my country, but life in Mexico in really hard.

    SIMON THOMPSON: Preciado and her husband, Ramon, makes their living in Palomas raising goats. Ramon still crosses occasionally back into the U.S. to work.

    Preciado says having her children educated in the U.S. was important to her, and that’s why they settled in Palomas.

    ROSA MARIA PRECIADO (through interpreter): I came to Palomas because of a friend who said Palomas would be a good option to live with my children. It is easy to cross into the United States, and there is a bus to take them to school.

    SIMON THOMPSON: Armando Chavez is the principal of Columbus Elementary in Luna County. He says the school district usually sees an influx of students when states enact strict immigration laws, as Arizona did in 2010.

    ARMANDO CHAVEZ, Principal, Columbus Elementary: We are sometimes the holding spot for them, for them to fix the papers correctly. We are dealing with children that come from South Dakota, Missouri. It can be any state that they come, but we embrace our children that come to our door every day.

    SIMON THOMPSON: School districts in Texas and California also allow students living in Mexico to come to school. But they often charge out-of-district fees or are private. For the U.S. citizen-students coming from Palomas to school in Luna County, the education is free.

    Many teachers in the Luna County schools crossed the border as students. Ricardo Gutierrez teaches the fifth grade at Columbus Elementary, the school he attended as a child.

    RICARDO GUTIERREZ, Teacher, Columbus Elementary: So now it’s my turn to give back to the community.

    SIMON THOMPSON: Gutierrez says keeping parents engaged in their children’s education is the biggest challenge. He opens his restaurant in Palomas for parent-teacher conferences via Skype. And for this year’s graduation ceremony, he hosted a live watch party for parents that can’t cross.

    But not everybody living in the Luna County area thinks that state money should be used to educate students who don’t live in the United States.

    RUSS HOWELL, Chair, Republican Party of Luna County: They are getting a free education.

    SIMON THOMPSON: Luna County Republican Party chair Russ Howell says allowances like the one being made by the school district motivate people to exploit birthright citizenship.

    RUSS HOWELL: They don’t live in the United States, so that forces the state of New Mexico to pay for their education, as well as those of us that are taxed to pay for them too.

    SIMON THOMPSON: The New Mexico State Constitution requires public schools to be open to all the children of school age, regardless of residence.

    Principal Chavez says, if there are concerns about students not paying their fair share, that is more reason to make sure they’re getting a good education.

    ARMANDO CHAVEZ: They are going to more than likely live in the United States. We want to educate them. We want to get them to the highest level of education possible, so they can be successful, and so they can become productive members and contribute back.

    SIMON THOMPSON: Rosa Maria Preciado says her three oldest children are already making their contributions. Her oldest daughter serves in the U.S. military and her two sons have careers in engineering and manufacturing.

    ROSA MARIA PRECIADO (through interpreter): I am very proud, because I have a lot of family, and almost none of their children graduated from anything, not even high school. And I have two that graduated. And they have their careers. That has made me really proud and it has given me a lot of happiness.

    SIMON THOMPSON: Lizett is scheduled to graduate next spring, and plans to study engineering at Colorado State. Preciado hopes an immigration pardon waiver she is eligible for in two years will allow the whole family to reunite in the U.S. But there are no guarantees.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Simon Thompson in Luna County, New Mexico.

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    A fall leaf floats on the surface of the Willowemoc Creek in the Catskills region town of Roscoe, New York October 7, 2014. Roscoe is nicknamed "Trout Town USA", with a number of top ranked trout fishing streams in the area. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT) - RTR49BAE

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just days ago, the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, promised an aggressive rollback of environmental regulations that had been put in place by former President Obama. The future, he said, ain’t what it used to be.

    President Trump made good on his and Pruitt’s pledge today with an order to dismantle a controversial Obama rule about smaller bodies of water in the U.S.

    William Brangham has the story.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It’s called the waters of the United States rule, and it has to do with which smaller bodies of water, like streams and wetlands, should be regulated and protected by the federal government under the Clean Water Act.

    That question has been litigated in court battles for years.

    And so for more on what today’s move is all about, I’m joined now by Juliet Eilperin, who’s been reporting on this for The Washington Post.

    Juliet, welcome back to the NewsHour.

    Before we get into the rollback, can you tell me what this rule is really about? And this was, as I understand it, a very big part of Obama’s environmental legacy.

    JULIET EILPERIN, The Washington Post: This is a 2015 rule, which has been subject to litigation, which tries to clarify what, as you alluded to, has been really a 30-year battle over what jurisdiction the federal government has over these smaller streams, some are intermittent, some wetlands, and essentially what the federal government can tell Americans, including farmers, ranchers, homebuilders, what they can and cannot do, even when it has to do with private property, because it has implications for smaller water bodies that are crucial water supply for larger water bodies across the United States.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, is this about a rule that is trying to protect these waters from pollution? Is that the issue here?

    JULIET EILPERIN: Partially, it’s pollution, but what it pertains to many often is whether they can be drained or filled in. All of those actions, which are in some ways the inevitable product of these operations that happen in various different sectors of the economy, have implications for whether that water will then flow into larger water bodies.

    And so it is usually a restriction on whether you can drain something or dig up something, as opposed to, for example, just dumping in pollutants into a small water body, although, technically, it could apply to that as well.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I see.

    I know that a lot of farmers and businesses and developers have said that this rule was hugely burdensome to them. Was this an issue primarily of cost to them, or confusion about what rules were covered? What was the issue?

    JULIET EILPERIN: It was a combination of both the costs that they might have to incur, but also whether they were permitted to do something or not.

    So, you had — one thing that’s difficult is essentially these activities were being decided on a case-by-case basis, and so you had individual operators, whether you’re talking about someone who is operating a gravel pit or trying to expand a parking lot or do something on his or her ranch — all of those folks were engaged in conversations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

    And sometimes the decisions didn’t go the way they wanted to. There were fines imposed on them. And so there were these long-running disputes happening across the country where the federal government was saying, that in order to protect these sources of water, they couldn’t do things or had to pay for some of the actions that they undertook.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I understand a lot of environmental groups and some sporting groups have been very critical of this rollback. What is their complaint?

    JULIET EILPERIN: Their argument — and there certainly are a lot of them — is that these water bodies, though it might be inconvenient to have restrictions, were crucial habitat for everything from waterfowl, many migratory birds, aquatic species, as well as a source of drinking water for millions of Americans.

    And so these groups, primarily outdoor recreation groups, as well as many environmental groups, worked extensively during the Obama administration to get them to finalize this rule, in the hopes that there would be an overarching standard that could be applied across the country that would provide more stringent protections for these streams and wetlands.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, with President Trump’s order, this doesn’t immediately undue the rule. Like, tomorrow, the rule doesn’t disappear, right?

    JULIET EILPERIN: It doesn’t, although the Sixth Circuit has put a nationwide stay on the rule, so the rule has not gone into effect and will not go into effect.

    And, in fact, the order that President Trump signed instructs the attorney general to ask that court to simply hold that lawsuit in abeyance, essentially freezing this rule further, while the two agencies that are charged with overseeing it look at whether they can undo it, although that again is an extensive process and will spur more lawsuits going forward.

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

    JULIET EILPERIN: Thank you.

    The post Trump administration freezes Obama rule on water protection appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes the leaders of dozens of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 27, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now: the role of America’s historically black colleges, and what could, or should, be done to strengthen them.

    That was on President Trump’s agenda today, and is the focus of our weekly segment Making the Grade.

    As part of an effort to celebrate Black History Month, President Trump signed an executive order today aimed at helping historically black colleges and universities.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: HBCUs have been really pillars of the African-American community for more than 150 years, an amazing job, and a grand and enduring symbol of American at its absolute best. With this executive order, we will make HBCUs a priority in the White House, an absolute priority.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The order will move the government’s program for coordinating HBCUs back directly under the White House.

    But the president didn’t commit any additional funds to the schools yet, some of which are struggling financially. Many presidents of HBCUs are in Washington this week, calling for $25 billion more in the upcoming budget.

    HBCUs were established after the Civil War to provide higher learning for black citizens who were deliberately shut out of most universities. Today, there are 100 HBCUS. Nearly 300,000 students are enrolled in them. Every president since Mr. Jimmy Carter has issued executive orders on HBCUS.

    During President Obama’s tenure, he expanded Pell Grants for schools overall, but initially approved tighter loan conditions for black colleges and never held meetings with the group. It was often a rocky relationship. A number of HBCUs still are in financial distress.

    Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which helps fund HBCUs, says the schools need more money collectively.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR, President and CEO, Thurgood Marshall College Fund: We should be very clear that we want this administration and the 115th Congress to make good on the money. You cannot have mission without money.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: After President Trump’s meeting, his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, triggered some new criticism. In a statement heralding the HBCUs, she called them — quote — “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”

    Critics say her statement ignores the long history of segregation for black students and the underfunding of black schools.

    Let’s take a closer look now at the president’s executive order and the status of these schools.

    For that, we’re joined by Johnny Taylor, who was at the meeting and is president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and Sophia Nelson. She’s a journalist who follows this, and is the author of “E Pluribus ONE: Reclaiming Our Founders’ Vision for a United America.”

    Johnny, let me start with you.

    Why is it important for this initiative to be back under the White House?

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: You know, at the end of the day where you live matters in so many ways, right?

    When we were in the Department of Education, this office, it was three levels down. It didn’t even report to the secretary of education. To me, that said volumes about what the former administration and frankly former administrations thought about HBCUs.

    We judge you — more about what you say, it’s about what you do. And so moving us to the White House sends the message to the entire country that HBCUs matter, and they matter to the person — frankly, the most powerful person in the country, the president of the United States.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Sophia Nelson, it’s symbolic. But symbols are important. But it’s not cash. And cash and funding is what a lot of these presidents are here lobbying for right now.

    SOPHIA NELSON, Author, “E Pluribus ONE”: Here’s what I’m encouraged by.

    Yesterday, in the press conference, Sean Spicer talked about they were going to do what he called a review of the agencies. Now, I happen to understand the way this works, having worked in the federal government and dealing with HBCUs, as I have in my past life as an attorney.

    The money that I think they’re going to find is mostly in the R&D space. They’re going to look at Department of Defense and some of the other agencies. And people think defense and HBCUs? Yes, ROTC programs, for example, right?

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s right.

    SOPHIA NELSON: So, I think what the Trump administration is going to do is shrewd.

    They’re going to look for existing pockets of money that, under past executive orders, as you know, direct agencies to make sure that HBCUs are fully funded. And they haven’t been. That’s the challenge.

    So, what I want America to understand is that the legislation or actually the executive action has been there consistently.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s right.

    SOPHIA NELSON: But there is no enforcement of what the agencies are doing with the dollars.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: And that’s why it matters.

    SOPHIA NELSON: Therein is what I’m hopeful about, that at least they’re going to take the look and say, let’s find what we’re doing in the agencies and let’s get this money directed in where it’s supposed to go.

    And I really want to talk about the R&D and the FFRDCs and all the stuff that most HBCU presidents don’t even know about, tragically. There is a lot of money in the R&D space. Our country spends $30 billion, with a B, a year in R&D that goes to Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard, Yale.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s right, $1.5 billion, right.

    SOPHIA NELSON: And the HBCUs get about $15 million to $30 million of that. That’s tragic.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: And let me just point out, too, it’s important, the executive side of the house, but ultimately the White House has a small budget. It can recommend a budget.

    Ultimately, we have got to get over to Congress, which is why the first day was at the White House. The second day was the HBCU fly-in being hosted by the Republican leadership at the Library of Congress. That’s what’s important, because it’s all going to hit.

    The president releases his budget in the next six or eight weeks. And then it goes over to Congress. We have got to get the money no only authorized, but then appropriated.

    SOPHIA NELSON: Let’s talk about politics here a little bit, too.

    If Trump is able, President Trump — let me give him his proper respect, because I was on that with Obama.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s right.

    SOPHIA NELSON: If President Trump is able to gain ground here and show that he’s able to direct moneys and come up with some of the R&D dollars and give this more of a presence, he’s going to score some points with an community right now, an African-American community, that I think, after the last election, is a little bit not sure of which way to go.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s right. That’s right.

    SOPHIA NELSON: You saw this with the DNC’s direction with Ellison vs. Perez.

    And I think that there was — and, you know, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wasn’t reelected. And so it was interesting. African-Americans lost power, although he’s vice chair.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s right.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

    SOPHIA NELSON: There was a sense that we’re the most loyal voting bloc that the Democrats have, and what are we getting for it? So Trump is being shrewd.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, speaking of that, the state of HBCUs is something that the community was even critical of Mr. Obama, or President Obama, for pointing out.

    On the plus side, it is absolutely training some of the leadership that exists in the African-American community today. And on the minus side, the graduation rates for students just aren’t where you want it to be.

    So, and quite a few of these schools are in deep red ink. So, how do you get them back into even a position of stability before you can get them to thrive?

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: It’s funny that you mention that.

    That was the first thing that we asked for when we met with the president and with the congressional group this morning. It was money.

    The fact of the matter is, it takes resources, significant resources, to graduate students who come out of pre-K through 12, secondary systems, where they were underprepared. You can’t expect to finish — these kids come in behind.

    So, our schools have an extremely heavy lift. And that lift costs money. We’re not institutions with huge endowments that can put a ton of resources around getting Johnny ready so that he graduates in four years and is prepared to go into the workplace.

    We might take six years. And that costs more money. So, how do you do that when you’re historically underfunded, currently underfund, and you’re enrolling a disproportionately high group of people who come from poor-performing K-12 systems?

    SOPHIA NELSON: And I think there has to be a place for public-private partnership, companies like Intel or AT&T.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: Absolutely, who benefit from this.

    SOPHIA NELSON: STEM professional companies, right, that are severely underrepresented with people that look like you and me.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s right.

    SOPHIA NELSON: And so I think those companies need to help these colleges develop centers of excellence and things like that, that we have to start thinking out of the box, because, as you said, HBCUs don’t have the endowment that the Ivies do or even some of the big schools like you or I went to. They just don’t have it.

    (CROSSTALK)

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s right.

    SOPHIA NELSON: And so, if there is no money, it’s toothless.

    But I do think that this administration is being wise to say, look, the executive orders, like I said, starting with President Herbert Walker Bush forward, they have all directed the money there, but it’s not flowing towards…

    (CROSSTALK)

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: Well, it’s not been appropriated. That’s the issue.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But how do you make sure that this doesn’t become toothless and it doesn’t — because you still need the face time. You still need the time to talk to the secretaries of education and all these different departments to say, hey, here’s those R&D dollars that could come this way, too.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: That’s the number one thing.

    That’s why it’s so important to be in the White House. When they’re having these staff meetings, when everybody is going over to meet with the president, they have got the walk past that White House initiative on HBCUs.

    It’s far easier for them not to think about it, because out of sight, out of mind, when they’re sitting three levels down at the Department of Education.

    So, for the people who question why it’s so important, it’s not about an address in many ways. It’s about who else is at that address that you’re moving too.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Johnny Taylor, Sophia Nelson, thank you both.

    SOPHIA NELSON: Thank you.

    JOHNNY TAYLOR: Thank you.

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    Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump attend a "Spirit of America" rally in Denver February 27, 2017.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS10OQE

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Our lead tonight is the platform being given the new president by the new Republican majority Congress, to talk to them and the American people about what his plans are.

    We look ahead now with four who also joined us for last month’s inauguration, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, presidential historian Michael Beschloss, Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior adviser to MoveOn.org during the 2016 elections. And Matt Schlapp, he’s chair of the American Conservative Union.

    And it’s good to have you all back together again now that a little bit of time has passed.

    Matt, I’m going the start with you. You have been talking to the folks in the White House. What do they think that the president needs to do tonight?

    MATT SCHLAPP, Former White House Director of Political Affairs: I think they think it’s going to be a huge television audience.

    And this is a president who understands TV and TV moments. And I actually think they understand that he has got perhaps some of his best opportunities to talk to his biggest audience about what he sees for the vision of the country. I actually think he’s going to step back and show people his vision of where he wants to go.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Karine Jean-Pierre, what are you looking for from the president tonight?

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, Democratic Strategist: Well, I’m hoping that he reaches out to the people who actually didn’t vote for him and finally brings some unity.

    He had an opportunity to do that the last time we were all together on Inauguration Day, and he didn’t. He totally went the opposite way. And so, if that could happen, I think that will be a step forward. But, so far, he has not appealed to that, to the majority of the folks who didn’t vote for him or didn’t vote for him at all, which is a good 70 percent.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, does that sound like something that would make sense for him to do tonight?

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes, to show maybe that magnanimous side that we have yet to see.

    There are some indications that that may happen tonight. Whether it’s as overt as maybe some folks would like to see, I don’t know. But, normally, what you think of as — when you think about a State of the Union address is, it’s like a Pinterest board, right, for the president.

    He puts on all his hopes and he puts them out there, and you don’t get everything you want when you put it on a Pinterest board, but at least you’re giving folks an idea of your big overall vision.

    But there’s something else that he needs to do tonight, too, which most presidents, even this early on, don’t have to, which is to give the members of his own party some real structure.

    And it was interesting today. In The New York Times, Tom Cole, Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma, longtime member, he said today the president must become an active participant in the legislative process. He’s saying, we members on the Republican side, we’re with you, but you need to show not just where you want the country to go, but you need to show us where we need to go. It’s not enough for the speaker and the majority leader to give us marching orders. That leadership comes from you. And we want to hear that tonight.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Michael Beschloss, compared to where other presidents have been at this stage early in their presidency, are we hearing from this president, compared to others, enough about what he wants to do and how he’s going to get us there?

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Well, he hasn’t had an opportunity like this before, because what a State of the Union is, is this odd contraption that no other country has, because our presidents are chiefs of state and they’re also prime ministers. And those two roles are oftentimes very contradictory.

    So the State of the Union since Theodore Roosevelt has offered the president the chance to say, these are things I want out of Congress, here is my laundry list.

    But, at the same time, it gives a new president an opportunity to be seen as a president of the United States in Congress. He gets very few opportunities like this. As Matt Schlapp said, he’s going to have an enormous audience tonight. If he uses this opportunity not only to say, this is what I want legislatively, but also those of you who are skeptics about me, even in my own party, those of you who voted against me, I can function as a president of all the people.

    This is one setting in which he has that opportunity. We will see If he takes it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Matt Schlapp, is there a sense that the president himself feels that he should be reaching beyond the base? We know the people who voted for him, the polls are showing they like what he’s doing so far. He’s having difficulty, though, with others.

    MATT SCHLAPP: I think it’s important to go back and think about the fact that Donald Trump is a very different kind of Republican.

    He already starts off this presidency having gotten the support of a lot of working-class voters who don’t always vote Republican, but he doesn’t always like to critique, well, you got to reach beyond. He’s already said, hey, I have already reached. We have got a brand-new coalition building here.

    But I do think it’s a fair point that he ought to reach out to all Americans. He’s everyone’s president. We’re going to have a national security emergency before too long. It’s inevitable. And that’s when we look to our president as commander in chief to have that moment.

    And these moments are special, too, because, with a big audience, he has a chance to tell people, here is why I have been elected and here’s what I’m going to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are people — Karine Jean-Pierre, you were saying people look for him to reach beyond.

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Are they willing to give him a second look?

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not sure, because every policy that he’s put forward, executive orders that we have seen in the past month, has been very divisive and dark.

    It hasn’t shown that people can trust what the president is going to be doing, just looking at the traveling ban, which is a religious test, which has really destroyed many people’s lives. I mean, you go from the gag order, which is one of the first things that he did, which really attacked women’s health issues on a federal international level as well.

    So, there are a lot of things that we have seen that is troubling. So, I’m not sure if he’s going to get there. There’s always this conversation about, is Donald Trump going to be able to press that reset button?

    If I got a dime for every time somebody said that to me, I would be a billionaire and probably be part of the Cabinet. And it’s just — we have not done that. So, I think there’s lack of — distrust, and we’re just not sure if that’s going to happen.

    And nobody really actually thinks it’s going to happen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Amy, I thought — I was struck today with the lunch with the president that he did bring up on his own immigration bill, the time is right, maybe both sides are ready to compromise.

    It was a very different message from what we heard when he was talking about the travel ban.

    AMY WALTER: Well, this is what’s going to be fascinating, because your question was a really important one: Are people ready to listen to it?

    And what we’re seeing right now, we know we have a very polarized country. This election highlighted it, and it continues to reign today. But when you ask Democrats, this was the most recent Pew poll, what do you want your Democratic leaders to do in Congress, and 75 percent of Democrats said, fight everything that Donald Trump does.

    They want Democrats to put up a fight. And so, even if the president reaches out, and even if there are members on the Democratic side that say, yes, maybe I could work with you on this, they’re going to get pushback from their base.

    We talked a lot about the Republican base, how committed they are to the president, but the Democratic base is very committed to digging in against this president as well. That is the challenge for Donald Trump now going forward.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Beschloss, talk about that a little bit, because some presidents have used opposition to their benefit. Others presidents have been overwhelmed by opposition.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Yes, absolutely.

    Franklin Roosevelt, you know, the patron saint of Democrats, in the late 1930s said, my opponents are unanimously — unanimous in their hatred for me, and I welcome their hatred.

    He used them as a foil. You might see Donald Trump doing that. But Donald Trump ain’t no FDR, and he wasn’t elected by a landslide. And this is a much more dicey proposition than had he been elected, let’s say, with upward of 400 electoral votes and been able to go into individual congressional districts and saying, I’m a landslide president.

    This is someone who wasn’t elected with a popular vote majority, a pretty puny electoral vote majority. So it’s a little bit hard to see him taking the strategy that might have been more appropriate had this been an election decided much more resoundingly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Matt.

    MATT SCHLAPP: The only thing I would say to that is, is I think the number that matters — you’re right about the popular vote and the electoral vote, but this wrong-track number has been very steep, very negative for a very long time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The country being on the wrong track.

    MATT SCHLAPP: Right.

    There is something where Americans are questioning what America means and where America is going, and does it play a leadership role, both from a national security standpoint and from an economic standpoint.

    The only thing I would say, I couldn’t compare to the Depression at all, but there is something there that is affecting our politics very deeply. And when Donald Trump looks very serious and very — and is on offense on trying the tackle the basic economic questions in the economy, I think it’s hard for Democrats, because they’re used to occupying that lane.

    And he’s knocked them out of that lane. And they’re trying to figure out how to get it back.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Karine, Matt has a point, doesn’t he?

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, but reading from a teleprompter for 45 minutes doesn’t make you the president that we all want you to be.

    It’s basically he has to do actions. Right? It’s not just words. It’s actions. And his actions haven’t matched up.

    MATT SCHLAPP: Have you not seen all these actions?

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.

    MATT SCHLAPP: I have seen a lot of these actions.

    KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: But they have been very divisive and dark actions. Right?

    And there’s a reason why millions of people, a majority of people are in the streets. Right? And we really — he really has to listen to us, because it’s a problem. You can’t continue being divisive. And he is, like you said, a president for all.

    (CROSSTALK)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, can he do what Karine is saying and Matt is saying he’s already — he is…

    MATT SCHLAPP: There’s a lot of actions going on.

    (CROSSTALK)

    AMY WALTER: Look, at this point in 2009, about 75 percent of Americans said, I think that President Obama will deliver change. More people right now believe that about President Trump, 77 percent now saying, I think that Donald Trump can deliver change.

    And by — it’s a plurality, not a majority, think that he’s going to deliver positive change. Now, Democrats don’t believe he’s going to deliver positive change, but a plurality of independents do and, of course, a big majority of Republicans do.

    So on this idea that Matt is talking about, this — about changing the wrong track to right track, there are more people than not that believe that, even though they may dislike him personally, he’s going the change things in the right direction or bring the right kind of change.

    That’s where he’s going to have to perform. Independents are a little more willing to give him the chance. If he doesn’t deliver, well, we will see what they do. Democrats not as willing, and Republicans are all bought in.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, it feels like we’re coming back to that point about how divided the country is and just how differently people feel about this one man.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think that’s right.

    And it could have been different, frankly. His inauguration, he chose the path of playing to his base, giving this very dark speech about what a mess — that’s not the term he used that day — he used it later on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, tonight, they’re saying he’s going to be uplifting.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: So, maybe that will change. And maybe this will be a different moment in this presidency.

    It was fascinating what he said to FOX News about giving himself about a C on messaging. That would suggest that maybe we will see a speech tonight that is different from what we heard at the time of the inauguration and during this first month. It would be absolutely scintillating if that happens.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s something that everybody is paying attention to tonight.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: That’s for sure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As Matt said, the White House is expecting a big audience.

    We thank all of you for being here to look ahead.

    MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Our pleasure.

    (CROSSTALK)

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Beschloss, Karine Jean-Pierre, Matt Schlapp, Amy Walter, thank you all.

    MATT SCHLAPP: Thank you.

    AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can stay with us this evening by following Twitter and right back here at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for our special live coverage of the president’s address.

    The post Will President Trump use his address to Congress as a reset? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis briefs the media during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir - RTSYT9T

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: President Trump said he followed the advice of his generals and defense secretary in ordering a U.S. military raid in Yemen that left a Navy SEAL dead. He was asked about it in his FOX News interview.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know — just, they wanted to do. And they came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected.

    Again, this was something that they were looking at for a long time doing. And according to General Mattis, it was a very successful mission.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The raid had been in the planning stage for months. It took place five days after Mr. Trump took office.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The president’s Cabinet gained a commerce secretary today. Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross easily won confirmation in the Senate last night. After being sworn in by Vice President Pence this morning, Ross said he hopes the Democratic support he received is a sign of bipartisan progress to come.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The nominee for director of national intelligence is promising his full support for a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election. Former Indiana Senator Dan Coats had his confirmation hearing today, and told lawmakers they will get all the intelligence they need.

    DAN COATS, National Intelligence Director Designate: Russia has a long history of propaganda and trying to influence various nations’ cultures and elections. It’s a very key issue that we understand fully what has happened and how it happened, and have a full report on that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Coats also sought to assure senators that his office will not be swayed by political pressure.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.N. Children’s Agency Today laid bare the harrowing conditions facing women and children at migrant camps in Libya.

    UNICEF said armed groups have turned the camps into makeshift prisons, with widespread beatings, rapes and starvation. The report said, “For the thousands of migrant women and children incarcerated, the centers are living hellholes, where people are held for months.”

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The FBI now says it is investigating last week’s shooting death of an Indian man in a Kansas bar as a hate crime. That word came today after the victim’s body was flown home. Hundreds of family and friends gathered to mourn the 32-year-old engineer in the southern city of Hyderabad.

    The case has touched off widespread outcry in India. The gunman, who is in custody, allegedly yelled, “Get out of my country,” according to a witness. He said he thought the victims were Iranians.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in this country, Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned the country faces rising murder and violent crime rates, and he pledged to put bad men behind bars. In a speech to state attorneys general, Sessions said police have turned overly cautious over fear of what he called viral videos.

    JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. Attorney General: The Department of Justice has an absolute duty to ensure that police operate within the law, and if they violate the law, they have committed a crime, just as much as any other citizen who commits an assault. But we need, so far as we can, in my view, to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness. And I’m afraid we have done some of that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: FBI figures show that violent crime rates have been rising of late, but are still far below the levels of the 1980s and early ’90s.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Former President George W. Bush says racism is tainting the political climate in Washington, under President Trump. Mr. Bush tells “People” magazine in an interview: “I don’t like the racism and I don’t like the name-calling, and I don’t like the people feeling alienated.”

    Still, President Bush says he’s optimistic the country will come through it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: On Wall Street, Target and other retailers slumped, and led the broader market lower. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 25 points to close at 20812. The Nasdaq fell 36 points, and the S&P 500 slipped six.

    The post News Wrap: Trump followed generals’ advice on Yemen raid appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes the leaders of dozens of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 27, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

    U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes the leaders of dozens of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 27, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday aimed at signaling his commitment to historically black colleges and universities, saying that those schools will be “an absolute priority for this White House.”

    HBCU presidents are hoping Congress will bolster Trump’s actions to strengthen the schools with dramatically increased funding in the upcoming federal budget. They are calling for $25 billion for infrastructure, college readiness, financial aid and other priorities. Under President Barack Obama’s administration, historically black colleges and universities received $4 billion over seven years.

    “The next step is the budget. You cannot have mission without money,” Thurgood Marshall College Fund President Johnny Taylor told reporters outside the White House after the signing ceremony.

    Many of the college presidents also went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby Congress for more funding. Taylor said the $25 billion is needed to make up for years of underfunding and would cover the country’s more than 100 HBCUs.

    Several presidents and HBCU advocacy organizations echoed Taylor’s sentiments.

    “This is a great day for my membership and a great day for America,” said Lezli Baskerville, head of the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Education, an umbrella group for public, private and land-grant HBCUs.

    GOP lawmakers said there were currently no concrete plans for increased funding. Several of them attended meetings Tuesday that Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., arranged with HBCU presidents, GOP officials and business leaders.

    Scott said he and Walker planned to personally push for more money for black colleges, and “hopefully we will be more successful than they have been in the last few years.”

    Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a member of the House Budget Committee, was more skeptical.

    “There is no substance at this point,” she said Monday, adding that she is waiting to see the contents of Trump’s executive order, and what Congress does during the budget process.

    Trump’s order moves the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the Department of Education into the executive office of the White House. It directs the initiative to work with the private sector to strengthen the fiscal stability of HBCUS, make infrastructure improvements, provide job opportunities for students, work with secondary schools to create a college pipeline and increase access and opportunity for federal grants and contracts.

    It does not specify how much federal money the colleges should receive.

    The moves are among the actions some college presidents said they would like to see from the new administration. Some of them decided to come to Washington over the objections of students and alumni, saying they can ill afford to play politics while Trump moves quickly to set priorities.

    Larry Robinson, interim president of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, said he felt it was incumbent upon black college leaders to engage federal officials, “regardless of who’s sitting in the White House, or what their political affiliations are.”

    “We’re appealing to his good business sense and hoping he finds an investment worth paying for,” said Roslyn Artis, president of Florida Memorial University in Miami. She said she favors tax incentives that would attract government contractors and private companies to invest in historically black schools.

    Trump met briefly with the college leaders on Monday, as did Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Present alongside Trump was one of his most visible black aides, Omarosa Manigault, who holds degrees from two HBCUs: Central State University in Ohio and Howard University in Washington.

    President Ronald Reagan created the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities by executive order in 1981. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush established a Presidential Advisory Board on HBCUs, and in 2002, President George W. Bush transferred the initiative from the White House to the Department of Education.

    Nearly 300,000 students are enrolled at historically black colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While the number has increased over the past generation, the percentage of HBCU attendees among the overall black college student population has decreased from 18 percent in 1976 to 8 percent in 2014.

    The Washington trip was led by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the nonprofit umbrella organization of public HBCUs. Taylor pointed out that two-thirds of such schools are in red, or Republican-controlled states, and that the colleges are heavily reliant on federal and state funding to survive.

    While some HBCU presidents in attendance are proceeding with cautious optimism, some African-Americans are wary of the administration’s intentions — concerns underscored by DeVos’ seemingly tone-deaf comments Monday praising HBCUs as “pioneers” in school choice that gave black students more options to pursue higher education.

    In fact, many of the HBCUs — including some established in the aftermath of the Civil War — were the only option, as state-sanctioned segregation blocked generations of blacks from enrolling at white colleges.

    Grambling State University President Rick Gallot pointed out that more than 90 percent of the students at his Louisiana college are eligible for the federal Pell grant, and added he would like to see the program strengthened and made into a year-round opportunity.

    “As HBCUs, we’ve always done what politicians stress to agencies: To do more with less,” Gallot said. “Think of the opportunities that would be there to do more with more.”

    READ MORE: What Trump has accomplished 40 days into his presidency

    The post Trump signs executive order on black colleges appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Donald Trump signs H.J. Resolution 38, which nullfies the "stream protection rule", at the White House in D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    President Donald Trump signs H.J. Resolution 38, which nullfies the “stream protection rule”, at the White House in D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has signed an executive order mandating a review of an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution, fulfilling a campaign promise while earning the ire of environmental groups.

    The order, signed at the White House Tuesday, instructs the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to review a rule that redefined “waters of the United States” protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands.

    The order asks the heads of the agencies to publish a proposed rule rescinding or revising the waters rule for notice and comment — the first step in what is likely to be a yearslong administrative review process that many expect to end up at the Supreme Court.

    At a White House signing ceremony, the president called the rule, which has never been implemented because of a series of lawsuits, “one of the worst examples of federal regulation” that he said “has truly run amok.”

    “It’s been a disaster,” he went on, claiming that the EPA had decided it could regulate “nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land or any place else that they decide.”

    Trump had railed against the water rule during his campaign, slamming it as an example of federal overreach. Farmers and landowners have criticized the rule, saying there are already too many government regulations that affect their businesses, and Republicans have been working to thwart it since its inception.

    But Democrats have argued that it safeguards drinking water for millions of Americans and clarifies confusion about which streams, tributaries and wetlands should be protected in the wake of decades-long uncertainty despite two Supreme Court rulings.

    The president has promised to dramatically scale back regulations that he says are holding back businesses, and has signed several orders aimed at that goal.

    Despite the outcry over the rule, it has never taken effect because of lawsuits filed by Republican attorneys general and large agriculture companies. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club have said they will sue to fight any attempt by the Trump administration to roll back the rule.

    Thaddeus Lightfoot, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney who has been practicing environmental law for almost 30 years, likened the order to a “paper tweet” that on a practical level will have no immediate impact.

    “The only way to unwind it or roll it back or rescind it or modify it,” he said, is to go through the lengthy federal rulemaking process laid out in the federal Administrative Procedure Act. He said the process will likely takes months or years, and will likely include further legal action. He expects the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue during the current session.

    Trump was welcomed to the signing ceremony by applause from a group of farmers, home builders, county commissioners and lawmakers he’d invited to the White House for the occasion. He was also joined by newly-confirmed EPA chief, Scott Pruitt.

    Pruitt, the former Attorney General of Oklahoma, joined with more than two dozen other states in suing EPA over the water rule. The case is still pending and Pruitt declined to answer questions about whether he would recuse himself during his confirmation hearing, despite protests from Democrats.

    Craig Uden, the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, applauded the president’s action in a statement, saying the rule represents one of the “largest federal land grabs and private-property infringements in American history.”

    It “should be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery,” he said.

    But former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement that the Trump administration was “putting our nation’s health, economy and our national security at increased risk.”

    Madeleine Foote of the League of Conservation Voters said, “This executive order is about one thing: protecting polluters at the expense of our communities and their access to clean drinking water.”

    Associated press writer Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.

    READ MORE: Trump signs executive order on black colleges

    The post Trump orders review of Obama rule protecting small streams appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Two elderly people sit on a bench as they look at a parascending during a sunny summer day in Nice, southeastern France, July 28, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard (FRANCE - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL SOCIETY) - RTR40E3K

    As long as a person’s health insurance qualifies as a group health plan, they do not need to get Medicare at 65 regardless of where they live or who provides their health insurance. Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

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


    Bettyrose – United Kingdom: I’ve been living in the U.K. for over 20 years and just turned 65. I understand I should sign up for Part A, but do I also need to sign up for Part B if I’m living outside the U.S.? There is always an outside chance that we may end up back home in Chicago. Also, I am still working and plan to retire in October. We have socialized medicine here in the U.K. I did some reading, but it’s somewhat confusing.

    Phil Moeller: People who turn 65 and don’t get Medicare can face potentially steep late-enrollment penalties when they finally get around to signing up. However, those who are actively employed and have group health plans, often referred to as GHPs, do not need to sign up for Medicare until they leave their jobs, regardless of their age. I have always assumed that these qualifying health plans needed to be in the U.S. After all, Medicare doesn’t cover people outside the U.S., so I figured its rules about group health plans did not apply to foreign-based health insurance.

    So long as a person’s health insurance qualifies as a group health plan, they need not get Medicare at 65 regardless of where they live or who provides their health insurance.

    Wrong! I should have followed my own number one Medicare rule: Never assume!

    According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, so long as a person’s health insurance qualifies as a group health plan, they need not get Medicare at 65 regardless of where they live or who provides their health insurance. When they do retire and leave their plan, they will have an eight-month special enrollment period during which they can sign up for basic Medicare and any other Medicare policies.

    “A GHP does not have to be in the United States, and the individual (or spouse/family member for disabled) is not required to be working in the United States,” a spokesman explained, citing an agency webpage explanation. “CMS considers a person working for a foreign employer who has a plan that meets the definition of a GHP to meet the requirement for GHP coverage. This also applies to individuals working in countries with national health plans.”

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

    So if you have a GHP with your current employer, the odds are good that you don’t need to worry about getting Part B right now. Again, do not assume this is the case. The Social Security Administration, which administers many Medicare rules, has an explanation of what it takes to qualify as a GHP.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    A GHP is any plan of, or contributed to by, one or more employers to provide health benefits or medical care (directly or otherwise) to current or former employees, the employer, or their families. The term GHP applies to the following types of plans:

    • self-insured plans,
    • plans of governmental entities (Federal, State, and local),
    • employee organizational plans (e.g., union plans or employee health and welfare funds),
    • employee pay-all plans (i.e., plans that are approved or sponsored by the employer or employee organization, but receives no financial contribution from them), and national health plans in foreign countries.

    I suggest you touch base with the employee benefits office at your employer and raise this issue. Please let me know how you fare, particularly if you are told that your current plan does not qualify.


    Aimee — Pennsylvania: How can I find out the best way to submit a covered service so that it is considered eligible for coverage by insurance, Medicare or otherwise? For instance, if my mother will need some type of durable medical equipment, or DME, after a surgery, what is the best way to find out how to get that DME covered? I have found that calling the insurance company with the question, “What is the best way to get XYZ covered?” is usually met with silence, a few fumbling words and no answer.

    Phil Moeller: My comments deal only with people on Medicare. Keep in mind that to be covered, durable medical equipment must be prescribed by a doctor or other licensed health care professional as medically necessary.

    Your mother’s doctor’s office should have a good handle on whether a piece of equipment is covered. Also, Medicare has an online tool to help people learn if an item of durable equipment is covered.

    READ MORE: Should we raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare?

    If your mother’s Medicare coverage is government-provided Medicare — Parts A and B and not a Medicare Advantage plan — there are four DME contractors around the country who handle these claims. Claims in Pennsylvania are processed by a government contractor named Noridian Healthcare Solutions.

    If she has a Medicare Advantage plan, her claims would be handled by the private insurance company that provides this coverage.

    While your experience with insurance companies is hardly unique, getting an advance read from either Noridian or a Medicare Advantage insurer is the best thing you can do.

    I’d call your mom’s doctor’s office and get whatever technical language you need to describe the equipment it wants to prescribe for her. In an ideal world, the doctor would submit the claim. But you also should get ready to spend time on hold as you navigate whichever Medicare phone maze is involved with her coverage.


    Karen – Virginia: My Social Security benefits when I apply — I am 63 and plan to wait until age 70 — will be more than twice what my husband will get when he applies for his benefits. Would it be unwise to have him, at age 66, go ahead and receive his monthly benefit now? Am I correct in understanding that when I die he can then receive my larger spousal benefit? Is it correct that he will lose his benefit anyway when he starts to receive the spousal benefit as a widower? So why not have him receive his monthly Social Security payment now which will add a nice chunk to our income?

    Phil Moeller: If your husband also waited until age 70 to file for his own retirement benefit, his monthly payment would be 32 percent larger than if he filed at age 66. Of course, he would have foregone four years of benefits by delaying. The value of this deferral depends, in practical terms, on your need for current income, his health and your sense of how long you will live.

    READ MORE: Why Medicare beneficiaries should pay attention to ‘repeal and replace’ debate

    As you suggest, your death would entitle your husband to a survivor benefit (not a spousal benefit) equal to whatever you were collecting (or were entitled to collect) when you died. If this is larger than his own retirement benefit, he would receive what’s called an excess survivor benefit. It would equal the amount by which his survivor benefit exceeded his retirement benefit.

    I’d play with the numbers and see if any combination of filing options and claiming dates stands out as the best choice for you. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for online Social Security accounts so you can see what your benefits would be at different claiming ages.


    John: My wife (retired and on Original Medicare) has employer insurance and a drug plan via her retirement plan. For me to remain covered by the employer insurance and drug plan, I also need to be on Original Medicare. If she predeceases me, will I be penalized for not getting a Medigap or Part D plan when I became eligible earlier this year?

    Phil Moeller: You already face such penalties, regardless of what happens to your wife.

    The clock starts ticking on the Medigap and Part D enrollment periods once you lose active employer group health insurance or turn 65, whichever occurs later. The key word here is “active.” Employer retiree health plans are not considered active coverage. Once you obtain Original Medicare, you then would sign for additional coverage — a Medicare Advantage plan (usually including a Part D drug plan) or perhaps a Medigap plan.

    There is a late-enrollment penalty of 1 percent a month for Part D. There is no late-enrollment penalty for Medigap, but there is guaranteed access to Medigap on favorable underwriting terms during its initial enrollment period. Once this period has ended, you may wind up paying more for a Medigap policy, and insurers in most states are not even required to sell these plans to you.

    Of course, if you will have access to your wife’s retiree plan for the rest of your life, then failing to get a Part D plan would not affect you. However, your question makes me think that you will no longer be covered by your wife’s retiree health plan if she dies.

    READ MORE: How does Social Security’s cost of living adjustment affect Medicare?

    If this is the case, you could consider buying a Part D plan now to avoid penalties later on. With an average monthly premium of $40, waiting five years would incur a monthly penalty of $24 (60 percent of $40). Your need to balance this against the premiums you’d be paying for coverage you don’t appear to need right now. For example, paying $40 for five years would set you back $2,400. It would take you 100 months (eight and a third years) before that $24 monthly penalty would leave you worse off than not getting a Part D plan right now. If you bought a cheaper plan, the trade-off numbers would shift.

    If your wife’s retiree plan permits you to have a Medicare Advantage plan instead of Original Medicare, you might consider a Medicare Advantage plan that includes Part D. There are some very inexpensive Medicare Advantage plans. While they may not provide robust insurance protection, they would help you avoid late enrollment penalties.

    Buying a Medigap plan now is, in my view, an expense that is unlikely to be “paid back” by avoiding higher Medigap premiums should you later want to get a plan. In your case, a Medicare Advantage plan might make more sense. It also offers out-of-pocket limits on your spending, which is the major benefit of Medigap. And unlike Medigap, Medicare Advantage insurers must sell you a plan and can’t charge you higher rates due to late enrollment.

    The post Living abroad, do I need to get Medicare when I turn 65 or when I retire? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A displaced Iraqi girl, who fled a village controlled by Islamic State militants, arrives at a refugee camp south of Mosul on Feb. 24. Photo by Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

    A displaced Iraqi girl, who fled a village controlled by Islamic State militants, arrives at a refugee camp south of Mosul on Feb. 24. Photo by Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

    After seeing how refugees are vetted, some readers asked us to go back even further in the process and explain how cases are referred to the U.S.

    Only a small fraction of refugees are referred for resettlement to 30 countries, including the U.S., said Chris Boian, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, the U.N. agency tasked with coordinating the international refugee response.

    READ MORE: You asked: How are refugees vetted today?

    Out of 16 million refugees who are registered with the U.N. refugee agency, only 150,000 were resettled in other countries last year, of which 85,000 came to the U.S. “The U.S. has traditionally been the largest recipient of refugees in need of resettlement,” he said.

    Once they flee their home country, refugees can register with the government of the host country and UNHCR to receive assistance.

    The refugees who agree to enter the resettlement process don’t get to choose where they go.

    UNHCR conducts interviews and works with the host governments and local partners to determine which refugees are most in need of resettling in a third country. Refugees who get the priority are those with acute medical needs, like someone needing heart surgery; at-risk women and girls, including single female heads of households; and victims of torture.

    UNHCR conducts interviews, gathers and cross-checks biographical information, and collects biometric data, such as iris scans for Syrians and fingerprints.

    The refugees who agree to enter the resettlement process don’t get to choose where they go, said Boian. UNHCR works with countries willing to accept refugees to determine where to refer them, taking into account the country’s quotas, if the refugees have friends or family already living there, and their cultural affinities, he said.

    Once a decision on the placement country is made, UNHCR delivers a list of the refugees for the government to consider. The governments themselves then begin the process of their own screening.

    Some refugees wouldn’t get referred to the U.S., such as those who committed a crime or are deemed a security risk for any reason, said Boian. “We don’t want to make referrals when we know there’s no chance it will work out.”

    Those not selected for resettlement either remain in the host country or, if they want to go home, they can do so, he said.

    Some refugees wouldn’t get referred to the U.S., such as those who committed a crime or are deemed a security risk for any reason.

    Countries also can admit refugees separate from UNHCR. An example is the U.S. special immigrant visa program, which applies mostly to Afghan and Iraqi translators or others who may have worked with the U.S. military and are deemed at risk in their home countries because of the work.

    The State Department oversees refugee vetting for the United States, and it is all conducted overseas before visas are issued and the refugees arrive in the U.S.

    President Donald Trump halted the refugee resettlement program in an executive order last month to review vetting procedures. A federal court put a stop to that order, and the administration is planning to release a revised version in the coming days.

    Mr. Trump said in a speech to Congress on Tuesday that he wanted to switch to a “merit-based” immigration system based on the principle that those seeking to enter the U.S. “are able to support themselves financially.”

    Boian said refugees — or those forced to flee their homes — are a different, smaller category than economic migrants. Refugees get financial support for the first few months they arrive in the U.S., after which they are expected to provide for themselves.

    They get jobs, send their children back to school, and are just thankful to have a safe and healthy place to live, he said.

    More resources:

    The post You asked: How are refugees referred to live in the U.S.? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Katherine Johnson, a mathematician and space scientist, will be part of a new Lego set celebrating NASA's female pioneers. Image by Maia Weinstock

    Katherine Johnson, a mathematician and space scientist, will be part of a new Lego set celebrating NASA’s female pioneers. Image by Maia Weinstock

    Five women pioneers of NASA are becoming Lego characters.

    Computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, mathematician Katherine Johnson, astronomer Nancy Grace Roman and astronauts Sally Ride, the first woman in space, and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, are part of a new line Lego announced Tuesday.

    The idea came from Maia Weinstock, deputy editor of MIT News, as a part of a Lego Ideas competition.

    “Maia Weinstock’s Women of NASA project was a way for her to celebrate accomplished women in the STEM professions. In particular, those who’ve made a big impact through their work at NASA,” said Lego Ideas spokeswoman Lise Dydensborg in a video.

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

    The Lego line, which was created in conjunction with NASA, includes a display of the five famed women and several vignettes of NASA technology and history, including the codes and calculating instruments used in space missions and a mini space shuttle. The official Twitter account for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope tweeted that the toy set will be available at the end of this year or start of 2018. Final design and prices are still under consideration.

    Weinstock said the Lego’s new Women of NASA set “provides an educational building experience to help young ones and adults alike learn about the history of women in STEM.”

    NASA women have been in the spotlight in recent months thanks to the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.”

    During the Academy Awards, Johnson, who is portrayed in both the movie and the Lego set, appeared on stage with the stars of “Hidden Figures.” Actor Taraji P. Henson, who portrayed Johnson in the film, praised her as “a true NASA and American hero.”

    Lego came under fire in 2014 after seven-year-old Charlotte Benjamin criticized the company’s lack of professional female figures in a widely-shared letter. Lego responded with an all-female set that included a paleontologist, astronomer and chemist, and have now added to their female cast with the “Women in NASA” set.

    “I applaud Lego for their hidden figures,” said Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, a non-profit aimed at bringing women into technology. “I think efforts, like by Lego, that are trying to change this and to show a different cultural aspect for young girls is really important.”

    Mattel’s Barbie faced similar criticism for the 2014 book, “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer,” which depicted the toy as a poor engineer and coder who sought the help of her male friends to correct her mistakes. Following the public response, Mattel created a Barbie game developer.

    “Toys play a pivotal role, especially early on in what girls think they can be,” Saujani said. “You can’t be what you cannot see, and if you’re not comfortable tinkering and taking things apart and building things, you’re not going to go into those careers.

    READ MORE: Brick by brick, Lego diversifies its toys with a minifigure in a wheelchair

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    President Donald Trump was praised by Republicans for his first address to Congress. But newly-elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, a former labor secretary, and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison told PBS NewsHour there’s a disconnect between what Trump says and the facts.

    Ellison took particular issue with the way Trump framed immigration in Tuesday’s speech, he told the NewsHour in Statuary Hall.

    Trump told lawmakers that “by finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone.”

    Trump also said he ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office — called the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) — to serve American victims of crimes committed by immigrants.

    But to Ellison, the speech “seemed to blame immigrants for crime,” he said. “It indicated that clamping down on immigration was going to increase wages and make our economy better. The fact is there’s no facts to support that.”

    Perez and Ellison faced off this week in a race for chair of the DNC, one that highlighted the divide between the party’s establishment and an emerging, more liberal wing — many of whose members were energized by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential run.

    Ellison, who lost to Perez but now serves as deputy chair of the DNC, invited Perez to the speech, which he called a show of unity among democratic leadership. Now is the time for Democrats to come together, he says.

    “Our unity is our greatest strength and Donald Trump’s worst nightmare,” Perez told NewsHour.

    He says it’s important for people participating in events like the Women’s March to channel energy into action.

    That strength is already on display, Perez said, pointing to Delaware’s special election last weekend, when voters turned out to elect Democrat Stephanie Hansen and preserve their majority in the state senate.

    It’s the start of what they hope is a democratic gain in other state elections, he said. Democrat Jon Ossoff will be running in Georgia’s 6th District — a seat left vacant by Republican Tom Price when he became the secretary of Health and Human Services. Regular off-season gubernatorial elections, like New Jersey and Virginia, are also must wins for democrats.

    “People came out and channeled that energy into votes,” Perez said.

    The post New DNC head: ‘Unity is our greatest strength and Donald Trump’s worst nightmare’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28 in Washington, D.C.  Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

    President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28 in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

    Set aside tone for a moment. That’s getting plenty of attention. In President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress on Tuesday night, we noticed something different: the sheer number of topics he covered.

    PBS NewsHour counted 46 separate topics in the roughly hour-long speech. Some topics, like immigration, earned several paragraphs of attention. Others, like “clean air” or “coal miners,” received somewhere between two and a dozen words total. We admit that counting topics is subjective, but we aimed to avoid duplication and to choose items that are clear nouns and tangible concerns, not aspirational turns of phrase.

    Why does this matter? Presidential speeches to Congress are important indicators of the commander-in-chief’s priorities. Yes, these remarks often contain laundry lists of proposals. But 46 topics in an hour is significant by any measure.

    With that, here is our list of the 46 topics the 45th president and his White House staff put in the spotlight.

    1. Civil rights, including threats and vandalism against the Jewish community and the Kansas City shooting
    2. The shrinking middle class
    3. Inner city children, especially in Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit
    4. U.S. borders
    5. Veterans care
    6. Rebuilding the military
    7. The opioid epidemic
    8. Cost of the F-35 fighter
    9. Federal hiring freeze
    10. His five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials
    11. Cutting regulations
    12. Supporting the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and using American steel
    13. Coal miners*
    14. Trade, and Trans-Pacific Partnership
    15. Women entrepreneurs
    16. Task force to reduce crime, dismantle cartels
    17. Enforcing immigration laws, targeting criminals
    18. Building a wall on the southern border
    19. Protecting the U.S. from radical Islamic terrorism
    20. Fighting the Islamic State, working with the Muslim world
    21. Iran’s ballistic missile program
    22. U.S. alliance with Israel
    23. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch
    24. Americans living in poverty
    25. Financial crises, current and past
    26. National debt
    27. Trade deficit
    28. Tax reform
    29. Harley Davidson
    30. Incentives for companies to stay in the U.S.
    31. Creating new jobs
    32. Switching to a merit-based immigration system
    33. $1 trillion national infrastructure rebuilding program
    34. Affordable Care Act, five principles for replacement
    35. Accessible childcare*
    36. Paid family leave*
    37. Women’s health*
    38. Clean air, clean water*
    39. Rare diseases and the drug approval process
    40. Education, especially school choice
    41. The murder rate (in 2015)
    42. Supporting law enforcement
    43. Special office to support victims of crime
    44. Ryan Owens, the Navy SEAL killed in a raid in Yemen in January
    45. NATO, especially on covering its share of costs
    46. Refugees and displaced persons, and the need for them to be able to return home

    Read a full transcript of the president’s speech here.

    The post The 46 topics Donald Trump covered in his address to Congress appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Aboriginal Australian artist Regina Wilson. Photograph by Vanessa Bellemore, courtesy Durrmu Arts. Wilson’s artwork is now on display at the Frost Museum in Miami, in the show “Marking the Infinite.”

    Almost exactly a year ago, walking through the Seattle Art Museum with my uncle, I stopped cold in front of a piece of art called “Munurru,” or “Rough,” by Aboriginal Australian artist Galuma Maymuru. My stepfather had recently passed away; it was his birthday week, and we had come to the museum for a distraction. Grief, people have always told me, comes in waves, and I’d found that to be true. The painting, made with natural pigments on eucalyptus bark, was made up of intersecting wavy lines, like ocean currents; it seemed as if each line led into the next.

    Beside the painting, a placard read: “Maymuru pulls us into high tide in deep water, where currents are colliding.” It noted the artist used a sacred signature in a cross-hatched pattern that belonged to her clan, and “women paint such patterns on each other’s chests when they are in a state of fasting,” such as “during funerals.” I stared at the piece, read the placard again, and stayed in front of it for a long time.

    “Munurru,” or “Rough,” by Galuma Maymuru. Credit: Seattle Art Museum.

    Aboriginal Australian art is the oldest continuous tradition of art made in the world, stretching back more than 40,000 years. Maymuru, like many Aboriginal Australian women, learned to paint the sacred clan designs from her father, a practice previously reserved only for high-ranking men. Like many female Aboriginal artists, she was also not given a chance to paint for the market until the 1980s; until then, this was the domain of men. It was around this time Aboriginal artwork began to gain popularity in the Australian art world, but in the United States, it caught on only in fits and starts. And then, in many ways, it dropped off the map.

    Now, in part because of the interest of some passionate collectors and curators — who feel just as startlingly compelled by the art — Aboriginal Australian art shows, including one featuring only women, are popping up across the country.

    Aboriginal Australian art can take many forms: drawing, painting, weaving, carving, or, more recently, video and photography. Artists often use natural elements, such as bark, feathers, earth pigment, flowers or sand, but they may also use synthetic materials. Styles varies widely by region; it is impossible, or at the least reductive, to try to generalize the art. But if there is one thing that binds Aboriginal Australian art together, it is that it’s expressive of the culture, and often has a deep connection to place. From collectors, what you will often hear is that the art feels both astonishingly new and deeply old at the same time.

    Just this week, “Of Country and Culture,” a show of more than 100 diverse objects of contemporary Aboriginal Australian art, opened at the San Antonio Art Museum. In October, Silicon Valley’s Stephen Luczo, an electronics executive, put Aboriginal dot paintings on the market, a sale that grossed $1.5 million. Harvard Art Museums concluded a major Aboriginal Australian art show in September called “Everywhen,” saying indigenous art was “no longer positioned as ‘other’… [it] demands our critical attention.” And the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), where Aboriginal Australian art has been on permanent display for years , is preparing to send its 2012 show “Ancestral Modern” out to four more venues, to showcase “the artistic renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.”

    Pamela McClusky, who curates SAM’s African and oceanic art, says Aboriginal Australian art “came like a bullet out of the blue to a lot of people” in recent years.

    “It has this visual language that is so modern, yet is referencing these knowledge systems that go back thousands of years,” she says.

    Aboriginal Australian art coming out today is as contemporary as, say, a work by Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, says Henry Skerritt, an Australian curator at the University of Virginia, home to the largest stateside collection of Aboriginal Australian art.

    “People have this idea of aboriginal art as folk art or tribal art,” he says. “I think it’s a fundamental misunderstanding.”

    A well-worn story about indigenous Australian artist Rover Thomas goes that while visiting the National Gallery of Australia, he came across a Rothko painting and asked: “Who’s that bugger that paints like me?”

    ***

    “Sun Mat,” 2015, by Regina Wilson, synthetic polymer paint on canvas.  This piece appears in “Marking the Infinite” at the Frost Museum. Courtesy: the artist and Durrmu Arts, Peppimenarti

    Among the more interesting new shows is “Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists From Aboriginal Australia,” which opened in January at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU in Miami and will eventually make its way to New Orleans, Scottsdale, Reno, Washington D.C. and Vancouver. As the name suggests, it features only women artists: Nonggirrnga Marawili, Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Yukultji Napangati, Angelina Pwerle, Carlene West, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Lena Yarinkura, Gulumbu Yunupingu and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Many are matriarchs in their remote Australian communities

    The 70 works featured in the show range from painting to woven installations to video projections, and span subjects as large as celestial bodies to as tiny as the flower of a bush plum.

    The show exists in large part because of the interest of a Miami-based collector and philanthropist couple named Dennis and Debra Scholl.

    “It has this visual language that is so modern, yet is referencing these knowledge systems that go back thousands of years.”  

    “When I first saw this work it felt like I had been struck by lightning,” Dennis Scholl writes in the show’s catalogue. On the phone with me, Scholl was no less effusive, saying that since he’d first come across this art eight years ago, he and his wife have collected more than 500 pieces.

    “We were products of the contemporary art world, LA, New York, London and Art Basel. And we had become a little jaded over the contemporary art world, which seemed too much about personality and money and less about the artist’s hand,” he says.

    When a curator friend sent him to the basement of an art gallery in New South Wales, to see the Aboriginal Australian art on display, Scholl decided on the spot to “jettison everything” he was doing and collecting, because what he saw was “instantly moving at an emotional level” in a way he felt he couldn’t ignore.

    No matter that he knew nothing about the art, or that few people stateside cared about it, or that it was being produced 12,000 miles away by artists who did not speak English. “Off we went,” he says.

    Ganyu, or Stars, by Gulumbu Yunupingu

    “Ganyu,” or “Stars,” 2003, by Gulumbu Yunupingu, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark. This piece appears in “Marking the Infinite” at the Frost Museum. Courtesy: the artist’s estate and Buku-Larrnggay Mulka, Yirrkala

    Scholl’s collection first became a nationally-acclaimed all-men’s Aboriginal art show called “No Boundaries,” which also toured the U.S. before closing in January. After that, Scholl says, he was ready to do a women’s show.

    Scholl lent his pieces by female artists — steadily purchased from community art centers — to the show now called “Marking the Infinite.” Skerritt, the show’s curator, has devoted his life to understanding and promoting Aboriginal Australian art. For him, it’s a philosophical, and almost existential pursuit.

    “What attracts me to this work is precisely the fact that I don’t understand it and I don’t profess to understand it, or the experience of aboriginal Australians,” Skerritt says.

    Indeed, like Western contemporary art, contemporary Aboriginal Australian art tackles the issues humankind grapples with today. In the show’s catalogue, Skerritt argues that Aboriginal Australian art often speaks to the current threats to the resources of the natural world, and the way the dream of globalization has gone wrong.

    “The world in which we live is more connected than ever before,” Skerritt writes. “People, information and goods circle the planet at unprecedented speeds, heightening both our sense of proximity to others” but also our “acute awareness of cultural difference.”

    “In a word of accelerating connectivity, these artworks ask us to stop,” he adds.

    By phone from Virginia, Skerritt walks me through some of the pieces in “Marking the Infinite,” and the contemporary messages he sees in them. A video piece called “Light Painting,” by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, is made up of 124 drawings, displayed three at a time. To see all the variations, Skerritt says, you’d have to watch the video for hundreds of hours. To him, “Light Painting” is concerned with a very contemporary idea, which is an awareness of the passing and multiplicity of time.

    Skerritt also points to “Stars,” a painting by the artist Gulumbu Yunupingu (sister to Nyapanyapa), made up of many different repeating dots and tiny figures, like stars, created with earth pigment on bark. For Skerritt, “Stars” is a cosmological piece that sends a message about today’s fractured world. “It’s saying that we are all different, but under the same stars,” he says.

    Much of the art,“hide an immense depth and knowledge” that the women have, he adds. “Their work only allows a hint of it.”

    ***

    It is important to note that, unlike Maymuru, most of the women do not explicitly paint the sacred designs of their clan. Instead, they delicately allude to them, in ways that only their community will recognize. And in this way, they reveal some of their culture to the outside world — but not all of it.

    There are risks to exposing too much. Artist Regina Pilawuk Wilson, for example, who has five large paintings in the show, once lived on a Catholic mission she says tried to erase the culture of the Aboriginal community that lived there. When she was 25, she and her husband left to establish a new Aboriginal community in far north Australia, called Peppimenarti. When Wilson spoke to me by phone from Peppimenarti, she stressed that while her community is small — about 250 people — it remains strong.

    Every morning, Wilson does her art from 8 to 11 a.m. at the Durrmu Arts Center in Peppimenarti. In the afternoons, she looks after her community, where she is a matriarch; her son is a kind of mayor. Making the art, and getting it out in the world, she tells me, is deeply important “to keeping the culture strong.”

    Wilson’s paintings, which are inspired by traditional weaving patterns, incorporate a long-lost fishnet stitch called syaw.

    "Tjitjiti," by Carlene West

    “Tjitjiti,” 2015, by Carlene West, acrylic on linen. This piece appears in “Marking the Infinite” at the Frost Museum. Courtesy: the artist and Spinifex Arts Project, Tjuntjunjtara

    “We lost that stitch, when we were going daily to school,” she says. “That’s why I’m doing this painting. For our ancestors. And so that children can remember that we’ve done this weaving.”

    As her paintings circulate outside her community, she says, she also hoped that Westerners can learn about her culture.

    “White people are still learning about painting and weaving and our culture, just as aboriginal people, we are learning the white laws,” she says. “But aboriginal law is still the same and strong and never changed from thousands of years ago.”

    As Wilson speaks, I am reminded of something Scholl says as he recalled that museum basement where he first encountered this art. He says that basement — and a 1990 MOMA art show called “High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture” showed him that art works on two levels.

    “It works on the level of the purely spontaneous, when you walk in and it gives you joy or troubles you … without you knowing anything about it,” Scholl says, describing almost exactly what Maymuru’s “Munurru” piece did for me. “But if you’re willing to dig in and give the time, it operates in a totally different way.

    “Marking the Infinite” is on display at the Frost Museum in Miami until May 7, 2017, and then will travel to other museums.

     

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    A firefighter with the San Jose Fire Department walks in a flooded neighborhood after heavy rains overflowed nearby Coyote Creek in San Jose, California, in February. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    A firefighter with the San Jose Fire Department walks in a flooded neighborhood after heavy rains overflowed nearby Coyote Creek in San Jose, California, in February. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — California faces an estimated $50 billion price tag for roads, dams and other infrastructure threatened by floods such as the one that severely damaged Oroville Dam last month, the state’s natural resources secretary said Wednesday.

    Nearly 200,000 people living near the country’s tallest dam were evacuated three weeks ago amid fears of a catastrophic flood after a chunk of concrete tore out of the main spillway after heavy rains, leaving it severely damaged.

    Swollen rivers, troubled levees and crumbling roads are causing havoc statewide as California copes with what is likely its wettest year ever, California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said. Severe winter storms have brought torrential rain and significant snow after five years of drought.

    Damage to California’s highways is estimated at nearly $600 million. More than 14,000 people in San Jose were forced to evacuate last month and floods shut down a portion of a major freeway.

    In the Yosemite Valley, only one of three main routes into the national park’s major attraction is open because of damage or fear the roads could give out from cracks and seeping water, rangers said. On central California’s rain-soaked coast, a bridge in Big Sur has crumbled beyond repair, blocking passage on the north-south Highway 1 through the tourist destination for up to a year.

    Proposals by Gov. Jerry Brown for $387 million for flood control and emergency response were “an important start,” Laird said at a Senate hearing Wednesday, but the requests fall far short of the amount needed to address flood projects statewide.

    People stand by a flooded street near William Street Park after heavy rains overflowed nearby Coyote Creek in San Jose, California. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    People stand by a flooded street near William Street Park after heavy rains overflowed nearby Coyote Creek in San Jose, California. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    Laird told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that he has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to expand inspection and review of all federally-owned dams in California, with particular attention paid to secondary structures such as spillways.

    He also has asked the Corps to update federal operating manuals for key California reservoirs and is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars authorized under a new water-projects law for rehabilitation of “high hazard dams” in the state.

    Dam improvements are part of a $10 billion law approved by Congress late last year to authorize water projects across the country, including more than two dozen projects in California.

    Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said nearly half of California’s 1,400 dams are designated as “high hazard potential” by state officials.

    The state has invested about $11 billion in flood control management over the past decade, Harris said, yet more action is needed to protect nearly 7 million people and $580 billion worth of assets — buildings, farmland, and crops — that are at risk.

    The committee also heard from officials in Wyoming and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where recent floods caused millions of dollars in damage.

    The panel’s chairman, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said winter “ice jams” on partially frozen rivers, combined with rapid snowmelt, cause frequent floods that harm small towns from Wyoming to the Dakotas and upstate New York.

    President Donald Trump has made improving the nation’s infrastructure a priority, and Barrasso said he was optimistic Congress would approve funding to modernize dams and levees across the country.

    “Infrastructure is critical to our nation’s prosperity,” Barrasso said. “It’s a driver of our nation’s economy and it impacts every community.”

    WATCH: Inundated by storms and flooding, California hopes for sun

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